Joyful Generosity

My Post (47)
“Stewardship: Joyful Generosity”
Philippians 4:10-20

It seems that some people refuse to give no matter what. I believe more people would give to God’s work through the Church if they just knew how fun it is! There is a great benefit to giving not only to the recipients of the gift, but to the givers, as well. Generosity brings great joy to everyone!

At least that’s what the believers in the First Century church at Philippi discovered. They had supported the Apostle Paul in his missionary efforts. So, Paul writes them a thank-you note, expressing his gratitude for their gifts. Only in the note, he does not tell them how much the gift helped him. No. He tells them how much their gift helped themselves!

When the Philippian believers gave, there was “fruit that increased to their credit”. And the same is true for everyone who gives. So…


Give and increase God’s fame in the world. Give and cause people to rejoice in the Lord. That’s what Paul did when he received a gift from the Philippian believers. In verse 10 he said, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord”. Their gift made his day. It lifted his spirit. It caused him to praise God, even though he was sitting in prison.

And do you know? Our giving will do the same. Our generosity will cause people to rejoice in the Lord and bring glory to God.

An article in The Washington Post gave the facts about what is really going on in the American Church when it comes to joyful generosity. Rob Schwarzwalder and Pat Fagan, the writers of that article said, “Broadly speaking, American churches are incredibly generous to the needs of a hurting world.” Then they presented some stats to back up that claim:

In 2009, overseas relief and development supported by all American churches exceeded $13 billion.

That compares to $5 billion sent abroad by foundations in the same year, $6 billion from private and voluntary relief organizations apart from church support, and $9 billion donated internationally by corporations.

In 2012 alone, the evangelical relief group World Vision spent “roughly $2.8 billion annually to care for the poor,” which ranks World Vision about 12th within the G-20 nations in terms of overseas development assistance.

In addition, Christian groups such as the UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), Samaritan’s Purse, Food for the Hungry, World Relief, and many others provide hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-poverty programs and disasters at home and abroad.

And don’t forget the countless hours that churches (like ours), ministries, and individual believers devote to helping the poor. They and we are involved in food pantries, mobile meals and many more caring ministries all over the country. 

The generosity of God’s people all over the world is a powerful witness to the love of Christ. Our giving brings great honor and glory to the Savior we profess.

My dear friends, our generosity will do the same. Our sacrificial giving will give powerful credibility to the Savior we profess. So, give and bring praise to God. More than that…


Give and be a part of extending the good news of Jesus Christ around the world. Give and partner with those who proclaim the truth of God’s Word to a world in desperate need of Him.

That’s how the Philippian believers partnered with Paul. Paul tells them in verse 14, “you shared my troubles,” and in verse 15, “No church entered into a partnership with me… except you only.”

The words “shared” and “partnership” comes from the same root word in the original Greek language. It’s the word koinonia, and it means to have things in common or to share together. These Philippian believers shared in Paul’s troubles. They shared in his victories, and they shared in his ministry.

The Philippian believers, through their giving, were just as much a part of Paul’s ministry as he was! In other words, when Paul led somebody to Christ, they were a part of that. When Paul planted a church, they were a part of that. And when Paul stood before kings, they were a part of that too. Paul’s ministry was their ministry because they had given to support that ministry.

In the same way, when we give to support someone’s ministry through our apportionments, we’re just as much a part of that ministry as they are. When you give to support the ministry of Cornerstone United Methodist Church, you are just as much a part of this ministry as the pastor. When we give to support the spread of the gospel through our apportionments to the General Church, we are just as much involved as the one sharing the gospel in words and deeds. Our giving allows us to be a part of transforming lives for eternity!

Did you hear that? God not only made us to be recipients of His grace, but also participants in the movement of His own generosity. It’s an honor to give, a dishonor to only receive. So, give and bring praise to God. Give and participate in the spread of the Gospel. And finally…


Give and experience the fruit of your generosity. Give and discover the benefits of your liberality.

That’s what happened to the Philippian believers. In verse 17, Paul told them I don’t seek your gift, “but I seek the fruit it increases to your account.” In other words, Paul says your giving doesn’t profit me as much as it profits you! Then Paul continues in verses 18-28…

Philippians 4:18-20 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)

Their gift was pleasing to God, which not only brought praise to God; it resulted in the promise of God’s rich provision. They had supplied some of Paul’s needs. Now Paul tells them, “God will supply all of their needs.”

