I Met Her Once

My daughter Shannon teaches kindergarten. She is an outstanding mother and a gifted writer. I am privileged to share this recent blog of hers:

A little bit of everything...

We’re reading the story of the widow’s offering this morning (Mark 12:41-44).

A humble one, eyes downcast, who gave her best.

From her poverty, she gave all.

The Greek word can also be translated life.

From her poverty, she gave life.

I met her once, you know.

Once upon a time when I taught in the city.

She was a Little One, all spindly legs and braided hair.

Smart and articulate beyond her years, she came and went from my classroom that year, as her housing situation depended on the day (and, sometimes, on the kindness of strangers).

We shared a name, this Little One and I, and I joked that she was really my sister.

She loved to read, this Little One, and so when I offered a new book each month for just one dollar, she would scrounge together a handful of change and count it out carefully…

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Teach Your Children Well

Sermon #1 in series “Ripples of the Resurrection”

Preached April 12, 2015

Brook Hill United Methodist Church, Frederick, MD, USA

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (NIV) 

1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Today we start a sermon series called “Ripples of the Resurrection.”

The resurrection of Jesus is foundational for God’s people. There wouldn’t be a Christian movement if Christ hadn’t risen. And the resurrection is meant to have an ever-expanding impact from our lives into all the world. The ripples of Jesus’ resurrection are meant to flow outward even after 2000 years.

This morning I want to address the issue of how the Good News of Jesus is transmitted from one generation to the next.

My cousin Kevin Hicks sent me a quote whose author we can’t identify: “A faith that is a reality to one generation, if treated by the second as a convenience, will be regarded by the third as a nuisance.”

Our task, I think, is to make Jesus Christ a living reality in our lives, and a living reality (rather than merely a convenience) in the lives of our children.

You may feel that you have not done right by your children when it comes to spiritual things. But God loves your children. He is calling them to Himself every day. He is whispering to them, and sometimes shouting, “Turn to me, come to me and be saved!” It is not His will that any of them should perish, but that all of them should come to eternal life.

So pray for your children and grandchildren by name! Let your children hear you as you pray for them.   Many Christians have never developed the habit of praying aloud, and one of the sad results is that their children and grandchildren have never heard their parents lifting their names in prayer.

There’s probably no ironclad guarantee that our children and grandchildren will follow in our footsteps when it comes to Christian living. But the Bible gives us some important guidelines.

The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, his son in the faith, and he says: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Timothy 1:5) 

It’s no coincidence that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were followers of Jesus, and that he followed in their footsteps, even though his father and grandfather may not have been believers.

This morning I suggest to you that passing our faith on to our children and grandchildren doesn’t happen by chance, but by purposeful action.

And I am suggesting two action steps which will make it far more likely that our children will become followers of Jesus:

1. Take every opportunity to speak with your children about what it means to follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

Please read with me again the verses from Exodus 6:6-9 — Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. (The Message)

So we are to internalize the values and commands of the Lord. Write them on our hearts. Get them inside ourselves and our children. Talk about them wherever we are. At home. Walking down the street. At waking-up time. At bedtime. All through the day.

Read about God’s ways to your children. Write about them. Crochet the good news into your doilies. Paint it into your paintings. Sing it into your songs. Carve God’s Word into your doorframes. Engrave it into the city gates.

Live God’s truth. Breathe it in and out. Take every opportunity to teach God’s ways to your children and grandchildren.

Connie and I are blessed with two daughters who have grown into feisty, opinionated women. They welcomed Jesus into their lives at an early age and are now strong believers in their 30s. I give my wife 90% of the credit for this.

She was their teacher, the parent with common sense, the practical one who indoctrinated our daughters, line upon line, precept upon precept. She was the one who gave them the right to disagree, but to be respectful. She was the one who not only taught what is right and good, but also why it is right and good – the principle – the reason behind everything.

Her main rule was that we would eat our evening meal together, whether early or late. Dinner was the high point of the day, a time to share with one another, to grow together, to laugh, to weep, to pray together.

Connie and I haven’t been perfect people or perfect parents. Early on, there were years of struggle in our marriage. Our daughters knew about those struggles, even as young girls. But they also knew we had made marriage vows to last a lifetime. And they knew our faith was real, even when the going got tough.

