Where Are We Looking?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…”                                                                                              Hebrews 12: 1-2 It is known as “Old Faithful.” It isn’t the grandest or most spectacular geyser in Yellowstone National Park, but it is by far the most popular. The reason is because visitors can count on “Old Faithful” to be on time, every time. As a pastor, I can think of a lot of who were like“Old Faithful.” Most were quiet and unassuming, often preferring to work in the background. To a person, you knew they loved the Lord and they loved their church. Every time, all the time, they could be counted on to do their part in building the Body of Christ; and the church was blessed and made stronger for it. The same is true for our church. I am so grateful to see all the selfless serving and caring that flows out of this wonderful congregation. So many folks, drawn together in love for Christ and each other, giving so much in the way of time, talents and gifts, and constantly striving together to practice what Jesus called the “greatest commandments” – loving even more our God and our neighbor! Such is the key to greatness for any church, but especially for this church we call our spiritual home. The author of Hebrews talks about faith. He even gives some examples of faithful people in the Bible(chapter 11) as inspiration to those who might read his letter. He also gives us sort of a definition for faith as being “the assurance of things hoped for but not seen.” More importantly, he shows us that faith is about believing, and trusting, and doing as faith is a life-long process of growing closer to Jesus Christ. It is like a pilgrim journey, or even a race. It has a starting point and a finish line, and, of course, lots of living in between. We know how that is, don’t we? Life has its joys, and life has its challenges. And all along the way, we often find ourselves being“tested” (James acknowledged this). But we also find countless opportunities to grow in our faith and even touch the lives of others. How we “run the race” is always our choice. We choose where we are going and how we will get there. But we don’t have to run alone. There are many “witnesses” pulling...

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Who Are We

“Christ’s people…drawn together in love…moving out to serve!” …Right? What a great mission statement! But what does it really mean? Even with great mission statements, we still need to go back from time to time and ask ourselves, “Is this still what is important and essential to us as Brevard First United Methodist Church?” So, is it? If so, then how are we doing in being who we say we are and in our “living out” our mission? For instance, as “Christ’s people” called out from the world and “drawn together,” how are we doing in loving God and each other? And are we caring of one another, even though we may not agree on certain matters, and even beliefs? Paul says when we are a part of the Body of Christ,“If one member suffers, we all suffer together; if one member is honored, we all rejoice together”(I Corinthians 12:26). Is that the kind of love and caring we find in our church? And how about our neighbor, too? After all, Jesus made it pretty clear that the best way we can love God back is when we share His love for all (yes, neighbor means all). Truly, there are lots of ways we can share such love as a church, but one thing we all can do on Sunday morning is to go out of our way in welcoming EVERY PERSON God brings to our church. I think we are a welcoming church…but can’t we always do better? Finally, there is this: “Moving out to serve”—that’s a big part of who we are. Right? For me, there is no question—ours is the most mission- minded congregation I have served! In your great generosity of giving—time, talents, prayers and gifts—you are taking our church where Christ sends us—out there, where the needs are great. Secular organizations talk a lot about “core values.”Churches have core values, too. These basically reflect who we believe we are (our identity), how our identity seeks to follow God’s vision, and, of course, how we will act on what we believe about ourselves. In other words, core values are really about what we as a church believe to be important and essential as we seek to follow Christ. Last week I attended my 36th annual conference at Lake Junaluska. I have heard a lot of sermons over that time from some well-known and outstand- ing preachers. Out of all of those, the one that I remember the most came during those early years I was a pastor. It was the closing message from Bishop Bevel Jones, who had ordained me as an elder in the Methodist Church. It was about“KEEPING THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING!” What would you say is “THE MAIN THING” for our church—the Body of Christ here in Brevard? I would love to hear from you. In the love of...

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God’s Greatest Desire!

