Rules for Living

exodus 20_1-17(Author’s note:  this is the conclusion of my message on March 4, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield from Exodus 20:1-17 titled “Rules for Living”)

We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. We live in a world where old standards of morality are being questioned. Into this world of upheaval and change, the Ten Commandments still ring true. Thousands of years have come and gone since Moses came down from Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments provide a series of rules and ethics for life. These Ten Commandments have not budged one inch in calling men and women to the same ethical standards of life. Times may have changed, but the principles of these Ten Commandments are eternally the same.

Lloyd Douglas told how he loved to visit a little old man who gave violin lessons. He had a studio, a small room in a row of rooms where other music teachers taught. One morning he walked in and by way of greeting, said, ‘Well, what’s the good news for today?’ ” Putting down his violin, stepping over to his tuning fork suspended from a silk thread, the violin teacher struck it a sharp blow with a padded mallet, and said, “There is the good news for today. That, my friend, is ‘A.’ It was ‘A’ all day yesterday … it will be ‘A’ all day tomorrow, next week, and for a thousand years … the soprano upstairs warbles off-key … the tenor next door flats his high ones … the piano across the hall is out of tune … noise all around me, noise … noise … noise; but that, my friend, is ‘A.’ and it always will be.”

Some things remain constant in the midst of noise and change. Some things, like the Ten Commandments, are timeless and permanent! You can come back to them and confidently follow them with your life. They are rules or guidelines for living that come to us from God. Are you following his guidelines for living?

Keeping the Ten Commandments requires some deep commitments. But there is one thing more to be said. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS ARE NOT ENOUGH by themselves.  The Ten Commandments are wonderful, they’re essential, they simply are inadequate.

8 of the 10 tell us how not to live, not how to live. When Jesus was asked to cite the greatest commandment, he did not mention any of the Ten Commandments. He cited a law greater than all the commandments put together. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind . . . and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Notice that these 10 commandments have 2 main components. The first four commandments focus on your relationship with God- they have a vertical focus. The last 6 commandments focus on our relationship with each other- they have a horizontal focus. Put both the horizontal and vertical components together and they make a cross. Similar to the one Jesus gave his life upon.

The Ten Commandments are great, but they are not enough. What is needed is to add to these laws the love of Jesus. That is why Jesus said that he had not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. To fill it full of love. The rules for living- they show us how to relate to God, how to relate to others, and steady us in a changing world. But Jesus lived, died, and lived again to show us how live them out in everyday life. Whose rules for living are you following?

Sacrifice for the Good of All

Sacrifice for the Good of All

(Author’s note: This article was originally published in the March 2018 FUMC Winnfield Newsletter “The Cross and Tower.”  The entire newsletter can be accessed at www.fumcwinnfield.com)

lsu baseball logo

It’s that time of year again! The crack of the bat! The ball hitting leather! Stand for the national anthem, then the umpire says “play ball” and the baseball or softball game begins. At the writing of this article, I have just watched Winnfield Senior High’s first baseball game of the year, opening weekend for the LSU Tigers, and am anxiously awaiting to see if my favorite Major League team, the Houston Astros, can become the first World Series repeat champions since 2000. Yes, it is time for the rite of spring, America’s game, baseball and softball.

This game that is often called “America’s pastime” contains something unique. It is an idea that carries over into the life of the church and especially applies to us during Lent, that spring season when we prepare our hearts and lives for the death and resurrection of Jesus. The idea that bridges faith with baseball and softball is sacrifice.

In baseball and softball, a sacrifice occurs when a batter voluntarily makes an out for the good of his or her team. Often, this is done to move a runner to the next base or even to score a run for the team through a sacrifice bunt or a sacrifice fly ball.