That’s what happened to the Philippian believers, and that same thing can happen to us when we give!

There are some who say, “I can’t afford to give. I have too many bills to pay, too many mouths to feed, too many needs.” Well, I say, “You can’t afford not to give, because God promises to supply every need of yours when you do give.” You see, verse 19 is a promise for givers! It doesn’t apply to all Christians. It applies only to those who give.

For the believer, this doesn’t usually happen; it always happens, because God promised it! “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”, not out of His riches, but according to those riches!


So, give and bring praise to God. Give and participate in the spread of the Gospel. Give and profit from it yourself. Amen!!!

Pastor John Punni


Living in Victory

My Post (47)
Joshua 6:1-20

Seven times on the seventh day the children of Israel marched around the city. The seven priests marching before the ark of the Lord blew their trumpets and the people shouted and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. They marched into the city and destroyed every living thing. It was a victory that some say could not happen. It was a victory that some people today deny could happen. They cannot understand how the Biblical account of the destruction of such a strong city could even be true. But the story of Joshua and Jericho teach us some valuable lessons:

  1. Who’s In Control——–V. 1-2, 16

Joshua was given the leadership of the children of God and he would lead them into the promised land. The entrance had already been divine as they crossed the Jordan River on dry ground much like their parents crossed the Red Sea on dry ground 40 years earlier. Taking that first step into the promised land was a great victory.

Joshua new the first battle would be Jericho and that as a city it was strong. He had already had two spies check out the city and now it was time to plan the attack. Joshua 6:1-2, 16 will tell you the greatest point I will make in this lesson on victory: you need to be on the Lord’s side, the Lord on yours. Never forget who is in control.

Just a reminder, it took 40 years to enter this promised land. The last time this opportunity was offered by God, 12 spies had gone into the land and 10 of them said, “we can’t do it!” They were told of their sin and the 10 were killed by God. The people said they would go, but Moses told them that God was no longer with them. In their presumption they went to battle – and lost.

Understand that unless you are on God’s side, nothing else matters in the spiritual life of victory. Many times, I have asked God to be with me, but maybe I ought to be asking if I can be with him, no matter where He is. Living with God may take me through some stormy weather, it may take me onto a glorious mountain, but where God is, is where I want to be, for there is victory.

  1. Doing It His Way——–V. 3-7
  2. To live in victory is to live with God. To live with God means to live as he directs. God doesn’t always direct like we think. How many major battle plans involve marching around a city carrying a box and blowing trumpets and having people shout?

If you are going to live in victory it will require of you to walk in the pathway of faith. It takes us humbly submitting ourselves to God before God lifts us up. Sometimes I forget the humbly submitting part and just want God to pick me up and be on my side.

Our victorious life should be based upon doing the will of the Father and not ourselves. That means get beyond you and into God. Will God way always make sense? Do you not think that walking around a city sounded foolish to some? I don’t have to understand God will in order to be victorious, I just have to do it by faith.

That means taking what you learn from God through the Bible and putting it into action. Many of us hear great classes or lessons that prick our hearts, but instead of letting the guilt motivate us we wallow in self-pity. Get up, get to work, and start going God’s direction instead of your own. Let me tell you from my own personal experience, I am not very good at life’s directions.

III. Victory Belongs to Him——–V. 20-21

The challenge of a victorious life is to be the winner in the end. The way to be the winner is to fight the good fight, finish the course and keep the faith. For it is then that the Lord will give you the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8). It takes being faithful unto death, as John tells the church in Smyrna, and then you will get the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

Dr. Alan Redpath in his commentary on Joshua suggests that many people don’t see the answers to their prayers simply because they have stopped one round short in their conquest of their personal Jericho. We may have been doing the right things, but we simply stop doing them.

Living in victory means you don’t quit. Do you remember the old song that said, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden, along with sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime.” I believe the same can be said about the Christian life. It is not always easy, it is not always spiritual high’s, it is not always Sunday. Sometimes the Monday morning blues come. Sometimes the pain comes into life. Sometimes it’s hard. Live in victory and don’t quit.


Today an attitude change can begin in your life. God wants you to live with the faith and power that may have been missing in your spiritual life. As John put it, faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Are you ready to overcome? Are you ready to live? Are you ready to be victorious? Live in the victory that God gives. 

