It was dark outside.

While we were stopped for gas, I told Ben to stay in the vehicle.

I had not liked the noise I was hearing.

Oh, it wasn’t the seat belt hanging out the car door, dragging on the ground noise that I didn’t like.

It was the sound of the man in the white Taurus. It was the racial slur I heard.

We were traveling on vacation. It was time to stop to fill the gas tank and our stomachs. It was dark outside. We were able to get gas and some food on this stop. It was dark outside.

On the opposite side of the gas pump we were using was a Ford Expedition. The man was traveling with his wife. He was minding his own business.

While we both were filling our gas tanks, it seems the couple in the white Taurus were making there presence known in the convenience store. The lady had stood in line at the counter for 15 minutes asking a bunch of random questions. Meanwhile behind her the line was getting long in number and short on patience. Finally she finished her business and went outside.

The driver of the white Taurus started yelling out his car window as he patrolled the gas station. He told the man who was filling his gas tank opposite of me to “go back where you belong.” There was even the use of the “N” word by the guy in the white Taurus.

Finally, the white Taurus and its occupants left the gas station. I then told Ben he could get out of the vehicle. He did what he needed to do. It was after we were on the road that I told him what had happened.

As I finished filling our vehicle, I spoke to the man at the opposite pump from us. He was a middle-aged man, of dark skin complexion. He told me about the couple in the white Taurus. He said, “I am a Native American.” So, where did he have to go? – these were his words to me! He said he told the man in the white Taurus to just get going.

It was good to chat with the man at the pump. His license plate indicated that he had served in the U.S. Army. We finished our conversation and went on our separate ways. It was dark outside. But two Americans had talked and were better for it.

I told the Army veteran that we Americans needed God. He agreed with me.

It was dark outside. But there is light for America. There will come a time when I won’t have to explain to my son about racial bigotry. Then it won’t be dark outside anymore. God, help us to know you and your ways. I ask for this in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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What are we to do with the Children? Care for them Practically

World Communion Sunday Luke 19:39-44

One of Maria’s favorite movies is “Miss Congeniality.” Sandra Bullock plays Gracie Hart, an undercover FBI agent who is trying to stop a bombing from taking place during a beauty pageant. As the pageant continues, the contestants get to the personal interviews. Lady after lady says she wants to see “world peace.” As Gracie Hart prepared to be a contestant, she despised the ubiquitous answer of “world peace.” When it is her turn, Gracie Hart goes on about anyone wanting to hurt the ladies in the beauty pageant. Then as she is about to finish her answer, she says she wants “world peace.”

Though the movie pokes fun at the idea, peace is concept we all need. It is what we need in our homes. Peace is what we need in our community. Peace is what we need in our country. As we long for children to know Jesus Christ, we have the desire to make sure the children know that on earth we can have peace.

The only way our community can know peace is by knowing the Prince of Peace. The only way our country can know peace is by following Christ Jesus. The only way our children can know peace is by our introducing them to Jesus. A young preacher asked John Wesley about how to continue the great revival that had started in England. John Wesley’s answer was simple: “Take care of the rising generation.”

Is it our responsibility to teach the children about peace? How can the children know the things that make for peace? We know Jesus Christ. We have been following him. But not all of the children know Jesus Christ. But not all of the children have been following Jesus. Will it take the rocks crying out for the children to know Jesus?

A. Some of the Pharisees wanted Jesus’ disciples to stop (19:39-40)
+++1. Jesus was entering Jerusalem
+++2. The disciples praised God by saying:
+===++“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
++===+Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
+++3. Some of the Pharisees wanted Jesus to rebuke his disciples!
+++4. If these were silent, the stones would shout out! (Habakkuk 2:11)
+++5. There is no better sound in a sanctuary than an infant making a fuss. It is a sign on life now. It is a sign of hope for the future. Oh, the peace and quiet may be broken up in the sanctuary, but the child will have a chance to hear about peace. Having children in worship is about the child getting to know Jesus through God’s people. The children get to hear praise about God working in our lives. If the children don’t get to hear our praise to God, then will the stones shout out? Yet, Pharisees want to quiet the disciples! To show how big a deal this situation is, Jesus goes near Jerusalem. Even before he enters the city, Jesus’ emotions are shown.

