Wild West

Turtle-CowboyThere’s a wild west theme on NickJr this month so I thought I’d play around with the idea. What could be slower moving across the desserts of the American West than a turtle riding on a giant snail. Hmm… He probably needs a banjo or harmonica. What do you think?

Y’all have fun,
Richard

Dogwoods

DogwoodIn case you missed it this is EASTER time. It’s the time in the Christian calendar immediately following Easter and before Pentecost. Easter time also happens to coincide with the blooming of the dogwood trees in Lexington, NC. I’ve been wanting to create a water color illustration of them for a while, but the season and the blooms always seem to pass before I can find the time. Days like today when it is over cast and the sky is dark behind the white blossoms always seems so beautiful to me. Maybe one day I’ll find the time. I hope y’all like this quick doodle until then.

By God’s Good Grace,
Richard

Bind Us Together


Sermon Scripture: Acts 4:32:37; John 20:19-22; 1John 1:5-2:3
Sermon Purpose: What binds us together; unity of purpose to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and to go forth and make disciples of all nations.
Sermon Title: What Binds Us Together?

Do you know why Sunday mornings at eleven o’clock are the most segregated day and time in America? (Pause) We like to be with the people who are like us. In some ways it is like we never left high school. In high school or even middle school the comic book geeks hung out with the comic book geeks, the band geeks hung out with the band geeks, the jocks hung out with the jocks, the preps with the preps… you get the picture. Out in the real world things are surprisingly similar on Sunday mornings. The African American’s worship over here, and the Pentecostals worship over there, and the Methodists worship over here. It’s funny how the bigger churches seem to have the wealthier people. Smaller churches tend to have people who are less affluent and more relational and working class. And yet within the congregations we tend to gather with those who are most like us. What should bring us together? What is it that should draw us together across lines of race, class, gender and economics? What is it that binds us together as Christians?

The disciples were not a lot alike. Peter was loud, and uneducated. James and John were eager for power and asked to be seated at the left and right hand of Jesus. Matthew, as a tax collector was seen as an enemy of his own people. Philip doubted anything good could come from Nazareth. Judas had betrayed Jesus and hung himself. And in our passage from the Gospel according to John, Thomas doubted Jesus had been raised from the dead. What did these disciples of Jesus have in common? What was it that drew them together after Good Friday? Remember, after Jesus’ arrest the disciples were divided, scattered and scared. Now Jesus is dead, and the fear of the Jewish leadership had the Disciples in hiding. Was it a shared fear which brought the disciples back together to hide or could it have been something else? I think what was holding the disciples together during those three days before the resurrection was belief in a promise Jesus had made. In three days Jesus would be raised from the dead. I think that promise gave the disciples hope.

Then it happened. The women came back from the tomb bringing a report that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb. Jesus had been raised from the dead and they had seen Him. Then Jesus appeared to ten of the eleven remaining disciples. Jesus appeared again when Thomas was present. Now these eleven disciples of Jesus had a common experience of having seen the risen Messiah to hold them together. But Jesus tells them something very strange. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Let me ask you Church, what is holding these people together? Is it just something they have seen, or could it be belief in something more?

In Acts we are told they had everything in common. There were people joining the group – theses followers of the way of Jesus Christ. They were all of one heart and one soul – a phrase all too similar to the great commandment to be ignored.[1] The people devoted themselves to the apostles’ testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A testimony is not a book report, or a recitation of something we have learned to say. A testimony is a presentation of something we have seen or felt for ourselves and know to be true. The result of being devoted to the apostles’ testimony about the resurrection of Jesus Christ was there was not a needy person among them. There were even people in their midst who were willing to sell property they owned to make sure the needy among them did not go hungry. They cared for one another. They cared about one another. And where they saw a need they reached out to see that need was satisfied.

