What Soaks In, Wrings Out

Mark 3:5-6 (read verses 1-6)
He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out—it was as good as new! The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod’s followers and ruin him. 
 
A sponge does soak it all in, but a sponge also is to be squeezed out; that’s what we heard from the skit that Marlene Weir, Bill Burton and Gene Guertin shared on Sunday. Without being squeezed out, a sponge just sits, soaks and sours and drips filth. It must be squeezed and wrung out before it can be useful again. The Mark 3 scripture is a continuation of the Pharisees’ growing agitation with Jesus’ responses to “Religious Rules.”  In Mark 2, Jesus let His disciples pick the wheat in the field closest to the road. The rules let them do it.  The problem is He lets them do it on the Sabbath.
 

Soon enough, we will see how the Pharisees’ saturation, like a sponge, in the law without compassion, turns deadly. In verse 6, Jesus healed this man with the withered hand on the Sabbath and: Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Jesus. The Pharisees sit and soak and never make an effort to wring out any good in them by helping to clean and heal another or share their faith. They just sat, soaked and soured. Many Pharisees in Jesus’ time were like that.  They spent the first half of their lives studying. Collectively, they knew every one of Moses’ 613 laws. Good from evil; black from white; and, the right way and the wrong way. Always judging. Somehow they failed to absorb the good that humanity and the divine can do…

We’re told that the Pharisees plotted with the Herodians. Who were the Herodians? They were a Jewish political party who supported the reign of the Herod family and in favor of Roman rule. King Herod the Great who was not a Jew (he’s the king that the Magi met on their way to bring toddler Jesus gifts) was of Arab descent and not even legitimate in his role as the king of the Jewish people. The Romans placed him over the Jews and he, in turn, served the Roman government’s interest. Imagine as a sponge what he absorbed and wrung out!  His sons later reigned in his place and in the time of Jesus’ ministry were in support of Roman rule … puppets really.

Think about it. In Jesus’ time, you couldn’t find two more opposing groups than the Pharisees and the Herodians! And yet, they joined together in their opposition to our Lord. They plotted together how to destroy Him. And together, they watched and waited and soaked in more anger for the 3 years of Jesus’ ministry. Imagine absorbing hatred for 3 years. Imagine what would squeeze out of them! 

Now He is ready to heal the man with the withered hand. In verse 2 Mark tells us that “they” watched Jesus closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath so they may accuse Him. Even knowing what the Pharisees were up to in plain sight: He said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Step forward.’ You could have heard a pin drop!

Though the Pharisees wanted to shame Jesus, Jesus instead challenged them. He put a question of the law to them. Everyone would have been looking at the Pharisees to see what answer they would give. Jesus asked: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill? Mark tells us that Jesus was angry! We don’t see that often. Only when frail humanity or God’s Worship is threatened! Our Lord was angry because He knew those Pharisees were saturated with the law and power but chose not to be squeezed with compassion! The difference between people of law and with God is that when we allow God to absorb in, what is wrung out is God’s Love. And, since we know God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, we know God is saturated in love. In Luke 6:45, Jesus says: A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. If you want to know what a person is soaking in, you simply watch his/her actions, listen to what comes out of his/her mouth; this is what he/she wrings out.

If a person is angry, rude, lewd, or immoral on a regular basis, you can be assured that this is what he/she soaks in. If a person is consistently kind, encouraging, and polite, then you can be sure that is what he/she soaks in.

What do you soak in?  And what squeezes out in a crisis? 

Be a spiritual sponge. Make it your purpose to “Soak Up” Jesus’ teachings, His Love, His companionship and compassion!  Make a commitment to become more like Christ. Spend time with him in Bible study and prayer. Take every opportunity to be saturated with him. You might be surprised to discover how much of Him you will absorb and how much of Him can be squeezed out of you to others.

