Thursday, August 23, 2018

Be Filled With the Spirit-- August 19th sermon from Ephesians 5:15-20

I'm still catching up with posting this month's sermons.

While staying on top of preparing for this week's sermons, pastoral care, self-care, PT (physical therapy), family, meetings, and all kinds of things that keep popping up.

How has your week been?  Mine?  In many ways it has been a week full of Mondays.  I don't know why Monday gets the bad reputation, but it does.  With this morning's beautiful weather-- temps in the mid 60s (F) and breezes, I thought it was going to be good. That was until the local electric power board (EPB) hunted me down on three different phone numbers to give me a courtesy call that my power was going to be cut off later today at our other location.  I had to stop everything and figure out why this was going to happen.  Somehow our payment didn't make it to them.  Life can sometimes be a huge "ugh", can't it?!?!

But, then, there are days and moments in which we get to have deep and meaningful conversations with folks about life.  Sometimes those conversations happen without words.

But, I digress.

My goal for this post is to share this past Sunday's sermon with you.  I also want to share some of the songs that were sung/played in the services.

Below you will find the bulletin covers, the sermon, and some links to some songs.  As always, what is shared and preached in the moment isn't necessarily what you will find in the words below.  What you receive from the Holy Spirit may be totally different, even if you heard it once before.  Who knows.  May the Holy Spirit meet you where you are, draw you close, renew and fill you.

“Be Filled With the Spirit”
Ephesians 5:15-20 (NLT)
August 19, 2018 (13th Sunday after Pentecost)
Flintstone UMC, Simpson UMC

Ephesians 5:15-20 (NLT) [New Living Translation]

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Last week’s passage helped us to understand what it meant to be an imitator of God, from Ephesians 4:25-5:2.  I encourage you to take some time to look at that passage and/or read the sermon from last week as this week builds upon it.

A few things from last week:

Being an imitator of God means living a transformed life of love.

There were quite a few dos and don’ts from last week.

Did anything stick with you over the week?

In today’s passage, there are a few more dos and don’ts.

Verse 15 reminds us to be careful how we live.  We are to not live as fools, but to live wisely.  In verse 16, we see that we are to make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. We can all agree that we making the most of every opportunity is good.  We may miss a few things along the way, but there is grace for those times.  As for these “evil days”, we can read and/or watch the news and all name something evil.  Yet, that isn’t the focus.  Notice that the focus is for us to make the most of every opportunity in the midst of whatever else is going on.

Verse 17 challenges us to not act thoughtlessly, but to understand what the Lord wants us to do.  We talk about that quite a bit, don’t we?  Just two weeks ago, we talked about “What Is God’s Goal for Us?”  When it comes to the bottom line of what God would want us to do, it would be to love God and to love others.  But how we are to live that out differs day to day, doesn’t it?  How we make the most of every opportunity, how we are to live wisely, how we imitate God.  These are moment by moment and day by day decisions that we make individually and corporately, as a church.

As we reflect on verse 17, thinking about what the Lord wants us to do, where do you dream and vision some next steps of reaching out to the community?

For Flintstone—The upcoming Valley Fest in September is a great way for us to be visible in community, along with the Scouts, simply by having a table at the Valley Fest.  We show up, we greet community, we blow bubbles with the kids or do other games, we talk to the adults, we hand out bookmarks, or whatever is decided.  Something to consider.

For Simpson—The upcoming Block Party at the end of August is a great way for us to be visible in community.  I know that Gayle Hawkins is already making plans to be at the Rossville Athletic Center with some folks to hand out Simpson pens and bookmarks.  A Simpson sign will identify the church.  It will be a great opportunity to talk with people and get to know them, letting them know Simpson UMC cares. 

Another way we could make a difference on this corner at Simpson is to turn that back fenced in lot into something for us and community.  Many of you remember the dilapidated and dangerous playground that was taken down. The fence around the grass remains there.  What if the fence came down, a pavilion went up with a couple of picnic tables and a bench or two?  That would be a great place for Simpson folks and for community folks.  A place for people to sit, eat, talk, have shade, shelter, to come together.  The beauty of such a project like this is that it really wouldn’t cost the church anything because when the fence got hit by a car, there was insurance money that came in. 
There have been other visions of raised community gardens shared with me that could go on several areas of the property, another project that would be beneficial to people in the community.

