Becoming Radiant

by Rev. Doug Gray

To start us out, I would like you to take a few moments to answer two questions. If you would like to write the answers down, there is some blank space in your bulletins for you to do so.

 1.  Name two of the most important things that have made you who you are.

2.  What have they contributed to who you are?

 Go ahead. If you don’t want to write, or if (like me) sometimes you can’t read your own handwriting, just think of the answers in your head. Alright?

 (pause so folks can reflect)

 In our lives, we have only a few basic ways of becoming, and they all have to do with taking things in. When we eat and drink, we take food and liquid in and it becomes part of who we are. How many of you listed any meal you ate or anything you drank as one of your two most important things that made you who you are? Yes, this is one way we become who we are, but not the most significant. When we breathe, we take in the air around us, and the oxygen and other things affect us. How many of you listed a smell or something you smoked as one of your two most important things that make you who you are? Another way we become who we are, but again, not the most significant. Do you see where this pattern is going? What other ways do we take things in?

 Hear, see, feel, experience, act, choose (the things that combine all these are strongest for us)

 God is interested in who you are becoming. In fact, God made you to become…but become what? We can become lots of things in life—some require more work than others. For a while I was becoming a slob…it’s a remarkably easy goal in life. For a while I was becoming a volleyball player…that took a lot more practice, but after a few years, I started to get pretty good and enjoyed it tremendously. When I was a teenager, I realized that the only way my life made sense was if I was living it for God. Gradually, I came to realize that if I wanted to live my life for God, I needed to learn how to want what God wanted for me. In his book, The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren writes, “God’s ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character development. He wants you to grow up spiritually and become like Christ. Becoming like Christ does not mean losing your personality or becoming a mindless clone. God created your uniqueness, so he certainly doesn’t want to destroy it. Christlikeness is all about transforming your character, not your personality.”

When we think about the things that have had the biggest impact on who we are, most of us list things that are outside of us—parents, friends, bosses, and maybe events. For Paul, the biggest impact comes from the inside, when we “recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete.” With the Spirit’s help, we begin to choose to do what helps us become. The things people hate about religion—that probably we all hate about religion—are truly empty, because what God wants is not religion, but relationship. In that relationship, we become…kinder, more thoughtful, more courageous, gentler, truer, more hopeful, more beautiful, like Jesus. Most of all what God wants is that we would become radiant, that the light of Jesus would shine in all we do. Let us not veil the wonder and beauty, the love and joy of being servants of the One King, of becoming the image of His Son, but let that so shine in us that others may see our good works and be drawn to the One whom we serve. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Amen.

The Key to More Than We Expect

by Rev. Doug Gray

I am generally a pretty easy-going guy. I tend to assume the best of people, and I generally find that people treat me well. I always figured I could pretty much get along with everyone until I met Gregory. Beginning in 9th grade, Gregory was a pain in my back side. He walked around school with a self-satisfied smirk on his face, but when he saw me, he would grin and something malicious would sparkle in his eyes. He delighted in saying nasty things, and if he could rip on me, so much the better. His favorite thing was to get me into trouble with teachers who, inexplicably, trusted him. Those of you who have read the Harry Potter books will understand when I say that Gregory was my Draco Malfoy. All this would have been fine, except that while I was in high school I read today’s passage. I thought Jesus was crazy:  Love Gregory? Is he kidding? Who are some of the kinds of people you find it hardest to love? [Take responses from the congregation.] Is Jesus kidding? Are we really to love even our enemies? Martin Luther King Jr. wrote,

 “Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing. He realized that it’s hard to love your enemies. He realized that it’s difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he wasn’t playing…This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master…We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can live out this command, and why we should live by this command.”*

 How can we learn to love everyone, particularly our enemies?

First, we learn to love everyone by looking at ourselves. We like to think of ourselves as lovable. We’re pretty lovable, right? But have never hurt someone—physically, verbally, emotionally? Have we never once fallen short of the way we believe God wants us to be? Jesus said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? Whenever we examine ourselves, if we are honest, we will recognize that they are not perfect…and neither are we. Examining ourselves with a clear eye, knowing the good and the bad in ourselves, will keep us humble.

Second, we learn to love our everyone by looking for the good in them. In each of us there is a battle rages. The great German poet, Johann Goethe wrote, “There is enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue.” He echoes Paul who wrote in Romans 7:19, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Isn’t it true that we all struggle at least from time to time to do what is good and right? Martin Luther King wrote, within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never slough off. Discover the element of good in your enemy.

 If we can find that good, then we can begin to love them for that—not for the evil they do, but for the good that is there too. If we pray for them, we can pray for the good that is at work in them, for the image of God trying to shine from them.

Third, we learn to love everyone by looking for opportunities for kindness. Our opportunity for kindness may come by refusing to humiliate someone who opposes us. At some point, even our enemy will find themselves in our power, and we will have a chance to hurt or humiliate, even crush our enemy. But if we are followers of the way of love, we must not do it. A person who is made in the image of God—and we all are—is never our enemy so much as the forces, institutions and systems they represent are our enemy. We can and sometimes must fight the forces, institutions and systems that are evil, but we are called to love our enemy. Our opportunity for kindness may come with an opportunity to show grace for someone who has no right or reason to expect it of us. We learn to love everyone by looking for opportunities for kindness.

You’ll notice that Jesus did not call us to like our enemy. We are not called to like everyone. Liking someone is a feeling. Martin Luther King writes, “There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like.” We are not called to be fond of everyone. We are called to love. Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice we make to seek someone’s good. That is why when the opportunity comes to bless someone, especially our enemy, we must take it if we are to love.

All of this leads us to ask, “Why?” Why should we love everyone? Why should I love that lousy Gregory? Why should we pray for those who are gunning for us? Because in Gandhi’s words, “An eye for an eye only makes the whole blind.” When we hate, we only make the forces of hate stronger in this world. Anyone can hate. King would add, “The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate…and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.” Why should we love everyone? Because when we hate, it twists and warps us into something less than human. When we hate, we vandalize the image of God in us. Martin Luther King writes:  “We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates…So Jesus says love, because hate destroys the hater as well as the hated.” Why should we love everyone? Because only in love is there a power from God to bring people to a new place. Only love can lead us to wholeness, to real joy and hope. Just as hate can scar and ruin our souls, so love can heal and restore relationships. Force breeds force, and hate breeds hate…but love yields love. Again, MLK:  “We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world. We will be able to make [people] better. Love is the only way. Jesus discovered that. “One day as Napoleon came toward the end of his career and looked back across the years—the great Napoleon that at a very early age had all but conquered the world. He was not stopped until…he moved out to the battle of Leipzig and then to Waterloo. But that same Napoleon one day stood back and looked across the years, and said: ‘Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have built great empires. But upon what did they depend? They depended upon force.’ But long ago, Jesus started an empire that depended on love, and even to this day millions will die for him.” And what about you…what about me? Are we willing to be like Jesus, to love those who don’t love us?

*The quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr are taken from his sermon, “Loving Your Enemies” delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on 17 November 1957. This sermon is part of a collection entitled, A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The book (and audio!) is available through The King Center and can be found online at

Leaving the Ashes for Deep Waters

Study Notes

Context: Luke is the only gospel writer who was not Jewish. He was a Greek, perhaps a physician, who likely traveled with Paul. Luke takes pains, therefore, to make it clear that Jesus came first for the Jews, but then for the Gentiles. In Luke, Gentiles often display amazing faith. Luke’s gospel is a very demanding gospel with discipleship as a major theme. Luke is also often thought of as the Gospel of the Marginalized—the poor, the lost, least and left out—who sometimes receive Jesus with greater joy and commitment than the wealthy, found, great and “in” people. In chapter 3, Jesus is baptized, and in chapter 4, Jesus is tempted, and begins his ministry in Nazareth (where he finds a poor reception for his teaching and healing ministries). Jesus moves down to the Sea of Galilee and Capernaum, where he begins casting out demons and healing the sick and injured. As yet, he has no disciples. Nevertheless, Jesus and Simon have met before today’s passage:  Jesus stayed with Simon and even healed Simon’s mother-in-law!

1       Lake of Gennesaret. Another name for the Sea of Galilee. people crowding around him. Jesus has had a ministry in Capernaum for some time before this passage. His reputation as a powerful teacher and healer is a big draw for people in the region.

2       two boats. These boats were approx. 20 feet in length with a single, squarish sail. washing their nets. The nets caught more than fish—trash, weeds, etc. These would have to be cleaned every day so these non-fish catches would not interfere with their livelihood.

3       one belonging to Simon. It seems Simon and Andrew were in partnership with the sons of Zebedee. Simon. According to one source, Simon means “sinking sand.” taught the people from the boat. Sound carries wonderfully over the water.

4–5  Jesus finishes teaching the crowd and turns to Peter, the one he wants to become a disciple. Jesus, the carpenter, tells Peter, the fisherman, how to fish. Peter is confused or even non-plussed by the command, yet he complies.

6–7  Jesus offers Peter, Andrew, James and John a “Wow” experience that totally hooks them—a carpenter directs them to the catch of a lifetime. The boats are so full they begin to experience catastrophic success!

8–9  Peter recognizes the outrageousness of what he has seen and experienced, and he recognizes that Jesus somehow knew or planned what happened. He believes he is in danger—a sinful man in a holy presence.

10    Don’t be afraid. These are almost always the first words out of the mouth of angels when they come to a mortal. you will catch men. Lit., you will catch men alive. The people will not come out of the net dead…and it is “catch and release” right?

11    They left behind family and business to follow Jesus.


In every area of life, there are key things to know. If you want to be a good sailor, you have to know about wind and water and navigation. If you want to be a good basketball player you have to know about shooting, passing and teamwork. And if you want to be a good follower of Jesus, there are some key things you have to know to be a healthy, growing person, so you can make a healthy growing church. These values help us think about what God might want us to be, and what it means to follow Jesus Christ. One of the greatest of these qualities is the state of being out of control, partly because it flies in the face of everything we are taught. We are taught to stay in control, to keep everything under control. So this one is a shocker: wonderful things happen when we move beyond what we can control.

What could be healthy about being out of control? When we are going our comfortable way according to plan, we think we are the ones making it happen. Now if we stop to think about it, we realize nothing much is in our control, that God is the one who is really in charge, but because our efforts seem to be working, we think we are in control. When I was in college, one semester I did something really silly and overloaded on my classes and extra-curriculars. I was playing on the volleyball team, had a very challenging class load, was tutoring, and had the opportunity to co-lead our college’s new student week. I got to the end of the semester and I literally had nothing left. I had no energy. I couldn’t stay awake. I had no idea what to study. I remember two days before the final exams sitting down in the coffee shop, putting my head in my hands and weeping. Somewhere my weeping turned to praying:  “God I have done everything I know how to do. I have been trying my hardest to do everything you want me to. But I’m done.” I remember having a sense almost of someone tapping me on the shoulder, and a sense of God saying to me, “I was wondering when you were going to let me lend a hand. Why don’t you leave the rest to me?” And I did. To this day, I cannot tell you how I finished that semester, but I can tell you that I don’t deserve any of the credit for it. I was in deep water well over my head, and God used it to teach me a lesson in trust that I have never forgotten. One reason being out of control is healthy is that helps us see more clearly that God really is in charge.

