I was going to write about the new “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” enacted by our legislature and Governor, but I think our bishop addressed it pretty well here. With all the vitriolic social media posts and news reports floating around, I thought’d I’d go in another direction this morning and boldly proclaim: There’s still Good News in the Gospel!
It’s funny to me, in a sad sort of way, that this statement might be considered a ‘bold’ thing to say. It seems fitting, however. Sometimes I read comments and listen to opinions about a wide variety of subjects – not just the RFRA – that are so…ungracious, inhospitable, dark, merciless, and incapable of listening to and understanding someone who does not share their opinion. I hear people brandishing the sword of scripture in every ‘fight’ – it’s as though they’ve forgotten Jesus’ words to Peter: “put your sword away” (John 18:11).
So I’m not going to do that today.
Instead, I’m going to share with you about some ‘fights’ we’re in here at Otterbein United Methodist Church. We’re not wielding swords. Rather, we’re learning what Jesus meant when he said: “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy not sacrifice.” And there is plenty of Good News Gospel stories unfolding here because of it.
– DRUGS, JAIL, AND VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL –
Last Tuesday, our local paper ran a front page story about some young people who were incarcerated for selling heroine, cocaine, and marijuana. This isn’t a surprising or uncommon headline, unfortunately, as Lebanon is located on “Heroine Highway” that runs between Chicago and Indianapolis. One of these headlining young people, however, happens to be my neighbor. I’ve gotten to know him thanks to a basketball goal in our church parking lot that youth from our neighborhood use frequently. At one point, he shared with me that he’d like to be a chef one day. I hope that will still be possible, and pray that the local prison will let me visit with him. If you are reading this, will you say a quick pryer that they would let me? Our local prison has increased their restrictions, even for pastors. Thanks for your prayer.
This young man’s story isn’t over, however. We have people here at the church – one who was baptized last summer – who are living and breathing Resurrection Good News Stories. They are leaving lives of addictions, and are charting new paths. With the help of mentors and a community of encouragement and support, they are welcomed here and are given opportunities to change their lives. But here’s the other awesome part – ‘they’ are changing ‘us’ too. At our monthly Men’s Breakfast, the same man who was baptized shared his life story. But his story isn’t over. He’s got pages and pages to write – pages that include college plans and the desire to be a counselor that helps young men like himself. After he shared with us, a ‘group of grandpas’ around the table told him how proud they were of him. They had heard and were watching the resurrection unfold before their eyes. I LOVE intergenerational ministry! Praise God!
And here’s the third part to this section’s title: we are also working hard to prevent kids from going down paths they are statistically destined for. We are doing this by setting two goals: that we’ll have at least 15 mentors in our local schools by this fall, and that we’ll have at least 50 kids attend our summer Vacation Bible School ministry. Our VBS ministry creates the space for us to get to know one another, and our neighbors. Just last week, three boys who attended VBS last year came to my house and essentially asked if they could start having youth group. Glory to God, they’d better believe they can! Statistics be damned – we’ve got too much Good News Gospel to let them go down roads they’re supposedly destined for!
– COMMUNITY GROUPS –
During this Lenten Season we offered four ‘small groups’ for people to join. We want 100% participation this year, so we needed to give people opportunities to participate! We offered: Before Amen – a book introducing people to prayer, Covenant Bible Study, and two Dave Ramsey financed-based groups: Financial Peace University, and The Legacy Journey. The conversations and interactions coming out of them have been incredibly encouraging as people are getting to know God and one another in new and deeper ways. It’s the finance classes, however, that I’m especially excited about. Financial Peace University is not the be-all end-all of finance curriculums, but we have found it to be incredibly effective. Ramsey presents a clear and understandable plan to get people out debt, live within their means, and invest wisely. This class is also an incredible outreach tool. Why? Because people hear clear and tangible ways the Good News of Jesus can affect their lives. Jesus can help me get out of debt and stop living paycheck to paycheck? You bet! You mean Christians struggle financially too? That there are places where we can actually talk about our debts and struggles and not be embarrassed to do so? You got it! The Good News of the Gospel is terribly tangible. Jesus actually makes a real life, here and now impact in this world. The Kingdom of God isn’t just “up there” but is also here “on earth as it is in heaven.” Lives are being changed. That’s not just Good News, that’s GREAT NEWS!
900 words is enough for now, but I could go on and on about all the wonderful things God is doing in this place at this time with these people in this community. Yeah things are rough in the world, but fear not! “I have told to you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” And the Good News of the Gospel continues to march on…