Faith Lift: Small Steps

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon it was a seminal moment. The world was watching. We didn’t have 24 hour news stations, but the news stations we had were tuned in. We’ve come a long way since we heard words coming from the man ON the moon, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Those of us, who are old enough to remember, remember where we were when we heard those words. We remember where we were when we heard the news that President Kennedy was killed, that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, that Bobby Kennedy was killed, that John Lennon was killed, that President Reagan was shot, that the Twin Towers fell, and when we heard the news of what happened at Columbine and Newtown and Parkland and …. Santa Fe and far too many other tragedies. We remember, but we must forget.

In his letter to the Philippians the apostle Paul wrote this.
“… one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The word for forgetting is a word that means more like “don’t be held back” than it means to “not remember.” We remember, but we must forget. We remember the past, we honor the past, and we memorialize the past…but we must not let the past hold us back from pressing on into the future. We can’t let our past failures hold us back from trying again.  We can let our past successes tempt us to rest on what worked then but is not working now. 

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote, “Those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it. “ That’s why we study and remember the past. But we can’t be held back by past failures—Thomas Edison tried 10,000 times before he found a filament thin enough to succeed in making a light bulb. He was quoted as saying he discovered 10,000 ways NOT to invent a light bulb. 

We can’t be held back by past successes—Neil Armstrong succeeded in being the first man to set foot on the moon. But he came back. He went on to other things. He remembered that step, but he forgot it also.

As we move farther into this season of Lent we will be remembering and forgetting. I have many things that I remember and many that I forget. I remember the places I’ve served. I’ve had success. I’ve failed. I’ve tried things. Some have succeeded. Some have not. I remember, but I also forget. I press on. I look forward to pressing on as I take many more … small steps.

Living Water

Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:1-30 – March 15, 2020

I think most folks are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan.  This morning we’re going to read the story of the BAD Samaritan…and the GoodShepherd who came to seek and to save the lost. Hear the word of the Lord from the gospel of John, chapter 4:1-30  

I thank you for coming this morning.  We don’t know what the days ahead hold for us. I saw on last night’s news that there are 4 cases of corona virus in Montgomery County.  

My friend Eric Folkerth, a Methodist pastor in Dallas wrote, “Because of the lack of wide-spread testing, because we don’t *scientifically* know just how widespread this pandemic goes, churches, schools, community groups, etc…are making the decision to close to the public.

Spiritually, God does tell us to “Fear Not.”  But God also gave us our brains. God gave us our ability to reason. And, above all, God gave us the ability to look beyond ourselves and to do what’s best for the COMMUNITY, not our own selfish wants and desires.”   

We need to “Fear Not, Think Hard and Act Responsibly.”  Joyful Life’s Church council will meet after church today to make our decision about what we will do in the days to come. Today has been designated as a National Day of Prayer and pray … we will. 

Jesus said to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, MIND and strength.  Our minds have given us Science.  Science is our friend. Science tells us that our bodies are 60% water. Human beings crave closeness to water. Maybe that’s why so much of the earth’s population hugs the shorelines of its continents. Maybe it is because we started our life in water, living in it and breathing it for our first nine months of life. Maybe it is because almost none of us get the recommended daily 60-70 ounces of water we need to be optimally hydrated, so that whether we recognize it or not, our bodies are constantly thirsty.  One of my disciplines I am observing this Lent is to fast from sodas.  Instead I’m drinking tea and water and I’m amazed at the difference it makes.  Last Sunday I had a Diet Dr. Pepper because as I explained at our Ash Wednesday service that there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  So we get Sundays off. Sundays don’t count in the 40 days of lent….. When I took my first drink of Diet Dr. Pepper last Sunday it burned.  I remember using coca cola to clean off the acid off my car battery and it makes me wonder if I’ll go back.  How thirsty am I?

Jesus was thirsty.  He and his disciples have been traveling for some distance. His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. Rather than go around Samaria, Jesus makes a point to going through it. He sits down by a well- known well–Jacob’s well. When a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water Jesus asks her for a drink. 

There were not only strict rules about Jews and Samaritans not talking with one another, there were also rules about men and women not talking with one another.  Because of this, the Samaritan woman is surprised, and somewhat rude.  When she somewhat curtly turns aside his request for water, Jesus turns a seemingly chance encounter into an opportunity for change.

For a Jew to have any close physical contact with a Samaritan, drinking water from a common bucket, eating a meal together, would make him ceremonially unclean. (They practiced anti-social distancing) The daily prayer of a Pharisee would say, “I thank God that I am not a woman, Gentile or Samaritan,” and would pray that the Samaritans not be included in the resurrection

Jesus says to this Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  

She responds to his offer asking for some of what he has so she won’t have to come to draw water in the heat of the day when no one else would come. When Jesus tells her to go get her husband and she says she is single, Jesus agrees and says that he knows that she’s been cast aside 5 times by previous husbands and isn’t married to the one she is with now.  In those days, in that culture, women had no say when it came to divorce.  All a man had to do to divorce his wife was to say to his wife in the presence of some other men, “I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you.” The fact that 5 men had divorced her must have meant that she had something going for her that after the first one divorced her 4 others would not have married her (It could also explain why the sixth was not yet committed.)   

The woman tries to change the subject to a religious discussion. “Sir,” the woman says, “I can see that you are a prophet.” And she tries to shift the discussion to a theological argument about where and how to worship.

Jesus was a prophet, all right, but he was different than any other prophet the woman at the well would ever encounter. He was breaking all the cultural taboos. When he clears up her misunderstanding about worship she counters with a mention of the Messiah who would come and how he would explain everything Jesus says, “I am he!”

This is one of the most dramatic moments in Biblical history. Jesus lets his true identity be known. He doesn’t reveal his identity to the Sanhedrin or at the Temple to the priest. Jesus ushers in this glad news through this outcast among a people of outcasts.  Who are the outcasts today? 

This is startling even to this day–not what it says about Jesus, but what it says about us. How did we as a faith community miss the Gospel so completely? How did we become so judgmental toward others? How did we allow ourselves to shut out those of whom we disapprove, when time and time again Jesus did exactly the opposite? 

A pastor in Brooklyn got a telephone call from the local funeral director who said that he had a funeral that nobody wanted to take. None of the ministers in the area wanted anything to do with this funeral. The man had died of AIDS. This pastor decided to answer the call to serve. 

He said that when he got to the funeral home there were about 30 men. They never looked up at him. Their heads were down and they stared at the floor the whole time he spoke. After the funeral service was over they got into the waiting automobiles and went out to the cemetery. He stood on one side of the grave with the undertaker and the men stood on the other side. They were frozen in place like statues as he read Scripture and prayed. They lowered the body into the grave and the pastor pronounced the benediction. He turned to leave and then he realized that none of them were moving. He turned back and asked, “Is there anything more I can do?”

