Wesley’s Questions: #9

wesleys questionsPart of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples. He established small groups everywhere he went. When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.

Here is the ninth question:9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?

If the good news of Jesus really is good news, isn’t it worth sharing?  Of course it is, but the typical United Methodist doesn’t want to be “that guy,” you know, the one who always locks down the conversation and heaven and hell and whether your faith is good enough to get you to heaven.

Rather than be “that guy,” many of us have turned our faith into something entirely personal and private. “My faith is between me and God!” we insist.  We respect other people too much to insert ourselves and our beliefs into their lives.

But again, if the good news of Jesus really is good news, then it IS worth sharing.

The beauty of this question is that it is asked in the context of a small group of people who are all trying to follow Jesus a bit better today than yesterday. If we do have faith in Christ, and if we are indeed trying to follow him better today than yesterday, then we are open to speaking about our faith to others.

A great place to start is to write out the story of your faith.  When did you first believe?  How has your relationship with God grown?  What are your biggest struggles, your greatest victories?  Where have you been most challenged to feel God’s presence?  How do you seek God’s presence when you don’t feel it?

Your answer to any of these questions will encourage you in your faith!  They will also offer you connections with other people.

Remember, you aren’t necessarily trying to convert people. You might be, like a pastor friend of mine always said, “Just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

What have you found in God’s love recently?  Would you be willing to share this with someone else?

Vision Check

Sermon preached Sunday, August 30, 2015 at Euless First United Methodist Church


Can you see the future from here?

What does it look like?

Which direction should we look?

Some of us, as we age, do a whole lot more looking behind us than in front of us.  It is tempting; we know the past, we’ve been there before!  Things look familiar.

Yet, we have to admit, the farther they get behind us, the harder it is to focus. The distant past gets to looking real good – so we say things like “back in the day…” or “remember when…” or even “kids these days…”

Maybe it’s just a matter of getting older, but it seems like I hear more lamenting about the present and the future than I used to.

But the future is where we are going, so we may as well face it, and prepare for it.

To move forward, we have to look back.  The past, all that is behind us, has played a role in making us who we are today. It has shaped us for better and for worse.  This Church has a long, rich history that will affect – that we want to affect – where we go from here.

Cars are equipped with mirrors for a reason; the safest driving forward includes checking your mirrors regularly.  But the mirrors make up only a small part of what you see as you drive forward.

So, let’s look back, and let’s look forward.  

Euless First United Methodist Church was founded in 1876. Since you don’t remember 1876 here’s a bit of an historical snapshot of the year this church was founded.

U.S. Grant was President. Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for an invention he called the telephone. (patent #174,466)  The Transcontinental Express reached San Francisco on June 4, 83 hours and 39 minutes after it left New York. Texas A & M opened for classes on Sept. 4.

In 1876, the year this church was founded, the Dow Jones Industrial Average didn’t even exist.

Well, the Dow Jones exists now, doesn’t it?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened this past Monday to a drop of more than one thousand points.

To be fair, markets around the world dropped, too.  UK, down almost 5%. Japan, down 4.5%. You get the idea.

The stock market is not the economy, and the economy isn’t the stock market, but Monday told us all one thing, at least: there is a lot of uncertainty to go around.

How are you with uncertainty?

How are you with certainty?

We’ve been reminded this week that life is uncertainty.  Even if you are completely, absolutely, 100% confident that your faith in Christ has locked down your eternal guarantee of God’s favor and presence, It is very likely that you don’t always feel this way.

Certainty of the head does not equal certainty of the heart.

For that matter, I have found that, over time, what once counted as certainty might, a few years later, be considered, upon reflection, naivete.  Or maybe youthful exuberance.

Because there are these stages throughout life when you change, or shift.   Don’t you remember that time when you got back together with your parents as a young adult and realized they weren’t out of touch anymore?  As Mark Twain put it:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

And that’s just in your early 20s. I don’t know about you, but when I pause and reflect, I’ve had several of these shifts. Enough, I suppose, to worry or frustrate my parents. Except that, as I get older, I realize that parents go through their own shifts as well.

So, while we can complain about, and lament about change, I suppose even the way we lament about change changes.