Church, why did these followers of Jesus Christ care so much about one another? Why did these followers of Jesus Christ come together? Why did these followers of the way of Jesus Christ devote themselves to the apostle’s testimony? Why did these early Christians care for and care about one another? They did so because no matter how different they were they were United in one thing. They were United in the truth that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully God. They were United in the truth the Son of God volunteered Himself to die as a sacrifice for our sins. They were United in the truth that on the third day Jesus rose from the dead, and freed us all from bondage to sin and death. They were united in the truth of Jesus’ lordship over their lives. This truth set them free from the darkness of sin and death. The truth they were united in set them free from bitterness, envy, greed and hostility toward one another because of pride, envy, and ambition. The truth of Jesus Christ unifies people across the boundaries of race, gender, class or economic status. There aint nothing that can come between us and the love of Christ! Amen? Amen!! Amen? Amen!!

So why do we put so much between us and others? If we want to do what Scripture says and to be like the Acts 2 church then why shouldn’t we be unified in Christ? Why do we put so much darkness between ourselves and the people who do not look like us, smell like us, or make the kind of money we do? Why do we put so much darkness between ourselves and people who are younger than us, or older than us? You may be asking when do we put darkness between us? Darkness creeps into our relationships when we put ourselves ahead of Christ. Darkness creeps in when church becomes a place to see our wants, our desires, and our needs met instead of serving others for Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:7 says, “[i]f we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” To those who would like to argue the point so say, “I don’t put darkness between me and the person sitting next to me or across from me,” please allow me to refer you to the next couple of verses from 1 John 1. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1John 1:8-10). Is there anybody here wearing big enough shoes to stand toe to toe with the Almighty and call God a liar? (pause)

Yeah. Me neither. I guess I’ll just have to accept it. I am a sinner. I guess I’d better see if I’m alone here this morning. Good Morning Saints! Good Morning Sinners! Oh good. I’m not alone. Sisters and brothers Jesus Christ came and died so that we would not continue walking in the painful, sinful paths we walked before we knew Christ. Jesus Christ came so we would not walk in darkness or put darkness between one another. Jesus came so we would walk in the light. Jesus died so we would not stumble in the darkness of our own minds any more. Jesus came so we would have life and have it more abundantly. The only way to have that kind of life is to point our lives toward the light of Jesus Christ. The closer we come to Christ the closer we come to each other. The more firmly we devote our lives to the love of Christ the more firmly we are united together in this one common cause. And what is our cause? To go forth and make disciples of all nations. Amen? Amen! How are we gonna make disciples? By laying our differences aside and putting God first. Amen? Amen! Sisters and brothers to put God first is to walk in the light. Let us walk in the light of Jesus Christ together.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Deut 6:5 ESV “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

I drew a better bear!

Bear-2I went bigger, and a more redneck with this bear. It’s still a rough, fast doodle so I pushed my brush pen until it looked like I was dry brushing. I started with a Carmine Col-erase pencil and my Pentel Brush pen again. It was fun. I definitely want to play with line thickness some more though. I wonder what this would look like in color?

Y’all have fun,
Richard

I drew a bear!

Bear-1Okay. I drew a bear. It was quick and dirty, and I actually kinda love it. I don’t know what it is, but when I am pushed for time and there isn’t room to worry about getting every line perfect I rather enjoy the doodle more. This was roughed out with a Carmine Col-erase Pencil and inked with my Pentel brush pen.

Y’all have fun,
Richard

Writing 101 – Stream of Consciousness

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This is part of a writing exercise through WordPress.com called Writing 101. As a pastor I write something – or several somethings every week. Which is great, but continuing to grow at anything means stretching. So what I am posting today is a stream of consciousness exercise related to the passage of Scripture above. It is one of the Lectionary Scriptures for this first Sunday after Easter. I haven’t decided for sure if I’ll use it, but here goes anyway.

Acts 4:32-35English Standard Version (ESV)

They Had Everything in Common

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

The first thing that jumps out at me is the strength of unity in this passage. “those who believed were of one heart and soul.” Just to make sure we get the picture the Biblical Author (BA) goes on to say, “they had everything in common.” I have heard people push back against this idea as if to say it has something to do with Communism. On the whole I think this is very flawed. The passage does not say they were equal, or that the rich made themselves poor in order to make the poor rich. The fact this is addressed says something about a need at the time. How great was the divide between the haves and the have not’s in first century Palestine? What was the purpose of tending to those went without? How big a disparity was there between those who did not have and those who did have? I think it is interesting the passage says there was not a needy person among them.

