Witness – November 3

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Series: All In – Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness
Sermon: Witness
Text: John 1:35-46

Rev. Laura Brewster

Gifts – October 27

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Series: All In – Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness
Sermon: Gifts
Text: Mark 12:41-44; Luke 12:16-21

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction. This month Simone Biles broke the record for the most world medals earned by a gymnast when she won her 25th world medal at the World Championships in Germany. She has amazing natural talent. However, she also had to work hour after hour, day after day, year after year to perfect her routines. She had to go “all in” to reach her goal. Today we continue our sermon series “All In” which seeks to remind us that if we want to reach our goal of having a meaningful relationship with God, we have to go “All In” and do our part to nurture that relationship. We must take steps to respond to God’s love and strengthen our relationship with God. In recent weeks we have reflected on some steps: prayer, presence and service. Today we will reflect on a fourth step – giving to God.

How we use money can impact our faith. The Bible has more than two thousand references to the subject of money and possessions, and Jesus often spoke about the use of financial resources. One lesson that emerges from those references is that there is a relationship between our faith and how we view and use our financial resources. How we view money and how we use money can either draw us closer to God or push us further away from God. Read Mark 12:41-44. How did the woman’s radical act of generosity impact her faith? Read Luke 12:16-21. How did the man’s tight-fisted approach to wealth impact his faith? The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, often warned early Methodists about the danger of allowing wealth to become more important than God. He wrote: “It is true, riches, and the increase of them, are the gift of God. Yet great care is to be taken, that what is intended for a blessing, do not turn into a curse.”

Giving Nurtures Our Love For And Relationship With God. Scripture encourages to give to God as a way of nurturing our faith. Each time we give a significant gift to God we are reminded that God is important to us and worthy of our gifts. Scripture puts it this way: where our treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Giving Allows Us to Work in Concert with God. Scripture also encourages us to be generous so that we can join in God’s work; our giving helps fund the many ministries God uses to transforms the lives of others and transform the world. Our gifts don’t just help others, they help us too. When we pause to realize that God is working through us, we are provided with satisfaction and fulfillment and our faith is nourished.

How Much Should We Give? How much do I need to give to grow in love for God, and work in concert with God? The Bible offers guidance. Scripture passages, such as Leviticus 30, instruct us to tithe. A tithe is ten percent of our income. If you have never given such a significant amount, the idea may sound impossible. However, I challenge you to consider taking a step in that direction. You can do so by taking a look at what percentage of your income you are now gifting to God. After you determine what percentage of your income you are already giving to God, increase your giving by one percent. Keeping increasing by one percent each year until you arrive at the giving level suggested by scripture.

Attitude Matters. Ultimately, you must decide what the right amount is for you to give to God. After you make that choice, you must also choose the attitude with which you will offer that gift. Will you give with reluctance and resentment or joy and thanksgiving? Scripture says: Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver.

Service – October 20

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Series: All In – Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness
Sermon: Service
Text: John 1:40-42; Mark 10:45

Rev. Audrey Spencer

Introduction: We are in a series of messages titled “All In.” These messages are based on steps we can take to go “all in” with regard to our response to God’s love and offer of relationship. We have looked at being present in worship on a regular basis and how we can improve our prayer life by looking at a few methods of prayer. Today we will look at what serving God looks like in the church and in our world.

What is servanthood? A servant is someone who takes vacation to work on a mission trip, coach a little league team, teach Sunday school, playing ball with your kids, teaching your kids to make cookies for the first time, a doctor who refuses to abort a child, a husband who stands by his wife receiving chemo. Serving does not always mean you are upfront in the limelight of the church or in your community.

Biblical example: We will look at Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Read John 1:40-42. What do we know about Andrew? He was a disciple of John the Baptist, one of the twelve called by Jesus, he was on the first to recognize Jesus as Messiah, brought his brother to Jesus, worked as a fisherman. He was always second best, second in line and living in the shadow of his brother Peter. He was the guy who made the disciples look great. Servant hearts like his make a local congregation look great!!