Surprisingly, the real problem comes if we are always in our comfort zone. If we never take risks, if we only stay in easy, familiar territory, we will never have the chance to see what God can really do. We are limiting God’s dreams for us. In our passage for today, Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Think about this for a moment:  Jesus was trained as a carpenter. So Peter is being rather gentle when he answers, “Master we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” What he probably wanted to say was something like, “Hello?! Like swinging a hammer really qualifies you for fishing! I tell you what, next time, you fish all night and see if you do better.” And if Peter had stopped there, he would never have known what Jesus planned, but to his credit, Peter said, “…but because you say so, I will let down the nets.” And Peter caught more fish than he had dreamed he could catch, so many he had to call another boat!

If we always live in easy, familiar territory, then we will only have human-sized dreams. But God has bigger plans. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes:

 Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself…

 Giving up our dreams for being “a decent little cottage” hurts. But unless we put all we are and all we dream before God, unless we realize we cannot “outdream” or “outachieve” God, unless we can come to the edge of what we know and trust God for the rest, we can never realize the God-sized dreams that can make our hearts hammer and give our lives enormous power and purpose.

One of the hallmarks of the Pilgrims, for example, is that they looked for God-sized dreams. They looked for the edge of what they could handle and then stepped out again. They dreamed of living in the wilderness with God, of learning how to trust God for their health and their food, for their worship and their safety. They had no idea what coming to the New World would mean except that they were following God and they believed they could change the world in that wilderness with God. So they landed where it looked good to them, and found the one place for hundreds of miles where they could land safely because the locals had been wiped out by smallpox. They desperately needed help and advice, but lived in fear of the local Native Americans. Who should they meet walking up the beach, but a Native American, named Squanto, who greeted them in English he learned when he was held captive in Europe. When the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgivings, it was because they realized how much God had blessed, guided and provided for them when they lived on the “deep waters.” Where God guides, God will provide.

Today, this fellowship stands on the edge of some exciting times. Today, Jesus invites us to put out into deep water to make a catch. Some of us are not sure God really knows what He’s talking about. Some of us are looking at the deep waters and thinking they look a little dark, a little rough and a little scary. But unless we seek the God-sized dreams that will take us into areas where only God can help us, we will never experience the full abundance, the heart-racing excitement and the deepest fulfillment that God has in mind for us. When we live right on the edge of what we know, staring out into what lies beyond, and say, like Peter, “But if you say so, we will let down our nets,” we put ourselves entirely into God’s hands. We will be out of control, but we will also be supremely safe for they are God’s hands. And we will be exactly where God wants us to be…in deep waters where the deep learning, spiritual growth and greatest abundance are. The best fishing is in deep waters.

Excuse Me, Please!

I. Introduction

Have you heard any good excuses lately? I’ve got a few for you, courtesy of Richard Lederer and his book, Anguished English. These are actual excuses parents have written to schools to explain why their child was absent.

  • Teacher, please excuse Mary for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot. Mary’s Mom.

  • My son is under doctor’s care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him.

  • Please excuse my son’s tardiness. I forgot to wake him up and did not find him until I started making the beds.

  • Please excuse Ray from school. He has very loose vowels.

  • Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father’s fault.

  • Please excuse Fred for being absent. He had a cold and could not breed well.

  • Please excuse Gloria from Jim today. She is administrating.

 We all make excuses sometimes for lots of reasons. In our Old Testament passage, for example, Jeremiah, has a couple of excuses for why he can’t answer God’s call to serve. In fact, making excuses is still so common that we almost expect it. Why do we make excuses and how can God help us past our excuses to a deeper, more abundant life in Jesus Christ?

 II. Why Do We Make Excuses?

First, why do people make excuses? What do you think?

 [Take responses from the congregation.]

 Sure, and we could probably add more reasons to that list. But underneath all of these is fear and most of the time we use excuses as a way we try to control Life if we are afraid the consequences will be more than we can bear.

 III.    God Speaks into Our Fear

Into our fear and worries, God speaks. Jeremiah says, “I don’t know how to speak and I’m just a kid,” and God says, “Don’t be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” For those of us who are learning to follow Jesus, excuses don’t work because there are no consequences we can’t bear with God’s help. Paul adds in the Love Chapter, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” If God is love, then when we walk with God in love, then we can bear, believe, hope and endure all things. Into our fear and worries, God says, “Don’t worry! I’ll be with you and will rescue you.” God’s love for us can overcome our fears and help us let go of our anxieties.

 IV. What Might We Do

Our fears and excuses can make it really hard to walk with God. When God asks us to do something, many of us can come up with reasons we can’t. Jeremiah did. Fortunately, God’s response to Jeremiah is also His response to us when we try to tell Him we can’t: “You are the one I want to do this. Don’t worry I’ll be with you and will keep you safe.” When we let God manage our fears and anxieties, then we can let go of our stress and embrace the deeper, more abundant life we can have in Jesus. “Don’t worry! I’ll be with you and will keep you safe.”

How to Get Closer to God

When you were a kid, did your parents ever introduce you to people you didn’t know? What did you think of that?

[Take responses from the congregation.]

 Was there ever a time when you had been away from your hometown for a while, and you came back? What were the kinds of things people said to you?

 [Take responses from the congregation.]


In our passage for today, Jesus comes back to His hometown after doing some pretty amazing things in other towns. In the course of the story, we learn from Jesus how to get closer to God.

First, getting closer to God means freedom. Can you look with me at verses 18 and 19?

 18          “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

              because he has anointed me

                       to bring good news to the poor.

     He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

              and recovery of sight to the blind,

                       to let the oppressed go free,

19          to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 Instead of bad news that about one more thing they can’t afford, Jesus says, “I’ve got some good news.” Where people are held captive by a job, or a habit, or a rut in a relationship, Jesus says, “I’ve broken your chains.” For those who can’t see hope, or who are blinded by selfishness, Jesus says, “I can help you see and feel again.” Instead of the world weighing us down—our bosses, our politics, our teachers—instead of injustice putting up a stop sign, instead of the incredible weight of our guilt, Jesus says, “I love you! You are forgiven.” And to know that we are forgiven—that’s pure freedom! To be close to God means freedom.

Second, getting closer to God means grace gets bigger. My junior year of college, I had the chance to study the conflict in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. I was staying in the Old City in Jerusalem, but I really wanted to have the chance to experience Jewish life. One week, Julie and I dressed up nicely, went down to the Western Wall and put our names on a list for Shabbat. A very kindly man collected us. He had a full beard—black with streaks of gray—and dark eyes with laugh lines at the corners. Family and extended family were in his apartment—with us maybe 10 around the table—and everyone was eager to see if we had any friends in common from the States. We were eager for them to tell us about their lives and what they were thinking about. Julie and I enjoyed ourselves tremendously, and I tried to steer the conversation around to try and understand how they felt about Palestinians and did they know any Palestinians. Within a couple of heartbeats, this kind and learned man went into a spitting rage. His response shocked me to the core and I quickly asked his forgiveness and we went on to speak of other things. I realize now that I didn’t have the right to ask that set of questions, and for another, had I thought about it, I would have realized he might have a reason for hating the other side—perhaps a loss or an experience. Nevertheless, the rage of this man of God as he dehumanized Palestinians, and how his compassion seemed reserved only for people on his side, still shocks me. In our passage, Jesus calls his neighbors out by reminding them of the times God’s grace was big enough to include a poor widow from Lebanon, and a foreigner from Syria, and Jesus’ neighbors respond with rage as if to say, “How dare they be included!”

Third, getting closer to God means grace melts fear. I recognize that perhaps it’s easy for me—privileged white, straight guy—to talk. But I have suffered when other Christians told me I wasn’t good enough to be a Christian, and I have recoiled in horror when I saw Christians use God’s Name to justify hatred and bigotry. The roots of hatred and bigotry lie in fear, fear that the other side won’t treat us well, fear of loss, fear that we are wrong, fear there won’t be enough jobs or wealth or power or love to go around. As the famous philosopher, Yoda, said in The Phantom Menace, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” John writes in his first letter, “God is love…Perfect love casts out fear.” The closer we get to God, the more we can relax and let God’s grace take over.

The closer I get to Jesus, the more I realize how boundless God’s grace is. It’s a scandal how big God’s grace gets as we get closer to God. None of the things we think can keep us away from God are barriers:

·      We don’t have to have money—Jesus brings Good News to the poor.

·      We don’t have to be born into the right family—Jesus makes us part of His.

·      We don’t have to have our life together—Jesus frees people who are still in bondage.

·      We can be completely clueless—Jesus brings sight to the blind.

·      We can be oppressed and overwhelmed, weighed down and broken up—Jesus forgives us and says this year is the year we can start over and be right with God.

 Getting closer to God means we are freed to start over. Getting closer to God means grace can be bigger. Getting closer to God doesn’t mean getting things our way. Getting closer to God means learning to trust in God’s way.

From Thimbles to Vats

Funny Things That Happen at Weddings. Sometimes things happen that are not so funny at the time, but later are hilarious. As you were listening/reading the story, who did you have a feeling for? Why did you feel for that person?

Since this is Jesus’ first miracle or “sign,” why does Mary come to him? What is Jesus’ response? How do you think Jesus was feeling here? How about Mary? What are some possibilities?

 In John, Jesus’ miracles are called “signs” — meaning they point to something. If this is the first of Jesus’ signs, to what do you think it’s pointing?

 Are your jars empty? If Jesus were to refill your jars, how much would you have—a little or a lot? I guess that would depend on the size of your jar! How big is your jar?


Week-long celebration — Wedding, Reception and Honeymoon all-in-one

Steward — Wedding planner, maître di, master of ceremonies

Hour has not yet come

2:4 — My hour has not yet come

7:30 — People try to arrest Jesus but his hour had not yet come.

8:20 — Not arrested because his hour had not yet come

12:23 — “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

13:1 — Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

17:1 — Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,


Imagine Church Transforming Our Ordinary Activities

I’d say we are pretty savvy people here. I’d like to play a game with you called, “Name That Outfit.” I am betting that if I give you an occasion, you can tell me what to wear that would be appropriate. For example, if I said “Bedtime in the winter,” you might say “flannel pajamas.” Alright? So let’s play a couple rounds

1.    Warm summer day at the beach.

2.    Cool, drizzly day in the spring.

3.    Work in the garden on a sunny day.

4.    Going out to dinner with some friends to a very nice restaurant.

5.    Funeral.

6.    Wedding.

So that was fun! If you’re like me, as I was thinking of the occasion, I could actually see the clothes from my closet that I would pick. One of the fascinating things about our passage for today, is that Paul uses the metaphor of clothes to talk about living life with Jesus. How do clothes help us think about walking with Jesus?

