Series: With Grateful Hearts
Sermon: Made for Gratitude
Scripture Readings: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Luke 17:11-19
And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:14b-19)
Monday November 12 — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians ends with a series of exhortations. Throughout his letters, he uses similar language to urge new Christians to faithful life. He calls on them to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. (See Philippians 4:4-9 for another example.) We should remember that first century life was not always easy, especially for followers of Jesus. But they discovered that their relationship with God could be filled with both gratitude and joy, even in most difficult of circumstances. As far as you are able, “give thanks in all circumstances” this week.
• Prayer: Eternal God, help me be able to rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all circumstances this week. Help me remember that gratitude is one of the keys to a meaningful life. Amen.
Tuesday November 13 — Luke 17:11-19
Luke’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the ten lepers has meaning on a variety of levels. It demonstrates Jesus’ love for people on the margins of society. Lepers were outcasts—literally cast out of their communities—and one of them was a Samaritan, a “foreigner” according to Jesus’ own words. But most importantly, this story describes the life-changing power of God’s saving grace, which was received by the one leper when he gave thanks for the gift of healing. Have you thanked God for the gift of salvation that God gives you through Jesus?
• Prayer: God of Saving Grace, thank you for healing the brokenness of my heart and forgiving my sin. Thank you for making me whole. Thank you for saving me. Amen.
Wednesday November 14 —Luke 22:14-19
Giving thanks was an integral aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry. We can imagine the human emotions Jesus experienced at the last meal with his disciples, yet he took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples. Following Jesus’ example, in churches around the world, we still take bread, give thanks to God, break the bread and share it, as Jesus’ disciples. Read John 11:41-44 and note that in his prayer for Lazarus, Jesus first thanked his heavenly Father. The point is: if Jesus practiced gratitude, so can we. When and where will you be thanking God today?
• Prayer: Merciful God, forgive me for not acknowledging the many ways you have blessed my life. Forgive me for not practicing gratitude each and every day. Amen.
Thursday November 15 — Luke 8:4-8, 11-15
In his parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus’ describes the fruit-bearing nature of God’s kingdom. The sower (God) sows the seed so that it will bear fruit! Jesus also describes the need for the seed to be cultivated in good soil. Many of our lives are more like the seed that fell among the thorns, “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). Gratitude is one of the spiritual disciplines that cultivates the soil of our lives so that God’s word can bear fruit in and through us. How does your practice of gratitude this week help you be receptive to God’s word?
• Prayer: Loving God, I find myself in Jesus’ parable every day. Sometimes I am like the path. Sometimes I am a nest of thorns. Let your Word find good soil in me today. Amen.
Friday November 16 — 1 Timothy 6:6-10
One of the primary concerns of the New Testament’s Letters to Timothy is that the pursuit of godliness can be derailed by our love for money and our insatiable desire for more and more. If we desire the kind of contentment we find in the New Testament, we will continue to practice gratitude. We will recognize the blessings we have received. We will acknowledge that they are a freely given gift from God. And we will be thankful. Every day. For what are you most thankful today?
• Prayer: God of Abundance, I know that I am blessed in ways that I do not deserve. Yet I always want more and more. Forgive me. Grant me the gift of contentment today. Amen.
Saturday November 17 — Psalm 92:1-4
The 92nd Psalm has a heading in most translations that says that it is, “A Song for the Sabbath Day” (NRSV). It calls God’s people to worship the Lord with praise and thanksgiving. It is an invitation for the community to gather and praise God together. It reminds us that worship is first and foremost a declaration of God’s goodness (praise) and an expression of gratitude (thanksgiving) for all that God has done, is doing, and promises to do in our lives. Count your blessings today. Prepare your heart and mind to worship God tomorrow.
• Prayer: Almighty God, prepare my heart and mind to worship you in praise and thanksgiving. Help me focus my attention on you and you alone. Amen.
Series: The Good Life
Sermon: Success and the Good Life
Scripture Readings: Galatians 6:7-10, Matthew 22:34-40
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10)
Monday November 5 — Matthew 22:34-40
There are many keys to living the good life. We’ve considered several of them: gratitude, purpose, simplicity (creating margin), and generosity. But the most important keys to the good life that God desires for us are found in relationships. Jesus makes this clear. We experience the good life when we love God with our entire being and love our neighbors in the same way that God loves them. As you think about the most important relationships in your life, think about ways that you might strengthen them this week. How might you grow in love for God and neighbor?