The Value of Invisible Service: Look at the people of our church who serve behind the scenes to help make this church run, make worship more pleasant for us all and help us connect to our community. Those who coordinate the organizing of the Sanctuary, run the media on Sundays, cook and clean the kitchen at events, support us in prayer, help the church office function and work on repairs all over the campus. Andrew was this kind of servant. Always in ministry for others. He didn’t preach the sermons, heal all the folks, but he found the little boy with a lunch that fed 5000, he went to Jesus and spoke of the Greeks who needed the Good News. This type of servant doesn’t serve for the applause, the recognition, or the praise. Jesus says these are the ones who are truly great in the kingdom.

The Value of ALL Gifts: We may think our gifts are insignificant. By ourselves they are. But with God, all gifts are used to further the Kingdom. You may think your gift is insignificant, but Andrew teaches us that a small gift used for God is far more important than a great gift that is squandered or hidden under a bush.

How does God measure success? Most would say whether or not we are saved. Not so. Jesus paid it all. Will God look at our acquisitions and purchases, or place on the corporate ladder, our worldly accolades? NO! He will look at how we served. He will judge how we used the gifts He gave us. Jesus gives us the specifics on serving: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison. We are to serve OTHERS, not ourselves. None of these require big upfront, in the limelight gifts or ability. They require a willingness and desire.

Conclusion: At the end of the day think back and ask yourself who you served. If you say you did not have any opportunity, then ask God to forgive you for not seeing all the opportunities he gave you that you did not see, and ask him to help you see them tomorrow. God wants us to be conformed, re-shaped, molded into the image of Jesus. And what is Jesus like? We are told in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

What is the measure of success? Serving and Giving. Not being served and getting. Which are you after? How will you measure up? How will you be “All In?”

Prayers – October 13

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Series: All In – Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness
Sermon: Prayers
Text: Luke 11:1-4

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction. Last week we began a new series of messages titled “All In.” These messages are based on steps we can take to go “all in” with regard to our response to God’s love and offer of relationship. Last week we focused on the need to be present in worship on a regular basis. Today we will shift our focus to prayer.

What Is Prayer? Prayer is not treating God like Santa Claus and presenting him with a wish list. It is also not a method we use to manipulate God. As its basis, prayer is simply conversation with God. It involves both speaking and spending time listening. Regular prayer strengthens our relationship with God and is essential to the life of a Christian. Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

Jesus Modelled Prayer. Jesus was a man of prayer. Look at the following texts for examples: Matthew 19:13; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 26:39; Mark 1:35; Luke 3:21; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:29; Luke 10:21; Luke 11:1-4; Luke 22:31; John 11:41.

A Challenge to Recommit to Prayer. Too often we neglect our prayer life. Addressing our tendency to do this, Corrie ten Boom once asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” If it central to your life or seized only when deemed necessary? This week, our challenge is to recommit ourselves to making our prayer life a priority – recommit ourselves to spending time with God on a daily basis so that we can grow in our relationship with God. Begin by committing to praying each day this week. Commit also to praying five times a day – morning, before each meal, and evening.

Prayer Styles. Are you unsure of how to pray? If so, consider the following ideas.

