Caring For God’s House

IMG_1044(Author’s note: this article originally appeared in the June Edition of the FUMC Winnfield newsletter The Cross and Tower)

We are blessed to have beautiful church facilities at FUMC Winnfield. Our Family Life Center, Fellowship Hall, offices, classrooms, and sanctuary provide a beautiful place for us to experience God and serve the community. The parsonage is one of the nicest homes in which we have lived. We are blessed that those who have gone before us had the foresight to leave us such a beautiful place to worship, learn, play, fellowship, and work.

It is our responsibility to maintain and add to the functionality and the beauty of our facility.  Our buildings are no longer young. The main building that houses our Sanctuary, Fellowship Hall, Offices and most of our classrooms was built in in 1952, 66 years ago. The last major renovation in that building was 1980, 38 years ago. The Family Life Center was built in 1982,36 years ago, and has undergone few changes with the exception of a new coating to fix a leaky roof in 2017, which cost more than $30,000. The trustees committee believes that the time has come to help our buildings continue to be both beautiful and functional.

The trustees will be bringing a proposal to Administrative Council on June 10 to replace all carpet downstairs in the main building, the stairways, and in the hallway upstairs. The cost for this renovation should be about $10,000. The trustees have also approved a new security door for the Fellowship Hall to protect us and our children which should be in place soon. A new one compartment sink in the Fellowship Hall kitchen has also been approved. The playground project has started with several new picnic tables and we are almost 75% of the way to our $20,000 goal. We would like to replace the flooring in the FLC, but this appears to be a project that would cost at least $15-30,000 and would stretch our funds to the limit.

In Exodus 35, God’s people willingly gave of their own resources to outfit God’s tabernacle. Gold, silver, bronze, fine linen, oil, acacia wood, spices, onyx, jewels and other resources were given by a people camping out in the wilderness near Mt. Sinai. If they gave of their resources to build God’s house, it seems that we should follow in their footsteps and in the footsteps of all who have gone before us at FUMC Winnfield to care for and beautify God’s house. Here’s a few ideas how you can help.

(1) Make a gift to the Capitol Improvement Fund. This dedicated fund is used to fund many of the improvement projects, such as the carpet replacement, at our church.
(2) Help us keep our building clean. Even small things, such as throwing away your bulletin after Sunday service or cleaning up after yourself can add up to be a big time and money saver.
(3) Be a good steward. Turning off lights when you leave a room, or turning the thermostat up on the air conditioning when you leave, can help us save money on our utilities.
(4) Give your time. The trustees are planning a church work day in September when you can volunteer a few hours of your time to maintain and beautify our building. No special skills required, but if you have some abilities you would like to volunteer or see needs at our facility, please let us know.

We are truly blessed to have such beautiful and functional facilities. We are grateful for those who came before us who provided God’s house for us to use, enjoy, and worship. Like the Israelites, and those who came before us, we are called to provide for and care for God’s house. Will you help us? For our sake, for the sake of those that passed this heritage on to us, and for the sake of those that will come after us, I pray that you will help us care for and beautify God’s house.

Caring for God’s House,
Kevin Smith

Eating With Ghosts

luke 24_36-48(Author’s note:  this is the introduction to my sermon “Eating With Ghosts” from Luke 24:36-48 on April 15, 2018 at FUMCWinnfield)

A company once hired a recent immigrant and put him to work in the mail room. To the foreman’s shock, the guy was a whiz. He stood in front of the sorting racks and shuffled the letters into slots with amazing speed. The foreman had never seen anything like it. At the end of the day, the foreman shook the new man’s hand, thanked him and said, “I’ve never seen anyone who could sort mail as fast as you.” The new immigrant smiled and said, “You think I’m good now, you wait until I can read English.” (source: The Jokesmith)

Maybe that explains some of the mail in my mailbox. My apologies to anyone who works in the post office. But the truth is that we are cynical and skeptical. Too many times we have been let down. Too many times promises have been broken. And yet, every once in a while, we get pleasantly surprised. Something that seems too good to be true.

That’s the scene in today’s scripture. The disciples are huddled together and Cleopas and his companion enter and add word of their encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. (you can read that story in Luke 24:13-35). Luke describes the scene like this: “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost” (v. 36). Imagine how we would have reacted to this first appearance of the risen Christ after his resurrection. This account picks us up at a point where — were we to be present at Easter’s ground zero — we also would have been “startled,” and “terrified.” But Jesus seeks to calm their fears. He reassures them that it is he, inviting them to touch him, and then does a simple act that no ghost would ever do- he asks them for something to eat, then eats the food in their presence. Suddenly it becomes evident to the disciples that this is no ghost that they are eating with. It is the resurrected and living messiah, son of God. How would we react? What would we say if Jesus suddenly appeared to us? If one that we thought was dead, was a ghost, showed up to eat lunch with us? Here’s how the first disciple’s reacted.

