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Riverside, California
Studying scripture and preaching the Word to draw us into deeper understanding and more faithful discipleship.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sunday morning prayer

Lord God, my purpose is to serve you.  And in serving you it is to serve your people—to teach them, hopefully to inspire them, to lead them back to you.  This day as I prepare I feel fully ill-equipped. I am tired. I am worn out. I feel completely empty with nothing left to offer them.  Remind me that it is not about me, or about what I have to offer, but instead it is about you and what I take from you to give to them.
Your people need your Word. Your people need your truth. I need those things for myself as well.  Show me how to proclaim your Word with confidence and with conviction. What is it you want your people to hear this morning? 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Keeping It Reel--Despicable Me

Scripture: Acts 9

Theme: New beginnings
Main points: no matter who we are, or what we have done, or how hated we might be, God offers us second chances and new beginnings. 
Who was Saul?  Saul was a Jewish leader, head strong in what he knew and determined to hold the course for the beliefs and traditions he cherished.
What was the problem?  Even in trying to serve God, he was persecuting others who were trying to serve God. As a Jewish leader he couldn’t see any truth in the Jesus-followers. He wanted to stop them.  He wanted to follow God and others to follow God, but only in the ways he had known before.
How did God speak to him?
God spoke to Saul through Jesus, challenging the persecution, not just of Christ-followers but of Jesus himself.  God caused the blindness. Then Saul had to be dependent on someone from “the way” for relief
Why does Ananias matter?
Ananias is someone who was also obedient to God, listening and heeding God’s leading to go and pray with Saul, even though Saul was hated and Ananias was at risk being with him. 
Why did we pick this scripture?
A huge part of the Christian journey is the first part, the part where we decide to choose Christ, to invite him to live in our hearts and to follow him.  Our defining moment, or at least one of them, is when we stop going only with what we know in our heads and start listening to God and doing as God directs us.  Being a Christian isn’t about knowing all the right things, not in terms of head knowledge, it’s about being a faithful follower. That means we have to go where God takes us, trusting God enough to let our own convictions go so that we can follow.  Saul’s story captures that truth and shows us what that looks like in very concrete terms. 
Saul certainly believed in God. And as a Jewish leader, he would have been well versed in the laws of the Bible. He sought to be faithful in who he was and what he did, but he wasn’t prone to listening to God, not from what we see here in the scriptures anyway.  He knew that he knew what to do. And he went with it full force.  He was not about to be stopped.  So, the only one who could stop him was God.  And God did just that—stopped Saul in his tracks.  Bright lights and temporary blindness were pretty convicting.
So Saul stopped, out of necessity, and he heard from God. We don’t know what his prayers were in those days, or even what the conversations were with those around him.  But what we do know is that those moments changed him.  And he chose Jesus, he chose with his heart, even when all of his head knowledge from before told him “no”, he chose Christ. 
                For very different reasons, Gru was known as a very bad guy and most folks didn’t want anything to do with him. He was mean spirited and only about his own agenda.  He wanted to be the world’s worst villain and he didn’t care who he hurt in the process.  And then these little orphan girls interrupted his life.  And at first, he didn’t see any use for them and then he saw them only as a means to an end--to his ends, he could use them as a trap against his enemy. So he went to adopt them… not for their sake but for his—so he could have the power he desired.  It was purely selfish.  But slowly they started to chip away at his hardness of heart. 
                In this next scene, Gru has to tell his minions that they are broke, and there is no way to afford the dream of taking over the world and then the girls do something that speaks to Gru….
CLIP #4 We have no money…girls’ piggy bank
                This simple gesture starts to change Gru’s heart.  Luckily for Gru subtlety worked a lot better for him than it did for Saul.  Love and kindness started to shift his perspective, and his love for the girls grew. 
Saul needed the 2x4 to the head approach, so God struck him blind…there was no denying something happened there! For both of these men, a powerful moment, one of love and one of divine intervention stopped them in their tracks, it forced them to reexamine what they knew they knew and listen for what the better direction might be.  For Gru, it meant choosing love over destruction, for Saul, it meant choosing Christ over the rules he held so high.
For each of us, our journey begins with a choice…maybe our first choices are to listen, or to ask questions, or to be willing to go to church with a friend, or a spouse, or a parent.  But then at some point, we have to choose for ourselves.  Will we follow Christ?  Will we allow him to live in our hearts so that our lives may be transformed?  When we choose him, love breaks through in ways we can’t expect or explain and when it does it changes us. 
Now, some of us have had Saul like moments. We can look at the pieces of our lives and it’s like one side is here…in a place of darkness, or hard heartedness, or selfishness, and the other side is waaaaay over here laced with love, grace, and peace. 
Others of us have simpler nuances that define the changes in our hearts.  We don’t have one of “those” stories of conversion or change…God has just been part of our story and part of our lives. 
A Methodist professor once said that our conversion is kind of like an old roll up shade.  You know, the ones that were a solid sheet of some kind of plastic, and you would pull on the bottom to make it roll up…you could just pull and let go and it would race to the top and hit the window sill as it did.  Or, you could pull and hold on and help it gradually roll up.  This professor said our conversion is often like one of those options.  Some of us are like Saul…it’s quick and instantly noticeable. One quick flip of the wrist and then we release and watch it fly. Others of us have a more gradual change, one like Gru that requires a collection of moments that finally build to a place where we can see and distinguish the change for ourselves. The light is revealed, but only bit by bit, inch by inch. 
We didn’t read it this morning, but Saul’s story is a powerful one…we could preach the rest of the year learning about who he was and what he did.  But most of us know him as Paul…the one who was changed by God who went on to be one of the greatest evangelists and church planters that ever lived. Gru’s story is a bit different, he’s not an evangelist, but he is changed by the love he shares with the girls.  This scene captures his change:
CLIP #5 time for bed, unicorn story, transformation, kissing the minions
There is no ONE way to get there. God uses lots of paths and lots of people to help us see and experience the love of Christ.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Keeping It Reel--How to Train Your Dragon