It’s a matter of praying and discerning how we can make a difference with what we have, using what we’ve been given, where we are.

Verse 18 goes on to tell us to not be drunk with wine, but rather be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Many will take this verse and focus on it as an admonition to not get drunk.  As we focus on the filling of the Holy Spirit, I remind us that Scripture can be taken literally or metaphorically.  Richard Ward, a professor of preaching at Iliff School of Theology in Denver points out that this passage, and especially verse 18 reminds the church to focus on its vocation.  He notes that “the church of Jesus Christ would be so foolish as to miss what the will of God for it is.” (Feasting on the Word, 355)  He also states “When the church is out of touch with its vocation, it moves through these evil times as one who is intoxicated---satiated and reeling, engaging in regrettable behaviors.” (Feasting on the Word, 355)

How are we to be filled with the Spirit?  Verse 19 tells us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. As a church and as individuals, we are seeking to grow in our spiritual formation and maturity in these ways and through other spiritual practices of study, prayer, worship, communion, fasting, etc.

The last verse reminds us that we are to give thanks for everything to God.  That is a way of giving back, a way to remind us of our focus.

Two hymns came across my path in my studies this week.  One was unknown to me.  “Love Each Other” by WilliamJ. Henry, written in 1900, reminds us of our vocation as a church. The refrain:

“Kind and loving to each other,
Gentle words to all we meet:
Thus we follow Christ our Savior,
Proving all His service sweet.”

The second one, “Fill My Cup”, was written by a UMC Pastor, Richard Blanchard in 1959.  Though we only have the refrain in the UMC hymnal (#641) and use it primarily for communion.

Hear the refrain:

Fill my cup, Lord;
I lift it up Lord;
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole

1--Like the woman at the well, I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy.
And then I heard my Savior speaking—
“Draw from My well that never shall run dry.”

2--There are millions in this world who are seeking
For pleasures earthly goods afford.
But none can match the wondrous treasure
That I find in Jesus Christ my Lord.
3--So my brother if the things that this world gives you
Leave hungers that won’t pass away,
My blessed Lord will come and save you
If you kneel to Him and humbly pray—

The stanzas are rich. I want you to get to know a little about Richard Blanchard. This came from the UMC History of Hymns webpage:

Blanchard’s parents were Methodist missionaries in China, where he was born in 1925. When the family returned to the United States, he grew up in Depression-era Indiana, then came south to North Carolina, where his father was an Army chaplain during World War II. Blanchard attended Davidson College and graduated from Mercer University. He met his wife, Anne, who was a student at Wesleyan College in Macon. He then went to seminary at the Candler School of Theology. Ordained an elder in 1950, he transferred from the North Georgia Conference to the Florida Conference, serving United Methodist congregations there until his retirement in 1988.
Blanchard’s own cup was not filled with sweetness. A lung condition required two surgeries and left him with one-third of normal lung capacity. His son, Richard, was left a quadriplegic at seventeen after an accident. And after Blanchard and his wife moved to North Carolina in 2000 to be near their three grown children, they experienced their son’s death and the fatal illness of one of their daughters.
Nevertheless, during his forty-year ministry, Blanchard composed dozens of gospel hymns, wrote a musical about Francis of Assisi, produced a regular newspaper column, wrote a biography of Bishop John Branscomb, and launched a popular television ministry in the Miami area."
This was not a person who had it easy. 

Most of us don’t have it easy.

It is in the difficult times that we have the opportunity to grow.

In fact, this song was born out of a moment of frustration, of killing time while waiting for a couple to come to his office for premarital counseling.  They were running late and he was annoyed, so he went to the piano, stating to the secretary that if they weren’t there in thirty minutes, he was gone.
Where do you find yourself needing to be filled with the Spirit today?  May you be filled to overflowing so that you are able to be a disciple that makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.


More history on "Fill My Cup" found here.

Songs at FUMC:

"Holy Spirit"

"Spirit of Faith Come Down"          UMH # 332

"Spirit Song"                                   UMH # 347

(Even though I was supposed to be leaving right about here in the service, I stayed for a few moments to worship with this song and was filled and blessed.)