First, wearing the new wardrobe. Did you ever watch the show, “What Not to Wear”? It’s on Amazon Prime Video now. It featured Clinton Kelly and Stacy London, two fashionistas who help people who are hopeless dressers. The first thing they would do is talk with the hopeless dresser about why they needed help, and then they would take away all the awful clothes. What I loved about the show was that as they are talking about clothes, often people confessed that they wore these awful clothes because they didn’t think they were beautiful or because they couldn’t find anything that fit. Clinton and Stacy would help the person learn how to put together an outfit that would look fabulous, even help the person learn how to shop for clothes. At the end, each individual wore their clothes with confidence and an inward sense of their own beauty that really showed. Paul says our old life—full of selfishness, self-indulgence and deceit—is like a set of clothes so filthy, so awful, that the only thing to do is throw them away. When we really want Jesus to be part of our lives, we lay all the clothes of our lives before Him, and we hear God say, “I love you! You’re beautiful in my eyes! I have something better for you.” Maybe a couple pieces of our life wardrobe are in good shape—but the rest? It’s all gotta go! God is giving us a brand-new wardrobe that fits our new identity in Him—loved and beautiful, powerful for peace. None of the brand labels the world looks for matter—just the “Made by God” one on our hearts. Once we have worn this new wardrobe, the old ways just don’t fit anymore.

Second, the new wardrobe goes with us everywhere. Unlike some of our clothes that are only good on certain occasions, the new wardrobe fits all occasions. When I was in college, I hadn’t figured out where God wanted me to go or be, but I remember I was copying some articles in the library, when Gregg Swope came up and said hi. Gregg was a seminary student at the seminary next to campus, and he was one of those people who is just cool—he was a marathon runner and played the guitar. But he also had this aura about him, and when he talked with me, I felt peace, as if the warmth of God’s love had come close to me. I felt like I could share my freshman stress with him, could share anything with him. As we walked back across campus, and said, “Goodbye!” I knew I had walked with Jesus. I’m pretty sure that Gregg was just saying hi, and pretty sure he had no idea that being with him that day affected me like that, but he was wearing Christ well that day. Compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline, forgiveness, contentment, love—whenever we go, wherever we go, people will know—even if they can’t quite put their finger on it—that we are wearing Christ.

Lots of people think of church as a place where we go apart like this


Living in the Mystery

I have always loved mysteries. Anyone else here enjoy mysteries—either reading or watching them? Scooby Doo is one of my favorites—“And I would’ve gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling kids and their dog.” I was an X-Files fan for a while. I loved the slogan, “The Truth Is Out There.” I super love the new Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I wonder if what we like best about mysteries is that we feel like we could solve any mystery if only we had the right clues, had the right information and put all the pieces together. In our society, we usually see mysteries as something we solve, like a puzzle, and then get on to the next mystery. Today I want to talk about a different kind of mystery and how experiencing mystery can help us live with more power.

When we talk about the mysteries of the universe, we begin to have a sense of this other kind of mystery. What are some of the mysteries of the universe? [Take suggestions from the congregation.] One of my favorite books awhile back was The Great Unknown: Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science, written by Marcus Du Sautoy from Cambridge. The ones he picks out are:

1.    Chaos — there is a paradoxical order to the chaotic systems around us, and sometimes order comes out of chaos. Is there free will?

2.    Matter — The nature of it, how it’s put together, how something that is mostly space in between atoms or molecules can feel solid to us. What is dark matter?

3.    Quantum Physics — How the way the smallest things in the universe interact seem to defy our usual thinking

4.    Universe — How big is it? What shape is it? Do we really live in a multiverse? Is the speed of light an unbreakable barrier? Is there anyone else out there?

5.    Time — When did it begin? You’re supposed to laugh! Why does it only seem to run in one direction for us when the math says it goes both directions?

6.    Consciousness — What is a mind? How does it begin? Where does it come from? Where is it in our brain? Are animals conscious? Are we in charge of anything?

7.    Infinity —Can we make sense of things beyond us?With each of these mysteries, if we study or explore the mystery more, do we solve the mystery? Usually I think we just go deeper into the mystery—the more answers we find the more questions we have. It’s just as mysterious as before!

Take for example the mystery of Jesus that Paul talks about in our passage. For thousands of years, God had an exclusive relationship with the Hebrew people who later were called Jews. Nobody else received God’s promises, only the Jews. And then Jesus comes and as Paul writes in verse 6: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Why would God change, seemingly overnight, to offer the whole world (including us) the Good News of God’s love? It’s a mystery!

Paul talks about another mystery in verse 10, “God’s intent was that now, through the church, the many-splendored wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…” It’s a mystery because sometimes we in the church can be really flawed, but the power of sacrifice can change us.

 In The Christian Leader, Don Ratzlaff retells a story from Ernest Gordon’s Miracle on the River Kwai, set in World War II. The Scottish soldiers, forced by their Japanese captors to labor on a jungle railroad, had degenerated to barbarous behavior, but one afternoon something happened:

A shovel was missing. The officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When nobody in the squadron budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot….It was obvious the officer meant what he had said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. When it was over, the survivors picked up the [body] and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing. Indeed, there had been a miscount at the first check point.

The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others!...The incident had a profound effect….The men began to treat each other like brothers.

When the victorious Allies swept in,  the survivors, human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors…(and instead of attacking their captors) insisted:  “No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.”

 For me, this points to the mystery that I found so shattering. Why would Jesus die for me? I know me pretty well, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do it. But Jesus knows each of us—all the ways we fall short—and He still loves us, is still willing to go to the cross for us. As Max Lucado put it, “What makes a Christian a Christian is not perfection, but forgiveness.” This experience of forgiveness and sacrifice that we find in Jesus has the power to not just change us, but to change the world.

 These are all mysteries—and we will never solve them. But God can reveal insights to us as we try to experience these mysteries in all their fullness. What does it mean for God to change His mind to include people who had no claim on Him? We can experience that mystery as we welcome people who have no reason to expect a welcome. When we help someone we do not know or invite someone who thinks they don’t belong, we experience this mystery of God. What does it mean that God reveals His many-splendored power and wisdom through us the church? We can experience this mystery by caring for others who may not be able to return the favor. We experience this mystery as we invest our talents, gifts and passions in the loving of others, so they might experience the same love, grace and forgiveness we have experienced. Where do we find the time and the energy? How can we possibly love the way Jesus loved? My friends, that too is a mystery. But I can promise you that as we live with the same kind of sacrificial love, the same kind of offering up of ourselves because we can—that mystery comes alive in us, comes alive with power. And so miraculously, we become part of the mystery as we live with Christ’s power in and through us. Other people will look at us and, not understanding how we can love like that, they begin to catch a glimpse of how Jesus might love them like that too.

The Wonder of a Manger

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One of the things that makes me laugh about nativity sets is that they seem to make a stable and a manger very pretty. But sometimes things get so different.

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From left to right: the shepherd has used his cell phone for directions to the stable, his (non-GMO) sheep is wearing a sweater (probably hand-knit and, probably made from sustainably-gathered wool), there are solar panels on the roof of the stable, the cow is stamped "100% organic, Joseph is taking a selfie (of course), Mary has a Starbucks coffee container in her hand, the cow's feed is marked "gluten-free" (not visible in this pic), there's a drone on the roof of the stable - probably representing either an angel or the star, the three wise men have arrived on Segways, carrying Amazon boxes. But of all the versions of the manger that I have seen, one has really captured my attention today. As you will see, it’s very different.

 After the fall of the Iron Curtain, and Western travelers could get more access, some of the Soviet Union’s environmental and humanitarian tragedies became more evident. In 1994, Will Fish was one of the Americans who answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. Here’s how Will tells the story:

 It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear for the first time the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city.

Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat—he looked to be about six years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.

Quickly I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately—until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

Then Misha started to ad lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much so I thought maybe if I kept him warm that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” So I got into the manger and then Jesus looked at me and told me I could stay with him—for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him—for always.[1]

 That’s the wonder of a manger—an almighty God who comes as a baby, born in stable instead of a palace, lying in feeding trough instead of a cradle. That’s the wonder of a manger—to have this little one look at us from the straw and tell us we can stay with him for always. That’s the wonder of a manger.


The Wonder of a Name

by Rev. Doug Gray

When I was in high school, listening to another mind-numbing lecture, I looked over at the girl sitting next to me. She was writing her name over and over again. I thought that was odd—but hey, whatever it takes to stay awake you know. Then I looked closer, and noticed that she was writing her first name, and then the last name of her boyfriend. She tried all kinds of combinations first name, and a hyphenated last name with hers and her boyfriends’. I think part of it for her seemed to be daydreaming about what her future life might be like with her boyfriend. Some people like the idea of changing their names after getting married—others not so much. Marriage is a big deal in people’s lives, and that’s part of why we think about a name change around that event. The interesting thing is the same thing was true in the Bible—names matter, and if you see a name change, something big is happening.

In Genesis, when God is making promises to them, Abram goes from ‘high father’ to Abraham, ‘father of a multitude,’ and Sarai becomes Sarah, ‘princess.’ Abraham and Sarah’s grandson was named Jacob, which means ‘usurper’ or ‘one who takes over.’ After many years and many changes, God wrestles with Jacob and when Jacob says, “I won’t let go unless you bless me,” God changes Jacob’s name to Israel, which means ‘one who wrestles with God.” In the New Testament, Jesus has fun with names. He calls James and John, the “Sons of Thunder.” Don’t you wish you could meet them and find out how they got that nickname? Another disciple went from Simon, which means “sinking sand” to Peter, which means “the rock.” In our passage for today, Moses changes someone’s name—did you notice? Hoshea means “salvation,” and Moses changes Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua, which means “God saves.” Of course, we shorten that to Joshua. I believe Hoshea gets a name change for at least three reasons

First, Joshua recognized the good before him. How many of you have ever read a book—and really liked it—and then gone to see the movie and hated it? It happens all the time for me! Part of it is probably just that what we see on the screen isn’t how we saw things in our heads when we were reading it. But what if you hadn’t read the book? Would you like the movie more because you didn’t have that set of expectations? I wonder. What I find interesting about Joshua is that he saw the negatives that the other spies did, but he also saw the good—it’s a land flowing with milk and honey.

Second, Joshua recognized that God was greater than the problems they faced. Everybody else is focused on the giants, the fortified walls of the cities, and how big the cities were—how hard this is going to be. Caleb says, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it,” and later Joshua adds, “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us. Only, do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” For Joshua, the giants and fortified cities are “no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us.”

Hoshea’s ability to recognize the good before him and to know that God is greater than all the problems they faced—that’s what got him a name change! He knew that the God who had sent the plagues on Egypt, protected their people from the angel of death, parted the Red Sea and met them at Mount Sinai—that same God could certainly help them cross a river, stand up to giants and help them capture fortified cities. How? God would take care of that if people would only go with God with their whole heart. Joshua means “The Lord saves!” And eventually, when Joshua was an old man, the people would leave the futility of wandering in the desert, grasp their purpose as God’s people, and enter the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey.

Why are we talking about Joshua today? Because names matter. My wife and I had endless debates about what to name each of our children. “What if it’s a girl? What if it’s a boy? That name is too long! That doesn’t go with Gray!” An angel comes to Joseph in a dream: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” An angel comes to Mary too: “you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Joseph and Mary didn’t have any debate over what to name this child! Here’s the kicker:  did you know that Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Joshua? Like Joshua, Jesus came so that we could leave the futility of wandering in a complex and arid world, so that we could find our purpose as children of God, and enter the abundant life promised to those who live with God at the center of their lives. What would it be like to live with God at the center of our lives? Abundance for sure, but like Joshua we would be able to recognize the good around us, and know that God is greater than all the problems we face. That God saves us, walks with us, lives with us. Jesus is the Name we remember at Christmas, because the gift He gave was Himself, offered up on a cross, so we would never have to fear again. He is the Christ—the One chosen by God, the King Who invites us into the Kingdom. He is Emmanuel—God with us—and the Prince of Peace—who calms our inner storms and whose love casts out all fear. He is Joshua—God saves—and He is Jesus, before whose amazing grace all will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, born to a modest, Jewish couple, sleeping in a feeding trough. What a wonder-filled name is Jesus.

