Monday, November 28, 2011

What is worship?

“But Amy, that’s not worship!” were the words that came from my congregation member’s mouth.  It was one of those moments where I wish I hadn’t been in such shock that I could have engaged my mouth to say something in reply.  Instead, I just stood there looking at this person with a dumbfounded expression on my face.

A group of us had been talking about different styles of worship.  One person said that a really contemporary style of worship – one with guitars and keyboards and the like – just didn’t satisfy him.  Another person said that different styles of music and worship services appeals to a lot of people and he mentioned a southern gospel group that occasionally stops and performs at my church.  It was at this point when the words above were spoken, suggesting that a concert performed by this group is not a form of worship.

I wonder if there has been a topic argued about more within church walls than this one:  What defines worship. defines worship as “reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.”   Webster defines it as “a service or rite showing reverence for a deity.”  But these definitions don’t help solve the problem.

I tend to define worship as “having an experience with God.”  It’s a time for those of us who call ourselves sons and daughters of God to come before the Creator of the universe to give thanks for everything that we have and all that we are.  It’s a time for us to lay our empty vessels before God in order that they can be replenished so that we may go out and share God’s love with the world. It’s a time for us to connect with God.

For some of us, this means having “high church” with clergy, wearing vestments, leading the congregation in liturgies, a choir singing and a pipe organ playing.  For others, this means a more casual atmosphere with the clergy wearing street clothes while a band of guitars, keyboards and drums plays in the background.  Is one of these styles a more right – a more correct – way to worship?  Who am I to say if how a person experiences God is right or wrong?  

What I do believe to be wrong is this:  People who believe that their way of worship is the only way to worship.  Why can we not see that there is a multitude of ways to experience and worship God?  The God I worship is not so minuscule that only one way of worship is acceptable.  If one’s worship is heartfelt, then God is worshipped – no matter what the style or setting.

We can see the results of the insistence of what worship is or isn’t.  “That’s not worship” is seen in the decline of United Methodist – and other mainline denomination – churches for the last 40+ years.  “That’s not worship” has resulted in a smaller number of young people in our pews.  “That’s not worship” will be our downfall!

So while one particular style of worship may not be right for us, it doesn’t mean that style is nullified in the eyes of another person – or in God’s eyes.  We can’t go around defining worship for anybody else except us because in doing so, we could be keeping someone from having an experience with God.  I know I don’t want that hanging over my head.  Do you?

Monday, November 14, 2011


Sermon 11/13/11
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Matthew 25:14-15, 19-29