"Jesus is All the World to Me"        UMH # 469       (verse 4)

Two of the songs from SUMC:

"Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart"   UMH #500

"Take Time to Be Holy"                               UMH  #395

Monday, August 20, 2018

Be Imitators of God-- August 12th sermon from Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Last week's sermon (8/12) continued the Ephesians message and was "Be Imitators of God".  During the week I felt led to do something different during the Benediction and after a conversation, decided to go for it.

At the end of the service I went down in front of the altar railing (as is normal when I stay at Flintstone).  But then I gave instructions for everyone to move from their pews to form a circle around the section of pews to my left, allowing some who needed to stay seated on the back pew to do so.  I mentioned that as they were moving to get in place, the song that was coming up on the screen was "They Will Know We Are Christians".  I asked them to join in with the chorus or more if they knew it.  The version I chose included Scripture throughout the video.  Though I had intended to used invitational language and invite rather than instruct, all joined in, except our next to youngest, who was in the middle of us all.  Usually he participates in everything from helping with the offering and giving out hugs.  But last week he stayed put.  The beauty of the moment was that, he, too, was in the circle.

At the end of the sermon, there will be a link to the song used for the benediction, as well as the song used at the beginning of worship, "Unfinished" by Mandisa. 

Here is the sermon, with the reminder that things were added or taken away.

Maybe there is something here to encourage you.

Blessings on your journey,



“Be Imitators of God”
Ephesians 4: 25-5:2 (CEB)
August 12, 2018 (12th Sunday after Pentecost)
Flintstone UMC

Ephesians 4: 25-5:2 (CEB)

25 Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor  because we are parts of each other in the same body. 26 Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. 27 Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil. 28 Thieves should no longer steal. Instead, they should go to work, using their hands to do good so that they will have something to share with whoever is in need.
29 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. 30 Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.
Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God.

It sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it?  Be imitators of God.  Do what God does.  Live like God.  Act like God.  How simple is it? 

Today’s passage provides us with practical ways we can imitate God, ways in which we can live out godly action.  The passage starts off in 4:25 and begin to close in 5:1 with “therefore”.  Anytime you see a “therefore” in a verse, you want to ask yourself, ‘what’s it there for?’

Immediately prior to the beginning of the passage,  in verses 23 and 24, the apostle had told them, “renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit 24 and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.”  The first “therefore” leads into how to go about this transformation.  The second “therefore” follows all the ways to be imitators of God and reiterates once again what to be, how, and why.  The importance of the transformed life is highlighted here for us.
Let’s go through the passage again and see what things might help us be imitators of God.  Note that there is a mix of “dos” and “don’ts”.  What catches your attention most today?

--Get rid of lying.

--Tell the truth to our neighbor.

--Be angry without sinning. Wait.  Does that mean it’s okay to be angry?  Yes.  It’s what we do with our anger, how we act on it, what we allow it to do to ourselves and others that makes it not okay.  Notice that the passage reminds us to keep a short leash on anger—“don’t let the sun go down  (or set) on your anger.” This is to keep us from allowing it to fester or for bitterness to set in.  If we practice dealing with our anger and frustrations, then we are less likely to take it to the next level.

--Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.  (This can go with the anger or stand on its own.)

--Don’t steal.


--Don’t allow foul words to come out of your mouth.

--Only say what is helpful for building up the community. (Are you familiar with the expression, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”?  It sounds similar to these two put together, doesn’t it?)

--Don’t make the Holy Spirit unhappy.  (Though it doesn’t give details here, we get that we’re not to…..)

--Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander… and every other kind of evil (in case you were looking for a loophole.)

If these are mostly the don’ts  and what NOT to do, then, how are we to IMITATE God?  What does imitating God look like?

Some things have been given already, but the more positive focus comes next in verse 32:

--Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each another, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.  (Oh.  God forgave us in Christ and we are to imitate God by doing the same for others.  Hmmm.)

5:1—Reiterates how we are to live, as imitators of God, as dearly loved children.  Why as children?  Have you ever noticed how children so easily imitate?  They imitate facial expressions, sounds, tones, words, etc.  Just this past week, a meme (a picture with words came across my FB feed from Clergy Coaching Network):

Clergy Coaching Network, August 7th

--Children imitate us.  We teach them.  If we are to imitate God, what aspects of God’s character and God’s teachings are we imitating? 

