Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Sermon Summary from Nov 20, “Mysterious Will of God Part II” (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 11:28-30)

So what am I going to be when I grow up?  As a boy in South Dakota going to Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies, “cowboy” sounded good.  I went to engineering school because all my relatives did.  Then there was in the Army.  Especially when I was in Vietnam, my Mom would say she didn’t raise me to be a soldier, she raised me to be a doctor.  She didn’t tell me!

When I was 18, I came home from college and told my Dad I was going to be a preacher.  He talked me out of that, fast.  (He told Rosemary many times that he thought he’d probably go to Hell for that.)  But my favorite aunt knew that I’d have been a terrible pastor had I entered ministry then.  She knew it was the will of God that I needed to grow up!

We have a lot of problem figuring out what to do before noon each day let alone our purpose for a lifetime.  Last week we talked about why bad things happen to good people.  This week about how we live within the will of God.  I’m relying on Adam Hamilton’s book, Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. 

Hamilton uses the metaphor of a novel.  Suppose God’s plan was the completed book and we were to walk through the story for good or for bad?  Some believe that, but that takes away free will and makes God, who we claim to be good, responsible for all the harm, disease and mayhem in the world.  A second option is that maybe life is like a Table of Contents and we write the pages in between with God stepping in and writing new chapter headings when our free will leads us astray.  But because of human interaction all of us would soon be on “Plan B.”  Doesn’t seem like a plan at all.  Finally, maybe our book looks more like a journal, a blank page, and we and God write our story together, we are co-authors.

God is the great collaborator, the best co-author we can imagine giving us the writing tools and rejoicing in paragraphs we write.  We can improve our writing skills by reading great writing.  The greatest writings teach us great moral truths and tell background stories we can weave into our writing.  Second, we need great mentors.  Great writers gather great people around them.  John Wesley would call this “Christian Conferencing.”  Then we have been given our intellect, reason with which to choose the twists and turns to the plot of our story.  Finally, we have been given the Holy Spirit to be our guide and to give us the Power to live out our storyline.  And as we write our journal each day, we need to be asking our co-author, “What is the very best story we can together write for today?” and “What is the most loving thing we can do?”

But even then, in the midst of writing our Romance Novel, because of the actions of others or just because of the way the world is, we find ourselves living a Horror Story.  We find ourselves in darkness unable to see our way.  It’s at that point that we need God to remind us that the chapter we are now walking through is never, never the last chapter!  We need to ask once again, “What is the very best story we can together write for as far as I can see?”

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Sermon Summary (11/13/16), “The Will of God”  Mt 22:15-22

When we lost our son, Jeff, friends called, letters poured in many saying things like, “God always takes the best first.”  Oh, we wish he hadn’t been so good.  Or, “Everything happens for a reason.”  I can’t imagine what possible reason that could be!  Or, “It must have been the will of God.”  Well, I don’t want anything to do with a God like that.  I don’t believe that was the will of God.

I ran into a friend Terry three weeks ago.  He said it had been the worst year of his life!  He had lost a son.  He had been flat on his back for five months.  Now his wife had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.  Friends, that can’t be the will of God.

We struggle when bad things happen to good people and they do.  It happened to Rev. Leslie Weatherhead, pastor of a London Church in WWII.  How could his congregation deal with the evil that was surrounding them?  He delivered a series of four sermons that put in a small book, The Will of God,” that has sold over 1 million copies.

Weatherhead believes that God’s intention for us, his “Intentional Will,” is for good.  But God has delegated us to have authority, dominion (Gen 1:28), we have choices, we choose to harm one another, to harm the world we live in.  Under those circumstances God acts.  He had no intention that Christ go to the cross, but under the circumstances it was the only way he could reconcile the world to himself, “God’s Circumstantial Will.”  Ultimately God cannot be thwarted and “God’s Ultimate Will” will prevail (Rev 21-22).

