What is Protecting You?

Growing up, I tried my hand at a lot of different sports. I was horrible at playing basketball. I could barely return a serve on the tennis court. My skills on the gridiron led to my junior high team losing every game in the only season I played; at least that is what my coach told me.

But, the one sport I always loved was wrestling. Now, I’m not talking about the WWE kind of wrestling with the outlandish characters and steel chairs. I’m talking about quality amateur wrestling that dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. I was a heavyweight wrestler and I was about average. I won my fair share and I lost my fair share. I loved being around a sport that taught character and determination. Even after my knees gave out and I started to focus more time on my budding journalism career, I stayed involved and served as a ring announcer for high school tournaments and covered the sport in my sport reporting days. I would even serve as a referee. Continue reading

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Connecting with Those Who Are Not Here

Most of the New Testament was written by Paul. We have approximately 13 letters written or dictated by Paul, so Paul’s way of thinking and his ministry is important to understand what the New Testament tells us about faith in Christ.

One of the most important things to understand about Paul is that he is often dealing with the Jewish-Gentile conflict. That is because he lived with that conflict in his ministry. It would start with Paul’s ministerial practice when arriving in a new city. Paul would go to the town’s synagogue, first, to preach the Gospel. In time, though, Paul would be kicked out and he would take the message to the Gentiles.

This act was not simply about going to the next group in the town. It was about going to a group of people that the Jews of the time believed were unacceptable. The Jews of Jesus’ and Paul’s day believed Gentiles were dirty and unacceptable, because they were not privilege enough to be born into the faith as part of God’s covenant community. Jewish leaders would encourage people not to interact with Gentiles or allow them to be part of the community, unless they went through a large and drastic effort and, only then, would they be conditionally accepted into the community. Gentiles were outsiders to the Jewish leaders.

What Paul experienced between the Jews and Gentiles plays out in a lot of his writings, especially this passage from Ephesians 2:11-22. We’re going to spend the next few weeks looking at Ephesians. It offers some practical thoughts on how we are called to be the church today. Ephesians, then, is really the sequel to Romans. Romans is Paul’s great treatise on how he understood what Jesus did on the cross. Ephesians, which was not written specifically to the church in Ephesus, describes how the new community called Christians are to live out their faith.

So, we engage these thoughts with Paul bringing us into this Jewish-Gentile dynamic. We know, now, what is going on when Paul writes about Gentiles and Jews and uses language of separation. Yet, I think we still need a contemporary way to engage this passage and to apply it to the situations we interact with. We need our own dynamic much like the one Paul faces.

There are many places we could focus on. We could look at the political dynamic of our culture today. We could even focus on our personal allegiances. Yet, if we really want to get into this dynamic and how it might impact us today we need to look at the dynamic between those who come to church on a weekly basis and those who are not in church. When we look at this passage through this dynamic, we see that the passage speaks to us a call to find commonality with the unchurched and to preach peace through actions to them.

But, what is going on in this dynamic between those in the church and those who right now are, perhaps, watching the third round of the Open Championship or out doing a lot of other things. Many of us have recognized a cultural shift has taken place over the last 10 to 20 years. In this culture shift, what we have seen is that the appeal of church and living a Christ-like life in the United States is trending lower. This shift has affected every church in the United States and in every cultural setting.

When you have a cultural shift, what ends up happening is that people get their defenses up and often retreat to comfortable positions. For many who are in the church this is a traditional response. We say, “Well, I cannot understand why someone wouldn’t want to come today,” or “I never missed when I was your age.” We build walls that are focused on the idea of setting one group (church attenders) up against another group (those not in church). By doing this, we are kind of like the Jewish leaders Paul ran up against. They established boundaries and walls in order to see themselves as better than the Gentiles.

Boundaries and walls send a message to people, especially those we want to interact with. Many people who are not in church on regular basis today have more experience with the boundaries and walls we put up than our actions of love and compassion. In their book “Unchristian,” David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons touch on this. They write that one of the reasons people do not attend church is that they feel rejected by the church and, by extension, Christ. Much how the Gentiles felt rejected by the Jewish leaders.