 

sacrifice cross

In faith, a sacrifice is an animal or person who gives his life for the good of all. In the Old Testament, this was done through the shedding of blood of animals. In the New Testament, one man, Jesus Christ, gave his life so that we might have life. 1 John 2:2 says “He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (NIV)

I am thankful for baseball and softball. Not only because I enjoy watching it, enjoy watching the children and youth of our church play, enjoy being outside,  but because it keeps this word “sacrifice” in our vocabulary. Think about it. When is the last time you used the word “sacrifice” outside of a baseball/softball or faith context? When is the last time you thought about what it means to make a sacrifice and what it costs? The haunting question that comes back to us is what have we sacrificed for the good of others, for our team, for our faith. The truth is that we don’t really like to sacrifice our wants, our desires, our at bat, for the good of others. But that is exactly what the batter is asked to do. That is exactly what Jesus did.

 

The next time you watch a baseball or softball game and a player makes a sacrifice for the good of the team, I hope you’ll think of Jesus, who sacrificed himself for the good of all

Questions to ponder:  Are you a baseball/softball fan?  Why or why not? When is the last time you mentioned sacrifice outside of a baseball/softball or faith context?  What have we sacrificed for the good of our team or our faith?

The Divine Deal

The Divine Deal

(Author’s note: this is the conclusion of my message “The Divine Deal” Genesis 17:1-9, 15-21 from Sunday, February 25, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield)

let's make a dealWhen I was a kid I loved holidays and summer.  Not just because I was out of school, but because I was home in the morning to watch TV game shows.  That was before many game shows were on at night, before there was such a thing as the game show network.  I got to watch the Price is Right, Card Sharks, Press your luck (with those crazy “Whammies”), the $20,000 pyramid and one of my favorites, Let’s Make a Deal.  One of the reasons I liked Let’s Make a Deal is that the audience dressed up as all kind of crazy things.

The basic concept behind Let’s Make a Deal (which is still on today led by comedian Wayne Brady and airs on our CBS affiliate each weekday at 2 PM) is that the contestant gets to choose between several items hoping to trade up for something better.  My favorite part of the show was the big deal of the day at the end, where the winningest contestant got to choose among one of three doors, as long as they were willing to give up what they had already won.  One door would be a bust, one would be ok, and the other would be spectacular.  Sometimes they won, many times they did not win the big deal.

          God offered Abraham and Sarah, and us, the big deal.  And fortunately for us there are not three doors, one of which is a loser, the other is so-so, and only one is the big deal of the day.  But God offers us the big deal, the best deal, if we will take it.  Now like on the TV show, it entails us giving something up.  Maybe our wants, our desires, our dreams, our selfishness to follow God.   Abraham and Sarah did as God commanded and God rewarded them far beyond their wildest dreams. Not as quickly as they might have thought for God’s timetable is not our timetable.  But God rewarded them far beyond anything they could ever have imagined.  God’s covenant offered them a better plan, the best plan and they followed it.  God has been faithful to his promises and covenant, have we?   Abraham and Sarah said yes to the divine deal, and their lives were never the same.  God is still offering us the Divine Deal today- what will we say?

Take Time to Fish Between the Cracks

toledo bend 3

Sunset from Sunset Marina on Toledo Bend near Many, Louisiana.

Bloggers Note:  Every week there are stories and information that I want to tell in my message but there is simply not enough time.  My message this past Sunday “Going Fishing” from Mark 1:14-20 was like that. This story by Terry Higginbotham was left on the cutting room floor.  But it is worth the read.  Please note: this is not my work.  The original author is Terry Higginbotham copyright 2004.

 

The summer of 1972, my brother and I were filling cricket and bait buckets for Mr. K.C. Bray at the Sunset Marina on the Toledo Bend Reservoir just south of Many, Louisiana.

It was just another hot, humid, July in the southwest Louisiana. Each day the same as yesterday and with almost certainty the same as it would be tomorrow. The wind was so still that the Spanish moss barely rustled in the old cypress trees. But these were the type of days I liked, cause the fishing would be good. Good fishing meant good tips.