Several years ago, I was leading a study on pastor John Ortburg’s book, GOD IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK. I recall that many in the group had questions about faith, and some even wondered what to believe about God. It is why they wanted to do the study. As we began, there was this assertion by Ortburg on the very first page: “The story of the Bible isn’t primarily about the desire of people to be with God; it’s the desire of God to be with people.” I have come to see just how true these words really are. Ortburg adds: “God’s greatest desire is to be with us.”That means, he says, to be with us not just ever now and then, or when we feel particularly religious, or only in those times when we decide we need God. No, God’s desire is to be with us—each one of us— every minute of every day… in the good times and the bad… in joy and celebration, and, yes, in heart- ache and trouble. The apostle Paul said much the same when he wrote to the Christians in Rome: “For I am convinced that neither life nor death… nor anything else in all crea- tion, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38- 39). Just think about that for a moment. Think about what it means for you and your life– at whatever place you happen to be or whatever you are facing right now—to have the assurance that God’s greatest desire is to be with you! No, the God we worship isn’t distant or haughty or arbitrary. He is very close to us. And always wishing and working for the best for us. Why? Because God loves us, and all of us are of “sacred worth” to God. In fact, God loves us more than we can humanly com- prehend; and because God loves us so, then that means there is nothing we encounter that can ever come close to the power of such love. It also means (to me) that God can’t stop loving us. This is true even when we fail to love God back, or to love our neighbor; and, yes, it’s still true when we choose a path apart from God.Soon the season of Lent will be upon us. Lent can be for us “a clearing season,” as one commentator put it. That is, a season to sort through and prioritize the things that matter the most to us, and certainly that includes our understanding of “God’s greatest desire.” A question then: How do we approach these things knowing that God is so close, so desiring of being in our lives (and hearts), so wanting to be at the center of our thoughts and actions always? Once again, Paul shows us: “I appeal to you,...

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“Do You Have a “Guiding Word” for the New Year?”

Have you chosen a “word” yet for 2019? I ask this because quite a few people responded to the sermon I preached a couple of weeks ago. In fact, many of you shared your “word” with me after worship—shalom, peace, love, grace, compassion, hope, thanksgiving, blessed, and many more, including ALOHA. This exercise came about because I mentioned in the sermon a tradition started by a Methodist pastor in Raleigh in which he chooses a word to live by for the new year. Then, on the first Sunday, he shares why that particular word is meaningful to him, and also the ways he hopes to “lean on” and be guided by it each day. I shared that my word for 2019 is “KINGDOM” (as in the Kingdom of God, or more precisely, as in “Kingdom Living).” I explained how this word is so important to us, to our lives of faith and in how we go about living each day. It was also my way of launching a three- part sermon series on “Kingdom Living.” For many of us, God’s Kingdom is not something that regularly comes to mind when we consider matters of faith; and, besides, it can be hard to understand all that the Kingdom means. That is what I discovered back in the fall when I began my study on the subject. The reason is because the Kingdom is so pervasive to everything; like a stream, it is a theme that runs through the whole Bible. What’s more, God’s Kingdom is the central focus of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. He even announces at the beginning of his ministry “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Yes, the Kingdom is here right now, all around us, wherever the Light of the world is breaking in, working to make a difference in people’s lives and in our world. Sometimes it is easy to see, like yesterday, when over a hundred of us (young and old) came together to pack 10,152 meals to be sent to the neediest places in the world. A big shout out goes to the Brevard College women’s lacrosse team, who came and joined in the fun. Another example came last week when you as a congregation donated over 1,200 pounds of food and $300 in funds for our youth to collect and take to The Sharing House. Most certainly, you can think of a lot more examples of seeing the Kingdom in our midst. Other times, the Kingdom isn’t so visible with all the darkness and bad news and worry that hangs over us. Those are the times we can only fall back on our faith, and on God’s promises. But the Kingdom isn’t just out there in the world; it’s living inside each of us. That’s why Jesus calls on us to be his hands and heart wherever we are. And, it...

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We Have This Hope!

The daily news can often be depressing, if we let it. Everywhere we look there is violence and killings, natural disasters of every sort, poverty and oppression, and more. And those make up the news “out there” in the world. For ourselves, we live from day to day, many of us carrying the burdens of worry, grief, and trouble. With the reality of life comes the knowledge that bad news can strike at any time. However, thank God, there is another reality that can keep us going. It is the reality of hope that is born of faith. And if anything, the season of Advent and Christmas gives us every reason to have hope! As we make ready to celebrate again our Savior’s birth, we are reminded of that ultimate promise made by Almighty God to his children—that no matter how heavy the burden, how stark the circumstance, how discouraging the news, we can endure. We can conquer. We can know the joy of God’s unending love. It is because Emmanuel has come! God is with us every moment of every day! We are not alone. That, dear brothers and sisters, is the reality to which we hold. Yes, love did come down at Christmas! Thanks be to God!...