• Prayer: Loving God, I know that the only way I can obey Jesus’ command to love my neighbor is by loving you. Help me increase my love for you this week. Amen.
Tuesday November 6 — 2 Peter 1:3-8
The good news is that in Jesus God has given us everything we need to live the good life. In 2 Peter 1:5-7, we find the characteristics of the good life that are made possible by God’s divine power (see 2 Peter 1:3). Use Peter’s list (faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love) to review your life. Which of these characteristics are most evident in your day-to-day living? Which of these characteristics need your attention?
• Prayer: Eternal God, thank you for giving me everything I need to live the good life. Help me continue to grow in knowledge and love for you and your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Wednesday November 7 — 2 Corinthians 9:5-15
On his missionary journeys, the apostle Paul received an offering for the church in Jerusalem. The purpose of the offering was two-fold. First and foremost, Paul wanted to bless the believers in Jerusalem in their time of need. But he also wanted the Corinthians to experience the blessing of being generous and living out Jesus’ command to love their neighbors. He says that their generosity glorifies God (2 Corinthians 9:13). How is God glorified in your daily living?
• Prayer: God of Grace, you call us to love our neighbor, not just with words, but in actions. Inspire in me a desire to glorify you by caring for people in need. Amen.
Thursday November 8 — Romans 12:9-21, 13:8
Since the time of Jesus, loving people in real and tangible ways (not by simply thinking good thoughts or saying the right words) has been the hallmark of Jesus’ followers. Paul emphasizes the characteristics of Christ-like love in several of his letters. (See Galatians 5:14 for another example.) Think about your experience with other believers in the Church. How do you think non-Christians view believers? Do you think love is the hallmark of Christians in the world today? Jesus says that they will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35). Is that true for you?
• Prayer: God of Love, forgive me for failing to love you and my neighbor without hesitation or reservation. Make love for you and my neighbor the hallmark of my life. Amen.
Friday November 9 — Colossians 3:9-17
Through his letter to the Colossians, Paul instructs us to pay attention to the wardrobe of our hearts, not just the wardrobes found in our closets. He says that Jesus’ followers are to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love. By wearing these “clothes” every day and nurturing our relationship with God, we will be able to fulfill the command found in Colossians 3:17. Do everything in the name of Jesus today and see what happens.
• Prayer: Almighty God, I am humbled by the contrast between your expectations and the reality of my life. Today I choose to seek your will in everything I do. Amen.
Saturday November 10 — 1 John 4:7-12
If we want to live the good life, we will need to improve our love life, that is: our willingness and ability to love God and love our neighbor every moment of every day. This is where Jesus is pointing us in Matthew 5:48. But the truth is that without God’s love abiding in our hearts, we will never be able to love as we should. If you want to improve your love life, accept the good news that God loves you, forgives you, and saves you (from the power of sin and death) through Jesus. Spend time in prayer today. Accept God’s gift of love. Nurture your love life. Live the good life.
- Prayer: Gracious God, today I confess my need for your forgiveness and I accept your gift of saving grace through Jesus. I know you love me and I choose to follow Jesus.
Dear St. Matthew’s Church Family,
To start with: don’t forget that daylight saving time ends on Saturday evening. That means we get an extra hour to catch up on sleep and be well rested for worship and Sunday School!
Next, and this is very important: during all three services on Sunday (November 4) you’ll have an opportunity to renew your commitment to God and the ministries of St. Matthew’s Church through your 2019 Estimate of Giving. We handed out these forms in worship last Sunday and you should have received another copy in the mail this week. If you haven’t done so already, I hope you will take some time to prayerfully consider how you will respond to God’s blessings in your life through tithes and offerings, then fill out your form and bring it with you to one of Sunday’s worship services. If you need a copy of the form, you can download it at this link. You can also make your Estimate of Giving online. There are four specific things that I hope you’ll consider:
1. Return an Estimate of Giving form regardless of the amount. We hope that everyone who considers St. Matthew’s their church home and is blessed by God through the church’s ministry (whether officially a member or not) will participate. Even if your giving for 2019 will be unchanged from 2018, please let us know through a new Estimate of Giving form.
2. If you are not currently giving to the church, commit to giving something on a regular basis, regardless of the amount. I believe you’ll discover the life-changing power of generosity and experience an increased sense of joy and peace.
3. If you are a regular giver, but you are not yet tithing (the Biblical standard of returning the first 10 percent of what you receive to God), I hope you will take a step in that direction, and increase your giving for 2019 by 1% to 3% of your annual income. That’s how most people who tithe reach that goal – by increasing a few percentage points every year. (As I said on Sunday, the tithe is the floor for giving, not the ceiling.)
4. Online giving is available. If you want to set-up automatic payments to the church, you can use the online Estimate of Giving link. You can also fill out the back of the Estimate of Giving form we’ve sent you and bring it on Sunday or send it to the church office. Online giving saves church resources and makes sure you can fulfill your commitment when you are traveling. Many people find online giving helps them grow in their stewardship. Please note: if you use our automatic online giving service, it must be reauthorized every year.
Don’t forget that our giving is first and foremost a response to God’s grace. It is one of the keys to living the good life that we seek. It is an expression of worship and an act of Christian discipleship. It is also an investment in the ministry of our church and the lives of every person affected by our ministry. Through your giving, God uses St. Matthew’s Church to change lives, bless our community, and transform the world in Jesus’ name.
Last month, the St. Matthew’s Church Council approved a $1,170,000 spending plan for 2019, which is a decrease of 3.3% from 2018. Despite the decrease, the spending plan still funds programs and ministries that the Council believes will accomplish the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and blessing our community. It includes funding for worship, music, children, youth, and adult discipleship ministries; funding for mission, outreach, and evangelism programs. It also provides for the church’s staff, maintains the church’s facilities, and contributes to the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church in Virginia and around the world.
I’m thankful that the Church Council took the budget planning challenge seriously and prioritized the programs and ministries that will accomplish the Church’s mission. But as you might expect, they were not able to fund everything that was requested. Going into 2019 we have just under $80,000 in unfunded or underfunded requests (which include funds for long-term capital improvements, continuing education for staff, and new initiatives like video live-streaming.) The Council hopes that by the end of 2019, they will be able to fund everything that was requested and more. However, this will not be possible without the generosity of the St. Matthew’s Church family.
The bottom line is that a miracle occurs every time you and I return to God a portion of what we’ve been given. God’s blesses our offerings and uses them into transform our lives and the lives of every person who is impacted by the ministry of St. Matthew’s Church. Thank you for changing the world.
Finally, Sunday is All Saints’ Sunday. We will honor the members of our church family and our own families who have died in the past year. We will also conclude our short series of sermons about The Good Life. This week’s message is called Success and the Good Life. It will be based on Galatians 6:7-10 and Matthew 22:34-40. We will consider two final keys to living the kind of life that God desires for us.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Series: The Good Life
Sermon: Money and the Good Life
Scripture Readings: Malachi 3:7-10, 1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Monday October 29 — 1 Timothy 6:6-19
Let’s be clear, the Bible does not say that having money or possessions is bad. The Bible is very clear, however, that we can too easily be seduced by the lure of wanting more (and more.) We can too easily believe that our worth as human beings is determined by our financial net worth. The Bible is clear that the love of money interferes with our relationship with God. This is why Timothy is reminded to teach Jesus’ disciples about contentment. Spend time this week thinking and praying about your relationship with money. How might you grow in contentment?
- Prayer: Merciful God, forgive me for the ways I let my love for money interfere with my relationship with you. Help me resist the temptation to want more and more.
Tuesday October 30 — Malachi 3:7-10
The Bible calls on God’s people to tithe, to give the first ten percent of what we have received back to God. Tithing reminds us that all we have ultimately comes from God. Tithing is an act of worship—a sign of our trust in God’s promises. According to Malachi, when we withhold our tithes, we are “robbing God.” But the truth is that when we withhold tithes and offerings, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to grow in discipleship through generosity. How do you feel about Malachi’s warning about “robbing God” and the invitation to put God “to the test”?
- Prayer: Generous God, I am thankful for all that I have, because I know that it ultimately comes from you. Give me the courage I need to trust your promises.
Wednesday October 31 — Luke 12:13-21
Jesus does not use the same language (about robbing God) that we find in Malachi 3, but his words are still hard-hitting. He warns us about “all kinds of greed” (Luke 12:15). Jesus doesn’t diminish the importance of money. He knows that it is very important. He says that our heart (and our head) goes wherever our money goes (see Matthew 6:21). He wants us to use our money in a way that strengthens our relationship with God. How does the way you use your money reflect your priorities? How does the way you use your money strengthen your relationship with God?
- Prayer: Eternal God, forgive me for the ways I am affected by “all kinds of greed.” Help me understand what you want me to do with all that you have given me.
Thursday November 1 — Luke 14:7-14
People who lived in the time of Jesus were no different that we are. Just like us, they paid attention to social status. They sought honor and recognition. Having wealth was a sign of status and worth. But Jesus turned conventional wisdom on its head. He insisted that God’s Kingdom does not operate with the same values as human society. His words, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled” (Luke 14:11) would have been hard to hear. What do you think when you hear them?
- Prayer: Loving God, I confess that I am too often troubled by what Jesus says and does. I have much to learn to about being one of his disciples. Help me grow in my faith.
Friday November 2 — Matthew 20:20-28
At this point in the Gospel story, James and John (and their mother) did not fully comprehend the differences between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. The kingdoms of the world reward ambition, power, and wealth, but the Kingdom of God calls for sacrificial love and service, the kind modeled by Jesus on the cross. Jesus insists that true greatness is found in service to others. Using Jesus’ criteria, are you striving for greatness in your life?
- Prayer: God of Sacrificial Love, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for his teaching and his example. Most of all, thank you for the gift of salvation he offers all of us.
Saturday November 3 — John 10:7-15
The many Gospel passages that call for sacrifice and service can be difficult to understand and even more difficult to put into practice. That’s why we need to remember that Jesus insists that he has come so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The challenge for us is make certain that we use the same definition of abundance that Jesus uses. Given what you know about Jesus’ life and ministry, how do you think Jesus defines abundance? What helps you trust that God’s gift of abundant life really is the good life?
- Prayer: God of Life, forgive me for not fully trusting the promises Jesus makes about living “the good life.” Teach me to trust him. Give me the gift of his abundant life.
Dear St. Matthew’s Church Family,
The next sermon in our current sermon series about The Good Life is very important. It’s called Money and the Good Life. The Scripture readings will be Malachi 3:7-10 and 1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19. Most of us know-at some level-that simply accumulating more and more money and possessions is not the secret to happiness or living a good life. But we also know-at some level-that it is very hard not to measure our lives by how much we have. We are tempted to believe that our value as human beings is closely connected to the value of our financial and material resources. During this week’s message we’ll consider a couple of ways, related to money and possessions, that we can take the next step toward God’s version of the good life. We will be clear that having money and material resources is not a bad thing. But we will also be clear that God cares about what we do with what we have. I hope you will plan to attend one of our services with your family.
As I’ve been preparing the messages for this sermon series, I’ve been thinking about my personal definition of the good life. In my reflections, I keep going back the messages we preached at this time last year. You may remember them. They were based on the question, How Will You Measure Your Life? Like songs that gets stuck in my brain, the questions keep coming back to me. How do I measure my life? What is really, truly most important? What is God calling and sending me to do at this time in my life? What do I want to accomplish? What do I want my legacy to be? And then … how will I know when I’m living the good life?
I think those questions, when we spend time answering them in the light of our relationship with God, have the power to guide and transform our lives. Even when we’ve answered them in an earlier season of our life, coming back to them on a regular basis helps us stay on track to live the life that we believe God wants us to live.
As I said in last year’s messages, the questions about how we measure our lives are appropriate for individuals, for families, for organizations, and for churches. These are questions that I am going to challenge St. Matthew’s Church to consider: how do we measure our lives together? How do we know when we’re accomplishing God’s purposes for our church and community?
Talking about measuring our lives can sound cold and impersonal. After all, how do we measure things like love and compassion. And I’m not suggesting that we try to reduce Christian faith to numbers that can be tracked on a spreadsheet. In the church we do count participation and attendance, we count dollars given and dollars spent. (If you think counting is unique to the 21stcentury, pay attention to the numbers in the Bible. They have meaning. They help tell God’s story.) My point is that the numbers we track in the church are evidence of the life-changing power of God’s grace. Consider just a few of the numbers by which we can measure our lives: 21 – the number of people who, for the very first time, have professed their faith and promised to serve Jesus as their Lord so far this year; 26 – the average number of classes and small groups that meet every week for the purpose of growing in faith; 58 – the average number of members of the church family who engage in church mission projects every week; 25,872 – the number of dollars distributed to people in need through the Joy Fund so far this year; 40,000 – the number of meals that were prepared last month for Rise Against Hunger; 209,974 – the number of dollars spent on capital improvement projects; 978,218 – the total number of dollars that have been transformed into ministry so far this year.
As we continue to learn how to grow in our faith together and increase the impact of our St. Matthew’s Church in the community (and around the world.) I hope you will recognize that money is part of the story, because money is transformed into ministry, which changes lives, which changes the world. Like you the church wants to do as much as we can to further God’s Kingdom. And we need your help.
Finally, I want to remind you about the next Pub Theology (on Monday, October 29 at 7:00 p.m. at the Auld Shebeen in Fairfax.) Pastor Nickie Moreno Howard and Bethany Printup-Davis (a student a Wesley Seminary) will be talking about their experiences living on the U.S. borders. It is a very relevant topic if you are able to attend.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Series: The Good Life
Sermon: Re-Framing the Good Life
Scripture Readings: Ecclesiastes 2:1-10, Galatians 5:16-23
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)
Monday October 22 — John 12:20-26
The Bible is filled with passages that describe what constitutes “the good life.” What most of us discover, especially when we read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching, is that God’s vision of “the good life” is very different than our own. Jesus’ words in John 12:25 sound very harsh to our ears. He challenges us to make a decision about what is most important. He challenges us to decide whether we trust that life with God is truly “the good life” that we seek. How do define “the good life”? What will help you trust and live into God’s vision for your life?
• Prayer: Eternal God, thank you for the gift of eternal life. Help me trust you enough to set down my vision of a good life and follow Jesus, wherever he leads me. Amen.
Tuesday October 23 — Matthew 5:3-12
The opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) are called The Beatitudes. In them Jesus describes the characteristics of people who are blessed by God and citizens of God’s Kingdom. It’s noteworthy that the people Jesus describes are not the people we would normally think of as “blessed.” In other words, living “the good life” (according to Jesus) is not about being wealthy or successful. It’s about receiving the gift of God’s blessing.
• Prayer: Almighty God, grant me the courage I need to listen to the voice of Jesus and trust fully and completely in his promises. Help me to receive your blessing. Amen.
Wednesday October 24 — Genesis 15:1, 5-6, 13-15
The story of Abraham is a story of living “the good life” as a nomadic life of going where one is sent by God. Read Genesis 12:1-4 for the beginning of the story. It’s the story of obedience. It’s the story of being blessed to be a blessing to the world. But it’s also a story of hardship and suffering. Living according to God’s will does not always go as we would hope or expect. Abraham’s example teaches us that the good life begins with believing and trusting God (Genesis 15:6). Where do you think God might be sending you today? Do you to trust God enough to go where he sends you?
• Prayer: Sending God, I know that following Jesus will take me to places and people that I would not go on my own. Forgive me for resisting. Help me trust you. Amen.
Thursday October 25 — Galatians 5:16-23
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. (Please note that flesh does not refer to the human body. For Paul it refers to our human desire to please ourselves and do whatever we wish.) Clearly Paul’s vision for “the good life” includes the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Which of the Spirit’s fruit are blooming in your life?
• Prayer: Gracious God, plant the seed of your Spirit in my life. Bring forth love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in me. Amen.
Friday October 26 — Acts 20:17-24
According to his speech to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul discovered “the good life” while serving the Lord. His life wasn’t easy. It wasn’t without trials and tribulations. He didn’t try to avoid hardships. In fact, it seems that he relished them as a sign of his faithfulness. He accepted his suffering not as a victim, but as a follower of Jesus. He told the Romans that “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Romans 5:3-4). How might you learn to follow Paul’s example?
• Prayer: Heavenly Father, I want to be like Jesus, even if it means that I will also suffer with him and suffer because of him. I want my life to glorify you at all times. Amen.
Saturday October 27 — Philippians 4:4-9
Read today’s passage one more time. Imagine yourself as the writer but imagine yourself in a prison cell (see Philippians 1:12-14). Consider these words to be a prescription for “the good life”: rejoicing always; letting gentleness be known to all; not worrying about anything; taking everything to God in prayer; giving thanks; being surrounded by the peace of God; focusing on all that is good; and doing the things you’ve learned. How does this sound to you?
• Prayer: God of Peace, help me to trust you enough to live according to your prescription for the good life and not my own. Help me to live the life you want me to live. Amen.
Dear St. Matthew’s Church Family,
In last week’s eNote, I asked you to consider a question: am I becoming more like Jesus? There is also a corporate question that we, as a church community, should also be asking: are we helping people become more like Jesus?” But I’ve been thinking about what it would mean to become more like Jesus, as an individual. What does it mean for me to be more like Jesus? What does God really expect of me? What kind of changes is the Holy Spirit trying make in my life? What would that look like in 2018? And, how will I know if I’m becoming more like Jesus?
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry reveal several answers to our questions. But there is one that seems to be the foundation on which all other answers rest: to be like Jesus is to have a deep, abiding, personal relationship with God. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can have the same kind of intimate parent-child relationship with God that Jesus had with his heavenly Father, the one he called Abba.
What the Gospels show us (and tell us) is how Jesus nurtured his relationship with God. He worshipped God (Luke 4:16); he spent time alone with God in prayer (Mark 1:35, 6:46, 14:32, Luke 5:16, 6:12); and he studied and understood the Scriptures (Luke 2:46, 24:32). Just because he was the Son of God, did not mean that he did not spend time maintaining his relationship with God. His relationship with God was a source of strength in difficult times. It was where he prepared for his ministry. It was the way he stayed connected to God through the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-22).
So, if we want to be more like Jesus, we will nurture our relationship with God through worship, prayer, and study of the Scriptures. We will make spending time alone with God a priority in our lives. By cultivating this primary relationship, we will be following Jesus’ example – and as our relationship with God grows, we will be changing in other ways, too. In future eNotes, I’ll continue to describe what I think becoming more like Jesus looks like for us. For now, take some time today to nurture your relationship with God: sit in silence, take your joys and concerns to God in prayer, read the Bible, and plan to attend worship services this weekend.
On Sunday morning at St. Matthew’s, we will begin a new sermon series called, The Good Life. The premise of the series is that we are all looking for “the good life.” Television shows have been produced about it. Hit songs have been sung about it. But long before this modern focus, Jesus told his disciples that he came to show them the way to the good life, and his teaching helps us reframe our thinking about it. Over the next three weeks, we’ll explore what the Bible says about the good life, what Jesus says about the good life, and how we might experience the good life (God’s version) for ourselves. The first message is called, Re-Framing the Good Life, and is based on Ecclesiastes 2:1-10 and Galatians 5:16-23.
Finally, I’m pleased to let you know that Chris Jackson will be serving as the (part-time) Interim Director of Youth Ministries. Chris is a long-time member of St. Matthew’s and has been helping lead youth ministry as a volunteer for over 10 years. He will be working with youth, parents, and a committed team of volunteers to continue St. Matthew’s youth ministry program while the Staff-Parish Relations Committee works to fill the permanent position. I want to thank Chris for serving God through this ministry and encourage all of you to offer Chris your prayer and support. Chris’ St. Matthew’s email address is email@example.com.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Sermon: All God’s Kingdom
Scripture Reading: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:14-16
Monday October 15 – Luke 11:11-13
Before you read the scripture, pause and consider the requests you daily make in prayer. Prayers for loved ones, or those sufferings, prayers for blessings or provisions. Now read the scripture and wonder about how God has answered or responded to these prayers. This scripture describes basic needs a child would request. What basic needs do you lift up to God? How can you ask God to provide for necessities in your life? Activity – Try a new form of prayer and draw your requests and petitions to God.
- Prayer: Lord Jesus, you came to teach us and to show us in action what God is like. Embed in my heart a picture of a God in whose caring presence I can have a childlike trust.
Tuesday October 16 – Psalm 78:4-7
We, as faithful Christians, have received God’s love and grace in our lives. Our response to that love and grace is to share it with others. Psalm 78 is an instructive song that chronicles God’s redeeming acts in Israel’s history. The best way to teach children how to love God and love their neighbors is to model love and forgiveness for them. Children are important in God’s kingdom. Who shared God’s love and grace with you as a child? Lift them up in prayer today. Activity – Today, look at the St. Matthew’s website. Look at the ministries we have for children and service opportunities. Consider where God may be calling you to care for children.
- Prayer: Lord Jesus, you have proved through the history of your people how great your love and patience are for your children. Move us to share your stories with the children around us. Bless your children, for they have inherited your promises. Amen.
Wednesday October 17 – Matthew 18:1-5
This scripture is very similar to the Mark 10 scripture. However in Matthew, Jesus calls the children to him (in Mark 10, the children are brought up to Jesus) to answer the disciples question “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” It is easy to be caught up in our world that is obsessed with status. The disciples were worried about status, too. In Jesus’ world, children had no status. Who are the persons in our world we should notice who have no status? Activity – Today, notice the people around you. Pray for them, be open to caring for them. Lift them up to God. And consider, how this impacts your own status in our world.
- Prayer: Loving God, you valued children enough to tell your followers to be more like them. Guide me in growing a faith that is trustingly child-like. Amen.
Thursday October 18 – Isaiah 43:18-19
This passage from Isaiah reminds us that God is continually creating in our world. One way we see this concretely is through babies and children. The world we often feel accustomed to, offers new mysteries each day to children as they grow and develop. How can you choose to view the world in a new way today? What can you pray for to experience the world in a new way or see the world in a new way? Activity – Try something new today. Visit a new restaurant, listen to new music or podcast. Take a walk in a new park. Or just take a different route home from work. Where did you encounter God?
- Prayer: God, you are continually making things new. Help me to recognize you in the new and unexpected places. Amen.
Friday October 19 – Romans 12:2-5
Minds transformed? To be honest, it reads like a lot of work and effort. It would be easier to just go along in our world, without considering how God is continually working on us. This brief scripture from Romans 12 teaches us to continual discern; to continual seek God’s call and God’s will in our lives. In pursuing transformation from God, we can find what is good, acceptable and perfect in God. This is a difficult task, but, as Romans 12, continues, we are one body with many members. We don’t discern God’s will on our own but with our community. Activity – Today, talk to someone in the St. Matthew’s family. Ask about how they are discerning God’s will. Engage more deeply in our community of faith.
- Prayer: God, you call us to strive towards your good and perfect will. This is difficult on our own. Thank you for the community of St. Matthew’s. Guide us as we work together towards your will for our church.
Saturday October 20 – Joel 2:28, Acts 2:14-18
We often talk about God calling Abraham or Moses when they were elderly. But the prophet Joel, quoted by the apostle Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, made it clear that God called people of all ages to the work of God’s kingdom. These passages remind us that in all God’s kingdom there is no one too old or too young to participate in building God’s kingdom here on earth. Our scriptures remind us that God has a future planned for all God’s kingdom. Activity – As we look ahead to the transitions at St. Matthew’s where is your place in helping to build God’s kingdom? Consider your place and then, talk to someone from a different generation. How do they imagine their place at St. Matthew’s and in God’s kingdom?
- Prayer: Loving God, fill me with your Holy Spirit and inspire me to work to build your kingdom here on earth with all people. Amen.
Dear St. Matthew’s Church Family,
“Are we helping people become more like Jesus?”
I came across this question in a blog post by Tony Morgan (a leadership consultant and author, www.tonymorganlive.com). It might help for you to read the quote in a slightly larger context. He says, “If everyone is constantly busy, there’s no time to ask the question: Are we helping people become more like Jesus?” He was talking about church communities being so busy planning and providing services, programs, classes, and events that they never stop to make sure that their mission is being accomplished, that lives are being transformed. It’s definitely a concern for churches like St. Matthew’s. We have a lot going on. The calendar is full. Weekly emails and worship bulletins have long lists of announcements – all of which point to important ministry programs. As a congregation we need to ask the question of ourselves. If you are one of St. Matthew’s leaders, I hope you’ll be willing to, at least occasionally, ask the question of your committee/ team/council/small group/class: are we helping people become more like Jesus?
I also hope that you’ll consider the personal version of the question: am I becoming more like Jesus? I hear the same refrain over and over. We are busy. Our calendars are full. There is very little room at the margin of lives. It’s hard to catch a breath sometimes, much less stop moving long enough to ask: am I becoming more like Jesus? As a parent you can ask: am I helping my children become more like Jesus?
If your answer to the individual, family, or corporate version of the question is, not so much, and if you want to become more like Jesus, then let me make one suggestion: read (again) the story of Jesus’ life and ministry that is recorded in the New Testament. Specifically, read the Gospels and ask God to use them to give you a clear vision of what becoming more like Jesus looks like for you. I think we experience the life-changing power of God’s grace when we’re aware of the gap between who we are and the person God wants us to be (like Jesus!)
On Sunday morning at St. Matthew’s we will celebrate Children’s Sabbath. It will be a celebration of the children of St. Matthew’s and highlight the importance of our ministry with and for the children of our church, community, and world. Children’s Sabbath helps us remember that one of the Church’s priorities is to help children and youth become more like Jesus. Our kids will be helping to lead all three services and we will be commissioning our acolytes. The message will be, All God’s Kingdom; based on Psalm 8 and Mark 10:13-16. You will be blessed by worship this week; please join us.
Last Sunday in worship, I announced that Mike Fee is leaving St. Matthew’s to take a new job as Director of Serve Ministries at Floris UMC in Herndon. Mike has been Director of Youth Ministries for the past four years and will be missed. I am thankful for Mike’s service to the youth and families of St. Matthew’s Church and our community and we pray God’s blessings on Mike and Anna and Jonathan as they begin a new chapter in their lives. Mike’s last Sunday at St. Matthew’s will be October 14, but we will have Mike and his family back for a farewell reception soon. We’ll share the details when they are available. Please know that St. Matthew’s is blessed with a strong cadre of youth counselors, teachers, and youth group leaders who will continue to provide excellent youth ministry programs until the Director of Youth Ministry position is filled.
Finally, you might have seen the news that, for the second time in two years, the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (JCCNV) was vandalized with hate symbols last week. I don’t think I need to say it, but we stand with our neighbors and friends and continue to resist, evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. There will be a CommUNITY Gathering in the JCCNV gymnasium on Sunday, October 14, from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Here is an excerpt from the announcement about Sunday’s gathering, “To answer the unequivocal calls for affirming peace and unity against hate, the J has organized a gathering to celebrate the joy in being a community that is warm and inclusive and open to all. Please join us to hear from community members and local leaders; to share in song; and to participate in a community art project that will tell a story of peace and commUNITY.”
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Sermon: Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin
Scripture Readings: Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:4-13
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Monday October 8 — Matthew 9:9-13
One of the most extraordinary aspects of Jesus’ ministry was the way he related to people on the margins of society, especially people who had been labeled, “sinner.” This would have included prostitutes, people accused of adultery, and tax collectors (who were considered traitors because they worked for the Romans and often collected more money than necessary to line their own pockets.) These are the kinds of people Jesus loved. Do you share Jesus love for sinners?
• Prayer: Loving God, expand my capacity for loving others today. Help me follow the example of Jesus and love all people, include people I think are sinners. Amen.
Tuesday October 9 — 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, Romans 14:4-13
The New Testament very clearly warns us that we are in no position to judge another person. We don’t know what is in anyone’s heart. The only one qualified to render judgment is God, and we are not God. Earlier in the letter Paul told the Romans that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and then reminds them that “each of us will be accountable to God” (Romans 14:12.) Spend time today reflecting on your own life and your need for God’s grace.
• Prayer: God of Grace, I aware of the depth of my sin and my failure to do your will. I need the undeserved gift of your grace, today and every day. Forgive me in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Wednesday October 10 — Matthew 7:1-5
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus makes several striking statements about God’s expectations for our lives. None of Jesus’ words are more challenging than today’s reading from Matthew 7. Jesus teaches us that we will be judged at the same intensity and by the same criteria that we judge others. Instead of being hypocrites, we should examine our lives before we judge our neighbors. What do you think when Jesus says, “do not judge” (Matthew 7:1)? Is he talking to you? How will you respond to Jesus’ teaching?
• Prayer: Merciful God, I confess that I often focus too closely on the faults and failings of others. Shine your light into my life so that I can see myself the way you see me. Amen.
Thursday October 11 — Acts 11:2-18
Christians in the early Church, like Christians today, struggled to follow Jesus’ example of loving their neighbors when they firmly believed that their neighbors were sinners. Romans—especially Roman soldiers—were sinners according to the early Church. As a result, many in the 1st century Church refused to associate with them or eat with them. Peter’s message in Acts 11, which follows his experience in Acts 10 describes a healing (or conversion) experience. God opened Peter’s eyes to see God’s will more clearly. Who is God opening your eyes to see more clearly?
• Prayer: Almighty God, open my eyes to see others the way you see them. Help me to see the ways you are at work in the lives of people I might ignore or reject. Amen.
Friday October 12 — Luke 19:1-10
Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus is another example of the life-changing power of God’s grace. Instead of judging Zacchaeus, Jesus shared a meal with him. In Luke’s account, we discover the way God works. Zacchaeus’ change of heart and mind (his repentance) happened after he experienced the love of God in his meeting with Jesus. According to Luke, Jesus’ love for Zacchaeus (not his judgment) changed Zacchaeus’ life. How has God’s love changed your life?
• Prayer: God of Unconditional Love, thank you for loving me so much that you sent Jesus to be my Savior and my friend. Today, I chose once again to follow him. Amen.
Saturday October 13 — 1 Peter 1:17-2:3
One of the themes of Peter’s epistles is that following Jesus leads to a transformed life. When we encounter the living Christ and accept the grace and forgiveness that he offers, we are not left unchanged. Through the power of God’s love and grace, we set aside our old lives, “all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander” and “grow into salvation” (1 Peter 2:1, 2) In other words, we learn to love and live the way Jesus loved and lived. That’s God’s goal for our lives.
• Prayer: Eternal God, I am grateful for the teaching and the example and the love of Jesus, even when it confronts and challenges me. Help me to grow into salvation. Amen.