Thursday, February 28, 2013

Imagine No Malaria-Lenten Devotion Day 16: February 28

Thursday, February 28, 2013: A Life of Wholeness 

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” 

Several years ago I was on a mission trip in Cameroon, which is in west Africa. Our team was working with former GBGM missionaries Wes and Leah Magruder. We were visiting different congregations all over the country. Every day we spent lots of time driving to a new village and a new church, where we stopped and visited for a few hours. As the trip progressed I began to notice that our van driver began to spend all our breaks, meal stops, and church visits sleeping in the van. I questioned our interpreter about it (because our driver spoke only French) and our interpreter simply said that our driver was sick. 
Shortly afterwards I asked our team leader if she thought our driver might have malaria. Her answer surprised and enlightened me. She responded that it was quite likely that our driver did have malaria, because in a sub-Saharan country like Cameroon nearly every adult carries the malaria parasites. Several times a year they may be stricken with flu-like symptoms that are so severe they can barely function and work. Yet work they must, if at all possible, for they have to provide for their families. Often they suffer through it as best they can with no medications, because they can’t afford them or have no access to them. 

The Imagine No Malaria initiative helps prevent malaria and offers treatment for those that do have it. In the future, as we reach our goals in this initiative, fewer and fewer children will have malaria. Those children will grow into adulthood healthy and whole. In John 10:10, we see that God’s will for us is not sickness and weakness, but a life of wholeness and abundance - for everyone. By being healthy and experiencing a life of wholeness we fulfill God’s promise to all generations. 

Prayer: God of all nations, your love and mercy surrounds us, wherever we are. So many people are suffering from malaria. Help us to learn about the suffering of others and give us the wisdom and compassion to act. It is so easy to look the other way. With open hearts and open minds, we seek to learn what you would have us do. We ask all this in your son’s name. Amen. 

Rev. Marji Bishir, Texas 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Imagine No Malaria-Lenten Devotion Day 15: February 27

Wednesday, February 27, 2013: Muddied Waters 

Revelations 22:1-2: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” 

Water burst into the air, jetting straight up from the well we had just drilled into the volcanic El Salvadoran soil. Like a brown fountain, the murky water sprayed high above us in the sunshine, full of drill mud and rock cuttings. A powerful blast of compressed air, carried by a hose running down more than a hundred feet to the bottom of the well, drove the stream. 

We stood and watched joyfully, blessed by the sight after three days of patient drilling, and the exhausting work of clearing mud lines and mixing concrete by hand. Gradually the water jet lost its muddy color as the rushing air blew away the impurities caused by our drilling. The unpolluted life-giving water from the deep aquifer replaced the drill mud and cuttings. The fountain became clear and pure. Soon the local villagers would be enjoying clean drinking water, and the well would be protected against contamination by a thick concrete cap supporting a sturdy hand pump. 

How often are our lives muddied by the work we do, filled with the gravel and soil of daily life? We may have tapped into a deep vein of God’s pure Spirit, but the cuttings and grindings of our routine existence cloud the flow. Stop, He seems to say, and let My mighty rushing wind blow away the debris. Your work has proceeded far enough, My child, under your own power – be still, and watch as My flame purifies. 

Prayer: Father, as we fill our lives with fretting and fury, call us to a quiet place where we can see You at work – and rejoice. Amen. 

Nels Hoffman, New Mexico 

Children play alongside a sewage-filled ditch in the Maxinde neighborhood near Malanje, Angola, site of a cholera outbreak in 2005. Public health officials are concerned about malaria-carrying mosquitoes breeding in the stagnant water. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Imagine No Malaria-Lenten Devotion Day 14: February 26

Tuesday, February 26, 2013: Sharing out of Love 

Philippians 2: 3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” 

Nothing could have prepared me for our welcoming into the village we received in Bo, Sierra Leone. When we arrived at our first village the brownish-red dirt road was lined with people. Men, women, and children were waiting for us, and as we piled out of our vehicles we began walking up the road and the singing and drums began. 