This is not the message we want to send to people who are not here or who have no relationship with Jesus. The message we want to send is the one Paul proclaims by saying that in Christ we have a hope and a peace that is available for all people.

Paul writes that Jesus took it upon himself to break down the boundaries and walls that we create and, in its place, establish a unity of connection through his love. This is all done through the cross. On the cross, Jesus brought about a new kind of peace into the world. It is a peace of grace. A peace that says that no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter what you could ever possibly contemplate to do that God will love and forgive you. It is a peace of reconciliation and new beginnings with God and one another.

Jesus’ work of reconciliation does the work of bringing us all together and allowing us to see that there is more that we have in common with one another than we have that makes us different. Scripture tells us, in Genesis, that God created each and every one of us. We are God’s own special design and blessings. We are loved by God. We are all people who are loved by God regardless of whatever we could do in our lives. We are all people who need God’s peace.

It is a peace that is available to all people. We often think that God’s peace is only given to those who show up on Sunday mornings. While I am thankful beyond words for all who are here every week, we have to remember that the grace of God is not just for those of us who are here. It is also for those who are not here. God’s peace is available to you, to me, to the person sitting at home believing the church has nothing for them, and to the person who is shopping right now because they have given up on the church. God’s peace is there for everyone.

That is the message Jesus preached with every word of his heart. Think about all that Jesus did throughout the Gospels. Never did Jesus say to receive his peace do you have to pass a litmus test of ideas and thoughts before being considered acceptable. The words offered to people to experience his peace were “come and see” and “follow me.” There is an invitation to participate into his peace and to learn as we go what it means to experience the forgiving and reconciling nature of God’s love.

Just as Jesus proclaimed peace through his words and, indeed, his actions so are we to be proclaimers of God’s peace, especially with those who are not here today. The way we do that is through our love. Love is the greatest expression of the peace and grace of Christ. Love that is not condemning. Love that is not judging. Love that brings people into a relationship and journey, much in the same way that Jesus invited people into a journey with him. No disciple of Jesus Christ has ever been made by condemning or judging someone. Disciples are made when we walk with someone, make friends with them, and walk together in a mutual journey of learning more about Christ.

That is what the people who are watching the Open Championship, are shopping at the stores, or just sleeping in today are looking for. In this highly-connected culture of ours, today, people are looking for love and acceptance and they will look for it wherever they can find it. Many people, who are not in church today, believe they cannot find that love and acceptance from a place many want to be at – the church – because they see the people in the church condemning them, first, before loving them. We cannot reach people who need to experience Jesus’ love if our hearts have judged them before we met them.

Since arriving to Claylick last year one of the constant themes I have heard is this: You want to grow the church, but you’re not sure how to do it. You want to see Claylick be a vibrant place that can be here for generations to come, but you’re not sure what needs to happen for that to be there. That is why we are doing the conversations we are having on Sunday evenings. Our Sunday evening conversations are focusing on our long-term vitality and future, so if you have a heart to seeing this church grow and be vibrant in years to come then make the commitment to be at these conversations and be part of the discussion.

But, let me say this if we want to grow as a church then we need to let our best asset be our best asset. We cannot grow by being just another church in a collection of a churches across our area. We can only grow by doing what God has gifted us in doing. That, I believe, is by being a place of unconditional love and acceptance. When people come to Claylick, they should feel the same love and joy that you have expressed with me and my family since we arrived. They should be made to feel like they are part of the family and part of our community. People should feel like they have a place to belong and to be part of something bigger than themselves.

If we used our greatest asset and allowed that to be the way we relate to the world, the possibilities are endless. Imagine the lives that could be changed by the fact that we seek to be a place of love and acceptance. Can you imagine what it would do to the single mother or father to know that there is a place that will love them and walk with them? Can you imagine what it would mean for the unemployed worker to know that there is a place that will love them and walk with them? Can you imagine what it would mean for the person who is told that they are not welcomed at other places to know that they are welcome here?

Lives would be changed. New hope would be proclaimed.

Let us break down the barriers that exist between us and the people who are not here, and simply begin to reach out to them by our acts of love that proclaims the great peace that came from Christ.