  1. Simply offer God thanksgiving. By offering God thanksgiving for what is present in our lives and what is good in our lives, we are reminded of God’s faithfulness, and that in turn provides us with greater peace, joy and hope. Read: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and Philippians 4:6.
  2. A.C.T.S. Begin by offering praise to God (adoration). Continue by confessing your misdeeds, sinful thoughts or hurtful words (confession). Next, offer God thanksgiving for your blessings (thanksgiving). End by asking God to meet needs in your life and the lives of others (supplication).
  3. Five Finger Prayer. Each finger on your hand represents a group of people. The thumb, which is closest to us, reminds you to pray for the people closest to you such as parents. The pointing finger represents those who point you to God. Pray for your pastors, Bible study leaders, etc. Next is the middle finger – the longest finger. This represents the leaders in our world, our nation, and the larger church. Pray that they will receive and act upon God’s guidance. Fourth, comes the ringer – the weakest finger on our hand. Pray for those who are poor, marginalized, etc. Finally, comes our pinky finger, and this represents you. After you have prayed for the other groups, you can offer up your thanksgiving and needs to God. Because you have prayed for others first, you will be able to offer your prayers with a better perspective.
  4. Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina is a method of praying based on the scriptures. Begin by reading a section of scripture; consider the general message of the passage. Step two is to meditate and ask yourself: what does this text say to me and to my life? Step three is to pray; engage God in conversation about the passage. Step four is to contemplate how God may be asking you to change in response to your reading.

Conclusion. “…pray always, pray and never faint, pray, without ceasing pray.” Charles Wesley

Present to Worship – October 6

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Series: All In – Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness
Sermon: Present to Worship
Text: Psalm 100

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction to Series
Have you ever met someone who’s faith is so deep and rich that they just exude love, peace, hope, and joy? How can we grow into Christians who look like that? It helps to engage in actions that can lead to a transformed life. This week we begin a series of messages regarding such actions. We’re calling this series “All In” because these are actions which are needed if we are truly going to go “all in” when it comes to responding to God’s love and doing our part to grow in relationship with God. We will begin with worship.

What is Worship?
Worship is the act of honoring and praising God. This work is done in response to who God is and what God does. Worship is not a spectator sport. We are called to be actively engaged in this effort. Paul made this clear when he told the Ephesians: “be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. ” (Ephesians 5: 18b-20) The invitation to be “all in” when we worship is also present in First Corinthians 14:26b and Psalm 100, among other passages.

Elements in Worship
United Methodist Churches include four elements in worship designed to help us engage in worship services.
1) Gathering. When we enter the church and begin to gather with fellow worshippers, we are reminded that we have a choice. We can choose to focus on ourselves or shift our focus to God. We must intentionally shift our focus to God to place ourselves in the right position to possibly encounter God.
2) Proclamation. Next, we hear scripture proclaimed and a message based on scripture. As we listen, our quest is to try and ascertain what the scripture is saying to each of us as we sit here today. Take notes to begin to actively process what you hear.
3) Response. After hearing a word from scripture, we are asked to respond. We respond by receiving Holy Communion, and we respond by giving our gifts. Both are opportunities to reflect on what has given to us and to pledge ourselves and our gifts in response to God’s grace.
4) Sending Forth. We conclude by being sent back out into the world where we are asked to share God’s love with a hurting world and work with God to transform the world. “Worship begins with expectancy. It ends with obedience.”

Does Active Worship Always Lead to Meaningful Worship?
If we give careful attention to our time of gathering, hearing the proclamation, responding, and going forth, will our worship experience always be a mountain top experience? Probably not. Yet, we continue to come to worship because God remains worthy of worship. Additionally, if we faithfully attend worship, we will be here on “that” Sunday when our Lord reveals his presence in a particularly meaningful manner.

Invitation to Commitment
Will you commit to getting an “A” in worship in the year ahead? In school, an “A” is 90 or above. I challenge you to be here 90% of the Sundays in the year ahead.

Entering the Promised Land – September 22

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Series: Change and Transition
Sermon: Entering the Promised Land
Text: Numbers 14:1-4; Joshua 1:9

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction: Twenty years ago, Ken Blanchard once noted that we are “living in a constant white water with changes occurring all the time in life and at work….” Indeed, our lives are awash in change. So, how can we manage change in the healthiest manner possible?

Review: In recent weeks, we have been studying a major change experienced by the early Israelites. They left a life of slavery in Egypt and started a journey to the promised land. It was a difficult journey, but it held unexpected dividends. It taught the Israelites to rely more upon God. The journey also helped the Israelites grow more faithful, courageous and tenacious. Their story reminds us that the path we trod on the way to change can be fraught with challenges, but the path can help us to rely upon God more and help form us into the people God wants us to be. Today we pick up the story of the Israelites when they finally arrive at the border of the promised land. As we look at their story, we’ll look for some final life lessons for ourselves.