Worship Focus: Living Like Christ—all that we are called to do…includes getting to know people, pushing through our prejudices and past beliefs to see and know people for who they really are.  It might be an unexpected comparison, but we are using “How to Train Your Dragon” to help us see how stereotypes and prejudices can stand in the way for really getting to know someone, and how we need leaders who are willing to risk breaking the rules to show us a bigger story.  To get started we’re going to see a clip on the book of dragons and all the things the Vikings think they know about them and how they should respond to each dragon.

Video: How to train your dragon: (1:30)
VIDEO CLIP #1: Book of dragons…all the evil things they do…kill on sight, kill on sight, kill on sight

2 Corinthians 1:4 (CEV)
He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble. 

 Luke 18:9-13 (CEV)
Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:

Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn."
The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, "God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner."


Explain the scripture passage. 
1)      Who were Pharisees?
2)     What did tax collectors do?
3)      What were their relationships? 
Pharisee related to the tax collector a lot like the Vikings related to the dragons.  All of them were the same: evil…maybe evil in different ways, but all evil.  And they should be treated the same…kill on sight.  Now, Pharisees didn’t kill the tax collectors, but they didn’t accept them either.  You didn’t eat with them or hang out with them, you didn’t want anything to do with them,.
In a similar way, the Vikings despised the dragons. They had had some really bad interactions and they only knew them as the enemy so that’s how they treated them and that’s how they taught everyone else to relate to the dragons.
But then there was Hiccup…the son of the King and he sees things a little differently. He never really wanted to kill the dragons and one day he came across one that was injured.  In dragon killing class he was told that all dragons will ALWAYS go for the kill…but this one he had met didn’t….so he started to wonder if they were right about all the things they thought they knew.  So, he tried an experiment…he took some food to this one dragon to see what would happen…
MOVIE CLIP #2: First fish…toothless smile  (2:15)
                This simple gesture initiated a relationship between Hiccup and Toothless.  It wasn’t a feast. It wasn’t a month’s worth of food, it was one simple fish, but it conveyed humility, trust, a willingness to build a relationship.  And Hiccup’s kindness was immediately reciprocated with Toothless’ kindness.  Kindness begot kindness. Love begot love. 
                I think sometimes we over-complicate the issues in our lives.  We see someone who is different and all the things we think we know about them and when someone challenges us to think differently or get to know them we create scenarios in our head where it would be way too challenging to move past where we are.  But, in reality, the potential for change lies in simple actions…. actions filled with love, kindness, humility, and openness for what could happen. 
                In the scripture story today, there is no future in the story…Why? Because the Pharisee had no willingness and no humility. All he saw was what he thought he knew and he didn’t care about who the man was, or his faith in God that compelled him to pray. The Pharisee didn’t see a man, all he saw was a reputation and a stigma. 
Hiccup isn’t a biblical character, but he lives like one…he lived like Christ…by willing to see Toothless for who he was, not just his reputation, Hiccup shared grace and acceptance, something that Jesus did often.  In the scripture from today, the Pharisee refuses to do anything with the tax collector, but in a different story, Jesus invites himself to  a tax collector’s house for dinner…he ate with him, got to know him, spent time with him.  Everyone else looked at Jesus and thought he was absolutely crazy, but Jesus didn’t care.  He wanted to show grace, kindness, and humility and when he did that, he got to know the person.  In a similar way, Hiccup reminds us that as Christ-followers it’s our job to live like Christ, to be open to those that are marginalized, stereotyped, and disliked. It’s our job to move beyond what we think we know and actually spend time with people, getting to know them for who they really are.
Toothless wasn’t the only dragon got to know, as he spent time with Toothless, he was forced to encounter others….and this is what happened…