     Do you remember the song “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band?  Remember how it starts out?  “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”  Boy, doesn’t it?
When we’re kids, time doesn’t seem to pass fast enough.  When we’re grown, we can’t seem to hold on to it hard enough.
     Time is something that we all relate to.  And what seems to be our most common complaint?  We don’t have enough time.  We need more of it to complete everything we need and want to do.  And, through some of you in this congregation, I’ve learned that for many years I’ve lived under the delusion that once I retire, I’ll have all the time necessary to do all of those things.  You have informed me that I’ll be just as busy in my retirement years as I am right now!  Lord, help me!
     Paul reminds us today that we don’t get limitless time.  We don’t have an endless supply of our own time – or an endless supply of God’s time.  Therefore, we need to make good use of the time we have.
     He tells us that this isn’t a surprise.  As verse 4 says, we are not in darkness, to be surprised.  We are children of the light.  We know that Christ is going to return once again!  We aren’t going to be able to stand back and say, “What’s going on here?!”  Paul was very specifically talking about the return of Christ but we can apply it another way.  We all know what waits for us at the end of our life:  Death does not pass any of us by.
     Paul warns us in today’s text not to fall asleep and to remain sober.  This means more than just being aware that Jesus is returning.  Let me show you what I mean.
     Jump over with me to Matthew 25 – the gospel lesson for today.  It’s a parable that you might be familiar with but we going to look at it a little bit differently today.
[Please read MATTHEW 25:14-15. 19-29]
     Many people interpret this parable in one way and that’s money.  But they don’t stop to consider that a “talent” can also mean a literal talent – gifts and graces given by God to be used for God.
     Now, I can hear you all now.  “I don’t have any talents, Amy!”  YES, YOU DO!  You have at least one.  But we can’t limit what we think of as a talent to something like musical ability or artistic ability.  We need to look at 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in EVERYONE. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith, to another gifts of healing, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
     There are more than just listed here.  What are you good at?  Chances are that is your talent – your spiritual gift.
     When we look at this two Scriptures together, we find an important message that we should not and cannot ignore.  Paul tells us that our time is limited – both ours and the world’s.  Christ tells us that we have been given talents that we should be using for God and his kingdom.  We are called to occupy our time by doing God’s work – to live our lives ready to receive him at any moment while serving him every moment.  Paul is telling us to engage in two activities: 1) to encourage each other – comfort and affirm one another and 2) to build each other up – to push each other toward spiritual maturity.  So the question becomes have you fallen asleep?  Here’s how you can tell.  Answer these three questions.
     How much of your time is spent doing things for God?  Now hear me!  I’m not saying that we don’t have the right to do things we enjoy doing.  I’m not saying that you need to turn in your golf clubs for a daily shift at the food pantry.  But you should try to find time to do both.  That’s what we are called to do.  And I’m not just talking about here at church but in the community as well.
     Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this time right now – the time you are spending in church – that doesn’t really count.  Worship is provided for our benefit, not God’s – although he does sit enthroned upon our praises.  Worship is a chance for us to refill our pitcher – to replenish it – so that we can go and pour ourselves out for others.
    Question 2.  Do you find reasons (excuses) for why you can no longer serve?  “I’m too busy.”  “I’m too old.”  “I’ve done my time.  It’s someone else’s turn.”  Well, if you’re too busy, perhaps you need to reevaluate some priorities.  And, as Adam Hamilton told those of us at Annual Conference last year, there is no such thing as Christian retirement.  You’re retired when you die.
     I won’t mention a name because I don’t want to embarrass this person.  But we have someone in this congregation who is no longer able to drive and get out as much as they used to.  That doesn’t stop this person from serving our church.  This person makes phone calls to people who are ill or are shut in.  This person sends cards.  This person remains a vital part of our congregation and a vital part of God’s kingdom.
     There is a job that everyone can do.  Sure, we need people to work at the soup kitchen.  We need people to help teach.  We need people to serve on committees.  But we need people to pray for this church.  We need people to make phone calls.  You name it, we probably need it.  What could you be doing?
     Question 3.  Can you no longer see and get excited about possibilities?  I know I’ve shared with you a number of times how this church came into existence.  None of that would have been able to be accomplished if people hadn’t seen and been excited about the possibilities:  the possibility of having a United Methodist Church in southern Utah.  Well, we have one.  Now what?  Does the existence of this campus mean that there are no more possibilities?  Hardly!
     As Michael and I have been dreaming and visioning about SHUMC, we’ve discovered – actually I’ve discovered more so than he has – that there is tremendous possibility here.  We have a music program that could expand.  We have an education program that can grow and is growing! We have a worship schedule that will have to grow (judging from the crowd here this morning).  There are mission possibilities that abound.
     Now, I will admit that as we were discussing all of this, I got a little overwhelmed.  I thought, “How are we going to do all of this?  How can I possibly take on more?”  Well, the answer is Michael and I can’t – nor are he and I called to.  Ephesians 4:11-13 says in part – The gifts he gave were that some would be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the word of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.  It’s all of our responsibility!  In these next weeks, you will be learning how you can assume your role in this task.
     So will you use your talent to encourage and build others up?  Or are you going to fall asleep?  I encourage you, brothers and sisters, do not be like the wicked slave who was thrown into prison for wasting his talent.  Use yours to the fullest so that one day you will hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cultivating Contentment

Cultivating Contentment
Oct. 23. 2011
Stewardship Series Sermon 3

We’ve all, at one point or another, have thought about something. Unfortunately, I know there are some people here who have experienced it. The order comes that you must evacuate your home within the next upcoming minutes. What do you take? Perhaps it would be family photos, perhaps important papers. How difficult would it be for you to have to choose what few possessions mean enough to place them in higher priority over everything else?

