Monday, June 18, 2018


June 16 and 17, 2018                      Reset
Scripture: Luke 11: 1-4

            Last weekend I had the privilege of preaching at my cousin’s wedding. I guess when you become a pastor, you automatically become the family chaplain. But that’s ok with me. I enjoy standing with my loved ones in those important moments and being a small part of what God is doing in their lives. I’ve done a bunch of weddings over the years, but this one was different. And even though this was my cousin’s big day, she and her husband had one request: Preach the Gospel. They didn’t want this wedding to be about them, or at least, not JUST about them. They wanted this wedding, and they want their marriage, to be a beautiful reminder that Jesus is our hope for a better life. And I took them up on that offer.

            As I got to know their guest list, some of whom are my own flesh and blood, I understood their request. This was a beautiful crew, but also a motley one. On their guest list last Saturday were people who are living some troubled lives. There were those whose marriages are hanging on by the smallest thread. There were those who have recently been through the pain of divorce and death. There were those who kept on drinking until their dancing becoming meaningless stumbling. There were those with same-sex attractions trying to find a place, a group, to fit in. There were those wearing the tightest of clothes hoping the young college guys would take notice of them. There were those with identity issues, confidence problems and past decisions they hoped no one would bring up. And there were those who simply desired for life to get back on track. And I believe the Gospel is the best way for that to happen.

            There are days I wake up and ask, “How in the world did I get here?” You ever ask that question? I’m sure you have. Not in a geographical way, but in an emotional, mental and spiritual kind of way. Strong friendships all of the sudden end and you have no idea why. Your joy gives way to depression and anxiety and then before you know it you’re on medication. You go out to enjoy a drink with your friends and ten years later you’re sitting in a recovery meeting. You give your life to Jesus at church camp, but now you can’t remember the last you actually prayed. You said you would love her through better or worse, but now worse is here and you don’t want to go home. How in the world did I get here?

            Now, most of us, if we took the time to think about it, know exactly how we got to where we are. But the real question is how we get back to where we want to be. And the simple answer is Jesus. Sometimes we just have to shut down the system and reset everything to its original intention. A few years ago, my mom lost her wi-fi service, and we tried every trick in the book to get her internet back up and running. But she couldn’t remember her passwords, which meant we were left with one option. We had to push a little button on the back of the box and reset everything to factory default. We had to go back to the beginning and start all over. And I have a feeling that’s what my cousin was hoping to convey.

            I think the original disciples of Jesus experienced a bit of a “reset” when they heard Jesus’ call to “follow me.”  Up to that point, they had lived their lives a certain way. And we really don’t know if they walked in integrity and wisdom or falsehood and deceit. But what we do know is that they asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Now here’s the thing: they had already learned prayers from their childhood. They had grown up in religious households. But they wanted to pray and to live like Jesus. And what Jesus gave them was a prayerful way to reset their lives in a God-oriented direction. And so if you think it’s time to push the “reset” button on your life and faith, here are five God-oriented suggestions taken from the very lips of Jesus. I believe these can mend broken relationships, heal broken hearts, restore broken identities and get you back on spiritual track. So here they are:

1.    Stay connected to the Father through Jesus. I believe this is the single most important action you will ever take in your life. Why? Because when you connect with God the Father, you learn how to love. And I’ve become increasingly convinced that the best way you can love other, and the best way you can learn to love yourself, is to love Jesus more than anything else. It is in Jesus that you find the capacity to love. Ok? Let me say that again: You find the capacity to love in Jesus. There are days I look in the mirror and struggle with self-demeaning thoughts and wonder how anyone could find the capacity to love me. Through a connection with the Father! As you grow in your love of God, your love for others will only grow deeper and stronger every day, and your relationships will soar like on wings of eagles. And when you don’t know how to love the other, take some time to remember how Jesus loves you. God will give you strength and courage that you would not otherwise have.

2.     Strive to live out your life “on earth as it is in heaven.”  That is to say, seek first the Kingdom of God, because there is no better way to live. It’s the way Jesus chose to live his life and we are invited to make his way of life and his way of relationships our way.  What would it look like if we didn’t just wait to get to heaven, but lived right now as if we’re already there? There would be victory! There would be joy! There would be hope! There are a lot of people who have prayed a pray of salvation but don’t experience victory in their life, or joy, or hope. But the promise of Jesus is that we can have those things right here, right now. So why wait? The way of the Kingdom, the way of Jesus, is a way that chooses servant hood over selfishness, confession and repentance over inauthenticity, a way that seeks to give more than you take, a way that seeks to bless instead of harm. Maybe the strongest evidence of a life lived on earth as it is in heaven is self-giving love. There are a lot of people who need love. Love in that way.

