Monday, March 31, 2014

Questimony by Chandler Case

Hey y’all. Most of you know me, but if you don’t my name is Chandler Case… I am a senior at South Pointe High School and I am going to play golf at Winthrop University next year… but as much as those things help to define who I am, they aren’t as important as the reason I am standing in front of you today. I am here to say just how all of you have shaped me to become the young, Christian woman that I am, just how you have helped in God’s master plan for me.

The majority of you remember the little girl in white surrounded by dozens of people who loved her on the day she was christened. You also remember the little girl who skipped around church in her Gymboree outfits with the hat to match every Sunday. Just alike, you remember the little girl who spoke in front of the entire congregation, and didn’t have any nerves standing up here telling people 10 times her age to make sure they pay their ten percent. And again you remember the little girl who wore white for the second time when she was confirmed to the church in seventh grade.  But today I stand before you as a seventeen year old, a young woman, a person who has grown a great deal since each of those surreal memories.

My family has been a part of this church for over a hundred years and I am proud to say I am a fifth generation of the wonderful St. Johns United Methodist Church. Growing up in this church gave me ample opportunity to serve God. It started when I was little, in Sunday school rooms with the best teachers I could ask for, learning bible stories that helped us become loving, faith-driven children. Then we moved to GY’s which really focused on the mission side of things, such as the yearly crop walk and the many fundraisers for charity organizations. Next I went into middle school, which we all know is the time we move into quest.          QUEST – the reason we are all here today.  QUEST – the reason there are so many amazing young people standing before you. QUEST – the reason numerous teenagers will be comfortable facing the world after high school, knowing God is by their side.

I’m not gonna lie, the first time I went to quest I was scared of what people would think… Would I fit in? Would I know anyone? Would I be judged? At the end of that first Sunday night, I knew all of those questions were completely irrelevant. Everyone was there for the same reason I was – to fellowship with other young Christians and grow in the Lords name.

I have been on endless amounts of mission trips and retreats with Quest, as well as staying in Rock Hill and doing other fun activities underneath of the leadership of Austin and Val. Trust me when I tell you every moment was one for the books…

In the olden days, middle school, we went on beach trips, ski trips and my favorite trips of all: the ones up the mountain. Since 6th grade, I have attended an amazing retreat, run by Tsunami Ministries, and each one could easily be classified as the best weekend of my life. It truly is a mountain top experience that you don’t want to come down from.

The thing is… when you go on these trips you feel like a brand new person, you come so close to God and you would do anything you can to stay there for the rest of your life.  Honestly, we all know that is a dream far from coming true and even if it could, that’s not what God would want.

After all of these trips, the key thing I have taken from them is that we must come ‘down from the mountain’ and do exactly what we were taught to do: spread God’s word. Mark 16 verse 15 says “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

In high school, I continued going on these trips, as well as a trip to Puerto Rico and few other mission trips and activities that brought us closer together. These have included everything from a lock-in to a video scavenger hunt to just going out and playing football in the yard. Not only did we glorify God but we also came near and dear to each other. The friendships I have made in this church and especially in youth group are ones that will last a lifetime. Over the last seven years, I have come to love this group of people more than you can imagine.
And now I'm here… third quarter of my senior year… about to go to college and leave this wonderful youth group who has shaped me to be who I am today. Every memory made will be forever cherished in my mind, every trip stored in a special place, every activity, every game, everything.
Each day of my life I realize just how blessed I am, growing up in this beautiful church with all of you beautiful people. This congregation, this church, underneath of Gods helping hand, has done everything they can to make me who I am.

