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Daring Faith

Daring to Imagine!

October 16, 2017 by Pastor Greg

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            One of the great gifts that God has given us is the gift of imagination.  Imagination is something that comes quite natural to us.  You don’t have to teach a child how to use his or her imagination.  I can remember as a very small child imagining what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wanted to be a horse.  That didn’t work out so well for me, but I imagined it.

            God has given us imaginations so that we can use them to dream God’s dreams for our lives.  In the Scriptures God tells us this, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young me will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

            God wants us to dream God-sized dreams.  God wants you to imagine how He could use you if you were fully surrendered to Him. Have you dared to imagine how God wants to change you?  Have you imagined what you would be like if you allowed God to make you into the best you that you could be? Have you dared to imagine how God wants to use you?  Have you imagined how God wants to use your time and energy to make a difference in this world?  Have you dared to imagine how God wants to use your resources?  It’s easy to dream of that next purchase or that next vacation, but have you ever dreamed of how God wants to use your generosity to impact someone else’s life?

             In his book, “Preaching to Strangers” Will Willimon, retired bishop in the UMC, tells the following story.  “In my last church in the middle of a sermon on Lazarus and the rich man, I read an account, out of a Brazilian newspaper about how the poor of Brazil were selling organs from their bodies to the rich.  The story quoted a man named Walter who had recently sold his eyes to a rich person for a corneal transplant.  Walter, who has never had a job, was quoted as saying, “At last I can see my family to a better life.”

            I just read the story; that’s all.

            Next morning, Monday, when I arrived in my office the telephone was ringing.  It was Debbie.  Debbie was our resident congregational activist.  She lived with her teacher husband in a small house near the church. 

            “I haven’t slept all night,”  Debbie said. 

            “Why?” I asked.

            “Because of Walter!  I can’t get him out of my mind.  I got David up this morning at five o’clock.  We talked.  We prayed. We were going to get a new car.  We were going to buy a new stereo.  We don’t need it. We are going to double our giving to the church if you can promise me that this money will go to help someone like Walter.”

God is looking for people who, no matter their age, are willing to their imaginations a go.  He is looking for people who will dare to say, “I’m all in; and I’m going to dream God’s dreams for my life and for this world.” 

Go ahead.  I dare you.

Giving God My Best

October 09, 2017 by Pastor Greg

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            This past summer ESPN did a three part series called Celtics vs. Lakers, “The Best of Enemies.”     The focus of the documentary is really on the 1980s and the great Celtics and Lakers teams of that era.  We’re talking Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin McHale.

            One of the players on some of those great Celtics teams was a guy who played at UNCC named Cornbread Maxwell.  This is a guy who was a winner.  In 1977 he led UNCC on a remarkable run all the way to the final four.

He was rewarded by being drafted by the Celtics.  The problem is that toward the end of the 70s the Celtics just stunk.  There were terrible. 

            One year he’s a national darling as he leads a Cinderella team to the final four.  The next year he is a rookie on the Celtics and they are getting beat night after night.  One of the games that they lost, Maxwell was pretty down about it.  There was a guy on that team named Curtis Rowe.  He saw how down Maxwell was and he said to him, “Rook, there are no w’s and no l’s on your check. Wins or losses you get paid, so play the game and make sure you cash your checks.”

            He was saying, “Look, you’re in the NBA.  You’re getting paid to play basketball.  That ought to be good enough for you.”

            That turned out to be the last year that Curtis Rowe was in the league.  Three years later Cornbread Maxwell has teammates who are as committed to winning as he is including a skinny kid named Larry Bird.  Three years later Rowe is out of the league, and Maxwell is not only celebrating a world championship, but he is the MVP of the finals.

            Then two years after that, game 7 against Magic Johnson and the Lakers, he put the Celtics on his back and carried them to the championship.

            His story challenges me as it relates to our faith.  Daring faith presents us with this reality.  I must decide if I want to be a committed Christian or a casual Christian.

            Am I going to be committed in my spiritual growth, or just casual?  Am I going to be committed in financial generosity to support the work of Christ, or just casual?  Am I going to be committed in my service of God, or just casual?