 

 
Loving, Serving, Growing…Joy, joy, Pastor Alexis

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Awe came upon everyone

Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.                    – Acts 2:43-47, The Message

 

I am nearly blown away with joy as I think of all that Cason is and “is doing!” Yesterday, at our in-SPIRE worship service, how wonderful to hear what we have done and the goals for the future at Cason.   The mission, ministry and outreach are so exciting to share with others. The day reminded me of Acts 2, Pentecost, when believers came together because of the power of the Holy Spirit.  I sense that kind of stirring at Cason!  The list of what we are into and what will come seems to go on: In-SPIRE Sunday and ministry; Music Ministry Appreciation Sunday; Ash Wednesday; Lent; food distribution; Children’s Sunday School; Small Group Studies; partnerships with Eat Better, Live Better, and Living Hungry and CROS ministries; Holy Communion to those who cannot get out; office volunteer ministry and so much more that you will see as you read through your editions of The Good News. 

 

My prayer is, first of all, that over this next year, you will pray for Cason.  And next, that you would consider how you will be part of the ministry here at Cason.  Some roll up their sleeves and dive into a ministry event.  I call them sparklers.  Others hear God calling them to long term ministry as an office volunteer or serving as a chairperson or committee member on one of Cason’s in-SPIRE pillars or through an administrative ministry as a member of Finance, Trustees, Staff/Pastor Parish or Nominations.  I call these persons candles.  Whether a sparkler or a candle, God needs you at Cason to promote and further His Kingdom.  Will you take part in our Vision:  Where All Will Find and Know the Love of God? As we continue to make important decisions and understand what God desires, we are entering into another sacred season in the calendar year. 

 

The Lenten season gives us six weeks to contemplate all God has planned for us as a congregation. As Dr. Luke writes in Acts 34: [to live] in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. As we continue in the Spiritual and Temporal growth of individuals at Cason, I am anticipating a Lenten Season: Marks of Love, rich with opportunity to nurture a deeper relationship with God, in Christ Jesus, and with our relationships with each other at Cason. There are so many ways that we can participate in growth opportunities.

 

February 17 is Ash Wednesday.  You will be able to be part of the service in-person, live stream or Zoom. This year, we will focus on the joy of coming closer to God amidst any encroaching darkness from a season of pandemic, unrest and loss. Because we are unable to have the distribution of ashes on the forehead, your Worship Design Team has prepared an alternative. For this sacred service, gather a piece of paper that you can make a heart on, a candle with holder, and a bit of oil in a small bowl or cup.  For your convenience, you can come by beginning Monday, February 15th to pick up a kit with the heart, candle/glow cross and oil. Plan to worship on Ash Wednesday.

 

Beginning Sunday, February 21st, we will focus on Christ’s love for us in Sunday Worship as Pastor David and I bring you messages reminding you of the Marks of Love Jesus shows us.  Each week will be complete with praise and worship, special reading by three guests and prayers that will stir us closer to God.

 

Imagine sixty of us studying God’s Word together in Small Groups. Beginning the week of February 22nd, you can participate. Each week, we will Experience Lent for just over an hour together.  See more details in this edition or check out the study introduction at casonumc.org.  Study times will be Monday, 7 p.m.; Tuesday, 3:30 p.m.; Wednesday, 7 p.m.

And what about a Daily Devotional?  Have a four-minute Lenten devotional sent right to your email each day beginning Ash Wednesday. 

 

So you see, as we continue to be in ministry together, during Lent, Cason wants to offer to you more than this world offers.  Consider joining in during Lent to get stronger, wiser and more thoughtful in all the Lord has for you. 

 

And, during this season, watch for meetings and ministry and outreach mission work that are designed to in-SPIRE you and cause you to think of God and others. So just as the believers in Acts, we can be exuberant and joyful, and praise God.  And watch as people in general like what they see….so that every day our number grows as God adds those who are saved.

 

Loving, Serving, Growing…

Joy, joy, Pastor Alexis


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Deny Yourself

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 

 

Will Willimon tells of a friend who hit bottom, spun out of control, and crossed the median heading the wrong way at 100 miles per hour: He fell from his prestigious perch as an attorney to the depths of alcoholism. He came home one day to find his family, his pastor, and three of his close friends all sitting in his living room. And it wasn’t his birthday. Yet it was. He is on his way back, thanks to his loving wife and children and the good work of AA. He was a private man, so he wouldn’t tell Will all the details, but he did tell him this: “I had always gone to church, but always in the back of my mind, thought the Church was for losers, the weak. But you would be amazed at what I’ve learned about God.”