First, let me say that we are people of hope and I believe in miracles.  Miracles range from protection, to timing, to the seemingly cessation of physical laws of the universe.  Not often, but they happen.  But the greatest miracle of all is that God will walk with us through the storm. 

God doesn’t cause the storm, but God will walk with us, sustain us, and he will force good out of our circumstance.  Our circumstance was that we were lost, now we are within God’s arms.  The greatest realization of my faith is that God loved me so much that he would do for me the greatest act of love of all, to give up his life for me.

God walks with us.  God forces good out of evil.  We are a different family because God walked with us, because he forced good out of evil.  Because of God’s Circumstantial Will, we are people of Hope.  “All things work together for good for those who love him.” Ro 8:28

Friday, November 4, 2016


Sermon Summary (10/30/16), “Kid’s Stories for Big People”  Luke 19:1-10 (Zacchaeus)

I always thought of Zacchaeus as a kid’s story.  Kid’s can equate to a wee little man.  Kid’s like to climb trees.  We had big Cottonwood trees in South Dakota.  I loved to climb trees.  I’m not sure about Sycamore trees.  We didn’t have any of those.  And of course kids love to sing the song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man…”  Kids love this story.

The problem is, if we adults think of it as a kids story, we miss the part for big people.  When we grow up, we don’t give it a second view.  We miss it.  Jericho was Jesus’ last stop before going up to Jerusalem to give his life for us.  There must be something important going on here. 

To make my point, we are going to start with the last verse first: “For the Son of Man cam to seek and to save the lost.”  That is the summation of Jesus’ entire reason for being, his entire purpose.  This story is important.

Now, Zacchaeus was lost, there was no doubt about that.  He was a despised tax collector, a man who was a tool of the hated imperial oppressor, Rome, but also a man who defrauded or extorted excessive taxes from his fellow Jews.  Despised.  Yet Jesus said, “I must stay at your house today.”  “I must”!  Jesus had a divine appointment with Zacchaeus.  Just like the Woman at the Well in John 4 at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with whom he had a divine appointment, Jesus ends his ministry with a divine appointment with another social outcast.  These people, this man and woman are us.  This story is for big people.

Zacchaeus responds to Jesus, “Lord, half my goods I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone...I restore four-fold.”  Jesus didn’t tell him he needed to do that.  It was a response to grace.

This is a story of grace, the story of grace in our lives.  Without even us knowing it, grace prods us to respond to Jesus, Prodding Grace..  We find ourselves climbing the tree without even knowing why.  When we do, Jesus saves us with his grace, Saving Grace.  Then grace nurtures us, we find ourselves changing and we don’t even know why, Nurturing Grace.  Theologians call these Prevenient, Justifying and Sanctifying Grace.  But they prod us, save us, and nurture us.  Grace.

Another reason we miss this story is that we miss the context.  In the scene before Jericho, Jesus has just told his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into the kingdom.”  Then he makes a divine appointment with a rich man.  “Nothing is impossible for God.”  That’s grace, Saving Grace.


Sermon Summary (10/16/16), “Model Image”  Mt 22:15-22

Okay, so who’s happy with the way the election is going?   During the debate, my granddaughter tweeted, “This election is despicable!”  It’s only getting more so.  I think what it is teaching us is that we need heroes, larger than life heroes, people we can look up to, people who are role models.

Politicians like Teddy Roosevelt, larger than life, whose father taught him to view the world through the framework of right and wrong and to always act on the side of right.  We need that.  We need newsmen we can trust.  We need sport heroes that we’d allow to date our daughters.  Of course we may have heroes next door, teachers we’d enshrine on Mt Rushmore, neo-natal nurses we’d put on a pedestal, or in the area of religion, a Mel West (I’ve always wanted to be like Mel West when I grew up).  We need heroes, someone to guide us, someone who we would like to become.

