Num 11:24-30 “All People Prophesy” #SermonizingSunday #Sermon #Pentecost

If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that a lot of people will say they’re going to do something and then they may do it once or twice but beyond that it doesn’t continue to be a practice for them. Now I’m not talking about simple tasks, here. I’m talking about big life changes and challenges. Those things we are to constantly do in our lives for the betterment of God’s creation.

 

Things like praying every day, day and night. Communing with the Lord and all of the Lord’s people. Sharing with each other our sorrows and our joys. Putting behind is bad and hateful speech of others.

 

These are things we struggle with, and this passage only brings out one more practice. Prophesying. People think, “Oh! Aerii’s the minister, that’s her job. That’s what she does on Sunday mornings in the church when she preaches for us.”

 

But that is simply not true. Yes, preaching a Sunday morning sermon is part of prophesying the Good News Christ has given us, but that’s not all of it, and it doesn’t ONLY happen in the church on Sunday morning. No way! If that was the case, our churches would have died out years and years ago, and in some ways, I feel and fear that’s why our churches are dying out now.

 

There’s this understanding that prophesy is what you hire the minister to do. That’s why they’ve been given this position in the church, that’s what they’re job is. But that is NOT the case. And I’m sorry if I’m bursting your bubble right about now, but you should know that about me already, I burst bubbles.

 

Moses took 70 men to the temple from the camp. Now a days, we take children and women, and men, and a whole host of other misfits. Moses took these people, and he prayed over them, he asked that the Spirit come down onto them, give them life, help them to prophesy. He asked God to make their mouths sore with the truth of this great and wonderful love.

 

And they did it! They all prophesied. They all spoke the truth. They all shared their stories, their testimonies, the life they had all had, and it was a beautiful, beautiful thing. Moses’ job wasn’t to prophesy to these men. His job was to teach them and lead them to prophesy themselves. Moses’ job was to equip these people to go out and prophesy to those who hadn’t yet heard the prophesy, to those who knew nothing of it and to those who refused to believe.

 

That is the role of the pastor, the minister, the reverend. Whatever it is you call me. My job is to equip you with the skills to prophesy, to preach, to teach, to share your story. My job is similar to that of Moses’.

 

Now there’s a second part of this story. Those 70 men Moses took to the temple prophesied once. ONCE! That’s it! Just one time. They shared their story and then it was as if all of a sudden they were done and nothing else to do with it. That’s what I’m talking about with these practices God gives us to do that we just don’t do every day, that we just don’t do consistently, that we just don’t do more than once.

 

These men whom Moses spent a lot of his time with, only did what was asked of them what was Spirit-led of them once. That means only a very small amount of people actually heard their stories, heard about God. That’s how they failed in their faith. They didn’t make prophesying a practice, a ritual, a habit in their lives. They didn’t transform themselves into prophets.

 

That’s a scary word. Prophet. And it goes right alone with prophesying. I think that’s why a lot of people are scared of that word, are scared of prophesying, are scared and only do it once. It’s why they use excuses to get out of it, change understandings of the way the churches are currently run to pay someone else to do what they don’t want to do. That’s not how it works at all. You cannot pick and choose the habits God wants you to have, trust me, I’ve tried and failed several times.

 

But this is where those other two in this passage come into play. Those two people who weren’t at the temple but were in the camp. Those other two people who didn’t have a lot of training a lot of effort and time spent with Moses that day. These two people received the power of the Holy Spirit and they began to prophesy. They preached and they taught, and they loved the Lord God with all their hearts, minds, soul, strength and voices.

 

They continued to preach and teach. And when Joshua ran to tell Moses what was happening because these two weren’t part of that “chosen” crowd Moses laughed! He could see absolutely nothing wrong with two people prophesying about God, about the Lord, about the love they feel with their faith. He told Joshua not to stop them, that they were doing right by their faith, that they were prophesying and that EVERYONE else, everyone, meaning all those people he had been working with, Joshua too, should be more like those two.

 

Well what does that say about us as a church now. Our churches are dying. Not just this one, but the one next door to us, the ones down the road from us, the next town and city over, the next county and state over. Our churches are dying. Now more than ever we are not prophesying. We are not sharing our testimonies. We are not witnessing to the love of God in our lives.