           God’s hope is captured in this thought from Scripture. “Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”           

Go ahead.  I dare you.

Growing, Sowing, Going!

October 02, 2017 by Pastor Greg

 

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJX-YoE1V0M

Are you up for the dare?  We have officially launched our fall faith campaign.  This is a two month study in which we will focus on growing, sowing and going in faith. 

First, God wants you to grow in your faith.  “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”  Colossians 2:7 (NLT).  God wants your relationship with Him to deepen.  He wants you to grow in your faith.  He doesn’t want you spend your whole life as a spiritual baby.

Second, God also wants you to sow in faith.  “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”  2 Corinthians 9:6 (NIV).  In other words, God wants you to become generous.  You can’t grow in your faith without growing in your generosity.  You cannot become more Christ-like without becoming generous. 

Third, God wants you to go in faith.  Hebrews 11:8 summarizes the faith of Abraham with this verse, “It was by faith Abraham obeyed God’s call to go.  He left his own country, without knowing where he was to go.”

Would you do that?  Abraham was up in years.  He was at the retirement phase of his life.  It was time to just sit on the back deck and enjoy the view.  But God said, “This isn’t where it ends.  This is where it begins!  He called Abraham to launch out on the greatest journey of his life. When you live by faith it involves going, often to places you hadn’t any idea you were planning to go to. 

As we start this journey I want you to agree to do something beginning this week throughout the course of this study.  I want you to set a daring faith goal for growing.  I want you to set a daring faith for sowing, for generosity.  And I want you to set a daring faith goal for going, for how you will deepen your service to God. 

If you will do these things, it’s quite possible that you will encounter God as you never have before.

Go ahead.  I dare you.            

Take the Plunge

September 26, 2017 by Pastor Greg

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 https://youtu.be/shvoDjwRcOk

            From the time I was a small child my family had a membership at the Graham Swimming pool.  They started me out in the baby pool.  It  was a great place to start for a small kid.  Your mom could sit on the side and you could splash around in water that was about the depth of a bathtub.

            The thing about the baby pool is that you grew out of it pretty quickly. And you needed to.  Could you imagine how silly I would have looked if I was grown and still splashing around in the baby pool?  Unfortunately, that’s the temptation many people succumb to spiritually.  Paul speaks about that when he writes to the Corinthians and says, “Spiritually you should be eating solid food, but you are still just taking milk.  You should be grown up, but you are still on baby food.”

            At the Graham Swimming pool what was natural and expected was that I should make it to the big pool.  And I did.  But for a while, I was restricted to the shallow end.  I needed to grow in my swimming ability before it was safe to venture into deeper waters.  Again, it is the same thing.  What a waste it would have been had I never ventured beyond the shallow end of the pool. 

            We are called to deeper waters of faith.  It your faith never leads you to where you are in over your head, then your faith has stopped growing.

            At the Graham Swimming pool, however, there was one transcendent goal.  There was one challenge that captured every child who ever took a dip in its waters.  There was one great leap of faith that loomed on the horizon beckoning every single kid.

            The high diving board.  Suspended 10 feet above the surface of the water meant that as a kid the water would be 14 feet beneath eye level.  But somewhere, each of us who went through that rite of passage understood.  The first jump was terrifying.  We could play it safe but that wasn’t what we were meant for.  We were made for an adventure.  We took the plunge into the depths below.

            It is the same in life.  We are not made to play it safe.  We are made for daring faith.  We are created to take that dive into the depths of God’s grace.  Will you join me in this adventure?  Go ahead.  I dare you.

I Dare You!

September 19, 2017 by Pastor Greg

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            This Sunday I am going to introduce our fall study, “Daring Faith.”  Now what is the typical response to a dare?  A dare makes us uncomfortable.  When I say, “I dare you,” what am I doing?  I’m challenging you to do something that you are not comfortable doing.

            But here’s the thing.  We can’t grow apart being uncomfortable.  You can’t grow academically without being stressed and pushed and studying past the point of exhaustion.  You can’t grow physically without being made uncomfortable.  I can remember when I started lifting weights.  After the first time in the weight room it was a few days before I could even lift my arms without pain.  Even now, every time I go into the weight room it is an exhausting experience.