It’s these traumatic occurrences that happen that remind us that everything in this life is temporary. We’ve heard all the jokes about not being able to take it with you when you’re gone. Like the one about the man who begs St. Peter to let him bring one suitcase full of gold bricks with him into heaven and all of the saints and angels wonder why he brought pavement with him. Luke 12:15 tells us that a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

And yet the world tells us the complete opposite. Jesus tells us that our lives consist of more than money but culture shouts at us that it’s not true. And despite us saying that we believe Jesus’ words, we still devote a lot of time, talent and resources to acquiring more stuff. We say that our lives don’t consist in an abundance of possessions, but we live as if they do. Last week, Michael introduced us to two ailments we suffer from: credititis and affluenza. Today, I’m going to tell you about another disease that affects us: R.H.S. – Restless Heart Syndrome.

Now perhaps you’ve heard of restless leg syndrome – where people describe uncomfortable feelings in their legs like itching, tingling and pain. RHS works the same way – only with the heart. The primary symptom is discontent and it manifests itself in never being satisfied with anything. We acquire something and hardly take time to enjoy it before we want something else. The disease can progress to the point where we can become perennially discontent and, if left unchecked, RHS will destroy us.

Now we are designed to be discontent about some things. God wired us this way in order that we would seek the only One who can fully satisfy us. However, while there are certain things that we are supposed to be DIScontent with, there is a myriad of other things that we are to be CONtent with. And we get them confused.

The 18th century Scottish philosopher James Mackintosh once said, “It is right to be contented with what we have, never what we are.” The issue is that we tend to be content with that which we should be discontent and trying to gain more. We are content with our relationship with God rather than wanting more of him. We are content with how much we love others instead of growing in love. We are content with how much we read and study the Bible when we should long to do it more.

Oppositely, we aren’t content with the things that we should be content with. We can be discontent with our stuff – our homes, cars, tvs, and clothes. We can be discontent with our jobs and seek out better jobs that have better bosses or more money. We can be discontent with our families. As children we think that if had so & so’s parents, our lives would be better somehow. Then we grow and have children of our own and wish that they were more like someone else’s children. We can be discontent with our spouse, comparing him or her to others and imagine how much happier we’d be if we were married to another. We can even be discontent with our church. We see that our church isn’t perfect and has a couple of warts. We begin to see only the bad things and go church shopping.

What we are saying when we think like this is: “I don’t like what you’ve given me God and I want something else. I want to trade it in and get something better than what you gave me.”

Now luckily, there is a treatment for restless heart syndrome. To recovery from RHS, we must cultivate and contentment, simplify our lives and stock up on self control. So pay attention to the cure that I’m going to lay out for you.

There are 4 keys to cultivating contentment. The first is to remember that it could always be worse. Practice looking on the bright side – focusing on the silver lining. When you get in your older model car, say that it could be worse. When you find all the things in your house that need replaced or repaired, say that it could be worse. When you are frustrated or disappointed with your spouse, say that it could be worse.

The second key is to ask, “How long will this make me happy?” Will purchasing an item bring you sustaining satisfaction? Or will it only make you happy for a little while? One possible way to help decide this is to try before you buy an item. Rent the car you are considering purchasing for a couple of days. Borrow an item that you are wanting from a friend. You might discover that whatever it is, isn’t worth the expense.

