Being the Church!

I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

 

There was nothing special about these guys. They were not accomplished in the virtues of justice, worship, and mutuality; they were however, open to the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2:42-47, describes the community of faith as clearly operating in the power of God’s Spirit. These churchgoers knew exactly what drove them in the midst of a storm and in the harshness of an unbelieving society. They were clear about their identity and their purpose. Life in the Body of Christ was meaningful and deep, Spirit-led and intentional! Their lives were based on hope, justice, sharing, and love; which were as necessary in their time as they are in ours.
 
I thought that I’d tell the simple story again about the tenor in the congregation. This story acts as a thumbnail of how we are to treat each other. The visiting preacher wrote: “It was one of those mornings when the tenor didn’t get out of bed on the right side. As I listened to his faltering voice, I looked around. People were pulling out hymnals to locate the hymn being sung by the soloist. By the second verse, the congregation had joined the soloist in the hymn. By the third verse, the tenor was beginning to find the range and by the fourth verse, it was beautiful. On the fifth verse the congregation was absolutely silent, and the tenor sang the most beautiful solo of his life.” How easily a member of the choir could have chastised him. Or, those in the congregation could have been embarrassed. But when your heart is steeped in Jesus and the Holy Spirit is present, we can come together to assist one another and lift each other up! That is life in the Body of Christ, enabling one another to sing the tune Christ has given us. This kind of melody is what The Church represented and what The Church needs to be today!
 
Oh, it’s true that at times we will forget the Gospel and make life complicated with our worldly games and personal hurts, misunderstandings, grudges and rebel tenacity to not get the facts! All the while Jesus calls us to forgive and be reconciled! In the words of Jesus: I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full. Could it be that simple? A few decades after Luke’s historical writings in Acts, the apostle Paul encouraged believers to take hold of life that is truly life. Friends, this pandemic is not going to just fade away or go away “poof.” Life will not be the same (it hasn’t been the same in years, anyway!) The world standard is to panic; to be angry; to waste life by complaining and hurting one another; and pandering to a noisy group of people who say that the sky falling. But, what we know is that the world pales compared to the teaching of the Gospel.
 
Cason, we have to make a decision. Will we be about the business of our focus and identity in Christ through our mission: loving, serving and growing and our goal and vision to be Where all will find and know the love of God.? Or, will the world dictate the Church’s next move?
 
Friends, the biggest challenge of our day as a community of faith in Delray, is to believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, is in control and that we have the power in us that that raised Jesus from the dead! We are the Church! Moreover, remember, we don’t live for our own sake, only. Ever hear the saying: The church is the only place that exists for its non-members! The world we influence is hurting and we exist as an extension of Jesus to bring the Good News and salvation to all.
 
The kind of giving and sharing that we find in Acts 2:42-47 is a response to God’s presence in our congregation! Do we expect such divine work among us? Our lives, together and individually, are created by God to reflect God’s grace and action to a hurting world! In the midst of your day, during this pandemic, ask yourself: what message do I send to the world about God by my own attitudes and deeds? How can my own life better reflect what God has done for me?
 

In the season of the early Church, Luke tells us that 3,000 repented, were baptized, and joined the Christian community. After they joined, they stayed on and became mature because of the teachings, fellowship, eating together, and prayer they participated in.. Christian maturity happens together!

These guys really liked each other! And, the “Lord added to their number” daily!
 
Where are you right now? Will you join a small group at Cason? Will you pray for your community of faith? Will you connect with brothers and sisters in your influence and bring the love of Christ to them? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to have you and to move, mold and mature you? Let’s live together as the Church just as they did in Acts!
 

I just love being your pastor! Joy, joy


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A Kiss From Jesus 2

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.                                                                                                                    Ephesians 4:29-32

 

We don’t have long to live on this earth.  I’m already through nearly two thirds of my life (and am in no hurry!)  While I’m still breathing, I want to respond to God’s love!  For years, Jesus has been giving me kisses…important reminders that He watches me and He adores me.  He’s seen me through flat tires and surprise gifts; rejections and approvals; partings of friends, moves and changes; and, unexpected quiet times where He whispered in my ear encouragements, challenges and love.  These are just some of the ways that I have received kisses from Jesus.  And so, in the time that I have left on this earth, I want to help others feel kisses from Jesus, too.  As Paul says later in Ephesians 4, I want to: build people up according to their needs and showing kindness and compassion and most assuredly forgiveness – to show them GRACE.  One thing that I have learned,  I can’t get Jesus kisses if I have in me what members of the church of Ephesus had in them: unwholesome talk, bitterness, rage and anger; gossip and backbiting; or, a brawling spirit, slander and malice on these lips.  It is impossible to recognize kisses from Jesus when our hearts are ugly with regret, hurt and malice.  I definitely prefer the kisses from Jesus. 
 
