Friday, May 05, 2006

Week 4: “When you see that you can find and enjoy new cheese, you change course.”

There are few things in life as exciting and faith building as praying with a person as they give their life to Christ or re-dedicate their life to him. There is a profound sense of awe—a spiritual birth/rebirth has taken place. It is a holy moment—the power of the risen Lord is tangible and present. It is a very personal experience with Jesus.

In John 2:1-11 the disciples get a glimpse of the power of God present in Jesus Christ. They put their faith in Christ and their lives are forever changed. They have found the best “cheese” imaginable.

Change can be difficult. Change is a church can be painful. As we see that Christ is leading us to new “cheese” we experience an inner joy—we sense that Jesus is leading us! This joy causes excitement. This joy is contagious. It now becomes easier to deal with the changes that still need to occur.

The PCUSA needs to catch a glimpse of the new “cheese”—it will bring hope to a denomination that hasn’t experienced much hope in recent years. Lay-offs at higher headquarters tend to be a bummer. Reducing the number of mission personnel is devastating. If the PCUSA will rejoice in the “cheese” of the past and begin the quest for “new cheese” we will begin to experience hope. Imagine the hope that would be generated by planting 1000 new churches. Imagine the joy that would be present if we send 10,000 people each year to the hurricane zone to help rebuild homes and lives. “New Cheese.”

The search for “new cheese” must begin before there can be hope in the “new cheese” of the future. Now is the time for the search to begin. Joy will be just around the corner.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Week 3: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Fear can paralyze individuals. Fear can paralyze an individual church or even a denomination.

What am I afraid of? Failure. Rejection. The vote on the Peace, Unity and Purity task force report. Not being there for my diabetic brother. Heights. What will happen to Evergreen Presbyterian Church in the next five years as so many of our church family are over the age of 75. Being irrelevant. The list could go on…

Do these fears paralyze me? NO WAY! With Christ I can face anything. It may not be fun. It may not be easy. It may not be my choice. I fill follow Christ…

I firmly believe that churches and denominations live in fear. Fear that things are changing. Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing people. Fear of taking tough stands. Many churches are paralyzed by the fear they experience. They are trying so hard to “just keep the doors open” that they worry that rocking-the-boat may be more than the people can handle.

The scripture passages for the message are:

Genesis 18:15

Genesis 15:1

Luke 8:50

We must remember that in our fear we do things that are not pleasing to God. Fear can cause us to make poor decisions. Those decisions can lead to inaction or wrong actions.

We must remember that God is our shield and great reward. God is our shield of protection when we put aside our fears and follow him. Will this keep difficult things from happening to us? No. Will he walk with us through those difficult times. You bet! But, God is not just our shield—life with him is worth more than life. There is a great reward for those who put their trust in Christ.

God can do miraculous things when we put our fears aside and put our trust in him. Peter was able to walk on water until he took his eyes off of Jesus. People have been healed when they put aside their fear and believe. God can do miraculous things through our churches when we put aside fear in go where Christ leads.

Personal note not to be in the sermon: I believe that God has been withholding his blessing from the PCUSA because of our fear. There is a fear that the church will split if the Church takes a firm stand either for or against the ordination of GLBT persons, if we have firm “essentials” on which we will not waver, if we publicly admit that there is more than one “Presbyterian” style of worship. Fear. Fear! Fear!!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Week 2: “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”

The cheese is missing! Did someone move it? Was it stolen? Did someone eat all of it? What am I to do? Should I check back every day to see if more cheese appears? How long should I keep checking back? Should I begin the search for more cheese?

In the book Who Moved My Cheese, the mice and the little people are faced with a dilemma—the cheese IS MISSING!!!!!!!! The mice immediately begin the search for new cheese. The two little people approach the dilemma quite differently from the mice. Hem and Haw go back every day to where the cheese use to be. They wonder who moved the cheese. They keep hoping the cheese will be returned. They complain… but still no cheese. They are faced with a decision—go search for cheese for keep coming back to the same place, hoping that new cheese appears. Hem and Haw are faced with a choice. They can keep doing the same thing… and eventually die. Or, they can be transformed (changed) and go on the search for new cheese.

Text: 2 Corinthians 3:17-19 and Romans 12:2.

These texts talk about our need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit as we walk with Christ. As individuals, we need to be constantly undergoing a transformation process. We will not be complete until we go to be with the Lord. If we don’t change we will become like one of the little people in the book. We will keep doing the same thing, the same way, even if we dry up spiritually. We will complain. We will dig in our heels and demand that things go back to “the way they were.” This isn’t scriptural!