Our Spiritual Inheritance

In April, Pope John Paul II will be canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition. It is the culmination of a long process of recognizing his contributions to the church and his memory. This canonization process includes an acknowledgement that various healings may be attributed to his life.

When this happens, Pope John Paul, II’s name and ministry will be placed along side the many saints in that tradition. Currently, there are more than 10,000 people who are remembered as a saint. This includes people such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Thomas More, and, one of my personal favorites, John Chrysostom.

In the Methodist and Protestant traditions we do not recognize saints in this way. However, that hasn’t stopped us from thinking about saints in this sort of way. This idea of saints and sainthood defines much of our understanding of saint. When we think of a saint we automatically turn to this image. We believe a saint is someone of high morality and ethics, someone who has done something exceptional for the kingdom of God, and whose servant hearts goes beyond all measure.

What if I told you that we are all saints? This seems a little shocking or odd to say, especially given this background. We may not think of ourselves as morally good enough to be considered as such. We perhaps think we have done anything of transformative worth for the kingdom. We might question if our servant heart is truly servant-nature enough. Yet, each of us gathered, and everyone throughout the world and time, are saints.

Thinking of ourselves as a saint joins us with Paul’s words from Ephesians 1:11-23. The NLT uses “God’s people” where other translations describe the Greek as “saints.” The intent is the same. Paul is trying to connect us to something that we all share in common. That is that we have a spiritual inheritance as members of God’s kingdom. We have this inheritance of being one with God through our desire to claim faith in what Christ did for us upon the cross.

On this All Saint’s Day we are reminded that our spiritual inheritance is that we are saints who participate in something greater than ourselves. Everyone who has claimed faith in God throughout time are part of this community that is defined by God’s love and hope. The meaning of this inheritance is importance for us to understand. For this inheritance defines who we are not just today, but always.

It was an important message that Paul expresses in this letter. We’re not entirely sure what church this letter was written to. While the initial words of Chapter 1 seem to suggest it was to the church in Ephesus, there are some who believe this letter was part of a letter that would be read in various communities throughout Asia Minor. In these times, Paul was leading an effort of connecting Christians of Jewish heritage with those of Gentile background. So, bringing people to a recognition of their shared commonality as members of God’s community would help to foster this connection.

Our inheritance is a common identifier among us all. There are no boundaries that prevent some from receiving this inheritance. It is available to all people, as Paul would express in Galatians. Everyone can receive this spiritual inheritance.

So, what does this inheritance mean? Think about an inheritance for a moment. Someone gives us something of theirs so that we can participate in this thing, whether it is wealth or enjoyment of some memento that was special to them. We are given something that belongs to someone else, so that we might enjoy the benefits of it.

That is what our spiritual inheritance looks like. God gives us a gift of participating in the communion of saints. The Lord does this so that we may experience the benefits of this relationship. Those benefits are the joys of God’s peace, hope, love, presence, and, truly, forgiveness. This is a free gift given to us. We did not earn this inheritance, but God has given it to us. The blessings are many. Our spiritual inheritance allows us to connect to something greater than ourselves and brings us closer to God.

How might we receive this spiritual inheritance? How can we claim our participation in God’s kingdom, the communion of saints, this morning? Paul gives us an outline of how we can participate in the communion of saints in verse 13. It is a three-step process of how this inheritance comes to be in our lives.

First, we must hear the word of truth. That is we must hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the good news of God’s indwelling into humanity through Jesus and how Jesus offers grace, hope, and salvation to all. In order to claim our inheritance we must hear of Christ and what the Lord did for us on the cross and how he lives today and sits at God’s right hand. We have to hear God’s word and seek to understand what it means.

For this to happen we need someone to walk along side us. We cannot hear and understand God’s word in isolation. We need a community surrounding us and helping us work through what these words mean and what it means to live God’s truth out. We need someone like a Philip who helped the Ethiopian in Acts 8 to fully understand who Jesus is and what it means to follow his footsteps.

Once we have heard the word, then, in order to receive this inheritance we must believe that Christ died for us. We cannot claim our inheritance as saints as bystanders who never make a claim of faith. Hearing God’s word demands a response. That response is for us to claim for ourselves that what Christ did on the cross he did for me, for you, for each of us, for all of us.