To my surprise kisses from Jesus was not only my idea. A Christian artist penned a song about kisses from Jesus.  In 2005 John Mark McMillian, wrote “How He Loves Me.”   The evening he wrote it, he learned that one of his closest friends, Stephen, was killed in a car accident.  He felt so close to God that he began to wonder what it was like for Stephen when he went into Jesus’ arms that night.  The song is a love song…a poem, between God and us: It simply says that Jesus is jealous for us.  How He loves us.  Oh how He loves us oh how He loves.  And then there is the second verse: So we are His portion and He is our prize.  Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes.  If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.  –  Don’t you love that?  And then these words…So heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest.  I don’t have time to maintain these regrets.  When I think about the way that He loves us. Take a moment to listen to it: CLICK HERE.
 
Thousands were divided over the verse: “So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss…” Some said it was so weird that in newer versions, that particular line is changed.  But I wasn’t ‘weirded out’ because I had been getting kisses from Jesus for years.  That kind of affection from Jesus shines light in me!  That kind of pure love from my Savior reminds me that this weary, hostile world is not all the life I have to live, that I have eternity with one who adores me. 
 
I’m going to die and you are too!  But we are not dead yet!  So, in the meantime, what would it be like to give Jesus kisses indiscriminately, extravagantly and with total abandon!  This is called GRACE!  Not because they should have it but because you can give it freely!
 
Some time ago, I heard of a missionary returning stateside, who had a two-day layover in Germany during the early years of the Nazi occupation.  It was late December, and while out walking, he happened through a Jewish ghetto.
 
Appalled by the poverty he saw there, he took what funds he had and spent it on chocolates — sort of a Christmas present, if you will, for children who had all but forgotten what it was to laugh, or even smile.  When he telephoned home for more money in order to travel on to America, his superiors frankly found the request incredulous.
 

“You did what?”

“I bought chocolates for the children,” the missionary said. “It’s Christmas after all.”

“But they’re Jewish. They don’t celebrate Christmas!”

“Well, I know that,” he insisted, “but they’re still children, and children like chocolate.”

“For God’s sake, man, they’re not even Christians.”

There was a long pause. And finally the old missionary answered, “Yes, but I am.”
 
You know when you have given the perfect kiss from Jesus?  When you can walk up to, text, call or email the meanest person you know and say, I love you!  Now that’s a great big wet kiss from Jesus!  Not because they deserve it but because you can give it freely!  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the power to be a part of changing a life with Jesus kisses.
 

With more love than you can know…kiss – kiss

 

Pastor Alexis (Oh, and joy, joy too!)


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A Kiss From Jesus

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32

Just one more scripture in the, “What Counts is on the Inside,” sermon series. This one may be the toughest of all for good Christians to hear! As we have studied the words of Jesus and of the Apostle Paul (inspired by Jesus), my prayer is that you have been challenged and touched by these admonitions as much as I have.
 
In this Ephesians scripture, Paul is obviously disappointed with the church Ephesus and their behavior toward each other. Next Sunday, let’s explore how we can counter Paul’s negative adjectives, rotten speech really, at Cason with the power of Christ Jesus in our midst at Cason! Let’s continue to strive to be the Church that Christ has prepared us to be.
 
For now, I’d like to offer to you ten starting points of where that rotten speech leads. I came across this “in your face” list not long ago. In a world that seems to be growing ever more hostile and much less compassionate, we may need a refresher of how “not” to be. Many of these areas are Paul’s plea to the churches. These may be just what we need to jar healthy conversation with the world about how Jesus teaches us how to respond.
 
SOME EXAMPLES OF ROTTEN SPEECH:
You could probably come up with more, but here are 10 examples:
 
1. NAME-CALLING, PUT-DOWNS, & TRADING INSULT FOR INSULT
Often this is done for so-called “humor,” but it does not honor God or build up others. 1 Peter 3:9 says that we should not return insult for insult, but give a blessing instead.

2. INACCURATE LABELING
Lumping people together into one negative group. Labels may be useful in identifying where a person is at on an issue, but they become harmful when we use them too quickly to write off someone because of some association. So be careful! Matthew 7:1-5; John 7:24

3. SARCASM, RIDICULE, MOCKERY
Godly people in the Bible occasionally use sarcasm, ridicule, and mockery against those who are leading people astray. Elijah, for example, mocked the prophets of Baal, 1 Kings 18:27. Jesus ridiculed the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and legalism Matthew. 23. But my experience is that using sarcasm is like righteous anger. It must be carefully controlled or it spills over into sin. Use sarcasm or ridicule to make a point; not to point at someone. Never mock something that a person cannot change, such as a physical feature or a family background issue.

