Friday, June 30, 2006

Ordinary Time: Friday, June 30, 2006

I'm going to do this a little different today. I've been thinking about one of my favorite passages in the Word, Luke 15. There's something about how it is written in the Message that has always stuck with me. Instead of my unusual reflection upon the Daily Lectionary, I'm going to reflect upon Luke 15 today.

Luke 15

In these great three parables, we see two types of people. The lost and the found. What is lost is a coin. A sheep. A son. And some Pharisees. What they don't realize in the beginning of the text is that they are just as lost as the prodigal son.

Now, they may not look lost. They may look religious. They may be in the temple every time there is a festival. But, the don't follow the savior who is right there in front of their face.

We all know that the prodigal son is lost. Look how he's living. That one is easy. But, the Pharisees don't look lost. They look religious. There is a difference between looking religious and being religious. If you look religious, you actions don't reflect you heart.

If you are religious, your actions are based upon your heart.

There were four things in this chapter that were lost: a sheep, a coin, a son, and some Pharisees. Only the first three were found. Today, what is on your heart. Are you like the Pharisees, grumbling about those terrible sinners. Or, are you like the lost son, that knew he needed to come home. Today, which of the four are we?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ordinary Time: Thursday, June 29, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Numbers 17:1-11

We see in this passage God choosing Aaron's tribe of Levi to be the priestly tribe. Could you image being born into that tribe and knowing that you would be a priest? That's so different from way things are for us today. Just because I'm a preacher does not mean that my children will become preachers.

God wants us to choose to serve Him, and God gives each of us individual callings. We are not all called to be a preacher. There are many other ways to be faithful to God. Why we all have different callings, we all actually have the same calling. Be faithful. What ever you are called to do by God, be faithful to it. Today, what is your calling? What has the Lord gifted you in? Is it singing? Is it working? Is it teaching? Whatever it is, do it unto the Lord; for He is the one that has gifted. He calls each of us. It is up to us, though, to respond.

New Testament Lesson

Romans 5:1-11

This passage is one of the most powerful in all the bible, in my opinion. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus died for us not when we were clean and perfect, but He died for us when we were at out lowest, when we were at our filthiest, when we were at our worst point. He died for us while we were sinners. We did not deserve to have Christ died for us. We were not good enough. We did not come from the right family. We did not earn it. All of us, each of us, while we were sinners, bound for judgement and hell, Christ died for us.

We cannot earn it. That's why it's called grace.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 20:17-28

We see the two contrasting views here. The disciples want to be in charge. They want to decide who gets to sit where; they want to decided who's in first place and who's in last.

We see Jesus say, it is not my decision to make, but the Father's. And we see Him tell them, if they want to be first, if they want to lead, they must serve. The way that we grow in Christ is through service. The way we lead in Christ is through service. The way that we obey Christ is through service.

In the world, we can pull strings and get to the top or get our way. In the Kingdom of God, there is no "on top." Down here in the world, we all want to be at the top of the food chain. In the Kingdom of God, we are shown the true way it is to serve others.

Today, we have a choice. We can play politics, we can lie, cheat, and steal, we can do all these things to try to be number one. But, that number one is earthly, and all earthly tings are passing.

Or we can serve, be faithful, and we know that our reward is in heaven, where all things are eternal.

Today, what route will you choose?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ordinary Time: Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Numbers 16:36-50

One thing we are reminded of throughout the wilderness wanderings is that God is a God of wrath, as well as mercy. We don't think about God's wrath all too much any more. But think about what Jesus endured for our sake. If you were to read that passage along side of many of the Old Testament passages, is it really that different?

Except that Jesus didn't deserve the punishment He received. He took in our place. We should be the one receiving the punishment of God, our Savior took it in our place. When we read of God's wrath poured out upon the Israelites, we should be thankful to our Savior for taking our place, so that we would not have to suffer, if we have accepted and follow Him. The Nicene Creed puts forth this basic Christian belief in this way:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father, . . . .
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again . . . . .

New Testament Lesson

Romans 4:13-25

There is no more essential truth to our beliefs as Christians that we are justified not by our works, but by our faith. We are saved through belief in Jesus Christ and His redemption, not by what we do. We are justified by faith. This one of three doctrines that John Wesley taught to Methodists as essential. Original Sin, Justification by faith, and Holiness of heart of life.

In other words, we are born sinful, we must accept by faith what Jesus has done to be saved, and that grace that we receive continues to work on us throughout all of our lives. Those are three key thoughts for us as Christians. We need salvation, we are saved by faith, and that salvation must, as Paul said, "must we worked out with much fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)." But, it is God's grace that is at work on us at all times. He is the one that deserves all praise and glory.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 20:1-16

We see in Jesus Christ, grace is offered to all. To those of us that have never known a time when we weren't Christian, grace is given, and we will enter into heaven. For those of us that were saved this week, grace is given, and we will enter into heaven. None of us are worthy of salvation, that is why it is grace.

So, if we are all unworthy, how can we feel like we are better than others. All of us stand condemned by God. Instead of thinking that we are better than other people, let us all realize that none of us are as good as God, and we all stand condemned before Him.

But, He gives grace, and we have much to rejoice over. No matter what you have done or not done, if you stand on God's grace, you stand on firm ground.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ordinary Time: Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Numbers 16: 20-35

We see quite often in the Old Testament that God is a holy God and is not to be trifled with. He is to be obeyed. He is to be honored. One thing that God demands of His people in the Old Testament is complete and total obedience. We read things like this, and we think, boy aren't we lucky that we live under grace?