Our daughters are not perfect. But I’m so thankful for what I see of Jesus in them.

2. Be the kind of Christian you want your children to become.

Our children live with us. They know whether our faith is deep or shallow. They know whether our commitment to Jesus Christ is a Sunday infatuation or whether it carries over into the rest of the week.

What will happen if our children see their parents as fully devoted followers of Jesus? They will be far more likely to follow in our footsteps.

What will happen if our children see us honestly struggling to apply God’s truth to the hidden places of our lives? They will be far more likely to say, “That’s what it means to be an real Christian.” They will be far more likely to seek after God for themselves.

What will happen if our children hear us praying aloud and they feel our earnestness and they sense the Holy Spirit moving through our words? It will be much more likely that their hearts will resonate with ours.

What will happen when, at mealtime, our children hear us speaking of God’s grace and goodness, and how He is working in the circumstances of our lives? They’ll begin to speak in the same way. Their speech will be seasoned with their own God-thoughts, with their own personal spiritual discoveries.

I suggest to you that we have a real problem if our children never hear us speak about our faith, if they never hear us pray.

In Matthew 12:34b, Jesus says that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (NKJV)

What do your children and grandchildren hear coming out of your mouth?

Could it be that we ourselves – parents and grandparents – have nothing spiritual to say to our children because there is no spiritual abundance within us?

Aiden Wilson Tozer was a 20th-century preacher and writer. Listen to his probing words: “The church is notorious in using outside pressure to make a sinner act like a Christian. You can teach almost anybody to do almost anything. Baptize him, confirm him and feed him the Lord’s Supper regularly; instruct him in the faith, and after a while he begins to act like a Christian. He is not a Christian because there is not that inward factor impelling him to righteousness and true holiness. Outside pressure is making him conform and act like a Christian. However, when he is away from that pressure, he reverts to acting like himself— a sinner.”  (A. W. Tozer “Experiencing the Presence of God”)

It may be that SOME OF US have never experienced the transforming grace of God for ourselves. The GOOD NEWS is that Jesus’ love is meant to be experienced by you in a personal way that will transform your life.

God wants to touch you in the inner places of your heart and mind. TODAY He wants to change you from the inside out. He wants you to have a genuine faith to share with your children and grandchildren.

Baltimore Christians Respond to Rioting

In the aftermath of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray after alleged mistreatment at the hands of Baltimore City Police:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/28/us/baltimore-freddie-gray.html

This from the Baltimore Washington Conference headquarters of the United Methodist Church:

URGENT – BALTIMORE CITY CONGREGATIONS

The Rev. Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, superintendent of the Baltimore Metropolitan District spent Monday evening praying and walking for peace with the city’s pastors through the streets of Baltimore.

Because Baltimore’s school are closing Tuesday in the wake of the rioting, Moore-Koikoi is calling on United Methodist churches to open their doors to the city’s children, whose parents may need childcare to go to work.

Bishop Marcus Matthews continues to ask all United Methodists to pray for justice and God’s shalom for all people.

This from the New York Times article:

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: “Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs,” she said. “I’m at a loss for words. It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city that you’re going to make life better for anybody.”

This from the New York Times article:

Pastor Jamal Bryant, who delivered Mr. Gray’s eulogy, came back to the neighborhood after the burial on Monday afternoon to appeal for calm. He said he would send teams of men from his church, the Empowerment Temple, to help keep the peace.

“This is not what the family asked for, today of all days,” Mr. Bryant said. “For us to come out of the burial and walk into this is absolutely inexcusable.” He said he was “asking every young person to go back home,” adding, “it’s frustration, anger and it’s disrespect for the family.”

from Pastor Jamal Bryant’s eulogy:  “He had to have been asking himself, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ ” Mr. Bryant said. “He had to feel at age 25 like the walls were closing in on him.”

Mr. Bryant insisted that Mr. Gray’s death would not “be in vain.” He vowed that Baltimore residents would “keep demanding justice” but also issued a pointed rebuke to the congregation, telling members that black people must take control of their lives and force the government and police to change.