I was, as was the rest of our group, surrounded by the throng. I have never experienced being in a throng before. Children mostly surrounded me, smiling and laughing and talking. Overcome with warmth of emotion I pumped my two fists in the air and shouted, only being heard by the children closest to me, “This is BIG!” The few that could hear me above the song smiled, and pumped their fists in the air and shouted back to me, “Yes, this is BIG!” We were led and seated at a long table as “dignitaries” facing the seated villagers. After being introduced to them, we were introduced to their leaders. When the formalities were ended we toured their medical building. Inside the walls were lined with educational posters concerning AIDS, eye conditions, malaria, etc. 

One man proudly took me into the supply room (which held only a few boxes of empty syringes), but he was especially proud of a white enameled, freezer sized, temperature controlled storage unit for medicine. A generator kept the device at constant temperature. I asked if I could see inside it. He acted as if he had never been asked that before, and after a bit of tugging was able to lift the lid. We both peered down into the rust lined interior of the unit only to see two single dose ampoules of medicine on the bottom. I had expected to see racks of various pharmaceuticals, but they were non-existent. Afterwards we were educated by local leaders about the organization, communication and distribution of insecticide impregnated bed nets to prevent malaria. This initiative had been well-designed, extensive and largely complete for this Bo district. Bo is only one district, and there are eleven more districts in Sierra Leone. 

Paul tells us in Philippians that since we have received the love of Christ, that we are to be like-minded and to share that love and concern for others: not for our own glorification, but because we truly value others. Those in Africa who are suffering the ravages of death due to malaria truly need our help, and God willing we will stand united, and be generous in our contributions to help eradicate this disease. 

Prayer: Dear Lord, make me an instrument of your peace and love by sharing with others that they may have freedom from the disease of malaria. May we do this not for our own ambition, but simply out of interest and love that we have of others, as Christ has for us. In Your name we pray. Amen. 

Dr. Peter L. Paulson, Illinois 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Deadline for Alaska Mission Trip This Week

Summer is a long way off but this Thursday (February 28th) is the deadline to sign up and place a deposit on our summer trip to Willow, Alaska.   We will be leaving Knoxville on June 28th bound for Alaska for one week.  The purpose of the trip is to build a closer relationship with Rev. Fran Lynch, the Holston conference's own missionary based in Willow.  Church Street supports her ministry each year and we look forward to this opportunity to learn more about the work she is doing on our behalf.   The team will be working several projects around Willow including cutting firewood alongside local families, reading to children in the summer program at the Willow library, and helping out in the food pantry.  We'll also have a brief opportunity to take in some of the natural beauty of Alaska.  The cost of the trip is $1,500 and includes travel, lodging, most meals, mission supplies, and insurance.    

If you are interested in joining the team or need more information, please contact Associate Pastor Darryll Rasnake at or 521-0279.

Imagine No Malaria - Lenten Devotion Day 13: February 25

Monday, February 25, 2013: Imitation 

Philippians 3:17 (new RSV) “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” 

My youngest son had just learned to walk. We were at Annual Conference surrounded by people who knew us. I enjoyed spending time walking with my child. Later one of the clergy came to me and said, ‘I saw you and Matthew walking away from me down the hall. It was so great to see. He walks just like you!’ 

At the time, I thought how great that was. You see, my son is adopted. Walking like me isn’t genetic. It is environmental. He truly was learning from my example. We teach our children to walk and talk and pray. We teach them to live safely and to care about the safety and welfare of others. 

As Christian, we learn from the example that Jesus the Christ set for us. We walk in faith. Each step we take can help others live a healthy safe life. Imagine No Malaria gives us the opportunity to follow Jesus and offer a better life to God’s children around the world. We can teach others how to be safer from the mosquitoes that carry the deadly disease. 

It’s simple really. We look around our homes and our communities and ask ourselves how can I help my child live a good, safe life? We look around the world and ask what can I do as a child of God to help God’s other children live a good and safe life? 

Prayer: Great and Loving God, may others look at the way I walk through this life get a glimpse of how you walk and love and reach out and care for your children all around the world. Amen. 