Yes, that is true. We can be forgiven. We can be restored and redeemed. Today is the day that the Lord will give mercy and grace. But, there will come a time when all that is done will be seen. God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And, He stilled demands obedience. As Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love me, you will obey what I command."

For those us that believe, the great hope is that we have God's grace and the Holy Spirit. Grace is not merely God's power to forgive sins, Grace is the empowerment to live a holy life. John Wesley taught that through grace, we can be changed and shaped into who God would have us to be. We are to obey God, but the miracle is that through His grace, it is God Himself that gives us the power to obey.

New Testament Lesson

Romans 4: 1-12

We see here in this passage what that grace Wesley taught looks like. Abraham believed, that was credited to him as righteousness. We are saved by grace through faith. We are not saved by our works, we are not saved by our deeds we are not saved by our parents, we are saved only by grace through faith. That is the only way to salvation. Abraham believed, and that belief was credited to him as righteousness.

And then, Abraham believed and he sat on his couch the rest of his life doing nothing, right? No, the Word teaches us that he followed God's voice. He obeyed. Now, his righteousness came from belief, but that belief caused to be faithful. Right belief will cause right action. Right belief will cause us to obey and be faithful. It is all well and good for us to talk about belief, if we have no works. But, true belief will be accompanied by a transformed and redeemed life.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 19: 23-30

It is hard for the rich man to enter into heaven because he will be tempted to love his money more than God. But, this verse could also be. .

It is hard for the athlete to enter into heaven. . .

It is hard for the career man to enter into heaven. . . .

It is hard for the soccer mom to enter into heaven. . . .

It is hard for the popular to enter into heaven. . .

None of these things are bad. Money in and of itself is not bad. Nor is sports, a job, your children, or having friends. When they become a problem is when we love them more than we love God. Only those that love God first, only those whose first love is Jesus Christ, only those will enter in.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ordinary Time: Monday, June 26, 2006

Sorry this is late and short. I'm fighting off the invasion of the ants at the parsonage today! And they will be defeated!

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 19:13-22
We see a contrast in this two encounters with Jesus. We see the children coming and you see the disciples saying, we don't need these kids hanging around, and they try to get rid of them. Then we see the rich young ruler come. Now, this is the kind of guy you'd want hanging around. After all, he's rich! Imagine how much he could the ministry. The kids, we could do without, they might make a mess that we've got to clean up. But, we could use the rich guy!

And we see Jesus' response. He welcomes the children. He blesses them. He says that if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must come as they did.

And the rich young ruler; he doesn't drive him away, but He does say that if we wants to follow, he must sell it all and follow Jesus alone.

Today, who do we aspire to be like? Do we want to be like those children welcomed by our savior? Or do we want to be like the rich man that walked sadly away. Friends, we have a choice. We can be like Jesus, or we can be like the world. There is no in between. We can be like one or the other. Today, which will we be?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ordinary Time: Thursday, June 22. 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Numbers 12:1-16

Let's contrast the two reactions that we have seen in the past two days. Yesterday's passage Moses is not upset that other folks are speaking through God's power, he wishes everyone would do it. That is what he told Joshua, don't be jealous for my sake. He was more concerned with God moving than with him getting all the credit.

Today, we see Aaron and Miriam. And they too have the same point Moses had; can't God speak through others? But, they make it personal against Moses. It is more about Moses than it is about God speaking. So, yesterday, Moses is not jealous, today, they are.

What is the difference? Why do Moses not care who gets the credit and they are obsessed over it? Look where the focus is for each person. For Moses is it is about God working, for Aaron and Miriam, it is about them getting the attention they feel like they deserve. Each day, we have a choice. Will we focus on God and His work, or will we focus on our selves? Will we focus on obeying God, or will we focus on making sure we get the credit?

New Testament Lesson

Romans 2:12-24

Paul says today that those that think they are righteous and point out to other their sins had better sure make sure they are not committing the same sins. As Christians in this dark age, we are called to stand for righteousness. But, instead of just standing up for it, we must make sure that we are not doing. Like Paul said, what good is it for us to say that adultery is wrong if we are committing adultery. Our name and our lives should be our biggest declaration of faithfulness. If we live what we believe, we will make and impact. But, if we just say what we believe, our words are easily ignored. Today, don't just say what you believe, live it.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 18:10-20

I believe that the first parable is an earlier version of the parable that John wrote about yesterday. We see in both these parables, the emphasis is upon redemption. That lost sheep can be found. That brother that has sin against you can be forgiven. We should go to the farthest reaches to bring folks back home; to make sure the brother is forgiven, to see the lost sheep come back to the fold. God is a god that forgives and love and calls. And He calls us to do the same. Today, if you are that lost sheep, come home. The Master is out looking for you. And if you are wronged by someone, forgive. And if you have wronged someone, go to them, and ask them to forgive you. The Christian life call us to humble ourselves and seek that reconciliation and that forgiveness that is found only in Christ.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ordinary Time: Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Numbers 11:24-35

Moses in this text shows why He was the leader of the people that he was. It was not about him. He says that he wished that all God's people would speak. So often, we tend to fear others, fear what they can do, fear that they might take our place. Especially if we have been doing a task for many years, we don't like to see people that can do as good a job, if not better than we can.

To be the leader, to be the people of God that He calls us to be, we must remember that it is not about us. It is not about us getting the spotlight or the praise, it is about God getting the praise. When you do something for God, do you want the glory? Or do you want God to receive the glory? Today, Moses was more concerned about God pouring out His spirit upon all the people, then everyone having to look to Moses He knew he was only an arrow pointing to God. God deserves the credit.

