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I’m just a Simple Man

Scripture: Amos 7:7-15

There are many important people in my life. People that have inspired me and taken me by surprise. One example is my step-dad, I have always considered him to be one of my heros. When ever I was in a bind he always seemed to know what to do. I went off the road once when it was icy out, (this was actually a common occurance) and I called home on my cell phone only to hear my mom tell me he was aready on his way. The amazing thing ishe knew where I was and had the tools to fix the fence I went through already. I lived in a small town so I am sure someone called before I got to a place with cellular signal. Another time I was helping him move heavy sides to a grain trailer. He was running the tractor and I was hooking up he chains. Well the chain broke and this huge piece of metal came crashing down on my back, before I even knew what hit me, my dad had thrown the thing off of me. Luckily I was not injured, that part is a miracle but my dad was a hero in my book.

My dad taught me a great deal. He taught me what it ment to be a follower of Jesus. He lived the life as a Christian witness, every time we went to the local gas station he encouraged the people that were working. He never once argured or judged them but was friendly and encouraged them to come with him to church. After several years some of these guys are going to tha little church in the middle of nowhere that I call home. He would also preach occasionaly when our pastor was on vacation.

My other dad, that is right I am lucky enough to have a biological father and a step father that were very involved in my life two, would do similar things. He would play his guitar for camps, and churches when ever he was asked, sometimes I would get to go along. He would go out to run the sound system for community events, and would also fill the pulpit if asked.

Both would not say they were anything more than simple men. Although they are both great men. When I read about Amos I am often reminded of my dads. They would speak whe needed, act when they should, but they never really thought they were fully called into a ministry of preaching the gospel. Amos did not get to speak a very encouraging message unfortunatly, it was well received by those that heard it.

The Lord gave him a vision of a wall with a plumb line in the hand of God. The line was a standard, used to ensure the wall was straight. It is clear that God was going to judge the nation of Israel. The king and priests were upset and told Amos to go somewhere else to speak, but that would not matter Amos was not the judge God was. Amos said I’m not a prophet or even a son of a prophet. What is he saying? Well simply speaking he is saying I have nothing to judge you on I saw a vision and that’s it. He goes on to say I’m just a herdsman and a dresser of trees. Meaning that he is a simple man living a simple life, not wishing to be or be seen as anything more than a simple man.

My dads are simple men but they are also powerful preacher in word and deed. They step up when they need to. That is a hero, that is what caused me to consider my own life with God more seriously. What would cause ordinary men to step up to do somethin they normally would not do? Well long story short we do not know who is watching. We do not even know why they are watching. These people are the people we are working with at our jobs, the ones that are scanning our items at the store, and the people caught with us in traffic. How are we as commom people responding? It is the ordinary people that affect us the most. Not the preacher or the prophet, but the people that live the life with God wherever they are. The ones that preach the gospel with how they react.

Today as you pray and walk a life with and toward Christ, let us remember who is holding the plumb line. We should also check yourself to that line. People are watching us and our actons are preaching louder than any preacher’s words. That’s kindof scary I know. We cannot live up to that standard, but Christ can. So letus live a life reflecting Christ.

GO (Sermon July 8, 2012)

Scripture: Mark 6:1-13

Going home. It is sometimes a bittersweet activity. It is sweet because it is always good to meet again with friends and family that you rarely see due to the courses of life. In the same breath it can be bitter because in many communities things rarely change. For those that moved away their parents tell everyone about what their children are doing and it almost builds them up greater than they really are. Eventually you go to your class reunion and you fall into the same roles that you did during high school. All your achievement and success matters very little because you are that person again. The movies always try to make light of this but the reality is that most people in life do not go home greater than when they left.

I grew up near the town that the former presidential candidate and senator, Bob Dole, grew up. I grew up knowing his name thinking he was the greatest guy in the world, but in his hometown the story was different. Some thought he was great while others thought he was not so great. Some despised the name of Dole while others held the name in high esteem. Sure he was a senator and presidential nominee, but to his hometown community he was Bob.

To be honest when I go home I only go into town to eat with my family. It is not that I dislike my hometown; it is more that it depresses me. I see the popular people still living there working at the same job they had during high school. I see the same guys working at the same stores that still looking forward to Friday night to go drinking after the game. It is like everyone is stuck in a time warp. After I judge my entire community then I realize that maybe I am seen with the same amount of disdain. I left when maybe I could have helped make a community better; maybe they look at me as one that sold out for some reason.

I do not know if any of you have those feelings. I say it as if it is the same for everyone but it is really just my personal experience. When I think about it I realize that for many of my former classmate did the best they could with the life they were given to live. Each of us is a product of our choices and we live them out the best we can.

But reflecting on the life of Jesus in this light does let us in on some of our human nature. He went home with his disciples to meet the old friends and his family. Imagine just for a bit the pride this community had hearing the stories of their native son going off into the nation making a big name for Himself. Then He comes home and they expect something different only to find Him basically the same guy that he always was. They regarded him not as a great rabbi as the rest of the nation, but He was the carpenter.

