December 29, 2017

“3 There will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered.” 2 Timothy 4:3 CEB

Have you ever been a part of something very special? Something that once you have experienced it you know it was unique. Something that as the years pass you realize more and more how different, unique and special it really was. This week I was able to realize anew something like this in my own life. I was able to participate in a reunion of sorts for a ministry of which I was a part. I served as a volunteer, and then paid staff person, in this ministry for 10 years. This was a special time in my life and the lives of those involved in the ministry. So many very special people and so many incredible memories of serving God together. Have you ever been a part of something so special? I have to say that the most important part of the ministry, as I reflect on it, is the amount of humility displayed. The leader of the ministry was extremely humble and always looked for other leaders who were humble. Those who were a part of the ministry were very humble. It was not about the individuals, but was always about the group.

The opposite of humility is pride. It is a basic human condition, or temptation, to become prideful. We want people to think highly of us and when we experience success we want to receive credit. We want to think that we know the best way to do things, especially when it comes to us. Yet, this is what Paul is warning Timothy about in his second letter to Timothy. Paul is sure to warn Timothy that “There will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered.” (2 Timothy 4:3 CEB) Paul knows that people will listen to what they want to hear and will ignore the things they don’t want to hear. This is human nature. Paul also knew that Timothy would need to help people overcome this human nature in order to reach their full potential in Jesus Christ. Paul knows there will come a time when this will happen.

I believe that time came in Timothy’s lifetime and is still a problem we face today. There has come a time where we can download any book, read any blog, watch any message, and research any fact or information with just a few clicks. We can ignore the things we don’t want to hear and only click on the things we want to hear. In a matter of seconds we can choose from some of the best communicators in the world. Of course, the danger in all of this is that we can choose to listen only to people with whom we agree. We can collect teachers who say what we want to hear because we are self-centered. This is a temptation from which we should run. As thoughtful followers of Jesus Christ, we should always seek to understand the source of the information we are choosing. We should always check to see how accurate what we are reading is to Scripture, our Christian tradition, contemporary thought on the topic, and our experience of the issue itself. In other words, Paul urges us to make sure whatever we are reading, hearing, seeing, or experiencing is sound teaching.

As followers of Jesus Christ we should always refer back to the teachings of Jesus. Is what we are paying attention to lining up with the teachings of Jesus? Jesus taught on a variety of issues and more importantly taught on the values necessary for being a fully devoted follower of his. Jesus himself listened to the words of God, the Father, as recorded in Scripture. Jesus quoted Scripture more than anything else when tempted. When we are tempted to become self-centered we need to turn back to the words of Jesus. When we are tempted to collect only people with whom we agree we need to turn back to the words of the Gospel. I believe that when we do this we will always come back to humility. When we seek to serve others we cannot seek to serve ourselves. There will come a time when we will have to choose between humility and pride, it is my prayer we will always choose humility.

This Sunday we will look at finishing strong. The message will help us consider what it means to run the rest of the race God has marked out for us. I hope you will join us at the 8:15, 9:45, or 11:15 service this Sunday. It is a great time to be at St. Andrew’s. God is at work. I can’t wait to see you in church!

December 22, 2017

 “It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.” Luke 2:32 CEB

It was a beautiful night on the Atlantic Ocean. The temperature was mild, there was a very pleasant breeze, and the waves were fairly calm. It was a clear night and you could see a good number of stars in the sky. The water moving the boat and the gentle sounds of the waves were relaxing. We were out for a ride off the coast of Jupiter, Florida and it was a very beautiful night. There were very few boats out on the ocean that night and even fewer ships off in the distance. In fact, it was a really dark night on the ocean. The lights on the shoreline were only enough to grant perspective and nowhere near enough light to help you see. Yes, it was dark. As we were moving along slowly we heard a large splash come from the side of the boat. Everyone turned in the direction of the noise. It was so dark that we could not see anything. We were not sure what had made the noise. A few moments passed and we heard the noise again. Everyone turned but once again could not see anything. It really started to get everyone a little unsettled. It also began to drive home a point we were all aware of … you can’t see in the dark and the dark can be scary.

