Archive for » April, 2007 «

April 29th, 2007 | Author:

[I shared this message at my church on April 29, 2007.]

Have you wondered why Tom & I are here? We just kind of showed up a couple months ago and started taking up space. Well, there’s a reason. We’re hoping to move back up here on the hill. My mother has signed over some land to us, the woods over there that I used to play in as a kid. We’re planning to sell the big old house we’re in now and build a nice little one, right smack in the middle of the woods. That’s the plan, God willing. So we thought we could reconnect with the community in Glen and here we are.

Being here each Sunday has brought back a lot of memories.
- When I think of Sunday school? I think flannel boards. I loved flannel boards. I always wanted to be the one to put the people on or take the animals off. They were great fun.
- After our individual classes, we would all get together in the middle of the room and either Marty or Bessie would play piano so we could sing – and sing we did, loud and long.
- And we always finished with “Onward, Christian Soldiers” as we stomped up the stairs, making as much noise as possible. The adults never had to guess when we were finished.
- This sanctuary was almost full most Sundays, and over-full at Christmas and Easter. In never-ending amazement, we watched each week as the Egelston’s came in and filled up a whole pew.
- We would leave the doors wide open in the summer – and sometimes our German Shepherd, King, would come in and wander around until he found us. Then he’d lay down by our feet until we were ready to leave. A well-churched dog.
- In third grade, we all memorized John 3:16. On children’s Sunday in June, we took turns marching up front to recite it in front of the whole church. I was terrified … but I did it.
- And then we were each presented with our very own Bible. I can remember wondering why they would entrust something as important as the Bible to me – with my name in it, too. I felt very special.
- And every summer, of course, there was Vacation Bible School. I don’t know who spent the winter dreaming these things up, but it seemed like every year we would have a new project to make — always, always out of popsicle sticks and yarn. I can’t remember what even one of them was, but I know we always had fun making them.
- When we were in 7th grade, our Sunday school class graduated upstairs with Harold Pierce. That made us feel very adult. It was always clear how much Harold loved teaching us about the Bible. He would always get excited when one of us grasped a new concept. In retrospect, it’s very apparent how much he loved the Lord. He would have to have, to put up with the bunch of know-it-all 7th graders that we were.

It’s nice to have these memories, and I thank God for mine … but we can’t live on memories.

When you come back to a place that you haven’t been part of for awhile, I think you see some things differently than the people who have been here all along. For instance, I haven’t gotten a day older in the past 30 years – some of you, on the other hand … I’m teasing, but I do want to share some of what I’ve seen here in the past few months.

- I’ve seen familiar faces that have opened their arms and their hearts to us. That doesn’t happen many places these days.
- I’ve seen that this beautiful building has been well-maintained. Enders may not be mowing the lawn anymore, but someone has taken his mantle and wears it well.
- I’ve seen Biff in church every Sunday. I confess, that surprised me — probably as much as me being here has surprised him! God is full of surprises.
- You’ve added this Early Bird service, where regular folks like me can share what the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts. Before I’m done, you may want to re-think that idea.
- On the other side of the coin, we stayed for the congregational meeting a few weeks ago. We listened to report after report, and, frankly, it was depressing. If you looked past all the cheery voices, most of the reports pointed to a shortage of funds.
- We were also here for the joint Easter service. Because we’d been attending this early service, I knew we were missing the people who attended the later service. And Easter always brought people out of the woodwork, so I was expecting a full house on Easter morning, but — they weren’t here! I was heartsick! Where were all the people?

I’ve spent a bit of time praying and thinking about these things, and asking the Lord questions. In fact, I’ve been making a real pest of myself about all this —and I believe He’s given me an answer.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, “Who does she think she is, waltzing in here after all this time? She thinks she’s got answers to the things we’ve been wrestling with for years!”

Well, you’re free to ignore me, of course, but this is who I think I am: a child of sin, forgiven by Jesus Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. I also happen to love the people of this church very much.

As for the answer I have, it’s right here in the Sermon on the Mount, one short verse, Matthew 6:33:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”

Instead of seeking God about the lack of money, instead of seeking God about the lack of people, instead of seeking God about keeping this place going, I believe we need to seek God … because He’s God. We need to seek His kingdom for our own hearts.

And instead of just praying about all the horrible things that people in this world do, we need to pray about all the horrible things that we do. I once heard a story about God’s Holiness and our sinfulness.

Imagine we’re all in college, and there’s just one final exam. To pass this final exam, you need to get 100. It doesn’t matter if you get 99 or 21. If it’s not 100, you fail. Well, we all fail. There’s not one of us that can get 100 on God’s Holiness scale. But because He’s a merciful God, he sent Jesus to suffer for all the 99’s and 21’s – and He, of course, got the 100 we can all claim, when we confess that we didn’t earn it ourselves.

Nonetheless, Jesus exhorts us to seek His righteousness. A grateful, humble heart desires to please God, even knowing that we would never be able to pass the test on our own.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”

Last week Jayme told us about different seasons we go through, and I remembered other seasons I’ve been through of seeking the Lord — seasons where every thought, every feeling, every action — revolves around seeking the Lord. Where nothing on this earth matters, except drawing closer to God.

I’m sure many of you have been through this process. I discovered that as we seek God wholeheartedly, as we seek to make His righteousness our own, He starts a fire. Sometimes it’s a little match, sometimes it’s a blow torch, and sometimes it’s a forest fire — but always He burns off the dross that gets in our way — and we come out the other side cleansed and purified, a more fitting vessel for the Holy Spirit.