Lil’ Brother and I never did make a lot of money, but enough to keep us just short of even on our account at Mr. K.C.`s store. Our daily provisions consisted of two cokes, a moon pie, a Miss. Dailey’s fresh made sandwich, and all the crickets we needed to catch our supper. By 7:00 p.m., every evening we would have our 3 bream apiece. We would gut `em, stick `em, and cook `em over a little fire we would make on the bank near our tent.

Lil’ Brother and I had spent the last two summers camping on the banks of the Bend. We fancied ourselves as a modern day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. We were accountable to no one and responsible for only our daily bread. Don’t get me wrong, we were not bad kids nor did we come from a broken home. We had loving parents, grandparents, and friends. We were just lucky enough to grow up in a part of the world and in a time that allowed us to live free, truly free.

Our parents would come to the Bend on the weekends and we would get a reprieve from our day-to-day attempts to “survive”. We didn’t know until years later that mom and dad gave Mr. K.C. money to cover our supper in the case fishing ever went bad. They would bring us fresh clothes, comic books, candy, and fresh tackle for our nightly fishing. They would stay for the weekend then head for real world late on Sunday Evening.

On Friday night we would all go down to the dock. We would sit for hours talking about the week’s events. Lil Brother and I would tell about our adventures. Dad would tell us stories about the jobs he was on. Dad was an ironworker and we were fascinated by his stories of “walking in the air”. To us he was a superhero. Saturday we would spend the day fishing, swimming, and skiing.

Sunday morning was spent at “church”. We would go down to the dock, bait a couple of hand lines. We would then lower the hand lines through the cracks in the dock. The really big fish would rest in the shade, just under the dock. The best way to get to them was to fish through the cracks where the two floating partitions of the dock joined. While Lil’ Brother and I would fish for the Big Ones, Daddy would read to us about becoming “Fishers of Men”. Some of the best times of my life were spent belly down on that old dock, coaxing those big bluegills out with worms and crickets. As I look back on it now, it wasn’t because of the fishing but because of the time spent with Dad and Lil’ Brother.

Recently my dad came to visit. I was in the midst of a major project and wasn’t spending much time with him. Maybe a few minutes in the morning and an hour or so at night, before I passed out from exhaustion. On his last night, I finally got to tell him about the new boat I just bought. About the rods and reels, tackle, and accessories just waiting until we got a chance to go fishing. I told him about the cabin on Toledo Bend that we were going to rent, as soon as I got enough time to go. I told him about how excited the kids were when I had brought home new rods and reels for them, last month. He seemed to enjoy the talk although he seemed very quiet and almost sad.

My dad left that next morning. As we shook hands, he drew me near and presented me with an old box. He whispered, “The secrets to a happy life are in here”. Dad was always a little strange when it came to good-byes, so I just smiled, waved and watched him slowly drive out of sight.

The small box was worn red with a small picture of a man battling a giant bass. Below the picture was the caption “Sunset Marina Toledo Bend Many, Louisiana”. I slowly opened the box and smiled as I became aware of its contents. Truly these were the “secrets of life”. In the box was a small bible with a bookmark with Matthew 4:19 printed on it. It had been a while but I did remember, “Follow Me and I will make you Fishers of Men”. Beside the Bible was a small hand line wrapped in a piece of paper with my dad’s handwriting scrawled on it. I unfolded the note and smiled as I read the simple key to a happy life.

“Son, Make time to fish through the cracks”.

Today isn’t just another hot, humid, July day in southwest Louisiana. Not quite the same as yesterday and with almost certainty the same as it will be tomorrow.

“Hey Jon, throw dad another moon pie”.

“Just a minute dad, I think Erin’s got another one”.

“Be careful not to lose him, it’s a little tricky getting ’em back through the cracks”.

“Hey dad”.

“Yeah, Jon”.

“Was fishing this good when you were a kid?”

“Almost”.

