Saturday, December 23, 2017


Sermon Summary, 12/17/17, “The Joy of a Savior” (Luke 1:39-53)

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Lk 1:52-53)  This passage has always bothered me.  Certainly compared to the peasant girl, Mary, I am one of the rich if not also one of the powerful.  By this time Mary had everything going against her, yet she sings this powerfully joyful song we call the “Magnificat” (Latin for magnify).  “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  The joy of a Savior.

How is it we make ourselves happy?  We live in most privileged society the world has ever known, yet we are ever increasingly treated for depression, despondency, addiction.  We certainly have rich and powerful who are not happy: Harvey Weinstein is not happy, Al Franken is not happy, Roy Moore is not happy, and as I write this, a Kentucky state representative has committed suicide over sexual allegations. 

What is it that makes us happy?  We find from our scriptures that like grace, in fact related to grace, joy is a gift. Joy is something we are given.  Joy is something we cannot do for ourselves.  If we reflect, we will find that our greatest moments of joy are moments that happen to us, not what we do ourselves.  My personal understanding of joy is the deep assurance that God is at work in our lives.

If we return to the announcement of Gabriel to Mary (Lk 1:26f), we find “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.” (NRSV)  Or “Hail! Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” (KJV)  Greetings and Hail are translated from the Greek, “Chairo” which is related to grace, “Charis” (Gk).  Chairo is more often translated “Rejoice!” “Favored” in from the Greek, “Charitoo,” also related to grace, meaning “endowed with grace or joy.”  We could translate this, “Rejoice! Mary, full of joy, the Lord is with you.” Joy! The joy of a Savior.

Mary responds in verse 38, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Two things: servant, Mary has great humility; and two, she is filled with generosity, giving all that she has, her very self.  How is it that we, the rich and powerful are fill with joy?  My placing ourselves in a position to receive it like grace, being humble (rather than thinking less of ourselves, thinking less about ourselves) and being generous, giving. 

Paul tells us (Phil 2:4f) “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”: humility and generosity.  From that we receive the joy of a Savior! 


Sermon Summary, 12/10/17, “Pointing to a  Savior” (Mk 1:1-8)

I’ve always wondered about this guy, John the Baptist, and why he got so much press?  I mean, Jesus did get top billing, but by verse 2, John is pushing himself onto the stage, “See, I am sending my messenger before you.”  I’ve always wondered why this guy was thrust right into the middle of the Christmas Story.

John the Baptist was a “Rock Star.”  Israel had heard no prophets in hundreds of years.  Then John “appeared.”  You would have thought that a Rock Star would pick the biggest venues available, maybe the Coliseum, or someplace like that.  He picked the wilderness and people flocked to see him. 

Looking at the Scripture from the top, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:1)  I’ve always thought the introduction to Mark was weak.  After all, Matthew has the genealogy, the angel appearing to Joseph, King Herod, the flight to Egypt.  Luke has the Christmas story we so like.  John has soaring poetry.  Mark, not so much.

But looking at it now, it’s huge.  “In the beginning.”  Anyone knowing of the Creator God would return to the Creation narrative.  “Good news, glad tidings, clarion call.  Something life-changing is coming.  Jesus Messiah, Christ, anointed one.  Who was anointed? Prophets who speak for God, Priests who bridge us to God, Kings who act for God.  Jesus, who spoke, bridged, acted and more; he died for you.  Good news.  Son of God.

We then find who John is, the one who points to Christ.  Elijah whom Malachi prophesied would proceed the Messiah and prepare a way for him.  Elijah on the hearts of everyone also just appeared (1 Kings 17).  Jesus would later tell us that John was Elijah who was to come.  A Rock Star, yes, but one who would set aside his notoriety to point to Jesus and then fade away.  “The Lamp of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)  A humble servant.

We recognize through John that humility is a Christian virtue.  And we see that role models, Elijah and Jesus, are important.  We are role models for good or for bad whether we like it or not, for our families, in our workplaces and where we socialize. 

Here’s our question, “Do our lives point to Jesus?”  Will our actions and the charities we select to support this Advent reflect the virtues of Christ.  Will we pray for those with whom we disagree?  How will we prepare for Christ?  Will we point to him?  May it be so with all of us. 

