Monday, December 26, 2011

Giving and Receiving

Sermon December 18, 2011, on the Scripture passage Luke 2:21-40.  Are you able to look upon the divine with the wonder and awe and excitement you had as a child?  What stands in your way?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas






May your Christmas be blessed with all the blessings of the Christ child - hope, peace, joy, and love.  This Christmas Day let those same blessings you have received be shared as your gift to the child of the manger.  Practice life-transforming hope for yourself and others.  Find fantastic peace even in the most peace-less of circumstances.  Experience extreme joy even when joy seems fleeting.  Above all the greatest gift is love.  Embrace ultimate and unconditional love for God, for others, and for yourself.  

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Ways of Communicating the Old, Old Story

I attended a gathering of friends today in which we discussed various social media.  Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc.  There was a great deal of wonderful discussion about the best way churches can utilize social media to communicate with their members and reach those outside the church with the message of Christ. 

I was kind of surprised by some of the concerns that were raised.  It’s not that I haven’t heard these concerns before, specifically, “it’s so impersonal,” “people will substitute this for real relationships.”  I guess I am amazed that there are still people who think this way.  Social media is not a fad and is not going away.  In fact, businesses are finding out that if you do not communicate in some way through social media, you will be behind the curve.  See this VIDEO.  Churches have been behind the curve for a while, so what’s the big deal, right?  For the rest of the world; however, it isn’t like ways of communicating have not seen major changes over the course of human history.  I mean we no longer have messengers travel cross country on foot to deliver a message to another town – much. 

There are those who bemoan the lost art of letter writing.  From the advent of pen and paper people have communicated with those they love by letter.  But if we examine this beloved practice closely, we will recognize the similarities between letter writing and newfangled ways of communicating like email, IM, or Facebook.  One of the comments today mentioned the lack of the personal contact in that you cannot read a person’s facial expressions or body language.  You cannot read someone’s facial expressions or body language in a letter either, and yet there were romances that started, blossomed and developed through correspondence.  People can write their hearts, and share through the written word meaningful truths.  Poets through the centuries have expressed deep and powerful thoughts in the written word.  In fact, our sacred writings found in the Bible lack facial expressions, body language, and because the of the distance in time a thorough understanding of the culture by many who read these verses and find them to be meaningful in their lives.   While it may seem that you cannot compare Facebook with Shakespeare or the writings of Paul, I would say that much of what is written is no different than the typical “letter from home” that would share the trivialities of daily life with those who lived far away. 

Another concern expressed today was that people might perhaps substitute an online sermon for church attendance; therefore, never joining the community of faith.  Now, I understand that we are trying to encourage people to join a community of faith because this is the fullest expression of us living out our faith and belief.  However, I also feel that some of the consideration for this is that we cannot count them as being in our pews on Sunday and they do not give to the organization.  I think these are poor excuses at missing out on an opportunity to share the gospel message. 

I post my sermons online each week.  I will continue, as I am able, to post my sermons regardless of what apportionment or ministry setting I may be in.  While I post my sermons on my church’s web site, I also link them on my blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.  I know I have several people in the US who visit my blog, but there are also people in Canada, the Philippines, Indonesia, the UK, Australia, Slovakia, India, Ireland and Romania which round out the top ten countries who visit.  Of course, I will probably never have contact with the many people who visit the blog or listen to a sermon.  I will not be able to count them in my average worship attendance and they will probably never give to the church’s general budget, but I do believe that this is one way I can carry out my commission to “go into the world and make disciples” and continue in the thinking of Wesley that “the world is my parish.” I believe that if God can inspire someone through the feeble, but faithful work that I do to bring the message, God can certainly connect them with a community of faith to baptize, to nurture, and to disciple them in the faith. 

As for those who choose to participate in a virtual community such as the various churches found on sites such as Second Life, while I may not think this is the ideal way of developing community, nor do I think that it would feed my soul, I am unwilling to put God in a box and believe that even in this people cannot be reached for God’s Kingdom.  There are those with debilitating phobias, who would never leave their homes, so are they unworthy to receive the gospel message because they are unable or unwilling to do so on my terms?  This is what I feel we are saying if we scoff at the ministry provided on virtual sites. 