3.    Give each other daily bread.  And by this is mean: Have a clear distinction between your needs and your wants. Bill did such a nice job with this last week. Confusing the two can be downright heartbreaking and damaging. We can live and function without our wants. But there’s something life giving when our needs are known and met.  God has promised that He will always meet our needs, but He’s never promised to meet all our wants. And more often than not, God will meet our daily needs through each other. In a very mysterious way, we are vessels of the Holy Spirit. And God will use us to bless one another. Sometimes the bet way to get back on track is to quit thinking so much about yourself and start thinking about the others around you. Instead of asking, “What are you going to do for me” we reset our faith, reorient our lives, when we turn the question upside down and ask, “What can I do for you? “

4.    Forgive each other.  I preach on forgiveness a few times a year, and there’s a reason for that. There may be no greater love than the love that can look wrongdoing in the face, with all of its accompanying pain and discouragement, and still choose to release others from anger, begrudging attitudes and the desire to get even. The darkness of sin, in all of its forms, only grows darker when we refuse to love, forgive and reconcile. We’re good at building chasms. We’re good at putting up walls that separate. But God is good at building bridges, and that’s whom we are to follow. I was reading the other day about Stephen, an early disciple who became the first martyr of the church. He was bridge-builder, connecting people with the grace of God. As he was being pelted by stones, and with his life quickly slipping away, Stephen found the compassion to cry out, “Oh God, please do not hold this sin against them.” Man, that convicted me to the core. If we want a spiritual reset, we must never grow weary in proclaiming to each other 9 of the most important words we will ever say:  I love you. I am sorry.  I forgive you. These are words that transform, words that heal and words that bring life. They will save you from making some really bad decisions.

5.    Desire the fullness of life for each other.  In John 10:10, Jesus states, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the fullest.”  That is God’s dream for you. And that is God’s dream for every person you lay eyes on. Anybody know a friend or colleague living a less than full life? God has you in his or her life for a reason. What you get out of this life is secondary to what you give. The overarching aim of your humanity is to bring life to others. That’s a high and special calling. Do nothing that would cause others to stumble.  But please do something when the other gives evil even the slightest foothold.  In doing so, you will bring glory to God and I believe you will hear those famous words we all hope to one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

So what do you say? Is it time to hit the reset button? Is it time to get your faith back on track and your life pointed in a new direction? Is it time to fully surrender your heart to God and build your life on His good and loving foundation? That good life, that Godly life, is waiting for you. I pray you’ll receive it today. Amen.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Passion Means Everything - Greater Blairsville's Got Talent

Passion Means Everything   June 2 and 3, 2018
Scripture: Psalm 37: 1-11, John 3: 16-21

Well today we are concluding our sermon series called Greater Blairsville’s Got Talent. We’ve been exploring the idea of spiritual gifts, and to put a bow on our time together, you’ll be given a spiritual gifts survey as you leave today that will help you determine how God has uniquely equipped you to strengthen the body of Christ. We hope you’ll find this to be a blessing! And we hope you use these findings to be a blessing to others! Last week we looked at style and said that everything we do, if we want it to count, needs to be done in love. But in order for love to be fully expressed, it must from attitude to action. And that’s why were talking about passion today. Would you read with me?

Over the past several weeks, high schools have been honoring their graduating senior classes. After years of working hard, studying for exams, learning how to read, write and survive in this world, our newest classes of seniors are off to start another adventure. When I see posts this time of year, I often think about my own time in high school. I don’t remember much about my high school graduation, other than it was hot, sticky and miserable. We were stuck inside the gym on a miserable June evening. That’s what I’ll never forget. But whatever the speaker said that day left very little impression on me. I honestly can’t remember a single word or idea that was presented. I’m pretty sure the speech was written with the best of intentions. And I’m pretty sure our speaker had some good things to say. But a key ingredient was missing: passion. I’m not talking about a fiery tone or and excited rhythm or wild hand gestures, but a clear and compelling conviction that this was the most important word we heard that day.

Ludwig Van Beethoven, the great classical composer, said that to play a wrong note is insignificant, but to play without passion is inexcusable. To play without passion is inexcusable. And I’ll add that to follow Jesus without passion is equally inexcusable. Now, we’re all bound to play wrong notes from time to time; we are wonderfully flawed people and our flaws help make us who we are. None of us will get out of this earth without a few mess-ups, screw-ups and imperfections. So we might as well quit trying to play the perfection game. It’s just not going to happen. And certainly, we’ll fail from time to time and fall on hard times. But we shouldn’t worry over those realities. They’ll happen. They’re part of life. It’s passion, not our imperfections that should concern us. Because if we lose our passion, we along with many others, will have lost something truly important.