You have shown me the beauty when there is none, the love when we’re surrounded by hate, and the blessings in the hardest moments of my life. I cannot thank this church enough for raising me to be the young woman I am today. As said in Ephesians 1 verses 15 and 16 “Ever since I witnessed your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

“Scripture: People of One Book”- by Rett Haselden

This is the second sermon from the Lenten sermon series "Practice: The Means of Grace." The following blog post is my sermon outline with notes. That is to say that what is printed here is probably not everything I said on Sunday morning and I may not have said everything that is written down. That is the nature of how I preach. I hope that you will be gracious with any errors or places where this may be hard to follow in written form (I also hope for that same grace when you hear me preach). God bless you in your Lenten practice - Pastor Rett
So as it turns out I have about seven sermons on Scripture floating around in my head, and as I started writing this sermon I wrote all of the topics of those sermons down and tried to decide which one of them was this Sermon on Scripture Reading as a means of grace. As it turns out none of them was and in some ways all of them are. As I wrote all of those one line topics down, and then talked them over with Pastor Debra, we realized that all of the topics fell into three basic categories: Why we read Scripture, How we read Scripture, and What Scripture we should read. (I probably should have known to start here anyway, but Im hard headed)

Why Read Scripture? To learn the character of God. That is a loaded statement and I want us to take our time talking about it right up front.  Learning the Character of God is more than learning about God. If we are praying so that our hearts are enlightened so that we can know God more fully, then we read scripture so that we know God when we see God at work in our lives and in the world.  Its kind of like the difference between doing a Google Search on someone, or Facebook stalking them, and actually sitting down to have a face to face with them. Scripture is a face to face encounter with God. We seek to learn more than what God has done, we also seek to learn who God is and how to know what God is doing and what God will do.

Too often we approach Scripture like a history book, trying to memorize the information contained in the pages, in an effort to obtain Biblical knowledge or we avoid reading scripture because we think we are supposed to be memorizing the information contained in the pages in order to obtain Biblical Knowledge.

But it turns out Scripture isnt a history book or a science book or an economics book or a political science book. Scripture is Gods Word and we read it not to master the information recorded in its pages, but so that we know the Truth of the God who gives it to us as a gift of Gods self.

But because of modern debates about the way we read and understand Scripture, even saying that it is the Word of God is loaded in such a way that what many people hear in that statement is that it is a literal, inerrant text that is a history, science, economics, political science, and so much more book all rolled into one. But what I mean when I say that Scripture is the Word of God is that it is Gods breathed Word which engages us and invites us to know God.

The difference is that we dont read Scripture to find out what to do, we read Scripture to find out whos we are. 

So if we read Scripture to learn the character of God, then how should we practice reading Scripture as a means of grace?

First when reading Scripture as a means of Grace, I think we have to give up the idea of studying Scripture.  This sermon is not a recruitment tool for more Bible Study. In Reading Scripture as a means of Grace we are not called to acquiring more information about the Bible, we are called to be in relationship with God and to know the God we serve.

Second we also need to see Scripture Reading as something different than reading a devotion.  The devotions that many of us use or might use do include scripture verses or passages, but then the rest of the devotion is someone elses interpretation or anecdote which highlights a particular feature of the Scripture selection for that day.  We need to engage Scripture and be engaged by Scripture on its own.

A quick disclaimer.

 Neither Bible Study nor Devotional materials are bad, nor are they to be avoided. They simply are not Scripture Reading as a spiritual practice. 

So, How do we practice Scripture Reading have you guessed yet? -  We read Scripture.  Dont worry about the notes at the bottom, the chapters, the verses, just read Scripture and let it engage you.  As you read be aware of what troubles you or makes you question or brings you joy or hope and meditate on those parts of scripture. Dont look for answers. Look for God.

Ways that I find helpful Lectio Divina Chew on it, pray over it, digest it so that it becomes a part of you.

Origens advice Pay attention to the parts of Scripture that trip you up. Dont gloss over them or avoid them, enage them, and look for God in them.

This leads us to What to read?

First Translations/Paraphrases Read one that helps you know who God is?  If you are going to get to know God through Scripture you have to be able to read the translation you choose. So choose one that you find readable.

Second Choosing where to begin.

Try out different things Everyone does well with different approaches read it straight through, follow a reading plan, Providence (let it fall open)

Things to remember when reading Chapter and verse are there for your convenience, not to dictate how much you read. Many of the books/letters were meant to be read in one sitting or at least taken as a whole.

Don't be afraid to stop and pray and listen when you think you are seeing God in the text.

We are supposed to be People of One book and that book is the Bible Wesleys phrase, but it doesnt mean that we only read the Bible. It means the Bible is our foundation, the lens through which we see everything else in our life because it shows us the Character/Image of God. If we dont engage it, we fail to be who we are meant to be as Disciples.