The Wonder of Christmas: The Wonder of a Star

by Rev. Doug Gray

 I am a fan of signs—they help us find our way, or warn us about something that’s coming up

  • But sometimes people get the signs wrong. (SOTP, Citizen Disposal)

  • Sometimes signs are confusing. (Crazy directions, all one way, no way)

  • Or people haven’t thought about what the sign says with what else is going

  • on around the sign. (slow shotgun, children speed bumps, car wreck)

  • Sometimes signs are just wacky. (Mosquito, 12.5 mph, Kungfu deer,

  • motorcycle wheels)

  • Sometimes signs tell the honest truth. (Cop behind sign, Bridge)

  • The trick sometimes is not just seeing the sign, but understanding what it means. (Drowning, Hell freezes)

Is there a sign that can guide us to a more wonder-filled Christmas? Yes!

The wisemen saw a star and they knew it meant a King of the Jews was going to be born. The star was in the sky for everyone to see, but only these magi, these priestly, kingly scholars understood it meant a king was going to be born and where. King Herod—whose political savvy won him a throne and kept it, and who commissioned amazing engineering feats like Caesarea Maritime with its floating concrete, Masada the impregnable fortress that would withstand a Roman siege, and of course the great Temple in Jerusalem—failed to understand the sign. Of all the world of the day, as far as we know, only these magi understood the star would show the way to a King. Every day, our lives are filled with signs—beauty all around us, people who love us, chances to make a difference—and how many do we recognize as coming from God? When we have dark times, we often are so self-focused or self-pitying that we fail to see signs God gives that we are not alone, that even there, light can break through—someone says a kind word, or helps us up when we have fallen. Another sign we are loved beyond ourselves. When we see the star in the sky, on top of a tree, on a Christmas card—will we understand the sign, that God is calling us?

The wisemen saw a star and they had the courage to follow that star. It’s really the only reason we even knew that they understood the sign. When the magi came to Jerusalem and asked where to find the King…did you notice everyone believed them? King Herod was troubled, disturbed—and all of Jerusalem with him. It’s a big deal! But only the magi went to Bethlehem. Why is that? Were they just too busy? Lives too full of distractions and plans, filled with court intrigue, trying to get ahead and make a buck. Yeah, maybe. But could it be those were just excuses? The idea of a Messiah, a King, is cool, but as Herod recognized, there’s only room for one King on the throne, and he was disturbed. Perhaps part of the reason we don’t find the wonder of Christmas isn’t so much that we are busy, but because we realize if Jesus is really God and was born a baby, it means we might have to rearrange our lives, priorities, values, even plans. Perhaps we will have to get off the throne of our lives, and let God be in charge. At Christmas, though, the star calls us to the hope of something more, but will we have the courage of the magi to follow the star to new life?

Finally, the wisemen saw a star and when they found Jesus, they bowed down and worshiped Him. These are people of substance and competence. They funded a multi-month expedition probably from somewhere around Iran. They were educated and scholarly, rocket scientists of their day. But in a modest Jewish home in Roman-occupied Palestine, these wisemen found a child and mother and something changed for them. Rob Renfroe asks, “Why did they worship? This newborn child had done nothing yet. He had no army, no subjects, no kingdom. He had not yet performed a miracle or spoken the words of a prophet. In fact, he had done nothing other than what any other newborn child would have done. And still they worshiped him. Why? The answer is that we do not worship God primarily for what God has done, but for who God is.” The something more for which they yearned, the something more that led them on an epic journey and energized them through hardship and calamity—it all came rushing in on them as they were in Jesus’ Presence, and they knew were with God. And they bowed down and worshiped.

The star is a sign of wonder, and wherever we see a star this Advent, it reminds us that Jesus is coming. The star calls us to not just see it—anyone can see a star—but to recognize it guides us to the One who has been born, King of the Jews—and who can be born in us again. The star calls us to not just see it—anyone can see a star—but to find its rays fill us with the courage to follow, even if it means letting go of worldly tradition to find God-inspired wonder. The star calls us to not just see it, but to let the wonder of baby Jesus catch us by surprise—the hope of something more, the sign of God with us. Like all good signs, the wonder of a star helps us anticipate what and who is just ahead—Jesus Christ.

The Power of God in a Fellowship

by Rev. Doug Gray

Have you ever been truly loved for who you are, just because you are? If you have, then you know how amazing grace is. The classic definition goes like this:  grace is the undeserved blessing of God. More importantly, the experience of grace is at the core of being a follower of Jesus and so grace is also what makes any church a church. The challenge is that for grace to be real, it has to change us. Our passage today talks about at least three ways that grace could change us.

First, grace is so core, that the graceless shouldn’t run the church. As some of you know, I served two years as Associate Pastor at the First Union Congregational Church in Quincy, IL. In 1968, a tornado tore off the roof and bell-tower, making the entire structure unstable. The church would have to rebuild, but how to do it? The church had two plans for the new building. One plan for the sanctuary was made to build community, with circular seating for the sanctuary that would help people worship and feel together, the acoustics were suited to speaking, and the choir was up front. The other plan was for a concert-hall—super-high ceilings, straight pews that made it hard for people to feel part of a community, the acoustics were suited for music and terrible for speaking, and the choir was in the balcony. Just as the church was getting ready to choose the community-oriented plan, a member of the church who was known for being angry and had not attended for years swept in and offered to give the church a lot of money on the condition that they choose the concert hall. Which plan do you think they chose? The concert hall! And that decision has meant that the congregation has struggled ever since. I tell this story because it reminds us that we don’t give money to control people. At our best, we give as a way to bless, to express gratitude and grace. And this also reminds us that grace has to be at the core of everything that happens in a church. In our passage, Jesus outlines how someone wrongs another, and won’t see sense or apologize even when they have been shown the problem more than once. Jesus adds, “…if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Now Jesus loved and spent time with Gentiles and tax collectors, but if someone is resisting grace, then they shouldn’t have a chance to direct the path of the church.

Second, our experience of grace has to change how we forgive others and ourselves. In our passage, Jesus tells a parable about a forgiving king and an unforgiving servant. If we have been forgiven, to not forgive others is to enter a very dark place. A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to Grandma’s backyard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead. The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes. Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing. After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck. “I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”[1] How many of us have been like Johnny—having done something awful and thinking it’s unforgiveable? How many of us have been like Sally—having seen someone do something awful and never letting them forget it? Both of those experiences take us to dark, graceless places. But if we take the awful experience to God, we find it no longer controls our lives—instead grace leads us.

Finally, we want grace to change who we are. Philip Haille wrote of the little village of Le Chambon in France, a town whose people, unlike others in France, hid their Jews from the Nazis. Haille went there, wondering what sort of courageous, ethical heroes could risk all to do such an extraordinary good. He interviewed people in the village and was overwhelmed by their ordinariness. They weren’t heroes or smart, discerning people. Haille decided that the one factor that united them was their attendance, Sunday after Sunday, at their little church, where they heard the sermons of Pastor Trochme. Over time, they became by habit people who just knew what to do and did it. When it came time for them to be courageous, the day the Nazis came to town, they quietly did what was right. One old woman, who faked a heart attack when the Nazis came to search her house, later said, “Pastor always taught us that there comes a time in every life when a person is asked to do something for Jesus. When our time came, we knew what to do.”[2] The more grace we experience and show, the more it becomes just how we roll.

One reason I love Thanksgiving is that it hasn’t been completely taken over by commercialism. Thanksgiving reminds us to think about what we are thankful for. Did you do that this weekend? And when we are being thankful for, who are we actually thanking? Hmmmm. Could it be God? Imagine a holiday based on the idea of grace—remembering our experiences of it and how our lives are better because of it. For those who know the love of Jesus Christ, Thanksgiving is not just a holiday, but a way of living, and grace is the engine that drives it all—part of how we roll, helping us forgive others, guiding us in our decisions. So all of that Thanksgiving goes back to Jesus, to an innocent man willing to give up power to show love, and making it clear true love sacrifices. And whenever two or three of us gather in the Name of Jesus, Jesus is here, and His grace leads us. But for grace to be real in our lives, it has to change us. Happy Thanksgiving!

[1]Richard Hoefler, Will Daylight Come?

[2]Told in Pulpit Digest, by William H. Willimon.

Imagine Church Inspiring Our Everyday Words

by Rev. Doug Gray

When we look around at our world, most of us are aware that some things are not quite right, and some things really stink. We instinctively know that things could be better, but there are so many hurting people, so many ways we see people hurting each other. It’s incredibly easy for us to see what is wrong with the world—with our job, our city, our country, our neighbor, the driver who cut us off, the waitress who messed up our order, our kids, our partner. We hear people using words to be cruel, to get an edge, to cut others up or cut them down to size. It’s so easy for us to hear what is wrong with the world—with a song that glorifies hurting someone, politicians that cut at each other or simply lie, the neighbors that take their pain and frustrations out on each other, the person who fails to be polite to us. It’s harder for us to see and hear what is wrong with our own lives.

James challenges us to give up the fracturing ways of the world, and become people of integrity. If I swear by God, then I’m really telling the truth, then what does that say about our regular words. Instead, we are called to be transparent people. Let us be willing to say what you really feel. If you believe how you feel isn’t how you want to be, say that. But when you say yes, mean it. Don’t say yes out of obligation, and if you don’t really like doing something …for God’s sake—yes I mean that literally!—don’t do it! If you say yes, then choose it with your whole heart. Grumbling, muttering, sarcasm—that’s not worthy of our life together, of the loving and gracious spirit of Christ in our midst. Let us say the truth in love, but we have to be able to be real with each other. That’s the path of integrity.

James challenges us to give up the words that push people away and divide us from others, and to take up the words that bring us together. The other day, I went into a store looking for a couple things—I mean I was on a mission, and I really had to get back. So I grabbed my gear—I think I had it right—and I headed for the check out. I made one small mistake. I asked the cashier how her day was going. You know, “How you doin’?” They say, “Fine.” “Yeah me too.” Only this time, when I asked, “How you doin’?” she starts telling me her entire life’s story! Oh my gosh! Are you kidding me? I don’t have time for this. I caught myself up short. Her trouble was going to isolate her, just like I wanted to get away as fast as I could, nobody would probably actually listen to her. And in that moment, I realized that I shouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to hear…and then I thought how blessed I am that she would share her troubles with me. Thank You, God! As it turns out, I was not having a really fun day, but let me tell you, compared to her—I won the lottery! James recognizes the logic of our competitive and fearful world. If someone’s in trouble, we don’t want it to stick to us. If someone’s sick, we don’t want to get infected. If someone’s happy, well, that might be catching and overwhelming too. So we push the troubled and sick off into safe places—hospitals, homes, prisons, treatment facilities—away from us and society. Watch how James talks about words—Are you in trouble? Let your words and your heart pray. Are you happy? Let your words and your heart sing! Are you sick? Let your words and your heart summon the elders of the church to your side. As you pray and sing and summon, others can share the moment with you, include you in their thoughts and prayers, even be moved and changed by the chance to be together. Worship and church are great places to be however we are. Words can bring us together.