The church (all denominations) in the United States is in decline.  For too long Christians have been saying, “You must meet us where we are, you must do things the way we do in order to belong.”  I am thankful Jesus didn’t sit in the synagogue and say, “all you marginalized folks out there that the temple has rejected, clean up your act and come to me.”  For all you Methodist folks out there, I am thankful that John Wesley did believe the world was his parish and left the cathedrals for the fields and coal mines.  Jesus did not say, “stay here on this mountain and I will send ready-made disciples to you.”  Jesus said, “go in to all the world and make disciples.” 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Rediscover Christmas

What if we rediscovered Christmas?  I know we think we know Christmas, but did you know that the feast of the nativity was a minor observance in the Christian year until the mid-nineteenth century when commercial interests figured out how to exploit it solely for profit. In 1823, Clement Moore’s popular poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicolas” (later known as The Night Before Christmas) also contributed to the American mythology of Christmas: St. Nicholas morphed into Santa, and reindeer, stockings, and sugar plums entered the story at this time.  It is interesting that what was once a modest observance of Christ’s mass in honor of the holy child’s birth, became such a full blown extravaganza – complete with our giving gifts to ourselves. 

Christians claim Christmas as a religious holiday, and much has been said about ‘keeping Christ in Christmas,’ but we are the worst when it comes to the commercialization of the holiday.  We shop, spend, decorate, and generally go over the top with barely a second thought to the Christ of Christmas.  The Christ of the manger was a child born to peasant parents who had no human dwelling to birth their child.  Christ was born in a time of political unrest, oppression and persecution.  The Christ of the manger grew up to question the political and religious powers that kept people living in poverty.  That Christ Child turned everything upside down and right side up, even to the point of turning over merchant’s tables in the Temple.

Over the years our sentimentality has softened this Christ who stood in the way of the political machine ultimately to his death, into one that is almost…well…cuddly.  We have taken every childhood story of Christ with the children, and as adults we still cling to that soft, cuddly Christ conveniently forgetting that we claim the name and the faith, but not the commission, take up our crosses, go to all the world, spreading a message of an upside down Kingdom that to those who think they know – seems foolish. 

This Advent season, let us rediscover Christmas.  Let us discover what it means to worship fully, spend less, give more and love all.  Let us remember that Christmas is not OUR birthday.  Let us buy one less present and use the money we would have spent on that present to give to a ministry or charity.  Let’s commit ourselves to attend worship.  Let us agree to spend more quality time with those whom we would buy presents for and spend less money.  Let us rededicate ourselves to the calling of Christ to take up our crosses and to love all. 

May your Advent and Christmas season be happy and blessed. 

Rev. Sonja Tobey

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What People Really Want for Christmas

REDISCOVER CHRISTMAS!



Sermon November 27, 2011, on Matthew 1:18-25.  



What is Christmas? It is not the holiday rush, or the songs we sing and the throngs we navigate.  It is a humble baby in a manger.

Worship not the wrappings and trappings of the season, but the Christ of Christmas.  This advent season we are going to rediscover Christmas.  

In Dr. Suess’ book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! the Grinch, a bitter, cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small", lives on snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep, high mountain just north of Whoville, the home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos.   The Whos go about their holiday preparations with shopping, mailing packages and cards, decorating their homes, planning the Christmas feast with the Who pudding and roast beast, and a Whobilation extravaganza. 

The Grinch is critical of the commercialization of Christmas and those who profit from exploiting the holiday; not because he is so much better, but because he is jealous of the joy they seem to have.  He thinks their joy comes from the hoopla, but in the end the Grinch decides, “Maybe Christmas... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit more!”  The Grinch and the Whos discover Christmas is about relationship. 

Today we will look at the hope we find in relationship with God through the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel – God with Us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bucket Lists

Sermon November 13, 2011, on Joel 2:28, Matthew 6:33, Colossians 3:1.  We are continuing a Sermon Series on Extravagant Generosity - the Heart of Giving.  What are your hopes and dreams for our congregation?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Art of Love

Sermon November 6, 2011 on John 13:34-35.  We are continuing our Sermon Series on Extravagant Generosity - the Heart of Giving.  Who has made a difference in your spiritual life?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Riches of the Heart

Sermon October 30, 2011, on 1 Timothy 6:17-19.  We begin our new Sermon Series, "Extravagant Generosity - the Heart of Giving."  What do you love about our church?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

FULLY COMMITTED


From Sermon Videos

"FULLY COMMITTED"
Sermon October 23, 2011, on Matthew 22:34-40.  Are you fully committed to God?  What does that look like?  God loves us beyond anything we can imagine!  God's grace for us extends beyond our needs!  We can never repay the love God gives us, but we aren't to repay God, like it is a transaction.  We are simply to love God with all we are, to love our neighbor, as we are to love ourselves.  Are you fully committed to God?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dr. Bishara Awad

Sermon on Sunday, September 18, 2011, on Luke 10:25-30 by Dr. Bishara Away, President of Bethlehem Bible College (bio below).  Our focus this Sunday was ways we could serve and we had representatives from Skyline Urban Ministry, Volunteers in Mission, Kairos, General Board of Global Ministry, and Love Inc. for our mission fair as well as tell about our mission trip to Israel and Palestine.