One of the men said, “Yes. They always read the 23rd Psalm at these things and you didn’t do that. Would you read the 23rd Psalm?”  He said, “Certainly.” And he did.

Then one of the men said, “Would you read to me and to all of us that passage that talks about the love of God, that nothing can separate us from the love of God?”

The pastor read, ‘Neither height nor depth nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come, neither life nor death, nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”

The pastor said nothing was more thrilling than to say to these men, who had been so ostracized and hurt by the church, that God still loved them and that nothing could separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (1)

God’s grace and love is available to all–to the Samaritan and the Jew, to the native and to the immigrant, to male and female, young and old, short and tall, red, brown and yellow black and white ..  all are precious in his sight.

When Jesus’ disciples returned from the town they weresurprised to find Jesus talking with a woman. When they came she left…and she left the reason for which she came.  She left her water jar. For her, drawing water from an earthly well was no longer a priority. The woman who shied away from people because she wanted to avoid their scorn was now energized to tell others, the very people who had hurt her, that she had found the Messiah.This woman becomes a recipient of God’s grace and becomes a vehicle of grace to guide others to the Master.Her whole town spent 2 days listening to Jesus and they too came to experience the same living water.

That’s what Jesus offers us as well —life-giving, life-renewing, life-refreshing water that satisfies our longings in life, living water that nourishes our innermost selves, that comes from an active, living trust in God and a passionate faith in Christ.

We need this kind of water. We need this kind of trust in God. We need this kind of faith in Christ because without this living water, our lives are like a desert. We need to draw close to God, open our hearts, and allow the waters of God’s love to flow within us and nurture that fragile planting of faith into fruit.

For far too many, the choice is to satisfy thirst by drinking from the sugary fountains of the world around us–trying to quench our thirst with the things around us. We try to fill ourselves with the drinks of power, possessions, and popularity. We think that personal pleasure can give us lasting satisfaction. We hope that power and prestige will fill us up.

But if power could produce peace of mind, then there ought to be a lot of contented people in Washington DC. If prestige could satisfy, then there ought to be a lot of satisfied people in Hollywood. If possessions could produce happiness, then our world ought to be filled with nothing but joyful people, because no one can dispute that we have more possessions than any generation ever before us.

But this world is not filled with satisfied, contented people. Because none of the “p” words — power, prestige, possessions, popularity, or personal pleasure — none of them can truly satisfy the thirst in our souls. Our thirst is for truth and meaning. Our search is for purpose in life that cannot be found in material possessions, carnal pleasure, or worldly power and prestige. Those streams do not contain living water. Those who drink from those streams will thirst again. Nothing short of living water that flows from a real, living relationship with God can satisfy. 

Anne Lamott, in her book Traveling Mercies, describes a time when a fellow church member told about adopting her son through an organization called ASK, Adopt Special Kids. Part of the adoption process included filling out a questionnaire checking yes or no to one’s willingness to adopt babies that had been born addicted, terminally ill, with physical “defects,” or mental disabilities. She and her husband had checked every category down the list.

Lamott’s pastor said that God, too, is like an adoptive parent who says, “Sure, I’ll take the kids who are addicted, or terminal. I pick all the mentally challenged kids and of course the sadists. The selfish one, the liars . . . I choose them. I choose the disobedient ones and the terrified ones, the self-indulged ones and the trouble-makers, the damaged ones and the unlovable ones. In love, I choose them all. I will be a parent to them all. I will end their separation and bring them home to me.” (2)

Inside the statue of Lady Liberty there is a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus.  She wrote it to help raise money for the pedestal on which the statue rests. Her poem is titled, “New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!  (3)

The Woman in the harbor beckons all to come. The woman at the well beckoned those who had previously shunned her to come and come they did and they too received what we all need to receive which can give us even more than the daily recommended 60-70 ounces of water we need to be optimally hydrated. The previously “Bad Samaritan” is a “Good Example” to us that anyone who is thirsty is invited and welcome to come and drink from the well that never shall run dry of … living water.  1. “30 Good Minutes”, Chicago Sunday Evening Club, 20062. Traveling Mercies  Lamott, Anne (New York: Anchor Books), pp. 254-255. 3. “The New Colossus”  Emma Lazarus

Let’s pray. Dear Jesus.  Thank you for seeking us out.  Thank you for making a special trip to see to it that you had a divine encounter with this precious woman.  Thank you for making a special trip to encounter each one of us.  May we take to heart your example.  May we give up on judging a book by its cover or a person by their past. May we see others through the eyes of the gospel, the evangel, the good news that no one is too far gone to be beyond your love and mercy and grace.

Lord, free us from our prejudices and our tendency to judge others without knowing them. Make us thankful for every follower of yours that you have sought out and rescued.


Luke 15:1-10 – March 11, 2020

As some of you might know, actor Paul Newman started a food company several years ago. Many products like popcorn and salad dressing now bear the name, “Newman’s Own.” With profits from this business, Newman helped build a camp for critically ill children. It’s called the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The name for the Camp was taken from his film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

One day Newman was sitting at a table one day with a camper who asked him who he was. The actor reached for a carton of Newman’s Own lemonade and showed the boy his likeness on the container, “This is me,” Newman said. Wide-eyed, the camper looked at the picture on the food carton and asked, “Are you lost?”  

Jesus, responding to the criticism of Pharisees who are scandalized by his choice of dinner companions, asks them, “Which among you, doesn’t go after the missing sheep? Which among you wouldn’t look for your lost money?”  How much more would you look for a person?

When my daughter Abbey was about 5 years old, I took her shopping for shoes in J.C. Penny’s.  In between pairs I glanced over to look at a pair I thought I might like and when I turned around, she was gone.  I became frantic. I formed an emergency search party. I asked the clerk where she went.  The clerk hadn’t seen her leave.  We called the store manager and the manager called security.  They called her name over the Public Address system.  I was beside myself.  But then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a 2-foot-tall blonde pony tail in the shoe storeroom.  She was trying them out in the storeroom.  She ONCE was lost but now she was FOUND.  (There was great rejoicing)

God is like a shepherd that searches for a lost sheep. God notices when one tiny lamb wanders from the flock. And God is willing to get dirty bringing that lamb home. That’s who God is. That’s how much God cares. One little lamb goes astray, and God is willing to leave all the nice lambs that behaved themselves and went to church every Sunday to go through the briars and the brambles until God finds that one lost lamb.  God is no Little Bo Peep who says, “Leave them alone and they will come home wagging their tails behind them.”

Two thousand years ago in Palestine, shepherds rarely bathed. In that dry and dusty land, water was a luxury. It was used primarily for drinking not bathing. The shepherd spent most of his time around sheep, not other people.

