Lowering Our Walls


 Phillipians 4:5        Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.


The pastor walked into the hallway after service on Sunday and on his way to his office he saw little Johnny staring at the wall.  Johnny was very quiet which was unusual for him.  The pastor asked Johnny what he was doing.  John replied “I’m looking at this plaque, what is this for”.  The pastor kneeled to look Johnny in the eye and told him that those were all church members who died in the service.  Johnny was taken back and stood there shaken and somber for quite a while.  The pastor said “Johnny are you ok, do you have any questions”?  Johnny looked back at him and asked “was it the 8:30 service or 11 o’clock service”?

Paul is writing his letter to the Philippians from a jail cell.  Some of you may recognize the verse directly before the one I read.  Rejoice in the lord always, again I say rejoice.  It is a verse commonly found and used.  In truth, it is hard to imagine rejoicing in the condition Paul was in at the time.  He was jailed and had no idea of his outcome.  What can be even more difficult to grasp is the scripture we read this morning, with Paul calling us to gentleness.  Prisoners were not treated well at all, yet Paul has gentleness on his mind.

I’m not sure if you have noticed but our world is in desperate need of gentleness.  All you need to do is turn on the tv and see the need.  No matter what news channel you turn to we see attacking, name calling, and overall all mean spirited aggressive behavior.  I have noticed that social media has become less gentle as well.  People not taking their time to think through what their words might do, rather in frustration or anger they can simply hit the send button.

You see when we are not being gentle, we are often being reactionary.  Not only reactionary but often acting out of control.  We lose track of Jesus and loving the other person and switch to people who want to win.  We want to be right and we want the other person to know they are wrong.  Like George Steinbrenner once said “I’m not a win at all costs guy.  Winning isn’t everything.  It is second to breathing.

So, we have talked about what gentleness isn’t, now let’s talk about what it is.  The Greek word used here by Paul is Epieikeia, and it is one word that has been translated a lot of different ways.  Here are a few ways that it has been translated: patience, softness, modesty, forbearance, sweet reasonableness.  I translate this as gentleness, and I believe that gentleness encompasses these words.  In gentleness, you need patience, softness, and reasonableness.

Gentleness is not a win at all cost mantra.  Rather it is a call to be a calming and loving presence in the world, even the world is not a calm and loving place all the time.  Too often are we hurtful and brash to the ones closest to us that we love.  Too many times have we been judgmental and distant to strangers, instead of gentle and caring with them.  We must take Paul’s call to be gentle serious, and change our lives.

Paul is speaking with urgency in his message, as he often is.  He is anticipating Jesus returning at any moment.  He writes that “the Lord is near”.  This can mean 2 different things.  One way is to hear Paul saying Jesus will be returning soon so don’t waste any time.  This is very true, and we need to understand urgency better.  The 2nd way, and the way I see it is the Lord is near.  Jesus is here with us.  God knows your thoughts and sees your actions.  God is with us and we need to recognize God working and living in the world.  Too many times do we think of God sitting on a cloud looking down from time to time.  The Lord is near, we need to know that!

Gentleness is not something that we can easily obtain.  It is a process that when should try to take as a follower of Christ.  It takes time and intentional effort to become more gentle in our lives.  Often, we will try to be “more gentle” or “nicer” to people, but it all goes to waste when the other person’s words or actions hurt our feelings.  Over time we become guarded and struggle to be gentle because of past experiences.

My friend once told me something I would love to share with you.  He said each of us has 2 walls around us, an inside and outside wall.  One of the walls is high and one of the walls is low.  Now think about which category you fit in here.  Some of us have a low outer wall.  We will let people get to know us and share things about our lives.  However, our 2nd wall is so high that we won’t let anyone really know who we are.  The other people have a high outer wall, they don’t many people know much about them and keep people at arm’s length.  However, when they do let people in they let them into everything.

It is good to know this about yourself.  How guarded are you around other people?  How can we be gentle if we have high walls around ourselves?  Yes, if we lower them we will be more vulnerable, but we will also be able to love others, including our close family more.

It is good to also understand that others are guarded against you, they have walls.  Your gentleness may not always be welcomed by everyone you meet.  It is here that we must understand what is important about gentleness.  That is gentleness is not an action, it is a characteristic.  The Greek word is not a verb, it is an adjective describing how one should act.