I do not know if Jesus felt the way I do, but I do know that you carry a lot of baggage when you go home. People see you as that person you were, not as the person you are. You are often unable to leave the shadow that you grew up under. The old saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is more often that the community will not let the apple fall far from the tree. Jesus is said to be unable to do anything miraculous in His hometown because there was a lack of faith. I do not think that it is a lack of faith in God, but more of the town’s inability to see Jesus as anything other than the carpenter. He was still that kid that helped Joseph build. He was still the guy that came into your house to fix something that you could not do yourself. He was the handy man, not a rabbi. Sure he could preach a good sermon every now and again, but to them He was just the guy that your kids used to play with when the chores were done.

Our hometown can often hold us back, dictate who we are or should be in their eyes. We can often get caught in a web of becoming who everyone else thinks we should instead of really becoming who we ourselves want to become. It takes work to break out of this web; you have history to overcome as well as developing a future. Jesus was amazed at the unbelief of his hometown; this shows the humanity of Jesus. He faced all that we face, since He too had to break free of the webs of expectations in His hometown. A prophet is not without honor except in His hometown He says. This speaks about the web of expectations, or the shadow of the family tree.

Hometowns are tough for anyone, but we can move beyond the shadow of the tree we grew under. Jesus did teach and heal people in His hometown, but most did not call on Him. That did not stop Him from doing what He was called to do. It was from His hometown that His ministry expanded into the next phase. Jesus empowered and sent His disciples. He showed them that those closest to you may not see the change but you still must do what you are called to do.

Jesus empowered His followers. I just want us to sit on this for a bit. Jesus empowered or gave authority to his followers. He called them to a life as a disciple and he gave them the authority to live it out in the community. Jesus did this after He took them to his hometown. I think this was for a reason. They had to see how Jesus reacted in a situation that was less than perfect. They had to see how He still worked the same even when those around Him did not regard him with honor.

Often today we hear that when we become a follower of Jesus things will be better. The truth is things will not change very quickly when we are among those we know the most. The people we spent the most time with in our lives prior to know Jesus personally, will not encourage us to deepen our life with and in Christ but they will try to drag you back into the lifestyle they are used to. We all experience this, we talk differently among certain people, and we participate in different activities. Among the followers we act one way because among them we are empowered. When we meet with those in from our previous lifestyles it is quite easy to fall back. We see this clearly when we go on a spiritual retreat. Some of our students just went to Church camp, from my past experience with camp I came home empowered and on fire for God. Then a month goes by and the flame begins to fade, when school started it is almost as if I never attended the camp. I was the old self once again.

Jesus showed that he was the same in his hometown or anywhere. He showed them and then empowered them. We have a hard time in certain areas because they hold power over us, the power of fear. We fear the trees that once shaded our lives. But like last week’s message Jesus told the synagogue ruler to not fear, only believe. He is basically saying the same thing as He empowers His disciples. He lists off the fears. What will we eat, what will we pack, how will we fund it, and what will we wear. He sent them out and said do not fear only believe. Go without bread, money, or extra clothes. Just take your staff and wear your sandals. Go without fear and believe. Stay where you are welcomed and remain confident even in the face of rejection.

Go even in the face of rejection, do not fear how things will work out only believe. They were shown this first in the life of Jesus as He faced his classmates, then they were empowered to live it in their own life. They went out and taught that all should repent. Repentance is to turn. Turn from the fear and embrace empowerment. Turn from bondage and embrace freedom. Turn from sin and embrace righteousness. They went and taught people in word and deed to turn to God.

The Spirit of God empowers us to live a life for Him. The Spirit of God leads us to minister just as Jesus encouraged and empowered His disciples that day. The message is still the same for us; to go without fear, only believe. We do not have to worry about saying the right words, or how we will survive our mission is to go without fear and believe. Put on our shoes, hope in our cars, and go without fear, only believe that the Spirit will work through us.

The world needs us to live our lives empowered by the Spirit. They need us to live our life free to respond to the leading of God. They want to hear our story of repentance. They may reject but they reject us not because our message but because of their fear. They are afraid of what life will be like if they were to trust God. They fear because the world around them has them bound in a web and they have lived in the shadows so long that light is the unknown.  Jesus does not tell them to go off to school, or to gather support. He tells them to go and believe.

We live in a community that ministry opportunities are literally all around us. What could we do if we took Jesus’ advice? What would happen if we did not care how well we were accepted and just boldly lived a life without fear and only believed? The disciples went and they had authority over the evil spirits and they ministered to the sick and healed them. They saw lives changed before their eyes. They would not have seen this if they would not have repented, turned to Christ, gone where he lead them and believed that He would work through their lives.

