From Wreck to Restoration: God Invites Us Into The New Covenant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 31:27-34.

We conclude our sermon series From Wreck to Restoration this Sunday with God Invites Us Into The New Covenant. I preached this Scripture passage for my ordination sermon; I vowed after studying this passage extensively and preparing this passage for preaching for over four months that I would never again preach this passage.

Never say “never,” right?

I selected this text for my ordination sermon because I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit guiding me towards it. I attempted to work on one of the other recommended texts and God continued to draw my heart back to this declaration of the new covenant. There is such grace in this text. There is such love and hope. We will know the Lord. God will forgive our wrongdoings and never again remember our sins.

We all have moments in our lives that we would rather not to remember – how we hurt someone we loved, how we walked away instead of standing up, how we said something we did not mean or remained silent when our words would have made all the difference, how we did harm in some way instead of doing good, how we experienced deep suffering and agony. I would like to permanently forget those moments and some days I think I have…until something happens that reminds me of my wrongdoings and the weight of my past actions comes crashing down all over again.

In those moments I feel truly wrecked, which leads me to question – am I able to be made whole, am I able to be forgiven, am I even worth it?

The answer to those questions is yes. What may be unexpected is that I did not have to come to that answer on my own. I received that answer from God through God’s invitational love and mercy. I believe we all receive that answer from God through God’s invitational love and mercy.

In full knowledge of our sin, God invites us into the new covenant. God forgives and remembers no more. God invites us to know God and to be fully known by God. When we answer God’s invitation and live into the new covenant, God’s Law will be written on our hearts. Rather than something learned, God’s instruction will be innate, as near to us as our breath, and that which guides the pulse of our lives.

This past week I had the privilege to hear two separate testimonies of restoration in the same setting. Two persons both shared their struggles with clinical depression, of feeling hopeless, and of desperately wanting to feel anything at all. They spoke of the loneliness and the shame. They spoke of considering every possible means of finding relief…

Those two people – two of my friends – have experienced and continue to experience God’s restoration. I am privileged to know them and to watch them offer their talents in the service of God and others. I am privileged to learn from them and to laugh with them. I consider it a great privilege to look at their lives – to look at them – and see the evidence of God saying yes

Yes, my child, you are forgiven.

Yes, my child, you are made whole.

Yes, my child, you are worth it. 

God says yes to us and welcomes us to life in the new covenant. However we are wrecked, God welcomes us to restoration in him. Our saying “yes” to God may happen in an instant. It may happen over a lifetime. It may be once and for all. It may be said again and again. I think of utmost importance is that we say “yes” to God’s invitation into the new covenant and that our lives are the proof of our saying “yes.”

Prayer:”I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean. He took my sins and my sorrows, he made them his very own; he bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”

*”I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

From Wreck to Restoration: God Wants Us To Live

Sunday’s Scripture – Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7.

A month ago I met with the family of Floyd Jacobs to plan his celebration of life. In all celebrations of life the key moments are Scripture passages, persons that share a witness of the loved one gone onto glory, and music. When our conversation shifted to music Margie said, “There’s a song the choir sings, but I cannot remember what it is called. I would like them to sing that one.”

To which I said, “Absolutely!”

(And then I called Tim!)

With the help of the choir we discovered the name of the song Margie wanted sung for Floyd; it is called “Untitled Hymn.” And the refrain of each stanza is imbued with hope:

Come to Jesus and live

Sing to Jesus and live 

Fall on Jesus and live

Cry to Jesus and live

Dance for Jesus and live

Fly to Jesus and live 

When I reflect on the verbs that drive these closing stanzas – come, sing, fall, cry, dance, and fly – I see John Wesley’s description of the via Salutis or way of salvation:

  • When we become aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives, we hear God say to us, Come.
  • When we are justified in Christ, we can say – or even Sing! – to Jesus for his love, mercy, and grace. 
  • Though we are justified and made new in Christ, we are still susceptible to sin; we continue sinning. When we sin, we Fall. Wesley calls this activity “backsliding.” And when we fall – thank the Lord we fall on Jesus. In his arms or leaning against his cross we Cry. And as we weep, I believe Jesus places his hand gently under our chins to lift our eyes to his and to lift our spirits to redemption. 
  • As we grow in holiness, as Jesus sanctifies us, we Dance with Jesus and one another. Our feet are guided by his Spirit throughout the Kingdom. We dance not to be seen, but so that others will want to join God’s dance, too. 
  • And as we continue on in this life and move towards life on the other side of eternity, friends, we Fly to Jesus as we grow in Christian perfection. In our life with Jesus we are made perfect just as our God is perfect (Mt 5:48). 