If you are looking for an example of gentleness, look no further that Jesus Christ.  He was not short tempered and reactionary.  He answered Pharisees tricks and insults thoughtfully and slowly.  He taught us to turn the other cheek, rather than return violence.

Some might point to Jesus and say he flipped over tables in the temple, that seems reactionary.  I would agree that Jesus was not gentle there.  However, what was he reacting to?  It was not simply over money, but that they were mocking God with their actions.  They were exploiting God’s people for profit.  It happened days before the Passover and thousands upon thousands of Jews would come to Jerusalem.  They had no idea where to buy sacrifices so the people in the time would jack the prices up to take advantage of them.  There were always these people in the temple and Jesus to our knowledge had never done this.  He wasn’t upset about the money, he was upset they were taking advantage of people trying to worship God.

In truth, there are things in this world we need to be less gentle and more reactionary.  It is estimated that there are 100,00 people being trafficked for sex each year in our country, many of whom are very young girls.  We see wealthy young men getting light sentences for terrible acts, it seems not everyone has the same justice system.  There are so many other atrocities in this world that it seems that we have gotten numb to their actual impact, especially when it doesn’t directly affect us.

These are the things that should make us mad.  These should be the things that make us lash out loudly against these horrible crimes.  However, often we find ourselves upset at these thing, but we don’t lose control.  Meanwhile trivial things can make us mad and reactionary.  It could be as simple as someone not saying thank you when you open a door for them, a snide comment from a colleague, or a political rant from a Facebook friend.

Friends, God calls us to gentleness.  Jesus Christ’s gentleness is the model we should follow.  There are times for upset reactions, but they are few and far between, and rarely are what we get mad about.  Chances are your parents, spouse, or kids can make you madder and more reactionary than anyone else in this world.  These are especially the places God calls us to gentleness.

We have mentioned gentleness as a process, and friends it is not a quick process.  It also has no end date, so I am sorry to all the retired people here but you are not off the hook.  Answers like “that’s just the way I am” or “God made me that way do not fly”.  See the process takes conscious effort and work.  The Holy Spirit is molding you, but you know, we are all a little stubborn.  Please remember prayer builds patience, fasting builds resilience, serving others takes humbleness, and all these things lead to you being more gentle.

A few years back a pastor gave me these pieces of glass that she collected herself off the shore of Maine.  At one time, they were very sharp and jagged.  It would stab and gauge, it would hurt people who met it.  However, over time the continued lapping of water on the glass has softened the edges of the glass.  It neither cuts or hurts anyone who touches it.  This process did not happen overnight, it took a lot of time for it to happen.  Look at this piece, it is mostly smooth but still has a sharpish edge.  With more time, it will be smoothed and sharpened, of course outside of the water it will stay the same.  In God’s word, with prayer and service we will be smoothed over time.  Outside of the word, we will stay sharp and jagged and hurtful.

Church this is the call to our lives.  Are you willing to be softened by the Holy Spirit?  Will you be more gentle with your loved ones?  Will you follow the example of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior?  Let’s lower our walls so that we can gently love our friends, family, and all God’s people.  Amen




United: Thoughts on being one church and … well … what unites us!


1 Corinthians 1: 10-18

10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

This past Friday our new president was inaugurated.

This after one of the most divisive and contentious elections in my lifetime.

It seemed, and still seems, that our country is more polarized than it has ever been.

And yet …

The transfer of the office of the presidency in the most powerful country in the world proceeded smoothly and uneventfully.

Sure there were some boos and hisses when a senator from an opposing party spoke, but he spoke.

Sure there were some hoots and hollers when the new president was taking the oath and addressing the nation, but he took the oath and addressed the nation.

And sure there were a bunch of anarchists who just wanted to cause a lot of trouble and damage, but Donald John Trump took office.

What is interesting is that this transfer of power was not the first time it seemed the entire political ideology of the country changed at the moment of an inauguration.

Take a look at the election of 1800.

John Adams was defeated by Thomas Jefferson.

The Federalists who believed in a strong central government were beaten by the Democratic-Republicans who were pro-France (which had just had a bloody revolution) and believed in a decentralized government.

Jefferson’s inauguration took place on March 4, 1801.

It might have been the most important and unique event ever.

It was the first time a government transferred its power to an opposing group after being voted out of office.

Jefferson thought this inauguration was of equal importance to the Declaration of Independence.