MOVIE CLIP #3: Everything we know about you is wrong (1:01)
                Everything we know about you is wrong.  Have you ever had one of those experiences?  They are powerful.  I will confess this to you…I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie in my life because I thought I knew something about certain people or certain groups of people and then, by whatever circumstances, I spent some time with them and got to know them for who they really were and I had one of those moments where I thought, “everything I know about you is wrong.”  Like most people in this room, I have judged people like Dan based on their piercings, I’ve judged others based on their hair style or funky clothes, others based on accent, others on skin color, others based on where they lived or how they lived, others based on education, others on social status.  I’ve judged a lot of people.  Now, I’m not proud of that, not at all, but I do have to confess it. I have to be honest and recognize that not only have I judged people, but I have misjudged people. And God tells me, through the stories of Jesus, that that’s not acceptable, that’s not who I am supposed to be. 
                We are called to get to know people, not just know about them, or listen to what others say. But instead we are supposed to build relationships, to spend time together, not just once or twice, but long enough to build a relationship that we would stand up for, one we would fight for. 
                Toothless and Hiccup did just that.  And after they formed a friendship, it required that they take the next step, that they share what they had learned--that the dragons weren’t what everyone thought they were. 
                Let’s take a look.
MOVIE CLIP #4: Be careful with that dragon…toothless to the rescue (3:25)
                Hiccup took a stand; he dared to go against the grain. He didn’t just get to know Toothless and the other dragons and then keep it a secret. He made a statement. He told his whole town that he didn’t agree with their stereotypes—the dragons were not who they all thought they were.  And that wasn’t terribly popular.  It was the same way for Jesus. When he went home with the tax collector for dinner, people chided him, they ridiculed him, they said he was foolish, that he was breaking the rules.  His decision wasn’t popular either.  But Jesus wasn’t worried about what people would say about him. He was worried about living with grace, kindness and humility.
                So when we say we are called to live like Christ, it means we are to take a stand. After we get to know people and learn that they aren’t what other people say, or that they aren’t who we thought they were, we are supposed to share that with others.  It starts with us, but it doesn’t end there.  When we learn that the person with piercings is actually a really faithful Christian leader, or the person whose skin color is different likes the same music we do, or the person who sleeps on the streets is an amazing musician.  We can learn a lot about people, about all the things they have done, and the talents God has given them. And when those relationships break apart our bias, we should help others to do the same. 
                God didn’t create us to be divisive and hateful. God created us for friendships that matter and help us to grow in love, kindness and humility.  Sometimes that proves more challenging than others, but that doesn’t mean we should give up…it means we have to muster our courage and do what we know is right. 
                Hiccup and Toothless had an invaluable relationship, so when Hiccup was in danger, Toothless came to help. And then when Toothless was in equal danger, Hiccup had to decide whether or not he would do the same…

MOVIE CLIP #5: It’s a mess….I’ll probably do something stupid…that’s more like it. (1:33)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Keeping it Reel: Shawshank Redemption

We are starting  fun new series called Keeping it Reel. Its about living what we believeliving like Christ. As we move through this series were going to be talking about the different tenants of a life in Christforgiveness, reconciliation, sacrifice, inclusion, and justice.  And well see parts of different movies that help us see what that looks like in real terms.  Today we are starting with something basicif we are going to live like Jesus, we have to put our old sinful ways behind us, and be loving, kind and forgivingand that starts with one another in the church. 

Our first movie is Shawshank Redemptionwhich is probably not the movie that would first come to mind for many of usits about Shawshank prison and a couple of the inmates there.  Its not a Christian community. They arent committed to following Jesus or living differently. But there is one inmate Andy Dufraine, who lives in such a way that he stands out among the others.  He lives with kindness, thoughtfulness, and selflessness, even under the worst circumstances-false imprisonment dealing with all of the atrocities one might experience in prison. 