With all of these verbs from “Untitled Hymn” – and in each moment along the via Salutis – we are invited to live. 

God wants us to live. 

Take a moment to check in with yourself. Where would you locate yourself along the via Salutis? Or what verb from “Untitled Hymn” would you select to describe how you are presently living your life with God? How do your answers sit with your soul? In what ways do you sense God inviting you to new life?

Remember we will gather as a church family for a congregational meeting to discuss our needed capital improvements this Sunday, October 16 immediately following worship.

You are also invited to join with our church family on Saturday, October 15 for our Prayer Vigil in preparation for Sunday’s congregational meeting. The Sanctuary will be open from 9am – 9pm and prayer resources will be available.

I am thankful to live life with God and to live life with you at Tuskawilla.  

Prayer: “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”*

*”A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition,” The United Methodist Hymnal 607.

From Wreck to Restoration: God Shapes Us

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 18:1-11.

In a farewell to summer before school resumed I joined my dear friend, Holly, and her son, Gage, at the beach one afternoon. There is something so soothing about the sound of crashing waves upon the beach. 

After several rounds of cards and watching Olympic Beach Volleyball, we headed down to the beach ourselves. Gage, in his creativity, wonder, and joy said, “Let’s build sandcastles!”

Now growing up a native Floridian, I spent many a summer day on the beach, but I have not built that many sandcastles. Gage and Holly are experts. We built a pyramid-shaped castle, complete with a mote. We built a drip castle. And then we set about our biggest endeavor – a sandcastle in the shape of a turtle. 

Yes – a turtle. 

Our assignments: Holly – sculptor | Gage – water | Sarah – sand

With great ease and steady hands Holly modeled a sea turtle out of that mound of sand. First the shell, then the flippers, then the head, and lastly a little tail. Holly took care in shaping each piece and didn’t move on until every grain was just so. 

Then, Gage invited me to crosshatch the shell – pressure. So much pressure.  

It was incredible to stand back and admire our work. The turtle would remain until the tide returned and would begin its own sculpting to smooth some of the mounded sand and take others back into the Atlantic. While our turtle will be gone the materials remain for the next group of friends to come and create.

I am thankful that just as we had the opportunity to shape the sand into our creations, God continues God’s shaping of us in our lives throughout our lives. God builds us up, God smooths us out, God gathers us, God separates us.

God shapes us for a particular task. Then, God shapes us again.

God’s shaping comes through our stewardship – through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. God’s shaping comes through our interaction with Scripture – through our study and response. God’s shaping comes through the hands of the Holy Spirit and through the hands of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sometimes we are ready for God’s shaping and at other times it catches us by surprise. Sometimes we are hungry for God’s shaping and at other times we wish God would pass by us. God’s shaping is part of our sanctification, part of our life and living in holiness. We may not want it, but we need it. We may not welcome it, but we are better for it. God will not force God’s shaping upon us; this shaping is part of God’s gift of grace and desires us to accept it.

I encourage you to find your way to some sand this week. Spend some time shaping and creating. Feel the grains of sand in between your fingers. Gather and separate the sand. Build it up and smooth it again. Think of how you have experienced and received God’s shaping in your life. Give thanks and prepare – for God’s shaping and for the shaping that God will do.

Keep our brothers and sisters in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, throughout Florida and along the Southeast Atlanta Coast in your prayers in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Please stay safe and check in on one another.

Prayer: “Take my life, and let it be concreted, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of thy love. Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, And Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.

From Wreck to Restoration: We Cry Out

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 8:18-9:1.

Eustace is one of the main characters in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace is a sullen little boy that is critical of everything and landing on the Dawn Treader’s latest voyage was absolutely the last thing on his list of desires.

Actually, it was not on his list of desires at.all.

The longer the crew sailed, the more incorrigible Eustace became. His arrogance, self-centeredness, and anger worsened ten-fold.

One day the ship docked on an island and the crew set off to explore their surroundings. Eustace made his way into a cave and stumbled upon a great treasure! His greed was all consuming. He eagerly pulled valuables towards himself and stuffed whatever he could into his pockets. Finding a gold cuff he placed it on his arm, which initiated a chain reaction across his skin. His soft skin was transformed into scales, his bones lengthened and stretched, and horns replaced his hair.

Eustace transformed into a dragon.

At first he thought himself quite grand. People did not usually pay particular attention to Eustace unless he was causing an arrogant, self-centered, angry tantrum, but now everyone would pay attention to him! He would show them – all of the thems!

