Bible Study: It’s Good for You!

A month ago I was serving as the pastor of a summer church camp. During one of our worship services I asked the question: “Who wants to have a deeper relationship with God?” Every hand in the amphitheater shot skyward. The following week I addressed the same question to our congregation’s two worship services: “Who wants to have a deeper relationship with God?” Like a collection of compressed springs, every palm extended again. Of course, both occurrences were encouraging. Watsontown UMC’s vision is to “Know Jesus Christ, Grow in Jesus Christ, and Go be like Jesus Christ.” Motivation to attend church camp or a Sunday praise service ought to revolve around ‘drawing close to God,’ as James 4:8 puts it. God has made Godself clearly visible for all to see (Romans 1:20), and what more fulfilling connection could there be than knowing and being known personally by the gracious creator of the universe?

This ethereal inward longing aside, many of us are acutely aware that God neither feels continually present, nor do we always feel well-informed of the best means to foster our relationship with God. If I had a dime for every conversation I’ve had where someone said they hadn’t experienced God for a long time, I’d have a sizable collection. Someone I met in seminary used to talk fondly of a retreat center she went to as a teenager, then would lament how it had sometimes become difficult to experience God anywhere else. In our hearts there exists this deep longing for the living God in Jesus Christ (Ecclesiastes 3:11), yet when that longing is unfulfilled, we can be at a loss for a remedy.

More and more I grow convinced that Bible Study and regular attention to Scripture is part of the solution! The internal witness of Scripture is clear: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). As a school student, I had a voracious propensity to read books; my parents frequently had to check my room light late night to be sure I wasn’t still awake at the wee hours devouring another novel. It was in this reading that I could enter the experiences of characters who were not even real (I was a sci-fi junkie). How much more so can the many books of the Bible, who draw from the testimonies and experiences of people who knew God face-to-face, engage us in a living connection with Jesus Christ? For those who know the feeling of divine disconnection, the Bible stands read to offer us words of hope, encouragement, moral correction, wisdom and sustenance for the journey alongside Jesus Christ.

Is God’s Word in Jesus Christ feeding you?

The gospels record an interaction between Jesus and a young man who wants to know how to experience eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus’ reply is sometimes considered a brush-off: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments,” almost as if Jesus did not think the young man was being sincere. But what if Jesus’ response actually is well-meaning? This guy asks him “how do I find eternal life; how to I know God,” and Jesus’ automatic answer is “go to the commandments.” In other words, remember the Scriptures! Jesus is the true Word of God (John 1:14), yet the Bible is a socket we can plug into in order to illuminate God’s grace and reality in our hearts.

So take advantage of that Bible laying on your end table! Read a couple (or a collection!) of words today. Or better yet, take advantage of the many Bible Study and Sunday School opportunities we have here at Watsontown UMC. If the word of God is what we live by (Matthew 4:4), then leaving the Bible where it lies is simply bad nutrition!

Share

Sermon Cast – In Progress: God Wears Nikes

Date: 9/14/2014
Preacher: Rev. Ryan T. Krauss

Scripture: 2 Peter 1:1-7, Deuteronomy 30:11-20
Description: For the second sermon of our ‘In Progress’ series, we discuss the next quality found in 2 Peter 1:5-7. “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness…” Other translations call this word ‘good works’ or ‘virtue.’ As God produces faith in us, and as we exercise our faith (trust) in God, the natural outcome is a behavior change. I remember the first few  months after I made the conscious choice to follow Jesus Christ I wanted so desperately for all my thoughts and actions to make him happy, to follow his commands. This is not to say that I’ve changed my mind (far from it!), but after coming to trust that God had forgiven and redeemed my heart, I just naturally wanted to do good things out of gratitude to God’s grace. This, I think, is part of what it means for ‘goodness’ to come after ‘faith’ in 2 Peter 1:1-7.

A word of caution, though. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that God created us to do ‘good works’ in Christ Jesus, yet this should not be misconstrued as forgiveness depending on good works. Ephesians 2:8-9 pointed remind us that ‘grace through faith’ bring us back to God. So in our spiritual journeys, we do not do good things to make God like us, we develop virtue because God has already loved us.

Share

Sermon Cast – In Progress: Faith First

Date: 9/7/2013
Preacher: Rev. Ryan T. Krauss

Scriptures: 2 Peter 1:1-9 and Mark 9:14-29
Description: We are beginning a new sermon series with the begin of a new school year. For teachers and students, the beginning of another semester is met with a cadre of emotions. Some are ecstatic to begin learning/teaching again. Others loathe the experience, waiting agonizingly until summer rolls around again. Whatever one’s feeling on the subject, school is ‘back in session.’ Of course, one of the undergirding hopes of our educational system is growth in our students, physically, emotionally, academically.