B. Jesus wept over Jerusalem (19:41-44)
+++1. If Jerusalem had known what made for peace, how would it have been for them?
+++2. Jerusalem would be surrounded and sacked by 70 AD – for refusing God’s offer of peace through Jesus
+++3. The kingdom of God had come close to them, and they refused to see it!
++===+a. Zechariah sang about God “guiding or feet into the way of peace.” (1:79)
++===+b. The angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (2:14)
++===+c. Simeon also sang: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word.” (2:29)
+++4. What about those children in our community who have not yet heard there is even a kingdom of God?
+++5. Jesus lamented Jerusalem’s situation – they had the chance, but missed it
+++6. We may have missed some children in the past, but now is the time for this generation of children in our community. We get to praise God so the children can get to know God. We care for the children practically. We care for the children of our community now.

World peace is more than a good answer for a beauty pageant. Peace can be known in our church. Peace can be known in our community. Peace can be known by the children.

Timothy Keller said: “When you realize He sacrificed to give us life, you will start to say how can I sacrifice to give other people life?” (@timkellermyc) Jesus came so we may know God. Jesus came so the children may know God.

Our part is that we make every effort now to show the children our God. Our part is that we make a way for the children to worship God. Our part is to show Jesus to the children.

Or our part later will be a lament. We will wail for we missed the chance to show the children God. We will wail for the children did not have a way to worship God. We will wail because we did not show Jesus to the children.

500 Years

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

500 years is a long time. Yet, 500 years ago on October 31st, Martin Luther went to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church and nailed his 95 Theses to the door. This was the most dramatic sign of the start of the Protestant Reformation. The idea was to call the Catholic Church back to Scripture in how the church operated. Through Martin Luther’s work, and the work of many others, the Christian faith was called back to the Bible.

From the Protestant Reformation through today we have seen the Church Universal called back to God and the Bible repeatedly. Whether we are in the United Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, or some other Christian denomination, we still today hear the call from God through preachers and lay people alike to keep returning to God and His ways. As we gain in our appreciation of the Bible through reading the Bible, we realize the idea of reforming our ways did not only start with the Protestant Reformation.

God sent the prophets to Israel, and the surrounding nations, to warn them of catastrophic consequences if they did not live as followers of God. Specifically with Jesus Christ we recognize our need to be reformed in the image of God. It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we receive new life from God. There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved from our sins and our sin nature.

As we continue to read the New Testament, we find Paul, James, and John calling the faithful back to the ways of God. How we treat other Christians, no matter what denomination they are a part, is a focus of several New Testament books. Continuing in the faith of Jesus means we are continually being called back to God and His ways. Without a doubt the United Methodist Church needs to be reformed so that we look more like Christ Jesus than we look like the society around us.

It is easy to say the great, big denomination needs to be reformed. When we examine our own congregation, we may see some areas for reformation in Christ’s image. The hard part of being reformed is not about the denomination or the local church. As individuals, we realize the reforming of our own, individual faith is the hardest. However, we cannot be reformed in our individual walk with God apart from the local church or the Church Universal.

But we are remade into God’s image through faith in Christ Jesus. As we are protesting in our life, may our protests be about our own lack of growth in Jesus. Then we can begin, even again, to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Then we can know what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ. Through it all, I hope to be found with you,

In Christ’s Service,
John

What are we to do with the children? Shape Our Ministries Appropriately

Acts 2:37-42

I thank God for the those who teach the children and youth. They take their time and energy to tell the children and youth about God. Without someone teaching me about Jesus and the Bible, I wouldn’t know much about God. Thank you, teachers and leaders, for your patience, your dedication, and your love for the children and youth that the church provides you.

