Vision Check

Sermon preached Sunday, August 30, 2015 at Euless First United Methodist Church

Can you see the future from here?

What does it look like?

Which direction should we look?

Some of us, as we age, do a whole lot more looking behind us than in front of us.  It is tempting; we know the past, we’ve been there before!  Things look familiar.

Yet, we have to admit, the farther they get behind us, the harder it is to focus. The distant past gets to looking real good – so we say things like “back in the day…” or “remember when…” or even “kids these days…”

Maybe it’s just a matter of getting older, but it seems like I hear more lamenting about the present and the future than I used to.

But the future is where we are going, so we may as well face it, and prepare for it.

To move forward, we have to look back.  The past, all that is behind us, has played a role in making us who we are today. It has shaped us for better and for worse.  This Church has a long, rich history that will affect – that we want to affect – where we go from here.

Cars are equipped with mirrors for a reason; the safest driving forward includes checking your mirrors regularly.  But the mirrors make up only a small part of what you see as you drive forward.

So, let’s look back, and let’s look forward.  

Euless First United Methodist Church was founded in 1876. Since you don’t remember 1876 here’s a bit of an historical snapshot of the year this church was founded.

U.S. Grant was President. Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for an invention he called the telephone. (patent #174,466)  The Transcontinental Express reached San Francisco on June 4, 83 hours and 39 minutes after it left New York. Texas A & M opened for classes on Sept. 4.

In 1876, the year this church was founded, the Dow Jones Industrial Average didn’t even exist.

Well, the Dow Jones exists now, doesn’t it?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened this past Monday to a drop of more than one thousand points.

To be fair, markets around the world dropped, too.  UK, down almost 5%. Japan, down 4.5%. You get the idea.

The stock market is not the economy, and the economy isn’t the stock market, but Monday told us all one thing, at least: there is a lot of uncertainty to go around.

How are you with uncertainty?

How are you with certainty?

We’ve been reminded this week that life is uncertainty.  Even if you are completely, absolutely, 100% confident that your faith in Christ has locked down your eternal guarantee of God’s favor and presence, It is very likely that you don’t always feel this way.

Certainty of the head does not equal certainty of the heart.

For that matter, I have found that, over time, what once counted as certainty might, a few years later, be considered, upon reflection, naivete.  Or maybe youthful exuberance.

Because there are these stages throughout life when you change, or shift.   Don’t you remember that time when you got back together with your parents as a young adult and realized they weren’t out of touch anymore?  As Mark Twain put it:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

And that’s just in your early 20s. I don’t know about you, but when I pause and reflect, I’ve had several of these shifts. Enough, I suppose, to worry or frustrate my parents. Except that, as I get older, I realize that parents go through their own shifts as well.

So, while we can complain about, and lament about change, I suppose even the way we lament about change changes.

And we move forward, into the future.  Sorry, but I can’t help this: time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin, into the future. And it is dragging us along with it.

Maybe you can imagine how God’s people felt, then, when Jeremiah wrote these words to them:

The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

Like us, they knew their past. Like us, they didn’t know their future.

They knew they were God’s people – God’s chosen people – chosen to share the good news of God’s intent to bless all humanity, even all creation, through them.  

We know we are God’s people, chosen to share the good news of God’s intent to bless all humanity, even all of creation, don’t we?

This is why our mission is to try to follow Jesus a bit better today than yesterday. Unless we follow Jesus, we are not living faithfully as God’s people. Our living faithfully as God’s people is necessary for us to be part of what God wants to do and is doing in the world.

Last week we looked at the end of Luke chapter 9, which was a concentrated dose of what following Jesus means. This week, we pick up the story right after that.  Jesus sent out 72 “others” – this is above and beyond the 12 – to go in pairs ahead of them.  They were sent, like we are sent, to prepare the way for Jesus.