If each of us were to be honest with ourselves we would have to say that we have not lived this life. We may have faith, we may even trust God, but most of us would not just go. We tend to automatically discredit the leadings of God saying it’s a nice idea but we cannot do it. We live in the shadow. We fear. We do not believe. God will do great things through this Meeting if we would not fear and only believe. If we would trust that He would provide where we may not fully see. Our Church is built on the faith of those that went without knowing fully what the future might hold. The Friends moved from the east to the Kansas City area to minister to the Shawnee Indians, they built a community with them set up schools and Meetinghouses, we and all the Friends Meetings in the North East Area, are the direct result of people that went into the world trusting that God would provide. Sure they made plans to some degree, but they ultimately went knowing that all their plans could be for not.

If we were honest every one of us would have one idea that we have had for quite a while, an idea that we believe would encourage others to repentance but we have lived in fear so we have not spoken them out loud. Today I would like to just start releasing those fears, by just throwing out some of my own ideas. Ideas that on the surface may seem extremely scary, but I really do believe that they are ideas that may be leadings that we need to discern together. I believe that Willow Creek will be a church planting church, that we will plant at least five churches in the metro area, that we will train leaders that will lead those churches from within. I believe that we will get more involved in ministering to those in need, feeding them meals and encouraging their spirits. I believe that we could reignite the Friends educational systems that our meetings started as they moved west. I believe that Willow Creek and the Friends Churches of the North East area will be the a group of disciples of Jesus that will listen to the Spirit’s leading and embrace the challenges set before them. I believe that God wants to do great things through this Meeting; I would not have come if I did not. I was drawn here by the great potential. I was drawn not because of anything other than that potential.

Yes those are big lofty goals. Yes I know we do not have enough people, or enough money. Yes I know I myself do not have the time or energy to do this, but that’s ok because I do not have to. My ministry is to preach the gospel, to encourage others to repent and to follow Christ; my ministry is to live a life devoted to Christ wherever He leads. Your ministry is similar; it is to use the gifts that God has given you to minister to those around you. If we are to plant churches God will provide for that work. If we are to start schools, God will provide for that work. If we are to feed the hungry God will provide for that work. He will provide if we do not fear and only believe that He is able to do what He calls us to do.

As we enter into this time of open worship let us consider those ministry ideas that have been nagging at our spirits, let us discern together and get excited about what God could do, let us remember what he has done in the past and let us embrace what he can do in the future if we only believe.

They Will Know

Scripture: Ezekiel 2:1-5

They will know. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing what I am suposed to do. I’m not looking for encouragement, I am just saying I do not always see how the ministry I am involved in affects the world and community I live. I think this is fairly common. We want to make a big difference, but the truth is we live in a culture thatis in open rebelion against God. There are several reasons why, many of them fall squarely on the shoulders of the Church also.

Sometimes we as members of the Church focus so much on the amount of people in our buildings that we forget the true point. Our job is to do as the Spirit leads. Ezekiel said when the Spirit entered him It set him on his feet. Why would the Spirit want him to stand? Well basic Newtonian physics explains this, object at rest stay at rest and objects in motion stay in motion until another force is acted on them. So the Spirit is acting on the restful body to put it in motion, there’s another law about that but to be honest I do not really care all that much. Ezekiel was put on his feet so he could move. Moving is pretty hard to do if you are sitting down.

God is moving us for a reason. It is not exactly what most of of think though, we are not called to win the lost or to save the sinner. If you have ever really thought about that do you hear how we replace God by saying words like that? We are called, prompted, and set on our feet to be the messangers of grace. True religion is to feed the hungrey, cloth the naked, and a bunch of other things, we could probably add to that list a few more items not yet thought of by first century dsciples like help the addicted. While doing the activities God calls us to we are to also speak accordingly. Not so they can be saved, but so that they will know.

They will know that God has sent a prophet. They will know that God cares. They will know that God lives, if we allow His Spirit to fill us and we then allow His Spirit to lead us. I have grown up hearing stories of people that have done this my entire life. As a Quaker our testomony is that God is present today and our ever present teacher and guide. We proclaim that we do not need a mediator other than this inner voice, or the Light Within. This Light will lead us to act or speak, to move or to stay still. Many Friends in ancient or contemporary times have spoke of their experiences in listening to the Spirit, and I still sit in awe of what God has done in the world because of seemingly in significant people doing what God leads. Of course Quakers do not have a monopoly on the Spirit of God. I have also read stories of the Saints of old doing similar things, and there are great testimonies of people even today being lead to do great things. Most of these people are rarely recognized and most do what they do without even realizing that their actions are divinely guided. But the people they reach out to in love and grace know.

They know because God is working in their lives. God is speaking to their hearts, and causing them to face their rebelious spirit. The world hates these men and women, these saints of ancient and contemporary history because they are causing them to question themselve over right and wrong. The world gets angry and bitter and they lash out in violent words and actions. Yet they know. They know if we do what we do and speak what we speak under the guidence of God.

Today as you pray I encourage you to consider what you are doing, why you do them, and if your actions are focused on promoting the love of God or selfish gain. After that just sit for a while in silent reflection and listen for the Inner Light to prompt you to action. I will guess you will not hear a voice like Ezekiel but after you get into a disipline of this, you will begin to sense the leading and see your actions more clearly.

Just remember we do so that they may know, that’s all we can do. God will handle the rest.

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