Cheering and Encouraging Others

SO_Louisiana_Mark_XXX_XXX-21(Author’s note: this article originally appeared in the April edition of “The Cross and Tower” newsletter from FUMC Winnfield.  The entire newsletter can be viewed at http://www.fumcwinnfield.com)

On March 15, 2018, I was invited to speak for a few moments at the Winn Parish Special Olympics at Stokes Walker Stadium on the campus of Winnfield Senior High School. I also led the athletes and spectators in the Special Olympics pledge “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” It was a great privilege to play a small part in this special event for these special needs students from all over Winn Parish.

I was touched by so many volunteers, adults, teachers, youth, who made this a special day for these students. I was touched by the big smiles on the faces of the students as they ran, jumped, and were awarded medals for competing. I was touched by the crowd that cheered and yelled as each student competed in the events.

But what really got my attention was the finish line of the races. As each competitor raced, student volunteers held up and waved signs of encouragement. Other volunteers cheered and applauded. Each competitor received hugs, high fives, and a medal as he or she crossed the finish line. Inevitably, whether the finish was in first place, second place, or even last place, smiles and joy was the result for the competitor.

As I watched, I wondered what would happen to us if we intentionally tried to be encouraging. How would the world change if we smiled more, gave more high fives, a few more hugs, and cheered for one another? This world is full of criticism, disappointment, trouble, and frowns. But what would happen if we learned from these special Olympians and those volunteers to cheer for and encourage others rather than discourage and marginalize others?

There’s no way to know what would happen, but my guess is that if we truly cheered for and encouraged others, we would have fewer tragedies like 17 students killed in a high school shooting. We would likely see violence decrease. Maybe we would remember what we have in common rather than our differences. Maybe our world would change, one person, one special person, at a time.

Can you imagine what would happen in our church if we made a habit of cheering on and encouraging others? If we patted people on the back and said “great job” instead of criticizing and cutting down? It seems like this is God’s design for His church. I Thessalonians 5:11, written by Paul to the church at Thessalonika, says “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Paul’s clear expectation for the church is that we are already cheering for, helping, and encouraging each other.

Who are you cheering for? Who are you encouraging? Cheering and encouragement made a difference for these special needs children and it will make a difference in the lives of those you help. Thank you to the Winn Parish Special Olympics for allowing me to help. And thank you for reminding me how important it is to cheer on and encourage others.

Looking to Cheer for and Encourage Others,
Kevin D. Smith

Will You Join the Parade?

palm_9427p(Author’s note: this is the conclusion of my message titled “Will You Join the Parade” on March 25, 2018 [Palm Sunday] at FUMC Winnfield.)

When the Salvation Army first went to India, the British authorities were concerned about them, and issued an order that no open meetings and no parades were to be held. But Commissioner Tucker of the Salvation Army decided that order must be defied. One day the Salvation Army came marching down the street. They were met by soldiers. The officer in charge said, “In the name of her majesty, the Queen of England, I order you to disperse.” But Tucker replied, “In the name of the King of kings, I order you to stand aside.” They stood aside.

One day, one palm-waving day, Jesus marched right into Jerusalem, the Holy City, and said to everything unholy, “Stand aside.” And he is calling us to join him in the parade, and to say to everything keeping us from him, “Stand aside.” When we dare to do it those things will stand aside. His kingdom will live in us, and we will help spread his rule in his world.

Palm Sunday. It reminds us of how Jesus came, humble and riding on a donkey and that God has need of even us. It reminds us of the reaction of the crowd, that they cried “Hosanna” one day and shouted “crucify him” a few days later. And it reminds us that it still has meaning for us to worship and follow Jesus. Would you dare to do it? Will you join the parade?

The God of Second Chances

second_chance-696x397Author’s note: every week I run across good stories and illustrations that I just don’t have enough time for in my sermon.  Today’s story is a challenging one that was left on the cutting room floor for my sermon on March 18, 2018 from Jeremiah 31:31-34.  I have the source listed as “Adapted from Andrew H. Rogers, https://sermons.logos.com/submissions/11254-The-Blood#content=/submissions/11254.”

One night in a church service a young woman felt the tug of the Holy Spirit in her heart. She responded to God’s call and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. The young woman had a very rough past, involving alcohol, drugs and prostitution. But, the change in her was evident. As time went on she became a faithful member of the church. She eventually became involved in the ministry of the church. It was not very long until this physically and spiritually beautiful young woman caught the eye and the heart of the pastor’s son. The relationship grew, he asked her to marry him, and they began to make wedding plans. This is when the problems began.

You see, about one half of the church did not think that a woman with a past such as hers was suitable for the pastor’s son. The church began to argue and fight about the matter. So they decided to have a meeting. As the people made their arguments and tensions increased, the meeting got completely out of hand. The young woman became very upset about all the things being brought up about her past. As she began to cry, the pastor’s son stood to speak. He could not bear the pain all this was causing the woman he loved who was soon to be his wife. He began to speak and his statement was this: “My fiancé’s past is not what is on trial here. What you are questioning is the ability of Christ to wash away our sin and make us new persons. Maybe we are even questioning whether or not Christ can wash away my and your sins, even the worst of them. So, does he wash away sin or not?”