In a lot of ways, the thrust of this passage is pretty straight forward. It seems like it might hardly be worth our timeI mean, its not like theres a hidden secret meaning or something. Its directbe good to each other and leave any of your bad habits or sinful ways in the past. 

            We can all be on board with that, right?  So then why is it worth our time?  Well, for these simple reasons:
1)       People are peopleno matter the country or the century. 
2)       Living the life of Christ doesnt come naturally.

            What I mean is this: the book of Ephesians was written as a letter to the church in Ephesus in the first century.  And even nearly 2000 years later, we in the church still struggle with the same kind of issues.  People are people. We are sinful and broken and even when we want to be like Jesus it can be hard.  And we need to remember to love, be kind, and forgive. 

            And yes, even Christians need those reminders.  We arent here because we are perfect. Were here because we know we need help getting it right.  And it matters that we get it right together.  Our relationships serve as our witness.  Other people hear the words of Christ, the rules we are supposed to live by, and they look to us to see if we do it, to see if it matters, to see if it changes anything to follow this Jesus guy. And if what they see is hypocrisy, judgment, anger, and sin, then theyre probably going to doubt Jesus and his power to do something good in our world.

            It matters how we live our lives.  We have to live what we believe.  And if we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and if we believe that we are called to be like him, then we have to practice that in our daily living.  Now, we arent perfect. Weve said that.  We know that.  We are going to fall short. We are going to get it wrong. We will have our days when we dont look a whole lot like Jesus.  BUT, that doesnt mean we should give up on trying.  Living our faith matters.  

            If we think about the movie, we think about the guys at Shawshank prison, and what might we expect?each man for himself. Weve heard about the violence, the corruption, the insider rings that happen in prisons, and certainly when you watch the movie, youll see theres a healthy dose of that.  And yet, we also see something distinctively different in Andy Dufraine. Andy wants good things for the other guys in the prison. He spent 6 years writing letters to get money to fund a library. He helped 6 guys pass their high school equivalency test.  He helped the guards do their taxes and set up trusts for their kids.  His heart could have been hardened by prison or the abuses he endured, and yet generosity and kindness won out in Andys heart.  So, it hardly came as a surprise when Tommy Williams came and Andy offered to help him change from a life of crime, to something better.  Andy took the time to not just help Tommy pass his tests, but to teach him to reach starting with learning his letters.  He taught him to read. And he taught him his high school basics.  Tommy passed the test with a C+ average.  Hed been in and out of prison since he was 13, probably because he was illiterate and couldt hang with a school crowd, but Andy gave him the opportunity to change that, to have something different, to live a life worthy of his family, of something more. 
            In them, I see our callingto be like Christ and care about other people, to help them through hard circumstances, to be just and fair in our actions, to care and help them, even when we dont have to, and to give of ourselves for the benefit of others.  It matters how we live, not just for our sake, not just because we are supposed to, but because our actions have the potential to change the world, one person at a time.  
            I have another scene for us to watch, its Andy with his friend Red. Theyve been together at Shawshank for 10 years and learned to be there for each other.  Red had played the harmonica as a kid, but gave it up and certainly wasnt playing at Shawshank.  When Andy pressed him and asked why, Red said it wasnt worth it.  Andy contradicted him and said this is when its worth it the mostbecause it tells the prison that it cant have all of you, that there is a life beyond those wallsit gives you hope. 
            Lets watch. 
            These two men learned to share hope and life with each other.  They marked lifes momentseven if it was yet another rejection from the parole board, or a full decade of life in prison, but even if those arent milestones you might want, they were part of life inside and they learned to roll with it. 
            Andy Dufraine lived what he believed and in some ways it rubbed off on the other guys.  Now, he wasnt under the best of circumstances, things werent exactly going his wayhis wife cheated on him and was then murdered and he was convicted for it.he could have been consumed with anger and bitterness, but he chose not to be.  He chose something different.  That may not be our story, in fact its probably not, but we all have stuff that could harden and poison our hearts.  We have things that happen that spoil what we strive for and what we think we should have and we would be justified to be bitter about it, or we could leave the bitterness and keep focusing on who Jesus invites us to be.  We could be hope and life in our world, with each other. 
            It matters what we believe, but even more than that, it matters that we live what we believe.  If we believe in hope, we have to live hope. If we believe in forgiveness, we have to forgive. If we believe in second chances, we have to offer them, not just expect them for ourselves.  If we believe that following Jesus matters, then we have to act like it, we have to follow him and do what he asks, not just when its easy, not just when life is going our way, but as wholly and fully and often as we can.