            Spiritually it is no different.  We do not grow in comfort.  Growth is often uncomfortable.  But with the growth comes amazing experiences.  We encounter the blessings of God, answered prayers, sometimes even miracles.  But we don’t just ease our way into these blessings.  We have to be stretched and we have to be challenged. 

            This Sunday I am going to challenge you to do three things: 1.  Sign up for a Sunday School class or Bible study that is studying this material.  2.  Purchase a “Daring Faith” devotional book ($10.00) which will guide you in your daily devotions over the next several weeks.  3.  Make a commitment that Sunday morning worship will be the priority in your life and in your family’s life. 

God may have some amazing things in store for you over the coming weeks.  But unless you really dive into this by faith, you may very well miss what God has for you.  God wants to take you deeper than you have ever gone before!

Go ahead, I dare you!

Pastor Greg

 https://youtu.be/vzYuyfkaKww

Praying in the New Year

January 03, 2017 by Pastor Greg

Praying in the New Year!

January 8 - 29

             Jeremiah 29:13 gives us an amazing promise, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  Beginning this Sunday, this promise will be our guide as we seek to cover our church in prayer over a period of 21 days. 

            There are several disciplines we encourage you to embrace over these weeks:

1.  Bookend these days in prayer.  Beginning Monday, January 9 you will be receiving morning and evening devotions.  These are designed in such a way that they can be used as individual or family devotions.  The morning prayer will center around your walk with Christ.  The evening prayers will lead us in prayers for our church.

 2.  Attend one of the weekly prayer meetings at the church.  You will not be expected to pray out loud if you are not comfortable.  Scripture emphasizes that there is amazing power in corporate prayer.  These are the prayer times:

    Tuesday Noon-12:30 p.m. (with the staff)

    Tuesday 6:30-7:00 p.m.

    Wednesday 6:00-6:30 p.m.

 3.  Consider fasting one day per week if you are medically capable.  Fasting is the act of giving something up so you can focus more completely on God. The typical fast involves giving up food.  You might consider a fast that goes 24 hours from sundown to sundown and consists of only liquid (e.g. water and/or juice). 

       You might consider a fast that involves giving up things such as:

 4.  Keep a spiritual journal.  Record your reflections and insights from this season of prayer. 

     The promise God gives in Jeremiah 29:13 is an amazing promise.  Keep in mind, however, that it is a conditional promise.  We will experience God if we are willing to seek Him with all our heart.  Please invest your heart deeply with your church in this journey.  We look forward to sharing this experience with you!

Pastor Greg and Pastor Susan

God's Waiting Room

November 29, 2016 by Pastor Greg

Luke 1:5-25

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid,Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink,and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

 

There are times in life when we feel as if we are stuck in God’s waiting room.  This experience takes different forms.  In God’s waiting room is the couple who has prayed for years to have a child and yet the nursery remains empty.  In God’s waiting room is the unemployed husband and father who has prayed for a job and yet is on the brink of his family losing their home.  In God’s waiting room are the mom and dad who continue praying for a wayward child to come home. 

Luke’s gospel opens in God’s waiting room.  For 400 years God had been silent.  No prophet had emerged.  No new word had been given.  Generations had been born and died waiting, longing, and hoping for some sign of God’s love. 

The first people we are introduced to understood what it meant to spend many years in God’s waiting room.  We quickly learn two things about Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Their lives were centered completely around faithfulness to God.   There was no pretense.  They faith was real and their walk with God was consistent. 

The second thing we learn is that by appearances, it seems that God had not been faithful to them.  That is captured with one simple statement.  But then we are told this.  “But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”  Elizabeth would describe this as her disgrace in life.  The reason is that in this culture not having a child was a shameful thing.  In fact, it was so shameful that they had come to believe that it was a sign of God’s disfavor. 

So that dark cloud of silent accusation was always over her head.  Even though she had been faithful to God, everyone would have assumed that there was some secret, hidden sin in her life that was so horrible that she had forfeited God’s pleasure. 