 

We are failing like those 70 men Moses was teaching. We are only prophesying once, and when we fail in that attempt, we don’t ever do it again. We don’t ever go back to the camp and preach to those around us. On this day, in 2017, where we celebrate the beginning of the church, where we celebrate mass prophesy and the sharing and telling of the story, when we ourselves share and tell the story of how this church began, why we wear red to celebrate, this day take to heart the habits God wants us to have.

 

The habit of prophesying. All people are to prophesy. Not just me, as your minister, not just Moses, not just Eldad and Medad, or Joshua. ALL people prophesy. That means you. That means the person sitting next to you. That means the believer in the Methodist church. That means each and every one of us who believes needs to prophesy day and night, needs to go out into the camps into the streets and cities and share our story, witness to the love of God, love each other in the ways only God can love us.

 

All people prophesy. And it doesn’t matter if you’re trained, if you’re an elder, if you’re a deacon, if you’re just someone who shows up each week and prefers not to be up here in front of the church. If you are a believer, you are to prophesy. You are to preach and teach and share the love of God with all. So go out, leave this building with a heavy heart and with the Spirit of God upon you to encourage you to prophesy for the Lord. Amen.

Proverbs 4:23-27 “Integrity of Faith” #Sermon #sermonizingSunday

I have a friend, Jonathan, who is honestly the perfect living example of this passage. I have never once heard a bad word out of his mouth about another person. Jonathan is a minister in Dallas, and I met him in seminary. It wasn’t until after a year or so that I started to realize he simple does not have a negative bone in his body.

 

He’s always positive. Not in that obnoxiously perky way, but he’s always got a good word about someone. He’s the one who really challenged me to always look for the good in someone else, whether he meant to or not.

 

Jonathan keeps his heart with vigilance because he knows that from his heart and from his love of our Creator, springs forth life. And that’s key really, isn’t it? We have to keep our integrity about us even when the world seems to be going horribly, when that one particular person really ticks us off and makes us mad, when something happens that we feel is incredibly unjust.

 

We have to have integrity, we have to keep our heart, our thoughts, our mouths, in line with what God teaches us and with what the scriptures say. Only from that will life spring.

 

Integrity is an interesting word. It’s one I’ve used a lot, and I picked that up from my mom, but I think some people just don’t understand exactly what it means. According to my Google definition, it means “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, moral uprightness. The state of being whole and undivided.”

 

Honesty. Honor. Good Character. Virtue. Fairness. Sincerity. Trustworthiness. Truthfulness. Ethics. Righteousness.

 

What a beautiful word! It’s so much more than just honesty and morality. It’s all about how someone else relates to us. Just like Jonathan. I trust him, deeply, because I know he’s never going to say a bad word about me. That he’s going to pray for me and uplift me, that he’s going to take whatever information I give him and just let that sit between him and his faith.

 

This is very much his reality. It’s how he leads himself, how he conducts himself, how he represents his faith to everyone around him. I have no idea how or why Jonathan ended up this way, but I do know that it makes him that much of a better Christian than me.

 

What would it mean to have honesty in our faith? Some people say they hesitate to say Merry Christmas these days because they’re worried they’re going to offend someone, or to even say that they’re praying for someone else. But if you don’t, are you being honest to yourself and God? Is it about offending someone or is it about being true to yourself?

 

That’s a struggle. It’s hard to wage that war within yourself. Because part of our faith tells us not to harm someone else. It tells us we don’t want to be off-putting in how we present our faith to others. It’s not simply one or the other, it’s a mixture of the two and a very thin line we have to walk.

 

The second verse of this passage says, “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.” This is something we all struggle with. Even Jonathan, I’m sure, struggles with this. He’s just has a boat load more integrity than the average person. He’s the ideal we need to aim for.

 

Crooked speech can come in many forms. It can come bluntly or passively. It can come through the grapevine or directly. These are things we say about another person, usually with our emotions in front of our logic. What I mean by that, is it’s things we don’t think about before we speak.

 

We don’t think about what God would want us to say or do in that situation. We think about how we’re feeling, how we normally act and interact with others. Or rather we don’t think and we just let everything go without concern for what God may want us to do or say.

