September 29, 2017

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

When I was a kid, my favorite TV commercials were the ones for NESTEA instant tea. Most of the commercials featured a parched actor who sipped on a refreshing glass of tea.  As the sip quenched the thirst, the actor would start to fall backwards. A pool would appear out of nowhere and the actor would splash into the water, flat on his or her back and still clutching the glass of instant tea. The tagline for the commercials was “Take the NESTEA plunge!”

As kids we thought this “plunge” was hysterical. We had a pool, so there were many attempts by my brother and sister and me to copy these commercials in our own backyard. Wisely our parents nixed our desires to actually carry a full glass of tea with us.

I was never very good at taking the NESTEA plunge.  The commercials made it look easy - you just lay backwards and fall - not a lot of style to it. But I could never just do it. I would usually start to worry at the last moment and jerk myself so that I’d land hard on my bottom instead. 

But my dad - he was the king of the NESTEA plunge. He could fall straight back from the diving board or the side of the pool and just lay flat out and it never looked like it hurt. I was always in awe of his performances and the fact that he just went for it. He was confident and sure and trusted that he’d splash down just fine. To be honest, I felt a little ashamed that I didn’t have that same amount of trust in my own abilities or in gravity and fluid dynamics.

Plunging into new things always requires a level of trust. When you or your parents chose baptism for you, it demonstrated trust in God’s promise of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Baptism provides you with a new identity in Christ; a covenant between you and God begins. It starts with putting our whole trust in God and His love for us despite being sinners. How amazing is it that we can put our trust in Him even though we are clearly imperfect? I am sometimes overwhelmed by the enormity of the love God has for me despite all my flaws and how much I mess up.

Yet, as humans, we sometimes find it hard to trust. We have relationships with one another that don’t end well. Or we feel that we can no longer rely on people we have trusted as a result of something they’ve done. We even go so far to believe that we can’t fully trust God. We can experience fear or concern that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t really as easy as it sounds. We believe He forgives sins, but maybe we don’t quite accept that He forgives OUR sins. Or we say that we trust His love and power, but we carry on in our lives as if we are the ones in control instead of God. We struggle with our own burdens and staunchly refuse to let God shoulder some of the weight. 

How wonderful it would be if we constantly kept our trust in God at the center of all we do and how we live each day. Can you live out Proverbs 3:5 - pushing your own understanding aside to rely entirely on Jesus? How often do you look up to recognize that you have clung to your own understanding instead of Him? It’s so tempting to go it alone, yet plunging in our Savior’s promises is much easier.

This week we are continuing our series One Faithful Promise. The message will be focused on claiming our covenant with God. I can’t wait to share with you how we can commit ourselves to pouring all of our trust in God.

See you in church!

Jenn Blessing

September 22, 2017

 "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." Romans 12:2a NLT

In the art world there is a genre of art called appropriation art. It is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them. Perhaps the best known of all appropriation artist was Andy Warhol who is, in part, famous for his Campbell's Soup Cans paintings from 1962. These now famous paintings hang in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I was able to see them a couple of years ago and I have to tell you I was not that impressed. Appropriation as a genre of art has been somewhat controversial. Because the artist takes something that already exists and embellishes upon it. They are creating something new out of something already existing. It takes talent to create something new and it arguably takes talent to create something new out of something that already exists.

This is a little like what the Apostle Paul is talking about in the twelfth chapter of Romans. Paul is telling the believers in Rome not to be like everyone else. Don't be a carbon copy of the world in which you live. Paul goes as far as to say that God can make something new out of something that already exists, namely YOU! The way Paul puts it, you can be transformed into a new person by letting God change the way you think. This is an amazing statement by Paul tucked into a greater teaching on the church, the body of Christ. Paul lets us know two very important things in the first part of this one verse. They are two things that I believe are important for us to consider.