This experience of mine is a little like the story we will read this Christmas Eve. It was a dark night and it was hard to see. It was the time of night where the shepherds in the fields would be getting the sheep to settle in for the night. The closer the sheep were to the shepherd, and to each other, the better he was able to keep watch over the flock. It was usually in the dark of the night that the shepherd would listen for noises. The noise of grass or leaves rustling, noise of paws working their way toward the flock. It was in the dark of the night that lions, bears, wolves, and others would try to get an easy meal. This is when the shepherd needed to be most alert and aware. It is also when the shepherd would be most tested in his ability to be aware of the lurking dangers and protect the flock. Mostly because you can’t see in the dark and the dark can be scary.

That night on the Atlantic Ocean we couldn’t see and we were a little scared. That is until my friend, who owned the boat, turned on a spotlight. Immediately we could see and our fears were relieved. The bright light was shining on the water and revealing what had been making the sound. It wasn’t anything scary it was something amazing. We were being visited by a small pod of dolphins. We moved from being scared and wondering to being excited and amazed. The pod stayed with us for quite a while and we simply enjoyed watching them and being graced with their presence. A little light can bring sight and overcome our fears.

That night in the fields the shepherds were completely in the dark. They didn’t know what was about to happen. Then the light of the brightest star they had ever seen lit up the night sky. Shortly after that the light of an angel would shine in the sky above them telling them not to be afraid. The shepherds would go from being in the fields in the dark to being in the presence of the Light of the World. The Light of the World was born into the world that night. The light came into darkness and turned the scariness of night into the wonder of the manger. The Light of the World would bring sight to the darkness of night and overcome the fears of the world.

Just a little while later, eight days, Mary and Joseph took their newborn son to the temple as was customary under the law. When they arrived a man named Simeon approached them. Part of what Simeon tells Mary and Joseph is, “It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.” The “it” is Jesus, God’s salvation for all humanity. Simeon is letting them know, and everyone who has read the story, that the Light of the World is Jesus. Where there was darkness there is now light, where there was fear there is now strength and peace, and where there was uncertainty there is now salvation. Jesus is the light of the world for those who know God and for those who do not. Jesus is the light of revelation to ALL. You cannot see in the dark and it can be a little scary … Jesus is THE light that takes away ALL of our fear and allows us to see God’s great love for us.

This Sunday we continue our Advent message series Every Story Whispers His Name. The message this week will help us consider the light to all the world. The light is Jesus Christ! This Sunday is also Christmas Eve when we will celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I look forward to seeing you at one of our five worship services [10 a.m. Blended Worship |4:30 p.m. Family Worship | 6:30 p.m. Contemporary Worship | 8:30 p.m. Traditional Worship | 11 p.m. Traditional Worship with Communion]. It is a great time to be at St. Andrew’s. God is at work. I can’t wait to see you in church!

December 15, 2017

Tinsel, lights, and taffeta. Christmas concerts, specials, and spectaculars. Griswold-style Christmas lights, budget-busting gifts, and ginormous car-wrapping bows. Whether out of tradition, wonder, or flat-out consumerism, many celebrations and representations of Christmas are fancy, elaborate, or ostentatious.

Many of our traditions are fun and bring cheer and special memories. Others, like Christmas Cantatas, harken back to the wonder of witnessing the angel chorus on that first Christmas. And, some other ways of celebrating Christmas … well, they stress us out and have us running around like crazy people trying to keep up with expectations, a frenzied pace, and the Joneses.

Yet, that’s not how it all began. The first Christmas is much better characterized as humble than ostentatious. The setting for Jesus’ birth certainly wouldn’t win any Christmas decorating contests. The central players were mostly commoners who wouldn’t have owned fancy clothing. They weren’t putting on elaborate, well-planned productions. The VIP guests to the first Christmas party were stinky shepherds – fresh from the not-so-fresh-smelling fields! The central players didn’t have a Pinterest-perfect first Christmas – they experienced and embraced significant changes in plans, changes that left them humbled, and even vulnerable.