Friday, December 8, 2017


Transformational Christmas Gifts

Some ideas for Alternate Christmas Giving, to give “light” at Christmas.  Jesus is Savior of the World.  He came to change us.  We can be transformational too, while we wait.

Haiti Water Plus.  Donations are administered by the Missouri Conference UMC, to place filters in homes in Haiti.

Missouri Annual Conference
Attn: Haiti Clean Water
3601 Amron Ct
Columbia, MO 65202

or give online at

There are 65 million refugees in the world today.  Today is “Global Migration Sunday,” with donations administered by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  Make your check payable to ADVANCE GCFA. Write the name of this offering (Global Migration Sunday) and the Advance code number (#3022144) on the memo line of the check.  Or donate directly at

Rainbow Network may be the most efficiently run charity and served 144 locations and 44,000 people in Nicaragua.  For $30 a month, $60 a year, you can provide a fully funded high school education.

The Rainbow Network
2840 E Chestnut Expressway
Suite A
Springfield, MO 65802
or give online at

Central Asia Institute focuses on education, especially for girls, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.  If we want to solve the problem of extreme terrorism in this century we need to education Muslim girls.

Central Asia Institute
PO Box 7209
Bozeman, MT 59771
or give online at


Sermon Summary, 11/26/17, “We Need a Savior” (John 3:17)

When I was growing up, Advent wasn’t part of our church calendar. At some point the church Christmas tree went up, on Christmas Eve we had a children’s program, Santa arrived, brownbags were distributed.  No getting ready for “Christ is coming.”

So why do we bother?  It is intended to get us ready for Christ—not only the infant Jesus, but the second coming, the second Advent, too. Now I remember that.  Sunday School scared me to death.  I wasn’t ready.  I didn’t know how to get ready.  How could I ever be ready.  And know one knew the hour or the day!  Was this God’s gotcha’ thing?

I had no concept of Jesus as “Savior of the World.” I didn’t understand why the world needed a Savior. Maybe that would make all the difference.

In 1994, Ruth Bell Graham published a Christmas book, One Wintery Night.  She didn’t start with Luke 2 like most of us.  She started with the Creation story.  Her story began with “why we need Jesus.”  Remember that God placed Adam and Eve (and us) in a garden along with a tree that she called the “testing tree.”  We didn’t pass.  We need a Savior.  Then Cain listened to voices of pride and envy.  Even after God spoke to him, “Sin is lurking at your door, its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Ge 4:7b)  He still chose sin.  We need a Savior. Then Babel and the flood.  The whole world needs a Savior.

We would like to believe that we are more sophisticated today, but the 20th century had more wars, we did more harm to one another than in all the centuries combined.  The World needs a Savior.

And not just us, all of Creation.  Paul tells us, “All of creation groans.”  But he has good news, “in hope we have been saved.” (Ro 8:22-24)  The world needs a Savior, and here’s the good news: We have a Savior!

And in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we get a glimpse of what will be at the Second Coming: sins are forgiven, diseases are healed, storms are stilled (all of chaos is overcome), hunger is satisfied, and in his resurrection, decay is rolled back.  We have a Savior and we have hope! 

So, as we wait this Advent Season, let us bring a little heaven to earth as we pray “Thy kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven.”  Just as Jesus came and is coming to transform the world, let us be transformational in his name: Let us find those charities that truly change people’s lives, like clean water, aiding education in refugee camps, educating girls in third world countries.  Most are available through the United Methodist Committee on Relief.  You can’t go wrong.  Your dollars will be spent transformationally and efficiently if you give to UMCOR.  Give while you wait.  Be Jesus to someone, somewhere.  See a complete list at our website in the sermon link.


Sermon Summary, 11/26/17, “Where the Golden Rule, Rules” (Ex Matthew 5:48; 7:12)

Today is “Christ the King” Sunday.  You know about kings?  They make the rules.  The earliest Christian creed was “Jesus is Lord.”  For the first century Christians who lived where “Caesar was Lord,” their creed, “Jesus is Lord,” came with great risk.  For us, it is but a slogan.  What would it mean for us if Jesus was really Lord of our lives?  How would we make that normal? 