First, Paul lets us know that God does not want our lives to look like the world around us. Our behavior and our customs should be different. The life of a follower of Jesus Christ should be very different than that of the regular person in any culture. Jesus taught this when he said to his disciples, "but among you it should be quite different ..." (Matthew 20:26) In this teaching Jesus is letting his followers know that they are not to seek position, power, or privilege. The world around them already does a good job of that. Instead, Jesus told them, "Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant." Jesus taught his followers to think differently. Jesus turned things around and called for them to live differently than the world around them.

Second, Paul lets us know that God does the transforming. I certainly would never argue that God used appropriation art in transforming us. Where I would draw the parallel is that God, the original Creator, takes what God has already created and transforms it into something new. How does God do this? God gives us a new way of thinking -- a transformation of our mind. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2, "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." God transforms our lives by allowing us to have the mind of Christ. When we let God transform us we begin to see things as Christ would see them. God does this transformation in our life as we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit's activity in our life.

God doesn't want any carbon copies of the world around us. God desires to have us be transformed into the fullness of our Created potential. This Sunday we will continue the message series entitled One Faithful Promise. The message will help us think about what it means to give ourselves to God in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. I look forward to sharing this message with you Sunday. God is at work at St. Andrew's and I can't wait to see you in church!

September 15, 2017

"For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: love your neighbor as yourself." 
Galatians 5:14

It's been a very stressful week or so. The build up to Hurricane Irma was one like I have never experienced before. I have lived in Florida since 1977 and this was a storm like no other from my perspective. The news coverage was nonstop. The scenarios given were worst case. All of this together led to a lot of stress, anxiety and some fear. I think this will be a storm we all remember.

Of course, Irma was a devastating storm in so many ways. The Caribbean Islands in its path were all but destroyed. Irma rode along the coast of Cuba for days battering the residents there and causing much damage. Then the landfall in Florida and the devastation of flooding, storm surge, and wind damage. We have experienced the power of Irma right here in our area as well. While we were spared the worst of Irma, there are still many with their homes flooded, without power, and lost food and possessions.

I am not writing this to recall the gloom of the last week or so. Rather, I am writing to offer a glimpse into the hope that followers of Jesus Christ offer in times like this. Our church has seen the need and responded. Before the storm I had people offer to help anyone who needed assistance in getting ready for the storm. Members helped neighbors put up plywood and ready their homes. It was an amazing sight to see the people of Christ being selfless and demonstrating Christ's love through service to others.

After the storm the call went out for help in our community. Again, I saw members helping others clear debris, cut up trees that had fallen, and checking on each other to make sure everyone was safe. The church was asked to be a collection site for donations to help victims of the Alafia River flooding. The church and community have stepped up. Beth Wood, our Serve the Community Coordinator, reported that as of Thursday night we had delivered three truck loads of supplies to United Food Bank, three truck loads to ECHO, a truck load to Seeds of Hope, and supported the SAUMC Food Pantry. A lot of folks have been helping including youth and adults. Beth has been doing a terrific job of coordinating it all.

This is what it means, in part, to love your neighbor as yourself. I am so proud to be the Pastor of folks who always step up to whatever challenge is set before them. This is what it means to be the church. This is what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This is what it means to be the hope of the world, the local church. Thank you St. Andrew's for loving our neighbors!

This Sunday we will start a new series "One Faithful Promise" that we were scheduled to start last week. This series will walk us through what it means to be in a covenant relationship with Jesus. I can't wait to see you in church.

September 8, 2017

“Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s armies.”  Isaiah 6:5b NLT

For years people had told me about it and how amazing it was. You have to see it! I understood the enthusiasm and knew that people truly believed in what they were saying. I even thought that someday I might see it and be able to understand their excitement in sharing. It ended up taking me 51 years before I was able to see it for myself. Last summer in 2016 my family and I experienced this together. I had moments of understanding why people got so excited. I, honestly, had moments of wondering why people got so excited. I could finally say, however, that I had seen what everyone had been telling me about. It was a great experience overall and I am thoroughly glad that I was able to see and experience it firsthand. The experience I am talking about is seeing and experiencing New York City.