Maybe there are stories we can take from the story of Jesus.  Politically we can view the groups of the day as political parties: The Pharisees as the “Traditional Party,” the Herodians as the “Fascists,” Jesus as the “Reformed Party.”  Anyway, the Pharisees and the Herodians (who wanted to protect the Herod’s positions with Rome) did not want Jesus upsetting their political power.  Jesus who was popular with the people had to be discredited .

Aha, the perfect question.  “Teacher, is it right to pay taxes or not?”Gotcha!  If he says “no,” the Roman guards will drag him away.  “Yes,” and the crowds will walk away.  He says, of the coin used to pay taxes, “whose image and inscription is this?”  They say, “Caesar’s.”  Now, you know the answer even if you’ve never been to church, don’t you?  Jesus says, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are Gods.”  They were amazed at his answer.

It is we that are that are made in the image of God.  We give back what is rightfully God’s by living our lives in a manner pleasing to him.  But we need role models, mentors, exemplars to learn to lead those lives.  Maybe in this complex world, we need a composite of several who can model the lives we are to lead.  We need heroes.

I heard this week a story of parents who chose six young women to be a mentor for a day for their 8th grade daughter.  Six who would allow her to shadow them just one day, then to convey a life-lesson that they would have liked to be taught. The first was a maternity nurse.  Can you imagine that day walking the ward, being put to work? The day closed with the young nurse teaching a class to unwed mothers, and a life-lesson about sexual purity. Wow! We need heroes. And we need a few on the ballot.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Sermon Summary (10/2/16), “Being Generous for Him (Extravagant Generosity).” Mal 3:8-10

It’s taken me a while, but I finally understand that God is interested in my stuff, how I acquire and how I use my stuff.  I knew a man named Ray who had every power tool and power garden tool imaginable.  But Ray didn’t cultivate gardens, he cultivated people.  He would stand in church and say it’s time to plant, or it’s time to pick beans or grapes.  On Saturday people would gather at Ray’s for work, for fellowship, for a real communion.  Ray cultivated people.  I’m sure God approved of the way Ray used his stuff.

Our mission is “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  We need to acquire and use our goods in an honorable manner and that portion that is given back to God, use transformationally, to change lives.  Our literature is full of people who have not: Slave traders and owners, graspers like Ebenezer Scrooge (we celebrate his transformation in the last scene), Mr. Potter, others.  How we use our stuff is important to God.

We’re in the last week of our sermon series, “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.”  This week, “Extravagant Generosity.”  God is extravagantly generous: “For God so loved the world, he gave…”  He gave.  Creation and life itself are acts of generosity.  And we are stewards.  We have dominion and all the responsibility that goes with it.  The Psalmist tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that it is in it; the world and those who dwell therein.” (24:1) We are stewards, responsible for the earth, what we take from it, what we give back.  But God makes a bargain.  If we are generous, he will bless us: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse...and thus put me to the test, says the Lord…, see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” (Mal 3:10)

Jesus tells story after story about the use of money and our attitudes toward it: The widow’s mite (they gave of their abundance, she from all she had); Parable of the Rich Fool (Life does not consist of the abundance of possessions); Parable of the Talents (take from the one who buried their talent and give it to the one who was productive); Even the Good Samaritan (Here are two denarii.  Take care of him and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I return.)

What if we thought of ourselves as the “Little Church who could do Big Things”?  For 2017, let’s think of how we can do transformational things for the year.  Think of Rainbow Network where $6000 pays for a doctor or $4800 a house or $3600 for 10 scholarships.  Health and hearth and education are Big Things that never go away.  So may it be for us.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Sermon Summary (10/2/16), “Serving the Least of These for Him (Risk-Taking Missions and Service).” Act 2:42-47

When we grew up there weren’t a lot of services available for the poor, no shelter, no Red Cross, no Salvation Army, no pantries.  But what we did have were a lot of people who had Christian compassion.  My dad had one man working for him with 17 children!  I found out that Dad had provide a turkey for them one year.  And I bet a Christmas bonus, and my hunch is that it happened every year, and was considered part of his pay.  Done so with dignity. 