Today, in your life, who do you want to receive the credit? Yourself, or God? We as Christians must live our lives in a way to give glory to God, not to ourselves.

New Testament Lesson

Romans 1:28-2:11

We see that Paul begins this letter by telling how others have forsaken God and been given over to sin. This gets us all ready to shout, Amen! Get them Lord! But, then we see Paul turn and say that we are without excuse; we know better than to sin, but yet we still do. So, by that, should we not also receive God's judgement? If anything, we know better, we know right from wrong, we know sin from truth, and we still choose sin.

We do deserve God's judgement. Thankfully, He offers salvation and grace. We have been forgiven much. But, those who have been forgiven much are called to forgive others in the same manner. How can we who have been forgiven so much fail to forgive others of so little? As God as loved us, so much we love each other.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 18:1-9

We see in this passage if we are to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we must come as a little child; childlike faith, childlike love, childlike devotion. When my daughter wants her mama, she is not going to stop until she gets to her. Do we have the same childlike desire to spent time with Jesus, to see Jesus, to know Jesus, to follow Jesus, to worship Jesus. If we are to enter in, we must Jesus with that same passion and completeness.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pentecost: Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Numbers 11:1-23

We see a couple of interesting things in this passage. First we remember the truth that God is a holy God, not one to be trifled with. We see that He tires of the people's complaining. Now, we are to voice our hurts and pains to God (Psalm 137), but our prayer life should not be a continuous gripe session to God. While we all have problems, God's grace is also sufficient. While life is not perfect, His grace is, and it it can speak and comfort our aching hearts. If we focus only on our problems, we will have much to complain over. But, if we focus on God's grace, we will see that He is merciful and loving to us each.

We see the focus on the people today when they say that they only have manna to eat and they are tired of it. They were given food from the very outstretched hand of God, and they found problems with it. To know that they were complaining that God was taking care of them, but not as they like is terrible. But, don't' we do the same? Don't we want it our instead of God's? He will take care of us, He will do not what we want, but what we need. Today, are thankful that God is taking care of you, or are you complaining that He is not doing ti the way you would?

New Testament Lesson

Romans 1:16-25

We see in this passage that all the sinful problems the people have come when they exchange truth for a lie, when they exchange the glory of God for the glory of man. And, man's glory is not all that much. They know the truth, and they do not follow, and then it leads them to their destruction.

It is very sad to have never heard about Jesus and His Gospel. It is even sadder to have heard, and not to follow. Today, you know the truth. I know the truth. Let's not worry about all the mysterious that we don't understand. You know that God wants you to live a holy and obedient life; worship and glorifying Him, and that is the only way to enter into His kingdom. Today, do you follow what He has commanded. We know truth. Do we follow? Or do we exchange truth for a lie. If we do not follow, we are making the path of our own destruction.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 17:22-27

So to not offend them, that is why Jesus paid the temple tax in this passage. Sometimes in life, there things that want to do, that' we'd like to do; but we know will start trouble. The question then becomes, do we want our way above all else, or are we willing to bite out tongue and not offend to preserve peace.

Now, of course this is not in regards to salvation issues, this not in regard to moral and absolute truth. This is about simple things, things that we do not to stand for truth, but things that we do or say just to make people mad. Jesus was unfair to confront evil and offend others over things that mattered. But, He knew the difference. Do you and I know the difference between things that really matter? Or do we do things sometimes just tomake others mad? Jesus, on this nonessential matter, did not feel the need to offend. Do you and I do the same?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ordinary Time: Monday, June 19, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Numbers 9:15-23, 10:29-36

One of the things we see so clearly for the Israelites after they left Egypt, was that the Lord lead them at all times. They were in a place they didn't know, they knew where they were going, but had never been there, and they could not go back to where they had come from. They had one option, and one option alone. They had to follow the leading of God.

Of course, they got in trouble when they did not follow the Lord's leading. They strayed when they wanted to do things there way. If they followed the Lord, things went as they should, when they followed their will, their desires, their "stuff," they were defeated and nearly destroyed.

Today, we don't always know where we are going, don't always know the way. But, the Lord will lead, if we will allow. Today, will you follow Him, or do it you way? If we follow, we will wind up where we need to be. If we try to lead, we may wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Today, will you follow your will, or will you follow God?

New Testament Lesson

Romans 1:1-15

Paul says that he longs to go to the church in Rome, so that they might be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. I love that concept; it is one of my favorites in Scripture. When we are with those that believe, we can be encouraged by their faith, and we can be encouraged by each others. That is one reason why church is so important. Not just of the worship and the preaching, but for the gathering together of God's people, for us to be encouraged by each other's faith, to know that we are not all alone in our walk with God.

Sometimes, we feel like we might be all alone. We may be at times tempted to think we are the only one that God has left. That is not true. We must stick close to brothers and sisters in Christ, so that we can be mutually encouraged. So that we realize don't walk this road alone. So that we know that we can keep going, because fellow Christians will walk beside us. Today, be encouraged in your faith, and know that you are not the only one! There are others the walk this road of faith, just as you do right now.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 17:14-21

For us to do great things for God, we must have great faith in God. The only thing limiting what God do through us right now is our faith. The only thing that keeps us from knowing God more deeply each day is our lack of faith. He would do so much more through us if we would just believe. Sometimes before I worship I ask our folks at church what do they expect God to do in worship? Sometimes, we come to church simply because that's what good people do. We don't expect God to do anything. Until we have faith God will move, we will not see it.