At the Edge of the Promised Land
After the Israelites finally arrived at the edge of the promised land, they sent scouts into the land to conduct reconnaissance. The information they brought back should have helped the Israelites develop a strategy to conquer the land. However, many scouts returned with tales of giants that could not be beaten. The Israelites became so frightened, they once again thought about returning to Egypt. Read Numbers 14:1-10. As a result, God temporarily closed the door to the promised land. This story offers us some lessons about change.

First, it’s hard to move forward when we keep looking backward.
The Israelites could have built a new life in a new land. However, instead of focusing on the future, they wasted time and energy dreaming about the old days in Egypt. We too can waste our energy by focusing on the “good old days” instead of working with God to build a new future.

Second, when fear overwhelms us, we need to remind ourselves that God is with us and God is at work.
When the scouts that had gone into the promised land returned from their adventure, they became laser-focused on everything that frightened them, and their fears overwhelmed them. Only two scouts did not give in to fear – Joshua and Caleb. They remained courageous because they remained focused on God’s presence. Recall their words about God? “…he will lead us into that land… he’ll give it to us… God is on our side.” Are you feeling frightened right now because of changes in your life? The antidote is to intentionally focus on how God is still present and still at work. Try creating a written list of what you see God doing and add to it daily.

Finally, even “good people” will face challenges and change
Perhaps some of the Israelites struggled to remain faithful. However, some folks, like Moses, Joshua and Caleb sought to live faithfully. Yet, they still encountered thirst, hunger, and the other challenges of being in the wilderness too. This story reminds us that we will struggle with unwanted changes and challenges regardless of how faithful we are. They are simply a part of life on earth. But as jarring, painful, and life-changing as these events can be, God can redeem them. As Matt Miofsky says: your low point is not your last point.

Conclusion
In short, my friends, the changes we face in life will sometimes be quite challenging, and as a result, like the Israelites, we may sometimes balk and try to bail. But if we keep looking forward, remind ourselves God is at work all around us, and remember that our low point is not the last point, we can complete those journeys. Along the way, we will become the people God wants us to be. So go, and as you go, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your god is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Longing for the Past – September 15

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Series: Change and Transition
Sermon: Longing for the Past
Text: Exodus 16:1-5; Numbers 11:4-15

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction
Change is a part of life. We pursue some changes; others are thrust upon us. The question is not whether we will face change in our lives, the question is how we will respond. Last week we spoke about taking the first step to initiate change. However, that first step is just that – a first step. What comes next can seem like a challenging journey of a thousand miles. That can tempt us to want to quit and return to where we started.

Biblical Story
The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years when God sent Moses to Egypt to set the Israelites free. When the Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go free, they began their journey to a new land. But then came the next step of change – a journey through the wilderness. Food and water were scarce, and the Israelites began to doubt the choice they’d made. After about a month and a half in that desert, they were ready to quit and go back to Egypt and back to slavery. Read Exodus 16:1-5. Also read Number 11:4-15. The Israelites and Moses were overwhelmed by the challenges they encountered. Perhaps you too have become overwhelmed by the challenges that come when you are seeking to navigate change in your life.

The In-Between, In Betwixt Time
When we are living in the period after we decide to make a change but before that change is fully realized, we may feel that we are wandering in a desert and not making any progress. We church folks sometimes refer to that as “wilderness time.” I recently heard a speaker who offered different metaphors for this challenging in-between time. He said, we all have a “homeland,” a place where we adopt ideas, biases, behaviors. Then God calls us to grow, change and adopt new ideas, new behaviors, new goals, new dreams. If we agree, we move to “wonderland.” Wonderland is a place where we feel lost and find ourselves wondering: Where am I going? What am I doing? How do I move forward? Did I make a huge mistake to try this new thing? Should I just give up and return to where I started? Wonderland is a place where we struggle to make our goal into a reality. It’s the place we go through to get to “newfoundland” – the place or time in our journey when we finally achieve the change or the goal we wanted.