“Like what?” Will asked him.

“That so many phrases I had heard all my life suddenly have become real to me,” replied his friend.

“Like what?”

Like ‘Take up your cross’ and ‘you can only find your life by losing it.Through hitting bottom, I’ve met God,” said Will’s friend.
 

In this passage, Jesus calls the disciples and the crowds close. He tells them the high price attached to being His follower. Jesus, then, maps out requirements to being a disciple:

 

First: Deny self. It is the same word used to describe Peter’s denial of Jesus three times in the high priest’s courtyard. Deny self is different than self-denial. Self-denial is withholding certain things like we do during Lent. Here, Jesus means that denying self means to give up all rights and relinquish all control to Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, we are a lesser version of ourselves. Jesus wants us to the best version of ourselves. That’s how He created us! Denying self means, “not” to give into exercising the right to do and say what we want, however we want.   

 

I know. Some of you are squirming thinking about giving up control. We covet and protect the power to make ultimate decisions for ourselves. Still Jesus says: Deny self! Deny self-trust, deny self-sufficiency, deny feelings of being able to handle life on your own.

 

And as if that’s not enough, Jesus continues: Take up your Cross. Historians estimate that over 30,000 people were crucified during Jesus’ lifetime. Every person in earshot knew what Jesus was telling them. I wonder if they gasped. I would have! A cross was an instrument of shame, humiliation, suffering, torture and death. When a person took up his cross, he carried the weapon of his own death on his own shoulders. When he reached his destination, he suffered on it and he died. We know that Jesus’ suffering led to resurrection. This is why He can tell us to take up your cross because He knows the end result!

 

I didn’t begin to understand until ten years ago what taking up my cross meant. I thought a cross was any kind of trial, hardship, illness or difficult relationship. “That’s my cross,” I’d say.  But this is not what Jesus means. The cross in Jesus’ life is connected with shame and humiliation. It’s a criminal’s cross on which He was hung. And so, the cross stands as a symbol of those circumstances and events in our experience which humble us, expose us, offend our pride, shame us, and reveal our basic evil. When you feel hurt or criticized or justified to criticize another, or heartbroken over a stinging conversation or depressed or frustrated or just thoroughly disappointed, taking up your cross means you are not to be offended but to welcome these thoughts in order to bring you to the very depths of receiving the gift of the grace and forgiveness of God for yourself and others!  Taking up your cross means that instead of a disciple becoming callous or bitter, a disciple will take these things to heart and think about what Jesus would do or say. And most importantly, what their part is in it.

 

How different from the way the world tells us to act and re-act!  The world says, Escape. Avoid the situation. Or, if you can’t avoid it, then strike back. Get angry, get even. Offend in turn. Get upset. But Jesus says: If you’re going to be my disciple, deny yourself, and take up your cross. As church folks, are we willing to not be compromised even if it means being singled out and humiliated? Will you trust that Jesus, who is the Truth, will bring you through?

 

Finally, Jesus says: Follow Me. Some people follow on Sunday but take a different path on Monday. Some people follow the Lord only when they need help. Jesus is calling for His people to make a radical commitment to follow Him all the time… all the way: Love your enemy, pray for those who hurt you, forgive those who offend you. When we do not feel like obeying or forgiving or praying, He tells us to do it anyway. Be kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. I struggle with this. But the Lord says: Freely you have received, freely giveFollow me!

 

Living as a disciple is difficult, isn’t it? In fact, John tells us that at this point many turned and followed Jesus no more because these words were too harsh and demanding. Jesus gives us hope for the future, yes, but we are called to follow Him not just for this future, but in this life. As one pastor said, we follow Jesus not just to be saved or to go to heaven; we follow Jesus because it’s worth it. Giving in love to others’ needs and to God almost always includes sacrifice, denying ourselves and our immediate gratification. Each and every time we make ourselves vulnerable to hearing God, each time we follow the great commandment, each time we get out of our own way and seek not what we want, something happens to us! You’ve experienced this, haven’t you? We do these things all the time and each time we do them we experience the life Jesus talks about. Disciples, deny self, take up your cross and follow

 

I sure love being your pastor!  Joy, joy

Alexis                        


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Anxious…Me?