Today, do you have faith that God can do great things through you? Do you have faith that the same Jesus Christ that we read in the Bible is the same one that speaks to us now? Do you have faith that the same Holy Spirit present at Pentecost is the same one within us now? These things are true. It is our lack faith that is keeping God from moving in a powerful way.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More Conference Thoughts

I wanted to address a question that John raised in a previous post

John said...

Andy, could you elaborate about how the homosexuality debate played out in the Mississippi AC? Did it face resolutions to overturn the current UMC stance on the subject?

I'm told that the two sides in my conference (Florida) fought each other to a draw.

I was honestly very surprised there was no more debate than there was. There was really only item that dealt with homosexuality, the resolution I mentioned in the original post. Most of the conference dealt with the results of Katrina and rebuilding.

There were a couple of interesting resolutions put forth, the one concerning Junaluska, a resolution which put forth the notion of term limits for Bishops (it was tabled, I believe, since General Conference is scheduled to examine this and other areas of the episcopacy) and a resolution that affirmed that the Church is made up of repentant believers (I believe this was defeated because of unclear language, but I may be misremembering this one).

The main point of debate was over Junaluska. The original resolution, which is resolution 9 and can be seen in PDF format by clicking here . The original was edited by the committee on resolutions and, in my opinion, made very generic. They also added a paragraph affirmed the sacred worth of all persons.

The changes were voted down by the conference and the resolution affirmed as printed, save for the added paragraph.

And, it was surprising how little debate there was. I don't remember any opposition. There were no other moves to weaken the current position of the UMC. The MS conference is conservative, traditional, use whatever word you'd like, especially the lay delegates. I announced this resolution in worship today, and I could actually see the joy on some of their faces because they felt like someone had listened to their voice.

And, I think that is the true sadness in this whole debate is so many times the laity feel like their voice is not heard; and they are heart of the UMC. At least in MS, many of the laity felt like their voice was heard on this issue.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bad news for Greg

This must be hard for Greg. It's been a fun few years, but all good things must come an end. I think it is baseball justice for the Braves sealing Fred McGriff in 1993 and beating out my beloved (at least before Barry Bonds) Giants by one game. But, that's just me.

Pentecost: Friday, June 16, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:14

We see finally at the end of this book what it all comes down to. Fear God and keep His commands. In many ways, that is the exact best advice we can ever have. Ecclesiastes goes through every pleasure, every joy, everything in life, and to each thing it returns back the message: meaningless.

Only one thing has meaning, only one thing is of great worth and to be sought after: fear the Lord, obey Him. This friends, this is wisdom. Sometimes, I believe we have lost that fear of the Lord. Now, fearing the Lord doesn't mean that we are "afraid" of Him, but it does mean that we have a holy reverence for Him. And while God might not strike us down right this instant, He has the power.

A God fearing life is a life of obedience. Because we revere God, we obey. I believe that this is a good starting point for obedience, but it must move to love. God doesn't want us to follow Him because we are afraid of Him, but because we love Him. However must never forget that while God is to be loved, He is also to be feared. He is the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, and has more power than our minds can ever imagine. We must not turn Him into a magic genie or Santa Clause. He is God. He is other. He is to worshiped and respected, and yes, feared.

Phillip Yancey in his book The Jesus I Never Knew wrote this, " (Has the Church ) very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies?" Remember, the Lion has claws. Let us today, fear the Lord.

New Testament Lesson

Galatians 5:25-6:10

We see in this passage two great admonitions for us. We should carry each other's burdens. But, we should also carry our own burdens. What does this mean? How can we do both? As Christians we should be looking to help whoever we can in whatever way we can. Is there someone that needs help? We are to help them. That is our Christian duty.

But, what of carrying our own burdens? We should not be looking to push off responsibility for ourselves to other people. We should each take responsibility for our lives and for our actions. My sins are not the fault of my parents or friends or anyone else. They are my fault. We cannot blame others for our actions. We make the choice. We commit the sin. We fall down. Now, when we see someone fall, we should stop and help them up, but we must not blame others for making us fall. We make the decisions, we face the consequences. Carry each other's burdens, carry your own burdens.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 16:21-28

Yesterday, we read of Peter confessing Jesus as the Christ, today, we see Jesus rebuke him for thinking like the world. Isn't that how we are? One minute, our minds on the things of God, a minute later, our mind on the things of the world. Today, focus on God. Take time to make Him foremost in your mind. Take time to reflection upon Him in all that you do. Don't rush around so much today that you forget about. Peter forgot and was rebuked, even called the Devil. Today, let us not make the same mistake.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Other Conference Thoughts

The preaching at Conference was really good. Bishop Ward is an excellent preacher and did a great job in each of her messages. I was particularly impressed with Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Conference. He led the morning Bible Study and did a great job. He may have been the best Bible teacher I've witnessed at conference. I overheard someone saying that he mentioned Jesus more than any one else they've ever heard at Conference! And they were right. He gave some really good teaching.

The one issue that many thought would produce a lot of debate (i.e. argument) was a resolution condemning Lake Junaluska for hosting the "Hearts of Fire" conference of the Reconciling Ministries Network. The Committee on Resolutions made some editorial changes to the original resolution, which, except for an added paragraph stating the sacred worth of all persons, were voted down. The original resolution which voiced the Conference's disapproval of Lake Junaluska hosting the conference was approved with very little discussion and it was approved overwhelmingly. One person estimated that close to 95% of the Conference voted in favor of it.