Pastor John Punni


When the Church Prays

My Post (47)Acts 12:1-11

In his book on “Prayer”, E. M. Bounds emphasizes that a praying church is a successful church:

“Success is sure to follow a church given to much prayer. The supernatural element in the church, without which it must fail, comes only through praying. More time in this bustling age must be given to pray by a God-given church… More heart and soul must be in the praying that is done if the church would go forth in the strength of her Lord and perform the wonders that is her heritage by divine promise.”

Every one of us has experienced the power of personal prayer. We have experienced times where we have called out to God in the secret place of prayer and He has heard and answered us in power, not for our glory but for His. There is something special when you enter God’s presence for yourself and you talk to Him in secret. It’s something we should all do and do often.

There is also power when the Church prays together as a corporate body. There is a special dynamic that comes into play when the Church comes together, united in faith and purpose to seek God’s face in prayer.

Let’s look at this passage as I share some truths on the subject “When the Church Prays”.

  1. The Purpose of Prayer——–Vs. 1-4

There were attacks as James had been beheaded by Herod and Peter was on death row awaiting his own execution. The Jews hated the gospel and so they pressed these attacks against the Church. Herod persecuted the Church as it gave him political advantage.

There was apprehension as the Church didn’t know what the future held and as a result of this, fear and concern came upon them regarding the future of the Church. 

There was and still is an adversary. Herod killed James and arrested Peter and this brought pleasure to the Jews. Both of them were responsible for the persecution but they were merely instruments in the hands of Satan. He hated the church, the gospel and the Lord that they served and we still have the same problems today. If there was a time where the Church should be united in prayer, it is now.    

I want to encourage us to make the prayer for the harvest of souls a matter of urgency in our everyday living. We need to pray on a more consistent basis and using every opportunity to pray for God to do miraculous things here in our presence.

Could God do something of such magnitude that we would all be astonished? I know He can. And the secret to getting Him to do this is to have this church pray more sincerely and more often. I believe that the more we have in number in prayer the more we can show God that we as a church are sincere.

  1. The People of Prayer——–V. 5

There is a word in verse 5 that makes a difference, the word but. The situation is desperate, but! Peter might be put to death, but! When faced with overwhelming problems the Church called out to God and prayed. Let’s examine their prayer:

It was fervent prayer. When we apply fervency to our prayers, it is a picture of the Church pouring out their hearts towards God as we seek Him to meet our needs.

It was faithful prayer. By this I mean they prayed and believed God would hear them as they prayed for Peter. Faith makes the difference between answered and unanswered prayer.

It was focused prayer. Their focus for the prayer meeting was Peter. When we ask God for specific needs in prayer and He answers, it brings glory to Him, assures us of our relationship with Him and our faith is increased. When you pray, be specific.

It was family prayer. The Church had gathered to pray for one of their own. They sought God’s help for a brother in need. How much time do we spend praying for other people? People that may be facing a life-threatening disease? Those are the people that we should be touching heaven for. There are others who are lost. We should be touching heaven for them. People that are struggling with needs, burdens and problems are the people that we should be touching heaven for. Your brothers and sisters in Christ need you to touch heaven on their behalf.

III. The Power of Prayer——–Vs. 6-11

There is no greater demonstration of the power of prayer than is given here in this passage. Try to visualize what happened.

Peter was bound with chains – there were 16 guards around him and he was sleeping between two soldiers at the time this event took place. Vs. 7. The prison door was

guarded by the keepers. Peter was in a maximum-security prison. No prison breaks happen here. But then the chains fell off Peter. 

God is the master of all the chains. The doors opened before Peter and the angel. God has keys for all the locks. There is no door that God cannot open. The men and keepers of the prison didn’t even see Peter and the angel. They locked Peter in, but they couldn’t lock God out.

It was a time of powerful salvation. God intervened and saved Peter’s life because of the Church praying and asking Him to. Church, our God can do powerful things in our midst when the Church prays. 


We need to be people that grab a hold of God as individuals and as a Church. The only way things will change is if we as a Church come together in unity and seek God in prayers because great things happen when the Church prays. Amen!!!

Pastor John Punni


The Church’s Core Values


My Post (47)Psalm 23:1 ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

David once served as a shepherd as he tended his father’s sheep on the Judean hillsides. He knew the responsibility and the obligation and the duties of the shepherd.