4. BLAMING, EXAGGERATED ATTACKS (one of personal pet peeves)Blaming others came in with “The Fall”, Genesis 1 and 2, and it is a major element in ungodly speech. Often it is coupled with exaggeration, such as, “you always,” or “you never.”

5. GRIPING, COMPLAINING
Those in the world gripe and complain about everything, as you know if you have served in the military. But Christians are to do all things without grumbling or complaining Philippians 2:14, because all complaints are ultimately directed at God. Rather than griping about the difficult people, be a part of the solution or better yet, thank God for them. 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

6. DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM, DECEPTION, LIES AND MANIPULATION
If your words are not aimed at helping or healing, you are sinning. Proverbs 12:18 says, There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. If your words are manipulative or partially true (it’s still a lie) in order to get your way is a form of deception.

7. ANGRY WORDS, INCLUDING THREATS AND REVENGE
Such words are only trying to dominate or control through fear and intimidation. Whether a parent, a colleague, a preacher, a supervisor, a friend or a Christian; speaking the truth in love, correcting or disciplining must be done calmly with careful thought, not in the heat of anger.
The aim is always to help another, child or adult, grow in godliness. It is sinful to seek revenge or to intimidate. Romans 12:17-21; Ephesians 4:29-32

8. ARGUMENTS WHERE YOU SEEK TO WIN SO AS TO MAINTAIN POWER
Your aim should never be to win the argument, but rather to promote godliness. You’ve got to judge your pride and allow Jesus Christ truly to be Lord of your tongue. 2 Timothy 2:23-25

9. GOSSIP AND SLANDER
Often, gossip and slander spread partial truths mixed with falsehood to make the other person look bad. Sometimes gossip and slander may be true, but is the one you are telling part of the solution of problem? Sometimes it is done under the cover, “I wanted you to know so you could pray…bless their hearts.” Stop it! Matthew 12:36

10. FILTHY TALK AND COARSE JOKES AND PROFANITY
Paul specifically hits this in Ephesians 5:3-4. It includes all dirty jokes and using words for sex, which ought to be sacred, as swear words. And shortcuts for words, count to (OMG). You could probably name of few of your own. (But please don’t say them out loud!)

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A Word to the Wise

My son, if you receive my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you seek for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding

Proverbs 2:1-6

 

I wonder if Socrates read Proverbs.  He sure seemed to when this story was penned about his understanding of wisdom. It goes like this:

A proud young man came to Socrates asking for knowledge and his wisdom. He walked up to the muscular philosopher and said, “O great Socrates, I come to you for wisdom.” Socrates recognized a pompous numbskull when he saw one.  He led the young man through the streets, to the sea, and chest deep into water.  Then he asked, “What do you want?” 

Wisdom, O great Socrates,” said the young man with a smile. 

Socrates put his strong hands on the man’s shoulders and pushed him under. Thirty seconds later Socrates let him up. “What do you want?” he asked again. 

Wisdom,” the young man sputtered, “O great and wise Socrates.” 

Socrates crunched him under again.  Thirty seconds passed, thirty-five.  Forty; Socrates let him up.  The man was gasping. “What do you want, young man?” 

Between heavy, heaving breaths the fellow wheezed, “Wisdom, O wonderful…” 

Socrates jammed him under again Forty seconds passed.  Fifty; “What do you want?” 

Air!” the young man screeched. “I need air!”

 Socrates responded: “When you want wisdom as you have just wanted air, then you will have wisdom.” 

I don’t know how many times, I have chosen other things (sometimes good things) over the better thing, wisdom.  If I do not monitor myself, I am prone to waste good time doing things that may not be helpful, useful or even kind.  It’s like gasping for air but asking for something more!

Honestly, sometimes I feel like kicking myself because I get caught up in peoples’ messes that I have no influence over.  The time I spend, often trying harder than they, is fruitless and in the end, I end up gasping with no more knowledge and understanding than when I began.  The truth is that I need Proverbs like chapter 2 to keep me turning to God!  The first six verses, especially, are like a prayer that any of us should pray often!  Some who live deeply seeking after God say that in order to be able to live a godly life, we must take these first six verses seriously:  Receive, Ask (listen), Seek!  These are the conditions of wisdom.  I love what Chris Tiegreen says: Modern hearer of the Word often hear so much truth with so little change in our lives.  We hear a sermon…or we read a Christian book, and even through the message may be powerful and true, we’ve often forgotten it within a matter of days or even hours.  Why?  One reason is that we don’t take the time to meditate on what we hear. (Walk with God, July 3)  If we receive into our being the wisdom of God and apply it to our heart we will not only do the things that are right, our character will change and we will live right more supernaturally  (I’m not sure any of us can live right naturally – according to our own abilities).  Paul tells us in Romans 10:10:  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.  To receive, ask, seek and gain knowledge plus understanding gives us the condition for wisdom.  Wisdom is a gift from God, He planted deep within us.   As we uncover the secrets of through our prayers, the scriptures and in study together; the wisdom that God has put in us will spill out of us like sweet honey in our lives and the lives of others! How much do you want wisdom?  Is it as much as you want air?