By this point in their lives they were no longer in God’s waiting room.  There was no point.  They were too old.  They had accepted their fate realizing that God was never going to answer their prayers.  They no longer expected anything.

What they couldn’t see was that there was a date circled on God’s calendar.  Galatians 4:4 tells us this, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” 

God had been setting the stage for centuries for this moment.  Not only had God been ordering history toward this moment, but he was silently orchestrating the events in Zechariah’s life for this moment. 

While he was burning the incense he was visited by an angel.  The angel arrived with the announcement that Zechariah and his wife would become parents to a son who would play a special role in God’s plan.  He was to be the forerunner to the Messiah.

There is one phrase that stands out to me that the angel speaks,  “Your prayer has been heard.”  For decades, experience spoke otherwise.  For decades Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers for a child seemed not only unanswered but unheard.  These prayers had only resulted in pain, confusion, disappointment, perhaps even anger toward God.

Despite what seemed to be all the evidence to the contrary, God had been extremely attentive to the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  But here is what is fascinating.  The angel was referring to prayers that Zechariah and Elizabeth no longer prayed.  For them the game was over.  The clock had run out on their chances to have a baby.  They had left the waiting room.  They no longer prayed for a child.  They no longer expected an answer.  In contrast, the words of the angel remind us of this remarkable truth, God never forgets our prayers. 

Zachariah and Elizabeth suddenly understood that they could trust God’s timing in their lives.  My prayer for those of you who feel stuck in God’s waiting room this Advent is that you will also experience God’s blessings.  I pray that you will rest in the assurance giving to Zachariah by the angel.  “Do not be afraid…your prayer has been heard.”  Take comfort.  God has not forgotten you!

For God So Loved

November 15, 2016 by Pastor Greg

Malachi 3:6-12

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned awayfrom my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ Malachi 3:6-12

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

 

            Throughout Scripture, there is one key thing God wants to reveal to His people.  God wants to reveal to us how deeply He loves us.  In fact, the most well-loved verse in the Bible begins, “For God so love the world that He gave…” 

            That truth is also central to the Biblical admonitions to give faithfully to God.  In the book of Malachi, the people had begun doubting that God would love and take care of them.  One of the places that was evident was in the fact that they were no longer bringing to God His tithes.  What hurt the heart of God was no so much that they didn’t bring their gifts to Him.  What hurt His heart was that this demonstrated that they doubted how much God loved them.

            Although there isn’t always a direct connect between faithfulness to God with tithing and financial blessings, Scripture is clear that our generosity does open the window of God’s blessings.  Sometimes these blessings may be financial in nature, sometimes they make take other forms.  But here is what we need to grasp.  When we do honor God by putting Him first in this area, it creates space where God can honor us!

            God has demonstrated this to my family on many occasions.  One of those occurred about 15 years ago.  When Beth and I got married we were a dual income family with no kids for the first few years.  We had a lot of disposable income…and we had a lot of fun!

            When we started having kids we decided that Beth would be a stay at home mom.  Needless to say, this changed our lifestyle pretty dramatically.  Disposable income became a thing of the past.

            About ten years after Beth had left the workforce we began talking about how we would really like to get a piano.   This was one of those things that you talk about, but you realize that financially it is not feasible.  Of course, if we had withheld our tithe for a few months we could have purchased one. That, however, was not an option.  We had committed to put God first financially.  Within a month, completely unexpectedly, we were given a second-hand piano which we still have.  It was a gracious reminder that when we trust God, we open our hearts and lives for God to reveal His love to us!

Unlikely Miracle

November 08, 2016 by Pastor Greg

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-figtree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

           

            Shortly before entering Jericho Jesus encountered a blind man on the roadside.  As the blind man cried out to Jesus for mercy, Jesus took pity on the man and restored his sight.  For the crowds who had come out to welcome Jesus this was clear affirmation that Jesus was the Messiah of whom Isaiah had prophesied. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chose one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him…to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”  Isaiah 42:1, 7

            Their joy, however, turned to bewilderment when moments later Jesus also extended his compassion and grace to a vile person we know as Zacchaeus.   Zacchaeus had betrayed his people by becoming a tax-collector for the Roman occupation forces.  Few were as despised by the Jews as the tax-collectors who exploited their own people. 