To claim this inheritance we must make the daily determination to live for Christ. It is about turning away from the things of this world and taking on the things of Christ. We cannot begin to claim our spiritual inheritance as participants in the communion of saints if we seek to live as if our lord is not Christ, but the things of this world. If we truly want to claim our inheritance then it requires a daily act of  claiming Christ as both our Lord and Savior.

Finally, we must be marked by the Holy Spirit. It is an act that happens upon our baptism. When we are adorned with the water, we are sealed with a promise. That promise is that God’s presence, the Holy Spirit, will reside in us and guide us towards faithful living each day. There is another promise. That is the promise that we are members of God’s community. That we are set apart as part of the communion of Saints. It is a promise that when Christ comes that we will be welcomed into the glorious kingdom.

This is a future promise, but it is also a current reality as well. We are called to live into this reality today. This is what it means to be members of the body of Christ – the church. The promise of the Holy Spirit is that we will grow in wisdom and seek to live each day as people who aim to share Christ’s love, extend acts of mercy, and help others to hear God’s word and believe for themselves. We are called to a daily reminder that we are connected to something greater than ourselves and that is God’s kingdom.

This is a kingdom that is welcome to all. The spiritual inheritance is a grace that is available to everyone. To you, to me, to those who believe the church has nothing for them, to the person whose life is filled with obstacles, to truly everyone.

Our great spiritual heritage and inheritance is that we are members of something greater than ourselves and it calls us to live every day in response to God’s love. To be people who desire to be connected with God and each other. We are all saints. We are all God’s people. This reality calls us to mind the depths of God’s love for us.

No matter who we are we are defined by our commonality as participants in God’s kingdom. This morning, on this All Saint’s Sunday, we can reconnect to our sainthood, our participation in God’s kingdom at the table. As you eat this bread and drink from this cup, be reminded that God’s has welcomed you into a great relationship based upon a desire to live for the Lord. Reconnect yourself to this relationship this morning.

But, rise with the hope to live for something truly holy. Rise with a desire to live as members of something more important than anything we could ever imagine. That is that we are members of God’s kingdom. We don’t have to be perfect to be in God’s kingdom. We don’t have to have all the right answers. All that matters is that we have heard the word, believed in Christ’s love, and seek it every day.

So, rise and claim your inheritance. You are a saint. We are saints. We are inheritors of God’s kingdom.

Generosity as a Way of Life

This week, I went back to school and began an online course. It has nothing to do with faith or leadership and everything to do with one of my favorite hobbies. That hobby is presidential history and leadership.

I admit I am fascinated with studying presidential history and what we can learn from the 43 men who have served as president. This particular course examines the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination and the legacy of his three-year administration.

So far, I am enjoying the course, but, to be honest, I would have been engaged in the course even if it wasn’t engaging. Kennedy was one of the presidents who inspired my fascination with presidential history. I remember doing social studies projects on Kennedy’s administration in grade school. You didn’t realize your pastor was a geek, did you?

What interests me about Kennedy was his visionary leadership. This came through in many of his speeches. Reading and listening to Kennedy’s words can be very informative, especially for someone like myself who likes to dream big and think about our possibilities. Kennedy’s best words came about during his 1961 Inaugural Address, where he expressed a vision of peace, justice, and hope.

It  was a sentiment best expressed through the speech’s most quoted line. After expressing his vision and dreams, Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” The quote asks each person to commit to the project of advancing peace, justice, and hope in the country and around the world.

Those are big words, but I wonder what they may say to us today? I wonder if we could bring it into a context appropriate for us gathered here. I think we can rewrite so that it connects us to what it means to serve Christ and the church. I believe we can rewrite it like this: “Ask not what your church can do for you; ask what you are willing to do for the mission of your church.”

Think about what this statement does. It changes our focus. So often, we focus only on what the church can do for us. By this we say that the church only exists to fulfill our needs and desires. I believe this new statement helps us to connect to something more important about church. The church does not exist to meet our needs. The church exists for the sole purpose of being the ongoing witness of Jesus Christ in our community. The mission of the church, then, is to go and “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We do this by how we share Christ’s love in Latonia, Covington, and throughout Northern Kentucky. The mission is about dying to ourself, so that the Risen Lord can live in and through us.