And, of course one of the joys of conference is spending time with friends. We are able to see many of our old friends from the Mississippi Delta, as well as other friends that I have made through my time in ministry. That community is part of the real joys of conference.

It was a good week, but it is good to be back home. After all, Sunday is coming, and I've still got a sermon to finish! My first as an Elder!

Ordination Thoughts

We returned last night from Annual Conference, and it was memorable for many reasons. . .

I was ordained on Tuesday, June 13 as an Elder in Full Connection of the Mississippi Annual Conference. This was also my daughter Sarah's second birthday. It was a great day, and a great honor to be ordained on her second birthday.

I can honestly say that after my salvation, my wedding day, and the birth of my daughter, this was the greatest moment of my life. Lots of folks say, do you feel any different after ordination? I always joking say, no, I've been trying to get lightening to come out of my hands, but nothing has happened.

But, in reality, I feel differently. When the Bishops laid hands on you, I believe with all that I am, that something powerful happens. While I know that other traditions may disagree with this, I can trace my ordination back through Apostolic Succession all the back to the Early Church. That is amazing and something I don't fully understand.

Am I different today? I don't know, but I know that I have a new role, a new office, a new responsibility. In many ways, it’s like getting married or having a child, something inside you changes, and your perspective changes, your priorities change. I have always known that I was called, never doubted. But, to now know that I have been selected and approved by the Church is empowering. To know that hands were placed upon me like they have been placed upon many before is enthralling. To know that I am now and Elder in full connection, as much as any other elder in full connection gives me so much pride, joy, excitement, and motivation as anything I have ever experienced.

I was first approved by the Clergy Session and that was humbling to be before my sisters and brothers and have them say, yes, you are called and we send you out not only in God's name, but in the name of the Mississippi United Methodist Church is humbling and empowering at the same time.

In the ordination service, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward was the presiding Bishop, and she was assisted by Bishop Clay Lee (retired, Mississippi) and Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe. It was great to see dear friends go before me in ordination, Rev. Cynthia Cross, Rev. Greg Hazelrig, Rev. Cliff Burris, Rev. Harold Manning, and Rev. Toby Loftlin.

The bittersweet part of the service was a moment of silence for Rev. Jerry Salley. Jerry was supposed to be ordained with us this year, but passed into true life this past November. He was too close to each of us for his name not have been remembered at our ordination. We believe in the communion of the saints, and we know that he is alive in Christ, even now, but we each wished that he would have been there with us to share in that moment.

It then came my turn, and it was all a blur. I remember kneeling down, and feeling the Bishops place their hands upon my head, and I literally felt something, the Holy Spirit. The prayers flew by, and before I knew it, I was up. I hugged my wife Holly, and then surprisingly found my father, Connie Stoddard standing up with me as well. I say surprisingly because I was told I could have my spouse or my parents stand with me. I knew Holly would be up there, but my dad decided to come up any way! I also was privileged have Rev. Jim Beam-Ingram and Rev. Dr. Will Dowling standing with me, and my District Superintendent Rev. Andy Ray as well. They all stood behind me as I knelt and placed their hands upon me.

I can honestly say that ordination has changed the way that I view myself and my ministry. I had no idea that it would do so. I am thankful for my eight years in the process here in the Mississippi Conference. It was a long time coming, but the wait was worth it, for in that way, you proven and tested. I look forward to now going out, doing ministry as an ordained elder, and helped to build the kingdom of God.

Back from Conference!

We're back from Annual Conference. I'll blog more about it later today. Briefly, ordination was literally life changing, I was pleased with most of the voting at conference, and it was a joy to spend time with older friends like Greg, John, Keith, and others, as well as make some new friends such as fellow bloger Tim.

Check back in later today for more.

Pentecost: Thursday, June 15, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Ecclesiastes 11:1-8

So much of this book tell us that there are just things that we don't understand. We cannot fathom the mind of God. We can't know all of His thought are all of us ways. This is comforting because we know that no matter what happens, God has a plan in it. But, it also worries us, because we'd like to understand, we'd like to know, we don't like the fact that we can't understand why things are happening. The Christian group Caedmon's Call has a great lyric that says "The only problem I have with these mysteries is their so mysterious."

These mysteries, though, require faith. We don't know exactly what God is doing, but we know Him. We don't know exactly his purpose or plan, but we know Him. We don't know how things will always turn our, but we know Him. Or, at least, we should know Him. And knowing Him is not merely knowing about Him, but knowing Him on a deep and personal basis, a daily knowledge, a growing knowledge.

You will never know all the mysterious of God. But, you can know God. Today, do you know Him as you should?

New Testament Lesson

Galatians 5:16-24

You could preach many sermons on this passage, the fruit of the sinful lifestyle and the fruit of the spirit. There is so much we can learn from this passage and I would encourage you to read it on a regular basis to just "check up." I would say that the one thing that we can take from it is that our lives will have fruit. We will have the fruit of sin or the fruit of the spirit. Each day, you produce fruit. Each day your words, your attitudes, your very life is a fruit of some sort.

And this fruit is there for all to see. If you say you are Christian, but you are producing the fruit of the this world, what does that really say about you? I know some folks that claim to be Christian, yet few have seen any fruit from them. John Wesley called the type of persons "So called Methodists," meaning that they were Methodists (or insert your denomination) in name only.

Today, are you are Christian? Is their evidence of it? Are you producing the fruit of the spirit? The Word doesn't leave wiggle room, the spirit will produce, as will sin. Today, the question is not are you producing fruit, but what type of fruit are you producing?