Let’s face it: you and I don’t “bring Jesus” to people.  One of the things we learn as we go out into mission – whether on mission trips or in service to the school, or the Food Pantry, is that God is already at work in the lives of other people!

As we learn to follow Jesus better and better, we also begin to realize so many ways that God is already at work in the world around us, and that God invites us to come be a part of what God is already doing!

In the Jeremiah reading, the prophet and God are encouraging the people to develop an attitude h  of blessing toward Babylon.  Toward their captors – the ones who came into their land and hauled them off into exile.

“Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.”

Sometimes a church can get its focus off of the bigger picture and begin to worry about itself. This would be an easy time for us to fall into this trap. Airport Freeway is going to be widened, and that’s taking some of our land, including our playground and our oldest building. The Main St. bridge could be closed for as much as a year and a half. Our sanctuary was struck by lightning and we haven’t been able to use it for 17 weeks. Attendance, and therefore giving, have both been down for the past four months.

This would be an easy time to circle the wagons, and start to worry about us.

And yet, We’ve been here since 1876.  We have been through more challenging times than this, and we will face more challenging times in the future.  What are we to do in challenging times?  “Promote the welfare of the city.”

We have taken great steps into South Euless Elementary over the past few years, but there is so much more to be done!  So many students in our area would go home after school to empty houses or apartments, that they don’t go home – many of them go to the library or rec. center. How could we help those facilities handle so many kids – and how can we help so many kids know that they are not alone?

There are many single parent households around us – and there are projected to be more in 5 years than there are now.  There are also more grandparents raising their grandkids than there were 20 years ago, and this number, too, is likely to rise.  Some of you are raising grandkids!  What kinds of things can we do to to promote the welfare of these folks who have step up to try to raise children as well as they can?

We have 50,000 square feet of building space here, that has been built and paid for by you all and the 139 years of Euless Methodists before you. (did you know our entire indebtedness is only $30,000?)  How can we make this space available to those around us and promote the welfare of our city?

What things can we be doing – on our property, and off it, inside our buildings and miles away, that will promote the welfare of the city?  The vows we take at baptism – and renew at each new baptism we witness, remind us that God calls us to promote the welfare of the city.  For some, stepping out there seems too risky for now.  Fair enough.  Can we all at least agree that promoting the welfare of the city as a church requires more from every one of us than merely occupying a pew on Sunday morning?  Where and how is God calling you to be involved?

The kicker, to me, of the Jeremiah passage is the “your future depends on its welfare” line.

We had an 7 person team meeting with a consultant for 6 consecutive weeks.  On top of the 3 hour meetings we had each week, we had homework. One week our homework was to interview people from the surrounding community – city leaders and people who just live and work around here.  When asked what they knew of our church, too many of them knew only that we had a Preschool and a Food Pantry.

Our future as a Church depends on the welfare of our city!

Can you imagine the conversations that happened in that Woodlawn Grange Hall 139 years ago?  What kinds of things do you think the early Methodist and Presbyterian congregations had then?  What were the issues they faced?  How much uncertainty do you think they felt toward the future?

The Grange organization, by the way, was a national fraternal organization “that encourage[d] families to band together to promote the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture.”

The Woodlawn Grange helped us get started. That was across Main Street from where we are now.  Did you just picture 7-11 or a Chinese restaurant that used to be a Taco Bell?  Or the Euless Lumber Company?

We moved over to the east side of Main Street in 1891.  124 years ago.  Perhaps we owe a debt of gratitude to the Grange for getting us started.  Perhaps we owe God a debt of gratitude for leading us to this city at this point in time.

To whom do you owe a debt of gratitude for who you have become?

We do well to look forward by first looking back, but also by maintaining an attitude of gratitude.

If we are to follow Jesus faithfully into the future, we really must stay aware of all we have to be thankful for! We will need the energy and raised spirit that gratitude brings because “the harvest is bigger than you can imagine,” Jesus says, “but there are few workers.”