Growth is also key to the life of faith. Our new series is called “In Progress,” because all of us are a holy and purposeful project under God’s direction. For six weeks we will be studying 2 Peter 1:1-9 in depth, looking intently at the process of spiritual development described in verses 5-7. These virtues and traits–faith, goodness, knowledge, love–are both seed and fruit of what God grows in us through Christ Jesus; and by the same token, these are the seeds and fruits for which we should strive in our journey to follow Jesus  more and more closely.

This morning, we discuss the foundation of it all: Faith. Faith is not simply an assertion without evidence. Faith is not some external commodity that I try to find or that God takes form elsewhere and puts inside of me. Faith is foremost an action–like love–whereby I TRUST God. Faith is trust. Trust in God’s promises. Trust that there is something and someone bigger than you or I who has a design behind the chaos we call life. It should go without saying that if we want the other godly traits to grow in us–love, virtue, godliness, affection, knowledge–that process will be severely hindered if we do not actually TRUST (i.e. have faith) that God is working those things in us.

Share

Sermon Cast – Love, Never Let It Go!

Date: August 31, 2014
Preacher: Rev. Ryan T. Krauss

Scripture: John 13:31-35, 15:12-17
Description: Disney offers a marvelous treatise of practical advice. When hungry in an abandoned building, make good with the silverware; when confronted with a scheming lion of an uncle, do not trust him. The company, however, offers less sound advice in the realms of love and affection. Some films suggest that the ‘fast track’ to finding true love lies in falling asleep and waiting for love to find us (cf. Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White). Thankfully, Frozen offers a more tempered and tactful approach to love that–to me–is much more in line with Scripture.

In a brilliant scene, the snowman Olaf addresses his friend Anna on the nature of true love. She, of course, must find an act of true love to prevent her heart from freezing forever. She confesses to not knowing what true love is. Olaf offers this concise and Biblical definition: “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” Done! Sermon preached. As Jesus taught his own disciples: “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, CEV). Love is not a commodity to search for outside of ourselves. Love begins inside as a reflection of Jesus’ sacrificial love given to all of us.

Share

Sermon Cast – Beauty IN the Beast

Date: August 24, 2014
Preacher: Rev. Ryan Krauss

Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6
Description: Matthew 7 is a deceptively simple command by Jesus: “Do not judge, let you too be judged.” I say deceptively simple because the notion of non-judgment is often manipulated to justify immoral behavior (i.e. just think of the lyrics to a recent Miley Cyrus song in reference to excessive debauchery: “Only God can judge us…”), or, as the text of Matthew 7 expounds on, we often make judgments while forgetting we ourselves are guilty of similar offenses. Drawn to its essence, I think this teaching by Christ invites us to adopt humble–not blind–perspectives so as not to exclude anyone from the Grace of God.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a marvelous case study on proper approaches to non-judgment. Bell, for instance, is the only character wise and humble enough to offer compassion and assistance to the Beast. He has great faults (like a temper and mistrust); and while Belle does not condone these traits, she nevertheless sees into the person Beast can become. Our spiritual role in avoiding judgment is much the same. God asks us to curb our judgments…especially unfair ones…for the sake of proclaiming to the whole world that EVERYONE can receive the grace and healing of God through Jesus Christ, if only we earnestly and truly repent.

Share

Sermon Cast – Finding and Being Found

(c) Aljosa V. — Labeled for Reuse

Date: August 17, 2014
Preacher: Rev. Ryan T. Krauss

Scripture: Mark 10:46-52
Description: Our lives are a journey meant for finding and being found by Jesus Christ. Many of us conceive of this journey as a one-sided endeavor. Just like I jump into my car and attempt to find a location to which I have never driven (usually bad news!), the spiritual journey toward God can be stressful, taxing, and discouraging when we believe our efforts our the only ones that matter.

The truth is that God is not a stationary target that we try to locate in a cosmic game of Marco Polo. Like the plot of Finding Nemo, the father Marlin–with the help of many sea creatures–searches for Nemo simultaneously as Nemo seeks to escape the dentist office. Likewise, in the scripture lesson of the morning, Bartimeaus is not left to his own devices to try and locate Jesus; Jesus calls him out and approaches him too. My friends, do not feel discouraged when God feels absent. God is finding you.