Luke 12:29-31 

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

 

In these six weeks after Epiphany, we are looking at Jesus’ most difficult words for His disciples, “Jesus, you really meant me?” Taking a stand by Jesus’ teaching is crucial in these days of social, economic, health and racial unrest. So we are spending time understanding how Jesus teaches us to respond.  Sunday, we heard the words of Jesus echoed in the scriptures: Do not be anxious. In Luke 12, Jesus spells out why worrying is wrong and gives us a simple solution, one that you might not wish to hear, but one that distinguishes us as true disciples of Jesus.

 

From the start, I want you to consider that the temptation to worry is little different for those who are poorer and those who are richer. I encourage you to read Luke 12:13-21. Here, Jesus speaks to the affluent about storing up possessions for the future. And now in Luke 12:22-31, He is speaking directly to His disciples about those who are worried about their daily needs…the bare essentials. If Jesus spoke to the rich about their preoccupation with getting ahead, He speaks here to those who are anxious about getting by. Though there is an obvious distinction between rich and poor, the principle is the same.

 

Being anxious about food, clothing and everyday drama takes good energy away from what God wants for us. It is like a woman worrying about how her hair looks as she is sitting in a boat about to be swept over Niagara Falls. Jesus teaches: Do not worry. And He gives us two  illustrations: the raven (not the Baltimore Ravens – Thanks Bill B.) and the wildflowers.

 

Now remember Jesus is talking to Jews when He brings up the raven. The raven is not considered a “clean” bird. And, the raven doesn’t even work for his food, yet God provides for its daily needs. Jesus reminds his disciples that they are of much greater value than birds. If God even feeds unclean birds that benefit from others’ work, don’t you think He will much more provide for humans?

 

Jesus, then, speaks of the wildflowers. These flowers are short-lived. One day they bloom with beauty; the next they are thrown into the fire as fuel. Yet the clothes of the wildflowers put the garments of Solomon to shame. Jesus is making a point here. If such unimportant and insignificant things as ravens and wildflowers receive such generous provisions from God, won’t God take care of us all the more? Can Jesus show how worry is wrong more plainly? Birds and weeds! What person, Jesus asks, has ever increased his stature (or lengthened his life) by worrying about it? We all need to answer this question frankly! If worrying is so futile an activity, why do humans love to engage it with so much time and energy?

 

In verses 29 and 30, Jesus gets to the bottom line. Worry is really fear! As people of Christ, in a world full of judgment, bad behavior, insurrection, entitlement, we are called to ramp up our faith…to not be anxious and to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior! Fear or Faith, this is the question! These days, some may have even lost faith because faith is hard. Being a disciple is hard.  Jesus says: Do not be anxious for I am the epitome of goodness, power, and promises. I will provide for all your needs. Even when it’s difficult, choose faith. My fear is that when we’re consumed with temporal things, we mimic the hardness and panic of others. Why live following the world in constant frenzy? J.I. Packer says: Life’s surest certainty is that one day we will leave worldly pleasure, profit, and privilege behind. The only uncertainty is whether these things will leave us before our time comes to leave them.

 

Jesus is asking His disciples to trust Him…to make a faith statement about where our food and clothes come from; about our family members and their life and health; about this community and this nation and this world. He teaches: Seek First the Kingdom of God. The phrase translates: set your heart on or seek, look for. To seek God’s kingdom means to put your trust in God first over everything else! Paul understood it this way. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 4: we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. Focus on the problems and struggles of life and you get anxiety. But focus on God and his provision and you are flooded with the peace of God. What if we were to seek after the Father’s kingdom with all the energy we have previously spent focusing on the ways of the world!

 

It these weeks after Epiphany leading to Lent, search your heart and your mind. Think about what makes you anxious and recognize that you are more than your anxiety. Will you endeavor (I like that old word) to seek first the kingdom of God, knowing that and these things will be given to you as well?

 

I sure love being your pastor!  Joy, joy

Alexis                                 


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Trust the Navigator!