The third key is to develop a grateful heart. This is one of the most important keys to contentment and happiness. In fact, it is essential if we are to be content. A grateful heart recognizes that all of life is a gift. Contentment comes when we spend more time giving thanks for what we have rather than thinking about what’s missing is wrong. In any situation we can complain or be grateful: we can choose to focus on disappointments or give thanks for blessings.

The fourth key is to ask yourself, “Where does my soul find true satisfaction?” The world tells us that satisfaction is found in ease, luxury, comfort and money. The Bible tells us that true satisfaction is found in God alone. St. Augustine wrote over 1600 years ago that “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Christ is the one who satisfies every need and enables us to be content in all circumstances. He gave us the great commandment of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we focus on these two things, we will find satisfaction for our soul and lasting contentment.

But we won’t find complete contentment unless we learn how to simplify our lives. Simplicity says that less is more: it says that we don’t need as much as we think we do. We are like hamsters running on a wheel. We don’t know where we are going, but we’re running like to crazy to get there – AND to keep up with others. And we consume a lot in doing this. Every year 1.2 billion trees are consumed to make the packaging, paper, napkins and bags we use. 2.5 million plastic bottles are used every hour. The U.S.A. has 5% of the world’s population but produces 40% of the world’s garbage – 1609 pounds per person per year. We must make a conscious decision to get off of this hamster wheel? But how do we do it? Well, I’m going to help you.

First, set a goal of reducing your consumption and choose to live below your means. Use reusable canvas bags when you go grocery shopping. Look at the mid-grade item rather than the top of the line item when making a purchase. Adjust your thermostat when you are away.

Second, before making a purchase, ask yourself, “Do I really need this or do I want it?” And if you want it, ask yourself why. These questions help determine your true motivation of desire. Is the purchase a need or are you wanting it to help fulfill another need – like to make yourself feel better about something. What you can discover is that maybe your reason for making the purchase isn’t necessarily a good one.

Third, use something up before buying something new. Now, this isn’t always possible, but when it is, make sure something is completely used up before replacing it. And when you do replace it, purchase something that is made to last. Take better care of the things you and have make repairs when necessary. Remind yourself that you don’t always need to purchase something new. And like Michael recommended last week, donate or sell things that still work that you no longer use.

Fourth, plan low cost entertainment that enriches. Do things that are simple and cheap. How many times have we gone on a vacation and spent tons of money, ran around doing things and come back exhausted when all we really needed to do was lie around and relax? We think that we have to spend money to have fun and really, we don’t.

Fifth, and finally, ask yourself are there major changes that would allow me to simplify my life? The stress of living beyond our means can kill us. Making payments when the funds aren’t there causes stress. What if you sold that car that is strapping your checkbook and bought a car free and clear? If your car is paid off, keep it longer before buying another one.

The same can be said for our houses. Bigger houses mean bigger mortgages, bigger utility bills, bigger property taxes, more to clean and more furniture to purchase.

Is there a club membership that you hardly use? What could you be using the money for instead?

Finally, we have to work on self control. Self control acts like a wall around our heart and life that protects us from ourselves, from temptation and from sins that can destroy us. If you don’t exercise self control with possessions, you can be lead to financial ruin – lead into slavery. We become a slave to our things and to our desire to acquire more things.

Self control comes down choosing to satisfy an impulse to gain instant gratification or not act upon it for a higher cause or greater gratification later. It’s about stopping to ask yourself three questions.

What are the long term consequences of this action?
Is there a greater good or better outcome if I use this resource of time, money or energy in another way?
Will this action honor God?

So which “tent” will you live in? Discon-tent-ment or con-tent-ment? Now this doesn’t mean to we stop buying things or move into smaller homes where we will be crowded: God doesn’t require this. Choosing contentment means that we look to God as our source of everything we need and giving thanks for what we have. It means we ask God to change our hearts and minds and give us the right perspective on money and possessions. It means we decide to live simpler lives, wasting less and conserving more. It means we choose to give more generously.