This is the second in a two-part series on Wesleyan based small groups.  Wesley believed that Christian conferencing, coming together in a group to talk matters of faith was a means of grace, a means by which the Holy Spirit formed us.  Wesley believed in sanctifying grace, the grace that draws us toward Christian maturity.  “You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  The Greek is “teleos,” meaning mature, whole.  Wesley believed we needed to become “grown-up Christians.”  For Wesley, becoming grown-up Christians would for us make “Jesus is Lord” normal.

Groups come in all forms.  Bowling teams are groups, great fellowship.  We would call them “affinity groups.”  Sunday schools and bible study are small groups.  We would describe them as “informational groups.”  Information is great, but by itself it doesn’t change you.  Wesleyan groups are intended to be “transformational groups.”

Rev. Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room, says that three things are required for transformation: Information (necessary but not sufficient); experience (spiritual or from a mentor), and community.  I recently talked to a young man just our of rehab.  He told me that the meetings he attended were far more important to him than the counselors, the psychologists, anything.  Being with and sharing failures and successes was vital to his journey.  Transformation requires community.

Community groups are lay-led.  No preacher, teacher, counselor, advisor.  That is not the purpose.  Simple known questions are posed, eg “Are you enjoying your prayer life?” and group members can respond or not.  It is not a place where are deepest, darkest secrets are shared.  But just knowing the simple questions will be asked, makes us accountable.  If I’m going to be asked about prayer, I’ll pray.  I might even pray differently.  Even if I don’t vocalize, the community is holding me accountable.  

Questions might be as simple as the Golden Rule. “What did you do this week for others, that you would have like them to do for you?”  Or “What did you avoid doing this week…” Simple questions to lead us over time, and as a part of a community, to become a grown-up Christian.

November “Reader’s Digest’s” cover story was “The nicest places in America.  The criteria?  Kindness, respect, and most importantly, a place where everybody agreed that “the Golden Rule, rules.”  Teleos.


Sermon Summary, 11/12/17, “Veteran’s Values” (Exodus 17:8-13; Joshua 24:15; Phil 4:8-9)

Have you ever thought of the Veterans in the Bible? With all the campaigns in the OT, there were many: Abraham (against the five kings, confidence in God and the tithe); Moses (defeating the Amalekites, dependence on God), Joshua (the conquest of Canaan, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”), and of course David (courage, loyalty, faithfulness). 

Ever wonder how these great veterans got their values? Books have been written on character development.  We want to know. A story about another Joshua.  This one a Civil War veteran, Josh Chamberlain.  He got his name at Gettysburg, but he served in 20 major battles, was wounded six times, has his horse shot our from under him six times, received the Medal of Honor, and was selected to receive the surrendering Confederate Army at Appomattox.  He was so popular when he was shot of his horse near the end of the war, when he remounted he was cheered by both sides.  He wrote in his diary, “What world am I in?”

Born in Maine in 1828, his father wanted him to choose a military career, his mom the ministry.  He actually attended seminary but chose college teaching instead of the ministry as an avenue of service.  As an undergraduate, he attended lectures by a professor’s wife who was writing and lecturing on a series that became Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Of course she was Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Josh Chamberlain was nurtured in service and faith.  Such faith that when he believed he was mortally wounded he wrote his wife, “Christ is my all-sufficient Savior.  I go to him.  Do not grieve too much for me.  We shall meet soon.”  Faith.

The Biblical Joshua too was nurtured in service and faith.  “As for me and my family, we shall serve the Lord.” 

What about us?  We have two obligations to nurture values, for ourselves and for the next generation.  The Bible commands us to pass its values on the next generation (“teach them diligently to your children.” (Deut 6:7)). We do so through the culture we create.  Culture is the means by which we pass our values on to the next generation.  Values.  Paul tells us to think of the noble things in life. (Phil 4:8-9) 

We end with another veteran, another Abraham.  Lincoln.  He closes his Second Inaugural Address with “With malice toward none, with charity towards all.”  Need we say more?  What if that was the culture we were leaving our children?  Veteran’s values, for us and for our children.  Amen. 