But the longer he sat, the more distraught Eustace became. Feelings of pride became feelings of panic and Eustace realized that he did not want to be a dragon. He was bound to the treasure he had taken that was not his. He had become the treasure’s captive and while everyone else could leave the island on the Dawn Treader, he would be left alone.

Try as he might Eustace could not change himself back into a boy. Eustace attempted to scape away his scales to only find layer after lay underneath. In hopelessness he cried out. In this, Eustace’s greatest moment of humility, Aslan appeared and peeled away Eustace’s dragon skin.

Remembering the encounter Eustace said,

I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…

He peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm.

And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…*

Only God could free Eustace from his scales, which were a visible prison built by his sin, and Aslan – Lewis’ God-figure, did just that. Eustace cried out to Aslan and Aslan saved him.

We are incapable of saving ourselves; only God can save. Try as we might to remove our sin on our own, we are incapable. We need God’s help.

When we cry out to God our God frees us and forgives us. When we cry out to God our sin is peeled away and our hearts are rendered tender. We might feel frail or weak, but in humbling ourselves before God to be forgiven and made new, what may look and feel like weakness is evidence of true strength.

At times we can feel captive to our sin in prisons of our own design. Find rest and receive comfort, dear friends, that our God is the God that has come, is coming, and will always come to “bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isa 61:1 and Lk 4:18-19).

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of thy love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. For thou alone art my King and my Lord. Amen.”**

*C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader 108-109.

**”An Invitation to Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 466.

From Wreck to Restoration: We Commit Sin

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 2:4-13.

A congregant once said to me, “Pastor, I’ve never heard a preacher talk about sin as much as you do!”

I remember laughing as he said this…and then I was quite struck as his words washed over me. If pastors are not talking about sin, then how will people in our congregations know how to talk about sin? How will people in the world know how to talk about sin?

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite authors, advises that we need language about sin as much as we need language about salvation. In her book, Speaking of Sin, she writes,

Abandoning the language of sin will not make sin go away. Human beings will continue to experience alienation, deformation, damnation, and death no matter what we call them. Abandoning the language will simply leave us speechless before them, and increase our denial of their presence in our lives. Ironically, it will also weaken the language of grace, since the full impact of forgiveness cannot be felt apart form the full impact of what has been forgiven.*

It is not easy to talk about sin. Why dwell on the bad stuff, especially when God has promised to forgive the bad stuff and absolve us of it? I believe we need to talk about our sin, not so we carry the guilt and shame of it with us always, but so that we know the weight of our sin, and therefore the magnanimity of God’s amazing grace.

An essential component of John Wesley’s Class and Band structure was to have members of the bands sit before one another and answer the question, “How is it with your soul?” In responding to this question the band members would share where they excelled, struggled, and out right failed in their lives – personal, professional, and of faith – since the last band gathering. (Wesley would say the life of faith pervades all spheres of life.) It was not enough for band members to say that they sinned; they would have to name the sin specifically and articulate how that sin had harmed God, their neighbors, and themselves. Some might consider this method a severe form of behavior modification, but it worked for the Early Methodists and it continues to work for many today that participate in a covenant or accountability group.

Developing a language to discuss sin draws us into intentional thinking about our sinful acts as well as their consequences and repercussions. From this sort of reflection I am led to

  1. Repent of my sin and seek forgiveness and reconciliation and
  2. Make note of the circumstances, my actions, and my reactions, so that my behavior will be different the next time I encounter the same or similar circumstances.

I talk about sin and I talk about my sin as a way of letting people around me know that I am  a safe place to talk about sin. And maybe one day, if they would like, we could talk about their sin together. And when that conversation begins it will most surely end with the affirmation that our God forgives our sin, that Jesus removes the guilt of sin, that the Holy Spirit breaks the power sin has over us, so that we will indeed live as the forgiven and the redeemed.

Prayer: “In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin 4.

**”The Old Rugged Cross,” The United Methodist Hymnal 504.

From Wreck to Restoration: We Are Called

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family begins a new six-week sermon series – From Wreck to Restoration – as we study texts from the book of Jeremiah. We begin our study with the prophet’s call story.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to spend time with my sweet sister-in-law, Vivian and nephew, Jacob. Jacob is 11 months old and such a joyful little boy. And with his age comes a bit more suspicion about people he is not familiar. Upon seeing Andrew and me, Jacob was cautious and gave us the look of “I think I know you…but my mama better stay right close.”