Each of us are called to commit ourselves to this deeper focus of the church. Our commitment is how we live into these words from Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:24 of showing a “proof our love” of Christ. To commit to the mission calls us to make a public act of showing our love of Christ by seeking to participate in the kingdom of God through the mission of the church. We commitment ourselves to allow God’s love to become realized in our hearts and through the life of the church.

But, how? How do we live out this commitment as a “proof of our love” of Christ? To best understand this, we need to first think about what commitment is not. When we understand actions that are detrimental to deep commitment, then we can think about what actions make up a true commitment to the Lord and the church.

Commitment is not about seeking our own agenda. Sometimes our actions within the life of the church can be similar to those of the Pharisees. We can become so committed to our own agenda and desires that we drown out anything that fights for space for our desires or might seek to bring us into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Commitment is not about complaining about others for their apparent lack of commitment. It is not about saying that we are better than others, because we do more and are more involved when others “clearly” are not. It is not about looking down on others who do not show up for our favorite events. By this, commitment does not look like the disciples who were so often more interested in their own position than hearing Christ’s desires for them.

Commitment is not about placing conditions on what we are willing to do. It is not about saying we will commit only when the activity is up to our standards. It is not about saying everything must go our way for it to happen. This is similar to the actions of the Rich Man. When challenged by Jesus to give up everything to follow him, the Rich Man refused to commit himself to what Jesus asked and walked away.

All of these deficient forms of commitment have defined each of us in some ways. We’ve all have been and done these things. When we are defined by these forms of commitment we end up doing more harm than good. It hinders our growth in our relationship with the Lord and prevents the church’s mission from being truly fulfilled.

True commitment as a “proof of our love” is must deeper and holier. It is a commitment that recognizes that the mission of the church is not about us, but about seeing lives transformed, hope shared, justice advocated, and peace proclaimed. True commitment connects us with Christ and brings us closer to each other in love and mission.

All of us have a desire for this true and deep commitment. I say this, because each of us have made vows to do just that. We have made vows to be deeply commitment to the body of Christ through our prayers, presence, service, gifts, and witness. These were not empty words said to fulfill membership requirements. Indeed, these are words said before God and each other that call us to a way of living that is dedicated to sharing the love of Christ through our words, actions, and deeds.

So how do we live out this true commitment as a proof of our love? First, we must pray for each other. We must be a people who are committed to praying for each other, the church, and our mission. The work of the church is too difficult for us to ignore Jesus’ call for us to pray without ceasing and to seek God’s kingdom in all things.

We must be committed to being present in the life of the church. This means we commit ourselves to fully being here and supporting the church in all things. We commit ourselves to not just being here physically, but being actively engaged in the life of the church through worship, discipleship, and mission. It is a commitment that says we are here and desire to see the church grow and be vital in our community.

We vow to be committed through our service. During this campaign, we have been reminded that we each have talents and gifts that can be used to share God’s love with others. Our gifts and talents go beyond the financial. These are things that God has specially created us to do. We are called to use these talents to serve Christ and love others through the church’s mission.

Each of us are called to witness, through words and actions, to what God has done in us through the grace of Jesus Christ. This is a call to share the message of Jesus Christ by the example of our love. Each of us can do this, even though it seems like one of the most difficult things to do. But hear me: If we can tell someone about why we root for the Reds or the University of Kentucky, then we can tell someone, through words and actions, why we love Jesus.

Finally, we are called to commit ourselves through our giving. We are called to support the mission of the church by giving back to the Lord what is truly God’s. Everything we have has been given to us by God. It is only right that we give so that the mission of sharing God’s love can continue.

Let me say this, because I believe it is very important for us on this Commitment Sunday. We do not give in order to pay for salaries. We do not give in order to turn the lights on or to maintain the building. The reason for our giving is the hope of lives being transformed by what God is doing here and through us. We give so that a child may be inspired to grow in their relationship with the Lord and love what happens here. We give so that the poor may be loved, missions expanded, and hope shared. We give so that all may know Christ.