            Thus, you can imagine not only the confusion but also the anger that welled up among the crowd when Jesus singled Zacchaeus out as the person with whom he wanted to spend time.  Of all the people who had come out to see Jesus, clearly Zacchaeus was the least deserving of God’s love and attention.  They certainly hadn’t imagined Jesus’ visit to Jericho would take such a bizarre turn.

            They also could not have imagined the turn that would take place in the life of Zacchaeus.  Overwhelmed by the grace and acceptance of Jesus, Zacchaeus became a changed man on the spot.  Repenting of the things he had done and the things he had left undone, he dedicated half of his possessions to the poor and promised to pay back anyone he had cheated four-fold.

            Without realizing it, the crowd was now witnessing the second miracle of the day.  They had seen the blind man receive his sight.  In fact, he was still among the crowd that accompanied Jesus into Jericho.  Yet there was another more subtle miracle that just occurred.  What was that miracle?  The miracle was that a camel just went through the eye of a needle. 

            Not far down the road, Jesus had encountered another rich person.  When this young man chose his possessions over Christ, Jesus made a rather frightening comment:  “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!  Indeed it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Luke 18:24.  Yet here, a man who was not only wealthy but also a crook, experiences the salvation of God.  Amazingly, the last miracle we see before Jesus enters Jerusalem the week of his crucifixion is that God’s grace has rescued the most impossible case.

 The blind received their sight.  The man by the side of the road receives his physical sight.  Zacchaeus received his spiritual sight.  Their lives from this moment on would be lived in gratitude for what Jesus has done.

In January of 2011 Marty Sanchez met the parents of Matthew Lausch.  Matthew had died in a car accident the previous year at the age of just 20 years old.  He was an organ donor.  Marty received one of Matthew’s corneas. 

It was bittersweet.  Their eyes met and as he embraced Matthew’s mom it was obviously a very, very emotional moment.  One the one hand he was so grateful for having received his sight.  Yet he knew that his escape from blindness came at a great cost. 

The loss suffered by the donor’s family made the gift that much more precious.  As I read a number of stories about those who had received their sight through transplants, there was one thing in common. They wanted to live their lives in such a way to reflect how deeply appreciative they were of both the gift and the cost. 

One letter in particular seemed to capture all of these emotions in such a powerful way.  In the letter the recipient first explained the toll the disease had taken on his sight and his life.  Then he wrote these words. 

“While the surgery went perfectly, I was saddened to learn that my new cornea belonged to a young child with the full breadth of life yet before them.  How is it fair that a family can have their heart ripped from them in such a manner?  Should I benefit from their grief?  With this in mind I am amazed at (your) compassion and benevolence.  I thank you for it and I truly consider your gift the greatest I will ever receive.

I promise to honor the memory of your young child as long as I live.  I promise you I will live my life to the fullest and seek out new opportunities and great adventures.  With my eyes I will see all there is to see.  I will think of (your child) every step of the way.” 

Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross so that we might come out of darkness into light.  He came to meet you in those broken places.  He came to pour his grace into your life and change you and make you whole.

You don’t have to earn this love.  You certainly don’t deserve it.  That’s what makes it grace.  That’s also why we have this story of Zacchaeus.  If he wasn’t beyond the grace of Christ, then neither are you. 

 

How Soon We Forget

November 01, 2016 by Pastor Greg

Luke 17:11-19,

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

 

One day a woman was rushing home from a doctor’s appointment. The doctor had been somewhat delayed at the hospital, and the lab work took a little longer than usual, so by the time she left the clinic she was running quite a bit behind schedule. She still had to pick up her prescription, run by Wal-Mart pick up the children from the baby-sitter, and get home and make supper, all in time to make it to the prayer meeting at her church that evening. 
           As she began to circle the busy Wal-Mart parking lot, looking for a space, the windows of heaven were opened and a downpour began. 

While she wasn’t usually the type to bother God with small problems, she began to pray as she turned down the row closest to the front door.  "Lord, you know what kind of a day I’ve had, and there’s still an awful lot to do.  Could you please grant me a parking space right away, oh, and close to the building so I don’t get soaked." 