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 16:13-20

We see here the classic question. First, who do others say that I am, then who do you say that I am. I doesn't matter for you what I think about Jesus, what you mom things about Jesus, what you co workers think about Jesus, what your friends think about Jesus. That's not the question He is concerned about today. Today, in this moment, who do you say that He is? Is He your savior? What does your life say? Is He your Lord? What does you life say? Today, the Lord doesn't care what others say, today, who do you say that He is?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pentecost: Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Special thanks to those that attended my ordination, it meant more than you'll ever know. Also, Sarah had a good birthday, she got to see monkeys at the zoo, and honestly, what more does a two year old need to be happy. One last devotional thought today, then things should be back to normal tomorrow as we return home from Conference later today.
"We never understand what we're praying, and God, in His mercy, does not answer our prayers according to our understanding, but according to His wisdom."

Rich Mullins
Today, in all that you do, keep praying.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pentecost: Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Another brief devotional thought today. Happy birthday to my daughter, Sarah Gretchen Stoddard, she turns two today. Also, remember me and the other members of my class as we are ordained tonight.
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

CS Lewis
Apart from God, you will never find happiness, joy, contentment, or peace. Don't spend your life looking in places where you cannot find them. Only in that daily walk with Jesus Christ can you find the true meaning and purpose of life.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Pentecost: Monday, June 12, 2006

Just a devotional thought today. Continue to remember the Mississippi Annual Conference in your prayers as our Conference continues through Wednesday.

"God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with."

Billy Graham

Today, may you take time to receive the blessings from God, and may you take those blessings and share them with others.

Friday, June 9, 2006

It's coming, its coming!!

Just a Gospel Lesson today, on the road to pick up our campers from Camp Wesley Pines. Also, I plan on blogging each day next week, but I will be in Jackson for Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (boy, that's a mouthful!) so its possible they could get delayed for a few days. Remember our Annual Conference in your prayers, and remember me and Greg, as well as the others that will be ordained this coming Tuesday, June 13 [(which is also my daughter's birthday (and sisters in laws)]

Pentecost: Friday, June 9, 2006

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 14:22-36

Poor Peter. Bless his heart, he got out of the boat, and his faith wasn't strong enough and he began to sink. We sometimes feel sorry for Peter because of this; he was so weak faith. But, at least he got out of the boat. The others stayed in. The others stayed where it was safe, the stayed where there was no danger. But, they weren't with Jesus.

Peter may have failed, but at least he got out of the boat. He took a chance. He was unafraid to go where Jesus was. He was willing to try and be faithful. He was willing to follow Jesus.

And notice, he didn't drown. Jesus saved him. Jesus pulled him out of the water and brought him to safety.

Today, It is easy to look at Peter and think he had so little faith. But, at least he took a chance for Jesus. Today, are you going to stay in the boat? Or today, will you take a chance for Jesus? Will you get out of the boat and follow Jesus even if you don't know where He is going or where He may take you. If you go where He wants, He will take care of you.

Today are you going to stay in the boat? Or will you get out of the boat and follow Jesus?

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Pentecost: June 8, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3

This book is not one of those happy books. Many of us love the Psalms, because they can be so reassuring times of trial and hurt. Ecclesiastes is not like that. It continually beats the drum that the things of this life that we think are so important are in the end meaningless. We spend so much time in life work and striving for things that have no eternal value, while the things that actually do matter (family, church, friends) these thing are easily ignored.

We must take our eyes off of living like the world, but instead must focus on the things that really, really matter. Why do we strive after that which will not satisfy? Why do we chase those things that will destroy? While do we spend our time seeking that which is meaningless? Let us focus on that which will last, which will not fade, and which will fill us. Let us focus our lives around God, around our family, around our church, around God's Word, around these things that will truly let us live.

New Testament Lesson

Galatians 3:1-14

Abraham believed, and that belief was credited to him as righteousness. It must start with belief. True, life changing, life transforming belief. We can't merely want to be good people, we must believe in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will then be about the work of transforming us. We can't say, I'll clean up my life and then get right with God. We can't clean up lives. We don't have that ability. God must do it for us. We must place ourselves under His authority and let Him do the work.

Does that mean that we don't have to do anything? Quite the opposite. We must place ourselves in a position to be used by God. That means we must be in His Word. We must be with His people. We must be serving Him. Abraham believed and that was his righteousness. But, look what that belief caused him to do. It caused him to listen God and follow where he led. True belief causes changes. It is not enough to say that you believe, that belief will be seen you life, in your actions, in how you are. Do you believe? What does your life say about your belief?

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 14:13-21

Jesus told the disciples to get the people something to eat. They brought to Him all that they had, and He did a great work. He tells us go forth and be a witness. He tells us to do good, to do good works, to change the world. He tells us to help the lost come to salvation, to helped the sick, the needy, the prisoner, all those that are in need. We say, we don't have much to give. But, if we take what we have and give it to Him, he can do great things. He fed 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. What can He do with me and you?

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

My Jesus

I have a Sirius Satilite radio and was listening to the Christian station yesterday and heard a guy singing with a unique voice, so I kept listening. It said his name was Todd Agnew and the song was My Jesus. I thought, well, I'll listen. When I listened to words I was floored. This song may be the most powerful song I've heard since Rich Mullins was still with us. I just wanted to share the lyrics to this this song.
Which Jesus do you follow?
Which Jesus do you serve?
If Ephesians says to imitate Christ
Then why do you look so much like the world?