We spent the afternoon playing with toys and swimming. Andrew took Jacob to the piano for a lesson and I watched as Jacob visibly eased into comfort with Andrew. It was not necessary for Vivian to be in Jacob’s line of sight; Jacob knew he was okay.

Me on the other hand – Jacob’s unfamiliarity lingered – and that was okay. I remained near. I spoke kindly. I smiled. And just before Andrew and I left to come home, while Jacob was playing on the floor and I sat nearby, he crawled into my lap and wrapped his arms around me in tHe best Jacob-size hug.

It won my greatest hug of the day award.

In that moment, Jacob knew me. I was (am) a safe place for him. I was (am) someone that loves him. With me – with Andrew and me – our nephew will always have a family and be at home.

The book of Jeremiah – like all our prophetic texts – tells the story of God’s people being anxious, suspicious, and hesitant in returning to God. They are in exile in Babylon. They hope God has not forgotten them. They wonder if God will forgive them. The prophets affirm that God is with them and that God knows them…but I can imagine the people of Israel and Judah looked suspiciously at the prophets just like Jacob looked at me early Monday afternoon.

The people’s suspicion was okay. And God remained. Through the prophets God spoke words of kindness and affirmation. Through the prophets God communicated a message of hope and salvation. The people would return. And no matter what, they were (we are) God’s children and God was (is) their (our) God.

God wants each of us to let down our guards, to suntended our hesitation, and to climb into God’s arms. God wants to and does hold us close – most especially in the moments when we experience exile. We are members of God’s family. With God we have our home and God is always welcoming us home.

I encourage you to draw near to God. In doing so we move from wreck to restoration.

Prayer: “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning. Born of the one light, Eden saw play. Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day.”* Amen

*”Morning Has Broken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 145.

Remembering September 11

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 51:1-10, Micah 4:1-5, and Matthew 18:21-35.

I will never forget. I was sitting in my 11th grade AP Literature class when our principal all called over the intercom system, “Teachers, please turn on your class televisions. A plane has just hit the World Trade Center in New York City.”

My class sat in silent horror as we watched the smoke rise from the building. We could not take our eyes away from the screen – the North Tower, the South Tower, the Pentagon, the field in Pennsylvania. Initially all students were kept in our third period classes; eventually the school board determined that the schools were secure and we could continue through our class schedule. But it really was not “continuing.” Students migrated silently between classes. From one room to the next we entered, sat in our desks, and watched the news.

I had so many questions. My fears mounted. As I reflect 15 years later, I continue to have many questions and in returning my thoughts to this day, my fears are stirred up afresh.

After 9/11 life seemed to come back to normal – whatever “normal” was – until my brother drove home from his Army base in Virginia one afternoon to hug me and my family. He was saying “goodbye.” He would deploy to Kuwait headed for Iraq in the next 36 hours. And all the 9/11 terror came crashing back down, but now it was not in New York or the Nation’s Capital or Pennsylvania. Those places were all very far away. Now the terror was too close to home…in fact it was in my home and taking my brother – that I would holler at because his music was too loud coming through the wall between our bedrooms and because he somehow managed to get water on every surface in the bathroom after showering – half way around the world into the very face of danger.

The house was too quiet without him. And although I prefer a dry bathroom, what I would have given to have slipped on water left on the floor.

Charlie served his country well. And Charlie came home. Many did not.

Brave men and women served our country – served our fellow country men and women well on 9/11 – people they knew and people they did not know. We were united. We were all Americans.

We are all Americans.

Some of those men and women that served on 9/11 came home. Many did not.

Countless lives were lost – unnecessarily lost. And to this day it is hard for me to recall what happened, to look at images from that day, to hear recordings of people calling for help and reporting the horrors they faced. I do not want to remember. I do not want those feelings to return.


It is crucially important to remember that human beings are capable of this sort of behavior and activity. We remember by seeing these images, listening to the cries for help, and committing ourselves to behaviors that will not lead us to this sort of activity again.

Says the Psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10).

Says the Prophet Micah, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Micah 4:2).

Says Peter to our Lord Jesus, “‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times'” (Mt 18:21-22).

May these verses guide our prayerful desire to craft behaviors that lead to peace rather than destruction, to unity rather than division, to love rather than fear our neighbors.

May we take time this week to remember 9/11, even if it makes us uncomfortable…dare I say especially if it makes us uncomfortable. God is communicating something to us in these moments. May we never forget and with God’s help we will not return to behaviors that led to activities that resulted in the terror of this day 15 years ago.

Prayer: “O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor; let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich. Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places. And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee. Amen.”*

*”For Courage to Do Justice,” The United Methodist Hymnal 456.