And we move forward, into the future.  Sorry, but I can’t help this: time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin, into the future. And it is dragging us along with it.

Maybe you can imagine how God’s people felt, then, when Jeremiah wrote these words to them:

The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

Like us, they knew their past. Like us, they didn’t know their future.

They knew they were God’s people – God’s chosen people – chosen to share the good news of God’s intent to bless all humanity, even all creation, through them.  

We know we are God’s people, chosen to share the good news of God’s intent to bless all humanity, even all of creation, don’t we?

This is why our mission is to try to follow Jesus a bit better today than yesterday. Unless we follow Jesus, we are not living faithfully as God’s people. Our living faithfully as God’s people is necessary for us to be part of what God wants to do and is doing in the world.

Last week we looked at the end of Luke chapter 9, which was a concentrated dose of what following Jesus means. This week, we pick up the story right after that.  Jesus sent out 72 “others” – this is above and beyond the 12 – to go in pairs ahead of them.  They were sent, like we are sent, to prepare the way for Jesus.

Let’s face it: you and I don’t “bring Jesus” to people.  One of the things we learn as we go out into mission – whether on mission trips or in service to the school, or the Food Pantry, is that God is already at work in the lives of other people!

As we learn to follow Jesus better and better, we also begin to realize so many ways that God is already at work in the world around us, and that God invites us to come be a part of what God is already doing!

In the Jeremiah reading, the prophet and God are encouraging the people to develop an attitude h  of blessing toward Babylon.  Toward their captors – the ones who came into their land and hauled them off into exile.

“Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.”

Sometimes a church can get its focus off of the bigger picture and begin to worry about itself. This would be an easy time for us to fall into this trap. Airport Freeway is going to be widened, and that’s taking some of our land, including our playground and our oldest building. The Main St. bridge could be closed for as much as a year and a half. Our sanctuary was struck by lightning and we haven’t been able to use it for 17 weeks. Attendance, and therefore giving, have both been down for the past four months.

This would be an easy time to circle the wagons, and start to worry about us.

And yet, We’ve been here since 1876.  We have been through more challenging times than this, and we will face more challenging times in the future.  What are we to do in challenging times?  “Promote the welfare of the city.”

We have taken great steps into South Euless Elementary over the past few years, but there is so much more to be done!  So many students in our area would go home after school to empty houses or apartments, that they don’t go home – many of them go to the library or rec. center. How could we help those facilities handle so many kids – and how can we help so many kids know that they are not alone?

There are many single parent households around us – and there are projected to be more in 5 years than there are now.  There are also more grandparents raising their grandkids than there were 20 years ago, and this number, too, is likely to rise.  Some of you are raising grandkids!  What kinds of things can we do to to promote the welfare of these folks who have step up to try to raise children as well as they can?

We have 50,000 square feet of building space here, that has been built and paid for by you all and the 139 years of Euless Methodists before you. (did you know our entire indebtedness is only $30,000?)  How can we make this space available to those around us and promote the welfare of our city?

What things can we be doing – on our property, and off it, inside our buildings and miles away, that will promote the welfare of the city?  The vows we take at baptism – and renew at each new baptism we witness, remind us that God calls us to promote the welfare of the city.  For some, stepping out there seems too risky for now.  Fair enough.  Can we all at least agree that promoting the welfare of the city as a church requires more from every one of us than merely occupying a pew on Sunday morning?  Where and how is God calling you to be involved?

The kicker, to me, of the Jeremiah passage is the “your future depends on its welfare” line.

We had an 7 person team meeting with a consultant for 6 consecutive weeks.  On top of the 3 hour meetings we had each week, we had homework. One week our homework was to interview people from the surrounding community – city leaders and people who just live and work around here.  When asked what they knew of our church, too many of them knew only that we had a Preschool and a Food Pantry.

Our future as a Church depends on the welfare of our city!

Can you imagine the conversations that happened in that Woodlawn Grange Hall 139 years ago?  What kinds of things do you think the early Methodist and Presbyterian congregations had then?  What were the issues they faced?  How much uncertainty do you think they felt toward the future?

The Grange organization, by the way, was a national fraternal organization “that encourage[d] families to band together to promote the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture.”