One time when I went through this process, the Lord prompted me to write a song. I’d like to teach you that song this morning. I invite you to sing with me as you get hold of the melody. And I invite you to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. All these things surely shall be added to you.


c1998 Jean Leonard, all rights reserved

Can You Feel the Heat?

Can you feel the heat? He’s coming closer.
He’s burning off the dross.

Can you feel the heat? He’s coming closer.
He’s burning off the dross.

1) He’s the Father. He’s Holy.
We’re His children of sin.
Still He loves us and wants us close, closer to Him.

2) He’s the Savior, our only hope.
We’re the reason He died.
Then He rose up and set us free to follow in stride.

3) He’s the Spirit. He leads us on.
We just need to obey.
He will cleanse us and comfort us and show us the way.

Category: Christianity, sermon  | Comments off
April 15th, 2007 | Author:

[This is the first message I shared after I returned to the church where I was raised.]

Disclaimer: The views I am about to express are not necessarily those of this church. In fact, they’re probably pretty unique.

For instance … God is like an elephant. Ok, not exactly like an elephant, although He is very big.

You’ve probably heard a version of this story. Some people are blindfolded, and reaching out with just their hands to touch what’s in front of them, trying to identify it. Someone thinks it’s a tree. Someone else says it’s a wall, and a third thinks it’s a snake. They argue about it, but it turns out they’re all touching different parts of an elephant.

They don’t know this until the blindfolds are removed, and so it is with God.

We each have little pieces of knowledge about God. We can share that knowledge with each other, and we should, but until the blindfolds come off, we still only know our little pieces.

So this morning I’m going to share some of my little pieces of God, and then I’ll tell you about my blindfold.

1) There is something very special about the love a grandmother has for her grandchildren. Some of you may remember my father’s mother. Her real name was Ethel, but we always called her DeeDee.

We had a very special relationship. I was her only granddaughter, and she was the only grandmother I could remember. In her eyes, I could do no wrong. No matter what dumb thing I stumbled into, like sticking my tongue onto a frozen pipe or fighting with my brothers, I could always tell her about it and know that her arms would be open. She never said “I told you so.” She never said “you should have known better.” She just opened her arms and loved me.

This was my first big lesson from God: He showed me what unconditional love is.

2) Somehow, it seems that I’ve always known about the God of Creation. Maybe it was growing up on this hill, with 20 acres of woods to play in. Maybe it was watching storms come down the valley, and splitting apart at the Nose’s – or maybe it was watching clouds dance across the Adirondacks.

Somehow I’ve always known that acorns turning into mighty oak trees, and babies being born with 10 fingers and toes, cannot be explained by anything but miracles of God – the God of Creation.

3) The first time that God revealed Himself to me, I was 10 years old. My grandmother was sick in the hospital. I started praying. They brought her home and set up a hospital bed in the middle of her living room. I kept praying. Every night before I went to bed, I prayed, “God, please don’t let my DeeDee die.”

After about 3 months, it was Thanksgiving Eve. I was busy that night helping my mother prepare for Thanksgiving dinner for the family. I put the extra leaves in the dining room table, and got out the good tablecloth and china. I polished the silverware, and washed the fancy goblets. And then, exhausted, I went to bed. When I got up the next morning, DeeDee was dead. I had forgotten to say my prayers the night before.

You might think I learned about guilt, but the miracle of this story is that I never felt guilty. Somehow, I KNEW that God decides when someone dies, not a 10-year-old. Somehow, I KNEW that her time had come, but God had put it off just for a little while, so that I would know that He heard my prayers.

At 10 years old, I learned that God hears me.

4) Now flash-forward 23 years. In retrospect, I know God was walking with me for that 23 years, but I wasn’t often conscious of Him. In fact, for the most part, I was ignoring Him and forging my own path. I developed my own moral guidelines, but that’s what they were – MY guidelines, not God’s.

And then one day, I broke my own guidelines. When that happened, even as it happened, I knew in my heart that I had crossed a line. My guilt was overwhelming, and I believed that I was now beyond hope of God’s forgiveness. I lived in that place of spiritual death for 7 years. I learned what Hell is like.

5) Now flash-forward again and it’s 1994. I have just bought my first computer, a cutting edge IBM 486. There were only a couple ways onto the internet at that time, all of them involving expensive long-distance phone lines, but I did it anyhow. I joined AOL, and soon was chatting online just like I knew what I was doing.

One day, I got chatting with a man from Daytona Beach, Florida. We started sending emails, and chatting at pre-arranged times. After a few days, the conversation turned to God. He told me stories about his life with God. I told him that I was beyond God’s help. For 5 hours, he and the Holy Spirit argued with me. They finally convinced me that God could, and did, forgive me.

Using keyboards and phone lines and a man 1200 miles away, I confessed my sin and invited Jesus into my life. As we prayed together, a warmth spread over my head and shoulders, like a gossamer-thin veil. The blindfold was removed and I received new life.

Another lesson learned: we must be born again.

No, we don’t have to call it that, especially if we come from a Reformed Church background, and no, it doesn’t happen the same way for each of us. But I am convinced that it has to happen, that there has to come a place in time when we consciously decide to yield our lives to God and receive the Holy Spirit.

Jesus explained it much better than I ever could:

(John 3:1-8) Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

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