January 26, 2018

“13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” Philippians 3:13-14

The Apostle Paul was a devout Pharisee who greatly valued his ancestors in the faith. He valued the past experiences of the faith. Paul was well aware of the incredible movement of God in human history for God’s favored people. So when Paul writes the words, “Forgetting the past,” he is not suggesting that you forget what God has done. Paul is actually teaching them a valuable lesson of faith. A lesson that would serve us well as we begin looking forward to what God will be doing in and through the people of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church. 

The Jewish philosopher, Rabbi, and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel talks of a Jewish/Hebrew tradition teaching their students to move into the future “facing backwards.” The idea is that we move into the future as we are informed by our past. The Apostle Paul did not lose sight of this way of thinking. Paul is informed by the past experiences of God’s interaction with humanity and with him. However, Paul tells the people of the Philippian church to not dwell on the past. You can be informed and inspired by the past without dwelling on it. Paul tells them that he is not dwelling on the past, even though it has informed him. Rather, he is “looking forward to what lies ahead.” Paul is more interested in where God is leading him than where God has taken him. In a sense, Paul has already seen that and is anticipating what God has in store next. In this passage Paul is specifically talking about the reward of heaven. Paul is also urging them to enjoy every step along the way as they look forward to what is ahead. 

Since coming to St. Andrew’s almost six years ago I have come to understand a lot about the history of this great church. I have learned of strong and faithful people who have strained to be faithful to God through the ministry and mission of this church. I am excited to hear the stories and be informed by how God has moved in and through this church over the years. I am even more excited about what is yet to come. I am energized about what God has in store for all of us as we continue looking forward to what lies ahead. I believe that God has some truly amazing things in store for us. I encourage you to be praying for your church, the leadership, and the congregation as we move into what lies ahead.

This Sunday we look again at what it means to be Godly. We will discuss what Paul tells Titus about living a godly life by giving of yourself. Looking forward to all God will do in and through you. I believe God is doing great things at St. Andrew’s and I can’t wait to see you in church.

January 19, 2018

“Instead, they should show hospitality, love what is good, and be reasonable, ethical, godly, and self-controlled.”   Titus 1:8 CEB

When I was 12 years old I was gifted with an old set of golf clubs. I had never played golf and had never really had any interest in golf. For the first twelve years of my life I lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan and followed the Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers, and Detroit Red Wings. I didn’t know much of anything about golf. When I was twelve we moved to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. At the time, Palm Beach Gardens would hail itself as the golf capital of the world. It still is the location of the headquarters of the PGA of America. Today there are more than 30 golf courses in the city of Palm Beach Gardens. Naturally, I would need to learn how to play golf. On Saturdays I would take my golf clubs and a bucket of balls to an open field near our home. I would hit golf balls from one end of the field to the other. I would then collect the balls and switch ends. I would do this for hours. I improved a little, but not as much as I wanted.

This is where I changed my tactics. My family could not afford a golf membership for me. I would need to improve on my own if I was going to improve. The only thing I knew to do at the time was to watch golf on television and see what the players were doing. This one man caught my attention. You may have heard of him, his name is Jack Nicklaus. He seemed to know what he was doing, so I studied him. I studied his swing, his approach to the different shots, and everything about him. I would then go back to the field on Saturdays and try to do what Jack Nicklaus had done. Of course, I couldn’t do exactly what Jack Nicklaus had done. Jack is arguably the greatest golfer to ever play the game. I did start getting better though. As I worked toward emulating Jack Nicklaus’ golf swing and approach to the game I saw definite improvement. I could actually play golf in the golf capital of the world.

In my adult life I have realized that this is the way I have learned a lot of things. I realized that in my younger years I learned how to waterski, slalom waterski, and barefoot waterski by emulating the way my uncle did these things. I have learned so many things through watching how others do them and emulating what they were doing. I have also learned through study, education, and the continuing pursuit of knowledge and best practices. Some of the greatest learning I have had in my life, however, has been through putting myself in close proximity to those from whom I could learn. In these situations, we watch and learn and then emulate what we see. This is a formula for growth and improvement in our personal, professional, and spiritual life. One question we can always ask is, “Who am I learning from and emulating?”