To identify God with a shepherd was hardly a compliment. A comparable picture of God might be an image of God spending hours in flop houses where drug addicts finish out their days poking their arms with unsanitary needles.

It might be a picture of God who spends hours in the garbage heaps of a South American city where children scavenge for food. It is a picture of God stretched out on a cross between two thieves. This is how much God loves us. God is the God who searches for lost sheep.

You know what?  Sheep don’t have a very good image either, do they? There was a rather bizarre story from the Associated Press about 1500 sheep that jumped off a cliff in Turkey. First, one sheep jumped to its death. Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff. In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile. Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned.

Sheep are dumb, but in many ways, we are even dumber. No sheep has ever been charged with abusing its own lamb. No sheep has ever been charged with stealing from a neighbor or with murder. Sheep don’t knowingly abuse their own bodies or minds. They don’t hate other sheep that are of a different color.  Even though some of them may have darker wool, sheep do not have black sheep in their family. 

Sheep don’t get lost on purpose.  They just nibble their way blade by blade of grass until they get away from the rest of the flock. Sheep only have one or two ways they can become lost. Humans have thousands, and we seem to be inventing new ones every day.

My suspicion is that some of us get lost by fancying the greener grass on the other side.  Some of us get lost because of an accident. And, I know you may find this hard to believe, but there are even some times when some of us get lost on purpose…who make intentional choices that cut themselves off from God.

Whether you’ve ever been lost or whether you have someone you love who is lost right now, it is great comfort that God cares about those who have gone astray–even and especially those who do not want to be found.  

One night, Anne and I went to B3- Bed Bath and Beyond.  (I’ve never gotten beyond the first two—Bed and Bath to find out what is Beyond)!  I came to the Welcome Mat section and there was a Welcome Mat that said, “GO AWAY!” 

We don’t know why the woman in Jesus’ parable was so concerned about one coin.  Perhaps it was necessary for the woman to find it out of economic necessity; or perhaps because it was one of ten silver coins linked together by a chain that formed the necklace of the head dress of a married woman, something like our wedding ring today.

The point is that Jesus uses an image of someone who in his hearer’s ears who was even lower in status than a shepherd to describe GOD!  Jesus says God is like a woman ….  who has lost a coin who searches and searches and won’t stop until the coin is found! 

I once lost my keys.  (can you believe it?) I keep them on a belt loop separate from my car fob.  I looked everywhere.  I was an embarrassed search party of one. I looked in my house, in the church office, in my car but they were nowhere to be seen.  I had extra keys to the church and was using our key from our Hide-A-Key to get by.  Finally, I broke down and asked Anne if I could borrow hers to make copies.  After making the copies the next night I sat in my recliner to watch the news.  I was eating some peanuts out of a bag and one of the peanuts escaped and rolled down into the crack of the recliner.  When I went to retrieve it…. I found my keys. They had come unattached from my loop and fell into the crack. “I FOUND THEM!”  I cried- rudely interrupting Lester Holt’s account of what was really important that day (There was great rejoicing)

My guess is that all of us feel lost or get lost from time to time. Some of us have hurts that were inflicted on us early in our lives, and those hurts still cause us pain. They may even cause us to lash out at others or to act self-destructively. We may not even know why we are doing some of the dumb things we do. It is like we are driven. Sometimes we don’t seem able to help ourselves. That is why we need a shepherd. That is why we need a God who gets dirty and comes to us where we are.  That’s why we need a God who diligently turns the house upside down looking for us.

I have studied world religions and all types of modern day efforts to find meaning in life, to find that something more, to find that something extra that will make all the difference in life, the one thing that I have found unique about the Jewish and Christian traditions is that the understanding of God is of a God who is a seeking God, a God who is like the shepherd who goes out looking for the lost sheep and a woman searching for a lost coin, and in the third example Jesus uses in this chapter that was didn’t read but almost all of us know God is like a Father searching for lost sons. (We’ll look at that story next week)

One of the most telling lines of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” is the line that says, “I ONCE was lost.” Grace understands that God’s love seeks and moves toward us even before we do any seeking or reaching out to God. Grace says that even WHEN we’re unworthy, God reaches out to us. If God waited to reach out to us until we were worthy, or till we made the first move, for many God would still be waiting.

The very heart of the Christian message is that God in his fullness sought us our personally in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said he came to SEEK and to SAVE the LOST.  Jesus came to seek and to save fools who say in their hearts there is no God.  Jesus entered into our world seeking to bring us the message of his love, his care.  In fact, I have a hard time finding anyone in the Bible who went looking for God. God came looking for them. 

Adam was hiding in the garden and God came looking for him.  Moses was a wanted man on the lam who left the palace life for the life of a shepherd.  But God sought him out in a burning bush that wasn’t being burned up and called him to be the deliverer of the children of Israel.

David who wrote Psalm 51 that we read last week in response to his being convicted by the prophet Nathan for his sin with Bathsheba was once a shepherd boy, the runt of the litter of his Father Jesse.  But God came looking for him through Samuel.

Saul was a Pharisee of Pharisees.  He was a part of the group to whom Jesus told this parable.  He was persecuting the followers of Jesus when Jesus appeared to him on the Road to Damascus.  He was blinded for 3 days.  He fasted and prayed until God sent Ananias to go and pray for him and restored his sight and changed the course of his life and. ours.

Last November I served as an Assistant Spiritual Advisor for a Women’s retreat called Journey to Damascus.  I was told it is similar to Walk to Emmaus or Cursillo or Pilgrimage or Kairos.  I was assured that unlike Saul’s Journey to Damascus we won’t be blinded and fasting for 3 days.  I liked is so much I served again this last January for a Men’s version… and I’ve been asked to serve on another Women’s weekend in April.

There was a time in my life when God came looking for me. The summer that I turned 20 I took a break from my lucrative career of selling ladies shoes to teach music and drama to children at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Through children who couldn’t see, God turned on the light to this 20-year-old kid who could.  I once could see, but I was blind. to spiritual things.  Those students were the search party that God used for me to be FOUND.

Like a father searching for a 2-foot tall pony tail, like a pastor searching for his keys, like a 20-year old searching for direction in life there is GREAT REJOICING when the lost is FOUND.  Sometimes God finds the lost by calling us to join in the search party.  Is life getting you down?  Are friends letting you down, family leaving you behind, co-workers shutting you out? There are a thousand ways we can feel lost when we come into this room each week. We may feel lost, but we come because it is here that we are FOUND.    