Monday, March 17, 2014

"Prayer: Enlightening Heart Eyes" by Rett Haselden

This is the first sermon from the Lenten sermon series "Practice: The Means of Grace." The following blog post is my sermon outline with notes. That is to say that what is printed here is probably not everything I said on Sunday morning and I may not have said everything that is written down.  That is the nature of how I preach. I hope that you will be gracious with any glaring grammatical errors or places where this may be hard to follow in written form (I also hope for that same grace when you hear me preach). God bless you in your Lenten practice - Pastor Rett

There are three questions to consider when talking about prayer as means of grace: Why, How and What. This morning we will spend some time with each, but we will start with why because it sets the stage for “how” and “what” to pray.
Why pray: Genie in a bottle? – Angry Kid that needs to be appeased? – Self/ Life actualization technique? – Stress Relief/Centering time?: No – No – No – No
Why Pray? – How about so “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give [us] a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to [us]. 18 [So] that the eyes of [our] heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, 19 and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers.” (Common English Bible, Ephesians 1: 17-19)
Why Pray? – to communicate with God so that we know God.  God wants us to be in relationship with God and relationships require communication. Spouse, parents, children,… and God. To enlighten our heart eyes so that we can see and hear and know God more fully. Without prayer we just continue in darkness.
Having a right attitude (posture) about why we pray is vital because if we enter into prayer because of one of the false reasons listed above, or for any other false reason other than to be in relationship with God, we damage the effectiveness of our communication and dim the light that can enlighten the eyes of our heart. – It’s not that God can’t or won’t work to communicate with us even if we come in thinking God is a genie granting wishes – it’s just that it is that much more darkness to be driven out by the light.
How do we pray? – you have to be kneeling, your head has to be bowed, your head should be covered, you should be looking up, your hands should be raised, you should pray silently, you should talk out loud, you should pray in a closet, you should pray in a church, you should pray in nature, you should pray on the street corner, you should pray written prayers, you should pray spontaneous prayers, you should pray when you’re sad, you should pray when you’re mad, you should pray when you’re happy, you should pray when the Spirit moves you, you should pray unceasingly. – All of these are in scripture in some way shape or form.  What I take from all of these commands about how, when or where to pray is that as it turns out we should pray - period, but pray in a way that allows God to enlighten the eyes of your heart and the hearts of those you know and love.
Some forms that I find helpful –
  • the breath prayer: something like “Lord Jesus Christ” as you breath in and “have mercy on me, a sinner” as you breath out. Involve your whole body through breathing in your prayer
  • collect - Address – “Dear God,” Attribution – “You became one of us and prayed for us,” Petition – “Help us to pray in ways that show us who you are more fully,” Purpose – “So that we might follow you better in mission and ministry to the world,” closing – “Amen” (Stookey, Laurence Hull, Let the Whole Church Say Amen: A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001 pg. 17)
  • Litany/Intercession and the Kyrie – When you have a lot of prayer concerns or praise you can add the Kyrie between petitions or praises. Kyrie is Latin for Lord, and the full Kyrie is “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.” This can also be prayed spontaneously when you hear about a concern or when something happens and you just need to call on God’s mercy in the midst of it.
What to pray? – There are two ways to interpret the “What” to pray question that I want to address.  The first is the question of what the content of our prayers should be. This one is easy, anything and everything, bring it all to God your Whole life, your dreams and aspirations, your desires, your wounds, your pain, your brokenness, your joy, your praise, all of it, but do it to let God’s light shine on all of it, all of your life, so that you can see and know God in all of your life.  We don’t bring ourselves, our stuff, to God just to drop it off and be done with it, we bring it so that the hope, glory and power of God might be known in it.
The second question is what words to use when praying.  Use words that are comfortable and authentic to you and how you best communicate with God. For some people this means praying like the Kings James Version Bible. For others it means a casual conversation with a buddy.  The important thing to remember is that the words we use should be words that help us find the place where God can enlighten our heart eyes through prayer, so that we can know God and God’s call on our lives better.
Remember that our words not only state and reflect what we believe about God, they actually shape how we view God, so as you come to know God better through prayer, and the other means of grace, expect the words you use in prayer to change, and, as your words change, expect your view of God to change and get deeper and deeper and deeper as your prayers enlighten your heart eyes.
This sermon, like all the ones in this series, comes with a challenge. Practice this means of grace this week. Take your prayer life, where ever you are in it, to another level. Push yourself to really practice prayer. With the challenge also comes the offer of support. If you want to come and be held accountable for your practice and be supported in it and learn how others have had success or struggled, then join us on Wednesday mornings from 10:30-11:30 or Thursday nights from 6:30-7:30 for a small group discussion of our practice.  IF you would like to let us know that you are coming you can sign up on the Opportunities Table or let Pastor Rett know, but you can also just show up