Words matter. When we speak with fracturing, hurtful words, then our fractured and wounded hearts are revealed. When we speak as Jesus would, our words can heal, and fill with hope. When we speak falsely or from ulterior motives, then our fearful and divided hearts are revealed. When we speak as Jesus would, our words can bring peace and forgiveness. Words matter. They show us the truth of our hearts, that we too are fractured, wounded, fearful and divided. We can say with Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am a person of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” How can our hearts ever become right enough that our words can truly be love? In that moment, we can pray to God words like those of the band, Evanescence

How can you see into my eyes like open doors,

leading you down into my core

where I’ve become so numb.

Without a soul,

my spirit sleeping somewhere cold

until you find it there and lead it back home

Wake me up inside

Wake me up inside

Call my name and save me from the dark.

Bid my blood to run

before I come undone.

Save me from the nothing I’ve become!

Now that I know what I’m without

you can't just leave me.

Breathe into me and make me real—

Bring me to life

God’s words speak life. We want God’s words to become our words, because God’s words are life and wholeness. Imagine God going with us into our world, inspiring our words every day!

Impact for Christ

by Rev. Doug Gray

When I was in college, I had the chance to work at a wilderness, summer camp in New Hampshire. Together with another young man, I was to be in charge of twelve, ten-year-old boys…and we had a ball. Being a wilderness camp, we had three weeks to get our gang used to backpacking. Our final trip was a three-day hike around the ring of the Ossippee Mountains, a pretty ambitious goal. The first night we were sitting around the campfire after a horrible dinner prepared by the campers themselves. We were talking about what we would do the next day. One of our intrepid bunch suggested that we should “bushwhack” from our current location to Blueberry Hill, camp out there and have fresh-picked, blueberry pancakes for dinner the next night. What they called “bushwhacking” is hiking without a trail, usually using a compass and a topographical map. My partner and I looked at each other over the campfire. He shrugged. I shrugged. So the next morning we packed up, got our bearings on Blueberry Hill, and, with our compasses and maps, we were off into the wilderness! How hard could it be? Today, we, as a fellowship and as individuals, stand on the edge of a great adventure, excited and perhaps a little nervous about a spiritual journey deeper into relationship with Jesus. What will the journey be like? Will we be up to it? Are we there yet? We can look for guidance and inspiration to our passages this morning.

First, Jesus shares a vision of where we are to meet Him. When the women meet Jesus, He tells them that they will see Him again in Galilee, and to make sure they tell everyone about it. For some years now, we have been talking together about what God is calling us to be and do in this neighborhood and in Quincy. Over the last year, that vision has gotten clearer and clearer. We are like these brave, kind women going to Jesus’ tomb, only to find that Jesus has risen, and that God has a vision for we will meet Jesus. Like the women, we have shared and clarified that vision with each other. Today is the day God said we would meet Jesus, on the mountaintop together.

Second, Jesus says, “Go.” When I was a kid, my brother and I sometimes had way too much energy. We were getting into things and causing a ruckus, and my mom would say, “Go outside and find something to do.” The first time she told us that, I argued with her. I could be quieter, really I could…and she said, “Go!” And you know, my brother and I and our friends had all sorts of adventures—building tree houses, playing basketball, inventing games—but all the adventures all began with the word, “Go!” We are a little like Abraham and Sarah. God is promising us a better future, but we cannot stay as we are and be faithful. We must go. We are a little like the disciples, who have spent three years of their lives with Jesus, and now Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them all I have commanded.” God is giving us a mission—to show people how Jesus loved and to help them love like that—but that mission lies out there. We cannot stay as we are. Jesus says, “Go!”

Finally, with the adventure comes a promise. In the 1990s, when Apple fell on tough times, Apple’s chairman, Steve Jobs, traveled from the Silicon Valley to New York City. He wanted to convince Pepsico’s CEO, John Sculley, to move out west and run his struggling company. As the two men stood in Sculley’s penthouse office, looking out over the Manhattan skyline, the Pepsi executive started to decline Steve Jobs’ offer. “Financially,” Sculley said, “you’d have to give me a million-dollar salary, a million-dollar bonus, and a million-dollar severance.” Flabbergasted, Jobs gulped and agreed—if Sculley would move to California. But Sculley would commit only to consulting from New York. At that, Jobs issued a challenge to Sculley: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to change the world?” In his autobiography, Odyssey, Sculley admits Jobs’ challenge “knocked the wind out of me.” He said he’d become so caught up with his future at Pepsi, his pension, and whether his family could adapt to life in California that an opportunity to “change the world” nearly passed him by. Instead, he went to Apple. Sculley had a purpose, but no promised outcome. But when we go with God, we go with a promise. Like Abraham and Sara, when we go, we receive the promise that through us all nations will be blessed. Like Jesus’ disciples, when we go, we have the promise that Jesus will be with us wherever we go, even to the ends of the world, the end of the age. When we go with God, we go with these promises.

The adventure can definitely be a place of testing, as my campers and I discovered that day we decided to bushwhack our way to Blueberry Hill. Once we left that first mountaintop, there were lots of times down in the valley when we couldn’t see our way, got off track, and weren’t sure we could make it. By then, we were committed. Only the way forward. And yes, the blueberries were very sweet when we got there! As we stand on this mountaintop together, we should celebrate! Jesus said, “I’ll meet you there!” And here we are right on time…and here is Jesus with us! We have a sense of Jesus saying to us, “Go! Love people like I do. Show grace to those who least expect it. Be a light in uncertain times. Weave the love of God into your community.” Of course, the adventure is learning to trust Jesus more, to look for His Presence, to count on His guidance, and to trust in His providence. We can’t see every step on the way, and we will certainly face challenges. But we have each other and we have a promise from Jesus, “I will be with you wherever you go.” God says, “Go!” So here we go! And God is with us always!

Impact the Community

by Rev. Doug Gray

Something miraculous happens sometimes when a group of people becomes community. Sometimes it happens in a sports team, a choir or band, a project or work environment, a neighborhood. Have you ever been in a group of people that became community? What did that feel like? How could you tell that your group had become community?

 [Take responses from the congregation.]

 You are really onto something there. In fact, some might argue that God’s purpose from the very beginning was to create community, to restore broken community to wholeness, and to energize healthy community for the future. In our passage for today, Paul focuses on this last part.

First, unified but not uniform. The other day I was joking around with someone and we had a good time going back and forth. They asked me what I did for a living, and I told them I was the pastor of a really cool church. [pause] And all I got was crickets. “Oh,” they finally said. “I could never be in a church.” “Why?” I asked. “It seems like religion just wants you to be mindless. Say yes to all these things. Say no to all these other things. Someone telling you what to believe all the time.” That’s just not my experience, and it’s part of why I love being Congregational, part of why I love being part of this church. We are unified, but not uniform. One of the threads through all the stories of community is that a community has a shared goal. They know why they are and where they are going. I love that we are all different, and I love that we are all here to find God together. I love that we all have different ways of approaching things, and I love that we are trying to learn what it means to live like Jesus. We aren’t in lock-step—it’s really more of a dance. As different as we are, still we are learning how to have fun, how to love God, and how to be the best selves God made us to be. We are one body—the Body of Christ—but we have lots of parts.

Second, empowered for the common good. In early America and before, many towns had a “commons,” a shared pasture land on which everyone could graze their livestock. Boston Commons is a park on one of those shared spaces. Since the Commons was a shared resource, the cost of grass being eaten was shared by everyone. The Commons was a terrific idea—shared green space, shared pasture for the animals, everyone took care of it. Of course, every farmer wanted to improve their family’s situation, and so would want to add more livestock. Except, if everyone only added livestock, and nobody took care of the shared resource, then the Commons was over-grazed and became no good to anyone. Garret Hardin, in his paper, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” writes, “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” In other words, if we are only in this life for ourselves, we fail and so does everyone around us. Paul shows us the way out of the Tragedy of the Commons. He writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit… it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Whatever God has given you to do, wherever God has placed you, God has equipped you to be a blessing…AND God will give you the power you need to show grace in a way that helps us all to rise.

Third, every role matters. So I have a confession to make…I wish I were a tenor. I always wanted to have one of those amazing voices that could hit the high notes and melt people’s hearts. But I don’t have that kind of voice. When I was in high school, I was in fantastic choir—we traveled, made Christmas albums, sang at nursing homes. I found my place as a bass or baritone, and I learned to listen for people’s voices. When Todd wasn’t in the tenor section, the songs didn’t feel right. When Jennifer wasn’t singing alto, the whole section kind of wandered. When we were all there, when we were all focused, and all singing it was so beautiful that it could make the hair stand up on your arms, and melt people’s hearts. In the same way, I can tell when one of you is missing on Sunday morning—something is different in the feel of worship. When we are all here, when we are all focused in on God, something happens in our worship that really is remarkable. And every person matters—from Harry who dances for joy when the music moves him, to one of the littles running up the aisle to check in with mom or dad, to the prayer warrior who has trouble rising from their seat, to the person with doubts who comes any way—every one of us brings something to the party that wouldn’t be here otherwise. I believe there’s a reason you are here today, because I know that every role matters.

God does something miraculous sometimes when a group of people becomes community. It took this church to help it happen 104 years ago. That’s how this sanctuary and fellowship hall were built, but it changed Squantum. Rev. Davison (who pastored this church in addition to being full-time pastor of the Atlantic Memorial Congregational Church) said: “Squantum is without a hall of any kind, and its social activities have been stinted for this reason. The fact that the Community Hall is separated from the church proper and its religious work, will tend to make [the] Community Hall available for...the best interests of Squantum.” We are not uniform in our gifts, but we are unified in our purpose to serve Christ. We do not seek our own good only, but we are empowered by God to show the love we have received. We do not shrink from the task ahead as people who feel unworthy or inconsequential in the work of God, for we know that each of us matters, each of us makes a difference, and when each of us does what God places in our hearts to do, empowered by the Spirit, something miraculous happens, and we become community. What Squantum needs—what our world needs—is for a group of people who truly care, to light the way to true community. We know it’s Christ who makes it all happen, but what Squantum will experience is the love of God through us. Something miraculous happens when a group of people demonstrates community.

Impact Our Caring

by Rev. Doug Gray

One of the things are really enjoy is seeing the look on someone’s face when they are truly surprised. I went looking for some on the internet. One thing I love about surprise are the looks on people’s faces. The shock you see in someone who is truly surprised is hilarious. [Show the photos in the slideshow.] And I know not all of those people were truly surprised, right? It’s hard to capture that look, because it happens so fast. But true surprise—it’s priceless! That’s why people throw surprise parties and warn people not to spoil the surprise. In today’s passage, we find Jesus telling the story of two surprises, two surprises that will help us understand more deeply the call to care.