As we continue to be the church in this community, we know how important children and youth are. It is not that children are the church of the future. When we lovingly and creatively teach about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the children will become part of today’s church. I think that is why Christopher Miles Ritter titled his sixth chapter, “Shape Our Ministries Appropriately.” What we do as church is not only for the adults. Yes, the adults give generously to the ministries of the church. It is when we see the ministries of the church geared toward children and youth that we have abundant generosity for the church.

Maybe the vision for us can be to provide whatever is necessary for our children and grandchildren to be part of this church. To say this another way, “What are willing to give so that our children, our grandchildren and their friends are in this church?” When we realize the promise God has for the children, we can partner with God to make sure the children get to know Jesus!

A. For your children (Acts 2:37-39)
+++1. Hearing about Jesus cuts us to the heart
+++2. What do we do when we discover Jesus is the Lord and Savior who was crucified?
+++3. We tell our sins to Jesus & we get forgiveness, plus the Holy Spirit
+++4. This promise is also for the children – for God is calling the children to himself!
+++5. Some of us remember of being drug to church. As our parents and grandparents brought us unwillingly to church, we overheard about Jesus. Then we decided to follow Jesus, like our parents or grandparents were doing. We were baptized sometime along the way. Either we were baptized as infants, teenagers, or adults. We have been glad to be baptized.

B. We want to see more baptisms! (Acts 2:40-41)
+++1. We can save ourselves from this corrupt generation
+++2. The people got baptized
+++3. Even children whose parents get baptized can get baptized!
+++4. As a pastor, the greatest joy is to see people of all ages getting baptized. When the church promises opportunities to grow in grace, we see children and adults living their baptisms. Sunday School, VBS, and Wednesday Kids’ Club helps both children and adults to live their baptisms. It is nice to have a car. It’s even better to have gas for that car to go anywhere! What ministries help us to live our baptism?

C. These ministries helped the early church (Acts 2:42)
+++1. What do we do with those who have been baptized?
+===++a. Apostles’ teaching – preaching, teaching about following Jesus
++===+b. Fellowship – Through worship services, meals, mission projects
++===+c. Breaking of bread – Holy Communion, and the occasional covered dish meal
++===+d. Prayers – teach the children and youth to pray
2. All of our ministries of the church are focused on growing baptized disciples. If we only focus on helping the adults to be like Jesus, then we miss the children. If we focus on helping the children to be like Jesus, then the adults also learn to be like Jesus. I remember Renea Waggoner. She was my elementary Sunday School teacher. She took the time to make sure my class knew the Bible. As a reward for participating in her class, she took the class to Burger King and to a movie! Along the way she helped me to follow Jesus. I wonder who the kids of our community will remember as helping them to follow Jesus?

Since we have become baptized followers of Jesus, we are partners with God in his work. His work includes getting the promise of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit to everyone, including the children. What a job we have! What joy we give as we help the children to follow Jesus!

I praise God we have children in church. I praise God for the children we are going to help to follow Jesus. The promise God has for the children is what all children need. We are the ones to guide them to Jesus. Write down in your bulletin the name of a child you are going to help to know Jesus. Pray for that child. Do whatever is gracious and necessary to help that child to know Jesus. This is a reason for us to be a church in this community!

What are we to do with the children? Challenge Lives Continually

Matthew 4:18-22

The other day I saw a herd of cows do something I’m sure they do all the time. There was a flock of vultures in the field with the cows. For a while I could see several cows chasing the buzzards away from the herd. As the cows mellowed out, only one cow was left to chase the buzzards. She galloped towards the buzzards. The buzzards left the dead cow, for a time. Eventually, even the defending cow stopped chasing the buzzards.

We need to be like buzzards. We need to keep coming back to one idea. We need to keep coming back to the idea that we fish for people. People will not like this idea. People will try to drive us away from following Jesus by fishing for people.

We need to fish for people. In this dark world, we have a great light. For those growing up in the shadow of death, we know the light that has dawned.

To be more specific, we can fish for children. Yes, I believe when we hear a sermon preached, God is calling us to action. God has work for us to do. We follow Jesus Christ. One group of people for whom we are able to fish is the children. Oh, we fish for all people. Let us think about how soon we start and how many of us are to fish for children.