And except for those tragic occasions where presidents have died in office or resigned, we have done this for the last 216 years.

And this was so despite some raging internal disagreements among our people and one terrible civil war.

And if you want an example of what it looks like in many other countries, take a look at Gambia (among other countries) where the sitting government refuses to leave power even after losing an election.

The principle reason we have been able to transfer power peacefully in the United States is simple but not entirely obvious.

While we might seem polarized from time to time, we are and remain united.

We are united in the most basic belief we all share.

Our Constitution.

We might not like the way people interpret it.

We might not like the leaders who are elected or appointed under it.

But we like the Constitution.

What it stands for.

What it says about us.

What we stand for.

Who we are.

The Apostles’ Creed is kind of like the Constitution.

It is a statement that describes what we as disciples of Jesus believe.

It is accepted by the vast majority of Christian denominations, despite their disagreements on what it means.

But it does describe what we stand for and who we are.

And there is that one statement in the third stanza that stands out, particularly now.

We believe in the holy catholic church.

So what is this “holy catholic church”?

Let’s start with “church”.

It comes from the Greek word ekklesia.

Literally, ekklesia means those who are called out.

Called out of what?

Out of the world.

To where are we called?

To holiness.

So what does it mean to be “holy”?

To be holy is to be “set apart” by God to be part of God’s Kingdom.

And so we are holy not because we are better than anyone else.

But because God says so.

Alister McGrath says:

Christians are holy, not because of anything they are in themselves. But because of the One who has called them. The fact that we are holy has nothing to do with our personal merit or sanctity of life; it has everything to do with the fact that we have been called by a holy God and have responded to him.

This holy church lives in the world as a people called out of it to be set apart for a purpose.

What purpose?

To proclaim the Gospel.

And we are to be “catholic”.

The most common question I have ever been asked about the Creed is why we protestants say we believe the in the “catholic church”?

The simple answer is:

That’s all there is.

There is no other.

The word catholic comes from the Greek word katholikos.

The literal translation is “according to the whole” or “universal”.

The universal church is not the Roman Catholic Church, though the Roman Catholic Church is part of the universal church.

As are we.

As is every denomination of disciples of Jesus.

Justo Gonzales says it well:

… [M]ost early Christian writers tend to refer to the “catholic church” as the one that is present throughout the world, in contrast the various sects which are small and local. But … what makes the church catholic is not its presence everywhere, but rather the fact that people from everywhere are part of it and contribute to it. Therefore the variety of experiences and perspectives is not contrary to the catholicity of the church: quite the contrary, it is a necessary sign of it.

I can tell you that different people live and experience their Christian faith differently and according to their unique cultural perspectives.

I have been to Malaysia, Vietnam, South Sudan, and Malawi.

Christians in each of those places are different because they come out of a different context and culture.

They worship differently.

They understand scripture differently.

They evangelize differently.

They live differently.

Yet they remain part of the one church.

Listen to Alister McGrath from his book on the Apostles’ Creed:

It is not as if there was one church with a message suited to the needs of the second century and another with a message suited to the needs of the twentieth [or twenty first] – it is the same church, throughout the ages and across the world, which seeks to apply the same gospel in any situation it may happen to meet. Catholic is an affirmation of the universal validity and relevance of the gospel

So what we say when we proclaim our belief in the catholic church is that we believe in the one church.

The church of God.

Despite its many manifestations.

But Jeff, you say, look at all the denominations!

I can think of four denominations that call themselves “presbyterian”!

Does not sound much like a universal church.

And yet …

It is.

Because we all believe in one basic thing.

The Gospel.

It is the Gospel that holds us together, even when we disagree on how the Gospel calls us to live.

It unites us.

Which brings us to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

As we know, the church in Corinth was planted by Paul.

After he left, things began to unravel.

There were conflicts and general bad behavior.

Paul in his greeting reassures the Corinthian church that it remains God’s church regardless of the conflicts and bad behavior.

And then Paul gets down to business.

He tells the Corinthians:

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

He tells them to agree.

He tells them that there are to be no divisions.

He tells them that they should be united in the same mind and same purpose.

When I read this I am reminded of something a former partner of mine once said when there was conflict at the firm.

“Why can’t we just make cookies?”

Translation: Why can’t we just get along?

The answer to that question was that we did not want to “just get along”.

Each side wanted to win!

That attitude is such a human thing.

We each have our opinions on what is right and wrong.