Monday, November 13, 2017


Sermon Summary, 11/5/17, “Five Hundred Plus Five” (Romans 1:16-17; 3:24)

Five days ago our first Trick or Treaters were a Dad dressed as Martin Luther, 1st daughter as a hammer, 2d daughter as a nail, 3rd daughter as the 95 Theses, and Mom as the door to the Castle Church.  What is the big deal about Martin Luther?  Quite a lot.  Five hundred years and five days ago, he nailed his 95 Theses on the door and became the major player in the Protestant Reformation.  We are sitting in these seats today because of that.  John Wesley was profoundly influenced by Luther and because of that there was a Methodist movement.

Before Oct 31st, 1517, laity did not sing in church; laity were prohibited from reading the Bible, it was too dangerous for them; Priests were exempt from being prosecuted (what abuse that allowed), laity only had access to God through the Priests; and most importantly, it was believed that we were saved by works and not by grace!

Luther as a young man struggled with his faith, as John Wesley would 200 years later.  Luther was not able to even see a Bible until he was 20, but his reading of the Bible, especially Romans, opened his eyes.  When Pope Leo X, decided he would build St. Peter’s Basilica and use indulgences to raise the money, Luther wanted a debate on “The efficacy and Power of Indulgences,” his 95 Theses.  Pope Leo directed that Luther be silenced and recant, his writings burned.  Martin Luther responded by burning the Pope’s letter!  The Pope excommunicated him and the Holy Roman Emperor convicted him.  Before he could be imprisoned his friends hid him in the Castle Wartburg where he spend his time translating the New Testament into German, the vernacular of the people.  Luther felt that the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace should have access to the Bible themselves and direct access to God.

From “Romans” he had come to understand that we are saved by grace through faith in God’s acts of salvation though the cross.  Two hundred years later, upon hearing Martin Luther’s “Preface to the Romans,” John Wesley declared “that his heart was strangely warned, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  On this conversion experience of John Wesley, the Methodist movement was born.

Luther and Wesley both experienced doubts.  Wesley, asking how could he preach without faith, was told “Preach faith until you have faith and then because you have faith, preach faith.”

We too, experience doubts, and to paraphrase, we should “Live faith until we have faith and then because we have faith, live faith.”  We are saved by grace through faith.  That is Luther’s legacy for us.


Sermon Summary, 10/22/17, “Who Do You Trust?” (Ex 40:16, 20-21a)

Recall the old quiz show, “Who do you trust?”  It begs the question, “Wo do you trust?”  It is a big issue today, with couples, between friends, even families, and certainly with and among public servants.  A book was published just this week that claims the foremost bias in our nation today is against others of a different political viewpoint.  A friend reinforced that by saying that in forming a new bridge club in her town, the only person on the list not invited, held different political views than the rest.  In other words, the bridge club was formed completely of one political party.  You just can’t trust the other folks.

Here’s the big issue: Can you trust God?  Especially this week when we’ve lost one of our own, can we trust God?  That was the issue in the Exodus story.  Moses tells God (paraphrasing) “God, how can I trust you?  I don’t even know your name.”  Pharaoh didn’t trust God.  That’s easy.  They were of different political parties.  The Children of Israel didn’t trust God.  They mumbled saying, “If we’d only died in Egypt where we had our fill.” 

We need trust.  We need to restore our trust in one another.  God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and rules to live in community because he cared how they lived.  He told them He would be with them in pillars of fire and cloud.  They could rely on Him to be there for them.  In the fulness of time, Jesus came to live among us.  He told us “I am the Good Shepherd.”  The Good Shepherd cares for his sheep.  Then he told us “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Later he would say, “No one has greater love than this that to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus cares for you.  Jesus loves you.  And Jesus told us that he would be with us even till the end of the age.  You can trust God. You can rely on God. You can know that God cares.

The elements of trust are simply this: That you can rely on the other; and that you know that the other cares for you.  We began by talking about a lack of trust.  Whenever trust breaks down, it is because one of these two elements has broken town.  Remember when we used to say “A man’s word was his bond”?  We could rely on them.  Teddy Roosevelt said, “People don’t care about how much you know until they first know how much you care.”  What if we knew today that we could rely on our politicians and that we knew today that our public servants cared about us?  What if?

What about our relationships?  Can others rely on us?  Are we able to convey that we care for them?  Trust is essential to personal relationships.  As followers of Jesus, we need to let the world know that they can rely on us, that we care, that the world can trust the followers of Jesus. 