Matthew 1:18-25

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

 

Are we there yet?  On this Advent Journey, some have chosen to stay behind.  Those who have chosen to come have been touched with the idea of HOPE at the end of the journey. The second week in Advent we spent time realizing that the journey is not easy.  There are so many distractions and wrong turns and the only way to survive is with true PEACE. Last week on our journey, we stop and fill our tanks.  With what do we fill our tanks?  JOY! This is the JOY that Christ is with us every step of the way. 

 

Matthew’s version of the birth of our Savior mentions no journey to Bethlehem, no shepherds and no manger. Matthew is concerned with Joseph. Rev. Daniel Clark, a Vicar in an Episcopal Church, observed: Joseph is the blue collar Bible character; a quiet, humble and hard-working person that Scripture overlooks! Matthew paints a picture of the utter normalcy of the Holy family. This means, of course, he tells us about the confusion and the frailty of the family dynamic! We have – each of us – experienced upheavals, maybe not a virgin birth but still upheaval all the same!

 

Matthew calls Joseph a righteous person. There is a backstory in Matthew 1. Joseph and Mary are part of a long account. You should read before Christmas Eve. It will give perspective of Joseph and Mary … who they are in the genealogy, the genesis of Jesus the Christ, who is the son of David and son of Abraham and Mary and Joseph took part in that. More of that on Christmas Eve. For now, understand that Joseph was grafted into a line of righteous people of God. And now he must make a decision.

 

It is within Joseph’s rights to disown Mary, to make her a spectacle, to cast her out. She could be stoned for being with child without a husband.  But that wouldn’t be true to Joseph’s character and God knew that. He resolves to divorce her quietly. In his righteousness, his legacy, he follows the pull of against the norm. Joseph hears the call of something deeply counter-cultural. Then he goes to bed.

 

And he dreams of an angel who tells him: For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Listen, the virgin shall conceive a child! She shall give birth to a Son and he shall be called ‘Immanuel’ meaning “God is with us.” He wakes up and, without any noted hesitation, does as the angel commanded him to do and brings Mary into his home.

 

Like Joseph, in your life, when everything is pointing to disaster or choices that don’t seem like choices at all, God is working His kingdom work in us! Joseph said, “Yes.” Let that give you strength to remain faithful no matter what! Will you recognize Immanuel, God with us?  Will you allow God to grow your heart to strive to give love that makes no sense? Imagine what that would look like! We can be the sign of Jesus…we can be His love!

 

In the end, it is our capacity to love and be loved that is most important in our lives! In these final days before Christmas, underneath it all, may you hear the love that God is calling you to. And may it strengthen you to follow love’s call with joy and purpose, letting go of everything else.

 

This week, just days before that glorious Christmas Day where we honor the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we journey in LOVE!

 

Happy “Fourth Week of Advent!”   

I just love being your pastor!   Joy, joy – Pastor Alexis


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Fill Your Tank With Joy!

Matthew 11:2-6 (Read 11:2-11)

2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” 4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Are we there yet?  On this Advent Journey, some have chosen to stay behind.  Those who have chosen to come have been touched with the idea of HOPE at the end of the journey. Last week, we spent time realizing that the journey is not easy.  There are so many distractions and wrong turns that the only way we can travel is with true peace. This week on our journey, we stop and fill our tanks.  With what do we fill our tanks?  (I’m glad you asked!) We fill our tanks with joy. But is this ok? I asked it Thursday and I asked it Sunday and still I ask it.  And my answer is always the same…yes! 

In 2nd Corinthians, Paul calls us ambassadors. And we are called to “rejoice” – spread Joy! … a joy knowing that there is more to this world than what we hear from this world! In Philippians 4:4, Paul puts it this way:  Rejoice in the Lord, always and again I say rejoice!  It’s not enough to say it once.  Paul knew how oppressed the people were so he said it twice … “Rejoice.”  Did you know that in this context, the word rejoice – joy, is a command?  Wooh! Can God command us to have joy…to rejoice? Does that mean I have to have joy all the time? Does that sound unreasonable! Pastor Francis Chan talks about joy in the light of some of God’s commands. For instance: “Do not kill.”  Would anyone say to “not kill” was unreasonable? Of course not.  Friends, we are called to live our lives with joy in our hearts! Dr. Willie Jennings of Duke Divinity School asks: Can we practice joy as an act of resistance against despair and its forces? Rejoice in the Lord, always…what do people see in you? Are you full of joy or are you the kind of person who, when you begin to talk to someone before you open your mouth, the other says, “What are you mad about this week?” Some people just try to suck the joy out of us!  What if we said next time they start to talk, “Knock it off…work it out!” No grudges! Truth is, joy is in short supply these days. 