Rev. Tom Boller, Field Coordinator, Yellowstone Conference 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Imagine No Malaria Fundraiser a Huge Success

Imagine for a moment that millions of people are dying every year of a preventable disease. Imagine the grief of their families, of their communities. Now imagine that YOU can stop these deaths. Imagine that thousands of miles from Africa, congregations are coming together to raise money and save lives. That's the driving force behind Imagine No Malaria.

Earlier today hundreds of people gathered in Parish Hall for a special fundraiser for Imagine No Malaria. It was the culmination of weeks of hard work by our children. Since the beginning of February they've been preparing for today's lunch by making posters, taking reservations, creating centerpieces and rehearsing their lines.

The lunch began with a performance by the Children's Choir. Their beautiful voices were a good reminder of why ALL God's children deserve a healthy life, whether they live in Tennessee or in Africa. After the choir sang, the Church Street Drama Troupe presented the first of two plays they've been working on since last fall. It brought to life the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. If you missed their performance, let me assure you that we have some very talented children in our congregation. We are so thankful for them and that they shared their talents with us today.

During intermission kids lined up to take a swat at Pastor Darryll who dressed like a giant mosquito for the occasion. Apparently the opportunity to swat one of their pastors with a pool noodle was more than the kids could pass up and they donated $450! 45 lives saved!

After intermission the Drama Troupe presented a second play. This one focused on the greatest commandment. The children reminded us that in addition to loving God with all our heart, soul and mind, we as Christians are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Sometimes our neighbor is across the street, but sometimes our neighbors are an ocean away.

Thanks to everyone who made today's lunch possible. We are grateful for all who volunteered and all who attended. We saved more than 200 lives this afternoon. Thanks be to God! And in case you weren't able to join us, you can still make a donation by clicking here. Together we can imagine a world with no malaria.

Sermon: February 24, 2013 - Lent 2

I Wish You Were Dead
Luke 15:10-12

A recent article in Men’s Health Magazine entitled Six Tricky Money Talks Every Man Must Have stated the obvious, “MONEY. IT'S A TABOO TOPIC in polite company and rarely even broached among friends. At home, conversations about the green stuff can torpedo family harmony. In fact, a recent T. Rowe Price survey discovered that parents find it easier to talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol than about the family finances. Why are we so touchy that way? Confrontations about financial success or failure, or even stray comments about spending habits, can put people on the defensive and make them feel judged.”  

Accordingly, Money Chat #2 is “So How Much Am I Going to Inherit?”   This is the mack daddy of all awkward money talks. So just be warned, writes the author: Unless you've received explicit promises of inheritance, you should not think of your parents' money as your own. Assume from the outset that you'll inherit nothing.  There's a reason a will is read after death.

It’s like saying to your parents, “I wish you were dead!”

Which leads us to consider again the story of the Prodigal Son.  I say again because most people are so familiar with this favorite parable in the Jesus lexicon.  We all know the outlines of the story.  Two sons, one father, a fortunate squandered, a fatted calf, a party invitation left unopened.  But do we really know the story and what it is all about?  

We are in the midst of our Lenten study based on Kenneth Bailey’s book, “The Cross and the Prodigal.”   The book takes an extended look at Luke chapter 15 and the story of the prodigal son.  But long before the climactic return of the prodigal, the embittered response of the elder, and the impassioned plea of the father, there is the mack daddy of all awkward money talks, “I wish you were dead!”

There was a man who had two sons.  The younger of them said to the father, “I wish you were dead.”  

Well not exactly but that’s what he really meant.  He said, “Dad, give me the portion of property that falls to me.”   Perhaps his father would have appreciated a more direct approach.  If only the son had said, “Give me my inheritance.”  Two words in the language of the day.   

But instead the soon to be prodigal works his way around a difficult conversation.  Uh Dad, can we talk, uh, about, you know, about when I can I, uh, my stuff, my money, the things that I deserve?  
As Jesus tells the story, “Give me the share of property that falls to me.”   

