Sermon at West Des Moines United Methodist Church on August 25, 2013 by Dr. Wesley S.K. Daniel
Monday, August 19, 2013
Sermon at West Des Moines United Methodist Church on August 10, 2013 by Rev. Lee Schott, Pastor of Women at the Well
Women at the Well is a United Methodist congregation which is located within the walls of the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women,in Mitchellville,Iowa. They meet on Thursday evenings at 7:00 p.m. in the Sacred Space Chapel.
They are a diverse community composed of women incarcerated at ICIW,men and women from around the State of Iowa who choose to worship with us,and many volunteers who regularly support their ministries and programs. They gather together to share the teachings of Jesus Christ,and to experience the life transforming Spirit of God.
We thanks Rev. Lee Schott for sharing the word of God with us!
Monday, August 12, 2013
A Pastoral Letter
Call to Fervent Prayer
Throughout the Scripture, we see prophets, apostles, disciples and common Christians calling on God’s people to pray…to pray with urgency; to pray with passion and fervency; to pray with faith and courage. They prayed for cleansing of hearts and souls, for the turning around of hardened hearts, for love, for peace, for reconciliation; for unity; they prayed for God to give victory in the bleakest moments of their lives, they prayed for nations, leaders and rulers to turn to holiness of God. God always answered beyond their expectations!
I’ve been doing a lot of reflection lately; I’ve been fasting and praying for our church. In the quiet and reflective moments I’ve had with God, I’ve been personally convicted… I asked myself as much planning and preparations I am making for the coming season of Fall, how much of time am I really spending with God and asking God to bless the work of my hands? I am so grateful for the countless number of leaders in our church and staff who are working diligently to prepare for the months ahead. And yet, how are we preparing our hearts spiritually? How are we being nurtured with God’s strength, guidance and wisdom for all that we will undertake, so as we engage ourselves in the building of God’s kingdom? How are we aligning ourselves with God’s plans for us (and not solely our plans)? How are we soaking and saturating all that we are doing with the power of prayer?
These questions certainly give me moments of pause. There is power in prayer; there is power when God blesses what we do; there is power in prayer because it will break and shatter forces that are at work to destroy and divide that which we are seeking to build. There is wonder working power when we surrender all we have and all we are into God’s hands and let God pave the way forward. When we don’t engage ourselves in intentional seasons of prayer, we not only weaken and disable ourselves, we strengthen the negative forces. When we don’t pray we not only deplete strength from ourselves, we also give strength to powers that are at work to steal, destroy and kill.
I’ve always believed that prayer is not for defense, rather it is for offense! So, it is with this genuine spirit I call upon you to pray for our church; please pray for your pastors and staff; please pray for leaders and all those engaged in ministry and service; please pray for every ongoing ministry and new initiatives we will courageously undertake. Please pray that love, unity, peace, strength and the almighty power of Christ will prevail and abide with strength.
I’ve made a commitment to fast and pray three days a week throughout the month of August.
However God may call on you to engage in this season of prayer, I invite you to stand with me in fervent prayer for the ongoing and faithful work of our church. Remember, we have, in prayer, the greatest power on earth!
Pastor Wesley SK Daniel, Lead Minister
"So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.
8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!"
Some of you may have heard of a man named Tom Shadyac. He’s a movie director in LA, he’s directed movies like Ace Ventura Pet Detective, Liar Liar, Patch Adams and Bruce Almighty, he was the subject of one of our LifeTree Café sessions. He’s a pretty good example of Hollywood success and he lived his life that way too. Plenty of things, plenty of money, plenty of focus on himself. But Tom Shadyac might be more famous now for his dramatic lifestyle change than for the movies he made. You see after a bike accident that left him with what’s called a post-concussion syndrome where he continued to have headaches and other health problems after the accident, he started to think more deeply about his life, what he was doing with it and what needed to change. And because of that, he walked away from a lot of his former life. Tom now lives in a mobile home, he doesn’t have a lot of material possessions, he doesn’t focus so much on money, himself or the earthly idea of success, and he says he’s happier. He said to Oprah, "[We have] a very extrinsic model of success. You have to have a certain job status, a certain amount of wealth. ... I think true success is intrinsic. ... It's love. It's kindness. It's community." He gave up his former lifestyle, one that a lot of us would probably love to have and set his mind on different things, on love, kindness and community.