If we could believe that God is our Shepherd at Cornerstone United Methodist Church; that He is going to take care of us, then we would have no need to worry about anything. We just simply be the sheep and allow God to be the Shepherd. When we make the Lord our Shepherd how is that the answer to our worries? The trust comes when we realize what a shepherd is:

  1. A SHEPHERD PROVIDES: God will provide food, shelter, and the basic necessities for us as a church.
  2. A SHEPHERD PROTECTS: God will defend us against the enemies that are lurking about.
  3. A SHEPHERD GUIDES: God will lead us when we become confused and don’t know which way to go.
  4. A SHEPHERD CORRECTS: Any problem that comes along God will correct it. The amazing thing is this: God has promised to do these four things in our lives if we will trust Him if we will allow Him to be our Shepherd.

As we travel on this new journey together, let this be  God’s declaration to Cornerstone United Methodist Church:

“I will PROVIDE for you.” All of our needs will be met.
“I will PROTECT you.” Nothing will harm us.
“I will GUIDE you.” He will lead us to where we need to be.
“I will CORRECT the problems that are in your lives.” He will correct our problems.

All we need to do as a church is to let Him be our Shepherd. May God bless us as we strive to serve Him by serving others.

Pastor John Punni


Season of Transition

It is with the strange mixture of emotions that often comes with transitions that I share I have been appointed to another church in the Oklahoma Conference. June 16th will be my last Sunday as the pastor of Cornerstone UMC in Oklahoma City, and on June 23rd I will be beginning a new appointment at Heritage UMC in Broken Arrow.

My family and I have been so privileged and pleased to worship with, serve with, love, be loved by, make disciples with, and grow in Christ deeper with the Cornerstone congregation over the last four years. I have learned so much and discovered so many things about my calling from the amazing God I serve while being a pastor at Cornerstone. We will miss this fantastic congregation. However, I am excited about the Reverend John Punni who will be taking my place as pastor, and look forward to seeing all that God continues to do in and through this congregation.

I am also very excited to become the pastor at Heritage. My family and I have heard such tremendous things about this church, and I anticipate discovering so many amazing things God is doing in and through this wonderful and dynamic congregation. We have already experienced their hospitality and welcome from afar, and we look forward to the season ahead in Broken Arrow.

Words of Scripture that have been rolling through my mind during this season of transition come from Hebrews 12:1-3. May we fix our eyes on Jesus: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Pastor Chris Symes

Blogs, Uncategorized

The Wild Goose

By Pastor Chris Symes
Twice in the last month or so the Holy Spirit has showed up in worship and interrupted my sermon.
The first time occurred in the Branch service some weeks ago. Brad, as he usually does at the beginning of the service being the worship leader, greeted us gathered there in his usual friendly and down-to-earth way. And he prayed as he usually does, inviting God to be present with us and to open our hearts to experience His power and glory. Only that morning, he confessed he felt a specific sense that there were those present who needed healing. This is interesting, because all week I had been thinking the same thing. I had felt a prompting to pray for healing in worship. In fact, I asked God that morning to show me some sign or confirmation that this was from Him and not just my idea. Well, I certainly got it! We continued on after Brad finished his prayer, singing a few songs. Then came the time of prayer. I shared my own discernment about the need to pray for healing, and so we prayed for one another. I began by asking if there were any who would like prayer. Hands immediately raised. We gathered around each of these people, laying our hands on them, interceding. Different people prayed at different times. Tears were shed. One person confessed that if we had not done this he would not have come forward for healing. We prayed for four people that morning. It was a simple thing, but there was a distinct sense among everyone that all of it was being orchestrated by the Spirit.
The second time came this past Sunday in our Classic service. I was preaching on Jesus’ parable commonly known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15. At the beginning of the sermon, I noticed a woman sitting in the back who I had never seen before. Glad she was there, I continued. About three fourths the way through, as I was preaching about “the older brother” in us, this woman raises her hand and shares that she has a confession she would like to make. To make a long story short, she bravely comes forward and shares her story with the whole congregation, specifically how she is on her way to see her mom with whom she has a broken relationship. This might be extraordinary in its own right, but what was truly amazing to me were the parallels between her story and Jesus’ parable that I happened to be preaching from that morning: broken relationship with a parental figure, inheritance, gone for many years, an older sibling. This woman truly was a prodigal at this point in her life who just happened to stop in to our church to find some gas money to go see her mother. All of this had to be the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. We prayed for her, and I wrapped up my sermon quickly. We spent some time with her after the service, and we helped her. People were moved by the experience.
Now in both these situations things did not go according to plan. In both these services I had to let go of my sermon specifically in some way. In the first, I abbreviated my sermon because of our extended time of prayer. In the second, I was unable to land the sermon the way I had planned. Now I am not complaining. When God wants to change your plans, it’s always a good idea to let God rather than fight God. But it’s not an easy thing to do. It has been said before that the Holy Spirit does work from time to time outside of our plans. When I think of the Holy Spirit’s work I often think about what Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:8: “The wind [same Greek word used for Spirit by the way] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The Spirit works in the ordinary, doing supernatural work that we often don’t see in our lives and in the world. We should never underestimate the Spirit’s presence in normal every day life. However, the Spirit does work in “wild” ways too. In fact the Celtic Christians called the Spirit “the Wild Goose” for this reason. He will always glorify Christ and move within the bounds of Scriptural truth of which He inspired the writing, but His means of doing so may surprise us. I believe the Spirit works outside of our plans from time to time, because we are often so hard pressed to push our own agendas. No matter how well-intentioned, we sometimes don’t leave room for God to work his plans. So, as uncomfortable as it is, it is a grace when the Spirit takes control in even wild ways.
I rejoice that we are seeing the Spirit move in our church, even disrupt in our church. He is forming us to be an ever more faithful community, obedient to God. Moving forward this leads us to a willingness to surrender our expectations, an openness to hear the voice of God through Scripture and prayer, and a willingness to obey the Spirit. I see him working in our various feeding ministries, among our kids, in our youth, in our bands, in our Sunday School classes, in the one-on-one discipleship relationships happening, and at our Dinner Church worship services. The Goose is on the loose!