I sure love being your pastor!

 

Joy, joy

 


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Wired For Sound

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.    Colossians 4:2-6
 
Sunday, I reminded us that motion pictures started as silent films.  There would be action then a slide would cut in with words all the while, a Wurlitzer would be playing dramatic music to go along with the movie scenes.  Then in 1927, everything changed.  My grandmother, Mary Ann was 15 years old.  The technology for talkies was unveiled.  The action, the words and the music were all in sync and all internal on the film.  Motion pictures were wired for sound.  And there was no turning back!
 
This was the Apostle Paul’s point exactly!  With the accounts of the Old Testament, words were on scrolls and people were reading them but there was little action.  They certainly did not make a significant sound.  It was not until Jesus came on the scene that the words and the actions were in sync.  Suddenly, Jesus’ followers were wired for sound!  Jesus not only told us how to live but showed us how to live!
 
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul assured the followers of Christ that they could go into this resistant community and share the Gospel.  This was possible because, through Jesus, they were already wired for sound and in sync with God through pray, in their walk with Him and their ability to speak up about the Gospel.
 
First, we are wired for prayer!  We are equipped to not only speak to God but to also hear from God!  When we are willing to listen, God will give us insight into particular situations.  God will open doors for us!  I like to call this tactical prayer.  It’s more than praying for what another person needs (God already knows that!).  Instead, it is praying that the Holy Spirit will touch you to influence lives around you for Christ.  Here’s a motto: Pray and don’t fuss!  God wired us for sound prayer!
 
Second, we must walk in wisdom!  Paul told the Colossae people: Walk in wisdom with outsiders, making the best use of your time.  The word “walk” in this context means simply to live our lives.  So, as you go, walk in wisdom!  I am at times ashamed at the amount of time I waste worrying or doing mindless things, when all the while God wants you and me, ordinary Christians, to intentionally demonstrate Christ’s teaching.  Honestly, we are it!  (Remember, we are plan “A” and there is no plan “B.”)  It’s not complicated; God has already wired us.  If we pray and we listen we can go on and live our lives.  As we go, we are called to just stay tuned in to God…intentionally making the best use of our time!
 
Finally, Speak Up!  Paul says in verse 6: Let your speech always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  O-Oh, a lot of people think that when Christians talk with people that we are not very “Christian;” that our tone is harsh and words and attitude, judgmental.  We must prove the so called Christians wrong because that’s not what Paul says or what he understood Jesus to mean!  Paul insists that our speech should leave the resistant world wanting more!  Paul goes on to say: so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.   Introvert or shy Christians do not worry; there is no cookie-cutter approach to sharing the Gospel or your love for Christ.  And, yes, we will get questions from those who have been hurt by Christianity and may even be hostile.  The answer is that we don’t need to know all the answers.  Our call is to show GRACE!  
 
Still, we are called to grow in our ability to answer these questions – that’s why we must pray tactically and walk in wisdom.  Rev. James Dunn, a New Testament professor in England puts it this way: Paul expects the Colossian church to hold its own in the social setting of marketplace and meal table and to win attention by the attractiveness of its life and speech.
 

So, people of Christ, use your words.  Be gracious and winsome, and speak of Jesus.  Paul had every confidence in us.  He knows that God will use ordinary Christians even in a resistant setting.  Try this: wake up tomorrow (or do it now…why wait!).  And saying to God: Put me in places today where I can wisely exercise my grace and show people how love goes!  Seriously, since we are wired for it, why not live it?  Live in such a way that is compelling and attractive! This is what it will take in a resistant culture.  Can you imagine the number of people we would touch as people who speak of the love of Jesus?   Do this: pray, walk in wisdom and speak up and then, watch and wait; grace will abound and people will want to know what’s going on! 

 

I just love being your pastor!   

Joy, joy, Pastor Alexis


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You Can’t Make Bad Fruit Good

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good,  and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?                             Matthew 5:43-47

 

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.                                                                               Matthew 12:33

 

You can’t produce, let alone share, what does not grow in your heart. 