If we stopped there it might seem like Jesus intends to overwhelm his followers. I don’t believe Jesus ever intends to overwhelm his followers because he is trustworthy and offers all the support and resources that are needed for what he calls us to do. Paul wrote in bringing 1 Thessalonians to a close that “The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this.”

What Jesus tells these 72, I believe he tells us:  basically, it is this: establish relationships, build trust with the people you go to.  You can’t make them trust you, you can’t make them like you, but I think Jesus agrees with Paul here, where in Romans 12:18 he says, “ If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.”

It seems like we are sometimes looking to be offended.

Hear these words of Jesus again:

Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you. Remain in this house, eating and drinking whatever they set before you, for workers deserve their pay. Don’t move from house to house. Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’ (Luke 10:5-9)

and even if they don’t accept you, welcome you, agree with you, Jesus says this:

Whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’ I assure you that Sodom will be better off on Judgment Day than that city.

We enter a city with the intent to bless and to be a blessing. We pray for a city with the intent to bless and to be a blessing. We promote the welfare of a city with the intent to bless and to be a blessing. We do this because our future depends on its welfare.

This is why we have adopted these Mission, Vision, and Purpose statements as a Church:

Mission: Euless First United Methodist Church’s mission is to follow Jesus Christ a bit better today than yesterday. Through these efforts we develop a relationship with Christ and thus transform people, their lives, our community and the world.

Vision: Our vision is to be a community of God’s love and grace so that the larger community and world see God by our actions and outreach.

Purpose: We seek to follow Jesus better by moving people from knowing God, to growing in relationship with God, to going forth with God to serve others, and finally, glowing for God by witnessing to their faith to others.

Our desire, intent, and plan are to follow God into the future that God is setting before us. Our mission, vision, and purpose can help us become, perhaps, an MVP on God’s team.

Next year we celebrate 140 years as a congregation.  We face the future with uncertainty and certainty.  Uncertainty in that we don’t know what the stock market or the economy will do; we don’t know what tomorrow holds.

But we have certainty in that, as the old song goes, “we know who holds” tomorrow.

And God, our God, the one who holds tomorrow, calls us to pray for and promote the welfare of the city to which God has sent us.

To God be the glory for the next 140 years!

Vision Check

Thinking without thinking

We had a fascinating discussion yesterday at our Lenten Wednesday Lunch Study.  As you might expect, the discussion really got me thinking.

We were talking about being righteous. Specifically about whether or not we are. Righteous, that is; whether or not we are righteous.

Of course, the talk quickly moved toward our being righteous “in God’s eyes.”  This, many Christians understand, is the work and gift of Jesus.

God sees us as righteous thanks to Jesus’ life and sacrificial death on the cross.

Good news, right?

Yes, except that thinking of ourselves as righteous tends to get us into trouble.  (See “self-righteous”)

On the other hand, refusing to recognize that Jesus actually opens this opportunity to us, leaves us as miserable sinners, condemned always to fail.

How do we carve out space in the middle – acknowledging AND accepting this good gift from God – to understand that, thanks to Jesus, we are (first) seen as righteous by God and (second) actually grow in righteousness as we follow Jesus?

I’ve got a few ideas, and invite yours as well.

  1. We must keep in mind that the righteousness that indeed becomes ours is given – offered freely – to us.
  2. In would likely help if we focused more on recognizing everyone else as someone who has been offered this gift even more than remembering that we (ourselves) have been offered the gift.  In other words, practice this: every person you see, think to yourself “God sees that person as righteous through Jesus’ gift.”
  3. Take some time each day to reflect on the ways God has worked in your life that day.
Thinking without thinking

US Christians Demand Religious Freedom…

for everyone!

I have long said that Christian are at our best when we are advocating for the rights, liberties, fair treatment of others.  I suppose I am willing to allege that this is true for everyone, not only for Christians.  But I especially want Christians to own it.