The Value of Wandering in the Wilderness
None of us really like being in the “wilderness.” None of us like the time of struggle as we work toward something new. None of us like feeling like we are getting nowhere as we struggle to become a better spouse, or a better parent, or start a new business, or begin a new career, or get clean after years of addiction, or work on our mental health, etc. But there is value in being in the “wilderness.” First, it is during this time that God form us and shape us. It is during this time of struggle that we can gain new skills, patience, tenacity, etc. Matt Miofsky puts it this way: God uses those times to do something new IN us so that he can do something more THROUGH us when we come out on the other side. Second, time in the wilderness teaches us to trust in and rely upon God and not just ourselves.

Conclusion
In short, friends, every time we start something new – whether it is seeking to rebuild a marriage or make a life in a new city – we may find that the journey from “here” to “there” may seem unnecessarily long and challenging. We may feel like we’re the Israelites wandering in the desert. But to quote Matt Miofsky again, “Learn to be okay with wilderness experiences because it is in the wilderness that God is able to do some of God’s best work.

Called to Something New – September 8

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Series: Change and Transition
Sermon: Called to Something New
Text: Genesis 12:1-3

Rev. Audrey Spencer

Introduction: Read Genesis 12:1-3. God tells Abram to leave his land, family and father’s household for the land that I will show you. Let’s look back at another Bible character who was asked to leave. God called Moses to leave his home and go plea with Pharaoh to release the Hebrews from slavery. Both men were asked by God to go. Both men felt they were not qualified.
Excuses: Moses had all the excuses as to why he was not to be the one to help save the Hebrews. Who am I? What will they say? What if they don’t believe that you sent me? I can’t speak well. And finally, can’t you send someone else? New journeys can be overwhelming and daunting. Have you felt the lump in your throat when you’re considering a big change? What has God called you to do that you feel like you aren’t qualified to do? Or maybe you play “Let’s Make A Deal” with God. When the time is right I’ll do it. The kids aren’t old enough; I’m not old enough; I’m too old; when my finances are better; I’m just too busy. What we’re really saying is “I’m afraid.”
Factor God in our calculations: Remember who God is and what he promises. A wise mentor of mine told me once that God does not call us to something that we can accomplish on our own. What would be the point? No. God calls us to do things that we cannot do on our own. He wants us to depend on Him. To be obedient. New journeys teach us to rely on God and to remind us that God is always with us. Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Let Go: From the Book, “Let Go”, Matt Miofsky states, “In order for change, growth, moving forward, or to begin a new journey, first we have to leave.” We have to be willing to step away from something if we are ever going to experience something new. When we say yes to a God nudge when immediately face the challenge of leaving. And this is where so many new journeys STOP! We become uncertain and feel inadequate. Yet, to get “there” we must leave “here”. A new journey, a new beginning that God has all planned out for us begins with a departure. And that first step is the hardest.
We want to play it safe: After 40 years of praying the Israelites were within reach of the promised land and they said, “never mind”. Does this sound familiar? It’s easy to imagine something new. It’s easy to look over the fence at a new reality and say, “I wish I had that.” It’s easy to pray for something new; to hope for new things. But change is not easy at all. It’s costly, it’s hard, and it’s scary. But wishing never changes anything. Change only occurs when we take the first step and make a change happen. Just like Abram and Moses, we can only move forward when we let go. Let go of the comfortable, familiar home.
Conclusion: God continues to call us to take new steps. To step in the water and work with him to make the change. He’s never finished with us and how he can us to glorify Him. The scary part is He usually doesn’t show us what the future will look like before we leave the familiar behind. What is God calling you to do for Him that you feel anxious or inadequate about? What is God calling this church to do that may feel scary and new for us? Trust in the Lord and His promises!