Dr. Bishara Awad 
Bethlehem Bible College, President

Dr. Awad was born in Jerusalem in 1939 and was just 9 years old when his father was killed by a stray bullet during the height of the Arab/Israeli conflict.  With his mother and six siblings, he joined hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes and became refugees. Following his high school education in Jerusalem, Bishara attended Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics with a minor in chemistry in 1964.  He then taught high school for several years, and during that time, he earned his master's degree in education from Missouri State University. Later he also attended Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California for a one-year program. Bishara taught in Kansas City at Central High School in the early '70s, and in 1972 he joined the Mennonite Central Committee as a volunteer at Hope School in Beit Jala, Palestine. He served as principal for 10 years.

In 1979, he founded Bethlehem Bible College and began this ministry during evening hours while still at Hope School. Today, Bethlehem Bible College is a fully accredited institution that serves approximately 170 young men and women each year and Bishara has served as its president since the beginning. He is considered a true peacemaker, leading an institution that educates Jews, Muslims and Christians who go on to serve their communities as pastors, Christian educators, counselors and youth directors.

In 1989, Bishara was named the Dakota Wesleyan University Alumnus of the Year. He has received two previous honorary doctorates, and in 1999, he was the recipient of the Bob Pierce Award of Christian Service, bestowed by World Vision International.  In April this year the Dakota Wesleyan University awarded Bishara with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Journey with Jesus: The Commission

Sermon August 21, 2011 on Matthew 8:18-22.  How are you being a disciple of Jesus that is transforming the world?  How do you help to make disciples of Jesus? 

The special music is "The Turnabout" by Bryan Withiam.  

For the video, check out First UMC's worship page HERE.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Journey with Jesus: The Challenge

Sermon August 21, 2011 on Matthew 8:18-22.  Are you living up to your discipleship?  Do you really follow?

For the video, check out First UMC's worship page HERE.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Journey with Jesus: The Call

Sermon August 14, 2011 on Matthew 4:1, 12, 18-22.  Wrapping up the journey in the wilderness with the children of Israel.

For the video, check out First UMC's worship page HERE.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Journey in the Wilderness: Bread for the Journey

Sermon August 7, 2011 on Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15.  Wrapping up the journey in the wilderness with the children of Israel. 


For the video, check out First UMC's worship page HERE

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Journey in the Wilderness: The Lord Brings Sweetness

After this week, I will no longer be posting the videos of my sermons in my blog entries   I will only give a link to the audio of the sermon, and you can find the videos available on the church's worship page.  Visit the church's web site to see the sermon videos, find out what is going on in the community of faith, and see what upcoming sermon series we have.  This is all works in progress, and I hope to be much better about getting them updated sooner.  I think the Oklahoma heat is affecting other things, like energy.    

I know what you must be thinking.  Then she really needs to write more.  I do - and I hope to. That is a goal to write more.  I have things I would like to write about, but sometimes I think it would be better to keep certain thoughts to myself.  You know what I mean?

This week's sermon, July 31, 2011,  We are continuing the sermon series Journeying in the Wilderness, in which we are wandering in the wilderness with the children of promise.  We once again find the children whining over their circumstances, but God even understands when we get whiny sometimes. Blessings for journey.  From the scripture reading Exodus 15:22-26.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Journey in the Wilderness - Pause for Praise

Sermon July 24, 2011.  We are continuing the sermon series Journeying in the Wilderness, in which we are wandering in the wilderness with the children of promise.  This Sunday we learn that we need to stop to praise God.  Blessings for journey.  From the scripture reading Exodus 15:1-3, 13, 18.

VIDEO

Monday, July 18, 2011

Journey in the Wilderness: The Problem with Looking Back

Sermon July 17, 2011.  We are continuing the sermon series Journeying in the Wilderness, in which we are wandering in the wilderness with the children of promise.  This Sunday we learn that looking back doesn't help us move forward.  Blessings for journey.  From the scripture reading Exodus 14:10-14.