I live in a place where there are needy people all around. I consider myself lucky to be able to be in ministry to those people; although, many of one of my churches do not consider themselves so lucky. The idea they would have to go outside of their church doors to serve those people is off putting and makes them angry when I mention it. I probably shouldn’t, but the more angry they become about my mentioning it, the more I mention service to the poor with passion. What would the world look like if more people reached out to help others? What would our town and community look like if more people reached out to help others?

I love the idea of helping people. I love to help people in general. It’s a BIG part of who I am, and in many many ways I feel as though I am the better for it. However, I think there is something else to this passage. Those who had means helped out those who didn’t who were a part of this gathering of people. They had this one thing in common above and beyond money. They listened to the testimony of the apostles regarding the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. I think in every place Jesus offered assistance, or healing, or a miracle there was a response to be offered. Some people were healed because of their faith. Others were spared punishment because of Jesus’ protection. I wonder if Jesus’ ministry to the poor and the helpless was not more of a hand up than a hand out ministry. To have all things in common with those who have no means, who haven’t bathed, or are addicted to drugs and alcohol and sex, and to yet find something in common. What is the difference between having something in common with the poor and the working poor in our country and having something in common with the nerds, or the jocks, or the geeks, or the cheerleaders, or the rich, or the society people, or even movie stars or American idols. Under Christ we are all just sinners: weak and needy; sick and sore – in need of a savior, and the support of those who are like us and struggling to find the way to life this life, and not just survive this life.

How’s that for stream of consciousness?

By God’s Good Grace,
Pastor Richard

He’s Alive!!!

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Sermon Script: 1Corinthians 15:3-14
Sermon Purpose: Resurrection = death to the rotten & rebirth of the blessed
Sermon Title: Blessed Assurance

Good Morning Saints! Good Morning Sinners!!!

I need to tell y’all about something that happened two weeks ago Maundy Thursday. I appeared before the Western North Carolina Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry, or as I like to call it; the BoOM. I was approved to move ahead to Provisional Candidacy to be an elder in the United Methodist Church. This is a big deal for me and my family. Y’all need to understand this has not been an easy road. It has taken me four years to pass this committee. Over the last four years my family and I have served good churches, and fighting churches, and watched heart broken as St Timothy closed. My wife gave birth to our second child, Audrey, and we moved to Lexington three weeks later. Passing the BoOM is a BIG deal for me and my family. We went out to dinner to celebrate that night with the kids and my wife kinda looked at me in disbelief for a moment. Did it really happen? It was a surreal moment for the both of us. As I consider that moment in the life of my family it helps me to better understand where the people of Corinth may have had doubts about Jesus, and the resurrection. Did the resurrection really happen? It almost seems too good to believe.

Corinth was a major city of trade in Greece. Some population estimates of that 1st century city are as high as 600,000 people. Paul successfully established the church there around 50 A.D. and even stayed in Corinth for 18 months. The only place Paul stayed longer was Ephesus. When Paul left Corinth was visited by Apollos and Peter who both lead successful evangelism campaigns in Corinth. Just like churches today people had their favorite preacher and that caused some divisions within the church at Corinth. The same is true today. There are some here who would claim A.B. Weaver as their preacher. There are some here today who love Ed Armfield, and there are some here today who would probably throw a stick at Ed if they had a chance. We all seem to have our favorites and playing favorites caused divisions within the church at Corinth.

In the midst of these divisions came a group of Greeks who did not believe in a bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. They could get behind a resurrection of the spirit, but they could not get behind the idea of the resurrection of the body. These Greeks came from a philosophical background called Gnosticism. I guess it was easier for them to consider a soul – which no one has ever actually seen to be immortal than a physical human body which everybody had seen and knows will decay. These Gnostic Christians not only carried doubts, but they taught their doubts as doctrine, and fought with other members of the Corinthian church if they did not see eye to eye with their ideas about the resurrection. This is the issue Paul is writing to address in 1Corinthians 15.