“This is not the time for us as a people to be sitting on the corner drinking malt liquor,” he roared, as his voice rose and the congregation, clapping, rose to its feet. “This is not the time for us to be playing the lottery or at the horsing casino, this is not the time for us to be walking down with our pants hanging down.”

He said, “Get your black self up and change this city!” and added, “I don’t know how you can be black in America and be silent. With everything we’ve been through, ain’t no way in the world you can sit here and be silent in the face of injustice.”

To the Ends of the Earth

#3 in the series: “Ripples of the Resurrection”

(preached at Brook Hill United Methodist Church, April 26, 2015)

Acts 1:1-8    1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (New International Version)

Matthew 28:16-20  16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (New International Version)

My wife Connie teaches at a small preschool in Germantown. This year her class of 15 students has just two children who speak only English.

Connie has three children of Indian descent, one of Syrian descent, one of Chinese descent, one of Puerto Rican descent, one African American child who speaks Spanish because her nanny speaks Spanish. She has five children of mixed descent, with one parent from the USA, and the other from Bolivia, Columbia, India, Poland or South Africa.

Other students in this small preschool have parents from Argentina, El Salvador, Ghana, Liberia, the Philippines, South Korea, and the Republic of Georgia.

It’s a vivid reminder of the small, small world in which we live, and a reminder of the open doors before us, the opportunity we have to share Christ’s love with friends from around the world. All within 25 miles of Yellow Springs.

Today’s message is part of a series called “Ripples of the Resurrection.” If Jesus really rose from the dead (and we believe he did) there is some urgency that we share his life with our children, and beyond that to our immediate spheres of influence, then ultimately to all the world.

Today I ask a question: How can we work with other Christians to take the message of Jesus to every person on earth?

In the scriptures which were read, Jesus told his followers they would receive power to be his witnesses everywhere, from the city where they lived to the whole world. He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations. Then he ascended into the heavenly realms, where he lives today.

Soon afterward came the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. 120 Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit.

They were filled with tremendous spiritual power. They told the story of Jesus to thousands of pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem from many nations.

They talked powerfully about Jesus. And they communicated in several foreign languages they had never learned. That day 3000 new believers in Christ were baptized.

Within 30 years there were Jesus-followers throughout the Roman Empire, north to Britain, south to Ethiopia, east to India, west to Spain. Soon there were Christian disciples in Ireland and Afghanistan and China.

Friends, the Story of Jesus is the Story of God’s love for every human. It has four chapters:

1) It is a story that begins with God creating us in His image.

2) It is a story that continues with our first parents disobeying God, so that human relationships with God became broken and damaged.

3) This story of Jesus continues with God coming to earth as a man, and potentially rescuing all of us by his death and resurrection.

4) And the final chapter of this story involves us putting our faith in Jesus, learning to obey him, and sharing his story with a broken world that has lost its way.

Today’s question: How can we work with other Christians to take the message of Jesus to every person on earth?

When I ask this question, I assume that we want to obey Jesus’ command. I assume that we want to share God’s love and message with others. I assume that we want to start spiritual conversations with neighbors and co-workers, that we want to help them to meet Jesus and know him as their Master.

FIVE WAYS WE CAN BECOME GLOBAL CHRISTIANS:

 1. Some of us can become full-time missionaries.

God calls certain people to this type of work. My friend Clarice Strong went to the Tigwa Manobo tribe in the Philippines. She lived with them. She learned their mother tongue. They had no written language so she developed one for them. She translated much of the Bible into that language and began to teach them how to read.

This morning, what young person at Brook Hill might hear God’s call to a similar adventure?

We need full-time missionaries right here in our country. Joshuaproject.net says there are still 78 unreached people groups in the USA. And 33% of Americans are identified as “irreligious” so there are many opportunities right here.

So some of us can become full-time missionaries. If God speaks to you, will you say, “Here I am, send me?”

2. Many of us can support the witness of Jesus through international short-term mission trips.

Most of us are wealthy. We cruise or vacation in distant countries. For $1000, we could spend 10 days supporting Christ’s body in Guatemala or Nicaragua or 100 other places.