We need a lot of Christian compassion in the world today, working with the poor so that the unfortunate can be treated with dignity.  The history of Christianity has been to work with the least, the lost, the downtrodden and the oppressed.  Christianity conquered the Roman Empire, not with the sword but with service.  Christians tended to the dead and dying of the empire in times of great plagues so much so that Emperor Julian (last emperor before Constantine) wrote to his pagan priest urging them to be more like the Christians “who support not only their own, but ours as well.”  But it was impossible for them because they lacked love. 

We can take a risk.  Jesus is worth dying for.  All humanity is of
sacred worth.  Jesus died for all.

A look at Syria, Sudan, oppressive nations around the world, we can see that the world in is need of Christian compassion.  We were all made in the image of God (Gen 1:37).  All of us are of sacred worth.  Jesus came to serve and not to be served, to serve the least and the lost, the poor, the blind, the captive, the oppressed.

We are in the midst of a sermon series on the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, practices so critical to the congregation that failure to perform them in an exemplary manner leads to congregational deterioration and decline.  Today, “Risk-taking Missions and Service.”  We need to serve with the compassion of Christ, to serve the least of these.  And do it a manner that retains their dignity.

Fruitful congregations.  The District has a lay servant who months ago was homeless, was invited to Wilkes Boulevard UMC for breakfast, then to worship.  Because of her shabby clothing she did not feel worthy and had not been in worship for 40 years but as the music was played tears streamed down her face.  Fruit, a changed life.  All because a United Methodist Church is involved in Risk-taking Missions and Service.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Sermon Summary (9/25/16), “Gathering for Him.” Act 2:42-47

I recall after I attended my first Lay Speaking course wondering how my fellow students knew so much about the Bible,  How did they know all that?  I became hungry for Biblical knowledge trying on my own, but finally asking the pastor if there was rigorous study that I could attend.  There was a Baptist church about 20 miles away but that did seem to mesh.  Then in 1990, the Methodist Church published Disciple Bible Study.  It changed my life.  It was demanding, 34 weeks with a 2 1/2 hour meeting each week.  Yet I couldn’t wait to get to my little table next to the window each morning, and I couldn’t wait to get with my group, to “gather for him,” each week in a group.  In a group.  That’s the way Jesus taught.  Can you see him gathering his disciples around him on the mount as “he opened his mouth and taught them” in a group?

Paul taught groups; his letters were to groups.  When his letters were received they were read to groups.  Disciple Bible Study was in a group.  The discussion was relevant, it was compelling, it was the most impactful part of my faith journey.

Today we’re talking about Intentional Faith Development.  Faith development is best done in relationship, in groups.  A rabbi once said of the Bible, “We hold this text to sacred.  But when we come together around this book, we share not just the words of the text, we share our lives together.  That’s what Bible study is supposed to do, relate our lives to one another and the sacred text.

The great biblical example is Acts 42 and 46: 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…. they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”  The first disciples spent time in the Temple, yes; but they spent time together in studying the Apostle’s teaching (We call that bible study) and sharing around a meal in relationship.

Andy Stanley says we are better in circles than in rows.  That’s why we are offering a new Bible Study called “Disciple Fast Track.”  It will take 24 weeks, meeting on Saturday mornings for just 1 1/4 hours.  And ending before Easter. Thirteen of you signed up last Sunday and I’m hoping that a few more will take advantage of this wonderful offer.  See me.

Small groups change lives.  Bible study changes lives.  Join us!  It will be one of the things you will always look back on fondly.  We’ll all be in circles, and God will be present.  Amen.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Sermon Summary (9/18/16), “Worship Him.” Isaiah 6:1-8

I began going to church when I was five.  I remember where I sat in the congregation.  I knew the numbers to all the old hymns.  I even remember a sermon or two.  There is no doubt that worship has shaped me, formed me, had much to do with whom I am today.