The words weren’t even completely out of her mouth when she saw the backup lights of a car come on at the end of the row.   It was the best space in the whole parking lot, right next to the handicap spots and straight out from the front door.  She made straight for it and as she pulled in, she said, "never mind God, something just opened up."

            How quickly we tend to forget.

            This passage is the one of the rare places in the Gospels that Jesus seems genuinely shocked.  He had just cured ten men of leprosy. Leprosy was the most dreaded disease in the ancient world.  The moment one was diagnosed with leprosy life as they knew it ended. 

            Jesus not only cured them of a disease, but he restored to them all that the disease had stolen.  They could return home.  They could once again hold their kids.  They could once again experience the dignity of holding a job.  They could return to places of worship to proclaim the goodness of God.   One moment they were staring into their graves, the next they were looking to the horizon.

            And only one returned to give thanks.        

            Yet how different are we?  Are we more likely to bemoan all that we don’t have rather than give thanks for all we have received? 

            Throughout the Psalms we are often reminded to “Give thanks to the Lord.”  The reason for the reminders may be captured in Psalm 106.  In verse one we are told, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  But a few verses later the Psalmist recounts the response of Israel to God’s goodness with these words, “But they soon forgot what He had done.”

            How quickly we tend to forget.  Over the coming days I encourage you to make thanksgiving a priority in your prayers.  Jesus was amazed by the lack of gratitude exhibited by the nine who didn’t return to give thanks.  Let’s not amaze Jesus this week!

As Light Breaks Forth

October 18, 2016 by Pastor Greg

Isaiah 58:6-9

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

 

            There is an image from Sunday that is seared into my mind.  Josh Hilts, missionary to Thailand, shared a picture that illustrated how brokenness and hope often exist side by side in our world.  The picture showed the café’ in which people rescued from exploitation in the Bangkok sex industry are provided with jobs, training, counselling and discipleship as they seek to rebuild their lives.  Immediately across the street is a brothel where young women sell themselves all day, every day.

            He spoke of seeing these women offer incense to an idol outside of the brothel in the morning as they arrive for work.  They are praying for the “blessing” of having many customers and making good money that day. 

            It is in the midst of such darkness that we partner with Josh and Bekah Hilts in offering the true blessings of a living God.  Josh describes it as a slow work. Not only are Thai people resistant to the Gospel, but the guys and girls with whom they work are damaged beyond our imagination.

            Yet, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  It was such a joy to hear the story of Qu.  Qu was about to be swept into the transgendered sex industry when the ministry entered his life.  He was already cross-dressing and saw no other options than the red light district in his future.  However, people loving him in the name of Christ let him know that he was valuable and that God had something far, far better for him.

            Qu was diverted from the sex industry.  With funds provided by GUMC, Qu was able to attend school and receive training to be a tour guide in Thailand.  He is now seeking after Jesus, living as a man, and looking at a life filled with hope and a future.

            What a joy it is to know that through our Faith Promise gifts and through our prayers, we are helping to bring hope in one of the most hopeless settings on the face of the earth!  Pray for Qu.  Pray that God will continue to shower him with true blessings.  Pray that Qu will be used by God to offer light to others experiencing the same hopelessness he once faced.

When Neighbors are Suffering

October 11, 2016 by Pastor Greg

When Neighbors are Suffering

Nehemiah 1:1-4

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa,  Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Jerusalem was in shambles.  That was the first-hand report that Nehemiah received.  The walls of the city that had been destroyed remained unrepaired leaving its people vulnerable and defenseless.  Saddened by this, Nehemiah was moved to tears.  Yet Nehemiah understood clearly what we too often forget.  Shedding tears over tragedy only has meaning when those tears move us to action.

Nehemiah’s tears moved him first to prayer.  Sensing that God might be calling him to act, he labored in prayer before God for those who were suffering and vulnerable.

As you continue reading through the book of Nehemiah, you find that the prayer then led to action.  Out of his compassion for those in need and his commitment to God, Nehemiah stepped forward to lead those in Jerusalem in the daunting task of rebuilding the walls around the city.