Special Music, "It is Well With My Soul," by the band, With I AM.

VIDEO

Monday, July 11, 2011

Journey in the Wilderness: Light for the Path


Sermon July 10, 2011.  We are continuing the sermon series Journeying in the Wilderness, in which we are wandering in the wilderness with the children of promise.  This Sunday we learned about God's presence, guidance, and protection for the journey.  From the scripture reading Exodus 13:17-18, 20-22.


There is no video this week due to technical difficulties.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Journey in the Wilderness: Bread for the Journey

(I've been out of town for about a month.  I apologize for not posting on my trip to Israel, or the fascinating things I am learning in my classes, but...well...I just didn't.  It is good to be home and great to be back in worship again.)

Sermon July 3, 2011.  We are beginning a new sermon series Journeying in the Wilderness, in which we are wandering in the wilderness with the children of promise.  This Sunday we learned about having sustenance for the journey with Bread for the Journey with the scripture passage Exodus 12:1-4, 14




VIDEO

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Take the Next Step - Out of Complacency

Sermon Ascension Sunday, June 5, 2011, on Luke 24:44-43.  I shared my call to ministry and the temptation to become complacent, wanting to have that easy chair of faith.  May God stir our souls to be continually on the move for God's kingdom on earth.



VIDEO

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Take the Next Step - Out of Sin

Sorry it took so long to post last Sunday's sermon.  We had Annual Conference begin Sunday afternoon, and I didn't have time to get it posted.  Here it is...

Sermon May 29, 2011, on the text Acts 17:22-31. We are taking the next step out of the darkness of the tomb. We are stepping into the light of right relationship with God.

VIDEO

Monday, May 23, 2011

Take the Next Step - Out of Spitefulness and Hatred

Sermon May 22, 2011 on Acts 7:51-60.  Confirmation Sunday.  We all have the tendency to give in to spitefulness and hatred to a certain degree.  If we allow our tendencies to get out of hand, we will have a monster on our hands.  We have moved out of the darkness of the tomb, but we stand in the shadows of of nasty behavior based in our unwillingness to hold ourselves accountable or allow others in our lives to hold us accountable.  How do we move from a life of spitefulness and hatred to one which demonstrates the love of God, love of neighbor, and love of enemy found in the Kingdom of God?


VIDEO

Monday, May 16, 2011

Take the Next Step - Out of Selfishness

Sermon May 15, 2011 on Acts 2:42-47.  We have moved out of the darkness of the tomb, but we stand in the shadows of self interest.  How do we move from a life of selfish inclinations to one which demonstrates the Kingdom of God?


VIDEO

Monday, May 9, 2011

Take the Next Step - Out of Ignorance

Sermon May 8, 2011 on Luke 24:13-35.  We might be set free, but do we truly live as if we are set free.  Many times we become comfortable with the cage/tomb we are in, and even when it is opened, we do not leave.  The stone has been rolled away, the bars have been opened.  This week we look at the tomb of ignorance.  They say ignorance is bliss, but is it really?  Or do we just not know what we are missing?  We have been promised life abundant.  But do we live it?  We all find ourselves in fear, doubt and ignorance, but we have a choice to make.  We can choose to move out.  We must take that first step.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Take the Next Step - Out of Fear and Doubt

Sermon May 1, 2011 on John 20:19-31.  We live in a tomb, a prison, of fear and doubt.  The stone has been rolled away, the bars have been opened.  We have been promised life abundant.  But do we live it?  We must take that first step.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Take The Next Step - Out of the Tomb!

Sermon Easter Sunday April 24, 2011, on Colossians 3:1-4 and Matthew 28:1-10.

We are starting a new sermon series - "Take the Next Step." Next week we will "Take the Next Step - From Fear."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Prayer.411 Why Pray Daily?

Wrapping up the sermon series on Prayer.  Sermon April 10, 2011 on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  We wrap up with our need to stay connected to God. 


Upcoming sermon series beginning Easter:  Take the Next Step...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prayer.411: How Do We Pray?

Sermon March 27, 2011 on Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4.  This week we look at how to pray as we observe how the Teacher taught his disciples to pray.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Questions of Heaven and Hell

When I hear people who are up in arms over the potential of a Christian pastor and author saying there is no hell, I wonder, “What is the problem?”  I mean, if Rob Bell wants to believe that, then what’s the problem?  It isn’t like he would ever be pastor at one of their churches.  This post is not about whether I agree with Rob Bell's theology, but what makes his detractors so cranky.    I believe they feel, maybe deep down, that they have something to lose.