 

That’s where integrity comes into play. That’s where we need to learn to have some and to gain some. Tell the truth, always. Even if it’s going to paint ourselves in a bad light. Even if it might hurt someone else—I want to add a warning that if it’s really going to hurt someone it may not be the truth. Focus on God, focus on what our Creator would want for us and for that other person.

 

The point of integrity, and particular Christian integrity, is to point our lives toward God, to always keep God straight ahead in our sights. We’re not supposed to deviate from God, not supposed to change direction.

 

But I can tell you flat out that since the Scripture is telling us not to deviate, people were deviating. They weren’t listening, they weren’t keeping God straight in their sights and they weren’t looking directly forward at our Creator. Even people in the Bible failed.

 

However, they got back on their feet. They had the scriptures to look toward to keep them on the narrow path toward God, to get them back on track. They had the accountability of the church, of their fellow followers of faith. This isn’t a path where once you get on you can easily stay on.

 

It’s hard to follow through. It’s hard to have integrity of faith. It’s hard to be honest, and not talk back about someone, to be truthful and trustworthy in every aspect of life. We have to keep reminding ourselves of what God wants us to do, of what it means to have integrity in our lives, of how we are supposed to hold ourselves before everyone we meet and everyone we know. This isn’t a when I’m at church I’m one persona and when I’m home another and with friends even yet a third person. We have to strive to be the same person no matter where we find ourselves. We have to strive to be a person with integrity of our faith, where we keep our heart with vigilance, where we put away crooked speech and devious talk, where we look directly forward at God and turn away from evil.

 

That’s how we have integrity of faith. That’s how we show ourselves to be trustworthy, honorable, and righteous. Righteous in our faith and in our lives, which is something we can only accomplish with God. Keep the faith. Keep God right in front of you. Do not stray from the Scriptures, from the teachings, or from your faith. Be the one who can change lives through your own integrity and how you live only for God.

Acts 13:13-52 “Paul as Mentor” #DevotionDandy #Devotion

Read Acts 13:13-52

 

Paul and Barnabas never give up, do they? They go to visit this town and they start by talking about things the townspeople already know. Isn’t that what it’s like when going to a new place and needing to fit in? You need to figure out what matters to them.

 

That’s what Paul and Barnabas do. They talk about the faith and scriptures the people there already know. Then they tell the story of Jesus. Then they connect it back to what is already known. They’re invited back after that! Which is amazing. Then they mentor some people.

 

It’s harder for us, I think. The church has long since separated itself from culture and we have a hard time bridging that gap. We see culture as the enemy and so we don’t want to learn about it or participate in it at all. But to be like Paul and Barnabas, we have to. To get to know the new generation, we have to learn what matters to them.

 

This isn’t a new concept. It’s been said before, but as part of that younger and newer generation, I fear and feel we’re not being listened to. I fear and feel that we’re often ignored or put into categories for no reason.

 

We’re told we’re immoral, unethical. We’re told that we don’t live up to standards. Well the fact is, we have different standards and we do live up to them. Recently on of my congregations and I read the book Growing Young which talks a lot about how to talk to younger generations, how to interact with us, how to be with us. I found myself nodding my head along to a lot of what was written going, “yeah, of course!” but I figured a lot of my older congregants, a lot of the people I work with on a daily basis, wouldn’t have thought of any of that.

 

Being in a small church gives us advantages to some of this. We’re far more relational and intergenerational than bigger churches, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect at doing these things. Every church I’ve interviewed at always says they want young people to come. One of my congregations hired a “young minister” thinking “hire her and they will come.”

 

It simply does not work that way, and they’re starting to realize that. It takes work and effort. It takes starting with what that generation already knows, introducing a new story, reminding them that use you know where they come from, and then praying for an invitation back into their lives. It takes mentoring and time. It takes strategy and God.

Acts 13:4-12 “False Prophet” #Devotion #DevotionDandy #Acts13

 

Read Acts 13:4-12

 

The way Saul/Paul stands up to a false prophet in this passage is admirable. He wastes no time calling this person out and deeming their teachings false. This is something I struggle with. I’m far more of an observer than a talker, meaning I’d rather be behind the scenes than in front of them.

 

That may sound funny coming from a pastor, but it’s not all that weird. I’m an introvert, as are a lot of ordained clergy. However, we do still need to recognize the need to put our foot down.