Young Mary, betrothed but not yet married, was to become pregnant before marriage, and not by her betrothed, putting her in a vulnerable position. Yet, she humbled herself, embraced the message delivered by the angel, and trusted God’s plan for her and for the world.

Joseph’s plans were disrupted when he found out that his betrothed was to bear a child – and he knew he was not the father. Rather than react out of pride or self-righteousness (the laws and customs were certainly on his side), he humbly accepted God’s plans as related by the angel and became Mary’s protector rather than her accuser.

The magi had been watching and interpreting the skies for years and had an expectation that the new king would be found in the usual trappings of royalty: born in the palace, in the seat of power. Yet, they accepted changes of plans – presenting their precious gifts to the Christ child in a humble home and heading home by a different route. The magi protected Jesus and his parents not by their own wisdom; rather, they humbly submitted to the instructions they received in a dream to not return to King Herod.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reminds us of how Jesus humbled himself to be among us: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (2:6-8)

Why all this humility? To what purpose? What truths lay in the humble versus the alternatives? And what does this teach us about how to seek healing and wholeness within God’s plans for us today? What can God work through the humility of the people of St. Andrew’s?

Join us this Sunday as we go back to the first Christmas –even BEFORE the first Christmas—to meet a little servant girl and a proud general as we continue our Advent series: Every Story Whispers His Name.

See you in church!

December 8, 2017

“Stand your ground, and watch the Lord rescue you today.” Exodus 14:13b CEB

I am not a dancer! They say that confession is good for the soul. I read recently that this phrase is attributed to Scotland and the saying was, “Open confession is good for the soul.” I want to be completely open with you, I am not a dancer. When I was younger my friends wanted to go to the dances at school, and I went with them, but I avoided dancing at all costs. During my twenties, friends wanted to go to clubs and dance, again I went with them, but dancing was never a good experience for me. In fact, my brother-in-law used to joke that all I did was a weird version of bob and sway. We all have our strengths and I am confessing that dancing is not one of mine. While I am being open with my confession … I don’t even watch Dancing with the Stars! Did I mention I am not a dancer?

Because I am not a dancer I had to look something up for this week’s article. I had to look up what the “two step” was in dance. I found out there is both a traditional two step and a country and western two step. I studied both, but did not try either, and have come up with a basic understanding of the two step. The two step is a dance consisting of two steps in the same direction. There you have it! Of course, it is my understanding that it is way easier to understand what a dance step is than to actually dance the step. This is why I did not try it. Maybe someday I will give it a try if I can convince Debbie to join me.

So why am I sharing all of this? Good question. When I read the Scripture verse above from Exodus it made me think of the two step. The story is that after a long period of convincing Pharaoh to let his people go, Moses and the Israelites are on the move toward the Promised Land. They have barely left Egypt and they face their first test. They reach the Red Sea, some say the Sea of Reeds, and they hear the loud noise of Pharaoh’s army coming on horses and chariots behind them. There is nowhere to go. There is water in front of them for as far as they can see and Pharaoh’s army is behind them and closing fast. What will they do? The people even say to Moses, “weren’t there enough graves in Egypt? Is that why you brought us to the desert to die?” This is when Moses speaks to the people and asks them to do the Israeli two step. Moses tells them to stand their ground and watch the Lord rescue them. I am quite sure this is not what they were thinking he would say. As it turns out it was exactly the right thing to do.

It was in that moment, when the people of God stood their ground and watched, that God was able to make a way. It was in that moment that the people of God decided to trust God. It was in that moment they realized they could not get themselves out of the situation and they turned to God. In that moment God says to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” The Lord instructs Moses to raise his staff and the water is parted so that God’s people can cross through on dry land. As soon as the people of God had crossed through the water the seas closed on top of Pharaoh’s army and swallowed them up. The people of God could not see a way out, but where there was no way God made a way for them.

