All About It

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 I want to tell you what I’m all about. In my teens it was music.  I’ve always liked music; I can remember spending many middle-school hours listening to the radio in my room.  But in 9th grade my relationship with music changed forever, because in 9th grade I met Michelle.  During our fourth period freshman art class my new friend would slip me CDs to try by bands I’d never heard of.  My mind was blown.  As it turns out, some of the best stuff never even gets played on the radio!  Who knew?! As the year went by our friendship grew… and so did my music collection.  Once we got our driver’s licenses Michelle started taking me to concerts in small little venues downtown.  I bought my own CDs and began listening to those bands almost exclusively.  We made friends from the music scene, and my clothing started to resemble theirs:  hooded sweatshirts and big, baggy jeans and skateboarding shoes.  I put band stickers on my car and patches on my backpack. I was all about it. I honestly thought I’d be all about music forever. But in my 20s I found another love:  the outdoors. The summer before college, I worked for a backpacking ministry for the first time.  Then, as a college freshman, I discovered that my school had an awesome outdoor club.  From then on out – through college and seminary – my world became more and more about the outdoors.  I spent my summers on the Appalachian Trail; I spent my falls and springs day hiking; and winter was for snowboarding.  When...

A Love that Doesn’t Disappoint

Romans 5:1-11 This month I want to talk about love. Because it’s February, and because Valentine’s Day is on Thursday.  Because love is already on our minds (that, or the lack thereof).  And it should be on our minds, always – but not the swooning, cupid-and-his-arrows, rom-com kind of love that dominates this month.  The kind of love that should fill our hearts is more like this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus said “all the law and the prophets” hang on those two greatest commands.  Doesn’t that sound like a sweet deal?  I mean, there used to be 10 and now there’s just 2!  And all we have to do is love! But love isn’t easy.  It’s hard.  We know this about romantic love:  once you get beyond the meet-cute and the infatuation, things get real.  The same is true for our two greatest loves.  During the retreat or the mission trip, loving God with our whole selves is easy!  But in the regular, day-in-and-day-out, loving God first and most is a challenge.  It’s not so different with loving our neighbors:  it’s easy in theory, when we’re imagining friendly Wilson-like characters waving at us from behind white picket fences.  But what about all those really annoying neighbors, the ones that walk across our yards without speaking to us after we’ve had a long, hard day at work? Loving God and loving our...
How to Take a Leap of Faith

How to Take a Leap of Faith

Jeremiah 1:4-10 Have you ever had the sneaking suspicion, “I’m supposed to do that” – “that” being some out-of-your comfort zone, new kind of thing? Okay – that’s kind of vague. It’s hard to describe what it feels like when God calls us to do something, partly because it hits many of us differently. Very seldom does it happen like it did for Jeremiah, a James-Earl-Jones-sounding voice telling us to “GO, THEREFORE, AND PREACH!” And very seldom is the thing we’re supposed to do as epic as Jeremiah’s: taking God’s message to a whole nation. For most of us, God’s call is more like an urge or an out-of-nowhere thought. The thing we’re supposed to do can often be done right in our own neighborhoods. It can be like this: Noticing a group of people that’s underserved, and feeling like someone’s got to do something about that. Or seeing a need in your community and thinking that you’ve got a skill that could help meet that need. Or feeling like you’ve got a message in your heart and there’s a Sunday School class or a pulpit where that message needs shared. All of those can be the Holy Spirit communicating God’s call to us. Which is kind of exciting to think about. Out of love, God created us: “before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” God tells Jeremiah, and we can imagine God saying those same words to each one of us. Out of that same love, God saved us from our sin; and then, God loved us enough to make us like partners in God’s...
How to Listen to the Bible

How to Listen to the Bible

Nehemiah 8:1-10 Have you ever daydreamed through the Scripture reading in worship? Yep – me too.  And not just back when I was sitting in the pews; sometimes, I’m thinking so much about my sermon that I miss it. I don’t want to miss it.  I don’t want you to, either.  So today, we’re going to learn from the story of when Ezra read the Law to the Israelites… and it they heard it so deeply, they cried.  But first, a little historical recap to set the stage.  The southern kingdom of Judah was taken by the Babylonians in 586, destroying the Temple in the process.  For almost 50 years the Israelites lived in exile, until the Persians came to power in 537.  The Persian King Cyrus told the Israelites that they could go back home and rebuild the Temple.  That project wasn’t a quick one, but finally in 516 they were able to dedicate the Second Temple.   Today’s Scripture takes place in 458 BC – another 58 years down the road.  Ezra, a priest and a scribe, was sent to Jerusalem by the Persian King Artaxerxes.  In a letter, Artaxerxes tells Ezra, “You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand” (Ezra 7:14). The implication is that they’ve been without the Law (read:  first five books of the Bible) all that time.  In Nehemiah 8 we get the story of the first reading of the Law to the people.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder...
How to Be More Positive

How to Be More Positive

“Do all things without murmuring and arguing… …and in the same way you must be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:14, 18)   Do you want to make 2019 a better year?  A lot of us do.  So let’s talk about how to bring more positivity into the next 12 months… …by addressing the opposite. I’m taking this sideways approach because of my Methodist roots.  Our denomination started with a guy named John Wesley, a church of England priest who lived in the 1700s.  John Wesley was really… methodical… about how he lived out his faith (get it?).  Among his methods were three simple rules:  (1) do no harm; (2) do good; and (3) stay in love with God. It’s that first rule that applies here.  If we want to be more positive, then we can start by avoiding the harmful opposite:  being negative.  And the everyday way most of us are negative is by complaining. Complaining is annoying, and harmful, and counter-productive, and – did I mention, annoying?  And I speak as one with authority, because of my backpacking experience. There’s something about backpacking that lends itself to complaining.  I spent a few years leading 4.5 day backpacking excursions for youth, and let me tell you:  4.5 days is plenty long enough to hear a lot of complaining. “My feet hurt.” “How much farther?” “I smell bad.” “Why are there so many bugs?” “Why are there so few toilets?” “This water’s too cold.” “This weather’s too hot.” “Where is camp?” “There’s dirt in my macaroni and cheese.” Okay, so some complaints are legitimate.  But some complaints are...