I have no problem with people who differ theologically from me, that is, if they aren’t being virulent about it.  My faith and belief is not dependent upon someone else agreeing with me.  As far as being virulent about it, I just don’t like being around nasty people.  People have different experiences, understandings, convictions and interpretations of God.  If people try to say there is only one interpretation of Scripture, then they are arrogantly saying that they can definitively speak on behalf of God, which I believe to be truly what it means to take God’s name in vain.  They are placing themselves in place of God and worshiping their own beliefs as an idol.  Tsk tsk, I’m sure that is frowned upon in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But then I realized that many of these same people cannot handle anyone disagreeing with them.  To me it speaks of insecurity in their own convictions.  I once heard a remark about some people know what they stand for; others only know what they stand against.  I think standing for our own convictions without having to challenge another’s to shore up our self-esteem is important as we profess openly our faith in Jesus of Nazareth.  If we who are called Christian can’t come up with a unified statement of belief amongst us, yet, we as followers of Christ are known by our love for one another; then we have a very powerful witness in the world.  If we who are called Christian cannot come up with a unified statement of belief, and war against and fight each other all in the name of the same Christ, well then all we have to do is look around us to see what the world will look like.  To me, I don't think this is what the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus was talking about looks like.

I am more concerned with Christians who bad mouth other Christians, than if Rob Bell wants to entertain the thought that there is no eternal damnation.  I mean, what a great thought if we can truly look around and understand we are all God’s children and God wants us to quit fighting.  Regardless of your theology, don't we all want "peace on earth?"  That's what we say on our Christmas cards which celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.  Jesus even speaks to this when his disciples were behaving like children.

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. John 9:38-41

Jesus would say that if Rob Bell is not against you, then don’t worry about it.  And believe it or not, Rob Bell is not against you.  He is just sharing his own faith journey and voicing his own convictions.

As to the debate about hell, I have no public opinion. Like many Christians, I have wrestled with this ideology.  I think our continuing to wrestle and seek answers brings us closer to God and more humble in our own assumptions.  It appears that the people who are so vocal about Rob Bell have lost their humility.

If you disagree with me, I am not particularly concerned.  I still believe that you are loved by God, and therefore, me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

And lead me NOT into temptation...

So, as I have shared, I have given up complaining for Lent. However, I am not necessarily succeeding in this very well.  At the church, we have been dealing with a company [name not to be mentioned] to get our church directory made.  I will not go into the long, long, long, story of the frustrations we have faced working with this company, but I will say, in dealing with them I have not only been tested with my fasting from complaining, but I have been tested in my being an example of Christ as well.  (I do, however, think Jesus would have turned over this company's proverbial tables.)

I have found a Lenten Prayer, and if you look it up on line you will find several different versions, but this is a modified version of one a colleague of mine used at her church:


A Lenten Prayer
Fast from worry; feast on relying on God.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from hostility; feast on tenderness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ within them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on optimism.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that encourage.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on trust.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Gentle God, during this season of fasting and feasting, gift us with your presence
so we can be a gift to others in carrying out your work. Amen.


As you can see, we fast from complaining, and feast on appreciation.  So in the midst of all this frustration with this company, I have found that there is one person in that company who was truly gracious, apologetic for any inconveniences, and worked to make sure we got the problems fixed.  I truly do appreciate him.

May we continue to fast from those things which tear down and feast on those things which are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and praise-worthy (Philippians 4:8) as we continue our Lenten journey together.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prayer.411: Why Pray?

video


We begin a new sermon series for Lent on Prayer.  Sermon March 13, 2011, on the text Philippians 4:4-9.


There is a weekly study guide that accompanies the sermon series.  It is called Compass Points.


Audio Only

Friday, March 11, 2011

Secrets

video

Sermon from Ash Wednesday Service (March 9, 201), on the biblical text Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

We have improved the sound quality, but are still working on the video quality.  Bear with us as we make these adjustments.

Audio Only Version

...a holy Lent...

Each year the conversation comes up.  It is a serious conversation, and yet, it is taken so casually.  I have been asked my opinion; I can count on the occurrence, like counting on the world turning and the sun coming up.  It all revolves around, "what are you giving up for Lent?"  Of course this question is right up there with, "why do you give up something for Lent:?"