In Nicaragua, we support the work of Ministerio Messias. In less than 15 years our friend Roberto Mendieta and his team have planted over 180 churches and 275 feeding centers. They minister to 25,000 people weekly.

So, second, many of us can support the witness of Jesus through international short-term mission trips. If God speaks to you, will you say, “Here I am, send me?”

3. All of us can reach out to people from other nations who’ve come to Frederick and nearby places.

8% of Frederick County residents are Hispanic or Latino. 4.4% of Frederick County residents are ethnically Asian.

You probably have neighbors from other ethnicities who would become your friends if you took the first step. Begin a conversation with them! Invite them to a restaurant or a summer barbecue.

Also, more than 800,000 international college students study in USA each year. Many of them are here in the Baltimore-Washington area. Maryland missionaries like my friend Bernie Beall reach out to these international college students in the D.C. area.

So, third, all of us can reach out to people from other nations who’ve come to Frederick and nearby places. If God speaks to you, will you say, “Here I am, send me?”

4. If we will, we can pray for the spread of the gospel around the world.

Paul the Apostle asked friends to pray for him as he communicated the truth of Jesus everywhere he went. In the same way, we can pray regularly for modern-day missionaries as they tell the good news in places where God has called them.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence.” I believe that prayer can change people’s hearts, and alter the course of nations.

We have at least three prayer options:

  • Pray daily for missionaries we know by name.
  • Pray daily for one nation or one entire continent.
  • Pray daily for the spread of the gospel in places we hear about in the news.

Recently we’ve heard of Christians beheaded in Libya, of Christian college students murdered in Kenya, of girls were kidnapped from a Christian school in Nigeria. There’s unrest in much of the world where Christians and Muslims live near each other.

But Muslims are not our enemies. Jesus loves Muslims. Please pray for the spread of the gospel among Muslims.

A year ago (April 22, 2014) christianitytoday.com posted an article titled “Why Muslims Are Becoming the Best Evangelists”.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april-web-only/why-muslims-are-becoming-best-evangelists.html

In this article, Christianity Today interviewed a missiologist who traveled 250,000 miles to interview 1000 former Muslims who are now followers of Jesus.

He says that Muslim-background believers are leading Muslims to Christ in large numbers in their own home countries, hidden from almost everyone.

He asked those whom he interviewed: “What did God use to bring you to faith in Jesus Christ? Tell me your story.”

This missiologist has documented 69 Muslim movements to Christ which are happening today, each of these with at least 1,000 baptisms or 100 new church-starts in the past 20 years.

In one unnamed Arab nation, an Islamic book publisher named Nasr came to Christ through satellite radio. Nasr believed God was calling him to evangelize. So he began a local ministry and baptized 2800 new believers in less than a year.

So, fourth, we can pray for the spread of the gospel around the world. If God speaks to you, will you say, “Here I am, send me?”

5. We can give to support those who are actively telling people about Jesus in distant places.

There are many options. If you’re wondering who or what to support, please have a conversation with me. Email me and we’ll get together.

Our posture toward God should always be one of availability. Are you available for God’s use when he calls your name?

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah heard God ask a question. He heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” And Isaiah said, “Here I am. Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)

Are you available? What holds you back from obeying God whole-heartedly? What keeps you from enjoying the Greatest Adventure of your life?

Say no to your fears! Say yes to Jesus Christ, the Master and Commander of the Universe!

S.O.A.P. – A Wide Open Door

(S.O.A.P. – Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer)

SCRIPTURE – 1st Corinthians 16:9 – “for there is a wide open door for a great work here, and many people are responding. But there are many who oppose me.” (New Living Translation)

OBSERVATION – Ephesus was a place of great opportunity for the spread of the gospel at this time, and Paul remained there rather than traveling on. It is wonderful to have a door wide open before you, and a great move of the Spirit bringing people into God’s kingdom. Sometimes the dark kingdom responds with a fierce counter-attack, and this can temper our enthusiasm, but hopefully not deter us from reaping while the reaping is good.

APPLICATION / PRAYER – Father, please open a wide door before us for your great work. Give us a time of reaping and spiritual fruitfulness. Help us also to discern the works of the enemy and stand firm against his attacks. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Caedmon, the Farmer Who Started to Sing

The story of Caedmon is intriguing.