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Sermon Cast – God Wants Monsters, not Lone Rangers

Date: August 10, 2014
Preacher: Rev. Ryan T. Krauss

Scripture: Exodus 18:13-27
Description: Teamwork is a very curious virtue. In our own sports culture, teamwork is said to serve as a unifying element, though often despite athletes who still compete, train, and promote only themselves. For ministry and witness, becoming a ‘Lone Ranger’ is a tremendous liability; no single person has all of the spiritual gifts and talents to usher in the entire kingdom of God.

The story from Exodus is pointed. Moses is overwhelming himself with helping the people. His father-in-law Jethro comes up to him with the challenging statement: “What you are doing is not good!” Moses needs to share the burden–and the blessing–is caring for the Israelites. So it is also even in our most mundane tasks. Is there a skill you want to pass of to your kids? Share the burden and let them join in. Feeling overwhelmed by a ministry, project, or service? Take a gut-check to see whether you are driving others away or inviting them to join?

Share

Sermon Cast – Jewish Queens and Lion Kings

Date: 8-3-2014
Preacher: Rev. Ryan T. Krauss

Scripture: Esther 4:1-14
Description: This week marks the first day of the August-long sermons series called REEL TRUTH – Bible at the Movies. In this sermon series, we are hosting 5 family movie nights at our church and then using film clips to further discuss scripture on Sunday Morning. The film for this week was Disney’s The Lion King.

Simba’s journey throughout the film is one of identity and purpose. Is he the true king? Is he responsible for his father’s death? Can he ever return to Pride Rock? How can he set things right? And though we are neither lions nor kings, we also feel the pull to discover identity and purpose. How fortunate and how humbling that our purpose would be to strive to become God’s children, created for good works (Ephesians 2:10)?

Simba’s journey reminds me of the journey of the biblical figure Esther, whose story could be a Disney movie in its own right. Take some time to read her tale, and remember that God has made us who we are…one purpose! Wherever life finds you today, perhaps God has placed you there for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).

 

 

Share

REEL TRUTH at WUMC in August

The Gutenberg Bible – First Bible Printed

The Bible is a collection of sacred words written down for us and for all generations. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Scripture is a testimony to God’s relationship with people throughout time and many persons’ experiences of God in the adventure of life. The Bible is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) and points to the true Word of God Jesus Christ who is the healer of our brokenness and hope of the world. During the month of August at Watsontown United Methodist Church, we are going to take a fresh and exciting look at Scripture by going to the movies! Actually, the movies are going to come to us. WUMC will be hosting family-friendly movie nights every Saturday in August; the doors will open at 6:00pm and the movie will be begin promptly at 6:30pm. The movies are all G-rated from lists of popular and classic works by Disney/Pixar. Movies will be shown on our awesome new projector!

But the movie experience goes further. Every Sunday, the sermon will use video clips from the previous night’s movie. In this way, we will look at the Silver Screen side-by-side with the Bible to better understand God’s will for our lives and provide a fresh look at faith in all of the avenues of our lives. Refreshments will be provided, so invite your family, friends, neighbors, even random people on the street. The movie schedule is listed below:

August 2nd – The Lion King
August 9th – Monster’s University
August 16th – Finding Nemo
August 23rd – Beauty and the Beast
August 30th – Frozen

Share

Sermon Cast – Money Fish

Date: July 20, 2014
Preacher: Rev. Ryan T. Krauss

Scripture: Matthew 17:22-27
Description: Matthew 17:24-27 is a very curious story. In it, Jesus and Peter are accosted by tax collectors, appear to resist payment, but then get a miraculous catch of fish to pay for themselves. This is the sort of reading that one my come across during personal devotions, think “Huh, that’s interesting”, and simply move on wondering what the meaning is. Personally, I find this story intriguing because this is the only instance in all of the gospels where Jesus actually makes a charitable donation!

As we consider why Jesus gave to the tax collectors, God’s word continues to invite us to consider why we do–or do not–give to others or to ministries. In my reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of Jesus’ motivations for paying the tax was that he believed in or believed in the possibility of life-changing ministry and worship happening at the Jerusalem temple. This sort of motivation is key to meaningful stewardship. God calls us to be generous donors of time, talent and gift. God also asks us to seek out where a difference, where change is being made, and lay our support in that place.

On a side note, below is the recap video we showed about Vacation Bible School from just a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

 

Share