Cause my Jesus bled and died
He spent His time with thieves and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the arrogant
So which one do you want to be?

Blessed are the poor in spirit
Or do we pray to be blessed with the wealth of this land
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness
Or do we ache for another taste of this world of shifting sand

Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the rich
So which one do you want to be?

Who is this that you follow
This picture of the American dream
If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side or fall down and worship at His holy feet

Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
But the Word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part
Sometimes I doubt we'd recognize Him

Cause my Jesus bled and died
He spent His time with thieves and the least of these
He loved the poor and accosted the comfortable
So which one do you want to be?

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet would stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despised the proud
I think He'd prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

I want to be like my Jesus!
I want to be like my Jesus!

Not a posterchild for American prosperity, but like my Jesus
You see I'm tired of living for success and popularity
I want to be like my Jesus but I'm not sure what that means to be like You Jesus
Cause You said to live like You, love like You but then You died for me
Can I be like You Jesus?
I want to be like my Jesus

Pentecost: Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

This is that famous passage that was once set to music many years ago. But, the message of this passage remains as true today as it ever was. There is a time for everything in life. There is nothing in life that we will not experience. We will experience life and death, joy and tears, celebration and defeat. Good things will happen to us, as will bad things.

Two thoughts to think about this morning, then. The Christian life is not a life that will avoid pain. I don't believe that you get saved and everything is a bed of roses. Many times, most of the time, really, things will get harder. There will be more temptation, more rejection. But, the joys will be lasting, the peace will be enduring, and the hope will be all surpassing. Because of the second thought

In all these things, God is there with us. He has promised to never leave of forsake us. Throughout whatever you may be going through, God will be there. Through everything, His presence can be found. If you will look for it.

New Testament Lesson

Galatians 2:11-21

We are not saved through the law. We are not saved through our actions. We are saved through belief and faith in Jesus Christ. We are saved by grace through faith. Our actions do not save us.

Then, why we do we preachers talk so much about how we behave. If we aren't saved by our actions, why do we care? Our actions show what we really are. No one but God knows the heart. I don't know if someone is saved or lost, I have to go with what they say. In fact, I've never met a lost person. I've never met someone that told me that they are lost. That's not to say I haven't met lost people. It is to say that everyone I've ever met will tell me a Christian, even if their is no evidence of it. Now, they might not have been to church in years, they might not pray, they might not read their Bible, they might not witness, they may curse like a sailor, they may be living in sin, but they will assure me that they love the Lord.

Do I know their heart? No. But, I can see their actions. And, if they claim to be a Christian, they are not living like it. That is why are actions matter. If you say you are a Christan, but are living in sin, you are bringing shame to the Savior that you claim to love. We are not saved by our actions, but our actions show how we really are.

Today, I'm sure that you would tell everyone you are a Christian. What do your actions say?

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 14:1-12

We see here that following Jesus may bring great cost at in your life. Today, There are Christians that are literally giving their lives for the Gospel. Yet here in America, we are are concerned about what God will do for us, not so much about what we will do for God. John the Baptist gave it all for Jesus, and was rewarded with eternal life. That is the thing that we all truly seek. Are you more concerned for the things of earth, or the things of heaven. These earthly things will pass, the eternal will endure forever. Whatever we give up now will be but a fraction of that life in eternity. Today, is your life found here upon the earth, or is it found in eternity with Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Public Service Reminder

Remember, alwasy brush and floss each day!

Pentecost: June 6, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Ecclesiastes 2:16-26

In this passage, we are reminded that we have no control over those that come after us. We can't control the actions of our children or grandchildren. When they grow older, they will make their own choices and decisions. We see in history that many people have worked hard in their lives only to see their children squander all the work they had put in. Part of what Ecclesiastes teaches us is that we cannot find contentment in the form of another person. We cannot find our identity in our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, friends, or any other human.

We have to find that identity in Jesus Christ. While I am the husband of Holly, the father of Sarah and the soon to be father of Thomas, the son of Connie and Maxine, the pastor of Coy UMC, the title that has to put above all others is Andy, child of God. That has to be my primary identity. Likewise, it must be the same for each of us.

New Testament Lesson

Galatians 1:19-2:10

We see in this passage that Paul had one area of ministry, Peter had another. One was not better than the other; they were equal, just different. We are all not the same, we each have gifts and graces given to us by God. We don't have to be the same. But, for the church to be what God calls it to be, we must each do our part. We must each do what God has called us to do. If Peter would not have done what God had called him to do, the church would not be what it is today. If Paul had not done what he was called to do, those of us that are Gentiles would not be Christians.

Today, what had God call you to that no one else can do. Today, may you be faithful to this Almighty God that has called you to great things.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 13:53-58

We see in this passage those famous words of Jesus, a prophet has no honor in His hometown. That worries me since I'm preaching Homecoming at Johnston Chapel UMC (my home church) in a few weeks. Hopefully they won't try to throw me off a cliff like they did to Jesus one time.

Why does a prophet not have any honor in his hometown? Probably because they don't see him as a prophet. They see him as the child they used to see playing in street. He is a prophet, but they don't see it, because they are not looking as God would have them to look.