We’ve all done bad things in life. Few of us have reasons to be joyous, save for the GRACE that Jesus gives so freely! So, in this world, we have to fight for our joy!  Rejoice in the Lord always! William Barclay said, “one of the highest human duties is the duty of encouragement. The world is full of discouragers. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. A word of praise, thanks, appreciation or cheer often has kept a person on his or her feet. Blessed is the person who speaks such a word! To be an encourager is to bless, praise and glorify God and others!”

The Psalmist said it in Psalm 126:  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them. The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Laughter and shouts of joy are signs of coming restoration! Would you be part of that joy…that restoration this Advent season?

Jesus said that John was the greatest among all living because, though he doubted, he knew and he believed. What if we were to walk out the door this season not worried about a blessed thing because we knew without a doubt that Jesus was in control and wants pure joy for us! All that would be left for us to do is “Rejoice!” …to live and bask in joy.  I can almost hear God now, “calm down My children, I know how all this ends!”

Let joy take your mind captive. Will you point your mind to Christ who, being born of a virgin and growing in wisdom and stature, went about calling the outcast, healing the broken, forgiving sins, being crucified by the empire, dying, rising again, giving us victory over death.

Happy “Third Week of Advent;” Gaudete Sunday – Sunday of rejoicing!

I just love being your pastor!   Joy, joy – Pastor Alexis


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The “Pay Attention” list

Matthew 24:42-44 (Matthew 24 and 25)

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

 
This Advent we are on a Journey.  Last week we choose to take the journey because of the HOPE that is promised us.  This second week in Advent we are invited to take the journey which promises peace! Very likely sometime in your life while going a long distance, you have been asked or have asked yourself, “Are we there yet?” We know it’s coming, the time of arrival is set…December 24th. We have Christ’s birth time and destination down perfectly – watch for the star, for Bethlehem, for the Baby in swaddling clothes lying in a manger! That’s how we travel through Advent.  But Advent is even more for us who believe. Matthew 24 brings us to another coming. Christ coming again in His final victory. However, this final victory does not have a time of arrival, at least not one that we know of (the Son of Man doesn’t even know!). So, maybe the question isn’t when do we end this journey but what are we doing to get us and others there?

So in this season, we have two journeys that can bring us peace. First to Bethlehem. But we have to decide if we are going to take the invitation to go on this journey.  I think of the shepherds tending their flocks by night in Luke 2 (this is a great read!!!).  The angels invited the shepherds to go to Bethlehem.  However, it was their choice whether to go or not.  We always have a choice! 

The second invitation on the journey takes preparation and our willingness to pay attention! People understand Jesus’ return in many ways: Some like a thief in the night; others on the clouds of glory and some, like me, believe that the Son has already come and we are living with Him, working out reign of God time! And when will that be?  If Jesus doesn’t know, how can the false prophets know?  Isn’t the better question, are we ready. In verse 44 Jesus says: You must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour. So what I am hearing is that in our everyday, Jesus calls us to pay attention. Unless we pay attention, we may miss the peace available to us because all we listen to and see is the ways of the world! Just look at us…caught up in every theory, news clip and hassle this world has to offer, and this is real stuff in our lives! This is not new news! Scholars affirm that many followers in Matthew were losing confidence. The coming Realm. The desire for Jesus to take hold of the craziness of the world was as alive then as it is now!

Advent is about anticipating something that is on the horizon, something greater than we can imagine on our own, something that speaks of God breaking in to the world we know. This season calls Cason to choose the way of peace amidst the chaos of the world! And that peace we have will influence those around us – imagine you influencing PEACE!  The Prince of Peace is our God! .

And so I take the advice of Rev. Janet Hunt:

1) Don’t lose sight of what matters most.

2) Know that it will all one day end in victory and that it’s ours for the taking. 

3) Live like that is so.