So why the run around?  The word inheritance is never used.  And that’s the way that Jesus told the story.  

Elsewhere in Luke’s gospel  and the rest of the New Testament the word inheritance is frequently used. Inheritance, the goods and property that pays off for all those years of being a good son.   But to accept an inheritance goes far beyond money, it goes to responsibility.  The money and the property are secondary to the duty that is explicit in taking responsibility for the entire family, caring for the old and sick, arbitrating family quarrels and community disputes, defending the family name and honor, and maintaining the most important asset of the family...the well-being of all.  A heavy responsibility in our culture but monumental in Jesus’ day.  To accept the inheritance is to build the house of the father, the name of the family.  

So here, in Jesus’ parable, we should not be surprised that the younger son asks for his “ousia”, money, wealth, his stuff. His share in property that can be easily turned into cash.  Later on the story tells us that he disposed of the property, “ousia”, quickly and left the country.  

In his commentary Kenneth Bailey states what may not obvious to our modern ears:  A request for the property means that the son was impatient for his father’s death.   It was like telling dear old dad, “Isn’t it time for you to get on with the dying so I can get on with the living?”  

But more than that, the younger son is telling his family that while he doesn’t want them dead, he doesn’t care if they die.  To make such a grab for property is to imperil the family.  To impoverish them without enough land, animals, or other resources to support the family.  

The prodigal doesn’t seem to care how much others in the family will suffer because of what he demands.  Not only will he hurt his father but also the entire family clan.  The wealth of a village family was not in a bank somewhere, not in money stuffed in a mattress or an investment porfolio, but rather in the village itself.  Homes, animals and land.  To suddenly lose one third, the younger son’s rightful share, would mean a staggering loss to the family.  When the son liquidated his assets, a fire sale without the fire, the accumulated economic security of generations went up in smoke.  

Rather than accepting the responsibility for the family, this son is actively working for the demise of his father, his mother, his brother and the rest of his family.  And in cutting off his family, he cuts himself off from his roots and his true inheritance.  The very inheritance he refused to ask for is now taken away.  Family is everything, nothing else matters when it comes to middle eastern security.  His family is his social security (as he will realize later), and his insurance, his old age pension, and his future.  His tie to the family and the land and to his father’s house is lost in one little request.  Bailey points out that in Middle Eastern cultures, last names don’t matter, only whose child you are and where you are from.  When one person asks another where they are from, the real question is who is your family.  Where are your roots, what clan or people would claim you and defend you?  The son belongs to his father’s household, there he is accepted and loved, completely and without condition.  He is welcomed.  All of this the younger son throws away for a man without family is considered a transient, fit only to feed pigs, and not trusted.  He will lament the loss and come face to face with the reality of his situation when he says, “I’m not fit to be called your son, make me a hireling.”  

But at the request, the father gives him what he wants. Culture would dictate that the father should refuse.  The division of the family wealth would come only at the very end of the father’s life, as he lay on his deathbed, giving out his blessing (remember the stories of Abraham and Jacob?) and providing for the future of the family.  NT scholar Joachim Jeremias points out that there were orderly, prescribed, legal procedures available if the father chose to divide the family property.  Each son, given his portion, based on birth order.  Two sons, a cultural rarity, would demand a two-thirds, one third split.  More sons, and the older still receives his portion but other sons increasing less.  To be born last in a large family was to have limited prospects outside of the family structure.  Even a second son would not receive enough to survive unless the estate was vast.  Perhaps enough for a party-filled sojourn into a foreign country but not much more.

But if the father choose, the right of possession could be passed on but not the right of disposition.  That is, while the younger son could demand that the father give him his inheritance while he was still living, only the father could allow him to have everything without condition.  Surely there were cases where the father was alive and chose to make his wishes known early, to read the will so no one would misunderstand after he was gone.  But it would been assumed that the father was still in control, making decisions on behalf of the family.  

At the very least, the father should be angry and upset.  What had he done to deserve such treatment?  One foot in the grave, according to his son, and here’s a good push to get you there.   Of all the things a father can hear, this had to cut right to his heart.  How could his son, this son, say such a thing?  