We’re in the midst of a news sermon series, “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations,” those practices so critical to a congregation’s mission that failure to perform them in an exemplary way leads to congregational deterioration and decline—Bishop Robert Schnase.

Last week, Radical Hospitality that invites, welcomes, receives, and cares for the stranger; and this week, Passionate Worship that gives the stranger something to take away.  Worship changes us.  It “describes those times we deliberately gather seeking to encounter God…. We don’t seek to squeeze God into our lives.  We seek to meld our lives into God’s.”—Schnase.

When we worship, when we really worship, we encounter God in all the elements of worship.  How is your worship?  When we lift our voices in praise and song, do we encounter him?  When we lift our hearts in prayer, do we encounter him?  When we hear Scripture read and the word proclaimed, do we encounter him?  And on communion Sunday, as we gather around the table, do we encounter him?

And if so, do we hear a call on our lives?  And so doing, leave this place changed?  When we seek God in worship, He changes us.

Worship has been part of the plan from the beginning.  Cain, Abel, Noah and Abraham brought offerings.  God told Moses to tell Pharaoh “to let my people go so that they can worship me.”  The book of Psalms is the worship book of the people.  Isaiah encountered God in the Temple and responded, “Here I am, send me.”  Jesus began his ministry in worship, Luke tells us “as was his custom.”

We worship to fulfill the commandment to Love God with all our heart, mind soul and strength.  But God wants us to love him not to be revered but to gain access to his grace such that he can mold us into the people he calls us to be.  He calls us to worship him so that he can pardon us.  So that he can restore our relationship to him and one another.  And we gather together so that he can mold us together into the body of Christ.

Physically we are shaped over a lifetime.  We are formed spiritually the same.  We need worship repetitively, weekly, to be pardoned, restored, shaped, formed.  I need that.  We need that.  We need that passionately.  “Here I am to worship.  Here I am to bow down.  Here I am to say that you’re my God.”  We need worship.


Sermon Summary (9/11/16), “Being Radical.” Romans 15:7

We begin a new sermon series.  It is important from time to time for us to look at ourselves as a congregation to remind us who we are and what we are called to do: We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  New Disciples; when Jesus commissioned us, there were no “old” disciples.  We are called to make “new” followers of Jesus.  How are we doing?  The mainline churches are having difficulties because we are not replacing the old generation with the new.

With inspired and spiritual leadership, the Missouri Conference has done better than most, but still has lost attendance year over year.  To aid us, our Bishop guided us with a common language of “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” that he says are so critical to our congregations that failure to perform them in an exemplary manner leads to congregational deterioration and decline. 

Today we look at the first practice, Radical Hospitality.  Hospitality is a biblical theme from Genesis to Jesus.  Jesus opened his hands to the common people and to the outcasts.  He welcome sinners and ate with them.  He invited the woman at the well, a hated Samaritan, to new life.  He touched lepers, the demon-possessed, those cast aside.  There was no one to whom Jesus did not offer his hand.

There is no other theme or practice that is as fundamental to our faith as hospitality unless it is love.  Yet I would argue that hospitality is an act of love.  It values people, it makes them feel worthy, it builds them up.  Hospitality is an act of love.

“Christian hospitality refers to the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ.”—Bishop Robert Schnase.

Hospitality  is not just a matter of being friendly, as Bishop Bob Farr has said it, “Every church is friendly.  What the congregation’s goal must be is make them believe the church is a place where they can make friends.”  How is it that we receive a person such that they believe they are truly welcome and want to return to be with friends? 

Welcoming is important, receiving is important, caring is important if the stranger is going to find a spiritual home and discover the unending richness of life in Christ.