Quite often, God tries to speak to us through ways we might not expect, or through people we might not expect. And, we miss the message because we don't think God could speak to us through that means. Today, God is trying to speak to you, maybe through a way you might not expect. Are you eyes open to see how God could speak to you? Are you ears open to hear what God has to say? Today, God will speak. The question is do we pay attention.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Pentecost: Monday, June 4, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Ecclesiastes 2:1-15

This books warns us that so many of the things that we think we have to have are actually meaningless. The myth that are pleasure is all important is proved false in this book. Likewise, the notion that that even wisdom will bring contentment is proven false. This entire books is a log of someone examining all the pleasures of life and find that they all, at the end of the day, leave you empty if there is not something greater.

Our world tells us one more possession, one more whatever will be all that is required to make us content and make us happy. We find that is not true, these things, if there is not something greater (God) in our lives, simply leave us more and more empty.

Today, where is your life? Is it found in your possessions? Or is it found in Jesus. If it is not in Jesus, then you will remain empty.

New Testament Lesson

Galatians 1:1-17

This is what is most important to Paul, the Gospel. Nothing else can compare to it. It must be what he is about. It should be the same for you and me as well. The Gospel must be at the center of who we are, for we have been saved by this Gospel and we must exchange nothing for it

Nor must we substitute anything for it. Not our works, not our family, not our job, nothing. We are saved by the Gospel, by nothing else. Remember, we live under grace, so no one can brag. Today, are you living by God's grace?

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 13:44-52

We are supposed to catch the fish, let God clean them. So often, we feel like we have to clean the fish, but that is what God will do. He clean us of our sins, and will clean others as well. We just have to do our part to catch them. Today, are you doing all you can to make sure that more fish are caught for the kingdom?

Seasons come and seasons go. . . .

I grew up calling the liturgical season between Pentecost and Advent Kingdomtime. Now, I don't believe that is the "accepted" term. It is also called Ordinarytime, but that sounds a little ordinary. I usually call this time the Sunday's after Pentecost, i.e., next Sunday, June 11 is the Second Sunday after Pentecost, and this goes on into the low twenties. That also the official UMC stance on the season as well.

I'm leaning towards for the purpose of the blog listing this as Pentecost: Monday, June 4, 2006, but I'm not sure.

Friday, June 2, 2006

Easter: June 2, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Jeremiah 31:27-34

The Lord said that He would make a new covenant with His people, and write the Law upon their hearts. We see in this passage the proper order of holiness. It must start with the Law being written upon your heart; that will change everything else. Once God's law is upon your heart, it changes you actions, it changes your thoughts, it changes everything about you.

Today, if your actions are the same as they were when you were converted, are you truly converted? This change must start on the inside and work its way out. Yes, our actions to affect it, but it must start inside. Today, have you made peace with God? Is His law written upon your heart?

New Testament Lesson

Ephesians 5:1-20

When we see sin mentioned in the Bible, there aren't distinctions. Today in this passage, we a listing of sins that will keep us from entering into the kingdom of heaven. First, those that are immoral. Yeah, that makes since. Those impure. Well, obviously. Then, the greedy. Well, there it went from preaching to meddling. Surly, that's not as bad as the others, right? Well, according to the Word this morning, greed will keep you out of the kingdom of God as quick as sexual immorality will.

We cannot categorize sins in to those that others do and those that we do. No sin is acceptable. No sin shall enter before God. No sin shall be taken lightly. Within this passage greed is as condemned all type of sexual immorality. Today, how do our lives stack up in light of that?

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 9:9-17

It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. That is what Jesus says in this passage. Until we admit that we are sick and sinful, He can offer us nothing. Until we admit that we need Him, we can't fully receive His grace. He came to save us, to love us and the call us. Until we understand that we are in need of saving, in need of being loved, and in need of being called, we can't fully know just how much He has for us.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Easter: Thursday, June 1, 2006

Old Testament Lesson

Zechariah 4:1-14

This passage contains one of the more powerful verses in all the Bible, verse 6, ""This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty." We can't do this by our might, or by our power, but only by the Holy Spirit. We can't walk as we should, we can't be who we should, we can't do anything with the power of God through us.

So often we are tricked into thinking that we can just be good enough, or work hard enough, or just do it through our own will power. If we can do any of that, there was no reason for Christ to have come. If we can earn it, if we can work hard enough, then it isn't grace. We can't save ourselves. We can't be good enough, we can't work hard enough, we can't give up enough. Not by our might, or by our power, but by the Lord's Spirit.

Now, by His Spirit, we can do amazing things. But, through our own power, we can do nothing. Today, are you trying to earn your way into heaven? Are you trying to just be good enough? Are you hoping that if you work hard enough, you will earn God's love? It doesn't work that way. It is a free gift, you just have to trust. Today, where is your trust? Is it in God? Or is it in your own strength?

New Testament Lesson

Ephesians 4:17-32

We see in this passage what it will look like when we live by God's strength. We see that when we, by God's Spirit, put away the old and put on the new, we will be different people. Too many people try to act like a Christin without first being one, and that gets old really quick, because without the power of God working through you, you can't do it.

If we place ourselves in Christ, then we will live as we should. We will not be perfect, for no one is, but we will be striving towards what God would have us to be. We will be different. God's grace will be at work within us. We will be different. If we are walking with Jesus each day. If we do that, all else will fall into place.

Gospel Lesson

Matthew 9:1-8

We see that before Jesus healed this man, He forgave his sins. It doesn't matter what physical condition you are in today, your sins can be forgiven and you can walk with God, today. Jesus started this healing with the most important; He forgave sins. Today, it doesn't matter if you sick or healthy, rich or poor, whatever condition you are in. Today, Jesus wants to forgive you of your sins. Don't let your circumstances get in the way of His forgiveness. Not matter who you are or where you are; you can be forgiven today.