Each of us have committed ourselves to these very things as the proof of our love of Christ. Today, we make that commitment more visible through our pledges and our visible acts of commitment. In your bulletin, you will see a gray insert. This insert is a symbol of your commitment. During the closing hymn, if you have turned in your pledge card you are asked to bring this card forward and lay this card at the altar. Take a moment to pray and ask God to strengthen you in this holy commitment. Maybe you still have not turned in your pledge and would like to do so, there is still time. You can bring it to the altar with you or place in the basket in the back.

We are all in this together. Each of us as have a part in sharing Christ’s love in Latonia. All of us are called to make a commitment to not just this church, but to God to be used to share the message of hope throughout our community and the world.

Today is your day to take that big step. To take a risk and say God, “I am willing to commit myself again as a proof of my love.” If you are willing to do so, I promise you God will be with you in this commitment. You will never be alone as you seek to participate in the church through your prayers, your gifts, your presence, your service, and your witness.

President Kennedy said something else in that address. He said, “Let us begin.” Truly, my friends, “Let us begin.” Let us begin to take that big step. Let us begin to take risks and to take chances. Let us begin, today, to way of life that is totally committed to the Lord, to our church, and to the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Let us begin and let us begin today!

Generosity Inspires Dreams

It is good to be speechless in worship.

What do I mean? I mean the sense of awe that happens when we encounter the Risen Lord in such a deep way that it takes our breath away. It leaves us amazed. It leaves us deeply connected with our Lord and each other.

I cannot help but think this has happened in worship the past few Sundays. We have had some deep worship moments that have connected us with our Lord and brought us closer together.

I say this because for the past two weeks we have journeyed through a time of remembrance. We have remembered what Trinity has meant to each of us and how certain people here, both past and present, have influenced our lives for Christ. These acts of remembrance help us to acknowledge that in each of these stories we know that God was and is active and present.

Who knew a stewardship campaign could be so powerful and deep? It has been wonderful to hear how Trinity has impacted your life and how the people here have made you feel Christ’s love in a deep way. As I am learning more about you, these stories and many others have been special to me. They have helped me to connect with you and to fully see how special Trinity is.

I hope you see this. I hope you have gained a deeper appreciation for Trinity and what God is doing here. It is an amazing story to recognize that for almost 125 years, we have been a living witness of Jesus Christ in Latonia and throughout the world. You have been a part of a story of God’s love here that continues to be written.

A story that is ready to turn the page and set course upon a new chapter. Today we focus specific on the next chapter of our story here that is our future and where God might be leading us as a congregation. We want to focus, now, on that big step that we want to take. If you remember a few weeks ago, I asked us to be willing to take a big step and to go where God might be leading. Today we want to begin to thinking and praying about just where we might take that first step.

Today is about our hopes and dreams. These are things I know many of you have wrestled. Some of you have talked to me about them. These discussions have centered around a few basic questions: Who are we? Who are you? Where are we going? What is God asking of us? I have tried to avoid answering some of these questions, wanting instead to listen and learn how you might answer them through your words and actions. However, today I want to being to walk through some of these questions and start a process of walking forward into our next chapter.

Our passage from Colossians 3:1-4 is an appropriate starting point. Paul’s words challenges us to think about what it means to be the church, to see ourselves as God does, and to reflect upon the Lord’s direction. These words challenges us to dream big and wonder about what is next for us at Trinity. Paul’s words are guiding by a perspective that helps us to be missional in our focus and guided by what it truly means to be the living witness of Jesus Christ in our community.
A perspective that starts to become clear when Paul writes that we “have been raised to a new life with Christ.” What does Paul mean? Each of us are participants in the hope of the resurrection. So often, we only focus on the realities of the resurrection during the Easter season. However, the resurrection is the hope and power that gives life and vitality to everything. The resurrection is our assurance that Christ has won the victory over sin and death. This gives power and authenticity to all Jesus says, does, and asks of us.