The scripture reading for today is part of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and we have to imagine that their hearts and minds weren’t set on the right things, probably somewhat like Tom. Otherwise Paul wouldn’t have to tell them to, right? We can read between the lines and assume that this church was having some problems with some specific things: fornication, passion, impurity, evil, greed, anger, malice, wrath, slander, abusive language and lying, but also that their minds, and I’d say their hearts, just weren’t focused on the right things. He tells them to set their minds on things above and not things on earth, he tells them to put to death the earthly things. He tells them that they need to complete change their behavior, their perspective; they need to change their hearts and minds.
Honestly I have a hard time with the way that the Bible talks about change sometimes. It seems like here, Paul is giving the Colossians a list of things not to do and telling them to look a different direction as if that’s all there is to it. It’s so much harder for me. Maybe we’ve really complicated things, maybe for Paul and the Colossians all they really needed was self control and knowing what they should and shouldn’t do. But man, it’s not that easy for me. I remember so often Paul’s words in Romans 7 when he says “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” We usually have an idea of what’s right and wrong, we usually know when we’re doing something that God wouldn’t be happy about, but it is so easy to keep on doing it. Especially with those sins that others might not see anything wrong with, those sins that we can easily hide or rationalize: judging people, gossip, not helping others, lying. So Paul is really calling the Colossians out, and I guess as we read this we probably feel like he’s calling us out a bit too. But what Paul is really calling the Colossians and us to do is to change. To make a fundamental change in the way we behave, the way we think, the way we operate, the way we look at the world. And I really wish he would have given us a little more instructions, a little more information, a little more to work with here. Paul, can you please tell us how to change?
There’s actually a lot out there about how to change, how to make changes in our lives. Just think about the numerous self-help books and website and personalities that are completely focused on helping us change those parts of ourselves that we don’t like. Whether it’s a physical characteristic, a destructive behavior or a relationship, there are plenty of people ready to help us change, ready to help us fix this problem. Some of you know that I studied social work before starting here and a lot of social work has to do with helping clients change. There are all types of therapeutic interventions to try to help the client change his or herself, his or her thoughts and behaviors or his or her environment. It’s a major part of the profession, so I think I’m supposed to know more about it than I do. But anyway there are a lot of theories on how we can help people change, how do people actually make healthy changes in their lives. I promise not to bore you with a bunch of theories, so I’ll just bore you with one. No, actually I found this really interesting in connection with our scripture today.
Gestalt is a German word for “essence or shape of an entity's complete form” and Gestalt psychology comes out of Berlin. So Gestalt psychology would say that whether we like it or not we’re going to change, so it’s the job of the therapist to help facilitate positive change and growth. And a big part of doing that is being aware of your whole self, the positive and the negative. We have to be aware of who we are in our environment, so we can make decisions and changes that get us where we want to go. He might say that if we work so hard to suppress the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, that we want to hide, then we can’t grow. The more we try to be who we are not, the more we stay the same. Now I don’t take that to mean that if we’re trying to be better people, better followers of Christ we won’t get anywhere; I take it to mean that if we try to deny and suppress the ugly parts of ourselves, if we try to hide our sin and pretend like we’re a new creation anyway, we’re still just the same, the sin isn’t gone.
This is a real important piece for me because I know how easy it is to just do the superficial work. To just stop doing XYZ, especially in front of others. To look like I’ve got my mind set on things above, by trying to suppress and ignore my sinful tendencies. But do you know what that does to me? It actually takes my eyes and my mind and my heart off of God. I start to be far more concerned about what I do, or don’t do, or say or don’t say than where the focus of all of my life, all of my being is. I actually become really focused on me. Do you ever feel that way? Like you’re kind of split, you’re doing what you should, but it still doesn’t feel right?
I think what Paul’s on to here is that all of our whole selves have to make this change, this shift to looking at things above. But that means we have to look at our whole selves, all of the sin, all of the junk, we can’t ignore it or suppress it. And while I really love social work and I think that it has great potential to help us change and grow, I’ve always believed that it falls short, that it inherently leaves out one really important thing, and that’s God. This passage really begs the question, how do we change? How do we set our minds on God? And there might be a lot of answers to that, but I think that the key is in the last verse, it says “but Christ is all and in all.” Christ is all and IN all. How do we change? How do we put to death the evil that lives in us, how do we set our minds on what’s above? Christ. Christ working in and through us through the Holy Spirit. Christ is all and he is in all, he is in every one of us. It is us being open to and working with the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds that not only helps us to focus on the right things, but that slowly puts to death, that softly kills the evil and sin in our lives.