 

Saul/Paul stands up without hesitation and immediately declares this person’s teaching false. He’s not worried about the consequences, about what his current followers would say, about anything other than the truth and the message he has been called to share.

 

Sometimes I think that’s a bit harder in how the church is organized today. It’s a sad thing, really. Whether it’s because I’m worried I’ll lose my job/income or because I’m worried that I’ll anger some people enough to leave the church itself…it’s not a good combination.

 

In some ways, I think the early churches had it far more right than we do. But I also know we can’t go back in time. We can’t reverse this space-time-continuum. At least not yet, the technology will exist eventually, I’m convinced of that. But for now we have the churches and the structure we have.

 

We need, however, to find a way to be more authentically Christian, where our fears of false teachings aren’t causing us to shut our mouths and say nothing. We have to know what those false teachings are (and no, I don’t think technology is one of those). This is why we go to the scriptures, with questions seeking answers and understanding.

Sermon Series: How to Plan Them #MadnessManaged

I preach a lot of sermon series. I don’t always preach a sermon series, and when I’m not in the middle of one, I do preach lectionary (for the most part). However, I love preaching sermon series. It helps me to center my preaching, it makes it easier to write sermons, and it gives a rounder lesson to what I’m teaching on.

 

Sermon series are a lot of work upfront, but it makes less work later one. For one, I can tell you exactly what scriptures I’m preaching on for at least a few weeks out, which means less panic when it comes time for the bulletin.

 

I tend to do a series, take 2-4 weeks off and then start a new one. It gives a break, a time for absorption, a time for the meanings to really settle in. The last two sermon series I did went along with Bible Studies we were doing in both of my congregations. I would do my sermon after the lesson for the week because then my sermon wouldn’t change the viewpoint of some of those participating in the studies.

 

The one before that was a series on the book of Acts. I found a series already done online through the United Methodist Church, and I took it and modified it to be a bit shorter. I didn’t cover the entire book of Acts, but I did preach 8 times on the main themes in the scriptures.

 

I’ve done a sermon series on stewardship back in September of last year. In that case, I did a lot of research, found four topics that I think really spoke to stewardship in the faith sense rather than the money sense, and then worked sermons from there. I’ve done series through Advent and Lent. The topics sometimes depend on where the churches are in that time. Mission, Expectancy, Faith, Fruits of the Spirit.

 

You can find them anywhere. The goal behind a series is to be able to build each week on it. It gets difficult when you know that people won’t be attending each week and so you have to briefly overview the previous weeks or at least explain them enough so people can understand the current week. That comes into the craft of the writing of the sermon itself.

 

Sermon series give the congregations time to focus on just one thing rather than topic-jumping each week. It gives them time to really look at mission in the church, or really understand what stewardship is beyond just a call for more money to pad our budgets. It’s a way for us as ministers to be able to dig down deep into one particular line of theology for awhile and to teach that in multiple ways to the congregants over the course of a longer period of time.

 

Like I said before, sermon series takes a lot of time and prep, but once they get going, your life is beyond easier. You can even decorate the church to match. The last Advent one I did, we had presents under the tree with the names of the different topics we had each week. That brings more people into the study, more people into the lessons, and it makes it a rounder lesson at that.

1 John 2:7-11, 15-17 “Break the Cycle” #Sermon #SermonizingSunday #1John

I have always strongly believed that in God there is only love, and that all believers of God should only love one another. I get reality too at the same time. It’s not easy to love some people. But I’m always amazed by the amount of hate that I see in our churches, and by the fact that those who are non-Christians or non-church-goers only see the hate we have.

 

Do we really have that much hate going around? It’s a horrible thought. One we don’t like think about or dwell in. It’s one that we struggle with. We are all raised with habits and beliefs. Our parents gave them to us, our families, our friends: whoever we were close with growing up we inherited some of their beliefs and traditions.

 

Not all of these are good. We know that intuitively, but it is darn hard to break those habits, to stop the bad things. But we need to break the cycle. A lot of us grew up with the understanding that someone of a different race was bad, was beneath us, that we were better than them.

 

Racism. The very basics of it began before you really even know what it was or how to comprehend what was going on. Our country is a melting pot. It has been for decades. It’s nothing new that there are people out there who look and act different than we do. They were raised with a different set of beliefs and traditions, a different set of habits they need to break in order to allow us into their hearts.