Last week you received a static cling that had 6 financial planning principles to help manage your money. Today, you will be receiving a key ring tag that has a prayer on it. I encourage you to slip it on your key ring because it’s a great way to help you when you are in the midst of making a decision of whether or not to make a purchase.

So today, choose contentment by choosing to focus on what really satisfies and discovering true joy through simplicity. Amen.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sit Down! You're Rocking the Boat!

   Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.  And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying “It is a ghost!”  And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
   Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sin, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 
      Matt. 14:22-33

As I began to prepare for this morning’s sermon, I struggled with how I would present this familiar story in a way that was fresh and new.  After spending more time on this problem that I should have, I realized that it wasn’t necessary to do so because at the core of this scene between Jesus and his disciples is an issue that we all deal with – trust.

Trust is a huge issue with me.  Now there are certain things that we all trust in without a second thought.  I trust that when I flip the light switch, the lights are going to come on.  I trust that when I turn on the spigot, water will come out.  But when it comes to people, trust isn’t something I tend to give away easily.  It takes time for people to earn my trust.  And once I lose trust in someone, it is very hard for me to get it back.

Trust is one of those words that we tend to throw around a lot.  How many times have we heard those famous words, “Trust me?” Or how about “Trust God?”  For some of us, that’s hard to do because this is what the world has taught us about trust.

Just like Charlie Brown, we have had the football yanked out from under us and we land flat on our back.  And sometimes it happens over and over, making it almost impossible to trust anyone or anything again.  But today we are going to take a look at what Peter’s willingness to get out of the boat teaches us about trust.

Let’s get ourselves in perspective with today’s Scripture.  Last week, Rev. Michael talked about the feeding of the 5,000 – which is an issue on trust itself.  Jesus told the disciples that 5 loaves and 2 fish would feed everyone.  You have to wonder if the disciples just looked at Jesus and thought, “Yeah, right!”

Just before this miracle, Jesus had been told of the execution of John the Baptist.  All Jesus wanted to do was to go off by himself to mourn the death of his cousin and pray.  Instead, he ended up throwing a dinner party.

Today’s text picks up after the crowds had been fed.  Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat” (v. 22) perhaps indicating they were unwilling to leave Jesus.  After all, this was the first time Jesus had sent them out without him.  But they trusted Jesus, so they obeyed.

Jesus prayed into the early morning hours – probably somewhere around 3 am.  [As an aside, when was the last time you spent hours in prayer?  But that’s another sermon for another time.]  By the time he’s finished, a storm has blown in and the boat has drifted away from the shore.  The winds and waves are so strong that the disciples cannot get the boat back to shore.  So Jesus walks out to them and the disciples think they are seeing a ghost.  Even after Jesus reassures them that it is indeed him, Peter still doesn’t trust.  “If it’s really you, Jesus, command me to come to you.”  And that’s exactly what Jesus does.

It would be interesting if we had access to the disciples’ inner monologue.  I wonder if Peter – after Jesus called him out of the boat – said, “Dang it!  He called my bluff!” or maybe “Me and my big mouth!”  Regardless of what he was thinking, he gets out of the boat.

If we look closely at the Scripture, we discover that Peter’s problems begin when he takes his attention off of Christ.  He notices the waves and wind and starts to sink.  Then, like so many of us do when we get into trouble, he cries, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus responds by asking, “Why did you doubt?”   In other words, “why didn’t you trust me?”

Could Christ ask us the same thing?  “Why don’t you trust me?”    Perhaps we even think that we do.  But if we really examine our hearts, do we?  If Christ called you out of the boat, would you go?

There are several things that can happen when we follow Christ out of the boat – or not.    Remember, Peter left but 11 others stayed in the boat.  Christ calls us but we don’t go because we don’t trust.  Instead we ask, “You want me to do what?!  Are you crazy?!”  We stay in our deck chair; watching the waves go by and in doing so, miss the opportunity for a miracle because we don’t trust that God has our back. 

