Stepping Out of the Boat

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Nine years ago, I preached my final sermon at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, DE. I had served there for nine years as Youth Pastor/Associate Pastor. That final sermon was from the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14, and the audacity of Peter to ask Jesus to call him out of the boat to walk on water. Jesus calls Peter out and Matthew records:

“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” Matthew 14:29

I think too often we tend to see Peter take his eyes off of Jesus by looking at the storm raging around him. It’s true- we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and not be distracted by what rages around us.

But don’t miss this: Peter walked on the water!

Author John Ortberg wrote a book titled, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat.” If we want to accomplish great things, if we want to see God work in us in new ways, we have to get out of the boat. Looking back, I preached that message more as an encouragement for myself. In being called out to Hope/Magnolia/Orchard, I needed to get out of the boat.

Tomorrow, I have the opportunity to step out of the boat again. This time, called back to Avenue to serve as the Lead Pastor. I am certain about the call to Avenue/Milford 18 years ago- and I am certain that God is faithful and that God desires to move in and through me, Avenue Church and the Milford community in new ways. My prayer is that you’ll join me and jump out of the boat as we keep our eyes on Jesus!

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On The Move (or, I’ve Been Reappointed)

On Sunday, February 7th I announced that the Bishop was re-appointing me from my current ministry to Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, DE beginning July 1, 2019.

(For non-United Methodist, Clergy ‘itinerate’ and are deployed through the leadership of our Bishop and cabinet (and hopefully, The Holy Spirit). I liken it to our military men and women here at Dover Air Force Base. They submit themselves to be deployed where their gifts are needed. They can share any considerations that they would like their superiors to take into account- but ultimately they go where they are sent. United Methodist pastors minister in the same way.)

I was preparing for a new members class when I got the phone call from our District Superintendent about meeting for lunch the next day. This is Methodist code for “You’re being re-appointed.” I knew, in the back of my mind, that this was more of a possibility over last year. However, I thought for sure I would 1-3 more years at Orchard with the unique setting of a successful merger that is thriving and really starting to impact our community.

The irony of the move, to Avenue UMC, is kinda like going back home. Eighteen years ago I interviewed and accepted the position as the full-time Youth Pastor at Avenue. My ministry at Avenue lasted nine years. Nine years of building relationships; nine years of spiritual growth and growth as a leader. If it were not for the leadership at Avenue giving me room to spread my wings, I might still be in youth ministry- which would have been great although it may kept me from God’s evolving call in my life.

I’ve been away from Avenue for nine years come July 1st. I’ve grown so much as a leader and as a pastor. While I still have big ideas (and believe in a big God to accomplish those big dreams), I am more willing to say, “I don’t know.” Through ministry at Hope and Magnolia United Methodist Churches, merging the two together, working as a college chaplain, serving as an adjunct professor, and leading through crisis and times of thriving- I have learned to rely even more on the leading of The Holy Spirit.

Over the next four months, I will be throwing myself into preparing Orchard to thrive with new pastoral leadership. I am committed to making sure that Orchard’s new pastor has everything in place to succeed. I will also start relearning the Avenue community. I am excited about the new possibilities and the growth in my own faith as I trust God through the unexpected.

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Advent: The Christ Candle

*A week or so late, but I wanted to post.*

Over the past four weeks, we have been in the season of Advent. Advent is not a countdown to Christmas, but a season of waiting, expectation, and self-examination as we await the return of Christ. As we gather tonight and light the Christ Candle, we move into the season of Christmas. We are reminded in Luke

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”[1]

There are many reasons to come and worship on Christmas Eve. The lights, the candles, communion, a heartwarming story, family, friends, the music. Christmas Eve has all the feels.

The birth of Christ is more than nostalgic feelings. On Christmas Eve we proclaim, like the angels, that God’s redemption is here in Jesus. The challenge for us tonight is to take the approach of the shepherds who said: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see.”

As we light the Christ Candle, let us continue to seek Christ. Let us see for ourselves and make personal the presence of Jesus in our lives. Let us shine the light of Christ for the world to see and experience God’s love for themselves.

Let Us Pray:

God of all Creation, we open our hearts to you this evening. Help us to hear anew the Good News that you are for us and not against us. Strengthen us for the journey to seek you with all of our hearts. Help us to shine the light of Christ wherever you lead us. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

[1]The New International Version(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Lk 2:8–15.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent: Peace

Through our Advent Journey, we have practiced a rhythm of watching and waiting by looking at God’s faithfulness, God’s love, and the joy that God brings us. This morning we light the fourth candle, the Candle of Peace. Our scripture is from Micah 5:2-5

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.


And he will be our peace
when the Assyrians invade our land
and march through our fortresses. [1]

 We live in a frantic world. A world full of anxiety and worry. Even as we approach Christmas, many of us are filled with stress about the details of Christmas gatherings, managing your finances, the prospects of seeing certain relatives, or the reality of a holiday without a loved one. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year can quickly become The Most Stressful Time of the Year.

Micah tells about a coming leader who will “be our peace even when the Assyrians invade our lands.” Sometimes, it is easy to miss this in hearing the text, but if the Assyrians are invading, then there will be destruction, there will be death, and there will be suffering. The Word of God says that “When” this happens that this leader will be our peace. Our strength. Our security.