Let’s pray. Gracious Father, thank you for seeking and finding us.  Thank you for not giving up.  Thank you for restoring us when we stray.  Thank you for the GREAT REJOICING in heaven on the day that we were found.  We pray for those we perceive to be lost, for those who have strayed.  We pray for those you have yet to call, that we might join you in partnership and be the avenues through which your call can come.  We want to share the love of Jesus we have received. We want to use our gifts; the gifts you have given us to bring you glory. 


Genesis 12:1-4a, John 3:1-17, Romans 4:1-5; 13-17 – March 8, 2020

Many years ago, in a small town in the Pacific Northwest there lived a young boy named Paul.  He was just a little boy when his family became the proud owners of one of the first telephones in the neighborhood. It was one of those wooden boxes attached to the wall with the shiny receiver hanging on the side of the box… and the mouthpiece attached to the front.  (You know, like the one Jeff and Timmy used to use on LassieJ)

Young Paul listened with fascination as his mom and dad used the phone.  He decided that somewhere inside the wonderful device called a telephone lived an amazing person. Her name was “Information Please”… and there was nothing she did not know. “Information Please” could supply anybody’s number… and the correct time!

Paul’s first personal experience with “Information Please” came one day when he was home alone and he whacked his finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible and he didn’t know what to do… and then he thought of the telephone. Quickly, he pulled a footstool up to the phone, climbed up, unhooked the receiver, held it to his ear and said: “Information Please” into the mouthpiece. There was a click or two and then a small clear voice spoke: “Information.” “I hurt my finger,” Paul wailed into the phone. “Isn’t your mother home?” “Nobody’s home but me,” Paul cried. “Are you bleeding?”  “No,” Paul said. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.” “Can you open your ice-box?” “Yes.” “Then go get some ice and hold it to your finger.” Paul did and it helped a lot. 

After that Paul called “Information Please” for everything. She helped him with his geography and his math. She taught him how to spell the word “fix.”  And then when Paul’s pet canary died, she listened to his grief tenderly and then said: “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow that helped and Paul felt better. 

Nicodemus came to Jesus seeking information.  He starts with the information he has–“we know that you are a teacher sent from God for no one could do the things that you do unless God were with him.”  But he comes seeking more.

Jesus response was not exactly related to Nicodemus statement.  Jesus didn’t affirm that he was a teacher sent from God.  He said that no one could even see the kingdom of God unless he was born again.

For Nicodemus, that was TMI–too much information.  You see, Nicodemus was a fundamentalist, a man who took everything literally.  He said, “Born again?  How can I get in my mother’s womb again and be born again?”   If Jesus was a teacher sent from God he sure taught some strange things, things that made Nicodemus more confused than before he came to Jesus.  He came KNOWING that Jesus was a teacher sent from God, but he left WONDERING what being born again meant. 

When the encounter was over and Nicodemus went away puzzled but John the gospel writer gives us the greatest line that far outshines all the valentines ever written-“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”

When Richard Nixon ran for President in 1968, the Vietnam War was at its height. One of Nixon’s TV commercials showed a photo of an American soldier in Vietnam with the word “Love” written on his helmet.  The image bothered one of Nixon’s media men. “It reminds [people] of hippies,” he said. “They don’t think it’s the sort of thing soldiers should be writing on their helmets.” 

About a week later, however, a letter arrived from the mother of the soldier. She said how thrilled she was to see the photo of her son in Nixon’s TV commercial. She wondered if she could obtain a copy of the photo.  The letter was signed “Mrs. William Love.” (1) 

The soldier was not making a statement about his feelings at all. He was simply putting his name on his helmet.

Jesus said that no one could enter the kingdom of God unless he was born again, born anew, born from above, born by the love of God.

What is love? Love is Jesus Christ giving his life for a sinful world. Love is speaking not a word of defense when he was wrongly accused of something he didn’t do. Love was saying from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Love is giving his life even for those that took his life.  Remember, it was a Roman Centurion at the foot of the cross, one of those who actually participated in crucifying Jesus him that said, “Surely this was the son of God.”  That is love in its purest sense. That is love without reservation. That is love that asks nothing in return.

All other love pales in comparison. A father loves his children, but hopes that in return he would receive some modicum of love in return.  A husband loves his wife and in return he hopes for her fidelity, her emotional support, her mutual affection.  A wife loves her husband expecting the same.  Jesus loves in hope that he will receive love in return, but he loves even though, and in spite of the fact that he might not ever receive anything in return.  Jesus loves in spite of the fact that all he might receive in return is crucifixion. 

We were not saved by great teaching or great philosophy or great ethics or great miracles.  We were saved by the greatest love ever shown to anyone. We were saved by the sacrifice of one man’s life.  We were saved by a tragic, horrible, cruel death. That is why Nicodemus needed more information than Jesus was a teacher sent from God who did things that only a person who had God with him could do.  Jesus was the Son of God who was God and did the only thing that God could do–be sent to give his life for the sins of the world.

GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD…Can you think of anything this world is hungrier for than love?  We want to love and to be loved. To realize that the very nature of God is love is almost more than you or I can comprehend—almost too much information.

Some people become hardened by life. They become cynical, suspicious. They refuse to stick out their neck for anyone. But Jesus was not like that. Jesus not only stuck out his neck, he opened his arms for us….and raised, and he opens his arms to us.

There is nothing in life more rewarding than giving to another.  The apostle Paul said, “It is MORE blessed to give than to receive.”  But there is an important corollary that we must also recognize.  In order to be able to give love we must also be able to receive love.  A child who has not known love will have a hard time giving love. In order to be able to forgive others we must also be able to receive forgiveness and to forgive ourselves.  Jesus said it in the prayer he taught his disciples to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses AS WE forgive those who trespass against us.”

Faith is not a response to an intellectual acknowledgement of God from a “great teacher who was sent from God. Faith is a response to God’s love. That is why the cross is such an important part of Christian faith. It is on the cross of Calvary that we see the love of God most clearly.  To be sure the miracles of healing were tremendous demonstrations of Jesus’ love and compassion.  The miracles of feeding thousands of folks with a small boy’s lunch demonstrated how much Jesus loved the crowds.  But the greatest love was shown in the greatest pain…the pain unto death on a cross.

Could it be that in this secular society we really do not feel loved? Could it be that we feel that our lives lack significance? Could it be we feel isolated and alone? 

Could it be that part of the spiritual, emotional and moral malaise of our time can be explained by the fact that secular humanity has lost sight of the cross? 

So many today are a bundle of anxieties. That is why we accomplish so little. What we need is to relax in the knowledge that we are loved. “Do you believe in Christ? Then what in the world are you worried about? Accept his love. Lay your deepest concerns at the foot of the cross.