Jesus was talking about good trees and bad trees.  His comparison to these trees is a direct call to check the state of your heart!  He said bluntly: How can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  And there is hardly a better time than during the turmoil of these two pandemics: race relations and virus for Jesus to ask these questions.  Many of us are quick to say what we think Jesus would say about these tragedies.  And, you know what’s baffling?  Those who oppose each other – dare I say “hate” – each claim they know what Jesus would say.  And all the while Jesus says in Matthew 5 from the Sermon on the Mount – Love and Pray (actually, I would read all of Matthew 5 and 6). How long can we go on saying things like: “Well, I can be rude with my ideas because, ‘THEY’ are even more rude!”  Really? 

As Christians, is this all we have learned?  When someone hears you talk (or would hear you talk) about the political or racial matters before us (I know, now I’m meddling!), would they call you a good tree or a bad tree?  Would they say you have learned to love your enemy by the words you use and with the tone in which you use them?  Where are your ideas rooted? What’s coming out of your mouth!  Do those words resemble Jesus’ words in the least bit?

When Jesus refers to the heart of the tree, He was talking about the very center of the tree or the very core of it. What He is asking is what’s at the very core of you…deep inside?  He’s talking about what’s in our hearts!  He knows when our thoughts are full of grace — or not.  Are you rooted in Jesus’ love and the power He gives you to forgive?  Or are you taking sides, being sure that everyone on Face Book, Instagram, in your cell phone contacts knows exactly where you stand and where they are wrong?

You know that there is a battle amiss for your heart!  Jesus wants it but there are other forces that are at work who want your heart too.  A Cherokee grandfather told his grandson? A fight is going on inside me.” It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”  The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

What do you feed your heart?  If your heart is not grounded in good, it will never speak good – Ever!  Every conversation we have with another human being is an opportunity to curse or to bless – to build up or bring down.   Every business transaction is an opportunity to do justice and what is right or to take advantage of someone.  Good tree or bad tree?  Will grace come bubblin’ up in you in this tumultuous time?  The more of Jesus you put into your heart, the more His thoughts will come out of your mouth.

I thank God for the privilege to serve as your pastor here at Cason! 

Joy, joy, Pastor Alexis

 

FOUR WAYS TO NOURISH YOUR HEART

  1. Sink Your Roots in Jesus. Begin to ask questions instead of offering your “expert” opinions. Are your ideas really right and others peoples’ wrong. Instead, when an opinion stirs in you, try asking this question:  I wonder why?  It may come out like this: I wonder why I think this way, politically.  I wonder why those African Americans are protesting, putting their life on the line . I wonder why I am so agitated by what that person just said.  I think you get the point.  As one rooted in Jesus will you, “Wonder Why?”

 

  1. Nourish Your Roots in a Deeper Relationship with God! John Wesley called these Means of Grace!  He used two categories:

Works of Piety – What you do for yourself

  1. Read, meditate on and study the Scriptures
  2. Pray and Fast
  3. Attend worship regularly and receive the Sacraments (Holy Communion)
  4. Share your faith
  5. Be accountable for your actions

Works of Mercy – What you do for others

  1. Do good works
  2. Visit the sick and those in prison
  3. Feed the hungry
  4. Give generously
  5. Seek justice – ending oppression and discrimination!
  6. Address the needs of the poor
  1. Watch the Company You Keep! Seriously!  How many “Good” Christ-like Trees do you hang around that are producing good fruit?  How many withering Bad Trees do you hang around producing sour or no fruit?
  1. Watch What You Feed Your Heart. Garbage in- Garbage out … Good in – Good out!

 

REMEMBER: You can’t produce, let alone share, what does not grow in your heart.


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Alas, alas for you, lawyers and pharisees

Luke 11:37-40 from The Voice Bible

A Pharisee interrupted His speech with an invitation to dinner. Jesus accepted the invitation and took His place at his table. 38 The Pharisee was offended that Jesus didn’t perform the ceremonial handwashing before eating—something Pharisees were fastidious about doing. Jesus said: 39 You Pharisees are a walking contradiction. You are so concerned about external things—like someone who washes the outside of a cup and bowl but never cleans the inside, which is what counts!  Beneath your fastidious exterior is a mess of extortion and filth. 40 You guys don’t get it.  Did the potter make the outside but not the inside too? 41 If you were full of goodness within, you could overflow with generosity from within, and if you did that, everything would be clean for you.

 

A seminary professor told a story: There was once a rabbi, he says, who had a cat.  The cat loved the sound of the rabbi’s voice; and when the rabbi got up to preach, the cat would wander around the sanctuary and distract the listeners.  The elders decided that before worship began, they would tie the cat to a chair, and then it couldn’t wander.  So every Sabbath they did this. 