And, those days when I don’t live in peace that I know is mine because of the Christ Child who was resurrected and lives forever, I know that God is whispering grace in my heart and I can have peace all the same! Because I am loved by the Savior. 

Still we are called to paying attention lest we be taken by surprise! Will you Pay attention with me? Pay attention to Jesus.  Pay attention to who He is leading you to be and the relationship He is giving you. Pay attention to the moments where Jesus is most evident and ponder deeply where you don’t see Him so clearly.  God is doing great things in this world. How can you awaken your senses to notice goodness and peace? Will you pay attention to how God is using you in this Advent season? And how He is using you will lead you and others to the Christ Child?

Advent is a strange, double vision kind of season in which we look ahead as we look back and look back as we look ahead. It is a simultaneous celebration and anticipation. We celebrate the birth of a baby as we anticipate the return of a full grown, crucified, resurrected Messianic Son of Man.

Happy “First Week of Advent!”  I just love being your pastor!   Joy, joy – Pastor Alexis


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The Richness of a Thankful Heart!

I Timothy 6:6-10;17-19
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
 

The story goes that John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in his era, was asked, “How much is enough?” His response, “Just a little bit more.”  What does it mean to be content with what you have? A second home or car? Four walls and a roof? A nest egg? What the apostle Paul tells us is that whatever you have, be content in it.  Twice in today’s passage, the apostle says that contentment is true wealth.

 

It’s still difficult! We like our stuff (and other people’s stuff, too!). Honestly, Paul never speaks against us accruing much wealth. What Paul does say in verse 7: We came into the world with nothing, and we can take nothing out of it. That is where the phrase, “You can’t take it with you” comes from.  What do you have when you are born? Nothing. You come into the world a little red-faced, squally, naked baby. You do not have anything; even your diaper has to be furnished. What do you have when you leave this world? Nothing. You leave it all behind. Pastor Ray Stedman wrote: I picked up a young hitchhiker. As he was telling me about himself, he said, “My uncle died a millionaire.” I said, “No, he didn’t.” “What do you mean?” he said. “You don’t know my uncle.” I said, “Who’s got the million now?” “Oh,” he said, “I see what you mean.” Nobody dies with their possessions; we leave it all behind. Can you be content with what you have?

 

Paul talks about contentment in Philippians 4 also:  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. The next verse tells us the secret: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  No matter whether we are rich or not or how much we spend or make or give or lose, what God wants from us is to keep our relationship with Him and His Kingdom in the center of it all! 

 

Also in this passage is this most popular quote: The love of money is the root of all evil. Now remember, Paul loves for people to have money at their disposal. It’s the love of money that’s the pitfall. You know what a root is. If a big weed is growing in your back yard, you cut it down. It looks like you have gotten rid of it. But you haven’t if the root is still there. After a while the root will produce another shoot and soon another and a weed the same size or bigger will grow. That is what the love of money is like. Sure, get a good weed poison and you can eliminate some of the problems. But, just wait; others will show up! Roots that produce weeds are constantly trying to bring evil in your life, creating situations that are disastrous to you and to others. But Paul doesn’t end on this tough note.  He continues his letter by bringing challenge and a different way of thinking about our possessions.  

 

He says to those who have ample: They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous. Those who have more than they need for nourishment and protection from the elements have a freedom to share their riches for the benefit of others. Rockefeller spent the last 40 years of his life focused on philanthropic pursuits in education and public health. His wealth helped pioneer the development of medical research in North America, eradicating hookworm and yellow fever. He was a devout Christian and supported Christian Colleges and missionaries throughout his life.

 

What Paul is telling Timothy is to remind the people to not just talk about it…do it. Most of us are not Rockefellers. Still, Paul calls us to give to the ministry of the church as together we relieve famine, help the needy, set up discipleship small groups, train and encourage the spread of the gospel and support the mission. Be personally involved in things that are good and helpful. Christian brothers and sisters, be liberal and generous.

