From the Well 5/11/2017

Ephesians 3:14-21 (MSG) 
14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit-not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength- 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you'll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20 God can do anything, you know-far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. 21 Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

A group of children ranging in age from four to eight years were asked: "What does love mean?" There answers were amusing and at times profound.

"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other."

"Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your french fries without making them give you any of theirs."

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."

"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you."

"Love is what makes you smile when you are tired."

"It is when you tell someone something bad about yourself and you're scared they won't love you anymore, but then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more."

"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."

"There are two kinds of love: Our love and God's love. But God makes both kinds of them."

These answers affirm that children may know more about love than adults. The writer of Ephesians reminds us of what it is like to be loved and to love radically. Interestingly, the writer does NOT pray that we would know that God loves us, rather he prays that we would know God's love. I'll say that again in case you missed it. The writer does not pray that God's people would know that God loves them, but that they would know God's love. Here's the question: Do you know God's love, or do you only know that God loves you?

An intellectual understanding of God's love (knowing that God loves you) is not the same as experiencing God's love. The writer of Ephesians describes God's love as having width, length, height, and depth. In other words, God's love is as vast as the universe. 

Jesus shows God's love by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and comforting the least, last, and lost. He shows God's love by washing His disciple's feet. We know God loves us but do we know God's love to the point that it transforms our life and the lives of those around us. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well 5/4/2017

Ephesians 2:14-15 (MSG) 
14 The Messiah has made things up between us so that we're now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. 15 He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

A professor of English was discussing the power of words with his freshman class. He emphasized the importance of a rich and extensive vocabulary. He said to the class of freshman, “Use a word ten times and it will be yours for life.”

As he continued his lecture, a young man in the back of the room closed his eyes and whispered under his breath: “WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all we had to do was repeat a word ten times in order to make it ours, to make it true, to make it a reality? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all we had to do was repeat the words peace, reconciliation, grace, love, acceptance, and unity in order to make them happen? Ephesians 2 tells us that Christ came to tear down the walls of division and rejection. Jesus came to build bridges not walls.

The name of “Jesus” means “Savior”or “The Lord’s helper” but the name “Jesus” is the also the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” Remember that Joshua “Fit the Battle of Jericho . . . And the Walls came a-tumblin down.” Jesus was well named because Jesus was a wall-breaker. Jesus broke down the walls of Rejection and division among people. Jesus built bridges of peace, reconciliation, grace, love, acceptance, and unity. Those are words worth repeating! Think about it.

Matthew

On another note, below is a letter from the District Superintendent of the Yadkin Valley District of the United Methodist Church confirming my reappointment as one of the pastors at Clemmons UMC. I want to share this with you, first, to say thank you for the honor and privilege of serving such a great congregation as Clemmons UMC. We have one of the best staffs in the conference and a faithful congregation that understands the important of mission, ministry, and discipleship. I'm excited about moving into a new year (my 7th!) and all the opportunities that are in front of us. I'm grateful to a pastor at one of the greatest and best appointments in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

From the Well 4/27/2017

Ephesians 1:3-14 (NRSV)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory. 

All the rain reminds me of these words from Wendell Berry's poem, Meditation in the Spring Rain:

In the April rain I climbed up to drink of the live water leaping off the hill, white over the rocks. Where the mossy root of a sycamore cups the flow, I drank and saw the branches feathered with green. The thickets, I said, send up their praise at dawn.

The Ephesians text for this Sunday is one long, sweeping sentence in Greek, an extended song of thanksgiving and praise to God for all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is also a summary of the faith that has nurtured the people of God. The text is about God who loves us so much that He sends down His love and blessings like April rain. Like the rain we've had over the last few days, God's love is almost more than we can absorb.

Easter and spring remind me that we are a blessed people. The writer of Ephesians clearly recognizes and lifts up the blessings that are gifted to those who are in Christ. As followers of Jesus we must decide if we are going to live as people who are blessed by an ever present and loving God. We have to decide what we are looking for in life. It's like this story told by Leonard Sweet:

Two birds that fly over the California desert are the vulture and the hummingbird. All the vulture can see is rotting meat because that's all it looks for. It thrives on that which has died. But the hummingbird ignores the carcasses and the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, it looks for the tiny blossoms of the cactus flowers. It buzzes around until it finds the colorful blooms, almost hidden from view by the rocks. Each bird fins what it is looking for. We must decide what it is we are looking for in life. Will we be followers who look for the negative and darkness or will we be people of the resurrection, followers of Jesus Christ, who look for the blessings of God? Think about it.

Pastor Matthew

From the Well 4/12/2017

There are many stories and images from my life that are as vivid and real to me as when they first happened. From 1968 to 1971, the Burton family lived on the Quechan Indian Reservation in Yuma, Arizona. After moving to Yuma and getting settled into first grade my teacher noticed that I was having a hard time seeing the chalk board so my parents took me to the local optometrist. After an examination it was determined I needed glasses.

After my appointment, my dad struck up a conversation with the optometrist and learned that he owned a gold mine. The Rob Roy Mine, as it was called, got its name because it was started as an attempt to "rob" from a lost vein of gold of a much larger and more productive mine on the other side of the mountain. The Rob Roy mine was a small operation that was never profitable.