When your job lets you go; when you begin life without a loved one; when your finances don’t seem to match up; when that relative reminds you that you’re not doing something right; and when your faith seems to be doing somersaults- Jesus will be our peace. The prophet Isaiah reminds us:

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.[2]

 

Let us Pray:

Almighty God,
In these troubled times, help us to find our security and our protection in the shadow of your wings. Send the presence of your Spirit in our lives that we might be filled with peace in the midst of life’s storms.  We ask these things in the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

[1]The New International Version(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mic 5:2–5.

[2]The New International Version(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Is 9:6.

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Joy- The Third Sunday of Advent

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(A brief reading I wrote for worship this past Sunday as we lit the third Advent Candle)

Advent Week 3: Joy

 On the first week of Advent, we lit the candle of Faith as we put our trust in God that God will make good on his promise to redeem the earth. Last week, we were reminded of God’s love for the world. This morning we light the third candle, the Candle of Joy. Our scripture is from Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We live in a world of anxiety and fear. We worry about things like violence in our communities, chronic illness, economic instability, marital failure, injustice, and so many other things. Watching or reading the news does nothing to help in these matters as they only seem to peddle fear to the anxious. We can become consumed and overwhelmed by the circumstances in which we have no control.

God invites us to take a different path. Rather than living in anxiety and worry, we are invited to find joy in the many gifts that God has placed in our lives. We can live in joy because, as Paul says, The Lord is near.

On this third Sunday of Advent, we light the pink candle and we choose to live in defiance of the powers and principalities that attempt to cripple us with fear. We choose to REJOICE and to live in JOY because God has come near through Jesus.

Let us Pray:

Almighty God- we come this morning with many things in our hearts. Help us to focus on one thing, your love that is present with us through Jesus Christ. Help us to root our lives in this reality and to live in JOY throughout our lives. And may your peace that passes all understanding be with us now and forever. Amen.

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LOVE: Week Two of Advent

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We are in the second week of Advent. Last week, we lit the candle of Hope as we heard that Jesus’ return brings us hope in the midst of despair. This morning, we hear from the prophet Malachi:

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.

Imagine this scenario: An 8-year-old​ boy wearing jeans and going outside to play. We all know what will happen, right? The jeans that he has on will come back with grass stains and covered in dirt. The boys loving parents will take the jeans and treat them with stain remover and wash the jeans so that they are wearable. Of course, the boy will continue to get the jeans covered in stains and the loving parents will continue to clean the jeans.

The prophet Malachi tells us that God will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. A refiner’s fire would melt metal and cause the impurities to rise to the top to be skimmed off. The launderer would use lye soap to remove stains and to whiten fabric. Like the boy whose parents continue to clean his jeans, God’s love works in our lives to refine and purify us so that we can stand in God’s presence.

Why does God do this? God refines and purifies us because God loves us. The Gospel of John records:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This morning we light the second candle, the Candle of Love, remember that God loves us and sent Jesus to us so that we might experience that love. This morning, and in the mornings to come, let us choose to experience the love and God and to share that love with those we meet.

Let us pray:

Loving God, as we light the second candle on our advent wreath, help us to live in love by living in you. May your LOVE always be on our mind, our lips, and our hearts. Amen.

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A Long Day With Postive Results

Yesterday (11/19), Caleb received his long-awaited hearing test at Children’s Hospital​ of Pennsylvania (CHOP). Knowing that he has microtia of his right ear, and concerned that he has diminished hearing in his “good” ear because of fluid, we had been anxious to have this appointment and to begin mapping out what the future might look like when it comes to Caleb’s hearing.

When I say it was a long day, that is the feedback from Andrea because I stayed home with the other kids! Caleb’s day began at the hospital at 7:30 a.m. but quickly was delayed because he was coughing and sounding congested (even though his lungs are clear). This hearing test, a Sedated ABR, required Caleb to be sedated. Through some consultation with other doctors, they decided that they could move forward with the procedure with some changes to the sedation- which would push back the procedure until 1:00 p.m.

Since there is sedation involved, there is also fasting involved. This meant that Caleb, who had not eaten since dinner time the night before, was going to have to fast for another five hours. Maybe more importantly, this meant that Andrea would have to continue to go without food. Have you seen the Snickers commercial with Betty White???? Well, then, you get the idea.

Ultimately, Caleb had the hearing test and Andrea had a really good conversation with the doctors there. We had some good results.

1. Caleb has full hearing in his good ear. Let me say that again- Caleb has full hearing in his good ear!

When we first saw his file from China, there was no guarantee that he had​ any hearing in his good ear. Our prayer was that his good ear would be fully functional. Over the last six months, it has become increasingly clear that he can hear pretty well. This was good to hear! Praise God for healing and provision because one good ear is better than none!

2. We have options for hearing aids​ but don’t need to make a decision today. Caleb is developing his speech by leaps and bounds (which is indicative of his hearing ability). We have to remember that he has only been in America and English speakers for about six months. His vocabulary and enunciation are​ really good when you keep that (along with being hard of hearing) in mind. We have a lot of reading and research to do on our own to see what will best help Caleb.

The day at the doctors reminded us of some other things about Caleb. He is an amazingly happy and patient little boy. We are daily amazed at the love and the kindness that he shares with our family and with others. As we approach Thanksgiving Day, we are thankful to God for Caleb, for the healing that has already taken place in his life and how he completes our family!

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