(c) Copyright 2004 OuachitaGroup All Rights Reserved

Owner of HuntStats.com and The OuachitaGroup, Terry Higginbotham, is an avid hunter, fisherman, and outdoorsman. He runs a research project studying the Whitetail Deer and the American Wild Turkey. Information from this study is available online at HuntStats.com or by email at: articles@HuntStats.com

The Process of Change

The Process of Change

img_1129(Author’s note:  This post was originally written for the January 2017 issue of the Cross and Tower, the monthly newsletter of First United Methodist Church Winnfield, LA. The entire newsletter can be read here: Cross and Tower January 2017 )

Recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about a tree in my neighborhood.  I’m not sure what kind of tree it is (though I have a suspicion), and the truth is botany was never one of my strong points.  What got me thinking about this tree is the way it looks.  As I write this in mid-December, several top branches of the tree are bare of leaves, as a result of some of the freezes and cold weather that we have experienced.  The middle part of the tree is a kaleidoscope of yellow, red, and brown leaves still attached to the tree.  The lower branches of the tree still have green leaves on them.  It is as if the three seasons of summer, fall, and winter are reflected in this one tree at the same time.

But, I know that this will not last long.  Soon it will grow colder.  The nights longer.  The winter winds will blow.  The tree will lose all of its leaves, and it will seem to sleep through the winter, only to be reborn and resurrected in the spring.  No matter how difficult and painful it is, no matter how hard we want to hang on to summer or fall or winter, change is inevitable.

Watching this process of change in this tree that I drive by everyday reminded me that in this month of January, millions of people will make resolutions to change something about themselves.  Maybe it is their weight, or the way they spend their time or money, or even their future.  But, like the tree, this process of change is a slow and difficult one.  Statistics tell us that these almost all of these resolutions that we make will last only a matter of weeks, if that long.

Likewise, change is a slow and difficult process as we seek to follow Jesus.  But it is possible.  Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”(NRSV)  Through Christ, there is hope for a positive change in our lives and in the world around us.  The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, called this process of changing to become more like Jesus Sanctifying Grace, that grace that helps us grow and mature in our faith.

Pay attention to the changes in the world going around you.  Make a resolution to change something in your life.  Decide to start today to claim the new creation that God has created us to be in Jesus Christ and allow God’s sanctifying grace to abound in your life.  Take a lesson from a tree that change is a process and does not happen easily, nor overnight.  You could be the one that is reborn and resurrected, not just the tree!

Seeking change for the better,

Kevin

Seeking? The King?

Seeking? The King?

Seeking the King Hawesville Baptist Churchseeking-the-king

One of the joys of serving First United Methodist Church Winnfield, LA is being a part of their outstanding music program.  It has been many years since I sang with a choir and I am enjoying singing with our choir each Sunday.  Like many choirs, we put on a special Christmas program.  Our program was on December 18, 2016 and featured many of our children as “actors” in the familiar Christmas story from Matthew and Luke.  I was blessed to be asked to sing the solo part for the song “Seeking the King” by Pepper Choplin.  I don’t have the technological knowledge to share the video from our program, so you will find a link at the top of this post to the same song performed by the choir at Hawesville Baptist Church in Hawesville, Kentucky.

More important than the beautiful music, we should consider the words to the song.
Seeking the King by Pepper Choplin
Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking, the newborn King.
The road is dark, the dust is dry. We find our path by starlight. We are seeking the King, we are seeking the King, seeking. Though we are tired, the journey’s long, we walk in faith to carry on. We are seeking, seeking the King, we are seeking the King, we are seeking the King.
We bring gold to crown Him with royalty, frankincense to show His divinity. We bring myrrh, the fragrance used when someone dies, though we’re not sure the reason why.
Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King.
Now, we are so tired, we’ve come so far, but now, once again, we see the star. We see the star, now we rejoice with great joy, we rejoice with great joy, we rejoice with great joy. We’re rejoicing, for now we see the star of wonder, start of night, star of royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to Thy perfect light. Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to Thy perfect light.
Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King.
And when we find the newborn King, our greatest gift we then shall bring when we worship the King. We will worship the King. When we worship the King, we will worship the King, we will worship the King, we will worship the newborn King.
wise-men-still-seek-him-1-728