A. How soon can we fish for children? (4:18-20)
+++1. By the Sea of Galilee
+++2. Peter and Andrew were fishing with their Dad
+++3. Jesus called them
++===+a. Follow Me – Preach, heal, cast out demons
++===+b. You will fish for people – Bring children to hear about Jesus!
+++4. Peter and Andrew left their nets right then and there!
+++5. How soon can we fish for children? We have over 180 children who attend Glenwood Elementary School. They are our neighbors’ kids. They are our grandchildren. They are our children. We know there are drug users in our community. We know there are single moms who try hard to raise good kids. We know there has to be a way to bring light to the children. We are the way to bring light to the children! But we say, “I’m not comfortable with that.” We say, “I can’t do that.” On our own, we cannot fish for children. On our own, we will be comfortable with the way our lives are. But we are following Jesus! So, who is to be fishing for children?

B. Is this task only for a few people? (4:21-22)
+++1. James and John, sons of Zebedee, were also fishing
+++2. Jesus called them as well!
+++3. Right then and there, James and John followed Jesus
+++4. I have been around enough people who fish to know they like to fish. They will fish when it is drizzling rain. They will fish when it is late at night. They will fish when their wife has a “honey do list” a mile long! There is an enjoyment from fishing. There is finding the right bait. There is finding the right spot. The understanding of how to bring in the catch just comes to you once you have hauled in a fish.
+++5. Fishing for children can be just as exhilarating! There is nothing like seeing a child come to faith. The child will get excited. The child will tell family and friends about Jesus. The child will tell family and friends about their church.

I’ve been here long enough to know we don’t have many children. I’ve been here long enough to hear the moaning about not having children. I’ve been here long enough to catch the note of despair from not having children in the church.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are to fish for children. The light has dawned in our life. Now it is time for us to help the children know the light.

Maybe we know a family who most likely won’t be seen in church. Those are the children for whom we pray. We ask God to give us the words to say to the parents. We ask God to give us the words to say to the children. Write the name of the child in the space provided in the bulletin.

We realize this task is more than enough for one person in this congregation. This task of fishing for children is for the whole church. Here is our strategy: “Bring one or have one.”

Since some of us are beyond having any children, we bring a child to church. For those of us who are having children, keep on bringing the children to church!

Going on. . . and on . . . until the end.

There is always someone to visit.

There is always a report to prepare.

There is always something to do.

I realize the work God has called me to do and live out is only going to get accomplished by God’s grace! For it was God working in my life that I became a preacher. What I wanted to do was quite different. Oh, I wanted to be an engineer.

But not an engineer for a train!

I cannot preach apart from the Holy Spirit guiding my studies, filling my prayers, and inspiring my soul. I cannot preach apart from God the Father asking me to speak about Jesus, sin, and eternal life. I cannot preach apart from Jesus being my Lord and Savior.

This job is not about being a social engineer. To coax, manipulate, and harangue other people is not what being a preacher means to me. Yes, the truth of God’s word gets preached. God, forgive me if I have manipulated anyone by my preaching.

This job is not about bashing one political party. To ally with an ideology and push the ideology over the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not part of my calling nor is it advantageous to anyone in my vocation. Yet, I have been a witness to politics and ideologies being promoted, pushed, and bally-hewed by my United Methodist colleagues.

It is quite obvious to me the political maneuverings being performed in all levels of the United Methodist Church. Granted, a fair amount of encouragement has to used in order for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be lived by Christians in a community of believers. When that encouragement turns into agendas other than making Jesus Christ known to this world, then we have gone farther than Jesus.

There is always something to do. But the something to do need not be political agenda other than Jesus. The something to be done need not be an ideology that interferes with Jesus. Maybe we need our United Methodist clergy to repent of pursuing political agendas. Maybe we need our United Methodist clergy to repent of promoting ideologies that reflect either American political party.

May the fruit of my life be such that when I preach and lead the church, the Son of God can be seen and known. For I turn from my agenda and want to live God’s agenda for my life. Who knows, maybe other United Methodist clergy can join me in preaching Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and crucified, before God corrects us all.