I think it represents Jesus far better than getting all whiney about our own rights, liberties, or fair treatment.

To be fair, people can advocate for their own rights, etc., without being whiney.  This is just my opinion: but US Christians seem to go whiney awfully quickly if we feel our rights, etc. threatened.

Just look at all the fuss we’ve been making over the persecution of Christians around the world lately.  I believe we would make a better case AGAINST persecution of Christians and FOR following Jesus if we opposed all religious persecution.

Speaking of which, I don’t know if you noticed, but a case of religious freedom was argued before the US Supreme Court yesterday. Samantha Elauf was 17 when she applied to work at an Abercrombie and Fitch store.  She was rated as a very good candidate.  Her rating dropped when management found out she wore a hajib – a traditional headcovering worn by some Muslims.  This dropped her rating enough that she wasn’t hired.

I don’t know how the case will come out.  The report I heard indicated that most of the Justices, in oral arguments, sounded like they leaned in her favor.

I have heard Christians lament about not being allowed to wear cross necklaces to work; shouldn’t we be just as concerned for the religious liberty of others?

US Christians Demand Religious Freedom…

Book Review: The Mainliner’s Survival Guide

Hi.  My name is Steve, and I’m a Mainliner.

Through all my years as a Fundamentalist, then an Conservative Evangelical, then some variation of Emergent, I have been a member of The United Methodist Church, a mainline denomination.

I believe this is where God has called me.

Plenty have tried to convince me otherwise.  I’ve sat face to face with some of the leaders of the Emergent movement and heard them explain, with rather convincing rhetoric, why getting out (of the mainline) would be a good thing.

Yet here I stand.  I can do no other.Penwell book

Perhaps, then, you can imagine how appreciative I was to find Derek Penwell’s The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World.  Here was a book written from inside a mainline denomination, yet, ostensibly, with the recognition that the glory days of American Denominationalism are clearly gone and not returning.

Let me be clear:  I wasn’t hopefully expecting Penwell to make it sound ok.  The last thing I wanted was some platitudes encouraging me into hospice care as the denomination and its version of Christianity continue to linger.

Reading Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity for the Rest of Us brought me such great joy when I read it almost a decade ago that I bought a dozen or so copies and offered them free to any clergy friends who would agree to read the book.

I would consider doing the same with this book from Derek Penwell.

The book opens with what I find to be a stellar comparison of our times with post-Revolutionary War American.  I found this comparison helpful and Penwell’s historical work insightful to the point of making me wonder why I hadn’t read this elsewhere.

Penwell does an excellent job, I feel, of stirring up the conversations that must happen.  Mainline denominational folk know that something is wrong, but this book offers to help us identify and make corrections without simply trying to keep up with whatever the ecclesiology-of-the-month might be.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Book Review: The Mainliner’s Survival Guide

Speak for yourself

Next time you try to tell someone something, but dress it in “some people have told me…” or “everyone is saying…,” we know you speak only for yourself.

Own it! Your opinion is worth something.  Really; everyone’s opinion is worth something,

I mean it.  I’m not just bloviating generalities.  Your opinion matters.

In fact, it matters more when you can actually express your opinion.  When you pretend you speak on behalf of others because you think it will carry more weight. Ok, it may not carry more weight, but it will be honest, and honesty carries more weight.

I care what you think, but when you throw down the intimidation factor of trying to convince me there is a groundswell of support behind you, I am more than likely going to blow you off.

I mean all this especially in the context of church work.  The church has not always been good at being honest with one another.  In fact, we’ve got some pretty horrific time-honored practices of putting people in their place and keeping them there. Of silencing minorities we don’t want to hear from.

But we are Jesus’ people.  We claim him as our Savior, and say we want to follow him. We believe Jesus listened to individuals; if we follow him, it is a good practice for us to develop as well.

So, from now on, if I have something to tell you, I won’t try to crowdsource it.  I hope you’ll do the same for me.

Speak for yourself