The whole church began to weep as they realized that they had been slandering the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Too often, even as Christians, we bring up the past and use it as a weapon against our brothers and sisters.  Forgiveness is a foundational part of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  If the blood of Jesus does not cleanse the other person completely then it cannot cleanse us completely.  If that is the case, then we are all in a lot of trouble.  What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus! End of case!!!!

It is a powerful question: Does Christ wash away sin or not? If he does not, we are all in trouble. What about us? Are we willing to give a second chance?  In Jeremiah, God says to us, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” In Jeremiah, the people of Israel had completely broken their covenant promises and God was upset. They had blown it big time. Only a miracle could save them now. That miracle was to be found in the love, forgiveness, and second chances of God.

A Prescription for Salvation

numbers-bronze20snake

(Author’s note: this is the introduction to my sermon on March 11, 2018 “A Prescription for Salvation” from Numbers 21:4-9 at First United Methodist Church Winnfield, LA)

A guide at Blarney Castle in Ireland was explaining to some visitors that his job was not always as pleasant as it seemed. He told them about a group of disgruntled tourists he had taken to the castle earlier in the week. “These people were complaining about everything,” he said. “They didn’t like the weather, the food, their hotel accommodations, the prices, everything. Then to top it off, when we arrived at the castle, we found that the area around the Blarney Stone was roped off. Workmen were making some kind of repairs.” “This is the last straw!” exclaimed one lady who seemed to be the chief faultfinder in the group. “I’ve come all this way, and now I can’t even kiss the Blarney Stone.”

“Well, you know,” the guide said, “according to legend, if you kiss someone who has kissed the stone, it’s the same as kissing the stone itself.” “And I suppose you’ve kissed the stone,” said the exasperated lady. “Better than that.” replied the guide. “I’ve sat on it and you’re more than welcome to kiss me there.”

Last Sunday we left the people of Israel at Mount Sinai where they had received the commandments of God. They spent about a year at this holy mountain. (They arrived at Sinai in Exodus 19:1; they did not break camp until Numbers 10:11.)  In today’s text, the people of Israel are like those complaining tourists.  In our text for today, they are on the move again through the wilderness. God had graciously provided for their needs with manna in the morning, but all they had was an attitude: “We detest this miserable food” (v. 5)! It was manna, heavenly food, but they were tired of it. We don’t really know what “manna” means. Some scholars say that the word “manna” came from the word meaning “what is this”, others say it comes from the word “to despise,” so that the very name of the daily provision from the hand of God was being mocked every time they gathered it in the morning.

Because of their complaining, God infected them with a plague of poisonous snakes. This is a strange and maybe even repulsive story to us. This story still has meaning for us because the Israelites are not any different from us, and I believe God teaches us a three-part lesson through this experience of the children of Israel: first, their discontent (vv. 4-6); second, their petition. (vv. 6-7); third, God’s prescription (vv. 8-9).

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?

Essential Equipment

modem-and-router
Disaster struck our office Monday morning. The internet network went down. I know, I know, on the scale of disasters, the internet going out does not even rate a blip on the radar. But suddenly, those things that we take for granted like email, online ordering, social networking and so many other things critical and necessary to run our office were suddenly impossible or much more difficult.

Later that day, a coworker dropped her phone and the screen turned a sickly shade of yellow, then went black. Dead. Gone. Broken in a minute. The phone may be gone, but the information stored on it is not. Contacts lost. Passwords to reset. A new phone is on the way, but the loss is in time spent as much as dollars.

My intent is not so much to consider how technology has become essential equipment to the way we conduct our lives, businesses, and relationships, as to think about what is most important in our businesses, lives and faith.  What is truly essential?

There is essential equipment in everything that we do. If I am going fishing, I need, at the minimum, a rod, reel, line, hooks and bait. At the baseball field, a bat, ball, gloves, and bases are essential equipment. On the football field, a ball, helmets, pads, and cleats are essential equipment. This is only the beginning. We need a vehicle to get us to work, closets full of clothes to wear for work and play, and the list could go on. The truth is that most of us have more than enough stuff.

What if that “stuff” suddenly went away, like our internet network, or the phone, or the essential equipment for our lives and businesses? What would remain? For many people in my hometown of Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas during the great flood of August 2016, that is exactly what happened. For many of those people, all that remained was family, friends and faith.

We are not the only ones that have experienced loss. In the Old Testament book of Job, Job loses his wealth, much of his family, even his health in a short time period (Job 1:13-19). What did he cling to? What was essential equipment for Job? Faith, friends and family. That’s not to say it was easy. Job questioned God (Job chapter 3). His well-intentioned friends said the wrong things(Job chapters 4-5, 8, 11). Job’s wife even advised him to curse God and die (Job 2:9-10). Yet Job still held on to the essential things. When the world, or technology, doesn’t go your way, hold on to the essential equipment of family, friends, and faith.

Questions to ponder: What is essential equipment to you? What would make your business, life, or passions impossible or more difficult if it went away? What would you do if those things we see as essential were suddenly gone? How do we find and hold on to the most important things in a world full of stuff?