Paul’s first and most important argument is that Jesus Christ really did die a physical death for our sins. Jesus died to pay the high price we have run up because of our willful sinning. Jesus was buried, and on the third day Jesus was raised from the dead. Now, there is an important point here that needs to be understood. Jesus is fully God and fully human. Jesus has a human nature and the nature of God, and the two have never, ever been separated. When Jesus died on the cross Jesus’ body and soul died on the cross. Jesus’ soul did not return to God from the cross in order to escape death. Jesus’ body did not deteriorate like other bodies when people die. When Jesus was raised from the dead Jesus’ body and soul were raised from the dead together. To prove the point Paul points out the resurrected Jesus appeared to Peter and the disciples. The resurrected Christ appeared to more than 500 others at one time – most of whom were still alive as Paul is writing this letter. If there were still doubts in the Corinthian church they could go and look up any of those 500 who saw the risen Christ. If Paul were speaking something that were not true the eye witnesses would have shot down what he preached. Then Jesus appeared to his brother James and all of the apostles, and lastly to Paul himself. Paul is saying Paul had seen the resurrected Christ with his own eyes. For those who struggled with the idea of Jesus being raised, body and soul together, eye witness testimony makes for a pretty strong argument.

Paul goes on to argue for the importance of the resurrection. The Gnostic argument there is no resurrection of the dead because human bodies cannot be raised from the dead completely destroys the Gospel. Paul argues, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead” (1Cor 15:12)? If resurrection of the dead – body and soul is not possible then even Christ could not have been raised from the dead. Sisters and brothers Jesus was raised from the dead; body and soul. Amen? Amen! Jesus is alive! Amen?! Amen!! The King has risen and the grave could not keep Him! Amen?! Amen!! Because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead we have been freed from slavery to sin and death. Amen?!! Amen!!! The resurrection makes us who we are as Christians. The blood of Christ washes away all of our past mistakes and all of our willful sins. Christ’s death is our opportunity to bury our pasts with all of those decaying things in the earth. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is our opportunity to be renewed in every aspect of our lives.

However, before we can have a renewed resurrection life we have to die to old ways of thinking. The Gnostics needed to let go of the idea a body could not be raised from the dead. What ideas are we struggling to let go of as two churches coming together to serve God through Jesus Christ? What past prejudices, arguments, disagreements and hurts are keeping us from growing closer together as two churches on a charge? What old ideas about what is possible and what is impossible need to die so we can take bold steps for Jesus Christ? “Things that are impossible for human beings are not impossible for God.”[1] Amen? Amen! For the impossible to become possible we have to believe it before we can achieve it.

Let me ask y’all a question. Yes or no, did you like the anthem this morning? There are people in this choir from both churches. The song they sang is not a style of music either church is accustomed to singing, and took a lot of practice to get right. Some of the people who sang didn’t want anything to do with this piece of music when they started. They showed up to practice because they wanted to sing God’s praises on Easter Sunday. It took a little time, but this joint choir came to believe it could be done. Once this choir started to believe they could sing this song the rehearsals got A LOT better. But I’m gonna be honest with y’all, until the group believed I had my doubts. When it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ and our relationship with one another we are going to have our doubts from time to time. However, when we finally allow those doubts to die, and choose to have faith in God and one another great things happen for God’s glory. Now this was just a song we have sung this one time on Easter morning. We may never sing it again. But believing it could be sung for God’s glory made singing this song possible. Dare to imagine Church. Dare to dream for a moment. If Christ can work this wonder through one song what can Christ do through all of us as churches coming together for Jesus Christ? The bottom line is this. Ministry is not about you and me. Ministry is not about Wesley Heights or Cotton Grove. Ministry is about serving God and putting God first. Why? Because God gave God’s only Son to pay the price for all of our selfish focusing on us. Let us turn away from our selfishness and strain together for the upward call of Jesus Christ. Because Christ has died. Christ is risen. And you better believe Christ will come again.

In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.

[1] Mike Slaughter, RENEGADE GOSPEL: The Rebel Jesus, (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House 2014) 124.