When the little boy who used to call “Information Please” was nine years old, Paul moved from his small town in Washington state with his family to Boston… and as the years passed he missed “Information Please” very much. Some years later as Paul was on his way out west to go to college, his plane landed in his hometown of Seattle. He dialed his hometown operator and said, “Information Please.” 

Miraculously, he heard that same small clear voice that he knew so well.  “Information.” Paul hadn’t planned this, but suddenly he blurted out: “Could you please tell me how to spell the word “fix?” There was a long pause. Then came the soft answer: “I guess your finger must be all healed by now.” Paul laughed. “So it’s really still you. Do you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time when I was a little boy?” She said, “Oh how much your calls meant to me! I never had any children and I used to look forward to your calls so much.” 

Paul told her how much he had missed her over the years and asked her if he could call her again when he was back in the area. “Please do,” she said, “just ask for Sally.” Three months later, Paul was back in Seattle. This time a different voice answered. He asked for Sally. “Are you a friend?” the operator asked. “Yes, a very old friend.” Paul answered. “Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally had been working part time the last few years because she was sick. She died 5 weeks ago.” Before he could hang up, the operator said: “Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?” 

“Yes.” “Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you. It says: ‘When Paul calls, tell him that I still say: there are other worlds to sing in.’ He will know what I mean.”  Paul thanked her and hung up and he did know what Sally meant. 

“There are other worlds to sing in.”That is precisely what Jesus meant when he said we must be born again to see the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is that other world to sing in. (3).

When Jesus said to Nicodemus that night: “You must be born again.”  That’s what he meant…We are born into this world, but when we are born again we are born into that other world to sing in.  All the singing we do now is choir practice for the day we join those who have gone before us like Nicodemus and the grown-up Paul who has since gone to sing with his dear friend “Information.”

1. Gerald Tomlinson, SPEAKER’S TREASURY OF POLITICAL STORIES, ANECDOTES, AND HUMOR, (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: 1990).

2. Jeffrey Holland in VITAL SPEECHES.

3. ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., Collected Sermons, by James W. Moore

Baptisms of Dominic and Eden Watson

“It was my privilege and joy to officiate for the sacrament of baptism to Dominic and Eden Watson this morning at Joyful Life Lutheran.  It was so good to see so many of their friends and family attend to witness this important step in their journey of faith.  Join me in welcoming them to the community of faith known as Joyful Life!”    After the service we had cake and punch and lots of fist bumps.

Faith Lift: Spring Break

Last Saturday we had an extra day–February 29th.  This Sunday we Spring Forward in order to get an extra hour of daylight.   This week we have Spring Break–an extra week off from school.

When you don’t have kids in school, Spring Break is just another week.  The month of March is known for March Madness—the NCAA Basketball tournament when teams from all over the United States play each other to determine which team is the best in the nation.  It is when millions of people in need of exercise take time out to watch 10 people at a time in need of rest.

In the church, we take a break in the Spring.  It’s called Lent.  We’ve just begun the season of Lent when we prepare our hearts to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter.  It is a time of examining ourselves, and repenting of things that have broken our relationship with God   it is a time of letting the Holy Spirit x-ray our inner being and reveal problem spots.  It is a time of submitting to the Spirit’s cleaning out the places where sin has worked its way into our lives and brought separation from our Lord.  It is a time of emptying and filling.

 I try to take care of my teeth.   I brush every morning, most nights and floss every time I eat jerky.   Still there was a time when a crack appeared.  My filling was full … of decay.  

As much as I would like it, I couldn’t just hope that the decay would go away on its own.   I needed someone to come clean it out and fill in the hole it made so that it won’t return.

It occurs to me that there are areas in my life that need cleaning out and filling.  There are areas have been filled that have developed cracks.  When that happens I need to go for a cleaning. Once the sin is cleaned out I need someone to fill the hole it has left with good things, with things that will protect me from letting those things back in my life.  And at regular intervals, maybe not as long as six month intervals, I need to be reexamined lest my fillings develop cracks.

What areas of your life need cleaning out?  What areas need filling?  Are there any cracks in your fillings?  Tonight I would welcome your presence as we begin a series of Lenten Services examining some of the Parables of Jesus.  We will start with probably Jesus’ greatest known parable-the one about the Good Samaritan.  I think it will be a great opportunity to have a spiritual check up as we begin this week of Spring Break.

Trials in the Wilderness

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4-1-11, Romans 5:12-19 – March 1, 2020

When I was about to retire after 40 years as a Presbyterian pastor from my church in Baytown at the time we were hosting the weekly Rotary International luncheons.  The Wednesday before my last Sunday I stood up and said, “After 40 years in Promised Land I’m about to head into the wilderness.”  I stopped short and realized what I had said….and everyone laughed.  I got it backwards.  I meant to say was that I had spent 40 years in the wilderness and was headed to the Promised Land (you know, of retirement). But upon reflection, in getting it wrong I think I actually got it right.  I spent 40 years in the Promised Land knowing who I was and what I was called to do.  I had a regular paycheck, (except for the years when I started a church in Pearland with 3 families and no salary.)  I knew where I was going and what I needed to do.  Now I was heading into the wilderness of not knowing where I was going or what I was going to do…    

My last Sunday as a Presbyterian was December 31, 2018.  On January 17 of 2019 I started as the Interim Pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Dickinson. It was a short wilderness.

My last Sunday as the Interim Pastor at Faith Lutheran was January 5, 2010.  My first Sunday here was January 19, 2020. So far, my wildernesses last 2 weeks.  

Moses and the children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness and some say that’s because Moses was a man and didn’t ask for directions.  Last Sunday we read about Moses spending 40 days on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 commandments. Last Wednesday we began 40 days of Lent preparing our hearts to draw closer to God as we think on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This morning we look at Jesus spending 40 days and nights fasting in the wilderness. 

Immediately following his baptism Jesus is led into temptation. The issue was not whether He would rule the world, but how He would take it. So, out there in the wilderness of those barren Judean hills Jesus struggled with what He would do and how He would do it. 

Sometimes we may not take this very seriously. We may not think Jesus was really tempted, not the way we are tempted, not our Jesus. But we need to understand that the temptations of Jesus were real temptations. Matthew tells us plainly that Jesus was in the wilderness tempted by the devil. He did not say Jesus wondered, imagined, was charmed, or that He considered his options. He tells us He was tempted.Indeed it says the Spirit LED him there for the purpose of being tempted.  That’s not exactly the first thing on my list when I think of people being led by the Spirit. 

The prayer our Lord taught his disciples to pray says, “Lead us not into temptation.”  I’ve always wondered why Jesus put that in there.  Maybe the reason Jesus put this line in the prayer he taught his disciples to pray is because he’s trying to say, “I was led into temptation and believe me, you don’t want to go there.” 