Or at least the father should be disappointed.  Sometimes in spite of best efforts, children grow up and walk or run away from the very best of their upbringing.  We try but in stubborn rebellion, they turn away.  And we hang our heads, wondering what we should have done better.

But more than anything the father should refuse the request!  No way! How could you say such a thing?  A good box of the ear, a shoe raised in anger, that’s the only reasonable response.   

But this father, this father is different.  He is willing to give it all, without condition.  Jesus understates this reality when he says, “And he divided his living between them.”   His living?  All that he had.  Later he would tell the older son, “All that is mine is yours.”  Not strictly true.  Because the father could always decide differently.  

But not this father.  This father seems to be willing, to point of death, to give and give and give.  He simply gives the younger son what he wants.  No argument ensues (and perhaps that’s what upset the older son), no discussion, just a request fulfilled.  If that’s what you want...the father says.  

In the 1960’s Nietzsche wrote, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Thus began the Death of God Movement in modern theology and our attempt to free ourselves from God.  God, give us what we have coming.  God we appreciate all you’ve done, all you given, but now is our time.  God, I wish you were dead.  

The cover of the April 8, 1966 edition of Time magazine screamed "Is God Dead?" and the accompanying article addressed a growing atheism in America.  But this was not really about atheism, at least in the strictest sense.  It’s more like a practical atheism.  

It’s not that we don’t believe God existed!  Instead there was the growing sense that we Americans did not need God anymore.  Theologians argued that modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, lacking any sacramental meaning, no transcendental purpose or sense of God’s providence and purpose. Simply put, for the modern mind God is dead.  An Emory theologian Thomas Altizer offered a even more radical theology of the death of God, concluding that God had incarnated in Christ and imparted his Spirit which remained in the world even though Jesus was dead.  Unlike Nietzsche, Altizer believed that God truly died when Jesus died on the cross.  

Some years ago British theologian Anthony Townie wrote a satire on the Death of God called the Dairy of the Late God.   In his book, he asks us to imagine that after God died, killed by contemporary theologians, a diary was found among God’s belongings.  

The entries in God’s diary are a wonderful satire on theology or perhaps the lack of it. The notion is that for some people one of the characteristics of our time is arrogance: the unabashed arrogance and the smugness which has so much and has been blessed beyond measure and yet is so unwilling to give God the credit.  To put in it another way we live in a time which has a very difficult time giving God any glory, not that we have any power over that.  Instead we just wish God dead.  

In Exodus God asks Moses to tell the Israelite to remember what God had done for them and not take His blessings for granted.  It is so easy for people to forget and so hard to remember.  A lot of the lessons of God are about remembering, not because God needs our praise but because we need not to forget.  

One entry in God’s diary reads: "In spite of my people’s transgressions no one else could have ever been more long-suffering and forgiving than I have been and am.  I gave them all I could, a grand and a glorious world in which to live, a world filled with beauty and rich resources.  God continues, “I stood by them and in their adversity I even gave them my own Son and yet in their own blindness and in their own arrogance and ingratitude, they committed the ultimate presumption. They presumed that their ways were superior to my ways, that in the scheme of things I was no longer necessary.  That humankind had now grown up and that humanity didn’t need to be burdened down or to be inhibited or held back any longer by such primitive and superstitious beliefs as God.”   

“Sadly,” he says:, “many people were not interested in believing in a God that one could not control or manipulate, who didn’t run things they way they wanted.  For so many people the kind of God they wanted just did not exist and if a God did exist he was completely irrelevant to them & their needs.”  

We can wish God dead, but God cannot be put to death, controlled, or manipulated.  Instead it is God’s love that overflows into the world, even the darkest places and the darkness of our very hearts.  It is in such a world that our God continues to reign and that God’s people continue to manifest love in spite of the evil that tries to grip and to overcome the world and which fiercely tries to deny God, even to kill God off in favor of something else.  