This is one of the main underlying themes in The Apostle Paul’s writings. Paul advises throughout his writing that we are all to emulate Christ. Paul also indicates to many of those to whom he writes that they should emulate him whenever they are in doubt about how to live out their faith. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he starts out by saying those who are leaders in the church should live a certain way. One of the ways he mentions is to live a Godly life. In order to live a Godly life, we need to study God [Father, Son, and Holy Spirt], put ourselves in close proximity to Jesus [John 15], and emulate Christ. This is a model for growing in our faith. This is the way we become more like God, in Jesus Christ. The more we work toward emulating Christ Jesus the more we become Godly. What are you doing every day to emulate Jesus?

This Sunday we begin a new message series looking at The Book of Titus. The series, entitled Godly, will help us explore what it means to live a Godly life in Jesus Christ. This is the goal of anyone who is a disciple of Jesus. I hope you will join us as the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to see you in church!

January 12, 2018

“You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope.”  Ephesians 4:4 CEB

Last week Debbie and I celebrated our 21st anniversary. Over the 21 years we have done many different things to celebrate our anniversary. Most of the celebrations have been just the two of us. This year we did something different. For Christmas Debbie and the girls gave me tickets for the whole family to go see the musical School of Rock at the Straz Center. The tickets were for the show on our anniversary. We went to dinner before the show which meant that we spent about seven hours together as a family that night. I love spending time with my family. As the girls have gotten older I really love spending more time with them. They are truly wonderful young women who are fearfully and wonderfully made. I enjoyed this Christmas gift more than most for one reason, we were one as a family that night. It was a truly special night for me.

There is truly something special about being one. Unity is a very rare and elusive reality in the cultural climate in which we live. We are all too aware of our differences and not so aware of where we are in agreement. Therefore, when we find areas where we are united it is something to celebrate. This happens when a sports team unites in the common cause of reaching their goal. It happens when an orchestra unites in the common goal of playing a piece of music beautifully. Unity happens when any group or organization focuses on its purpose for existing. Apple computers exists to make computers that are fun to use. Whenever people unite together for a common cause or purpose there is unity. It is a very special thing when people are in unity.

This is what I love about Paul’s writing in the fourth chapter of his letter to the church at Ephesus. The letter is meant to help the new church remember who they are called to be. In the fourth chapter Paul reminds them who they are in Christ. Remember there were no denominations. There was no schism. There was no East or West. The church was united in following Jesus. There was one Lord, one faith, one baptism. He reminds them that they are one body and one spirit, just as God has called them to one hope. Later in the chapter he reminds them that their one hope is Jesus Christ. This writing of Paul’s reminds us of Jesus’ prayer in The Gospel of John where Jesus prays, “I pray they will be one.” (17:21) Unity is a very special thing, especially in the church, because it is what Jesus prayed for the church.

The way we experience unity in the church is to know Jesus. The more fully we grow in our knowledge and love of Jesus Christ the more united we will be. The more we focus on Christ the less we will focus on other things. The more united we are in Christ the more we follow Jesus in every area of our life. There is power in unity. There is transformation in unity. When we are united in one body, one spirit, and one hope there is nothing we can’t accomplish in the name of Christ.

So how united are we? Have you prayed for unity today? Are we working toward finding unity as one body, one spirit, and one hope? It is my prayer that we will all seek what Jesus desired for us; unity. When we are united in the name of Jesus Christ we can accomplish great things for the cause of Jesus Christ. We all need to ask the question every day, “How am I working to unify the body of Christ today?” No matter where you work or what you do or how spiritual you think you are … there is always at least one thing you can do every day to promote the unity of the body of Christ (the church). After all we are one body, one spirit, just as God called us to one hope. That hope is Jesus Christ. We are ONE in Jesus Christ.

