Stay Focused – November 17

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Sermon: Stay Focused
Text: Luke 10:38-42

Rev. Audrey Spencer

There are times in our lives when we feel like we are wearing ten hats and serving in a million roles. And we run wild with things to do for every single role.
I am a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a friend, a neighbor, a pastor, and each of these roles is very important.
But I often wonder how on earth I’m going to fulfill the responsibility of each role in a single day. Thank goodness every role isn’t required every day, but at times, they are.
My message this morning will remind us that there is really only one thing that is crucial. And that’s loving God.
If we get that right, the rest of our “hats” will fit just right into the space of our lives.
Hear now the text for this morning from Luke 10:38-48

While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a
guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message. By contrast, Martha was
preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won ‘t be taken away from her.

Mary and Martha were sisters and sometimes family relations are difficult.
The holidays are upon us. I personally love being with all of my family. But I do know families where it’s difficult to be with all of our family members. Pastor Laura touched on that last week. And how if we have differences we are to be Christ-like with those around us, but we realize it may be difficult. Sometimes being around our loved ones can be hard.
Jesus commends Mary to Martha, saying she understands the “one thing” that is crucial to life and that He won’t take that away from her.
Mary and Martha’s roles are typical in many families.
I remember my grandmother at holiday meals was the one who would never sit and eat with us. She was always concerned about making sure everyone had what they needed and more.
It irritated my mom to no end! My mother was the social butterfly who wanted everyone at the table. Say grace, pass the dishes and enjoy the conversation. Let’s not be distracted.
There’s usuaily one “do-er” and “be-er” in every family.
Jesus knew that Mary set aside the tasks that were required of her so she could be at his feet to learn and to love her Teacher.
In ancient times only the men were allowed to “sit at the feet” of a master.
Women weren’t permitted to be in this position of society, so Mary was doing something quite audacious for her time.
Martha was doing what was expected of her, and she was fuming because she wasn’t getting any help with all that company.
But Jesus calls us all to be focused on the “one thing” of loving God, despite the many hats we wear.
It can become so easy for us to get wrapped up in all the things we need to do and the things that need to be accomplished that we lose sight of what the most important thing is.
Isn’t it possible that we can get too wrapped up in the cares of life?
Jesus makes this even more clear in the parable He told about the sower in Matthew. “He who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”
The highest priority in our lives needs to be choosing the good part, as Mary did: to learn more about Jesus so that we can become like Him.
It’s a love and devotion to Him that makes everything else of secondary importance. It is to seek the riches of wisdom and understanding that are in Him.
If we don’t do this, how can we follow Him, how can we be His disciples? Remembering that a disciple is another word for follower of Christ. He is our Master, and as we live like Him, we become more like Him.
This doesn’t mean we are given the excuse to become lazy, and not take responsibility for anything. That’s another trap entirely.
We are to be “do-er” of the Word, and not hearers only!
But what we do has to be led by the Spirit.
There’s no blessing in running our own lives by our understanding of what is important.
Mary understood that she needed to learn more of her Master and to seek the things that have eternal value.
It’s when we do that, that we can be a blessing, because then all of our works are Spirit-driven.
Love causes us to listen, to learn, and to keep God’s commandments.
Another warning this text gives us is that we can be in danger of falling into the same trap that Martha did.
We can be so troubled by what we perceive as negative behavior in others, and become so self-righteous in our good works that we start to judge others for not doing as we do.
Satan is the one behind these kinds of thoughts. He whispers lies and accusations, trying to create as much conflict as he can.
His aim is to lead people as far in the opposite direction of “the good part” as he possibly can – to lead them away from Jesus.
To listen to him and agree with him leads to all kinds of unrest and trouble and worry. We need to slam the door on his deceitfulness!
It’s written in 1 Timothy 4: 16, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”
That’s the only thing that will do us any good in life.
The wrong choice that Martha made wasn’t that she was serving and doing good.
It was that in her work she had demands and criticism on Mary, rather than doing what Jesus taught her!
If we are living before the face of God, we -Ra¥€ no cause to look around at what others are doing and feel that we have a right to pass judgment on them.
We live in obedience to the Spirit’s promptings in our own lives, and what others do is none of our business. We don’t know how God is leading others.
Let’s rise above all the noise and pursuits of this world and seek those things which have eternal value.
Like Mary, let’s find that fellowship with the Lord and with those who follow Him, so that we can learn more about Christ and become like Him.
Through the Word of God, fellowship, and prayer we become rich in our spirit, and God will give us everything we need in abundance.
Do any of you remember the feeling at high school or college graduation when you turned the tassel and then throw your caps in the air?
That was a feeling of freedom!
The better part that Mary chose was to be able to focus on what really mattered at the moment.
To sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him.
That’s something that will last far longer than the perfect meal and getting all the dishes cleaned!
In today’s busy and hectic world, it’s something we need to learn like never before.
Our well-being depends on it; maybe even our sanity.
I venture to say that’s why Jesus is so insistent on it.
I encourage you to free yourselves from your many hats that distract you and focus on the “only thing” that matters: GOD

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.

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

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.

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.