Living in the seventh century, A.D., Caedmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. He lived at Whitby in northern England, 100 miles from the Scottish border.

We can think of him as a minstrel or bard who composed poems and tunes in his head and recited or sang them from memory. The story of Caedmon is handed down to us by the Venerable Bede, a well-known scholar just one generation younger than Caedmon himself.

Caedmon was a herdsman-laborer who worked at Whitby monastery, founded by St. Hilda in 657. One night the laborers gathered for dinner, and afterwards the harp was passed from hand to hand, as it often was, for singing and poetry. Since Caedmon knew nothing of poetry and had no skill in music, he stepped out and retired to the stable, where he was assigned to care for the cattle.

As he slept, he had a vision. A heavenly being stood by him and called him by name.
“Sing to me.”
“I cannot sing,” said Caedmon, “and therefore I left the feast.”
“Sing to me, however. Sing of Creation.”
Immediately Caedmon began to sing praises to God, with words and tunes he had never heard before.

In the morning Caedmon recited his story and verses to Hilda and the learned men of the monastery. They all agreed that he had received a gift from God.

At Hilda’s encouragement, Caedmon became a brother, a monk. He was taught from the Scriptures and turned much of what he heard into poems and songs.

When I think of Caedmon, I am reminded that any musical skill I have is a gift from God.

And the best hymns and songs are written from hearts that are full of praise.

(April 2010)

My Father’s Blessing

Last Sunday afternoon I received my father’s blessing.

I had called Mom and Dad on the phone.

We were talking about Mom’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

It was a touching conversation, and both my parents were fully engaged.

They spoke of approaching each day with the expectation of happiness, based on God’s goodness.

And on the simple delight of a shared day after 60 years of life together.

I told them that I wished I could be with them, to be more supportive in these challenging days.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Dad said, I’m so proud of you.”

What was that again?

I said nothing and began to weep as Mom continued talking.

I’ve waited all my life to hear that!

Dad has told me “I love you,” but this is my first time to hear

I’m proud…

Wow!

From childhood I’ve waited.

He was the master carpenter, skilled with his hands.

I could never measure up.

I remember his expressions of frustration and disappointment.

Those words and expressions have lingered like weights all these years.

Four years ago I brought them a book of 50 old hymn texts for which I had written new tunes.

He seemed to pay no attention to it at all.

I was crushed by his indifference.

I was angry.

He didn’t understand, I think.

But now I have the I’m proud…

I had given up ever expecting to hear that from him.

Something has been released within me, something powerful…

Dare I say it?

I wonder if some demon has been exorcised from my life.

In their book The Blessing, John Trent and Gary Smalley offer a look at the life-changing gift which the Bible calls “the blessing.”

The unconditional love and approval that come with a parent’s blessing can be important elements in our emotional well-being.

I’ve got it now! And no one can take that away from me! 

(September 2010)

I Believe

I believe in Connie, my fairest, dearest friend.

At first, my belief was more like hope.

I saw her grace and beauty, and I hoped to experience more of her.

I hoped she wouldn’t mind my advances.

That was a long time ago.

Today, I believe in Connie because of the content of her character.

She is a person of principle.

When there is trouble, she will usually have the right words.

When a principle needs to be maintained, she will maintain it.

When someone needs help, she will help if she can.

She honors her father and her mother.

When our daughters need affirmation, she affirms and encourages.

When our grandsons need hugs and snuggles, she drops everything to make that happen.

I believe in Connie because she usually believes in me.

She often believes in me when I’ve stopped believing in myself.

She prays for me. She longs for me.

She cooks and cleans for me.

She believes that I’m quite bright and fairly honest, but she’ll take me to task when I need to be confronted or challenged.

She is patient with me.

I’ve been trying her patience since 1975.

I believe in taking out the garbage and filling her gas tank twice a week.

I believe in picking up after myself (believe it or not).

I believe in long thoughtful conversations over a meal or at bedtime.

I believe in holding hands and lying together.

I believe in love.

Deep, deep love, deeper than the depths of the sea.

And I believe that I will live with Connie as long as we share life and breath.

(September 2010)