Worship started, the rabbi would climb into the pulpit to preach, and an elder would tie the cat to a chair.  Time passed.  Some years later the rabbi died.  A new rabbi came.  He got up to preach and was surprised to see an elder get up and tie a cat to a chair.  “What is this?” he said.  “Why are you tying this cat to a chair?”  “We always do that,” the elder replied.  “Before the sermon, we tie up the cat.”  The new rabbi shrugged and let it go, and to this day whenever a rabbi begins his sermon in that synagogue, there is an elder tying a cat to a chair, for a reason that no one remembers. 

The truth is that rituals can outlive their usefulness.  They can lose their grounding in that place of deep faith and turn into rules that we follow for no good reason–at least no reason anyone remembers.  This is a premise in this scripture in Luke.  Honestly, it’s not the most popular of scriptures.  There aren’t any miracles or healings and Jesus doesn’t invite anyone to sit down on the side of a mountain or a hill or on a flat plain for a parable or sermon.

The story is straightforward.  A Pharisee invites Jesus home for dinner, and when they sit down at the table, the man is a little surprised that Jesus hasn’t washed his hands.  After all, it’s basic, right?  Before you eat, you wash your hands.  The idea of somehow purifying yourself before asking God to bless food seems reasonable. Thoughtful. Good.  Rev. Anna Florence Carter, a Presbyterian pastor and professor understands ritual this way:

The Pharisees had a lot of rituals, and most of them were pretty good ones; they made sense.  It makes sense to wash your hands before you eat, doesn’t it?  Of course it does.  Let’s make a ritual out of it.  It is good to treat your guests with honor, isn’t it?  Yes.  Let’s make a ritual out of it.  The Pharisees did that all day long.  They kept track of the rules and the manners that structure our lives and keep things running smoothly.  She goes on to say: But rituals can also outlive their usefulness.  They can lose their grounding in that place of deep faith and turn into rules that we follow for no good reason, at least, no reason that anyone remembers.  It’s like continuing to tie the cat to a chair just before the preacher gives her sermon.  No one remembers why.

So, are rules good or bad?

Too much emphasis on rules will tarnish and eventually wreck relationships.  Truth is that we will never measure up to all the rules in the Scriptures.  And as long as there are people on guard telling others (or even you or me) that we have “messed up”, we will never feel worthy enough to come before the One who adores us.  The best that we can feel is repentance for our blame, shame, guilt and unworthiness.  This is not what our loving God desires. 

On the other hand, too few rules will make us reckless.  We do have a propensity to be self-centered.  And, the fewer the rules, the less we are concerned about others.  The less we will admit we need God.  The less we will show compassion and discipline and love. 

Before we start arguing the points of too many rules or not enough rules; let’s stop and remember that the rules and the rituals always have to reflect who we are as Christians:  We are called to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus told the Pharisees, stop washing only the outside of your cup.  The best way to clean inside your cup is with acceptance and generosity.  Nothing cleans us inside like giving from the inside of the dish to others!  How do you live your life?  As one who shows the good of God to others or are we caught up in “Looking Good” to others?

We read in Micah 6:8 how we to live: What does the Lord require, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  What if our rules and rituals reflected what Jesus is doing inside of us!  Remember that the point isn’t to show how clean you are and how dirty someone else is; it is to show the acceptance and generosity that Jesus shows us – to create a clean heart.  As we are bombarded with news of conflict, hurt and pain in our world this week, may our prayer be: Cleanse me, O God, from all unrighteousness. 

I just love being your pastor, Cason!  Joy, joy,

Pastor Alexis


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The Prodigal Son

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable:                                                                                                                             Luke 15:1-3

 

NOTE:  Hear Tommy and Eddie dramatize the Parable of the Prodigal SonCLICK HERE

So to be clear, the younger son took all his inheritance, with arrogance, a lack of respect to his father and his older brother and his unquenchable self-absorption and left town. The crowds and those Pharisees who stood just far off enough, but in earshot, surely knew the characters well: a renegade child, a faithful family member and a parent who would give the shirt off his back for their child is as common as the earth is old. 

The account gets messy about halfway through. The youngest realizes the errors of his ways, knowing full well that the animals at the homestead are eating better than he. So he rushes home and when (I just love this part) his dad sees him far off in the distance, it’s like a Hallmark Classic, the two of them start into a run until they meet and embrace and (as David shared in his message Sunday), they could live happily ever after!  Imagine the crowds: what could be going through their minds? Were some thinking that they were the prodigal son?  Were some parents still waiting for their wayward child’s return?  Did they get that one of the characters needed Jesus; one had Jesus in his life; and one was, in fact, Jesus?