As I write these words, significant portions of North Carolina are in shambles.  Homes have been destroyed.  Lives have been shattered.  Our neighbors are suffering.  With the waters continuing to rise we have yet to see the end of Matthew.  Our hearts are broken.

Nehemiah gives us the pattern for how God’s people respond. It begins with prayer.  We need to be praying for our neighbors who have lost so much and who are hurting so deeply. 

Yet, like Nehemiah, we must allow our prayers to lead us to a faithful response.  We are called to pray.  We are also called to serve.

So, along with prayer, what can we do?  First, we can be faithful in our giving to our Faith Promise.   Such generosity will enable us to be able to offer financial support to recovery efforts.  Second, those who are physically capable will have opportunities to assist in the clean-up and recovery process.  Such service will be a tangible witness to our faith in Christ.  We will keep you updated as to when we will be able to join other United Methodists in serving our neighbors who have lost so much.  

Growing Your Faith

October 04, 2016 by Pastor Greg

Luke 17:1-10

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

“The Apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’”

How does our faith grow? In our culture we seem to have been conditioned to chase after religious experiences.  We are prone to fall into the trap where we equate being moved emotionally with growing spiritually.  In this passage Jesus corrects that misunderstanding.  Essentially, he gives us a very simple prescription for how to grow in our faith:  We grow by exercising the faith we already have.  It’s not about being moved emotionally; it’s about how far we move after the emotions.  It’s not about how high we jump in church.  It’s about how straight we walk when we come back down. 

Let me give you an example.  Every year in January something happens.    Our local gyms get crowded.  January is terrible in gyms, isn’t it?  But it is a new year, people have become inspired and they have made their New Year’s resolution to get into shape. 

You can tell who these people are.  They have their brand new color coordinated outfits that they got for Christmas. Sometimes the spouses are even color coordinated.  They have brand new shoes right out of the box.  They arrive at the gym with this aura of excitement.  They are feeling inspired.  Some of them even think this is going to be fun.

But after about a month something starts to happen.  The enthusiasm begins to wear off.  They decide to skip a day because they aren’t feeling it.  Then they decide to skip another day.  Then a week goes by.  Then a month goes by.  And all of that initial excitement that had them so pumped up is gone.  They disappear from the gym until the next January when they show back up at the gym wearing their new workout clothes that got for Christmas.

My point is that the initial emotion may have been great, but it wasn’t enough.  By itself it didn’t do them any good.  The only ones who ultimately benefit from the gym are the ones who keep showing up even when they don’t feel like it.

This is the point I’m making about our faith.  Our faith grows when we exercise it day by day.  Faith grows because of a daily decision to live faithfully.  It’s when you are making that daily decision that your life will reflect the gospel, even when you might not be feeling particularly spiritual;  It’s when you are choosing to forgive, even when you might not feel particularly gracious at that moment;  It’s when you are choosing to serve, even when you might not feel particularly motivated to serve – that’s when your faith is going to grow.

My good friend Fr. Ben Sharpe summed up this passage with these words, “We do the ordinary stuff and God is free to do the extraordinary stuff.”

 

When Christ is Your Treasure

September 27, 2016 by Greg

Luke 16:19-31

bible-verse-luke-1234-where-your-treasure-is-there-your-heart-will-be-also-2014-for-slideshow_medium.jpg (500x386)px19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

            In this story we are reminded of one great truth.  Christ treasure human beings above anything else in the entire universe.  Jesus gave up everything, the glories of heaven and even his own life, in pursuit of your heart.

            When Christ becomes our treasure we become passionate about that which matters most to God.  We become passionate about people.  We become passionately concerned about the lost and the suffering.

            The issue with the rich man in the story was simple.  He did not treasure God above his earthly treasures.  It always comes back to our relationship with God.

            When Jesus becomes your treasure your money become freed up to heal the world.  Grace makes you generous.  Grace not only saves you but it opens your eyes to the Lazarus’ of the world.

            Samaritan Aviation is our mission partner in Papua New Guinea.  They have the only 2 float planes in Papua, New Guinea.  There are 750 miles of river that they service essentially as the only ambulance.  There are not many roads and the river is the primary route of travel. When someone gets critically ill Samaritan Aviation is often the only hope they have of survival. 