Yergeny Yevtushenko, a Russian poet, writes in his autobiography of a moment in 1944 when 20,000 German war prisoners were being marched through the ice and snow on the streets of Moscow.  Defeated, the once proud soldiers now stagger on the edge of death.  And then an elderly Russian woman pushed through the police line and went up to the column of ragged German soldiers and shoved a crust of bread into the pocket of a soldier who was so exhausted that he was tottering.  And then suddenly from all sides women were running to these enemy soldiers, the very ones that had killed their loved ones, pushing bread, cigarettes, and whatever they had into their hands.  A rare moment in human history.  Instead of wishing them dead, giving them life.  The things they offered were quickly gone but the meaning, the message stayed on.  The God-imaged love and concern that freed those soldiers to live again.  

If we are make anything of our faith it must be the very opposite of the arrogance of wishing God dead: thanksgiving, gratitude, and compassion.   The acknowledgment that we came from God, that all that we are is of God, and all that we have is the gift of God.  Rather than arrogantly declaring the death of a God who is no longer needed or relevant, Christians emphatically proclaim their dependence upon "The One in whom we live and move and have our being."  The one who demonstrates in the love of father how we also love.  

Jesus told the story of the prodigal to tell us something about God surely.  About God’s boundless passion for us, love that knows no end and gives to point of death.   Love that counters open rebellion with still more love.  But also, I think, Jesus wanted to tell us something about ourselves.  The prodigals, wishing God dead so we can assume the throne on our lives.  Ready to reject God and yet having the capability to respond to God’s amazing love.  For in the end, the younger son “comes to his senses.”


Men's Health Magazine, February 10, 2013
The Cross and the Prodigal by Kenneth Bailey
Excerpts from The Diary of the Late God by Anthony Townie
Yevtushenko's Reader: The Spirit of Elbe, a Precocious Autobiography

Imagine No Malaria-Lenten Devotion Day 12: February 24

Sunday, February 24, 2013: Caring for Each Other 

Luke 13:34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.” 

Outside my office window there was a nest for a Canadian goose. The mother sat there quietly and patiently day after day, waiting for the natural process and spring birthing of young. 

We grew quite friendly as she watched me work at my desk and I engaged in a morning review of the status of the coming young. As I closed my office door each evening, she looked longingly at me as if to say, “Are you leaving me here alone?” I confess it was quite a daily routine to watch as she protected and provided for her small ones. 

Now I understand a little bit more about the scripture references to Jesus’ sorrow over Jerusalem and weeping for the unwillingness of the people to accept his lordship. 

Are we weeping over the lost and wandering ones? Are we brooding, protecting and nurturing the ones who can’t find their way? Are we gathering with loving patience those who need the fresh assurance of rebirth? 

May we once again long and pray and patiently hold on for the re-birthing that is needed in the churches and communities where we serve. 

“I thank God upon every remembrance of you,” is what St. Paul said to the church, when he wrote in recognition of their faithfulness to the gospel and their hospitality and care for him personally. 
I thank God today for you: For your life given in covenant and service; for your labor of love and your message of hope given out in acts of kindness; for your vision to meet the needs of many and minister his grace; for your family and those whom you embrace as family; for your daily, steady working so that life is improved for someone. 

I thank God for you, because you are important to the kingdom of God. May God bless you abundantly today, for he is good; His love endures forever. 

Rev. Bramwell Kjellgren, Pennsylvania 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Imagine No Malaria-Lenten Devotion Day 11: February 23

Saturday, February 23, 2013: Size 

1 Samuel 17:50 “So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.” 

Early Sunday morning, I headed out to a small church in rural Texas. I didn’t know where I was going, because the district directory didn’t list an address for the church, nor did the Internet. 

Strangely, I made it without needing an address at all. The smallest church I had ever seen was impossible to miss in a town that looked more like a tiny subdivision than a community. Staring at the surroundings, I was disappointed though. 

With so few people worshiping in such a remote place, I wasn’t sure they would believe they could save lives in Africa, no matter how the pastor felt. Nevertheless, I made my presentation. 
Then, they amazed me. 