They are deeply held and we look at them as part of who we are.

Any disagreement feels like a personal attack.

The fight or flight mechanism takes over.

Unity is at risk.

That was the situation in Corinth.

Fortunately, Paul knew that when he wrote to the church in Corinth.

He appeals to them in the name of Jesus so we know Paul is pretty serious.

But there is more to the invocation of Jesus name than bringing the Lord to bear.

The name of Jesus is both the diagnosis of their problem and its solution.

The problem is that they are classifying themselves as followers of certain church leaders.




These are like political parties.

You get in the party base on who baptized you it seems.

And no one better tell you that you are in the wrong party!

That was the problem.

People had lost their connection to Jesus and transferred it to someone else.

So what does Paul do?

He denies those who claim him as their spiritual leader by telling them he can’t even remember who he baptized!

Plus, Paul points out that no one was saved by the crucifixion of any of these folks.

Paul then gives them the solution.

Remember their common identity in Christ.

It was Jesus who was crucified.

It was Jesus who saved them.

And they need to unite under that banner!

The banner of the Gospel.

The message of the cross!

For God so loved the world that he gave his incarnate Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

That message was the power of God.

The power of God to save.

And the way God saved was through God’s great love for his people.

That happened on the cross.

And that is the message of the cross.

And we must be of one mind on that.

But then we must pursue the same purpose.

To love God the way God loves us.

And to love each other the way God loves each one of us.

On that we can agree.

And that is the basis of how we are to remain united.

We love God.

And we love each other.

Even when we disagree.

That belief, that basic foundational principle, unites us and makes us the one holy catholic church.

So what does that mean to us here at JMPC?

If we want to follow Paul’s instruction, we need to understand what it means for us to be in agreement and that there be no divisions among [us], [and] that [we] be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

We need to stand together as a community of people who are disciples of Jesus Christ with a mission to teach our community and the communities around us to know, glorify and serve God!

We need to strengthen and use our four foundational pillars.

We need to provide them spiritual development.

We need to nurture them.

We need to reach out to them.

We need to gather the resources needed to do these things.

We need to do these things even when we don’t agree on every theological or practical matter.

That way we love God and love each other.

The way God loves us.

That is the message of the cross.

On that I think we can unite.

Called to Fellowship: Thoughts on the “Hero’s Journey”.

1 Corinthians 1: 1-9

1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Two weeks ago, I listened to an episode on the TED Radio Hour called “The Hero’s Journey”.

Mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell coined that phrase a long time ago.

TRH Host Guy Raz describes what “The Hero’s Journey” means by way Star Wars.

He says this:

… “Star Wars” was not a new story. It was just another story. It was a story that followed in a very striking way, when you start to think about it, a kind of blueprint encoded in human stories and myths for thousands of years. …

According to Campbell, [the hero’s journey] follows three [basic]acts …. And it’s a formula that can be found in everything from “Moby Dick” to “The Wizard of Oz,” from “The Matrix” to Homer’s “Odyssey” and, yes, even “Star Wars.”

… One, departure; two, initiation; and three, return. Basically our hero leaves home on a journey or a quest, goes through a kind of crucible and then returns home victorious.

My interpretation of the Hero’s Journey is this;

We leave the old life.

We seek meaning for our life.

We return enlightened.

Why is this such a compelling formula?

Because it is the formula that we want our lives to follow.

We all want to be on a journey.

We want to believe we have or will depart on a journey to find meaning.

And we want to return enlightened.

But the Hero’s Journey is much broader than just us as individuals.

So when we think about the Hero’s Journey formula, whether we see it in stories or history, there is a part that is left out.

The hero is not just an individual.

The hero is always surrounded by a fellowship.

The Hero on the journey is that fellowship.

In our faith the fellowship includes all humanity.

Humanity, we believe, departed from the presence of God and began a journey seeking meaning.

We hope that our journey will return to God’s presence when we experience the revealing of Jesus Christ.

Our return home.

We are in a fellowship with all creation, returning to home with God.

A fellowship called together to leave the old way, seek meaning, and return enlightened.

Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” comes to mind.

While we focus on Frodo and the ring, we might easily miss the fellowship entity that heroically journeys to a changed world – an adventure that enlightens the world and accomplishes a great task.

Think about history.

Think of the great stores.

Think of scripture.

They are all about journeys from one place to a new place and the difficulties in between.