And we are participants in the resurrection through our baptism. When we accept Christ’s grace we are raised to a new life and were able to receive the hope, joy, and power behind the resurrection. We who were once dead to our sin have now been raised to a new life of hope through faith in Christ. This calls us to live our lives in response to God’s grace by “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The things that scare us, hold us back, or challenge us have nothing over the greatest hope, peace, and joy the world has ever known in Jesus Christ.

Because we have been raised to a new life, we are called to set our sights on the things of heaven and not the things of earth. These are competing images. On one hand, there is the life of Christ and being connected to our Lord. It is our willingness to go where Christ is calling us. On the other hand, are the things of the earth. The focus of which causes us to live as people of this world who focus on what is in front of us instead of what could be.

What does this mean? Let’s look at what it looks like when we focus upon the things of the earth. When we focus on the things of earth we allow current realities to define future potential. That is because we think more about the bottom line than we do about making disciples. We allow fear to define mission. We let our obstacles hold us back. Focusing on earthly things happens when we says we can never be a vital church, because we do not have the highest numbers, our giving is low, or we don’t have enough people.

This is the imagery of a church that has stopped dreaming. A church and community that perhaps have said, either through words or actions, that nothing is possible anymore with God. We look around and say, “There is nothing left here, so let’s just ride it out and see what happens.” It is the image of a church that has given up.

I don’t know if this describes any of you. I imagine at some point that it likely has. Hear me when I say this: God is not through with Trinity United Methodist. God is not done with us. God has something for each of us and this community. We have work for the kingdom of God still to do! As long as there are people in need of hope, justice that needs to be proclaimed, love that needs to be shared, and until Christ comes in final victory there is still work for the church to do!

This work calls us not to think about the things of earth, but to think of the things of heaven. We must focus on what God desires and to see things as the Lord would see them. We must be a community that dreams big and asks the questions of where God is leading us.

The idea of dreaming big is at the center of what Paul means by “setting our sights on the realities of heaven.” Paul wants us to be kingdom focused. He wants everything about us – our lives, families, communities – to be directed by the truth that Christ is alive. Paul wants our churches to be led by the hope of the resurrection that gives power to all Christ did and continues to do at the Father’s right hand. When we set our sights on the things of heaven we do so with an acknowledgment that Christ is the victor over all things.

When we set sights on the things of heaven we are able to live in confidence about our future. This is because we trust that Christ is with us, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, in our mission and witness. When we set our sights on the things of heaven we have the ability to dream big and pray about our vision and mission, in spite of whatever current reality exists within our community.

Friends, I want us to set our sights upon heaven and pray about where God will lead us as a church. I want us to be a church that is unwilling to allow current realities to deter us from doing the difficult, from doing the challenging, from going wherever God asks us to go to serve the poor, the lost, the forgotten, and rejected.

I never want us to stop dreaming big about the mission that we live into at Trinity. Many of you might be asking what are some of my dreams for our community. That is fair. The dreams I have for Trinity are not just for us here, but for our community and the global church.

I dream of a church that is relevant. A church that is relevant not by being “cool,” “hip,”  or “entertaining,” but by being true to God’s word and love. A church that desires to be authentic. An authenticity that leaves in an transparent desire to be honest about our faith and struggles with others.

I dream of a church that is willing to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community. A church that partners with other churches to help to address the poverty and drug issues that surround us. A church that seeks ways to heal the sick, pray with the hurting, and care for the rejected in ways that reflect Jesus’ love for all people. A church that is willing to do the challenging to share God’s hope.

I dream of a church that is committed to a vision and purpose. I dream of a church that knows its gifts and talents and is willing to use those gifts to serve God and world. A church that is committed to a way of being like Christ that defines everything we do and seek to be. A church that knows who it is and where it is going. A church where we are unified around a common focus that is simple and powerful.

All of us have dreams for Trinity and the global church. Dreams that may be what God asks of us here. Today I want to announce that in a few weeks I will be inviting some of you to come together to pray and seek God’s desires for us at Trinity. We will work to build a unified vision and purpose that will define our worship, discipleship, and missions. We will discern God’s plan for Trinity. What will come out of these discussions, I hope, is a pathway of mission that will define everything about us here at Trinity.