To Mortality…And Beyond! (Ash Wednesday Sermon)

Just A Toy
This summer the fourth Toy Story movie is coming out. I’m sure it will be great, but the first movie will always be my favorite. Toy Story, the first full-length Pixar film, tells the story of a group of toys belonging to a little boy named Andy, and Andy doesn’t know that the toys are actually alive. The movie traces the adventure and challenges these living toys face as Andy’s family packs up and moves into a new house. One of the subplots of the film involves a new toy called Buzz Lightyear, which Andy receives on his birthday. Buzz Lightyear is the new “it” toy, a futuristic action figure, with lights and wings, sounds, bells, and whistles – so much more cool than the long, awkward, sown together Woody the Cowboy who had been Andy’s favorite toy all his life. The strange thing about Andy’s new toy is that Buzz doesn’t believe he is actually a toy. He believes he is actually a space ranger, landed on a strange planet, fighting the emperor Zerg, and that he actually can fly “to infinity…and beyond” as Buzz claims, though Woody ties to convince him otherwise. As the movie reaches its climax, Buzz comes across a Buzz Lightyear television commercial and finally realizes the truth about himself. He is in fact not a space ranger. He is a simple toy. After a spell of disillusionment and stupor, he comes to grips with it and surprisingly discovers life as a toy is actually so much better than life as a space ranger.
The Truth About Ourselves
The reason we have gathered here tonight on Ash Wednesday is something akin to Buzz Lightyear coming to recognize the truth about himself. This day we intentionally carve out time to recognize and remember the truth about ourselves. When we hear in a moment, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return”, we are reminded not that we are toys but that we are just human beings, creatures created by God out of dirt and mud. Our lives are like “grass” that “withers” (Isaiah 40:6,7). We aren’t made of plastic like Buzz, but our bodies  decay and can be broken. We are mortal. No matter what we accomplish in this life, no matter what our successes, no matter our fame, it will all one day come to a close and much of it will be forgotten. And as Woody tries to explain to Buzz when he pulls off an elaborate stunt thinking he is flying: we are all just really “falling with style”.
But we will also hear something else tonight: “Repent and believe the gospel”. These were the words of Jesus’ first sermon. “Repent” means to change our mind about the way we have been living our life. We are pressed with a need to change, because there is something within us that is not right. We are still prone to and guilty of choosing to live in selfish love for ourselves and not live in the love of God. In other words, we are sinners. On Ash Wednesday we recognize we aren’t the “space rangers” we sometimes get tricked into thinking we are. We are not the heroes, and rather we have been the villains, opposed to God’s good purposes in this world and in our own lives.
Over two millennia ago this was the truth about us still: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill,” the Lord cries through the prophet Joel to His people. “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” God calls us to come to grips with the truth about ourselves. We are invited to somberly admit our slander of others even our brothers and sisters in Christ, the angry word to our spouse, our glorifying television, entertainment, or food above God, our adulterous fantasies, our name-calling, our prejudicial thoughts about people with a different skin color than our own, our broken promises, our many failures to love, or anything else that we truly want God to change. The ashes on the forehead will mark us as spiritually bankrupt and in need of complete God-change.
A year ago on Ash Wednesday, my kiddo did not want ashes put on his forehead, even from me. There was something that was too frightening to him about it, too much strange or unknown about it. It was outside of his comfort zone. But being marked as broken and sinful before a holy God should make us all uncomfortable shouldn’t it? And would that all of us have the same reverent caution tonight as we receive these ashes.
The Good News
Here’s the good news. Jesus came to save us from our sins. Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18). According to Colossians 1:14, it is in Jesus we find redemption and forgiveness for sin, offered to us as a gift at the cost of Jesus’ life not our own. Praise God for His mercy on us!
But it is only through these ashes that we find this gift. The turning point came for Buzz Lightyear when Woody looks him in the eye and says, “Look, over in that house is a kid who thinks you are the greatest, and it’s not because you’re a space ranger, pal. It’s because you’re a toy! You are his toy!” Everything changes for Buzz. Purpose and hope fill his spirit. Suddenly Buzz comes to realize what he was made for and more importantly who he was made for, but only when he learned the truth about himself.
Remarkably, the same is true for us. When we come to recognize the truth about ourselves symbolized in these ashes, we find the life-transforming love of God. We begin to truly discover Who we were made for and what we were made for as we experience the unconditional love of God, a God Who’s love for us has not changed in our brokenness and sin. Pastor and writer, Tim Keller, says, “To be fully loved but not fully known is superficial. To be fully known and not loved is our greatest fear. To be fully known and fully loved is a lot like the love of God.” Unless we come to God humbly and repentant we never get a chance to receive the fullness of God’s mercy and love. According to his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul struggles and strives and sacrifices everything to bring us this message: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God”. It’s only on our knees in the posture of humility and repentance that we can see the love of the cross in all its wonder through which God forgives us our sin and the empty tomb in all its glory through which God frees us from the power of sin. As Jesus says about his parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee: “the humble will be exalted.” The journey to Easter begins now, not in bright and cheery celebration (though that will come) but in the gray ash that speaks the truth about ourselves. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Four -Minute Mile