So what does that have to do with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians?

Whether Paul thought about it or not, he was telling the Corinthian’s that they were on a hero’s journey.

  1. The church in Corinth had been called by God to faith in Jesus Christ and to depart from their former life which had been entirely pagan.
  2. Now they are in the initiation stage – where they are seeking a way to live as spiritual people (Paul’s word for disciples of Jesus).
  3. They are intent on reaching the revealing of Jesus Christ, their return to God.

And while they have far to go, they are on the way.

If Paul were thinking of the formula for the Hero’s Journey, the Hero, here, is the Church in Corinth.

The church in Corinth is on the Hero’s Journey.

And it is part of an even larger community.

All those who have been called to be saints everywhere else.

The church universal.

And for all this Paul is thankful to God.

Thankful to God that the church in Corinth is on this journey.

Thankful that the church in Corinth has received God’s grace and received all the gifts necessary to complete the adventure.

It’s all good – right?

Well, maybe not.

The church in Corinth is struggling a bit with that.

Maybe more than a bit.

Paul has received reports from folks in Corinth.

Chloe has sent information.

Others have sent letters.

Paul is hearing stuff.

People in the church in Corinth are troubled.

They are anxious.

There are factions in the church, conflicting understandings of what Paul had taught, inequality between classes of people, and improper worship among other things.

The hero is being tested in the crucible.

The journey is getting hard.

So Paul writes this letter to provide a little guidance.

The letter is not always delicate.

Paul is not always nurturing.

Paul can be passionate.

Paul can be stern.

Paul can scold with the best.

And he does all these things in this letter, as we will see in the coming weeks.

But look at how Paul greets the church!

Paul reminds them that he speaks for God!

And what does Paul say?

They are the church of God.

The church in Corinth is God’s church.

They are sanctified in Christ Jesus.

They are called to be saints.

They call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That is who they are – right now!

Despite their continual bickering and confusion.

Then Paul prays for grace and peace to be theirs.

Next he gives thanks to God for them because of the grace that God has already given them.

Paul tells then they have been enriched by Jesus, in speech and knowledge of every kind.

He tells them that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift.

That they will be strengthened by God.

When they will see the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Their true home.

And all this despite their difficulties.

They will complete their Hero’s Journey.

Paul is sure of it.

And so what does this all have to do with us?

JMPC is on that same Hero’s Journey.

And like the church in Corinth, JMPC, as a whole, is the hero.

We were called by God in 1965 to start this hilltop movement.

Then for the next 50 years we have been searching for what it means to be … us!

What God wants us to be and do.

And we, like the Corinthians are still on our way to our ultimate goal, our return to God.

And the revealing of Jesus Christ.

And like the Corinthians, we need guidance.

From time to time JMPC has had its troubles and tests.

Those who have been here for a long time can testify to that.

And we have new ones all the time.

Now we are in a period where we have lost beloved long time members of our fellowship.

We want to be unified, but often are not.

We want to understand how we are to live, but often we disagree.

We want to worship well, but aren’t sure we know what is best.

We want to do the will of God in all things, but if we are, it’s probably by accident, because we never really know for sure.

It’s easy to feel anxious.



And then we listen to the words from Paul to the Corinthians.

And if he could say those words to the Corinthians – he can say them to us!

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To the church of God that is called JMPC, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

It kind of gives me a warm feeling.

A good feeling.

We are called by God to be God’s church.

We are saints.

We call on the name of the Lord.

We are blessed with grace and peace.

We have all the gifts we need to succeed.

God will strengthen us to the end.

We will be blameless.

And we will experience the revealed Christ.

Not because we deserve it.

Certainly the Corinthians did not.

But because, like them, we have been called by God and we said “yes”.

And started the journey.

The Hero’s Journey.

To the presence of God.

Our scripture reading reminds us that even when we are troubled and perhaps a bit anxious, Paul, and Apostle of God, wrote to a church just like us, and said these things.

I am encouraged.

And I want you to be encouraged.

So as wrote this week, I started to think about the things I am thankful to God for about our fellowship.

Here is a brief and non-exhaustive list:

Our music program.

With it we worship God well.

Our building.

A faith based community and congregational resource.

Our Pre-School.

An outreach to the community with faith based education.

Our Christian education.

From Sunday school to ABCs of the Bible and Discovery Class, to the John Covenant Group, to the Wednesday Brown Bag Bible Study, to Kids Club and Youth Group.