It is a process that actually begins today. In your bulletin, you will find your third “heart card.” This week’s card will lead us into this time of dreaming and visioning. What are your dreams for Trinity? What are the big steps you seek us taking when we set our sights upon heaven and commit ourselves to God’s desires? Whatever those dreams are – no matter how big or small – I want you to write them on that card. As we sing our closing hymn, you are invited to come up and lay the card at the altar as an act of us seeking not just our vision for Trinity, but God’s vision for this great church. After the closing hymn, we will take a moment to pray for these dreams, to pray for our church, and to ask God to lead us in what it means to dream big here.

God isn’t through with us. God has something wonderful and powerful for us. I wonder what it may be. I wonder what will happen if we set our sights upon heaven and trust that God has a plan for us. Let us take that big step forward and go where Christ is calling.

Extravagant Generosity Day 19: Ephesians 2:19-22

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (NLT)

For many of us the idea of family is not something that is comforting. When someone mentions a family to us we are likely to mention all of the wrongs we can see in a family, such as brokenness, disputes, frustrations, and unmet expectations. The mere focus on family can sometimes bring up unresolved hurts and pain that we just do not want to talk about.

Yet, Paul, in Ephesians 2:19-22, uses the imagery of family to describe our participation in the kingdom of God. He says we are members of God’s family as the Lord’s very own children. Why would Paul use this imagery? I think because even though our families can be the places of such deep pain, they can also be the places of unexpected grace, connection, hope, and joy.

Within this image of family we are reminded that we are connected together. We are all one in Christ and part of the Lord’s kingdom. It is a family built upon our relationship with the Lord, each other, and the world.

This image of a family also helps us in understanding what it means to be generous. We would never want to see any member of our family hurting or with need. If someone in our family is hurting we would do everything we could to help them out.

The same is true when the image of family is expanded to how God sees family. For if we are all God’s children, every one of us, then our desire to care for others is akin to caring for a member of our family. We care for the world, because we do not want to see anyone in God’s family without.

We are all members of God’s family. How have you loved your family today?

Extravagant Generosity Day 17: Romans 12:9-13

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (NIV)

Love is the essence of generosity.

We cannot be givers unless we first are willing to be people who are loving. We recognize this. It was what we talked about Sunday and throughout this week. However, to truly understand what it means to love generously we need to take a deeper look at this passage from Romans 12:9-13.

When we think of Paul and love, we immediately turn to the well-rehearsed lines of 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is a whole list of descriptors that talk about the depths of love. Yet, these words from Romans 12:9-13 are, perhaps, Paul’s deepest expression of what it means to love. What Paul expresses is a framework for love. If 1 Corinthians 13 is Paul’s sentimental view of love, then Romans 12:9-13 is his expressions of love lived out through grace.

Love must be sincere. It cannot be false. It cannot be used to gain advantage over someone. Love must be generous in its nature, by holding onto a deep commitment to the other person, whether it is someone we know or do not know.

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Love seeks after justice and cares for the common good of all people. Love does not cheer for the downfall of those who hurt us, but prays for their spiritual transformation and repentance.

Love is devoted to one another in brotherly love. Love is about connection. We cannot love someone who we do not have a relationship with. Love call us to recognize that we are all in this together. We each share a common connection based upon the fact that we are made in God’s image. Love brings us together and unites us around our shared moments.

Love reminds us to stay committed to the Lord and serve God with zeal and spiritual fervor. Love is the essence of generosity, but it is also the key to serving the kingdom of God. If our service is not grounded in our love of God and others then we are missing something. Our involvement in the church cannot be about ourselves, or fulfilling our own personal needs. Ministry must be about our love of God and of others.

Love calls us to be generous to those in need and to practice hospitality. Love reaches out. Love calls us to go to those who need help and welcome them into our lives and to partner with them. We do not share acts of generosity as a one-time act and then end our connection. Instead, we are called to practice continual acts of hospitality where we seek to build relationships with those who we are in ministry with.

Love is about generosity. Generosity is love. Everyday we have the opportunity to live out Paul’s expression of love in how we care for our families and the world. How will you do so today?