The optometrist purchased the mine in hopes of working it in his spare time. It was a long time ago and I was young so I don't know for sure but I suspect the optometrist had dreams of finding the lost vein of gold and striking it rich. Like so many dreams of wealth or fame, it never happened.

What I do remember is the optometrist inviting us to visit the mine on several occasions. I remember looking down one of the vertical shafts. I laid on my stomach with my dad holding my belt so I could shine my flashlight into the darkness. I also remember asking the optometrist, "What would happen if someone fell into the hole?" he matter-of-factly replied, "You would be lost forever."

When Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb on that first Easter morning, she was sure that Jesus was lost forever. The triumphant entrance on Palm Sunday was only a shadow in Mary's memory as she struggled to deal with the loss of the one who had pulled her back from the darkness and despair of a former life. It was if Jesus had fallen into a bottomless black hole leaving those who loved him behind. Three years of excitement and anticipation for a better future was over. There was no hope. The disciples were in hiding out of fear for their own lives. The teacher, the healer, the story teller was gone.

Only Mary had the courage to go to the tomb under the cover of darkness. What a shock it must have been to arrive at the tomb and discover that the stone was rolled away. Had she interrupted grave robbers? Were they still there? What would they do if they saw her? There was nothing else she could do but run and hope for the best.

She ran to Peter and the others. Out of breath she exclaimed to the disciples, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." In a panic, Peter, Mary, and another disciple ran to the tomb and find it empty. Then, as if forgetting all about Mary and her emotional state, Peter and the other disciple leave her crying at the tomb to run and tell the others.

Slowly and carefully Mary gathers up enough courage to peer into the tomb. There, in the place where Jesus body should have been, there were messengers who ask Mary why she is crying. When she turns from them (Maybe to run away again) she sees a man who she assumes is the gardener who also asks her why she is crying. "They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have placed him," she tells the stranger. When the man says her name, "Mary," her eyes are suddenly opened and she realizes it is Jesus. Suddenly, Mary is running again. This time she doesn't run out of fear and despair but from excitement and joy.

That first Easter morning was life changing for Mary Magdalene and the disciples. I would suggest that as we gather one Easter Sunday morning after another to celebrate an empty tomb and a risen Christ, we become part of the story as it transforms our lives and the lives of others through us. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 3/30/2017

Galatians 5:16-17 (NRSV)

16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

Humans are like a dog I used to have. The dog came from a litter of puppies my brother and I found in a barn located close to the parsonage where we lived at the time in Haysville, North Carolina. We quickly recruited all the neighborhood children to help us find good homes for each of the puppies who appeared to have been abandoned by their mother. After a day of knocking on doors, we found homes for all of the puppies except for the runt of the litter. My brother and I ended up taking him home hoping our parents would agree to let us keep him.

We named the puppy "Ha Cha," the Quechan Indian name for "Dog." The name suited the puppy since he was nothing more than a Heinz variety mutt. After a year or two, the residents of Haysville started calling him "The Mayor." Everyone in town knew Ha Cha. Every afternoon he made his rounds visiting the uptown businesses and a variety of homes, mostly places where he could get food.

Ha Cha was a scrapper, a fighter. It wasn't unusual for him to come home with a cut or scrap of some kind. His left ear was in two pieces as a result of being torn or cut during one of his escapades. Ha Cha loved chasing cars. This left him with all kinds of battle scars including the eventual loss of the part of the left ear that was previously torn in two.

Ha Cha was not a handsome dog. In fact, he was ugly. Ha Cha was homely but he wasn't dumb. We trained him to roll over in order to receive his dinner. He became so skilled that when we called him for supper he would come running through the neighborhood, start rolling at the edge of the yard, and roll all the way up to the front steps landing on all four of his legs, panting for his food.

As hard as we tried, we could not stop Ha Cha from chasing cars. One day Ha Cha chased a Ford Mustang down the road after it passed our house. The front wheel caught him, pulling him under the car. As he came rolling out from underneath the speeding Mustang, I figured he was well on his way to dog heaven. But Ha Cha emerged from underneath the car landing on all fours just like at supper time. He took off yelping and crying. Several hours later he appeared in the yard licking his wounds. By the next day, he was back to his old shenanigans-chasing cars, putting his life at risk.

If there was a twelve-step program for car chasing dogs, Ha Cha needed to be in it. Unfortunately his lust for chasing cars caught up with him. When we moved from Haysville, we gave Ha Cha to a neighbor. The neighbor reported to us several months later that Ha Cha died after being run over by a car.

Ha Cha reminds me of our propensity to do those things over and over again that can harm our spirits and kill our souls. We desire those things that we know are harmful and yet we continue to seek them out like a dog chasing after a car. Lust (misdirected desire) as someone has said, is like being "shackled to a lunatic. It is craving for salt by a person who is dying of thirst." Lust confuses us into thinking that what we pursue is what we need.

What we pursue is, at least to some degree, an indication to what we desire. God wishes for us to desire him. God is always pursuing us hoping for a relationship that will transform our lives. So, are you pursuing those things that will bring positive and healthy change in your life? Are you pursing God and God's ways or are you like Ha Cha chasing every car that comes along thinking that will bring satisfaction and fulfillment to your life? Think about it.

Matthew