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Youth Sunday Sermon: "Infinite Love," by Katie Crockford

For the Lord is good, and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
     Good morning! My name is Katie; I’m fifteen years old, and a freshman at Northwestern High School. A month or so ago, Val and I were talking about Youth Sunday and at that point no one had committed to doing the sermon yet, and I said the three words that come out of my mouth a lot around here, “I’ll do it.”
        I am sure at this point in the service, you have all noticed that this year’s Youth Sunday theme is all about God’s infinite love. Most of us since we were young children, through Sunday School classes, friends and family members, Bible studies, sermons, music and hymns, youth group, and everything in-between, have been taught numerous times, that God’s love is infinite, and that no matter what we do, He will always be loyal and love us still. But think about it for a moment. What happens when we hear the same thing repeatedly over time? Do you begin to tune it out? Do you think to yourself that you already know all about that and stop listening? Most of us probably start to do what I call “selective hearing,” meaning we begin hearing that “I know” in the back of our heads, and we stop really listening.  We think that since we’ve heard this before, we now know it all. Some of us start to interpret and edit things into what we ourselves want to hear, and not what we really need to be hearing.  Does “God Loves Me” mean I can rest on that knowledge and that is the end of the story? Or is there more to it?  What does it mean to be loved infinitely by God, and could there be a responsibility that comes with that love?   
     This morning’s scripture lesson is Psalm 100: 1-5. It begins with, “Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the Earth! Serve the Lord with celebration! Come before him with shouts of joy!
     This past summer, I had the privilege of going on my very first Salkehatchie mission trip, in Fairfield SC.  What better way to talk about serving than Salkehatchie!   Last summer, I was one of the youth who shared about my experiences from the week.  You may remember that I was on the site of a woman named Alethia Ford. She is around the age of 60, has two children, one of which lives with her, 4 grandchildren, and a few great-grandchildren. Ms. Ford runs a day care in her house, always keeping between 5 and 8 kids at once, and in all honesty was in no shape physically to look after young children. We would often find her asleep on the couch while the older children, probably around eight years old, were feeding the younger children in high chairs. There were cribs everywhere and you could hardly walk. But keeping other peoples kids, kept her bills paid.
     Ms. Ford desperately needed a new roof and her back porch stabilized. Her roof was at least two or three times bigger than the roofs on all of the other sites and we lost count of the number of leaks we found that Ms. Ford didn't even know about. When I saw the roof, the first thoughts that came to my mind were I am scared of heights, the majority of us have never been on a roof before, nor laid a finger on a nail gun, and there is no way we are going to finish on time. But I kept reminding myself that everybody was on their site for a reason and that God works miracles.”  Serve the Lord with celebration, not fear, doubt, or negativity. 
      On the first morning, we arrived at the site, did our devotion, and prepared to begin working on the roof.  All of us got on the roof and learned how to rip up shingles and use all the power tools. We knocked down two chimneys and replaced a lot of rotten wood and then re-shingled the entire thing.  Maybe we would be able to accomplish our task!  I started to feel encouraged, instead of filled with fear and doubt.  When we finished her roof later in the week, and it was time to show Ms. Ford what we had done, I was unsure about how she was going to react, and I wondered if we had done enough. She came outside, we showed her the roof, and she kept talking about us coming being such a blessing and how much she appreciated what we did, and then she began to cry. I then knew we had done all that we could. When we first met Ms. Ford, she told us that her roof had been leaking for two years now, and how she was so excited that we were coming. But the thing that she said that really stuck in my mind was, "I was so surprised to get the phone call telling me that you guys were coming. I would have never been able to pay somebody to come and fix it on my own.”   As we toured the other sites,  I was amazed at the number of homeowners on the other sites, whose house I didn't work on at all, that came up to me, gave me a hug, and thanked me for all that we had done.  We felt great at the end of the week, but that doesn’t mean that our work there was easy for us. I can promise that by the end of the week, there were times that some of us felt like giving up.  We here hot.  We were tired, and we were dirty.  The heat index reached 105 degrees, every bone in our bodies hurt, and for me when my whole entire body broke out in an itchy rash from the fiberglass in the shingles, serving with a joyful heart and celebration wasn’t always the first thing that came to my mind and heart.  It wasn’t always easy, but we did it. We did it because we persevered with open minds and hearts and because of that, we were able to receive the abundant joy that comes from serving. We saw how much our work impacted Ms. Ford’s life.