As I learned the solo and begin to think about the appearance of the Wise Men for Epiphany on January 6, I was struck once again by the faith and commitment on the part of the Wise Men to seek this unknown, newborn king.  I was reminded that the things we most often seem to seek, prosperity, possessions, peace, and many others, seem to pale in comparison to what the Wise Men sought.

My wife has a sweatshirt that she often wears this time of year, that has a star, wise men on camels, and, emblazoned in big letters, the words “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”  So I ask myself, and you, what are we seeking in this new year?  Is it the King of Kings?
What Do You Cling to in the Storm?

What Do You Cling to in the Storm?

A Ruby Throated Hummingbird clings to a feeder outside our kitchen window on a stormy day.

A Ruby Throated Hummingbird clings to a feeder outside our kitchen window on a stormy day.

On Saturday, August 30, 2014 a storm rolled through our village with heavy rain and strong winds.  The airport in McComb, Mississippi recorded a gust of 34 mph and sustained winds of 17 mph (http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KMCB/2014/8/30/DailyHistory.html).  There are probably places where winds like this would be normal, but that is not the case here in my corner of Louisiana.  I had put the dogs out before the storm and was looking out of the kitchen window, where our hummingbird feeder was located, watching the storm roll in.  While looking out of our window, I was surprised to see that the storm had not slowed down our hummingbirds one bit!  All of the other birds, the chickadees, the titmice, the cardinals, the sparrows, were taking shelter and waiting out the storm to feed, but the smallest of all of the birds was still out in the tempest, fighting to get something to eat.  I was reminded of this picture I took several years ago while we were being assaulted by one of the tropical systems to make its way through South Louisiana (I think I took it during Tropical Storm Lee in September of 2011).  As I watched the hummingbirds in the storm, I couldn’t help but wonder what you and I cling to in the storm.

I wish I could tell you that storms would never come, but that is not true.  Growing up in South Louisiana, watching the tropics was a part of my everyday life.  In the 8 years we lived in Tangipahoa, we have gone through Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Lee, and Tropical Storm Karen.  That is not to mention the 3 snowfalls and numerous thunderstorms.  Personally, we are suffering through a storm as my parents and thousands of others in the Baton Rouge area and all across South Louisiana have flooded due to historic rainfall.  Life has changed for many, maybe even permanently.

Of course, there are other kinds of storms in our lives.  Ones that do not involve water or wind or earthquakes.  The death of a loved one, a prolonged or sudden illness, age, loss of a job, or any multitude of other things can shake us to our core as quickly as a California earthquake.  What do we hold on to during these times?  What do we cling to in the storm?

I imagine that we, like this hummingbird, cling to that which is most important to us in the storm.  Family, friends, and faith may be some of the things that we cling to when the wind blows and the rain pours.  As important as friends and family are, they have their limits.  Like all humans, they are limited in time, strength and resources.  But there is one who is not limited by time, strength or resources- God.  So when the storm comes, as it does for all of us, I believe that we should not only turn to friends, family, and the church, but to God.

Psalm 46:1-3 reads “1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” This scripture describe dark and difficult times, much like we are going through, much like all of us go through at one time or another.  But the Psalmist is clear that we will not fear and even ends with these words “10Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge”.  When tough times come, when the storm comes, cling to faith in God, family and friends to get us through.