The Woodlawn Grange helped us get started. That was across Main Street from where we are now.  Did you just picture 7-11 or a Chinese restaurant that used to be a Taco Bell?  Or the Euless Lumber Company?

We moved over to the east side of Main Street in 1891.  124 years ago.  Perhaps we owe a debt of gratitude to the Grange for getting us started.  Perhaps we owe God a debt of gratitude for leading us to this city at this point in time.

To whom do you owe a debt of gratitude for who you have become?

We do well to look forward by first looking back, but also by maintaining an attitude of gratitude.

If we are to follow Jesus faithfully into the future, we really must stay aware of all we have to be thankful for! We will need the energy and raised spirit that gratitude brings because “the harvest is bigger than you can imagine,” Jesus says, “but there are few workers.”

If we stopped there it might seem like Jesus intends to overwhelm his followers. I don’t believe Jesus ever intends to overwhelm his followers because he is trustworthy and offers all the support and resources that are needed for what he calls us to do. Paul wrote in bringing 1 Thessalonians to a close that “The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this.”

What Jesus tells these 72, I believe he tells us:  basically, it is this: establish relationships, build trust with the people you go to.  You can’t make them trust you, you can’t make them like you, but I think Jesus agrees with Paul here, where in Romans 12:18 he says, “ If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.”

It seems like we are sometimes looking to be offended.

Hear these words of Jesus again:

Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you. Remain in this house, eating and drinking whatever they set before you, for workers deserve their pay. Don’t move from house to house. Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’ (Luke 10:5-9)

and even if they don’t accept you, welcome you, agree with you, Jesus says this:

Whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’ I assure you that Sodom will be better off on Judgment Day than that city.

We enter a city with the intent to bless and to be a blessing. We pray for a city with the intent to bless and to be a blessing. We promote the welfare of a city with the intent to bless and to be a blessing. We do this because our future depends on its welfare.

This is why we have adopted these Mission, Vision, and Purpose statements as a Church:

Mission: Euless First United Methodist Church’s mission is to follow Jesus Christ a bit better today than yesterday. Through these efforts we develop a relationship with Christ and thus transform people, their lives, our community and the world.

Vision: Our vision is to be a community of God’s love and grace so that the larger community and world see God by our actions and outreach.

Purpose: We seek to follow Jesus better by moving people from knowing God, to growing in relationship with God, to going forth with God to serve others, and finally, glowing for God by witnessing to their faith to others.

Our desire, intent, and plan are to follow God into the future that God is setting before us. Our mission, vision, and purpose can help us become, perhaps, an MVP on God’s team.

Next year we celebrate 140 years as a congregation.  We face the future with uncertainty and certainty.  Uncertainty in that we don’t know what the stock market or the economy will do; we don’t know what tomorrow holds.

But we have certainty in that, as the old song goes, “we know who holds” tomorrow.

And God, our God, the one who holds tomorrow, calls us to pray for and promote the welfare of the city to which God has sent us.

To God be the glory for the next 140 years!

Pest Control and Evangelism

Last Saturday afternoon our doorbell rang as we were preparing to load the cars for dinner at the family reunion we hosted over the weekend.

A pest control company was in the development on behalf of one of my neighbors. The exterminator/door-to-door salesman wanted to make sure I had the opportunity while he was in the area.  For only $50 he would treat my yard, too!

I politely engaged in conversation while just as politely expressing that I was not very interested.  I know I turned him down at least four times.  It seemed he literally would not accept “no” for an answer.

I was probably not quite as polite at the end of the conversation as I was at the beginning, but he was wearing me out. As I stepped back inside the house and started to shut the door, I heard him say, “well, aren’t you awesome!”  in a clearly sarcastic tone. (I know sarcasm; having used it myself for more than 35 years now)

Here’s the deal.  When I am cold-called, I start from a place of being a very hard sell.  I feel I am at an extreme disadvantage.  When the salesperson has too-quick an answer to EVERY ONE of my questions, it doesn’t not build trust. No, it makes me step even further back.

My takeaway.  Well, first, perhaps I could have stepped back out and pursued his sarcastic suggestion of my awesomeness. That’s water under the bridge.