Serve the Lord with celebration, even if, and maybe especially if you are hot, tired, and dirty.  Nowhere does it say to serve the Lord when it is comfortable and easy.   I am glad we didn’t give up.  After that week, I can promise that when you serve others the way God wants you to, you will receive just as much as you gave, if not more, when you keep an open mind.  Serve the Lord with celebration, and lives are changed.  Sometimes the life changed is yours.  
     I want you to think about it for a minute. When you serve the church, do you do it with a joyful heart?  Are you happy to be teaching Sunday school, serving in the nursery, helping with Vacation Bible School, or serving in a more behind the scenes way that may seem boring and underappreciated?  Do you hide from the leadership of the church when you know you are about to be asked to serve?  (You can’t deny it; I have seen you do it). Do you respond with joy, or do you search your mind for excuses not to serve? Excuses like someone else will do it.  I have done my time.  I don’t have time to take on one more thing.  I don’t mind helping, but I don’t want to do that and I really don’t want to be in charge.  From the time my family and I first came to St. John’s, serving the church has become a major part of my life. I have taught rotation Sunday School, helped with iServe, gone on a few mission trips, walked for many years in the CROP walk, acolyted, I serve on Youth Council, play the trumpet in some of the worship services, sing in the adult choir, and even assist with the children’s choirs, just to name a few of the ways that I have found to get involved.  If there is anything that I have learned from doing so much around this church, is when you allow it to happen, serving with celebration is the easy part.  Joy will be a part of serving if you open your heart and mind enough to let it in. I will never forget one year during Vacation Bible School, when I walked down the stairs into the Core and the group of three year olds that I had been crew leading throughout the week, saw me and came running all at once to give me a hug. I can promise you, I was serving with celebration that day.  Sometimes it is the little things from serving that bring the joy and celebration. Things like the hugs from the kids, the smile you can bring to someone’s face, or when someone like Ms. Ford at Salkehatchie tears up from appreciation for what we did. Serve the Lord with celebration, and God’s joy will fill your heart. 
Psalm 100:3
Psalm 100:3 says,Know that the Lord is God— he made us; we belong to him. We are his people, the sheep of his own pasture.” About a year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to go with my mom to a church in Charlotte and hear Marian Wright Edelman speak. For those of you who may not have heard of her, she is an advocate for children and one of those people that can make an entire room fall silent and go completely still when she stands up to speak. One of the things that she said that day really sticks out in my mind when I hear this verse. She said, ““When Jesus Christ asked little children to come to him, he didn't say only rich children, or White children, or children with two-parent families, or children who didn't have a mental or physical handicap. He said, "Let all children come unto me." As humans, this is something that we tend to forget. We discriminate against those who look different than us, have different family dynamics, or different amounts of money, instead of looking at what’s on the inside. We forget that He made each of us, and everyone belongs to him. After spending the last few years in middle school and almost a full year in high school, I have had a first-hand look at what happens when we forget that everyone is sacred in God’s eyes.  I have watched people disrespect, isolate, insult and make fun of others.  Sometimes I have experienced it myself.   He made us.  We are his people.  We belong to Him.  All of us.  What do you do every week to welcome God’s children to this place, to make sure that the church is never a place where someone else is degraded or disrespected?  Do you see everyone that you encounter as a sheep in your same pasture?  Do you welcome everyone to this place with an open heart, open mind, and an open door, as the United Methodist Church advertising campaign suggests? 