Everyone who has ever lived has been tempted. Each of us at one time or another has been tempted to do something we know we shouldn’t do.  Each one of us at one time or another has been tempted to stand by and not do what we know we should do.  Some of you may be tempted at this very moment to…take a nap. It’s not a sin to be tempted.  The sin comes when we give in to temptation.  James 1:13 says, “When someone is being tempted he should not say, “God is tempting me.”  God does not tempt anyone.  It is the evil that a person wants that tempts him. His own evil desire leads him away and holds him.” 

Jesus came to redeem us.  He came to deliver us from bondage to sin.  He came to undo what had been done.  To do that, he had to face down every temptation we humans have ever faced and not give in. Hebrews 14:5 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been temptedin every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin.” 

Let‘s consider for a few moments the nature of the temptations Jesus faced and see how they apply to our lives as well.

First of all, BEFORE Jesus is tempted he spends 40 days and 40 nights without eating.  This is the only time we know that Jesus fasted for 40 days.  Indeed, during his public ministry the word on the street was that Jesus was more into feasting rather than fasting.  His opponents accused him of being a “winebibber and a glutton.”  

One of the most understated passages of scripture comes next.  Verse 2 says, “After that he was hungry.”  No kidding.  One time I was put a clear liquid diet for 2 days and I was hungry.

Jesus faces these temptations in probably the weakest physical shape of his entire life.  And he did it before he had done any miracles.  He did it before he had a track record to look back on to build his confidence. 

1. The first temptation was the wrong use of power. There’s no question that Jesus could have turned stones into bread. On at least 2 occasions he turned a kid’s happy meal into a feast for thousands.  But Jesus knew who was tempting him and why. Jesus quoted scripture in response to the devil’s challenge, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus is saying is that there is more to life than having a full stomach.

One of the great temptations we face is the temptation to always have more. Happiness is just around the corner if only we have more—more things, or more wealth, more of the finer things of life. 

Jesus overcame his first temptation by putting his complete trust in God. That’s a good example for us. We’re so concerned about “having it all.” The wise person trusts that God will provide all that he or she needs. 

2. In the second temptation, Jesus was tempted by the wrong way to popularity. This time the devil took him to the “pinnacle of the temple.” Again the devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…,” as if there was some question of Jesus’ identity. The devil wanted Jesus to throw himself off of the temple. This time, to make the temptation even more appealing, the devil quotes scripture: “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” 

Jesus once again countered the devil’s temptation by quoting scripture, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Of course, Jesus could have leaped from the temple and angels would have rescued him. He could have won the gold in pinnacle jumping and he would have won an instant following. People from all over would want to see him to jump from the temple again and again. I saw on TV last night that Kiki Wallenda is going to walk a high wire over an active volcano and people are going to tune in to see that.  (and then they’ll want him to top that next).  When my daughter was little and I would pick her up and throw her up in the air and catch her and put her down she would lift her arms and wiggle her fingers and say “Do me!. “over and over and over. 

If Jesus had jumped I think some entrepreneurs would have figured out a way to sell tickets and make a pretty penny.   But pretty soon, they would get tired of seeing him jump from the temple and would want him to jump from higher places. Jesus resisted the devil’s second temptation because he knew that faith could not be built upon the sensational. 

That’s good advice for you and me. God is not to be found in the sensational, but in His everyday faithfulness. 

3.  Finally, Jesus was tempted by the wrong kind of partnership. The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promised, “All these I will give, if you will fall down and worship me.” 

All Jesus had to do at this point was to compromise his mission and his ministry. The devil was handing Jesus the whole world if only he would worship him. If Jesus would have given in to this temptation, he could bypass his suffering and death on the cross. This would be a short cut for Jesus, and it would be much more pleasant since it involved no pain. Jesus could have the whole world without having to suffer and die for it. What a temptation! Jesus, though, would not compromise. Again he quoted scripture, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” 

There is no compromise in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus resisted the devil’s third temptation. Jesus said, “Away with you, Satan!” 

These three temptations were to try to get Jesus touse his gifts for his own selfish purposes, to base his witness on the sensational, to compromise his ministry and mission. It occurs to me that these are the three most enticing temptations that any church faces as well. 

1. We could use our gifts only for our own satisfaction. We could spend all our money on ourselves and worry just about meeting our own needs by putting Joyful Life Church first.

2. We could make our service a sideshow and seek to win people with a superficial witness to the Gospel.  We could fashion our worship to meet the esthetic tastes of those who come. “You know, communion has been the same menu for 2,000 years. Why not spice up the bread by having pizza and Bud Light?  

3. We could compromise our ministry and our mission. Let’s get people in here by soft pedaling the cost of discipleship and lowering the standards for membership.  You don’t have to believe Jesus is Lord.  You don’t have to try to live in a way that’s pleasing to God.  But we are the church of Jesus Christ. Jesusresisted those temptations, and so shall we. 

How did Jesus do it?  Did he call down fire to turn Satan into a crispy critter? No. Jesus faced and defeated temptation using the one weapon that is available to each of us–the scriptures.  He countered each temptation with “It is written.” 

Lent is not only a time of confession and repentance, but also an invitation to lay bare to our Lord all that we most want to hide from God, ourselves and others. I need to know Jesus can handle my shame and guilt, my pettiness and anxieties, my dashed dreams and my secret fears. I need to know Jesus is with me, utterly, completely and unequivocally in the most terrifying wilderness of my life. I need to know that when I give in to temptation, Jesus will, in fact, deliver me from the evil he survived and defeated.

So I want to remind us today that in those times when we find ourselves trying to find our way through our wilderness, and when temptation comes and offers us the wrong answer, the wrong choice — the wrong use of power, the wrong way to popularity, the wrong kind of partnership –God will give us the power to face and be victorious in our fight against temptation and trials in our … wilderness.

And the people said, “Amen.”

Wednesday Lenten Services

Please join us every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. for our Lenten Service. There will be time for reflection, prayer, a special message from Pastor Gill, and plenty of music! Bishop Michael Rinehart from the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod will be joining us on March 11 for Pastor Gill’s message – “Lost and Found” from Luke 15: 1-10. It is always an honor to have Bishop Rinehart attend one of our events at Joyful Life. We look forward to seeing you at our services.

Give Up

Psalm 51:1-12, Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21 — February 26, 2020

Ash Wednesday

A Catholic priest working in an inner city was walking down an alley one evening on his way home when a young man came down the alley behind him and poked a knife against his back. “Give me your money,” the young man said.

The priest opened his jacket and reached into an inner pocket to remove his wallet. When he turned around to give it to the young man he saw the priest’s clerical collar.  “Oh, I’m sorry, Father,” said the young man, “I didn’t see your collar. I don’t want YOUR money.”

Trembling from the scare, the priest removed a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to the young man. “Here,” he said. “Cigar?”