Sermon Summary, 10/15/17, “Confession is Really, Really Good for the Soul” (Ex 34:6-7; Ps 139:23-24)

What do you fear.  When I was five, it was the wood spoon!  I hid the wooden spoons in the coal bin.  Guess what, no wooden spoons, no chocolate chip cookies.  You have to decide the benefits of confession; AND you have to decide who you fear.

In Bible Study, we are in Exodus.  I mean, there had been some terrifying stuff.  God gives the second set of tablets to Moses (after the golden calf, remember?), decides the children of Israel need to know who he really is.  He tells Moses: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty.” (Ex 34:6-7a)  The Jewish people have long called these “The Thirteen ways of God’s mercy.”  Now that is a God I can confess to!

A favorite author, Richard Foster, in his book Prayer, says that it God not us that we need to examine us.  We are either too harsh or too dismissive.  We need to place ourselves under God’s scrutiny.  “Search me O God and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way within me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (David in Psalm 139:23-34)  This is a prayer we ought to memorize placing ourselves under examination with each devotional.  We need to place ourselves under examination and give God a chance to demonstrate his mercy.

As importantly, by placing ourselves under examination, we cooperate with grace.  God finds us as we are, loves as we are, demonstrates his mercy and changes us through grace.

How should we best place ourselves?  I would suggest by using the great truths, the great values, the great teachings of the Bible.  Take a commandment at a time, turn it to an affirmative, eg, instead of “You shall have no other gods before me.” What if you saw God in all you saw, in the creation, in others?  What are your shortcomings?  How would it change you to live seeing God’s world?

Or the Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, whoever is angry with their brother or sister.”  What if you were reconciled to everyone?  How would your life change?  Or the teaching on adultery.  What if you broadened it and asked what if I was faithful in all my relationships?  How would I be living my life differently?

Or the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment?  I would suggest to you that the “do” of the Golden Rule and the “love” of the Great Commandment are active verbs.  Not reactive, not passive, but active.

As we place ourselves in grace, we become more and more aware of God’s world and places where we can “love” and “do.”  Amen..

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Sermon Summary, 10/8/17, “The Minor Prophets”

We’re in a sermon series on the Old Testament, today “The Minor Prophets.”  You know at least one of them even if you’ve missed the meaning of the story: Jonah, a whale of a tale, a fish story.  Jonah runs away because he hates Israel’s enemy, Assyria, and God has called him to call them to repentence.  They do!   Israel had gotten exclusive to an extreme.  God was showing Jonah, and us, that God can show grace even to our enemies.  What does that tell us today?

The Minor Prophets, minor in length, but not in message: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an every flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) God had seen the northern kingdom become fat and prosperous and entitled, “trampling on the poor,” and “pushing aside the needy in the gate.” (the gate is where the elders adjudicated disputes.)  But the people said, “O, we go to church, we give offerings, we’ve got a great choir and bells.”  But God said, “I despise your festivals, I take no delight in your assemblies...but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”  God expects fairness in our dealings with one another.  God expects justice in the gate.

After all, Jesus began his ministry in the Gospel of Luke with statements of justice and fairness: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has snet me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery o sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:15-19)  Jesus’ ministry was about justice.

Another Minor Prophet speaking to the southern kingdom about the same time as Amos, was Micah: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)  Justice.  Some would argue that issues of social justice are political agendas rather than religious issues.  The Minor Prophets tell us otherwise.  Jesus too. “he has anointed me to…”

John Wesley told us that balanced discipleship includes both works of piety and works of mercy, the latter including compassion and justice.  Compassion is easy: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, quench the thirsty.  Issues of justice are difficult: Attack the causes of hunger, homelessness, thirst, etc.  Far more difficult.  We often joust at windmills.

If I drill down into nearly every social ill facing us, I’ll find many I cannot address, but if I examine the root causes, nearly every one of them includes education.  There are things I can do about education.  I listened to my own sermon and signed up to read to third graders this year.

One more thing: We have equal justice before the law in this country, “As long a everybody pays the same.”  That’s a challenge the Minor Prophets would call us to, “Pushing aside the needy in the gates.”