Sunday, David reminded us that the father was indeed, Jesus, who in a moment will welcome back those who are arrogant, lacking respect, and unquenchable in their self-absorption.  Jesus’ forgiveness and love lavishes on even the worst of sinners. It is a happy ending.

Except…the parable isn’t over!

Jesus didn’t stop with the great feast the father threw for his younger son!  There was an older son that Jesus’ listeners had to reckon with.  This was the son who stayed and worked.  This is the son who watched his father sell enough land in order to give the full inheritance to his younger brother.  This is the son who was not around when his lesser arrived home because he was out in the fields working like a good son.  Jesus tells us the whole account of the elder son in Luke 15:25-32. This son comes on the scene during the feast. When he finds out about his younger brother, Jesus tells the crowd: The older brother became angry and refused to go in.  So his father went out and pleaded with him.  How dare this father lavish so much on the one who abandoned him. “What about me?” I can hear the older brother say. The younger son deserved nothing! 

What’s Jesus saying here?  Don’t miss this.  This older brother had no desire to celebrate his brother’s homecoming because he was thinking more of himself.  Was he any different than his younger brother?  Was he not, also, arrogant, lacking respect and full of self-absorption?

So, who are Jesus’ three characters?  God is the father.  How about the younger son?  Who does he represent?  Someone you know who has left the faith?  Who has wronged another?  Who is not like me?  And what about the older brother?  David shares (and I agree) there are many (dare I say, “most”) and most of the older brothers are us; those of us who have been faithful in the church and to God.  We are the ones working our hearts out in the field: sitting on the committees, always showing up on workdays; volunteering in the office or counting the funds, staff working extra hours; even giving our treasures consistently.  Without us, there just would not be a church!  Are we the older brothers who complain that this person is not dressed right and that person is not reliable?  And, then, there is that one who doesn’t act Christian enough. Ouch!  Could we who are steeped in church ministry be that older brother?  One way to know for sure is ask yourself when you see something that you don’t like: “What’s wrong with them…!” “How dare they…?” “I refuse to talk to them because of what they said/did…!”

And then comes the most painful of the “older brother syndrome” that says: I’m going to tell how I feel about that person but I’m not going to talk to them myself!  Oh, what sinners we Christians are.  We will murmur like those Pharisees but we are slow to accept or forgive or to listen and talk with godly wisdom.  And all the while the Father is saying, “Come to the party!  I have forgiven and I have big plans and there is enough for all!  Everyone is forgiven!  I’ll leave no one out who wants to come!”  And I wonder too, if Jesus is asking, “Who will you invite to come to the party?  Who will you seek out and show unconditional love, forgiveness, respect and grace to?”  

Friends, regularly I must check if I am being arrogant, lacking respect for others or unquenchably self-absorbed.  Am I missing the joy of the salvation of another who needs a Savior?  Am I unwilling to come to the party and bring others to celebrate?  Jesus is calling us to live, not like the older brother, but as one who welcomes everyone home!  Cason is the perfect home because Cason is: Where All Will Find and Know the LOVE of GOD!  Will you go after the lost and celebrate when the lost is found?  Will you love all people as God loves us?  Will you put any arrogance, lack of respect and self-absorption aside for the work of the LORD?

Thank you, David, for your powerful message on Sunday.  And thanks for loaning me the book that inspired you: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by: Tim Keller.

I just love being your pastor, Cason!  Joy, joy,

Pastor Alexis

 


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Pentecost Sunday

On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in Me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.)

John 7:37-39 – The Message

 

What a strange Pentecost Sunday! It seems that we would be able to celebrate the Birthday of the Church, the day when the disciples were touched by the Holy Spirit and were able to go and spread the Gospel in a way that all nations and languages could understand. But it is difficult to celebrate when the world is crying out and is in shambles.

I am disturbed by not one pandemic but two. This viral pandemic is crippling to so many who are overworked in unsafe conditions and to those who are out of work, as well as deadly to over 104,000 in the U.S. alone (and counting). Still, there is another pandemic in our midst; this one is crippling our integrity; our goodwill; our humanity and causing senseless death and destruction throughout our nation.

How is it possible that I could wake up one morning and hear of an officer with his knee on a man’s neck? How is it that there were three other officers assisting him? How is it that any one of us could righteously, quietly, weigh in on this act with opinions and spin some “story” of justification? Have we lost our minds? What happened to George Floyd was nothing less than an abomination! There is no excuse! And the pain, mayhem and destruction that has followed and become physically viral in other cities in these United States should be of no surprise!

In this season of Pentecost, I have many questions. My heart is aching and I pray yours is, too! How will all of this end? Where is the leadership? How is it that those who have the same skin color as mine get to wield power over those who look and sound different? What has this country come to? How could we ever begin to apologize for our part in any act that degrades or harms another whose color, orientation, race or any minority in this country. In this moment, I feel like Isaiah, “Woe is me!”