Second, Christians, we can glean from insight into how other might feel when we attempt to share Jesus with them.  Sure, you and I know it is not just another sales call, but it is reasonable that the other person feels like we are trying to make a sale.

The faster we respond with canned answers to sincere questions, the less interested the other person is in what we have to say.

In case you are ever told to “bug off” when trying to share your faith, consider the perspective of the other person.

 

 

 

Increase your drip range

Yesterday I posted about the metaphor a tree’s drip line provides evangelism. Like trees drip or share excess moisture within the range of their drip line, so followers of Jesus share best within the range of their relationships.

So, you might ask, how ought one increase one’s range?

The drip line of a tree is approximately equal to the spread of its roots. The broader and more secure a tree’s roots, the more ability for branches to spread.

For those with ears to hear.

Have I dripped on you? Have you dripped on me?

It’s good to be back! I’ll share eventually from some of my experiences from giving up blogging for Lent. Today, however, I’d like to share some thoughts from my morning run.

We had a good rain last night. The roads were,mostly dry this morning, though I noticed as I passed under some trees that there was still water coming off of leaves on some of the trees.  The driping trees left interesting shapes of moisture on the road surface. Lacking much wind overnight, I noticed each tree left on the road a wet pattern the shape of it’s shadow from straight above.

Trees drip within the span of their branches. I think we do, too.

Today’s metaphor is for evangelism. If evangelism is, in fact Good News (and this is exactly what the word meant), it is good news mostly for those within our reach – within our dripline, if you will.

We who claim to follow Jesus ought to be living lives in such a way that nourishment (love, joy, peace, patiemce, etc.) passes from us to those within our reach. Perhaps programs and exercises to reach others are a good idea, but if we don’t have enough touch of good news for those near us, I am skeptical of our ability to share meaningfully and deeply with others.

To those of you to whom I have lived closely enough to receive such blessings from you, I thank you.

More on the drip line tomorrow.

“Sales” Technique

Last night, at our Wednesday night event (called the CORE), we talked about fear.  We started from teh perspective of Halloween scares, but headed toward positive results of fear, and then to what it means to fear God.  AFTER one of our staff shared that fearing God might be better translated as respecting God, we passed the mic around a bit.

Someone who has been generally unhappy with the adolescent behavior (we do, after all, have a population of over 200 adolescents) often exhibited on Wednesday nights took a turn that lasted too long and went down  a path I’d rather it not have gone.

“You all ought to be afraid of God,” the tirade began.  Before long it included the threat of the possibiity that God might “strike you down when you walk out of here” for various things such as cursing, snuggling with your significant other, or just not paying attention.  The speech hit bottom when God, it was said, “wants to send you to hell.”

I know many people have begun their walk with God on the basis of fear motivation.  To some extent, this is how mine started.  Now, however, I cannot help but think there are better ways to get people’s attention and invite them to join the family of God.

Unworthy?

“You are unworthy. I am unworthy. We are all unworthy.”

So spoke a “worship leader” at a worship service I attended recently.

I understand what (I think) he was trying to say. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how beneficial it is to stand before a crowd of youth and tell them in an emphatic voice, that they are unworthy. The intent was clear to me. Being a recovering fundamentalist, I come from the side of the church that is no stranger to the felt need to make sure all listeners know they are sinners in need of grace.

I agree that the amazing thing about grace is that it is unmerited, undeserved, given freely. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 )

As he continued to share, I searched my memory of the scriptures for this pattern of persuasion. Sure, there are times when the prophets heaped condemnation on particular people and groups, but wasn’t that for specific sins, wrongs, and failures?

A quick search for the word “unworthy” on the Bible Gateway found very little. I searched five translations, and found a maximum of four uses of the word in any one translation. In none of them is it used the same way as this guy used it.

I recall Jesus calling the pharisees a bunch of white-washed tombs, full of death but dressed up nicely, but this collection of youth could hardly be confused with pharisees.

I think there are more effective ways of communicating the gospel to youth that to condemn them as unworthy. I think there are more effective ways of communicating God’s unconditional love of us them declaring us unworthy.

What do you think?