The first surprise is that meeting Jesus is way easier than we think. One day, a highway patrol woman pulled over a car for speeding. As the officer was writing the ticket, she noticed several machetes in the car. “What are those for?” she asked suspiciously. “I'm a juggler,” the man replied. “I use those in my act.” “Well, show me,” the officer demanded. The juggler took out the machetes and started juggling them; first three, then more until he was tossing seven at one time, overhand, underhand, behind the back, putting on a dazzling show in the breakdown lane of the highway and amazing the officer. Just then, another car passed by. The driver did a double take, and said, “My God. I've got to give up drinking! Look at the test they're giving now.” The thing I find interesting is that for the guy who is good at it, it’s no big deal to juggle the machetes by the side of the road. The officer and the other driver think it’s amazing, but for the person juggling—meh, no big deal. Lots of people think meeting Jesus is really hard—like juggling machetes—but when we care for “the least of these my sisters and brothers,” we meet Jesus.

The second surprise is that God cares about “the least of these” and calls them brothers and sisters. But haven’t you been “the least of these” in your life? How many of us remember being left out on the playground? Or how many of us have had a time when we were in big trouble? Or how many of us have been bullied by someone who was bigger, or in a position of authority? We have all been hungry and thirsty. We have all needed clothes and been sick. Even if we have not been in a literal jail, many of us have been captive to addictions and patterns of behavior that hold us captive. My point is that we have all had times when we were “the least of these” and God cared about us. Perhaps someone helped us when we were up a creek. Perhaps someone brought us food or took care of us when we were sick. However it worked, we have been on the receiving end of grace—and God cares and calls us to see the same humanity and need in others…and to let it move us.

The final surprise is a doozy:  when we care, something in the world changes. In the 1950s, a group of scientists was studying the Japanese monkey on the island of Koshima. “Scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkeys liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant. An 18-month-old female…found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.” For several years, one by one, family by family, the monkeys learned how to do this new thing, though a few never gave up eating sandy sweet potatoes. And then one day—and it seemed to happen overnight—it just became the way things were done. It seems that the community came to a tipping point, and one more monkey learning how to live like that, and suddenly, everyone was doing it—and not just on this island, but on all the neighboring islands as well.[1] When one of us shows kindness and compassion, it changes the people around us. It changes the atmosphere and energy in a way that is contagious, even if people can’t explain why.

When the best surprises come to us, what is the look on our faces? What do we feel in our hearts? What do we say, “Are you kidding me? Is this for real?” We know how the world works, and suddenly we are faced with someone whose caring is beyond what the world would do. Have you had a moment like that? Perhaps we don’t even know whether to laugh or cry. That’s grace! That’s how Jesus loves us. That’s how God provides for us. That’s how the Spirit leads us. It’s a world created for us and it’s good! It’s a baby born in a manger. It’s the Son of God, hanging on a cross. It’s a couple of handfuls of people creating community out of loving inspiration on Pentecost. And through the years, sometimes the church has gotten it devastatingly wrong—and we can still get it wrong today—but those have all been times when the church has focused on power at the expense of love. The power of the cross is that Jesus gave up power for love. Shocking. The biggest surprise of all. The church at its best creates surprises of caring and compassion. And it all begins with thinking about “the least of these, Jesus’ sisters and brothers.” Who are the “least of these” around us? Who are the people who have the least say in how things go? Who are the people who are most left out? Who are the ones most in need of kindness? Let us go to them, the least of these, listen to them, and find Jesus. Let us serve them, the least of these, and learn from God how to love. Let us surrender our wills to show God’s love, and change the world. And watch for God’s surprises to come!

[1]Ken Keyes, Jr, The Hundredth Monkey, 1984.

Impact the Church

by Rev. Doug Gray

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up. Maybe we can think about that together for a moment.

 What’s one sign that you are growing up?

[Take responses from the congregation.]

 I think there’s a part of each of us that really doesn’t want to grow up—ever. You know, like Peter Pan, we kind of wish we could live in Neverland and just run around in the woods and play all day, and never grow up. In our passage for today, Paul talks a lot about growing up or maturing in our faith, and how we can have an impact on and through our church.

 First, growing up in Christ is normal. When our oldest, Morgan, was born she nursed for a while, and that was good, but when she started eating rice and baby food she started to put on wait and she slept through the night…and that was great! Did you ever try some of the baby food? Some of it’s ok…but some of it…nasty! Of course, the next big step was giving her small bits of the same food we were eating. She loved that! And I can’t blame her. Growing up is normal. Our diet and activities change too as we mature. In fact, a baby that never matures is a terrible, terrible tragedy. And it’s a terrible tragedy when we don’t grow up spiritually. What does it mean to grow up spiritually? What does it mean to be spiritually mature? Paul says it’s to be “like Christ in everything.” If you want to know what God wants the mature you to look like, to be like, to act like, and to feel like it’s Jesus Christ. Growing up into Christ is normal people for folks who follow Jesus do.

 Second, sometimes we go through times of great growth. Think back on your life for a moment. Can you pick out a time when you grew a lot as a person, perhaps in your relationship with God?

 [Take responses from the congregation.]

 What do all these times of great growth have in common? Intense challenge. In his book, Breathing Under Water:  Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Richard Rohr writes, “Until you bottom out, and come to the limits of your own fuel supply, there is no reason for you to switch to a higher octane of fuel…You will not learn to actively draw upon a Larger Source until your usual resources are depleted and revealed as wanting. In fact, you will not even know there is a Larger Source until your own sources and resources fail you. Until and unless there is a person, situation, event, idea, conflict, or relationship that you cannot ‘manage,’ you will never find the True Manager. So God makes sure that several things will come your way that you cannot manage on your own.” God wants to use the challenge to make us like Jesus Christ. Jesus faced challenges too. before He was going to die a horrible death, Jesus knew what was coming. Would He trust God, or His own abilities? So Jesus took some friends, and

 “They came to a garden called Gethsemane and Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ ... Distress and anguish came over Him, and He said, “The sorrow in My heart is so great that it almost crushes Me.” Mark 14:32–34 (TEV)

“Father,” He said, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from Me. Yet I want Your will, not mine!” Mark 14:36 (NLT)

That prayer is the heart of spiritual maturity. Jesus gets it—it’s not about what He wants…it’s about what God wants. Are you facing troubles in your life right now? Does it feel like they will never end? As you look into the face of that trouble, the real prayers are “God be with me! Show me what You want and help me do it. Use this situation and me for Your glory.” Then trust. God doesn’t promise it will be easy, but we don’t have to worry if we go in God’s way. The promise of the resurrection is that if we learn to seek and walk with the True Manager, there is new life on the other side of the challenge, a life with greater depth, inner peace and more profound joy.

  Dear friends, in every church’s life, the fellowship comes to a crossroad, a moment when God lays before them a real, intense challenge. We face one of those times of high adventure and great growth right now. For some of us, this Generosity Initiative seems scary, risky. We can’t see the whole road ahead, and it makes us anxious and worried. That’s ok. That’s normal. If that’s you, take a deep breath with me right now. We are about to learn how to walk by faith not by sight. For a lot of us, all the talk about faith and love is nice on Sunday morning, but we go back to the real world on Monday. Aha! Well, guess what? We are in the real world right now, and all that faith stuff we talk about in church? This generosity initiative is where we get to actually try it out for real. Because God wants to be for real in our lives, not just a Sunday morning thing. God wants to be for real in our lives, for us to grow in our trust in Him. Now we get to learn to trust God for real, with our money and our lives. We don’t have to see every step, just the next one. Then we pray, “God show me what you want!” And we step out the way God shows us. And then we look for the next step, and we do the same thing. That’s faith friends, and we are going to walk it together. We will hold hands as we go, because we will feel safer that way, because we will feel each other’s hope and bring God’s courage to each other. We will hold hearts as we go, because we are all going to be learning how to do this together, and we will have to be thoughtful of each other. Part of the challenge for us is that we are not doing this for ourselves, for our own egos, but for God. So we will have to listen to each other in love, because we all want to do what God wants, and we will all have our part to play. “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” By the way, I don’t really know exactly how all this will go, but I trust that God has given us this vision, of a bigger welcome, better community and deeper faith.

First, recognize our giftedness in humility. One day, a highway patrol woman pulled over a car for speeding. As the officer was writing the ticket, she noticed several machetes in the car. “What are those for?” she asked suspiciously. “I'm a juggler,” the man replied. “I use those in my act.” “Well, show me,” the officer demanded. The juggler took out the machetes and started juggling them; first three, then more until he was tossing seven at one time, overhand, underhand, behind the back, putting on a dazzling show in the breakdown lane of the highway and amazing the officer. Just then, another car passed by. The driver did a double take, and said, “My God. I've got to give up drinking! Look at the test they're giving now.” The thing I find interesting is that for the guy who is good at it, it’s no big deal to juggle the machetes by the side of the road. The officer and the other driver think it’s amazing, but for the person juggling—meh, no big deal. Paul talks about how we have gifts God has given us—things we are so good at, we just do them and God blesses them. Are you good at taking care of things? Are you good at organizing? Are you good at teaching? Maybe you like to cook or make people at home. Every person is gifted by God to be a blessing in ways that others on the outside will look at and say, “Wow! That’s incredible!” Each one of you brings some unique things to our life together.

 Second, understand our need to grow together. Paul writes, “The gifts he gave were…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Paul is clear that we are not going to just grow up in Christ, but that we need to grow up together. We want to know and grow with each other, to understand what makes another person smile, and to do things together. At the same time, we are meant to all reach “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Not just one of us, but all of us together. In the 1950s, a group of scientists was studying the Japanese monkey on the island of Koshima. “Scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkeys liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant. An 18-month-old female…found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.” For several years, one by one, family by family, the monkeys learned how to do this new thing, though a few never gave up eating sandy sweet potatoes. And then one day—and it seemed to happen overnight—it just became the way things were done. It seems that the community came to a tipping point, and one more monkey learning how to live like that, and suddenly, everyone was doing it—and not just on this island, but on all the neighboring islands as well.[1] When one of us matures in Christ, it makes a difference for all of us. But I don’t just want all of us to grow up in Christ because I’m your pastor and pastors want that for their churches. No, I want that for our church because as we mature in Christ, Jesus will be able to make a greater impact on our lives, our families, our community through each of us. Something remarkable happens and Jesus can be clearly seen in us in a way that’s contagious. We need to grow together.

Ten years ago, could we have imagined that God would have brought 20 kids to our Sunday School? Ten years ago, could we have imagined that a 100 people would come to a party at the church? Ten years ago, could we have imagined that we would have our own youth group, and send out missionaries?

For the last four years, our fellowship has been praying about what God wants to come next, dreaming with God about how the grace of Jesus Christ could make an impact on this community. Over the last two years, in particular, haven’t we felt the energy in our fellowship rising? Haven’t we felt God’s Holy Spirit with us when we worship—moments of transforming power and awesome holiness? People in our neighborhood are starting to get it because of God at work in us—that they are loved, that they are welcome, that God wants to show the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ in a way that changes people. But our church’s building is not ready for all these high-energy dreams. Our kitchen isn’t ready for the prime-time hospitality of Jesus Christ. People who use our bathrooms do not leave them singing God’s praises! Jesus came to serve the last, the least and the lost, but if someone has a wheel-chair, we leave them sitting in the entryway, using a second-rate entrance to the basement. As a fellowship, in conversation after conversation, we have recognized that God wants more for us. Our building needs to better reflect the welcome of God. And now we stand on the threshold with a chance to Impact the people of Squantum for Christ, not just for this year, not just for two years, but for decades to come!