Still, maybe this is exactly where to begin: with apology and accountability and affirming my own inhumanity. I don’t know how all of this will come to an end (How can it end? Is it even possible for a good ending?) I just don’t know at this moment. What I do know, as Christ’s disciple, is that I must begin! And I must begin first and foremost in prayer! Many of us have learned what prayer does to us and for us. Prayer is an open airway to God. Prayer is the way to hear from God…His desires for our life. Prayer causes us to focus our hearts and minds on the subject of our prayer. Prayer moves us to action (if we are brave enough).

In John 7, the Gospel writer brings us to Jesus at the Festival of Booths (commemorating God’s provision for the Israelites while they wandered in the desert for forty years). This seven-day festival came around the fall, near the end of harvest. The High Priest, Levites, worshippers and crowds would gather…thousands of people, to give God thanks for providing water and light in the dark days in the wilderness and ask that they would know salvation. On the last great day of the festival, Jesus stands and cries out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in Me this way, just as the Scripture says.”

Oh sisters and brothers, in this Pentecost week as we remember the Birthday of the Church, I say: cry out to God. Cry out: “Save us!” And then, expect that the Rivers of Living Water, Christ in us, will stream from us as we pray, especially as Christians, for those who are marginalized! Pray, “No More Hate!” Pray, “Repentance for racist views!” Pray “Healing and forgiveness when the world says, ‘Who Cares’! Pray in sorrow for how we have come to this place. Pray mercy and justice for the black and brown; homosexuals; undocumented immigrants; those underpaid and underserved; homeless veterans and the mentally ill…and the list goes on. And pray for their families. Pray for all of these who are vulnerable to a national mindset that has become privileged and entitled! Pray to become thirsty – parched; and, to ache to drink for the “Rivers of Living Water”…to bask in the Word for Jesus. Pray that Cason will say, “ENOUGH” and outdo each other in doing good and speaking good to each other and about others. We are empowered by the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer! In situations like this, it seems we can’t do much! But when I stop and think, I know I can do much more because I am His! And His Living Water flows out of me and His Living Water is healing! Come Holy Spirit!

With more love in my heart for you than you know and just wanting to be better –

Joy, joy amidst the storm…


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Aldersgate Day

A prayer of Susanna Wesley:

Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church, or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Your presence. So may my every word and action have moral content. May all the happenings of my life prove useful and beneficial to me. May all things instruct me and afford me an opportunity of exercising some virtue and daily learning and growing towards Your likeness. Amen.

What a great day to celebrate John Wesley’s ministry legacy. David and I had so much fun putting together Sunday’s sermon celebrating Aldersgate Day, May 24, 1738; the day that Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed 282 years before. Growing up, I think that I knew that May 24th date even before I knew my own birthday. At the parsonage I have a wonderful picture of John Wesley hanging near the entrance door. It was a gift to my parents 60 years ago from a congregation where dad served in Baltimore. What a marvelous reminder of why we, as Methodists, care for the poor; spend funds on the mission and community; meet in small groups, and sing songs of the faith!

Though I have never been to Epworth – Wesley’s home, I can almost see him at his mother, Susanna’s, side learning to read from his textbook, the Bible, as she shared deep truths with him. She was so learned herself that she taught all of her children Latin and Greek. Our heritage is rich and begs us to use scripture knowledge in order to make sound decisions about how we spend life together at Cason.

I have never been to Aldersgate Street in London, either. I know that for Wesley, his year in America and the two years after his return, made him question his worth and vitality because the ministry was disastrous. And then came the invitation. Wesley reluctantly attended a small group meeting that evening on Aldersgate Street in London. As he heard a reading from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he felt his “heart strangely warmed.” Wesley wrote in his journal that at about 8:45 p.m. “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” The Letter to the Romans, especially chapter 3, became a bedrock of grace and faith for him. In those moments, Wesley knew that it was not what he did but what Jesus did for him by dying on that Cross that changed him and reminded him again that he could live in Christ and make a difference to others!

On Pentecost, May 21, just three days before, Charles Wesley, John’s brother, also had a Holy Spirit experience. Charles writes in his journal that he had “a strange palpitation of heart” that caused him to exclaim, “I believe, I believe!” Several sentences later he continues, “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.” These men in their thirties were unstoppable and we at Cason, and all United Methodist churches, are the legacy of their great awakening and love for God and humanity.
This is who we are…the people called Methodist! I encourage you to stop and pray this prayer from Wesley’s Covenant New Years’ Service and let it penetrate your heart.

Joy, joy my friends at Cason! I sure love being your METHODIST pastor.

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.


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