I remember the first time I was challenged to think about passion. I’m not sure if that’s what my professor what aiming for, but that’s what I took away from our brief conversation. It was the end of class and I was handing in my exam and he asked me a simple question- Why do you want to be a pastor? In all my years leading up to that moment, I don’t think I had every truly answered that question. I rarely questioned my call. I don’t think I had ever questioned the significance of a pastor. And I felt like this was what God wanted me to do. But I had never thought much about why I wanted to be a pastor. Yet I remember my response as clear as day: Because I want to help people. I’ve always wanted to help people. I honestly didn’t care what career I had, I just wanted to help people. That was my passion. That was my why.

When those words came out of my mouth, I felt a stirring in my spirit. And that’s probably the best way I can explain passion. Something that stirs the spirit. Passion is an intense fire that burns inside of you. It’s more than a strong emotion; it’s a clear, heartfelt desire that exists within you, wherever life takes you and regardless of the job you hold. It’s the underlying reason you do what you do. Passion is what keeps you going long after you wanted to give up. Passion is what your heart always seems to be drawn to, even when you try to shake it.  And those passions? They’re from God because our God is a God of passion.

We don’t have to read too far into the Bible to discover what God is most passionate about. When God saw Adam alone in the garden and couldn’t stand to see this person alone, God gave his passion away. Quite simply, it’s you. God’s overarching passion is you. For God so loved the world, says John, and He’s sending His only Son not to condemn you, but to save you. You see, everything God does, God does with a passionate commitment to your wellbeing. Now and eternally. God has a passion to bless you, a passion to be with you forever. And God will go to great lengths to have that passion fulfilled. If that means offering a stern word of rebuke or discipline, God will do it. If that means rescuing you out of chains of bondage and sin, God will do that. If that means offering His Son, God will do that. And if that means putting some of his passion into you in order to grow the Kingdom of God, God will also do that.

You see, just as God has given each of us at least one spiritual gift, God has also given each of us a passion. One thing that stirs our hearts; a cause that lights a fire in our bellies. Jeremiah’s passion was to proclaim the word of God. He said when he tried to hold it in, it was like a fire shut up in his bones, and he couldn’t do it. He just had to preach the word! Your passion may be to right a wrong or meet a need. It might be to solve a problem or serve a cause. It might be to change a life or help a certain group of people. But ultimately, your passion is a form of partnership with God. And when your God-given passion is paired with God’s desire to redeem and restore creation, that’s an unbeatable combination!

Some of you might remember old Popeye the Sailor Man. Popeye reruns still played when I was a child, and I remember Popeye being a character full of passion…especially when it came to his girl Olive Oyl. If Popeye sensed that Olive Oyl was in distress, he would blow a gasket. The steam would come out of his ears, his face would get red, he’d pop in his can of spinach, his biceps would burst forth and he would utter the words, “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more.” And when Popeye saw something he could no longer stand, he moved toward action. He couldn’t rest until he had done something. That’s what I mean by passion.

I wonder what your Popeye passion is? What is it about this broken world that you can no longer stand? What is it that you just have to do something about? Those answers will reveal your God-given passion. Those answers will reveal where God has uniquely called you to serve in His church. I remember sitting in a room a few years ago listening to a group of folks saying, “Addiction is a problem in this area, and we must do something about it! They couldn’t stand to see people die anymore. Or the folks who run our nursing home ministry; they can’t stand to let our local nursing home residents go unnoticed in a far too busy world. That’s passion. Or two young ladies who saw the need to connect women with faith and couldn’t rest until a sisterhood was created. Those are just a few examples of people in our parish who have an internal fire shut up in their bones, and that fire needs to come out.

What about you? What are you passionate about? Or as one pastor calls it, where is your “holy discontent?” And every follower of Jesus has one. God can do some pretty amazing things through our holy discontent. Through a passionate man named Moses, God rescued Israel out of Egyptian slavery. Through a passionate shepherd boy named David, God brought down the Philistine giant named Goliath. Through a passionate preacher named Billy Graham, God spread the Gospel all around the world. Through a passionate mother named Susanna Wesley, God raised up a revivalist named John. And through the passion of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King JR, God began to tear down the evil strongholds of racism in our county. All because they couldn’t stands it no more.

What are you passionate about, and what might God have up his sleeve for you? Friends, this is a question you need to answer. The passion God has placed in you is strong and vital, and the wrongs of the world are waiting for you to let God unleash your gifts transform those wrongs into rights. You have talent. But you might need to hear it again: Greater Blairsville’s Got Talent, earth-shaking, Kingdom-making, world changing, God-glorifying talent. You’ve got purpose. You’ve got gifts. You’ve got style. And I know you’ve got passion. And when you put it all together and offer all of who you are into the hands of Jesus, you will be a sign of hope and healing to a hurting world. Will you offer your lives to Jesus? Will you give your all to His great cause? Let that passion come out! Because to somebody, it will mean everything. Amen.