            Recently they received a radio call for help.  Reynnie is 8 years old and was suffering with meningitis.  He had already been in a coma for five days when Samaritan Aviation dispatched one of their planes in an attempt to save his life. 

            Doctors started intravenous treatment.  For two more days Reynnie remained unconscious.  They were afraid that what they had done had been too little, too late. 

            After a full week in a coma, Reynnie awakened.  His fever finally broke and he began to make steps in a long, slow recovery.  Three weeks after his life flight he was finally able to return home.  In gratitude, his father stated, “My son would not be alive if the plane had not come!” 

            When Jesus is the treasure of your heart and my heart, then suddenly the Lazarus’ of the world matter. Suddenly the Reynnies of the world matter.  Suddenly, our hearts beat with Christ’s heart and we are free to heal the world with our generosity. 

            You are what Jesus treasures.  Is Jesus truly your treasure?  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34

 

Friends for Eternity

September 22, 2016 by Pastor Greg

Luke 16:1-15

generous_medium.jpg (500x256)pxJesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

 

The words of Jesus in verse 9 are some of the most fascinating words that are in the New Testament.  “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

            This  an incredible statement.  Jesus is saying that heaven should be full of people who cheer when you get there.  They’ll say, “look whose here!” and they are saying it out of excitement, not out of shock. I’m sure they’ll be shocked to see some of us but that’s not the point.  They should be excited to see us because of the impact we had on their lives through our giving. 

            I think God gave me just a glimpse of what that might look like some years back.

I used to surf. I had an 8’4” Hotline surfboard.  I wasn’t very good, but I loved it!

            I still remember the moment I was surfing near the Bogue Inlet pier in Emerald Isle when I snapped that board.  It broke completely in two.  Just like that my surfing career was over.

            I would have liked to have replaced it, but at the time we just didn’t have any disposable income.   Beth had left her career to be a stay-at-home mom.  I was on the bottom end of the salary scale for Methodist pastors.  There was no way I was going to be able to shell out the money to get a new surfboard.

            It didn’t stop me from dreaming, though.  Sometimes folks would take pity on their poor pastor and his family and let us use their beach homes.  I would often find myself wandering into a surf shop just to look and dream.

            We were with my parents down at the beach a couple of years after my surfboard disaster.  I had gone into a surf shop and had fallen in love with one of the surfboards.   But I knew it was one of those things that just wasn’t going to happen. 

            That became was one of those vacations that all pastors have experienced.  I got a call to return home and do a funeral.  Of course, it was right in the middle of the vacation.  So I left the family at the beach and went back to Fayetteville to do the funeral. 

            The woman who died happened to be the sister of an extremely wealthy man in the congregation.  After a couple days I completed the funeral and was about to leave from the gravesite to head back to the beach.  Her brother realized that I had left my vacation to come back and do the funeral so he stopped me before I left.  He reached out to shake my hand and when he did he slipped me some money.  When I got in my car I opened my hand and could not believe how much money he had given me.

            My dreams had just come true.  I had the money to purchase that surfboard.  I was going to be on that surfboard that very day. 

            But something just didn’t feel right about it.  I had recently heard about a ministry called Project Agape that was working in poverty-stricken Armenia.  In fact, there was a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan where this United Methodist mission was the only Christian organization in the world at work there.  There was a small hospital, an orphanage and plans to build a new church.  I sensed the Lord telling me that he didn’t want me to purchase this surfboard.  He wanted me to send that money to assist in his work being done there.  So that’s what I did. 

            Never in my wildest dreams when I did that did I imagine that just two years later I would actually be in Armenia.  I spent time at that orphanage.  I was able to look into the eyes of these little children and hold some of those kids.  I have to tell you, there were no regrets.  I would never have traded that moment for that surfboard in 1,000 years.

            Jesus is telling us that heaven is going to be a bit like that.  You see, in heaven, Jesus is going to connect all the dots.  We will never see all that our generosity accomplishes on this side of eternity.  But when we get to heaven we will get to enjoy all of the impact that our generosity has had.