     Edwin Friedman, famous writer and sociologist, explains that for the longest time in the racing world no one could run the mile in four minutes or less. Many great runners had tried it. The great Swedish runners such as Gunder Haag and Arnie Anderson couldn’t break it. Many sports writers were beginning to think it wasn’t possible  for a human being to break that record.
      Then on May 6, 1954 at Oxford University, an Englishman named Robert Bannister broke the record. Two months later Bannister did it again. Over two decades later John Walker from New Zealand became the first man to run the mile under 3:50. American Steve Scott holds the record now with 136 sub-four-minute miles, and Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco holds the record for the fastest mile run at 3:43.13.
     Friedman points out that something called “the emotional barrier” was broken with Bannister’s 1954 run. Once that happened more and more runners began to believe that the four-minute mile was possible, and consequently more people began to run it. In 1994, an African runner beat a world record. One of his running-mates was interviewed afterwards by eager reporters amazed by what his mate did, and of his friend the fellow African runner said, “He is not caught up in the mythology of Wester runners.” What’s possible is limited by what was imagined to be possible.
     Friedman’s point was not that anyone can break a running record if he or she just puts his or her mind to it. His point is that we are often shackled by our own limited imaginations, what he calls “an emotional barrier”. This barrier can lower our expectations and cause us to miss all that is truly possible. I believe that the Church is often limited by this emotional barrier: a limited view of what God is able to do in our lives, communities, cities, and world. We don’t expect much from God, and we don’t expect much to happen through us. So nothing much happens.
     Jesus expected much more for His Church. He sent the disciples out, commanding them without batting an eye to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers, and proclaim the Kingdom (Matthew 10:7-8). He was heard saying things like “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27) and “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greaterthings than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 12:12). God is after all the God of ninety-nine year-old Abraham, timid Moses, and young David all through which we see God do extraordinary things in seemingly impossible circumstances. God tends to be most active where people are more open and expectant to God’s supernatural work. These “greater things” Jesus speaks of may not make us look like world-beaters in the eyes of others, and these things may not happen instantly or perhaps even in our lifetime; but God will accomplish the vision and passions we let Him place deep within us.
     What if God intends to transform the schools around us in radical ways or the run-down apartment complex up the street or the lives of our homeless friends with cardboard signs or our own hurts and addictions? We know from the Scriptures that these are exactly the types of things God is in the business of doing, yet the problem might be our own limited and stunted expectation.
      Try praying this: “Lord, what do you want to do? Show me. Amen.”
By Chris Symes