As a church, we need to be undergoing a transformation process. No church is perfect. Change within the context of a church is more traumatic than change with an individual. It is more difficult to bring about change with a church or denomination. But change we must! If we don’t change we will become extinct. The PCUSA is a great example of this whole issue. We keep fighting the same battles, hoping that things will change. We keep complaining about the same things, hoping that things will change. Things basically keep staying the same. If we keep this up for twenty more years the PCUSA will be extinct. Oh, there will still be churches with “Presbyterian” in their name. The denomination as we have known it will no longer exist.

Will we begin look for the “new cheese” that God has waiting for us?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Week 1: “The more important your cheese is to you the more you want to hold on to it.”

Scripture: Exodus 16:1-3; 17:1-3

When using a book or current set of events as the “hook” for a sermon series I cannot assume that people will be familiar with the setting. In the first message I will introduce the main characters: two mice named “Sniff” and “Scurry” and two little people named “Hem” and “Haw.” I will also introduce the concept that the “cheese” represents the things in our lives that we value, they are important to us.

We want to hold on to the things that are important to us. We may hold on to them because they are familiar to us. Let’s face it, change can be troubling. This is especially true for a church!

We will take a look at the things we hold on to as people and as a church. These things can become our identity if we aren’t careful. But things change. The “cheese” gets moved. Yet, we keep doing the same things, hoping that things will change back to the way they were.

In Exodus we see God’s people complaining about being in the wilderness. They long for the way things were in Egypt (they want their old cheese—cheese that they understood). Was life good in Egypt? No way! It was familiar to them.

In our own life and in our church, God continually moves the “cheese” and we will miss his blessings if we insist on having things the way we have grown accustom. The Hebrew people would never have returned to the “promised land” if they had stayed in Egypt. A tremendous blessing would have been missed.

The leadership of the PCUSA and all pastors should read Who Moved My Cheese. It is too easy to long for the past—the things we are familiar with, the things we are accustomed to. The Reformation would never have happened if people had simply held on to the past. The great revivals in this country would never have happened if people just held on to the way church was done in the past.

Where is God moving the “cheese” in my life and your life? What do we need to do to find that new “cheese?” Where is God moving the “cheese” in your church? How tightly are people holding on to the way things have been in the past? Where is God moving the “cheese” in the PCUSA? How tightly is the PCUSA holding on to the past?

Note: This doesn’t mean that we forget the past! We celebrate the past and what we have learned from it. And some things DO NOT CHANGE. Salvation through Jesus Christ alone DOES NOT CHANGE. The message doesn’t change… just the method through which it is delivered.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Your Cheese is Getting Moved!

Many PCUSA pastors preach from the lectionary. This is a good way to preach through the Bible. Follow it for three years and waa-laa, through most all of the Bible! There are a couple of problems with this preaching style. The first and most significant is that nothing could be further from the way that Jesus communicated the Kingdom of God to the people. I know, I know… none of us is Jesus. True! But does that mean we should ignore his teaching style? I think not. The second problem with this preaching style is that it does not tend to draw the unchurch to a worship service!

There are supposedly some good reasons for following the lectionary. The first I have already mentioned—preaching through the whole Bible. Is the whole Bible really preached? I think not! The Old Testament and New Testament readings are not connected. I’ve seen pastors do spiritual gymnastics to try and connect the passages. Pastors tend to preach from the reading that they are most comfortable with. When was the last time you heard a sermon on God wiping out entire towns due to their sinfulness? Pastors pick and choose all the time. The second reason for preaching the lectionary is that it keeps pastor’s personal agenda away from the pulpit. Give me a break! When was the last time you heard John Fife preach a sermon saying that we are to obey the governmental authorities over us? When was the last time you heard Jane Spahr preach that we are to expel the immoral believer? Personal agendas make it to the pulpit all the time. We just need to honest about it.

Jesus had a personal agenda. He wanted all people to hear the good news that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He wanted people to know that they must be born again to enter into the Kingdom of God. He used the situations that presented themselves to communicate his message. Should we do any less.

Let’s face it, advertising that you are preaching from the lectionary does not draw in the unchurched. It doesn’t even draw in the churched!! It is time to try something that may be new.

FIRST, every sermon I preach has its foundation in scripture. The sermon is rooted in scripture. Grounded in scripture. Period. End of discussion.

Second, I alternate sermon series. One series will be an expository series. The next will be based a topic that may draw the attention of the unchurched. My series on Breaking the Da Vinci Code (over a year ago when the book was a hot topic) caused our Sunday attendance to increase. My series on Why Men Hate Going to Church (using the book of the same title) drew more responses from men than any sermon series I have ever preached! I am currently preach a series called Experience Jesus, looking at Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. That mean…you guessed it… a topical series is next. This week I will be looking at my next series with the hopes that it may cause people to prayerfully ask the Lord what they should be preaching and teaching on.

My next series is called Who Moved My Cheese, and is based on the book Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, M.D.