So how do we really do this, how do be put to death those parts of us that are “earthly”? How do we set our minds on what’s above, on God, on God’s priorities? Well clearly it’s not simple, but I want to suggest a few things, a few tools that might help us as individuals and as a church. The first one I don’t like so much, but I’m pretty convicted that it’s a part of living this new life in Christ. And that’s Self-control, we have to be willing to consciously change our behavior. To do loving things when we don’t feel loving. To tell the truth when it’s going to get us in trouble. To keep our mouths shut when we have some really juicy gossip. We have to actively struggle against our tendencies to sin, we have to put that stuff to death, we have to work on killing it. It’s overwhelming at times because we’re so prone to sin, but like Gestalt’s theory of change would say we have to become more aware of it, we have to begin to recognize the sin within ourselves so we can kill it.
I’m going to being leading a group this fall about different ways to pray and one prayer created by Ignatius Loyola is the prayer of examen. Every day you sit with God and review your day, you thank God and ask God to show you those places where you fell short. It sounds painful, until you realize that it’s usually more painful to go on sinning. I invite you to come learn more about it in that prayer group, but this isn’t just a plug for the group, it’s to recognize that examining ourselves and becoming aware of our sin is an ongoing process and a important part of Christian life. If you want more info about the prayer of examen, I’ll put a link on the blog, or you can just come talk to me any time, but I encourage you to think about it as a tool we have as Christians to help us consciously change.
So once we become aware of our sins, once we can point out when and where they’re happening, we can begin the work of putting them to death, of killing them through self control, through consciously trying to not do that which we hate.
Part of the reason I’m not a big fan of pushing self control as the solution to our problem is because we know that our sins run deeper than that. I know that we can force ourselves to do loving things to someone we don’t like, but we still don’t love them. The truth is that if we really love those people, we’ll do loving things anyway, right. And isn’t that the point? So how do we get there? How do we go past just doing the loving thing or just not doing the bad thing, but to a changed heart where the right and loving thing comes most naturally? I’d argue that self control can’t do that. This is where that key comes in, it’s not just us working on ourselves, Christ is in us and through the work of the Holy Spirit our hearts are being changed. The Holy Spirit is the one that teaches us how to really love our enemy, who guides when we don’t know what to do and who slowly works in our hearts to change them. If we ask and if we’re open to it, the Holy Spirit will work in us, putting to death, killing softly those parts of us that are what Paul calls earthly. We have to ask the Holy Spirit to work in us and we have to give the Holy Spirit permission to basically kill a part of us. The sin part, the hate part, the earthly parts. The writer of John says in chapter 3, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Christ is all and in all of us, Christ must increase and we must decrease. This is the work of being a Christian, we have to work together with the Holy Spirit so that we might be changed. We do the best we can from our end, but in the end we have to turn to the Holy Spirit for the deep down life-giving change. My prayer this week is the Holy Spirit does that, that we let Holy Spirit change us and that God will continue to work with us to give us new life. Praise God, Amen.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Over the last few weeks, Lifetree Cafe has featured some incredible topics such as, Coping with Grief, Toxic Faith, UFOs and Mental Illness. We are looking forward to August’s featured topics:Meth (Stories of Horror and Hope), Betrayed, What our Pets Are Trying to Tell Us, and Science & Religion. “What I love about Lifetree Café”, an active participant recently commented was, “It speaks to relevant life topics, and day-to-day matters that relate to my life. I cannot wait for these power-packed sessions each week!”
We are continuing to get the word out about Lifetree Cafe to our neighbors! Recently, we blanketed several businesses in the East Village area to market Lifetree Café and have initiated mailings of weekly topics to local businesses, hospitals, daycare centers and other various agencies. A couple of weeks ago, several of us distributed Lifetree flyers to 150 homes in the church’s immediate neighborhood. Will you join us in helping spread the word about Lifetree Cafe? We have monthly marketing flyers and posters available here at the church – please visit with me if you would like to pick some of these up to share at your workplace, with your co-workers, friends, family and/or neighbors. Stop by and take some with you…it’s that easy!
God is doing some amazing things through this wonderful outreach ministry of our church! Please pray and join us in sharing with others about how God is changing lives through Lifetree Café!
Paige Chapman, Director of Lifetree Cafe