One day, a highway patrol woman pulled over a car for speeding. As the officer was writing the ticket, she noticed several machetes in the car. “What are those for?” she asked suspiciously. “I'm a juggler,” the man replied. “I use those in my act.” “Well, show me,” the officer demanded. The juggler took out the machetes and started juggling them; first three, then more until he was tossing seven at one time, overhand, underhand, behind the back, putting on a dazzling show in the breakdown lane of the highway and amazing the officer. Just then, another car passed by. The driver did a double take, and said, “My God. I've got to give up drinking! Look at the test they're giving now.” In this one story we capture the problem churches—including our church—have faced in the past, and also the solution God intends. One reason some people don’t come to church is they are afraid people are going to ask them to do something really hard, perhaps something they don’t want to do—don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to juggle machetes! The solution is to change how we think about ourselves and God, to stop for a moment and rethink why we are here and what we are hoping for. Think about the juggler in our story: for the juggler, what the officer has asked is really easy, a demonstration of something the juggler not only knows how to do but loves to do. I believe that’s what God desires of each of us, living out our spiritual gifts in a way that we think is normal, but others look at and say, “Amazing!” But more importantly, we will be growing—deeper in our relationship with God, wider in our understanding of what it means to serve, stronger in our desire to walk with God.

Part of me wants kids, but a bigger part of me never wants to do homework again. — Matt Donaher

My best friend in high school and I meant a lot to each other. We double-dated, played pranks, went on youth group trips, stayed up all night talking together. But when we went away to college, that was almost the last time we saw each other. It’s not that we ever stopped liking each other, but we just grew apart.

Going from being a teenager who lives at home, to a college student who may not live at home but still relies on her parents for most things, to a grown woman who actually has to take care of everything on her own can be a rough transition. We all experience a hiccup or two along the way, but growing up is part of life, and you can’t just pick and choose which parts of being an adult you like and which ones you don’t. There comes a point where it’s time to ditch the excuses and grow up.

1. YOU STILL REGULARLY ASK YOUR PARENTS FOR MONEY.If it happens once in a while when you’re just starting to get on your feet and figure things out, that’s no big deal. But if you need help from them every month just to pay basic bills, you might have a problem.

2. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO BUDGET. If you have a decent job and make good money but you somehow end up in the hole every month anyway, there must be a reason. Prioritizing your spending money is what adults do, so if you haven’t figured that out yet, there’s no time like the present.

3. YOU CAN BARELY BOIL WATER WITHOUT BURNING IT.Sure, you could eat out every day, but it’s probably a lot healthier (and a lot easier on your newly implemented budget) if you make the majority of your meals at home. You aren’t Carrie Bradshaw — it’s not cute that you keep shoes in your oven.


Rihanna Gives Her Younger Self Advice

By Connatix

4. YOU HOLD GRUDGES.Learning how to forgive is important to not only your own emotional well-being, but it will help you maintain relationships. Everyone makes mistakes, and if you can’t forgive and forget, you might end up pretty lonely one day.

5. YOU ACT ENTITLED.Millennials are always accused of expecting things to fall into their laps with little to no work. If you have an attitude and you act spoiled, people aren’t going to like you, and they won’t want to work with you. It’s as simple as that.

6. YOUR PRIORITIES LEAN MORE TOWARDS PARTYING THAN ANYTHING ELSE.If you’ve ever actually turned down a job you really needed just because it might interfere with your weekend social life, you need to do some serious soul searching.

7. YOU KEEP DATING THE SAME TYPE OF GUY EVEN THOUGH IT NEVER WORKS OUT.They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and that couldn’t apply more flawlessly to your love life.

8. YOU GOSSIP LIKE IT’S YOUR JOB.Constantly snarking behind people’s backs isn’t a good look. You may think you’re being funny, but guaranteed the people laughing nervously at your jokes are wondering what you say about them when they aren’t around.

9. YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS ARE LIMITED TO TEXT-SLANG AND EMOJIS.Writing a professional sounding cover letter is almost impossible, and you actually catch yourself saying the word hashtag out loud. Time for a smartphone intervention.

10. YOU STILL CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK… A LOT.Whether it’s what you eat for lunch, the music you listen to, or the dress you wear out for your birthday, you always need a posse of followers to validate your decisions.

11. YOU HAVE NO SELF CONTROL.You’ll buy those shoes you can’t afford, have three more drinks than you should on a regular basis, and never think twice before starting fights with anyone and everyone. Your judgement seems to have a couple screws loose.

12. YOUR RELATIONSHIPS ARE DRAMATIC AND CONSTANTLY IN FLUX.You’re all about the on-again, off-again relationships and fights with friends are a regular occurrence. No one ever really knows what your moods will bring, but it’s always a roller coaster.

13. YOU COMPLAIN BUT NEVER TRY TO CHANGE ANYTHING.If you want things to change, you have to get out there and change them. No one else is going to do it for you. And yet, you seem to be content complaining non-stop to anyone who will listen.

14. YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH AUTHORITY.Would you say you still kind of have that stubborn mind set where if anyone tells you to do something you have a strong urge to do the exact opposite, just because? Who do you think you’re helping? Definitely not yourself, that’s for sure.

15. YOU NEVER TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.Even when you make a huge mistake, you’ll never admit it. You’ll rationalize, and pass blame until the cows come home. Nothing is ever your fault,— that’s your story and you’re sticking to it. But it actually takes a lot more maturity to apologize for your mistakes, and people would respect you a lot more for it.

15 Signs It's Time To Grow Up

·       by Melissa Dixon


·       – on Aug 10, 2016


·       in Girl Talk

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Everyone has to grow up at some point in life but in order to make a change, you have to realize it is time. You can’t rely on everyone else to take care of you for the rest of your life. If you can relate to these signs that it’s time to grow up then you need to take a good hard look at your life and decide that it is time to make a change. Everyone around you probably already knows and have maybe even discussed how immature you are behind your back. Put their gossip to rest by making a change and grow up already. It may take some time and will definitely take a lot of effort but once you decide to make a change you will be well on your way to becoming a responsible adult who makes good decisions. Take this opportunity to stop acting like a child and start adulting!


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15You Don’t Have a Job

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Having a job isn’t the most fun part of anyone’s life but it does pay the bills. As an adult, you have to take more responsibility for your own life by paying your own bills and taking care of your own needs. You can’t rely on other people to take care of you forever and once you get a job you will gain more respect from those around you. Create a resume or start filling out some applications and hit the job trail right away. This is one of the most important steps in becoming an adult and taking care of yourself. You don’t have to love your job but you do have to do your best, work hard, and before you know it you will be on to bigger and better things. Once you build up some experience to put on your resume you can look for something that pays better or a job you actually look forward to each day.

14You Spend Most of Your Time Playing Games

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How do you expect anyone to take you seriously if you spend most of your time sitting in front of a computer playing games or staring at your smartphone? If you are always holding onto an Xbox controller how are you supposed to live your life? Your time just flies by when playing games and before you know it your life is going to pass by too. Get out of the house and breathe in some fresh air, enjoy things in the real world instead of always being in virtual reality. Don’t waste all of your time staring at electronics when you can head out and have some real life experiences. Life will pass you by if you don’t get out there and live it like you were intended to. Call up some friends and head out for a day in the park, life experience will help you grow up faster than a day spent playing video games.

13You Never Have Your Own Money 

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One of the most annoying things for most people is being hit up for money constantly. If every time you reach out to your friends or family you are asking for a loan or handout they are going to stop taking your calls. Why should they have to work hard for their money just to hand it to you? People in the real world have to work hard all day in order to afford the luxuries that have come so easily to you. Make your own money and then you will appreciate the hard work your friends and family have put in while giving you handouts whenever you ask. You will appreciate every dollar you make after having to work hard like everyone else. Your family and friends will begin to respect you once you earn your own money especially if you make an attempt to pay everyone back that you borrowed from over the years.

12All of Your Friends are Starting a Family

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Everyone you went to school with is getting married or having kids or hitting both of these milestones. It seems that every time you log into social media there is another engagement notification coming up or a new baby picture posted from one of your friends. You may decide that you don’t want to get married or that you do not want to have any kids but that doesn’t mean you should spend the rest of your life sleeping on your mom and dad’s couch. If everyone around you is buying their first house or moving out of their parents home to their first apartment it may be time for you to do the same. Your parents would be proud of you for getting on with your life, after all, they raised you to become an adult someday -they don’t want you slacking off and hanging around their house until the end of time.

11You Sleep Until Noon

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If you are staying up late every night and sleeping until noon every day, you definitely need to get a grip on your life. Unless you are an emergency room doctor that works the midnight shift, you need to adjust your schedule and start living a normal life. Most jobs at entry level positions are going to require you to start your day in the morning and sleep at night. Changing your sleep schedule can be a tricky thing at first but after a few days of waking up extra early, you will be able to go to sleep at a more normal time at night. Getting your schedule in check is a big part of growing up, sleeping all day will only lead to your life passing you by. Wake up a decent time and start looking for a job, you will need to keep better hours in order to keep a good job anyway so start getting your schedule on track now.

10You Party Every Night

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Going out with a group of friends and partying every night is a good sign that you need to grow up. Not only is this harder to do as we age because our bodies can’t handle it after a certain point but in order to get up in the morning for a real job, you may have to spend a few nights in each week. Try to reserve the weekends for partying and enjoy quiet evenings at home during the work week or at least lay off the drinking the night before you have to head to work. Nothing says you need to grow up more than getting fired from a job for being lazy due to a hangover. Even if you think you are slick and getting away with it, the people around you can tell when you come in sweating alcohol out of your pores and avoiding doing any work when possible. Get some rest before heading to work and make an effort to keep your job, that’s what grown ups do.

9You Can't Even Cook

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If you eat like a five-year-old, constantly shoving chicken nuggets and fries into your mouth you may want to learn how to cook. The older you get too the more your body will hate you for eating like there's no care in the world. You can’t always rely on mom to cook you a homemade meal when you are in need of some actual nourishment and nutrients from your food. Head to the store and pick up some cookware, a cookbook, and a few basic grocery items. You can even google recipes that have step by step instructions for beginner cooks so you can’t mess it up. Start basic and cook yourself a grilled cheese sandwich paired with a bowl of tomato soup. Start keeping basic cooking supplies stocked in the refrigerator like butter, milk, and cheese. Have spices on hand, pick up some meats and veggies and before you know it you will be making meal plans like a real adult.

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8Your Eating Habits Have Never Changed

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As we age unfortunately it is important to pay more attention to our bodies and lay off the junk food. If you eat cookies for breakfast and cake for dinner every day it will catch up to you soon. As we get older our nutritional needs change and we start to pack on the pounds due to slower metabolism as well. Try a protein shake for breakfast and skip all of the junk food as meals, your body will thank you. Over time your child-like taste buds will adjust and you will actually enjoy eating more healthy options. You may even start to crave a fruit salad instead of a handful of cookies for breakfast. Pack your lunches to include healthier foods so that you aren’t tempted to swing through a drive-thru for chicken nuggets and ice cream. You may even get invited out on a real dinner date now that you enjoy eating at more upscale restaurants rather than yelling your order through a clown’s mouth.