“Oh, no, I can’t do that,” the young man replied, “I gave them up for Lent.” (That priest was saved from being robbed by what I call his “collar I.D.”)

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40-day period of preparation to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.  In the same way we spend 30 days preparing to celebrate Jesus birth, we spend 40 days preparing to remember his death and celebrate his resurrection.

Originally the use of ashes to signify penance was a matter of private devotion. Later it became part of the official rite for reconciling public penitents. In this context, ashes on the penitent served as a motive for fellow Christians to pray for the returning sinner and to feel sympathy for him.

Putting a ‘cross’ mark on the forehead was in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a Christian in baptism. This is when the newly born Christian is delivered from slavery to sin and the devil, and made a slave of righteousness and Christ

In the Old Testament ashes were found to have used for two purposes: as a sign of humility and mortality; and as a sign of sorrow and repentance for sin. The Christian connotation for ashes in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday has also been taken from this Old Testament biblical custom. The concept originated somewhere in the 6th century. Though the exact origin of the day is not clear, the custom of marking the head with ashes on this Day is said to have originated during the reign of Gregory the Great (590-604). Receiving ashes on the head as a reminder of mortality and a sign of sorrow for sin was a practice of the Anglo-Saxon church in the 10th century. It was made universal throughout the Western church at the Synod of Benevento in 1091.

David, King of Israel, had an experience that struck terror into his heart. He was in need of repentance.  David had sinned. The prophet Nathan confronted him with it. His need was made clear by a simple story told to him by the prophet Nathan. He was an adulterer and a murderer. David had abused his power as the divinely appointed ruler of his nation. David was described as a man after God’s own heart, but he had failed God and he had failed his nation. Ultimately, he had failed himself. In the quiet of the night, the guilt and the shame weighed heavily upon him, and he began to pray.

As you and I come to this sacred place on this special night, we probably do not feel the weight of our sins like David did. That is not because we have not sinned. It’s just that as a culture we have developed a highly effective ability to rationalize and justify our behavior. We don’t even use the word sin anymore. We “admit mistakes.” We “mess up.”  We say we “misjudged” or “misspoke.”  We apologize “if” we have hurt anyone but don’t apologize for what we said or did THAT hurt “anyone” OR acknowledge that what we said or did might have been WRONG!  We shrug our shoulders and declare, “Oh, well, nobody’s perfect” as if somehow that is an acceptable excuse for our misdeeds. Something has happened to us as a people that has caused us to shrug off responsibility for doing wrong.

David had sinned and he knew it. The guilt lay heavily upon him. David was not only sorry for his sins, but he was determined to change. He prays that God will not only forgive him, but also make him a new person.  David knew that he could not achieve the kind of change he needed on his own. Only by the grace and love of God could he really become the kind of man his family and his nation needed the kind of man God intended him to be.

Shane Claiborne is a writer I admire. He wrote that his priest asked, “What’s the difference between a flute and a stick in the mud?”  “The stick in the mud is full of itself. The flute has been emptied of itself so it can make music.” That’s a good image for Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.

In a world filled with clutter, noise, and hustle, Lent is a good excuse to step back and rethink how we think and live. In a world of instant gratification, it’s a chance to practice delayed gratification – to fast – so that we can truly appreciate the blessings we have.  In a world where virtual friends are replacing real ones, it is an invitation to turn off TV and computer screens so we can spend time with real people again. It’s an opportunity to give up something that is sucking the life out of us so that we can be filled with God, with life, with love again.” 1

Self-denial is the reason for the raucous celebrations of Mardi Gras which is French for “Fat Tuesday.”  Since Lent was traditionally a time of fasting, the day before Ash Wednesday was always one during which people would use up eggs, butter, and other perishables that would not last through the Lenten season.    

Tonight is the first day of the penitential season of Lent which lasts forty days between Ash Wednesday till Easter.  HOWEVER, if you go to your calendar and actually count the number of days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, you total 46! Why the discrepancy? The Sundays during Lent are not counted.  Here’s to Sundi Gras!  Here’s to Fat Sundays!

Many people, when they think about Lent they think about giving up something.  Sometimes it takes the form of giving up a favorite food or drink. There’s a word for that. It’s fasting. When we eat a meal in the morning after a night of rest we call that break fast…because we are breaking our fast from eating …the 7 or 8 hours we were asleep.

Fasting has always been a part of religious devotion, both Christian and non-Christian. Jesus took for granted that people would fast. Jesus twice says, “When you fast,” not “if you fast,” or “you should fast.”

Jesus fasted. Paul fasted. The Disciples fasted. Luther fasted. The Wesley brothers fasted.  If fasting has been a universal practice of religious people, there must have been a reason for it and there must have been some value to it.

The world says that fasting is foolish. Fasting means you must be hard on yourself. You must deny yourself some comfort or pleasure. The world says we should be easy on ourselves. You owe it to yourself to treat yourself- indulge yourself, stuff yourself to overflowing. Forget the showdown at the O.K. Corral the world shows up at the G O L D E N   C O R R A L

Fasting is the exact opposite of that philosophy. Fasting calls for pulling in the reins on yourself.  It means saying “No” to yourself. It demands discipline and denial. If you are serious about fasting, why don’t you give up things that you feel you cannot possibly give up? If you cannot stop smoking, why not try it as a Lenten discipline? If it is alcohol, let the bottle alone for forty days.

In our passage from Matthew Jesus warned against making a public show of our fasting.  If that’s the case, why do we put ashes on our foreheads one day a year? Isn’t that an outward “show?”  The answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, more importantly we also gather to remember who God is – and what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ.  We will wash off the ashes tomorrow.  We won’t wear them every day and blow trumpets every time the offering plate comes by or broadcast our prayers through a bullhorn.

Jesus is warning us that it is possible to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. He is warning us that if we strive for praise in this life, we will lose an infinitely greater reward in Heaven. He is challenging us to get real about our faith.  Do we worship and pray and fast and give to get recognition from others or do we do it because of an overflowing gratitude that says, “Lord, I can’t say “Thank You enough”?

The ashes we put on tonight are a symbol of our repentance and of our focusing on our spiritual walk over these next 40 days of Lent.

What will Lent 2020 mean for you? The decision is yours. You may choose to give up cokes or candy or coffee or cakes or …  cigars. J  If I may be so bold though, I’d like to offer a few suggestions that cost no money and don’t involve food OR drink.