 

And the result! The second part of verse 19… laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeedWhich is life, indeed! What will survive this life and carry over into the next? Not things (we have seen that), but there is something that will: It is people. The believer who moves from being stingy or fearful or having the love of money to allowing money to be a sign of generosity will shape lives in the image of Christ. Generosity is life indeed…an abundant life in Christ Jesus! Each of us who lives in Christ Jesus has to work out what it means to live generously. Will you give yourself and all you have to the disposal of the One who will use you your assets through you, for your good, and the good of others? What will you leave behind when you take your last breath? What poor soul will benefit because of your generosity now and after your last breath? Someday we must leave everything behind and only that which we have given away will we have in eternity. That’s contentment.

 

     I am blessed to be your pastor!   Joy, joy – Pastor Alexis


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Counting The Cost

It looks like Jesus wants us to have a plan! What Jesus is saying is count the costs, consider your resources, and make an informed decision about the decisions you make…almost like keeping a spreadsheet. No quick fix here. This is not a “part-time follower” position, only following when it feels good or when it’s convenient or not too hard! My fear is that too many of us sign up in a fit of enthusiasm in the moment where it feels good inside. That’s the consumer way, isn’t it.  Life in Jesus is a Journey. Because this journey is crucial, you may need to think about what things in your life need to fall away from your attention in order for you to be able to pay attention to Jesus! We are called to count the cost. Is Jesus worth it? This is your choice – our choice.

 

And what are the costs again? Jesus told us in verses 25-26. The costs include our closest relationships—our family and friends. The costs amount to all our possessions. The costs involve taking up the Cross in the Name of Jesus and living out His teachings no matter the sacrifice. And so, if we sit down and tally the costs—as Jesus Himself suggests that we do—the only reasonable  decision is to choose not to follow Christ. The cost is too much!

 

But that is where the spreadsheet fails. Why? Because following Christ is not a zero sum game. It is not a question of giving up X (family, friends, possessions) in order to get Y (prosperity, eternal life, etc.) in return. Nope, Jesus has something different in mind. And it may not be what you were taught about the heavenly exchange. This is important! Jesus is not talking about either/or. It isn’t an experience of poverty in this life for wealth in the next life, or vice versa. Jesus’ logic is one of abundance, not of scarcity. Yes, He demands that His disciples leave behind their families and their possessions, but not as an exchange… only to grow deeper in Him. Jesus desires to usher us into a plan that will start a change reaction…something bigger, a completed tower! Jesus is talking about sacrificing in order to have something more…something beyond our reach…this is Kingdom work! And here’s the joy: Jesus promises that those very same families that we must “disregard” are invited to be a part of the Kingdom as well.

 

So there is nothing to fear!  Will there be setbacks?  Of course there will be.  Will there be losses? “Yes,” this comes with life, our human frailty, stubbornness and greed. Life costs! And the choices are rarely cut and dry or clean and easy. Even so, every choice we make, day after day, puts us closer to a life in Christ or closer to a life in this world (even death)!

 

Still, a planned and calculated life, counting the cost, will bring peace and focus and will strengthen us to be the disciples that Jesus called us to be, even if we stumble! So leave behind what burdens you and distracts you and wastes your time.  Count the cost; build on the foundation that is Christ Jesus as you live your life…a life of promises, forgiveness and strength that will renew our hearts for humanity and heaven and will grow our families in Christ Jesus! And the more we count the cost…take up the Cross and live in Jesus, the more we will be prepared for all that this world throws at us! Living for Jesus will strengthen us to battle anything!   

 

The plan and counting the cost does not happen overnight but only after a lifetime of choosing one thing over another: depending on Jesus over going it on one’s own, gathering with others of God’s own for worship, prayer, study and generous giving of time, talents and treasures. Jesus says, “Count the costs.” When we do…when we believe, sometimes against all evidence to the contrary, the choice may not just make a difference in your life but in the lives of others! Will you estimate the cost, not only when the stakes are high but most certainly, day after day, decision after decision, choice after choice? Will you choose Jesus whatever the cost?

 

I am blessed to be your pastor!   Joy, joy – Pastor Alexis


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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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One Response to “Pastor’s Pen”

  1. Shirley S Justin says:

    Attended your fine church last winter as a visitor. Enjoyed your service and friendliness. I also attended Florida Southern College as did pastor, Alexis. Just made a small donation to your church today. Hope to again attend if in Florida this winter. Blessings, Shirley Justin

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