Today’s passage ends with the best way we are to imitate God: “Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us.”

To be an imitator of God means that we will live a life of love, as did Christ.  Christ gave his life out of love for us. 

Love.  Imitating God is about love.

Listen closely to these next two verses I’m about to share.  Don’t think you know them just because you start to hear them.  I’m reading from the New Living Translation:

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
(John 3:16-17)

This is how God loved the world.  God loved the world through Jesus.  We are called to love the world too, as imitators of God.

What does loving the world look like for us?  In our times, in our community, in our work place, in our family, how do we imitate God?

“Imitating God” means putting our focus on the actions that flow from God’s character.” ~ Richard Ward (Feasting on the Word, 331) 

BENEDICTION: "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love"

OPENING SONG: "Unfinished" by Mandisa

What Is God's Goal For Us?-- August 5th sermon from Ephesians 4:1-16

I'm spinning plates or juggling balls, whatever analogy you want to use.  And daily, plates and balls drop.

As I attempt to get back into a normalized work routine and continue my healing and recovery from the hip replacement surgery, I find it to be an ongoing learning experience as to what my limitations are on my physical and mental strength.  Some days I am "energizer bunny" and other days I am completely "wore out".  I am focusing on self-care, soul care, family time, and trying to do what I can for work.  That doesn't even touch the surface of housework or many other responsibilities or desired activities.  So, things drop and fall through the cracks.  And that is okay.  Letting go is part of the journey.  Not an easy one, but part of it.

One thing I wanted to do was to post the sermons this month.  Not because they were super wonderful or anything, but because they have spoken to me and stuck to me.  They haven't let me go and in an attempt to get them part way out of my system, I figure if I post them, they are out of me.  Usually, preaching them gets them out of me and onward, but not this month.  Yet, time and energy have been limited resources.

Thus, I will start today by going back to August 5th and posting that sermon, a few reflections, the bulletin covers and go from there.

I don't know what, if anything, anyone will glean from these, but for me, it will allow some clearing space for my heart, soul, and mind.

Remember that the sermons that are posted are not the exact sermon given as things are added or taken away in the moment.


Image on Flintstone bulletin cover 

“What Is God’s Goal For Us?”
Ephesians 4:1-16 (CEB)
August 5, 2018 (11th Sunday after Pentecost)
Flintstone UMC, Simpson UMC

Ephesians 4:1-16 (CEB)

Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.
God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.
What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? 10 The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.
11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.
Today’s sermon title is a question: “What is God’s goal for us?”  In order to answer that question, we first have to answer another one.  “Does God have goals for us?”  Hmm…. Think about that one for a moment.  How did you answer it?  How you answer that question will guide your answer for today’s sermon.

If we believe that yes, indeed, God has goals for us, then we will be open to the guiding of the Holy Spirit and we will listen for what those may be.  In today’s Scripture passage, might you have heard some goals?

In verse 13, we heard that “God’s goal for us is to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standards of Christ.”  As we look at the surrounding verses, we recognize that this has nothing to do with physical age, but rather it is a commentary on our spiritual growth, how we are growing in our discipleship and relationship with Christ.
As we seek to grow as disciples of Christ, we are reminded in this passage that we all have gifts to use and to share for the building up of the body. In today’s passage, we heard some of the gifts named and their purpose: “11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son.”

When I came into this appointment in 2015 you were beginning a study of the spiritual gifts.  We focused on spiritual gifts that first year, learning what our gifts were and how to apply them.  It is good to revisit our gifts every so often, to see if we are using them, to see how we are using them, and to see if there are any changes. Some gifts are given for a season. What are your gifts and how are you using them for the building up of the kingdom? If you aren’t sure, then talk to one of the CLMs (Certified Lay Ministers), one of the Lay Servants, or one of the pastors, and we will help you assess your spiritual gifts.

As we seek to understand our gifts and to grow deeper in our walk with Christ as disciples, a key component is prayer.

In the study Companions in Christ written by Rueben Job and Marjorie Thompson, they note: “A loving, living relationship with God is impossible without prayer.  We cannot know the mind and heart of Christ, receive God’s direction, hear God’s voice, or respond to God’s call without this means of grace.” (A Guide To Prayer for All Who Walk with God, 283.)