7You Act as if You Are Entitled to Everything

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Everyone has to work in life to be able to afford both basic needs as well as luxuries. You can’t expect everyone to pay your bills and give you everything you have always wanted while they struggle to meet their own basic needs. When you were a kid that was acceptable behavior only on the grounds that you weren’t able to understand how the world worked just yet. Adults are held to a higher standard as they should be, and you need to work for what you want in life, nobody is going to just hand it to you. You have no right to expect everyone else to give you everything you want without putting any effort in yourself. If you work hard for what you want you will appreciate it more but feeling entitled to everything is only going to make you feel like you are constantly unfulfilled and want more.

6You Never Take Responsibility

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If you are always blaming things on everybody else and not taking responsibility for your own actions or decisions you definitely need to grow up! It’s nobody else's fault when you mess up in life, it’s about time to start taking some responsibility for your own actions. You can’t keep blaming other people for your problems and this is certainly not the way to try and fix them. If you never take responsibility for your own actions then you will never be able to change your ways. Your friends and family are probably extremely annoyed at your lack of owning up to your problems and if things don’t change they may never take you seriously. Start taking responsibility for both the good and bad things in your life and work on fixing what is wrong rather than blaming everyone else for your own shortcomings. Own up to your own mistakes and then you can start to take pride in that things that you are doing right.

5You Have Never Paid a Bill

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If you have made it this far in life without paying a bill, chances are your free ride is about to come to a screeching halt soon. Nobody wants to support an adult when they are fully capable of taking care of themselves. Supporting yourself financially is a big step in life and it is definitely important when you are transitioning into adulthood. Take pride in your hard work and buy your own things instead of letting other people foot the bill for you all of the time. You will appreciate everything a little more that you earn with your own money rather than taking things for granted because they have come so easily to you in the past. Once you start to earn your own money and begin to pay your own bills you will start to respect other people's hard work and not expect them to pay for everything anymore.

4You Still Throw Temper Tantrums

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There is nothing more embarrassing than an adult throwing a temper tantrum! Just being in the presence of someone who is clearly an adult but acting like a toddler can make everyone within a mile radius uncomfortable. You clearly have a lot of growing up to do if you are throwing temper tantrums as an adult and this behavior is extremely unhealthy as well as unattractive. Get it through your head that you are not entitled to anything and create your own happiness. Don’t rely on everyone else to make you happy because this is only going to lead to more temper tantrums when you don’t get your way. Learn to be in control of your emotions and take deep breaths to get through the rough spots until you can get a handle on the situation. Being in control of your actions starts with being more aware of your feelings and the triggers that normally would cause temper tantrums.

3You Don't Clean Up After Yourself

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Everyone makes a mess in their daily life but usually they take responsibility and clean up after themselves. There is a famous saying that some people use when talking about a coworker who doesn’t clean up after themselves at work: Your mother doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself. The problem with that is that it implies that it is your mother's job to clean up after you and that is just not the case. Even when you are living at home or visiting your family you can’t expect your mother or father to follow you around cleaning up your messes forever. Clean up after yourself and even offer to lend a hand to others to help them clean up. Your parents would appreciate it and it definitely is a big step in growing up as well as a great way to build a little character by helping others out.

2You are Unreliable

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If you are always late to every event you attend or never call your friends back when they leave you messages, you are unreliable and it has probably been noticed by everyone you know. It can be really annoying for those around you to deal with your unreliable ways and if you don not change them soon you may lose a friend in the process. Saying you are going to meet up at a certain time and not showing up even if you had the intentions of going doesn’t just make you unreliable it makes you a liar. Try a little harder to leave your house early or make sure to not over-schedule to the point where you are having to cancel plans constantly. This is not a good behavior to continue to have and it will constantly cause problems for you as an adult in the real world.

1You are Always Complaining

Don’t be the friend who is impossible to please and always complaining about where you hang out or what you eat. Not only is it unattractive but it is extremely annoying. Nobody wants to be around someone who is always a downer and brings the rest of the group down with them. It can ruin everyone's good time to be around constant complaints and criticism. Try to be a little more positive and be the one to keep everyone's spirits up. Go out of your way to compliment your friends on their appearance or their choice of activities to enjoy together. Put a positive spin on everything and you will begin to see things in a more positive way. It won’t be long before you feel happier and don’t have any criticisms at all. Before you know it you will not be the one who is known as the constant complainer.

[1]Ken Keyes, Jr, The Hundredth Monkey, 1984.

Imagine Church Transforming Our Ordinary Activities

by Rev. Doug Gray

I’d say we are pretty savvy people here. I’d like to play a game with you called, “Name That Outfit.” I am betting that if I give you an occasion, you can tell me what to wear that would be appropriate. For example, if I said “Bedtime in the winter,” you might say “flannel pajamas.” Alright? So let’s play a couple rounds 

1.    Warm summer day at the beach.

2.    Cool, drizzly day in the spring.

3.    Work in the garden on a sunny day.

4.    Going out to dinner with some friends to a very nice restaurant.

5.    Funeral.

6.    Wedding.

So that was fun! If you’re like me, as I was thinking of the occasion, I could actually see the clothes from my closet that I would pick. One of the fascinating things about our passage for today, is that Paul uses the metaphor of clothes to talk about living life with Jesus. How do clothes help us think about walking with Jesus?

First, wearing the new wardrobe. Did you ever watch the show, “What Not to Wear”? It’s on Amazon Prime Video now. [Slides.]  It featured Clinton Kelly and Stacy London, two fashionistas who help people who are hopeless dressers. The first thing they would do is talk with the hopeless dresser about why they needed help, and then they would take away all the awful clothes. What I loved about the show was that as they are talking about clothes, often people confessed that they wore these awful clothes because they didn’t think they were beautiful or because they couldn’t find anything that fit. Clinton and Stacy would help the person learn how to put together an outfit that would look fabulous, even help the person learn how to shop for clothes. At the end, each individual wore their clothes with confidence and an inward sense of their own beauty that really showed. Paul says our old life—full of selfishness, self-indulgence and deceit—is like a set of clothes so filthy, so awful, that the only thing to do is throw them away. When we really want Jesus to be part of our lives, we lay all the clothes of our lives before Him, and we hear God say, “I love you! You’re beautiful in my eyes! I have something better for you.” Maybe a couple pieces of our life wardrobe are in good shape—but the rest? It’s all gotta go! God is giving us a brand-new wardrobe that fits our new identity in Him—loved and beautiful, powerful for peace. None of the brand labels the world looks for matter—just the “Made by God” one on our hearts. Once we have worn this new wardrobe, the old ways just don’t fit anymore.

Second, the new wardrobe goes with us everywhere. Unlike some of our clothes that are only good on certain occasions, the new wardrobe fits all occasions. When I was in college, I hadn’t figured out where God wanted me to go or be, but I remember I was copying some articles in the library, when Gregg Swope came up and said hi. Gregg was a seminary student at the seminary next to campus, and he was one of those people who is just cool—he was a marathon runner and played the guitar. But he also had this aura about him, and when he talked with me, I felt peace, as if the warmth of God’s love had come close to me. I felt like I could share my freshman stress with him, could share anything with him. As we walked back across campus, and said, “Goodbye!” I knew I had walked with Jesus. I’m pretty sure that Gregg was just saying hi, and pretty sure he had no idea that being with him that day affected me like that, but he was wearing Christ well that day. Compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline, forgiveness, contentment, love—whenever we go, wherever we go, people will know—even if they can’t quite put their finger on it—that we are wearing Christ.

Last week, we talked about how many people think of church as a place where we go apart


Imagine Church: Engaging Our Whole Lives

by Rev. Doug Gray

With school starting this week, I spent some time thinking and praying for students and teachers. Do you remember any of your teachers? Who was one of your toughest teachers? What made them hard?

[Take responses from the congregation.]

I think lots of people approach life like we approach school—find the person in charge of a class, figure them out, do what they want, and carry on with our lives. Like a student switching classes, many of us think of God kind of like a teacher for class Sunday morning…and when we are done, we set God aside until the next class. We call it “going to church,” and “worship” is the name of the class, and Jesus or God is the teacher. We come out of the world, and we go to the God-place and do God-things. How we usually think of church might look like this:


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Work with me here:  Anyone know how many hours in a week? 168. Let’s set aside some time for sleeping, roughly 8 hours a night—56. How much for God? Worship plus some social time before and after, maybe 2 hours. If you’re really involved or have additional responsibilities, maybe it’s as much as 10 hours…but let’s stick with the 2 hours for a minute. How much does that leave you? 110 hours. For most of that time, we scatter into the world, like this:



God stuff: 2 hours. [Switch picture to graphic with red dots in corner.] Our stuff: 110 hours. [Switch back to graphic with red dots spread out.] That’s how humans have often thought of worship, including the folks in Jesus’ and Paul’s time too. They thought that if you give the gods the offerings they want, pray the prayers they want, then they reward you with better stuff in this life and a better after-life. If you look at it this way, the only piece that really matters is what we do for God that’s connected with the building, and the only people really doing ministry are the folks who get paid to do it in the building on Sundays. This is how lots of people think of church.

For the people of Jesus’ and Paul’s time—and maybe for us—Paul’s words are shocking: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” Wow! From Paul, we get a very different way of imagining worship.

First, worship is a response to God’s mercy. In school, we study because of what we get out of it or because our parents make us. With God, we worship because of what God has already done—created the world, created us, come to us in Jesus Christ, sacrificed His life for us on the Cross, rose from the dead for us, shows us kindness and grace in our families, work and school every day. Paul writes, “…in view of God’s mercy…” We worship because of Who God is and what God has already done for us.

Second, worship is giving our whole life to God. In school, we learn new stuff, and then we go back to the rest of our lives. What God longs for is a relationship, to become part of our eating, working, sleeping, parenting, playing, cleaning—whatever we do. If that’s so, then worship isn’t just something like this—


school 3.png


—worship is something that happens wherever we are in our weeks. So God goes with us into all of these places,


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ready to help and strengthen us, wherever we are, whoever we are with.

Finally, worship allows God to shape us. In school, we learn new stuff, but we don’t really have to change. Paul writes, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” If we become like everybody else, the culture in which we live takes over and our dots gray out. What we are hoping for is that God will change our lives, that we will not just learn some new things and carry on, but be transformed! God doesn’t just want to teach us about what a nice person does, what kinds of love Jesus showed, and how to save your marriage—though God can do all those things. What God really longs for is the same thing we long for—that we would become a truly loving, truly good person. God will shape us— and then we will become better friends, better partners, better children and better parents. Worship allows us to be transformed.

Earlier, we thought about our toughest teachers, but when we think about our best teachers, they truly care about us as a person, and with humor and challenge, they help us think like scientists and athletes, musicians and writers. And so we become, to some degree, scientists, athletes, musicians and writers. That’s a reflection of how God wants to work in us too. By renewing our minds and hearts, God helps us think about differently ourselves and our life together. So what if the way our culture has taught us to think about church is the way our culture wants us to think about church? Imagine church is really the people—us!—and church goes wherever we do. What if we are the church when we are gathered—



—and we are the church when we are scattered


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What if the real front lines of ministry are not in here—but out there? What if God has placed you in the world with a purpose—to be the seed of God’s love where you are planted? Imagine church engaging our whole lives!