Our VBS.

Jesus taught to 100s of kids (and adults) every summer.

The Christmas Affair.

Generating thousands of dollars for mission.

Our fellowship activities.

That let us get to know each other.

Our missional mindset.

From SHIM and Produce to People, to Oklahoma and South Carolina and New Orleans, to Chiapas, Mexico and Malawi.

Our generous congregation and donors who make all this possible through their gifts and offerings.

I am thankful that you have called me to be part of all this.

And when it comes down to it, I am thankful for you.

Each of you and all of you.

And every member of the fellowship we are called to.

The heroic community that is on this Hero’s Journey.

We might not be perfect, no one here, or in any church, or any church itself, is.

But we are worthy to journey as heroes do.

Because we responded to God’s call and became his church called JMPC.

We are on an adventure.

We are on a mission.

We are far from done.

But will reach our destination.

Until then we forge on.


All of us.

We are called to a fellowship on a Hero’s Journey.

A Prayer Group at JMPC – Join Us!

Luke11:10  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Are you interested??
Contact Jim Ellis- email, phone or text.  gypsy323@comcast.net or 724-470-5010

One More Try

1 Peter 3:8-12

 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
 They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

A teenage boy had just passed his driving test and inquired of his
father as to when they could discuss his use of the car.

His father said he’d make a deal with his son: ‘You bring your grades
up from a C to a B average, study your Bible a little, and get your
hair cut. Then we’ll talk about the car.’

The boy thought about that for a moment, decided he’d settle for the
offer, and they agreed on it.

After about six weeks his father said, ‘Son, you’ve brought your
grades up and I’ve observed that you have been studying your Bible,
but I’m disappointed you haven’t had your hair cut.

The boy said, ‘You know, Dad, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve
noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, John the
Baptist had long hair, Moses had long hair…and there’s even strong
evidence that Jesus had long hair.’

The father replied “did you also see they walked everywhere?

Happy New Years to everyone out there.  Let me see a show of hands if you are a resolution person.  The stats show the about half of us are.  That is half of us see ta new year coming and we decide to change something in our lives, hopefully for the better.  Some of the big resolutions ae to lose weight, quit smoking, eat healthier, and of course go to the gym and get in shape.

There is just something about a new start that invigorates us.  Whether it’s a new year, a new job, or even a new house.  Trust me I know as 1 year ago I got all three of these things.  I remember standing in the garage of my old house and looking at all the clutter and just thinking, if only I could start over.  Lucky for me I got a new start, of course as this year ends my new garage is filled with clutter.

I know I am not alone in not fulfilling what I wanted to as statistics show us that close to 80% of people will give up their resolution.  That is a lot of people who don’t make it even half way to their goal.  There are a lot of reasons people don’t make their goals; they aren’t very committed, they don’t really want to change, or sometimes life just happens.  For me a lot of times my resolutions just aren’t that big of a deal so they are easy to give up on.  They are not life changing resolutions, rather small things that I would like to slightly approve upon if I can.  However, every new years eve we are saying one more try.

As I read the scripture this morning what I heard was a great new year’s resolution.  What I love most about it is that it doesn’t focus on ourselves, rather the focus is put into three different areas, each of which we fall short in relationship.  The three relationships the author is talking about is our friends, our enemies, and our God.

Love one another, be sympathetic, be compassionate, and humble.  God has put many people in our lives, it’s true.  We need to see these people as gifts.  Do you know that your friends are gifts from God?  While we love our friend’s, we are not always as compassionate and sympathetic to them as we should be.  There are lots of reasons for why we struggle with this, but one of the biggest reasons is that we have trouble understanding other people’s pain, but we understand our own pain at high levels.

I remember being in a Bible study and I asked the students to raise their hands if they felt that they were over criticized when they made mistakes.  Every single student and adult leader raised their hands.  I then asked them to raise their hand if they felt like they were always quick to offer forgiveness when others made mistakes that affected them.  Once again, every hand in the room went up.  My next question was simple, “how can that be”?  I think most people feel this way.  They feel like they are easy on people, but others are very hard on them.  However, this is not possible.  If it were true that everyone was quick to offer forgiveness than everyone would not feel so attacked all the time.