Rolling out the Welcome Mat

Sign welcoming us to the City of Fairbanks

Sign welcoming us to the City of Fairbanks

We arrived into Fairbanks via train.  As we were coming into Fairbanks, I saw something I had never seen before.  A family had pulled on to the side of the highway as our train passed by, pulled out a homemade “Welcome to Fairbanks” sign, and waved as we passed.  As far as I could tell, they were just a regular family, not tourist professionals, but they seemed excited that we had traveled to their city.  Not just in Fairbanks, but all across Alaska, the people seemed to really appreciate and welcome us to their state.  In almost every store the clerks said “thank you for visiting” even when we didn’t buy anything.  It was as if the people of Alaska realized that their state wasn’t “just around the corner” for many of their visitors and they really appreciated the time, effort and money that the visitors (like us) put in to visit Alaska.

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t crabby and obstinate people in Alaska (though I don’t recall meeting any), but I couldn’t help but wonder how we receive people here in Louisiana.  Like Alaska, the Louisiana tourist industry is a big part of our state.  This commercial by Louisiana Tourism that I have seen on television recently, states that we have over 25 million visitors to  Louisiana, and 1 in 11 jobs in our state is related to tourism.  Tourism brings in over $10.4 billion dollars to our state.  And there are great things to see in our state- Audubon Zoo, D-Day Museum, Aquarium of the Americas, Superdome, Poverty Point, Antebellum homes, state parks, and so much more.  Who wouldn’t want to come and see these great things?  But for those of us who are “home folks”, I sure hope we say “Welcome to Louisiana” and “Thank you for visiting Louisiana.”

If we welcome visitors to our state and businesses, shouldn’t we welcome them to our church?  After all church is where we gather to worship the living God, to remember God’s grace, mercy and love, as well as how faith has made a difference in our lives.  The first step, of course, is to invite people to church (see blog post “Fishing for People” from June 26, 2014), but once they come to church we must also welcome them like they are loved and appreciated children of God.  And we don’t have a lot of time to welcome them.  This article http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/153325-5-important-facts-about-first-time-guests.html?p=1 by Rick Ezell states that guests make up their minds about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit.  He also states that most church members aren’t friendly.  He writes “Churches claim to be friendly. In fact, many churches put that expression in their logo or tag line. But my experience in visiting churches as a first-time guest proves otherwise. The truth is that most church members are friendly to the people they already know, but not to guests.”  When we are not friendly to guests, then the guests remember that we aren’t the only game in town and may go down the street to the next church, just as we might choose to shop at another store if the one we usually shop at doesn’t have what we need or want.  Rick reminds churches that they are (or should be) in the hospitality business. “Though our ultimate purpose is spiritual, one of our first steps in the Kingdom business is attention to hospitality. Imagine the service that would be given to you in a first-class hotel or a five-star restaurant. Should the church offer anything less to those who have made the great effort to be our guests?”  United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase has even listed Radical Hospitality as one of the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (source:http://fivepractices.org/radical-hospitality/).  The wonderful and scary thing is that how we treat and welcome others not only reflects on our church, our denomination, but on God.  If we don’t treat welcome guests with the love and respect they deserve, they could decide that God wouldn’t welcome them either or that God doesn’t love them.

So what can we do?  We can make a concerted effort to welcome those who we don’t know, even if we are not ushers, or the pastor, or if it is not our “job.” (Remember that homemade welcome sign to Fairbanks?)  Maybe one way to do this would be to follow the rule of ten, meaning that we greet anyone within ten feet of us, whether we know them or not.  Or we could follow the rule of three, which encourages us to spend the first three minutes after the service ends to welcome and greet those we don’t know, since most guests leave within three minutes after the service is over.  These are only a few ways to welcome and greet others, maybe you know of others.  Whoever we are and whatever we do, let us make an effort to roll out the welcome mat and greet others in church, in our businesses, and even visitors to our state.

Questions to consider:  When were you welcomed well to a city/state/business/church and how did it make you feel?  When were you not welcomed to a city/state/business/church and how did it make you feel?  What is God calling you to do to welcome others to your church and business?