And it begins with an invitation. You don’t have to be a theologian to invite, you don’t have to be an evangelist.  All you have to do is be able to say, “I go to church; church is important to me; church makes a difference in my life.  Won’t you join me this Sunday.”  And then welcome them, receive them, care for them.  Give them something to take away.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


Sermon Summary (9/4/16), “Sustained by Grace.” Job excerpts

We’re concluding a sermon series looking at “grace” in the Old Testament.  As Methodists we believe that grace permeates our relationship with God.  He nudges before we know it (prevenient grace), he saves us (justifying grace), and he makes us grow in love of God and one another (sanctifying grace).  There are an infinite number of ways grace moves us and they are intermingled.  We are continually nudged, continually returned to a saving relationship, continually growing.  Grace is also there to sustain us.  And that is the Old Testament story of Job.

We have been or have seen those sustained by grace.  We say, “There but the grace of God go I”; and we marvel at how some get through life, but they do.  Sustained by grace.  The question in our mind becomes, “How can God let bad things happen to good people?”

Portions of Job are the oldest written passages of the Bible making the question of unfairness in life the oldest dilemma in the human condition.  The question predates the Psalmist who lamented “Why do the wicked prosper.”  It predated Moses who in Deuteronomy might lead us to believe that only the bad suffer.  It predated Abraham.  We find Job predates the Hebrew race.  Why do good people suffer?

The story: Satan tells God his faithful servant Job would not be so if his possessions (a good person rewarded with good things) and his health were taken from him.  God gives Satan permission to test him, “but spare his life.”  Job’s friends insist he has sinned, or has sinned and doesn’t know it, or his children have sinned.  “Confess and repent.”  Job insists in his integrity.  He is blameless and upright, always fearing God and turning from evil.  He says, “If I could only face God I could make my case.”

God appears to him with glorious language seeming to answer no questions at all except creation is a mystery, and Job relents, “Things too wonderful for me.  Things I did not understand.”  Then an amazing thing happens.  God says Job is right!  Bad things do happen to good people!  We come to understand that God has been sustaining Job’s faith all along.

As Christians we come to understand that freewill (God gave Satan permission to exercise his freewill as he does all his creatures including us) permits evil and chaos in this world.  The Almighty God has relinquished a part of his power to us, but he has replaced it with grace.

But when bad things happen to good people, in steps grace, sustaining grace.  In place of all our flaws, God sustains us.  And he gives us friends to walk along side us, to be sustaining grace too.  That’s us.


Sermon Summary (8/28/16), “Show-Me Grace.” Hosea 11:1-9

We often reject God for convenience.  Whenever our urges arise, God gets in the way.  We set him aside.  Another Boone County arrest for child pornography..  Where had he placed God in his life?  Entanglements that threaten marriages.  My guess that God was inconvenient and was set aside.  Drug addictions and alcoholism.  When choices could have been made, God was inconvenient and set aside. 

Oh, we make other excuses: “I reject the wrathful God of the Old Testament.  I want a God who care about me, not the God of the Old Testament.  I want a God who loves me, a God that forgives me even when I don’t deserve it.”  Let me tell you about the God of Hosea!

When God spoke to Hosea, he told him to not only to speak for God (that’s what prophets do), but “I want you to show them my grace.”  He told Hosea to take as a wife a woman of Il repute, and have children with her.  Hosea married Gomer and after having children, Gomer left Hosea to return to her life of sin (Just like the Children of Israel leaving God for other small g gods).  But God told Hosea to bring her back, redeem her, “love a woman who is an adulteress.”  Just as God loves Israel and calls her back, redeems her even when she is undeserving, Hosea, the “Show-me Prophet”, shows us the grace of a God who cares for us, loves us, forgives us even when we do not deserve it.

But the verses that truly show the grace of God are from Hosea 11:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
    the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
    and offering incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    I took them up in my arms;
    but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with bands of love.
I was to them like those
    who lift infants to their cheeks.
    I bent down to them and fed them.

I love these verses.  Here’s the deal.  Everyone of us has someone that needs to be shown grace. God asked Hosea then.  He asks us now.