The truth is that sometimes we don’t offer our forgiveness right away.  Being sympathetic is understanding that people in our lives are dealing with pain.  It means that we recognize that what they need is love, not judgement.  They certainly don’t need judgement under the disguise of “tough love”.  A good resolution is recognizing that our friends and family have pain in their lives and they need our unconditional love and support.

Our second resolution should be for our enemies.  Enemies can always seem like a strong word for some of us.  In my life, I don’t have an adversary like watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon.  However, I do have people in my life that I struggle having a relationship.  Sometimes it’s because our personalities don’t clash and sometimes it’s because of things they have done or I have done in the past.  While I don’t necessarily consider them, it is tough for me to be friends with them.  The reason I mention this is because if you are like me you might just avoid these people in your life.

However, scripture doesn’t tell us to avoid enemies.  In fact, it says don’t repay evil for evil or insult for insult.  Repay evil with blessing.  We have heard this before have we not?  Love your neighbor, yes, we have heard this before.  We might have even tried to love our enemies before.  Many times, we try a little bit and it’s not well received so we give up to protect ourselves.  We treat this commandment as an optional thing because it is difficult.

We need to make a resolution to love our enemies.  To see that Jesus calls us to love them numerous times and that we must not ignore this commandment.  We need to make a resolution to realize that in all the difficulties of loving our enemies God will bless us.

Lastly, we must reflect and think about our relationship with God.  We see that the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.  Do we live our lives as if God is attentive to our prayers?  Does our prayer life look like we know God is attentive to our prayers?  The reality for many of us is that we struggle with having a strong prayer life.

Some people make a resolution to read the Bible in the year, I think that is a noble task worth taking on.  My recommendation and I know this sounds weird is to read a child’s Bible.  It won’t take you the whole year and will give you an understanding of the big picture, as well as a basis for the stories of God’s people.

However, what if we made a resolution to dedicate ourselves to prayer?  What if this Church, this body of believers dedicated itself to praying for our friends, enemies, and glorifying God?  DO you believe we could change the world?  How do you think your world would change?


There is an old Jewish story about a man named Honi.  There had been a drought in Israel and the people were in desperate need for rain.  Honi drew a circle in the dust and vowed not to move from the circle until there was rain.  A few drops suddenly fell from the sky, but the people still complained. So Honi proclaims to God that he doesn’t want a drizzle but a downpour.  God responds to his told prayer and the rain pours down so much that it causes a flood.

Mark Batterson mentions the story of Honi in his book Circle Makers.  Mark had felt called to start a church but it had no gone well in Chicago.  He then felt God calling him to Washington D.C. to start a church.  Thinking of the story on Honi he decided to walk around a certain area of the city each day praying for God to change the place for God’s glory.  He literally walked around and prayed intentionally.  There are now 7 church locations led by Mark and thousands upon thousands of people have been strengthened by the ministry.

The story of Honi and Mark are not stories about circles, they are stories of prayer, bold prayer.  Our resolution should be to pray boldly this year.  To pray big and pray often.  To ask God to truly change things in our world.  Also, notice their prayers aren’t only for their benefit, but for everyone’s benefit.

That is what I want us to do for the new year, I want us to make bold resolutions.  I want to make resolutions that benefit everyone.  I want us to draw a circle around our friends and love them boldly, to care for our enemies boldly, and pray boldly.  Let’s give this resolution thing one more try.




Three Kings: Thoughts on divine activity in the world — Epiphany!

Matthew 2: 1-12

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

So today we hear one of those Bible stories we all know and love.

The Three Kings.

They come from the east following a star.

A star that leads them to a baby in a manger.

They kneel in adoration and give expensive gifts.

It’s a big Christmas story.

We have at least five hymns in our hymnal where the kings and star are mentioned.

We sing three of them today!

But do we really know the story?

And when we think about it don’t we have a lot of questions?

At our staff meeting this week, we read the passage and did have lots of questions.

Who were these guys?

Where did they come from?

Why did they come?

What did they expect to find?

And what about that star?

How do you follow a star?

How does a star point to something on the ground?

Was it really a star?

And why did Matthew leave so much out?

Well here are some things that fill some gaps.

The wise men were not kings.

Probably Zoroastrians who studied the stars.




We don’t really know how many there were, but because there are three gifts described, we assume there were three.

They were from the east (which means the star was to their west).

Probably from Babylon, modern day Iraq.

They spent their time looking at the stars and trying to find meaning.

And then they saw something new.