Tread Marks

The black mark lays in the middle of the parking lot at the church I had previously served as pastor, the remnant of a tire peeling out. It’s not very big, but it will certainly be there for a long time. I never heard one remark, complaint, or cry about it, but it is unavoidably seen. It obstructs no one from parking vehicles, but the mark does disrupt the sheen of the recently paved concrete.

The mark exists because of an outdoor basketball goal placed on the lot. The goal draws all sorts of folks from the community to play when the weather is warm. For a number of days in a row last summer we saw a dozen or so high school students gather to play, driving their big trucks on to the property. We often heard the sudden rumble of engines and the screech of tires late in the night when the games were done, and one night their excitement and competitiveness left its mark.

A deep mandate woven into the Bible and into the call of a believer in Jesus is the welcoming of our neighbors, showing hospitality. It is much more than simply having them over. It is a significant declaration that they are safe as they are in your presence, warts and all.

The reality is hospitality is going to leave a mark.

Like that church parking lot to truly practice hospitality one has to be willing to withstand tire tread, have coffee spilt on the carpet, hear language that violates your sensibilities, or even be criticized. It is an act of sacrifice to show this hospitality, but it is a redemptive sacrifice. Jesus shows us this. The truth is we have peeled out all over the Son of God Himself, marking Him when He had opened His life to us and shown the world divine and holy hospitality.“

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed,” Isaiah declares about Jesus. He goes on to say that Jesus remarkably did not show outrage against it, but He patiently endured it.

As Christ’s act of sacrificial hospitality brought peace and healing I trust that, by God’s grace and work, so too ultimately will ours. So when the family down the street comes over for dinner and one of their three kids breaks the leg of a patio chair while playing, patiently remember that it’s not broken in vain.

Pastor Chris


Be the Winner

By Pastor Chris Symes
I recently read an online article written by a woman (let’s call her Heather) who found herself in a fight with her husband one afternoon. The article was describing the way that she and her spouse sorted out quarrels. Rather than scream and cuss and throw things at each other, this couple ignores each other. The way Heather described it: they literally pretend the other is invisible. They walk through the room without acknowledging one another’s presence. They don’t bring the other a cup of coffee in the morning. They certainly don’t say a word to one another while the fight is on. They go about their day as independent agents as if the other person does not exist.
In this particular case, they went to bed in silence, pressing on in their ignoring of one another, and they woke up the same way. It was later that morning, when both had gone to work, that the quarrel was finally resolved. Heather received a text message from her husband that simply read, “I love you.” Heather replied the same, and the fight was over.
As to the wisdom of this way of fighting in relationships, I have my questions. There are certainly times when in a relationship, be it married or friendship or family, people need a break from each other. However, there is a trend in scripture toward calling the people of God to graciously and gently talk things out quickly. Paul, for example, writes, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:25-27).
That being said, what strikes me about this article is Heather’s declaration toward the end that her husband was “the winner” in this – the one who gave in, bit the bullet, broke the silence, reached out in concession. In a lot of relationships, he would have been considered “the loser”. Like in a staring contest, he blinked first. But not in this relationship and not in God’s kingdom. There is something profoundly of Christ in this definition of winners and losers. Jesus says the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16). He is capturing for us the notion that the values of God’s world often appear upside down compared to the values of the broken world we live in. It is the humble, the peace-making, the conceding, the giving, and forgiving that truly understand God’s reality and live as Jesus’ disciples. By contrast, it is the proud, stubborn stonewallers who are considered the winners in a broken world. Jesus invites his disciples to apply God’s values to their relationships. He expresses something of the inner attitude of a disciple in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:38-42):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Is there a fight in your life you need to win? Go win it.

Blink first. Be the winner.