Psalm 100:4-5
Psalm 100: 4-5 says,Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise! Thank him! Bless his name!”
     When you got here this morning, did you suddenly remember that today is Youth Sunday and go, “Oh man, the pastors aren’t preaching today,” or the choir or the praise bands aren’t singing, or the organ isn’t being played this morning.” When you walked through the doors this morning, were you still mad at the person driving the car in front of you that was driving twenty miles under the speed limit that made you run late to church?”   Are you grumbling about someone with whom you disagree?  Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise, not negativity, frustration or the petty annoyances that we sometimes allow to take over our lives.  We have a lot to be thankful for!  Take time today to thank God for the blessings we have in each of our lives and as a congregation. 

“Because The Lord is good, his loyal love lasts forever.  His faithfulness lasts generation after generation.” 
     When we close our ears to the things that we have heard repeatedly, we miss what matters the most.  We hear God loves us and that He will always be loyal, but sometimes we miss the responsibility that comes with that. You can be a member of the country club, the gym, a school club of some sort, but ultimately being a member of the church means more than belonging to a group of people. His faithfulness lasts generation after generation because someone before you recognized that they were the avenue through which God’s infinite love could reach the next generation.  Because they were loved by God, they accepted the responsibility to share that love with others.  Now it is your turn.  Serve the Lord with celebration, know that we all belong to Him, enter his gates with thanks, and his faithfulness will last from generation to generation.  Let your commitment to Christ lead others to the infinite love that God has for each of us.  Amen. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bread – Staff Devotion for March 4, 2014 by Frances Duncan, Director of Senior Adult Ministries

                All of you know my passion for making bread. I have always loved to bake, and bread fascinated me with all the different kinds and textures. A little over 25 years ago my sister-in-law, Frances Wrenn, gave me a cup of sourdough starter someone had given her. I made the bread and decided this was a recipe that I liked. I worked with it – made a few changes and my journey with making bread continues. My greatest joy is to share my bread with others.
                The starter is very important to the success of the bread. The starter is water, sugar and potato flakes that have fermented and fed the yeast. The yeast is very important to the end product – your bread. The yeast makes the dough rise and become airy and soft and good to eat.
                The starter has to be fed on a regular basis or the yeast will die. It must be fed, used, refrigerated, fed, used, refrigerated, etc.  If this process is followed the starter can be kept going for a long time. If the process is not kept up the starter will literally die. That means there will be no active yeast to make the dough rise.
                Bread nourishes our bodies and gives us strength for our work and play each day. References about bread are found in different circumstances in the Bible. There are several that probably come to mind. The story in the Old Testament of God feeding the children of Israel the manna from heaven that kept them alive in the wilderness. In John’s gospel, Jesus says “I am the bread of life.” And then when was in the upper room with his disciples he took bread – broke it and said this is my body broken for you. Probably the one to come to mind most is the request in the Lord’s Prayer – give us this day our daily bread.
                When Jesus says “I am the bread of life,” we understand the central place God has in our lives. When we ask for our daily bread, we are seeking more than bread to eat – we are asking for strength and grace to do the things God would have us do.
                God offers us many kinds of starter gifts – skills, talents, love, and grace to name a few. Just like our bread starter we have to take care of them. We have to feed them so they may feed others. If we don’t share our skills and gifts, they will die for lack of use. When we accept God’s love and grace we can then share with others God’s greatest gift, Jesus Christ.
Dear God,
                We thank you for our daily bread. We thank you for all the love and grace and forgiveness and peace you have given us. May we always be ready to share these gifts with others.
                Dear God, we praise you for the gift of your Son Jesus, the Bread of Life, who unites us all. Guide us now as we work to do those things you would have us do. In Christ’s name, Amen.