 

We’re in the exact same boat. Whether it’s racism, sexism, ageism, whatever. These are habits we need to break. And you’re not alone. I’m right in that boat with you. Each and every one of us was raised with some sort of hatred in our hearts, and it takes effort and time and patience and accountability to change the habits, to break the cycle.

 

This passage of scripture states, “Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” This breaking the cycle, this changing our habits is NOT SOMETHING NEW! We’ve been told for two thousand years that we need to do this. It’s what Christianity did with Judaism, in some sense. We broke away from what we didn’t think was working, what we didn’t think was good, and we established new beliefs and traditions that worked better for us that were truer to who God was calling us to be.

 

The church in Corinth doesn’t exist anymore. But we do. We’ve changed. We don’t look like that church did, and I highly doubt the church in two-thousand years from now is going to look like this one. Change needs to happen. Cycles need to be broken. Habits that aren’t working anymore, that aren’t in God’s grace need to be stopped and changed and broken.

 

The scripture continues, “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.”

 

The darkness has brought on blindness. Did you get the full effect of that meaning? Our hatred, our dislike, our traditions and habits have gotten in the way of us seeing all those other people out there, all those who have been touched by God but who are different, all those who need to be touched by God but we can’t imagine them being a part of our community.

 

I recently started reading our General Minister and President Sharon Watkin’s new book Whole: A Call to Unity in our Fragmented World. My mom gave it to me while she was here. Sharon talks about how there was one church who decided to break it’s habit of isolation of hatred and open its doors to anyone who needed to be welcomed in. They started with people who are part of twelve-step programs.

 

They hosted the groups, they nurtured the people who attended, they allowed those people who were once outsiders to become insiders to change their cycle of exclusion and make it one of inclusion. It wasn’t much later when the Pastor was somewhere and he overheard a conversation about his church wherein the person was saying with disgust, “Well, that’s the church who accepts everyone.”

 

No joke! That was something to be proud of. It is something to be proud of. This pastor took the conversation he overhead back to his congregation and they made it their motto. They even changed the church sign out front to read it. They had officially broken the cycle.

 

Hatred is not something easy to break, and neither is exclusion. Sharon goes on to write, “Surprisingly, Hollywood has gotten this one right. In a movie entitled Places in the Heart, a woman’s husband is murdered. An unlikely array of individuals come together to bring in the cotton crop and save the widow’s farm.

 

“Toward the end of the movie, in a communion service, the bread and cup are passed from the blind man to the African American man to the white widow lady to…(and now comes the surprise) to her murdered husband who is somehow sitting on the row beside her. Now we know something unusual is happening here.

 

“Then the woman’s deceased husband passes the communion tray into the hands of the young many who was his murderer, and this is more than mere movie magic. The communion table has become a table open to all, a place for older brothers and younger brothers to meet, where enemies are reconciled. The table has bridged the gap of the violence that is between them. It calls out for reconciling love as they share the meal in the spirit of Christ still very much alive and present.

 

“Most who gather at the table each week do not come as murderers. Many come as weary travelers through life. Some come looking for an answer to loneliness. Others come still looking for forgiveness and renewal from deep brokenness. Still others simply need a respite from the daily strains of life. The longing may be as yet unarticulated….Yet we gather.

 

“There is something about being invited to the table, especially the communion table. That table is the center of spiritual renewal, of personal affirmation. It is the most welcoming place of all. At that table is the welcome of God.”

 

The fear, the hatred, the distrust of our community is a cycle we need to break. It’s a time when we have to change our habits, change our future so that we can be welcome to all, so we can love all to walk in the light like our commandment says. This is the time to break the cycle of hatred and allow unconditional love to be free in this world.

 

Amen.

 

Acts 11:19-30 “A Name and a Cause” #DevotionDandy

Read Acts 11:19-30

 

What I love about this passage is two things. The first, we get a name! Finally we are named Christians. We are given an identity. We are given this cohesiveness other than just Jesus Follower. We are given this meaning that has taken us throughout generations and through thousands of years.

 

This name stuck.