Where do you find yourself today? Are you traveling along this journey of life and its smooth sailing? Or are you wading in the waters of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army closing in on you? Are you in a situation where you cannot see a way forward? Perhaps it’s time to do a divine two step? Maybe this Advent season it’s time to stand your ground and watch the Lord rescue you? Because I have come to understand at least one thing in my faith life, where there is no way God will make a way! I have seen God make a way through a difficult medical diagnosis. I have seen God reconcile broken relationships. I have seen God make a way to recovery for people broken down by addiction. I have seen God make a way through difficult financial times. I have seen God make a way for revival in congregations. No matter where you find yourself today, God is ready to make a way for you.

This Sunday we continue our Advent message series Every Story Whispers His Name. The message this week will help us consider how eager God is to make a way for you and me. Not only does every story in Scripture whisper the name of Jesus Christ, but all of the stories represented in the people of St. Andrew’s whisper his name as well. May we all be listening for the whisper. It is a great time to be at St. Andrew’s. God is at work. I can’t wait to see you in church!

December 1, 2017

“God was getting ready to give the whole world a wonderful present. It would be God’s way to tell his people, ‘I love you’.” Excerpt from The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Have you ever whispered someone’s name? Perhaps they were busy and you wanted to get their attention without getting everyone’s attention. So you whispered their name and waited to see if they would hear and respond. When I was elementary aged we lived in Michigan and all of the bedrooms were on a long hallway that led to the living room. Many nights after my sister and I were sent to bed we would lay on the floor in our room, with just enough of our heads sticking out of the doorway to see, and watch the television shows our parents were watching. I’m not sure to this day if my parents really knew we were doing this. Usually, after we were sent to bed one of us would get to the doorway first and start whispering the other’s name. Most nights we met up fairly quickly. Some nights I remember being left there whispering my sister’s name, repeatedly, with no response. I would whisper and wait, but I’m pretty sure those were the nights she fell asleep.

This Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means ‘coming’ or ‘visit.’ The Advent season begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is also the beginning of the Church year for Christians. During the Advent season we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. We remember how the Jewish people longed for the coming Messiah. We also contemplate our own need and longing for forgiveness, salvation, and a new beginning. We take time to remember the humble birth of Jesus while also looking forward to the time when Jesus will come again as the fulfillment of all that was promised in his first coming.

Our messages through Advent this year are entitled Every Story Whispers His Name. We will be looking at Advent, and Christmas, through the eyes of a child. Each week one of our very own kids from our Kid’s Ministry will read a bible story from The Jesus Storybook Bible written by Sally Lloyd-Jones. The subtitle of this storybook bible is Every Story Whispers His Name. The premise the author holds is that ALL of Scripture is the story of Jesus. The New Testament is explicitly about the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. However, the Old Testament at the very least implicitly whispers His name. We will look at the stories of Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Red Sea, the slave girl and Naaman, and the story of the Shepherds. Through all of these stories in Scripture we will see how every story whispers His name.

Back to my childhood story … I remember how it felt to have my sister respond when I whispered her name. It was a great feeling. Of course, when we were kids we were sneaking to get away with something we shouldn’t be doing. In the case of Scripture, every story we read is God whispering the name of Jesus to us. It is a love story from a God who loves us. A God who wants to save us not punish us. A God who wants us to live abundantly not die. Every story whispers the name of Jesus who made God’s love incarnate. As we will see throughout Advent, God whispers the name of Jesus to us in every story and our part is to simply respond. God longs for us to hear the whisper and believe in the name of Jesus. The name to which every knee will bow and every tongue confess in heaven and on earth.

It is my prayer that we will all see how every story whispers his name this Advent. That we will respond to the name of Jesus. That we will experience the fullness of life in Jesus. That we will seek to share the hope of this life with those who have not yet received it for themselves. This Sunday we begin the message series "Every Story Whispers His Name." May we all be listening for the whisper. There is no greater purpose in life than to follow God. God is at work at St. Andrew’s and I can’t wait to see you in church!

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