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We Are The Church Together

I once read something fascinating about the giant redwood trees in California. They are among the tallest and oldest trees in the world. Some exceed 300 feet in height and can be over 2,500 years old! I would think that trees so tall and so old would have a tremendous root system, reaching down and outward into the ground for a hundred feet or more. Wouldn’t you think that, too? Well, they don’t! In fact, amazingly, considering their size and height, redwoods have a very shal- low root system. So, how are they able to stand so tall and regal and strong after all these years? Especially since their roots aren’t deep and expansive? Here’s the answer: It’s because one tree’s roots intertwine with all the trees around it to the extent that they are connected and locked to each other. Thus, when the storms come and the winds blow, these beautiful giants stand tall by supporting each other. Here, brothers and sisters, is a beautiful parable of the Church as Christ meant it to be. The Church can mean a lot of different things to us. But the one thing Christ intended the Church to be is his “living Body” on earth. And what’s more, he has called you and me as members of the “body” to be his partners in carrying on his mission. That means you and I are the hands and feet and heart of Christ, drawn together in love but called to move out and serve. Something else Christ intended is that the mem- bers of the Body are to be like the roots of those redwood trees. We are to love and encourage and support each other. Sure, we may have different opinions on a lot of things, see things differently, hold to different ideas and assumptions, but that’s always been true whenever a group of people come together. Yet, at least in the Church, we still find ways to do more than just get along, even if that means we agree to disagree—but with love and respect. For those of us who profess Christ as our Lord and Savior, there really is no other way. Indeed, how else are we to be his witnesses, carrying on the works of love and ministry and mission in the world? How else do we give Him all the glory? How else do we honor and give thanks to Him who has given us so much?   Yes, these are challenging times for all of us, and in so many ways. So many are being swayed to choose sides, and even to look upon others as the enemy (or as the saying goes, “If you aren’t for us, then you are ‘agin’ us”). It’s become pervasive. Pick an issue, be it politics, culture, even religion, pretty much anything, and see the words and emotions explode like...

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“Shaped by Grace: Getting and Giving!”

I want to share a couple of quotes. The first is this: “You have to plant the right seeds in order to grow the right fruit.” Duh! Of course! Don’t need to be a farmer to know that. Okay. Here’s the second quote: “You get out what you put in.” What do you think? Isn’t this one true, too? Now what if we were to apply these two sayings to our church? What might these simple sayings mean for us as we go about living our faith and being in this Body of Christ? Here’s how I see it. Jesus talked a lot about “bearing fruit.” Not just any kind of fruit, mind you, but “good fruit.” Another time, he said that we “reap what we sow.” Sow bad seeds and what do you get? Sow good seeds—seeds of love and kindness and service—and you get what? So, what do we get when it comes to living our faith and serving our church? I once read an arti- cle about something the author called the “law of reciprocity.” Basically, it was about getting back in proportion to what one puts in. For in- stance, a farmer should not expect to reap a bountiful harvest if he or she is not willing to put in the work that is necessary. Or if they planted the wrong seeds! Brothers and sisters, isn’t the same true of our faith? I mean, how would we expect to grow in our relationship with Christ if we didn’t make it the priority it deserves? And how would we expect our church to meet our needs and the needs of all around us if we neglected to do our part? Okay. But that’s not all. When it comes to the God we know and worship, the equation changes. Indeed, what happens is “We always get out far more than what we put in!” Over the years, I have heard church folks say, time after time, when they were willing to step out in faith or to offer themselves in service, “Mike, what I have received in blessings are a whole lot more than I have given!” It is so true. And it reminds me of another truth…or equation: “The more we (all of us)are involved in the life and ministry of our church, then the deeper our faith and the stronger our church becomes. And when that happens, then the greater our witness and the more lives that are touched!” Yes, it’s true, because I have seen it happen so many times. And I see it happening right here, in and through our church, practically every day. As we allow ourselves to be“Shaped by Grace,” Paul says that our own lives are transformed (Romans 12:1- 2). Or, to quote another saying, “We are blessed to be a blessing!” We have a great church—a church that is...

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Reflections on Church Part II

I have spent almost all of my life in the Church. As a kid, my mother gathered up the four of us (I was the oldest) and carried us to Sunday School and worship at Long’s Chapel Methodist Church near Lake Junaluska. We never had a discussion about it. We just understood it was where we would be on Sunday mornings. In fact, we began to prepare on Saturday evening—laying out our Sunday clothes, polishing our shoes, taking our weekly bath! Honestly, there were many summer Sundays I wanted to stay home and play. But looking back, I realize now everything I would have missed had my mother not made it our Sabbath ritual. For one thing, I was so fortunate in being surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)— those dear saints who welcomed me, taught me about faith, prayed for me, and loved me uncondition- ally. Second, I count my blessings for the seeds of faith that were planted in my heart even as a child, and how they took root in ways I would never have expected. Most important of all, I am grateful for the faith that was passed on to me and for knowing the One who walks with me every day and is quick to show me the Way. A big step in that Way, of course, was the call to ordained ministry. That was really unexpected, and something I wrestled with for a couple of years. Like Moses, I had all kinds of excuses as to why this couldn’t be. But then, also like Moses, I didn’t do any better arguing with God either. So, yes, I have spent most of my life in the Church. And over that time, my view of the Church of Jesus Christ has never wavered. I am not saying the Church is perfect—far from it– and we know why. None of us are perfect either. So often, we fail in living out our own calling as Christ- followers, don’t we? Truly, a church—any church, including this one we call our own—is only as Christ-like and loving and welcoming and generous and faithful as we are. Let me share with you a few of the reasons why I have such a high view of the Church: First of all, the Church is a gift from Christ himself. It is what he left us so we can carry on his work in the world. It means that you and I (and every congregation) are the hands and feet and voice and heart of Christ, and our calling is to “move out and serve” him. And because he has called us into the Church, it also means being a “member” is the highest privilege you and I can ever have. And that is because Christ himself calls us. Second, the Church is not an institution. We...