So, how is our prayer life, individually and corporately?  Are we spending time listening to God?
If we truly desire to become mature adults in Christ, then our prayer life as individuals and as a congregation will reflect that. 

Jane Vennard’s A Praying Congregation offers help for any congregation desiring to become more prayerful.

As I’ve only begun her book on this, I only have a few quotes to share with you initially:
“Praying congregations are lively places made up of diverse people who are longing to take prayer seriously.  In these congregations members want to learn about prayer, wrestle with hard theological questions, and learn from one another.” (1)

“The ministry of a praying congregation is to help people prepare their hearts for prayer—to recognize their desire to pray and help them explore these longings.”(3)

“In a praying congregation, we do want to know how it goes with another’s soul.  So we ask, and then we listen.” (10)

Prayer is key to our growth and maturity as followers of Christ. If we are to attain the goal of becoming mature in Christ, we are going to need to become a praying people.

We will also heed the words in the beginning of today’s passage that remind us how to live as mature Christians in verses 1-4, where the apostle states: ’I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope.”

Last week in Greensboro, NC, on our way to the Methodist retreat, I saw a sign in yards that read, “love and acceptance practiced here”.  I came home with that sign from one of those yards because of the love practiced by one home owner who gave me the sign.  During a wonderful conversation I learned that homes and churches had those signs posted around community. That message of love and acceptance is what this passage is saying to us, that we, as Christians are to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties us together, as we accept each other with love.

Today we gather around the table to share in table fellowship, to receive the greatest gift of grace offered to each of us, recognizing that we come together as one.

As we seek to grow as disciples of Christ, may we seek God in prayer so that we are better equipped to be and make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.


"Love and acceptance practiced here" sign from Greensboro, NC

Sunday, August 19, 2018

I'm Still Here-- a deeply moving and thought provoking read

I recently finished the above book. When it was suggested to me, it was unknown to me. It was published in 2018. Maybe that is why it wasn't on my radar.

I have read quite a few books in undergraduate, graduate, and seminary days on racial justice.

My last class in seminary was stacked with books and videos as it was a class on leadership in a multicultural society and setting. We dove deeply into racial justice, white privilege,  bringing people together, recognizing our own prejudices, reconciliation, and bridging relationships.

This book struck me in a different way. I was holding back tears as I read the first few pages and learned how Austin's name was a protective covering, yet it was questioned.

Austin writes, "People's reaction to my name wasn't just about my gender. It was also about my brown skin. [...] She [librarian] didn't know a name like Austin could be stretched wide enough to cloak a little Black girl." (15)

Austin Channing Brown is a fabulous writer, bringing the reader into the story line, experiencing the moment. She tells it like it is and doesn't mince the reality or truth to protect my white self.

I appreciated that. Too often, white skin has claimed privilege or guilt or has been coddled. This book is a realistic view of life.

I am blessed that my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Massengill, was an excellent role model for me as a teacher, a female teacher of color.

I had a great bus driver, Mr. Mahoney, whom I adored. His daughter and I often sat together and we were about the same age. We aren't super close friends now, but I've got her back if she needs me and I know she has mine. We have been in touch recently.

I had friends in jr. high, high school, college, and students from my professor days from whom I have learned much.

I have a dear friend with whom I would share coffee and conversation about lay speaking ministries until she moved away.

When I was a sophomore in college, a roommate assignment caused a rift in my family because I refused to have it changed. It wasn't an issue for me. When my roommate ended up not coming that fall, it no longer was an issue with family, but it held lasting effects of social and racial justice in my young mind.

Even so, I still have much to learn. The book has taught me that I haven't asked enough questions. I haven't listened enough. The white world has dominated.

You would think with my love of languages and cultures, with my beautiful racially mixed family, with all that I know... you would think I would have done better.

We have all played a role, at some point, in not doing the right thing.

What do I have to say? I'm sorry.

Going forward, I want to be part of the solution; not part of the problem.

I desire to keep inching toward justice, as Austin notes, on page 98.

I hope to use my knowledge, any position I have, my love for others... for good.

Thank you, Austin Channing Brown, for living into your writing!

To my friends and family who have loved me in spite of my whiteness, thank you!

Blessings on your journey,


P.S. Click on the link to go to Austin's page for book tour information as well as racial justice and reconciliation: