Journeying with the Good Shepherd

A few years after my husband I were married, friends invited us to stay at their beach front condo. As time drew close for our week away, we had lists of items to pack (beach towels, sunscreen, flashlights) and a set of very special directions. These were special, because they were not like the expected I-40 or Hwy 74 to the beach directions. No, our friends had provided us with their well-worn, back roads path that was sure to get us to our desired destination as quickly as possible, avoiding the beach traffic. The only catch was you had to pay close attention. Leaving town was easy enough, but mid-way through our trip the directions began to read “once you pass the yellow painted house with the shell gas station next door, take the first right. When you encounter a fork in the road, turn right… it will only be a dirt road for ¼ mile. If you get to the house with a picket fence, you went too far so go back until you see the Coca-Cola machine, and remember to turn left over the railroad tracks when you see the farmer selling watermelons out of the back of the 18-wheeler.” 

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Set Apart to Serve Within

Well, it’s been a fun week at Christ Church. We had Vacation Bible School this past week, during which hundreds of leaders and participants come together for music, drama, crafts, and more as the kids learned about God. This year, Christ Church was transformed into the 18th century England–the time of John and Charles Wesley. It was pretty comical walking around Christ Church and seeing everyone in period costumes. They even gave me a hat to wear, so I could blend in somewhat. Which was great until one of the youth asked me who I was supposed to be, thinking that my normal clothes were actually a costume. I’m not sure what that says about my fashion sense. But, from firsthand experience, I can tell you that the leaders did a great job and the kids had a great time.

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Remember Whose You Are

It was just so tempting; my mother was sitting at the sewing machine and there it was… the newly installed closet door that would slide open and closed. The walls of what my mother proudly called “The Gold Room” had been recently painted. In the eyes of a five year old, the sliding closet door looked very much like those elevator doors I had seen in office buildings and department stores. I could just visualize that closet door with an up and down arrow beside it. So, in a moment of sheer abandon to my desire to see this vision realized, I grabbed my crayons and began to draw what was in my mind. At first I felt like an inspired artist as I applied the crayons to the painted wall, but after my vision was complete, remorse began to set in and I cried out, “I didn't mean to!” My mother turned around from her sewing machine and said, “Didn’t mean to do what?”  But no response was needed, for the evidence of my sin was on full display.

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“The Time to Stand and Look is Past” - Rev. Louis Timberlake

I’m starting to learn something about being a parent. I say starting to learn because Felder’s only two, and he doesn’t have any siblings yet, so I don’t think that we have yet experienced the full unpleasantness of this particular aspect of parenthood. But, I’m starting to learn to dread long car trips. Before kids, car trips were kind of pleasant. Depending on where you’re driving, you might get to enjoy nice scenery, you can listen to music or podcasts, and you can take a break from rushing around to just enjoy the drive.

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You’ll Never Walk Alone

As I began to pray and listen to God through our passage today, the Living Word startled me. I heard something new in this passage; namely the closeness, the nearness and the Presence in our lives of Christ and the Holy Spirit. I found myself underlining some of the phrases and promises - listen to them: the Advocate to be with you forever, he abides with you, he will be in you, I am coming to you, you in in me, and I in you. Now of course, Jesus’ words point us to next Sunday as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. But in the context of our passage, much was to follow these words prior to the first Pentecost; the betrayal, the trial, the abandonment, the crucifixion, the resurrection and appearances of Jesus, the Ascension, then instruction to gather in Jerusalem to wait for the Spirit.

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“We Serve in Our Church, Community, and the World”

Well, first of all, Happy Mother’s Day! And in the life of our church what a great theme we have today. Today, we consider our church’s core that “we serve in our church, community and the world.” That phrase describes the very best of motherhood and is close to the original, desired meaning of Mother’s Day. Celebrating mothers goes back to ancient days and occurs in many nations. But in our country, the roots of Mother’s Day are with two Methodist Christian women: Ann Marie Jarvis and her daughter, Anna. Ann pushed Mother’s Day as a time of serving, establishing “mothering clubs” to teach prenatal care and health, friendship clubs between northern and southern veterans after the Civil war, and meeting the needs of children everywhere. After her mother died, Anna relocated to Philadelphia and there, partnering with the famous merchant, Wannamaker, eventually got President Woodrow Wilson to declare a national holiday. The holiday, at it’s core, was to be about loving, humble service, exactly what’s described in the passage Dr. Suzanne just read. This passage, so captured by our core value of service in the church, community and world together, gives us a benchmark for evaluating all we are doing or considering in our church’s life: does it serve the church, the community or the world?

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“We intentionally grow together in the likeness of Christ” - Rev. Michael Bailey

Today, we have our second sermon in our series on the vision for Christ Church, that is, God’s desired future for us! Your Church Council prayed, discerned, and adopted a grand vision: Our mission, why we exist, “to make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” which leads and aims us toward our vision. We are a church that embraces people, the community, and the world with the boundless love of God. 

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“To grow intentionally together in the likeness of Christ” - Rev. Louis Timberlake

I played sports in high school––football and track. I wasn’t a particularly great athlete, but it was a small school and you didn’t have to be particularly great to make the team. In fact, I think everyone made the team. Now, sports take preparation, right? Most people cannot walk onto a field or a court or a track and light it up. You have to prepare. You have to train. During the season, you have practices and workouts that help you to prepare. But, then you come back from the off season and have to get back into playing shape. That’s when you have to go through two or three weeks of conditioning. And, if you’ve played sports, you know that conditioning is generally an unpleasant experience. Now, I’ve done conditioning for a few different sports--football, track, and wrestling. Wrestling by far was the hardest. Hands down. But football conditioning is no joke. Track conditioning? Meh. Not too bad.

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We Love God, Humanity, and All Creation As An Inviting, Caring Community

My joy is to let you know I’m serving our district headquartered in Winston-Salem! The Bishop let us live as close to GSO as possible; Lauralee and I will be 20 or so minutes from our offices. Here’s the good thing: I’d wanted to serve here for a number of years and then retire in Greensboro. Now, with a gap of a 6 year superintendency term, I may do that and be able to come home to CUMC! But more important to most of you, bring back Lauralee! We went to Gethsemane first and had much pain and grief, but now, realizing the honor and our proximity to Greensboro, we’ve moved to the Resurrection Garden. You all helped me with that; thank you for all your congratulations and well wishes. 

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Believing Like a Disciple

What we believe impacts what we do with what we believe. In an ad this week on TV, Chobani Yogurt wanted me to believe in food and thus purchase their brand of product. Others have beliefs which may be a little more outside the norm of general society. For instance, some people put their faith in aliens having built the Egyptian pyramids. Other people hold that the Bermuda Triangle has unusual powers and therefore attribute some of the disappearances of ships and aircrafts to the paranormal, a suspension of the laws of physics, or activity by extraterrestrial beings. And then there are those who believe in the existence of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and spend countless dollars, time and energy in their pursuit. 

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The Best is Yet to Be

Have you noticed how much the meaning of Easter changes over your lifespan? Likely, childhood’s meaning was wrapped up in the Easter Bunny and Easter morning. I remember, when I was a child, the Easter Bunny in my territory of Memphis had paint by number sets pretty high on the list! Perhaps, for some, there is or was a family tradition of new clothes. I definitely remember the days of getting a new suit and buzz cut with butch wax stiffening the front. I remember little girls getting muffs, gloves and bonnets! For many, Easter meant and means a family re-union of sorts. And now, really to my dismay, school systems tie spring break into Holy Week and meaning it is spring break vacation-time. (It used to be schools were closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday and spring break was at a separate time.)

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Unbound: Death

He talked about the song “Hallelujah.” You know it, don’t you? Written by Leonard Cohen, but made famous by Jeff Buckley. And, now, it’s one of the most well-known and widely-covered songs of all time. But, it didn’t start out that way. Gladwell interviews Alan Light, who literally wrote the book on the song. It’s an incredible story. When Cohen first wrote the song, it literally took him years. It’s said that he had as many as eighty verses or variations. The version we know best has five. And, when he finally recorded it, with four verses, the album was turned down by the record company. He put it out on an independent label and it tanked. No one bought it.

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Unbound: Failure

A number of years ago, I was in a leadership program led by Presbyterian minister, Leighton Ford. One of the speakers we learned from and interacted with was Bobb Biehl: a great leadership coach and consultant for both the church and secular world. In one of his books he shared an amazing story, which, given the recent calls to end animal acts in circuses might soon become a thing of the past. Bobb was invited behind the scenes at a circus held in Arizona. He started chatting with the man who trains elephants for the circus and movies. He reported this conversation: 

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Unbound: Exclusivity

I am so blessed to have my wife! Folks that know her and know me bring out all the common bromides: “you out punted your coverage,” or “you were playing above the rim when she said yes to you!” 

I won’t drone on about all the reasons I love her but one surprising reason is that she challenges me when and where I need challenging! She keeps me grounded, some might say, and for that, I’m a better person. For instance, this past week we were discussing a book and without even reading it, I turned on my theological snobbery and mounted my theological high horse! 

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Unbound: Temptation - Rev. Louis Timberlake

Ed Sheeran’s new album came out on Friday. I’ve told you before that I have to listen to music when I work on sermons. So, this sermon may or may not be influenced by the fact that I had his album on repeat. Now, I know it isn’t church music. But, you know, even pastors can’t listen to hymns 24/7. And, it was really interesting how many of the songs connected with our topic this morning. There was one about an ex-girlfriend who finds a new guy who seems great on the surface, but the love isn’t there. And the girl changes everything about herself to be with this guy, but loses herself in the process. There’s a song about Ed’s rise to fame and the temptations that come with it. There’s a song about childhood, reflecting on the different ways that life has unfolded for a group of friends; the joys, pains, failures, successes. Songs about love. Songs about something that isn’t really love.

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Unbound: Temptation - Rev. Michael F. Bailey

I wonder if in your life experience if you ever had or were one of those children who read voraciously! I was one of those in our home. My reading was broad but probably not very deep. For some reason, after reading a biography, I became fascinated with Harry Houdini! Houdini was a magician of the early 20th century who touted himself as an “escape artist.” No matter how you bound him, chained him, or tied him, Houdini could escape! In one of his acts, he would be suspended by a fire department ladder truck, upside down, and escape from a straight jacket. Often, he’d travel to a city and be locked in a maximum confinement cell and escape in minutes. In perhaps his most famous act, he was handcuffed, leg shackled and suspended upside down, in chains, in a tank of water. He’d wait minutes until the tension was greatest and emerge unharmed. This led to many days as a wayward child trying to pick locks and even owning some handcuffs. And now, ironically, there is an amusement in nearly every city called an “escape room.” A scenario is set and a group of people are locked in a room filled with clues to escape. I was given a gift certificate to the Greensboro location for Christmas and can’t wait to use it; I can’t say my bride is as enthusiastic as I am. 

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Transfiguration Sunday - Rev. Louis Timberlake

So, with our small groups of young adults, we’re in the midst of a series using the Alpha study. Some of you may be familiar with Alpha, but it’s basically an introduction to the Christian faith. It deals with basic, foundational questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Is there more to life than this? Who is Jesus? This past Tuesday, we were sitting in my living room talking about faith. How can we have faith? What does it mean to believe? And, we got to talking about how each of us came to have faith in Jesus. If you would describe yourself as someone who has faith in Jesus, how did you get to that point?

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Blinded By the Light - Rev. Mark Vickers

This is one of my favorite days of the Christian year. Granted, I have many favorite days of the Christian year, but this one is a favorite because it is what I call a “bridge Sunday.” It bridges us from that time of Epiphany, that long awaited time following Christmas, and brings us up to Lent and then into the Easter season. It is a story that just kind of jumps out at you for no apparent reason according to the flow of the lectionary, yet it is pivotal to our understanding of the Gospel.    

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