There is nothing like seeing something for yourself. I had been told about the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, One World Trade Center, the 9/11 Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, the Guggenheim, Madison Square Garden, and Times Square. All of these things I had seen in pictures, videos, movies, and the news. But there is nothing like seeing something for yourself and experiencing everything it has to offer. I loved seeing everything we saw in New York City. It was a great experience for our family and we had a great time. It is something we will be able to talk about together for the rest of our lives.

I feel even stronger about my experience of “seeing” Christ! I had been told about Jesus by friends and even strangers long before I met Jesus. It had been explained to me in very vague terms about what it might look like to experience Jesus in my life. For whatever reason I never really connected or even really paid much attention. It was like looking at a bad Polaroid of the Statue of Liberty. It just didn’t measure up. I mostly saw a very dim example of the very bright light that I would later come to know as Jesus Christ. So how could I have possibly thought much about how wonderful an experience it would be to experience a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Then it happened! I went to church one Sunday and through the music, the members, and the message I saw Jesus for the first time in my life. I saw him in the warmth of the members. I saw him in the passion of the music. I saw Jesus in the sincerity and hope in the message. That Sunday morning I entered into church not knowing what I was looking for and I left having seen Jesus. I left having invited Jesus into my heart and life. What a difference it made to experience a relationship with Jesus Christ firsthand. I could say with Isaiah, “Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s armies.” And he is Jesus Christ.

This Sunday we will begin a new message series entitled One Faithful Promise based on the book by the same title written by Magrey deVega. The message will help us think about what it means to experience a truly intimate relationship with Jesus Christ firsthand. I look forward to sharing this message with you Sunday. God is at work at St. Andrew’s and I can’t wait to see you in church!

September 1, 2017

 “The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” John 8:5 NLT

It is feasible to think that in our current time you may be asked the question, “What do you say?” It could be that you are asked for your opinion in a work meeting. It could be that you are asked what you think about a political position. It may be that someone wants to know what you think about something someone in your circle of friends has said or done. It could also be that someone wants to know what you believe or where you stand on a faith issue. Whatever it may be, there are certainly times in our life where we are very pointedly asked, “What do you say?”

There is one reality I have learned in my lifetime to be true – there is no shortage of opinions and people who are willing to share them with you. In a world where people are usually willing to tell you what they think, it is important to be able to know what you will say on a short list of crucial topics. What do you say about modern day slavery? Human trafficking? The treatment of minorities? The plight of the poor? World hunger? The persecution of Christians worldwide? There are so many issues facing the world today and someone just may want to ask you what you have to say about any one of them. It is the thoughtful person who has at least considered what they would say.

As we consider the notion of what we would say, let me add another wrinkle – what do you say as a Christ follower? It is not so important what we think as some random individual, rather it is crucial what we think as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. It is not just about what we think or say as a person – it is what we think or say as a witness to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught what it means to follow after God’s own heart. What Jesus taught in word and deed was to say what God wanted him to say, to do what God wanted him to do, and to think what God wanted him to think. This is not to say that Jesus advocated for a mindless robotic regurgitation of material learned about God through Scripture. What Jesus lived was the living out of a relationship so intimate that it could be said that God, the Father, and Jesus Christ, the Son, were one. (John 17)

This is what is happening in the Scripture passage in John 8. Jesus is asked, “What do you say?” At first, Jesus offers no reply. When pressed he tells them exactly what he has to say by holding a mirror up to those who bring accusation. Jesus says, “… let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” What Jesus had to say was important! It was a paradigm shift in terms of grace, forgiveness, love of neighbor, and the demonstration of God’s great love for all humanity. There is something here we should not miss though. Jesus is also saying to the accusers, “What do you say?” It is as if he is asking them what is more important – the woman’s sin or their own sin? Jesus seems to be telling them before you ask me what I say ask yourself what you are saying. Jesus turns their question upside down and back at them.

So when it comes to accusations and judging others – what do you say?

This Sunday we will talk more about this amazing story in the Gospel of John. The message will help us think about what we say as devoted followers of Jesus Christ. I look forward to sharing this message with you Sunday. God is at work at St. Andrew’s and I can’t wait to see you in church!

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