 

“…and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’”

 

It’s such a beautiful phrase to read. It’s almost like giving birth. You agonize for months and days and close to a year, deciding on what the best name for your child will be. Sometimes you know ahead of time, and sometimes you change your mind right when the child arrives, finally. But they have a name. They have an identity as soon as that name is given.

 

They have a purpose and a cause. That’s the second thing I love about this passage. The Christians are given a cause, and that cause is to feed the hungry. It’s beautiful. It’s a cause we still have today. Even in my churches, there’s always food left in the fridges just in case someone comes by and needs and drink or food.

 

Just last Friday we had a couple of cyclists who were outside in the rain eating and someone noticed, so they were invited in. It’s a cause that has transcended time and will continue to transcend time. It’s a cause that gave us something to circle around and move together to work on fixing, to work on repairing, to work on showing how God loves people through feeding the hungry.

Acts 11:1-18 Outcast #DevotionDandy #DisciplesOfChrist #AllMeansAll

Read Acts 11:1-18

 

If there’s one thing I absolutely love about my denomination is that we have no concept of outcast. At least in theory. There’s no circumcised/uncircumcised. There’s no Gentile/Jew. There’s no woman/man. There’s no Black/White. There’s no Gay/Straight. …

 

But there is. Sometimes I fear that we get too much into a lull of we’re open to all that we forget how being open to all can be condemning to others. In order to be open to the LGBT et al community, we sometimes forget to be open to our cis-straight friends. By being open to Blacks, we forget to be open to Hispanics.

 

It’s hard to be open to all. It’s a dream, and we haven’t achieved that dream yet. The way we talk about it in the Disciples of Christ, you’d think we’re already there, but we’re not. We have people in our congregations who don’t understand that All Means All, and they don’t want to understand.

 

They’d rather live under a rock where people can be separated, where it’s between that person and God what they do with their lives. But it’s not. It’s between us and God, us as a community. My understanding, my faith, my journey in this world isn’t between just me and God. That’s impossible. We’re a communal people, and we need to take the time and effort to learn about those who are different than us, to learn what those differences mean, if anything.

 

We’re a people who are lax in our practices of All Means All. We’re more segregated now than ever. Not just with racism, sexism, genderism, but with ageism. Who wants to go to a church when they’re in their twenties with people who are all in their eighties? Not many, which is a problem. We talk this belief system where we are all one together, but we’re not. It’s fact.

 

And sadly that fact hasn’t sunk into our hearts. Sadly, We’re still criticizing Peter like those in this passage, talking about how we’re still separated and not understanding how to truly join together to be one, united only for God.

Party Time! When the Secretary’s Out! #MadnessManaged

 

One day is fine, right? My secretary was gone earlier this week, and the first day was fine. I was all, this is great, she deserves the time off (and it’s for a good reason, too). Well, day two happened. Suddenly the party was over, and I was sitting in my house at ten at night trying to wrack my brain and come up with everything we needed to do for the week in case she didn’t come back on Thursday or Friday.

 

Like bulletins.

 

Like the board reports being copied out for everyone.

 

Like the finance stuff she does.

 

Like the announcement sheet.

 

It’s crazy how much my secretary does for the church, and how she keeps us all on schedule and on track of what’s going on.

 

I had a mini panic attach, not gonna lie. My secretary is amazing, which is huge. Not all of them are. But mine somehow manages to get everything done in 3 hours a day, five days a week. She’s not even full time, peoples.

 

I may be a week or two late on this whole administration appreciation day stuff, but I really appreciate what she does for me and for the church. My workload is definitely eased when she’s around.

 

She’s the one who makes it possible for me to blog, because if I had to do what she was doing, I wouldn’t have time for any of this stuff.

James 5:13-18 “Habits of Faith” #SermonizingSunday #Sermon

A few years ago I was introduced to an amazing woman named Carroll. She was a principal, a wife, a mother, and one of the strongest Christians I know. Most youth workers in the North Texas Area and Trinity-Brazos Area would tell you that. Carroll always had something to give for the church and always something to teach, whether she meant it that way or not.

 

 

I was able to have the unique opportunity to work closely with her, far more closely than most of the other students at my seminary. You see, I got to see her almost every week while I fulfilled my field education, and Carroll became one of my designated mentors at the church. She was one of the people I was supposed to go to with questions, with concerns, with life problems and with work problems.