  1. GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning you.” Moaning, groaning, and complaining are not Christian disciplines.
  2. GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer.
  3. GIVE UP looking at other people’s worst points. Instead, concentrate on their BEST points for a change. We all have faults. It will be easier for people overlook OUR shortcomings when we overlook THEIRS.
  4. GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. 
  5. GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
  6. GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about…like tomorrow! Live for today and let God’s grace be sufficient.                          
  7.  GIVE UP screen time!  Instead, visit someone who is lonely or sick. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Give someone a precious gift, your time!
  8. GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself!  Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet their basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God’s bounty, not just consumers.2

I talked to a young woman who said that she was going to spend 40 days writing Thank You notes to people she appreciates.  She’s giving up her time she could spend otherwise by giving thanks.

Over these next 40 days (and six Sundi Gras) I hope you will find something that you will GIVE UP.  I hope you will find something that you will give up that will help you LIVE UP to your calling and bring you closer to the One who has called your name.   I hope you will Look up and Rise up and Raise up your hopes, your joys, your dreams, your vision of who God is calling you to be, and who God is calling us to BECOME as his people, as his church, as his ambassadors in our community.   I hope you will join me this Lenten season as I search for what God wants me to …  Give Up.

1. Shane Claiborne “Fat Tuesday and Skinny Wednesday” Twitter

2. List credited to the Rev. Craig Gates, St. Philip’s, Jackson, MS

I’d like to close with a song that took me 20 years to write.  I started it when my Dad dies in 1990.  I thought about singing it at his funeral, but it just didn’t seem right. Then in 2010, after my mom had died I was waiting to play at an Open Mic at the Main Street Crossing in Tomball.  It was the night before our Ash Wednesday service.  I was inspired as to how to finish the song and I sang it that night at the Open Mic and the next night at our Ash Wednesday service.  It’s called Ashes to ashes.

                                                                      “Ashes to Ashes” 

                                             Lyrics and Music: Jim Gill

                                                Text: Romans 8:16-18

1.Ashes to ashes and dust to dust

   from dust we came and we’ll return as we must..

   The suffering of this present time just cannot compare

   To the glory to be revealed and the joys that we will share.

2.Farewell to this temple of flesh and of bone

    We’ll fold up out present tents to fly to our new home.

    To say goodbye below is to say hello on high

    Where the joys will far outweigh every tear we’ve cried.

3.Parting bring sorrow but reunion so sweet

    We look to tomorrow when again we shall meet

    to say goodbye below is to say hello to all

   Who’ve been patiently waiting till the day we get our call.

4..Ashes to ashes and dust to dust

    from dust we came and we’ll return as we must.

    The suffering of this present time just cannot compare

    To the glory to be revealed and the joys that we will share.

        No the circle won’t be broken by and by Lord by and by

        there’s a bigger circle awaitin in the sky Lord in the Sky.

Human beings are naturally self-centered.  In fact so are other animals.  No one gives a hot dog to one dog among 3 and expects him to share.  This trait manifests itself early in life. Infants and toddlers expect, even demand, to be the center of attention.

When the world seems more complex and threatening we turn our focus inward. Fear causes us to focus on ourselves. Self-centeredness also stems from a lack of love. First John 4:18 reminds us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

In our gospel lesson for tonight, Jesus points out a tendency that is more prevalent than ever in our society, the tendency to judge every act by the question, “What’s in it for me?  More and more people are judging laws, social policies, careers, and the like by this one question.  Whatever the reason, no one can argue that much of our society chooses to “look out for number one.” This attitude eventually spills over into our worship of God. We want some return on our investment here!  If we are going to pray, we want others to praise our eloquent speech. If we give money, we want a mention in the newspaper or a nice plaque.  If we fast, we want folks to point to us as a good example.

But Jesus says, “Don’t look for go tooting your own horn when you give to help others.”  Don’t make a show of your prayer life by trying to outdo each other with heaps of words and flowery phrases, and when you fast don’t put on the “poor poor pitiful me” look and call attention to yourself.  When it comes to treasures on earth, don’t keep on renting storage spaces to hold everything you ever gotten.  Jesus wants us to be authentic in our commitment to him.

Lent is about dropping the pretense. It’s about living the Christian life to the best of our ability and not worrying about what the rest of the world thinks. Jesus doesn’t want us to make a show of our faith or our humility.  The kind of fast and the kind of prayer that the Lord desires is not be one of making an outward show. 

Jesus had a word for people like that-“hypocrite.”  The word hypocrisy means, simply, “putting on a mask.” I find it interesting that some Mardi Gras participants wear special   Mardi Gras … Masks.

One scholar suggests that Jesus himself coined the word, borrowing it from the Greek word for actors, or hypocrites.  Back then, a hypocrite was a person who put on a mask to play someone he was not.  Today, if we were being true to the meaning of the word we would give Oscars for Best Supporting Hypocrite in a Drama.

There once was a man who visited Niagara Falls. As part of his excursion he traveled down into “the cave of the winds.” This is a place behind the falls where you can look out on the tumbling waters. The noise is deafening.

This man asked the guide how he stood such noise.

The guide replied. “I never hear it.”

“What do you mean?” asked the visitor.

The guide said, “When I first started to work here I couldn’t stand the noise, but now I am used to it and I never hear it.”

We’re like that with regard to much of the sinfulness of our culture. We’ve acclimated ourselves to it. Behaviors that used to bother us, we now accept.

Faith Lift: Undos

I enjoy playing chess against my computer. It’s a way to pass the time while I’m on hold waiting to talk to someone from my cable company. I played for quite a while before I discovered that if I made a bad move and clicked on the “Game” button in the top left hand corner that a drop down menu would reveal a magic button that said “Undo.”

What a wonderful button!  Anytime I made a move that was disadvantageous to me I could let my mouse drift to the game button and press “undo,” and try again.  After I discovered the “undo,” button my statistics went up considerably.  It’s not cheating.  It’s learning.

Don’t you wish life was like playing chess with a computer?  Don’t you wish you could click on “game” and have a drop down menu that would offer you the opportunity to undo, to back up, to take another run, to learn? 

I believe there IS such a button.   When we make a wrong move in our “game” of life we can “drop down” on our knees and ask the Lord for an “undo.”   We can ask for forgiveness and receive it.

However, when we are forgiven there are still steps we need to take to undo the damage.  It’s one thing to be forgiven, but it’s another to work to undo damage done.  We have to forgive others.

Jesus taught us the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do to you.”  He also taught us to pray.  When it came to forgiving, he told us to ask him to forgive us as we forgive others.  I think that if Jesus played computer chess, he would have said, “give undos unto others as you would have them give undos to you.”

In the church today we will begin a season we call Lent. Tonight at 7:00 p.m. we will have an Ash Wednesday service. Like the season of Advent where we prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming of Jesus birth, the season of Lent is one where we prepare ourselves to remember his death and resurrection. Over these next 6 weeks we will be thinking about just what Jesus did to become the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” That’s the greatest of all…undos.

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