Fasting is an ancient ritual and it spans many different religions including Buddhism, Bahá'í, and Christianity.  Of course, at this time of year, Christians observe a "fast" for Lent.  Fast means to abstain from all or some food, drink, or both.  People who seriously fast will eat nothing and drink only water for a set length of time.  At this point, I would like to interject that before you decide to fast at all, you should consult with your physician, especially if you have other health concerns.

But the fasting that many Christians do for Lent, is nothing like truly fasting as it known in many cultures.  Some will give up meat, which is probably the greatest sacrifice people will make, unless of course they are vegetarians and do not really care much for meat anyway.  No, most people I know will "fast" from sodas or candy.  There is even the fasting from facebook or other social networking sites.  Then there is the fasting from various other activities.  For those who strictly observe this type of fast, it may be giving up video games or television.

Now, if you relate to the above style of fasting, please do not take offense at what I am about to write.  I believe many people give up such things with pure hearts and good intentions.  For many, this is easing into a practice they may not be familiar with, but if you have given up sodas for Lent for the past ten years, I feel like I must ask...why?  The time spent on social networking sites can be time that is given to God.  I know if we give up something we consume every day, like sodas, we are reminded to identify with the sacrifice of Christ for us.  If it prompts you to remember this, then that is good, but of many of the people who will give up something for Lent never fully connect it to growing in the Christian faith.

I personally, however, cannot identify giving up chocolate or facebook as even remotely equivalent to recognizing the pain, suffering, and sacrificial love of Christ.  Maybe it's just me.  I tend to not "give up" stuff, preferring to add something that will bring me closer to God.  Adding an additional devotional time, adding acts of service or charitable giving, these things I feel bring me closer to God, keeps me looking toward Christ as an example, and growing in my discipleship.

I told a confirmation class one year that they should give up whatever they placed in priority before God.  They very honestly told me they couldn't do that.  Many things get in the way of kids relationship with God, not the least of which are well-meaning parents who do not think about what time they give to God, let alone what they allow for their children.  I think this is the question we must ask ourselves..."does this act of sacrifice, whatever it may be, bring me closer to God, keep me looking toward the example of Christ, and help me grow in my discipleship."

This year, however, when asked what I was "giving up" for Lent, in a very rushed way I jokingly replied, "complaining."  It was after all a very busy Ash Wednesday, with complications and frustration, so it seemed to be a good thing to say, and got the desired chuckle from whomever I was speaking to.  But then I thought about it.  And I really began to think about it.  The kind of contemplation that works its way into your heart and soul much like an annoying grass burr works its way into your life by infesting your yard, getting attached to your clothes, and burying into your skin and hair.  That doesn't sound like I liked that thought very much, does it?

It was definitely persistent, and I began to believe that giving up complaining was exactly what I needed to do.  Then every time I turned around I was thinking about what I had just said, or if I were really paying attention, what I was saying at the time.  I kept thinking to myself, "was that complaining?"  I didn't think prior to this exercise that I complained any more than the average person, still don't.  I believe we complain much more than we think we do.  But this Lenten exercise has made me much more aware of my thoughts and words.

It is day two of Lent 2011, and I must confess that this is actually probably one of those exercises that I will look at for the whole 40 days and wrestle with each and every day.  I don't think I have perfected giving up complaining, especially when there seems to be an inordinate amount of activity that would tend to lend itself to some whining in any event.  Many things in our lives can be frustrating and we complain to blow off steam, but I have found that this exercise prompts me to pray, at the very least, that I might not complain.

I pray that whatever exercise you do whether it is giving up something, adding something, or taking stock of your attitude, you will do with a sense of self-examination, and prayer.  It isn't supposed to be easy, and it isn't supposed to be something that doesn't have any application to bettering ourselves spiritually.  The act of fasting is supposed to be something (at least in my belief) you wrestle with.  Perfection isn't required before hand, but more of the target you are moving toward.  It comes with the practice.

I think the prayer for everyone should be, "Lord, what barrier to faithful discipleship do I need your help to remove."  I pray that you will observe a Lent that is holy and pleasing to God.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Through Thick and Thin

Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  The day of mountain top moments and dazzling visions.  Today's sermon (March 6, 2011) is on the Hebrew Scriptures Exodus 24:12-18 and Gospel passage Matthew 17:1-9.

When have you experienced the presence of God in your life?  When have you wished you could feel God's presence?

The Cox Family sings Be Thou My Vision following the sermon.

Below is the video version of today's sermon.  We are working with audio quality still, please bear with us.



video