 

 

And she was perfect for it. It was through her, however, that I met her husband, someone who was equally as faithful as she, albeit a bit quieter about his faith but louder with jokes. Chuck always had a joke, and he loved poking fun at anyone he could. What the two of them taught me together was the true meaning of love. Not just for each other, but for family, for faith, for church, and most importantly for God.

 

 

They taught me the habits of faith that so many of us take for granted. This passage begins with suffering, telling us to pray for anyone who is suffering. Carroll prayed every day. She prayed for the students at her school who were suffering, for her friends who were suffering, for her church family who was suffering. Chuck would join her in his quiet way, acknowledging someone else’s pain with a nod and silent sad smile.

 

 

 

Pray for those who are suffering. Who would have ever thought that the tables would turn. Last fall, Chuck was diagnosed with brain cancer. If you didn’t know, he’s on our prayer list, prayers for him and prayers for his family as they went through this trying time. It was a tumor, one they’d go in and remove as much as possible, but it was fast growing and impossible to get rid of. Chuck was going to die.

 

 

The prayers for his suffering, for his family’s suffering, were numerous. I’d see them each week on Facebook as mutual friends would comment about how they were praying for Carroll and Chuck, how they were raising their names up to God.

 

 

It’s no coincidence. Carroll and Chuck taught everyone they met about their habits of faith. They taught each person how to pray when they were down, how to cheer when they were joyous. They taught us how to be better Christians, and in turn, we showed them all the love they had given us.

 

 

These are what the habits of faith do. They bring us together as better Christians, as better people. These habits, the ones James is talking to us about, it’s not just this to-do list that you have to check off every day. They’re imbedded practices and behaviors, ones that change our lives and change the lives of everyone around us.

 

 

Pray when you are suffering. If you’re sick? Let the elder’s and the church pray with you. Are you cheerful? Sing praise! By doing this our sins, our failures, the things we have done wrong, will all be forgive because this is a pattern of behavior we have changed, a behavior that we have changed to move from evil to good, from sin to faith, from failure to success. This behavior brings us closer to God than ever.

 

 

 

 

These habits of faith are taught to us from all different places. I and many of my cohorts at seminary learned these from Carroll. I learned them from her husband. I learned them from my mother, from my Pastor Aprille in high school, from my room mate, YiDan. There are many people I can name that have taught me to have better habits.

 

 

It doesn’t mean I’m perfect. No one is, really. But it does mean that I make a conscious effort to change my every day behaviors, my every day actions, my every day thoughts about God. Who doesn’t suffer and or feel joy all with a week? Sometimes even within the same hour. But are you praising and praying to God?

 

 

Chuck died this past week. And while he is no longer sick and no longer suffering, I know his family is suffering from his loss. I know they’re celebrating that he’s no longer in pain, that he’s no longer sick, that they are praising God’s name at the same time as they are praying for their own suffering.

 

 

How do I know? Because this is a habit of Carroll’s faith, and I have no doubt that she and Chuck taught their three sons to have these same habits. I have no doubt that the church, her extended family, is rallying behind her through this time. That they’re giving her support and keeping those habits of faith alive in Carroll’s life as well as their own.

 

 

Habits of faith. Pray and praise God. Two simply commands that can change our whole lives. If we went through each moment of each day, thinking about whether or not we were going to praise God or pray to God for what was happening, I think we’d experience a miraculous change. I think people would see and recognize this change, that they would have no doubt of the effect God is having in our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Making something a habit takes time. It doesn’t happen over night. I’ve read where it takes 21 days straight of doing something to form a new habit, and I’ve read where it’s really closer to 90 days. I’m thinking more on the latter. It takes a long time to change how you think, to change the how of what you believe.

 

 

We believe that God has the power to save, the God has the power to end our suffering, to heal the sick, to celebrate in our joys with us. That’s why we have praises and concerns lifted up each week. This isn’t anything new. But do our practices, do our habits, recognize that same power of belief? Would we be celebrating when the suffering ends?

 

 

The church needs to be there for those who don’t have these habits. Some of us in the church don’t have the habits fully formed yet. Some are starting, and some have been practicing these habits for decades. Our job, our mission, our ministry, is to teach these habits of faith to every one and to practice them faithfully each and every day of our lives. Just like Chuck did until the end of his.

 

Amen.