This Sunday we will discuss the second half of the message series looking at our Vision for 2018. This message will help explore what it means to grow in Christ. We exist as the body of Christ to offer extreme grace and grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope you will join us as the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to see you in church!

January 5, 2018

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19 NIV

Happy New Year! It’s difficult to believe that 2018 is already here. 2017 just flew by like no year I can remember. I pray this New Year brings you health, happiness, and a new measure of God’s grace as you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ. May 2018 be the best year yet for our relationship with Jesus.

Have you ever gotten involved in something that was truly difficult? Have you ever found out after the fact that it didn’t need to be as difficult as you made it? I have lived both of these realities. When Debbie and I lived in Corinth, Kentucky our home had an unfinished basement. We decided that we would finish part of the basement as a home office. I would be the one doing most of the work over the summer when my class schedule was lighter. I began my research and we developed the plans we thought would work best. I purchased all of the materials and they were delivered to the house. We were ready to go. Everything was going along really well and the walls were framed out and electric was run. We were ready for drywall. I started with the walls and hung all the drywall for the walls without too much trouble. Then came the ceiling. I made a support and we had a small ladder I would use, since the ceiling was pretty low. As Debbie and I began to hang the drywall on the ceiling I learned two things. First, I learned that the ladder we had was about two inches shorter than I needed it to be to reach the ceiling. Second, I learned that drywall is really heavy when holding it above your head and trying to screw it onto the framework. The work we were doing was really difficult and I became very frustrated. After much frustration and backbreaking work the drywall was all installed. This was the part where I got myself involved in something that was truly difficult.

About a week after finishing the drywall project I was talking to my uncle. My uncle has a lot of construction experience in his background. As I was telling him about my experience he stopped me and asked a question. It was a very annoying and highly frustrating question. He asked, “Why didn’t you rent a drywall lift?” To which I replied, “A what?” He proceeded to tell me that there was a lift that existed that you could place the drywall upon and it would effortlessly life the drywall to the ceiling and hold it in place while you leisurely screwed the board into the framing. As he described it I could hardly imagine the person using it even breaking a sweat. When I hung up with my Uncle I went and looked for this amazing machine. What I found was that, in fact, the work I had done hanging the drywall on the ceiling did not need to be as difficult as I had made it. It was mostly my ignorance that made it so difficult, but there was a little bit of arrogance there also. I never even asked anyone at Home Depot about the best way to do ceiling work. I didn’t call my Uncle who knew far more about this than I. The reality is the work did not need to be anywhere near as difficult as I had made it. That was a very difficult lesson to learn.

In essence, this is the same lesson that is learned in The Book of Acts by the Apostles. The Jewish followers of Jesus were expecting the Gentile followers of Jesus to follow everything they had followed. This included circumcision. There is a little difference in having this done at eight days old and when you are an adult. So the question came up, “Is this necessary?” It seems to some like an unnecessary bar for following Jesus. So the Apostles met at what is known as The Jerusalem Council to discuss this situation. There were many who were coming to faith who were Gentiles. They were experiencing everything that the others had experienced. They received the Holy Spirit, there was real fruit being born out of their life, and they were an active part of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, there were some who felt they hadn’t done enough. So they decided they needed to make following Jesus Christ more difficult than it really needed to be.

It was at this council that The Apostles made a decision. James summarizes the decision when he says, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” They decided that people were making the decision to follow Jesus Christ too difficult for the Gentiles. This did not dumb down or cheapen what Jesus had done. It was simply a realization that human beings were making it more difficult than it needed to be. The Apostles decided that we are all saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and nothing more. The Apostles did give instruction to the new believers concerning how to live out their newfound faith in Jesus. The Apostles decided extreme grace was more important than exact adherence. They decided not to make it too difficult for those who were turning to God. Their decision meant that thousands more would come to experience God’s grace through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Praise God!

This Sunday we will begin a two week message series looking at our Vision for 2018. These messages will help us consider what it means to offer extreme grace and grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope you will join us as the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to see you in church!

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Pastor Tim Machtel