If you are sitting in the boat this morning, what is God calling you to get out of the boat for and why don’t you trust him enough to do it?  What possible miracles are you missing?

Next, we trust God enough to get out of the boat but then we take our focus off of him and we start to sink.  We cry out, “My God, what have I done?!”  We start looking at the waves crashing around us, the wind knocking us off balance and we panic because we’ve lost trust in the fact that Christ has our back.  Then we sink.

We need to trust God enough to know that he is not going to call us to a task and then leave us to our own devices.  He equips those whom he calls.  When we realize that God is for us and assume the power of his authority, we have the incredible possibility and opportunity to be part of a miracle.

The third thing that can happen is we trust God and get out of the boat.  But then we start listening to the others back in the boat.  I’ve already reminded you that 11 men stayed in the boat.  That’s where it’s comfortable and safe.

When a person jumps out of a boat, the boat rocks.  People don’t like to have the boat rocked.  Remember that song from the musical “Guys and Dolls?”  The people all said sit down.  Sit down, you’re rocking the boat.  Sung by one of the gamblers, he recounts what people are telling him to do because of his behavior.  In other words, your behavior is rocking my boat, so stop it!

Our “shipmates” can do the same thing.  They do and say things to encourage us to not leave the safety of the boat and therefore, not rock it.  Things like, “You can try that idea but it will never work.”  “There’s no way that you can do that.” “It’s a good idea but it will cost too much money.”   We start listening to them and then lost our trust in God because, once again, our focus is off Christ.

Friday, July 8, 2011

No more excuses!

Alright!  Now that I am finished with seminary and have returned from my choir's trip to Rome, I have no more excuses for not blogging more.  So, this is a new beginning - a mid-year resolution, if you will.

Things have been crazy since mid-June.  I attended my church's annual conference in Denver and was commissioned as a deacon in the United Methodist Church.  I returned from conference on a Monday and on Tuesday was headed to Rome.  Since I haven't had a lot of time off since mid June, I took advantage of my first full day off in quite a while by doing as little as possible.  Part of that included parking myself in front of the tv to catch up on some brain numbing shows.  I soon found myself watching Clean House.  I love watching this show because it makes me feel so much better about my own housekeeping skills.  I appreciate knowing that, however bad my house looks, it's nowhere near the level that these houses are!  Today's episode was on the Messiest Home in America. 

If you aren't familiar with this show, it's about a group of people who go into a clutter-filled, filthy dirty house to clean and organize it.  The contents of the house are sold in a yard sale and the proceeds are used to help furnish the house with new things.

At the end of every season, the show holds a contest to find the messiest home in the country.  The premise is the same.  However, the show picks up the entire tab for furnishing the house and the money raised at the yard sale goes to a charity of the homeowners choice.

This year's messiest house was particularly gross.  Every square inch of floor space was filled with trash, junk and clutter.  Every piece of furniture had stuff stacked on it.  The bathroom was full of mold.  The kitchen was not usable because it was so dirty.

The Clean House team cleaned everything out of the house.  They found an empty warehouse to hold the yard sale in.  And thousands of people - yes, thousands - came and purchased things from the yard sale.

Here is the question that perplexes me:  Why would anyone want to purchase ANYTHING that came out of the messiest house in America?  I'm all for a good garage sale find, but come on.

Now I do have some information that the yard sale people didn't:  I saw what the house the items came out of looked like.  But the shoppers knew that the items came from the messiest home in the country.  Surely they had to have had some idea what the house might have looked like to have earned this title!

Perhaps they get wrapped up in the excitement of the tv experience.  Perhaps they just want to see the Clean House crew.  Perhaps they don't get as grossed out as I do about dirt and mold.  Whatever their reason, I hope the clutter bug isn't contagious or the next messiest house in the country might be theirs!