A new heavenly body.

What was it?

A star?

Who can know?

But these astronomers called it a star.

It was certainly considered an omen of something.

And they wondered what a new star meant.

It often meant a new king was born.

Certainly an epiphany.

Which has been defines as “A divine manifestation in the midst of human history.”

The discovery class was talking about that this morning.

A divine manifestation.

God doing something we can see.

Something big.

Really big.

So they said we better go check it out.

They left when they saw the star and arrived in Jerusalem (somewhere between 41 days and two years later).

Somewhere along the way, they lost sight of the star, apparently.

Which is why they stopped in Jerusalem to ask directions.

Which must have been awkward.

“Hey Herod, current king of the Jews, where is your replacement, the new born king?”

What made them think this star was an omen of the birth of a king of the Jews?

Following the star took them to Jerusalem.


Where the Jews lived.

Must have been their king, right?

They are told Bethlehem was where a particular prophecy located the birth of the Messiah.

And so they went to Bethlehem, and for the first time since they left, there was the star again.

And guess what?

It did take them to Bethlehem.

How did they find Jesus?

They likely asked around a bit.

Any babies born since that star appeared?

Ultimately, they found Jesus.

Presumably they were told the story of Jesus’ conception and birth and knew he was more than just a king of the Jews.

Here was what they had been looking for.

An epiphany.

A divine manifestation.

We call it the incarnation.

Everything was different.

That was all they needed to know.

Their search was over.

They knelt before Jesus and gave him gifts.

Then they went home.

So there is the story with a bit more detail.

Yet we still debate whether it really happened that way.

Why didn’t Matthew tell the story better?

Because Matthew was focusing on what all good Jews of his day would have focused on.

What does the story mean?

And we should apply that point of view to our reading as well.

At our staff meeting we also talked about the two birth stores we find in Matthew and Luke.

The wise men in Mattthew did not see angels.

The shepherds in Luke did not see a particular star.

But they all say something.

Something that let them know that there was a divine manifestation.

God was at work in the world.

There was something they needed to see.

Something that was going to change the world.

Something that was going to change them.

We human beings have been looking for something like that … well … forever.

An epiphany.

Something that will change the world.

Something that will change us.

More and more people are heading in that direction, too.

They have a name.

Spiritual but not religious.

Not atheist.

Just not religious.

They are looking for something.

Something that will change the world.

Something that will change them.

Think I’m wrong?

Read the Post-Gazette Forum today.

It cites this from the Pew Research Center in January of 2016:

[A]mong U.S. Christians, there has been an increase of 7 percentage points between 2007 and 2014 in the share who say they feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe at least weekly (from 38% to 45%). And there has been a similar rise in the share of religious “nones” who say the same (from 39% to 47%) – not to mention a 17-point jump among self-described atheists.

A 17-point jump among self-described atheists!

I think these people are like the wise men.

They are looking for something.

They might not know it but they are looking for God.

And we need to help them find God.

Right here.

In the last 5 years, this congregation has had 198 visitors to our worship services.

That’s only the ones who tell us they are here.

We have had 100s of visitors to VBS.

Why did they come?

What were they looking for?

I have no idea, but I be it has something to do with seeking a changed world or a changed life.

In the past year, we have had many new members.

In the bulletin this morning there is a list of children and adults who have been baptized this year.

Except for the founding members, every one of us was one of those once.

Just like the wise men who found Jesus.

We were searching for … something.

We all came here from different places.

Different world views.

Different generational cultures.

Different races.

Each of us should ask ourselves, “What were we looking for”?

Like the wise men, were we searching for something new?

Were we looking for something we had once, but lost?

And then, “What did we find”?

Did we find our Messiah?

Did we find Jesus?

Did our world change just a little bit?

Did our lives change just a little bit?

Did we find that the meaning of the Biblical story is more important than the empirical facts?

And have we found that Jesus is enough?

And if we have, is it worth a response of some kind.

One way to respond is at this table.

Jesus wants us to respond by coming to him.

He wants us to join him at this table.

He wants us to join him in his story.

He wants us to know what his story means.

And what it means for us.

A changed world.

A changed life.

An epiphany.

And let me ask you one more question.

Do you know other people who are on such searches?

Bring them here.

Be their star.

You don’t have to say anything.

Just tell them that they might find what they are looking for right here.

Just like the wise men.

Just like the rest of us.