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Our Church, Our Family

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately in relation to THE CHURCH and, of course, our church. First of all, Ashleigh, Kay and I were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from our church family for the recent wedding shower. The living room at the parsonage looks like a warehouse (temporarily) as we scramble to store all the gifts she and Luke received. We are so grateful to the Church Life folks and others for all the work and effort that went into hosting this grand event, and we are so grateful for your prayers and well wishes as we look to Ashleigh’s wedding day on June 16. Truly, you are our family. Second, because you are family, we were delighted when the word came that we are appointed for another year at this great church. I knew early on that it was to happen, but still Methodist pastors know that it isn’t a done deal until it’s announced. So, we are more than pleased. Third, part of the reason for my reflection lately is that as Annual Conference approaches later this month, it will mark 33 years serving as a pastor under appoint- ment. Where has the time gone? I have served six churches during that time (counting the two churches right out of seminary), and we have been hugely blessed by each congregation. Now, that’s not to say there haven’t been rough spots along the way. You see, every church today faces challenges, some more than others; and two of the churches I served seemed to have a ton of challenges that took a while to work through with God’s help. Now, as I look back, one thing is very clear to me: doing ministry has gotten a whole lot harder in recent years. There are lots of reasons for this, but probably the main reason has to do with the evolution of our culture. Things are very different from when I became a pastor in 1985—the world, our nation, and even the Church are all different. Some is good, some not so bad (from my perspective), and a lot that is still “shaking out.” That’s because nothing ever stays the same; change is constant. We see this in our own church. We have been blessed in so many ways—more young families and children, steady attendance for worship and Sunday School, while others decline; a solid base of committed and generous givers, a visible and growing presence in our community as we “move out to serve,” and, yes, a very bright future. What blessings! At the same time, we have our challenges. For one thing, we cannot ever just “sit still.” Not in these times. No, we must always be looking to discern and follow God’s vision for our church, including drawing new people in even as we work to send out others....

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The Great Adventure

An advertisement once appeared in a London newspaper: “Men wanted for hazardous journey! Low wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.” The ad was placed by the noted explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleford, who was organizing another expedition to the barren land of Antarctica. So, what kind of response do you think he got? Actually, thousands of people responded to the ad, and most all of them were willing to sacrifice everything for the prospect of experiencing “a meaningful adventure.” After reading that, it made me wonder about how often we have thought of our Christian life as somewhat of an adventure. Could it even be the greatest adventure of all? Taking a trip to the South Pole…or going on an African safari…or climbing one of the highest peaks in the world are all truly amazing experiences! But I am thinking of “adventure” in terms of a life that is rewarding, meaningful, and filled with “stirring” experiences; which, by the way, is how Webster’s defines the word “adventure.” If you are not sure about the Christian life as a great adventure, then I suggest you read the Book of Acts. While not exactly “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” neverthe- less, it is the story of Peter and Paul, and the dangers, challenges and thrills they experienced in spreading the Good News of Christ to the world. Folks, are not these the same kind of exploits and adventure that make for the storylines in many of movies we have seen? And like any good adventure story, Acts starts off with a mysterious and memorable happening! Suddenly, there comes to those disciples the sound of a mighty wind in their midst and tongues of fire dance above their heads. We know this as the Day of Pentecost, the day God’s Spirit came to give birth to the Christian Church. Of course, there is more to an adventurous faith journey than just amazing and exciting things happening around us. Indeed, to follow Jesus as his disciple– though exciting and joyful in many respects– is seldom easy. In fact, it is incredibly hard… maybe the hardest thing we can do. At the same time, I know it can be the most rewarding, not just because of the Resurrection promise, but for having Christ in our lives! I am excited for our church as we look to Pente- cost Sunday, May 20. On that morning, ten of our young people are making what I believe to be the most important decision that anyone can make— to profess their faith in Jesus Christ and become members of Christ’s church. For them, it is the conclusion of confirmation—a time of study and reflection, working with their mentors, and coming to the decision of being a disciple of Christ. It is our great joy is to celebrate with them on this special day. Other celebrations are...

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