The 13 people who joyously filled the pews that morning unanimously decided they could be the healing hands of Christ for more than 1,000 people who lived in places that were so remote and seemingly insignificant that they too had no addresses. 

Some people see those who are living in address-less villages of Africa as overwhelmingly unreachable, but the people of Bruni saw their potential to serve God by fighting malaria and sending relief to those in need. 

That morning 13 people reminded me of what David knew when he faced Goliath – when we are in God’s service, size doesn’t matter. The desire to serve and knowing God stands with us, that is what matters. Bruni was small. They stood against this mammoth disease anyway, because they knew they would win. 

Prayer: Lord give us the boldness to serve, even when the task seems impossible. Help us to remember that nothing is impossible for you and with faith as small as a mustard seed we have the power to move mountains for your kingdom. Amen

Leia Danielle Williams, Northwest Texas Conference 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Imagine No Malaria-Lenten Devotion Day 10: February 22

Friday, February 22, 2013: Action Day 

It’s time to make a list. 
Write down all of the items you can buy with just $1. 

Not very long, is it? You can buy a soda, a candy bar, something off of the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant, or something at the dollar store. These days, you can’t even buy a cup of coffee for just one dollar! 

Consider this: you can protect 100 lives with less than $1 a day. That certainly seems a lot more valuable than a can of soda, doesn’t it? 

Less than $1 a day (just $28 a month) pledged over three years has the ability to protect 100 lives in Africa, and help to eliminate deaths caused by malaria. 

Prayerfully consider today if you can change 100 lives. If you decide to make this commitment, go to to make your pledge (or a gift of another amount). 

Every time you spend one dollar today (or two dollars, or three…) stop and pray for a child in Africa. Pray for their health and pray that they are safe from malaria today. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Prayer Shawls Bring Blessings

Talented knitters and crocheters from the Church Street Service Circle have made fifty prayer shawls. These beautiful shawls, each of unique design, are prayed over by the Service Circle and the Congregational Care Committee and then given to members undergoing cancer treatment, difficult illness, or physical and emotional challenges. As the printed prayer that is given with each shawl says, “May it be a sign of Your loving presence and a reminder that they are surrounded by prayers asking You to give them wings to fly above their troubles.”  If you or a loved ones has a need for this ministry or you are interested in joining us as we knit and crochet please call the church office. You can come to Service Circle which meets on the fourth Tuesday at 9:30 in the Parish Hall, or you can knit and crochet at home and bring them to the church for prayer.

-Submitted by Nancy Carmon and Carol Smith

Imagine No Malaria - Lenten Devotion Day 9: February 21

Thursday, February 21, 2013: Finding Contentment in a Holy Life 

Philippians 4:11b “…I have to be content with whatever I have…” 

Have you ever counted the number of products it takes to get out the door in the morning? Soap, body wash, toothpaste, mouth wash, shampoo and conditioner, shaving cream, moisturizer, mousse or gel, hair spray, deodorant, body lotion, powder, after shave or cologne… and we’ve not even started on make-up! And recently, Madison Avenue has convinced us that none of us have teeth that are white enough. 

Take a survey of your bathroom and estimate the cost of the products you use every day. You will be astounded at the dollar figure you discover that you spend mindlessly on products that we’ve come to view as necessities. 

Small wonder that it is easy for us to be content with what we have. Even if we make the “sacrifice” of using store brands instead of name brands, our shelves are bending under the weight of luxuries that we deem necessities. 

One of the important life lessons that is attached to the Imagine No Malaria ministry is the stark truth of how little ordinary people of Africa have. They have a totally different understanding of what the Apostle meant about contentment. 

Regardless of how difficult our lives might be, if preventing a terrible disease meant covering our beds in netting, there are very few of us who could not make it happen before too many pay checks came and went. Our generosity in sending mosquito nets will not cause undue hardship for many of us. Perhaps we can use this campaign as a time for re-ordering our perceived needs and the amount of our resources we invest in pampering ourselves. 

Prayer: Gracious and generous God, show us what is needed for a holy, content life. Make us careful of our needs and giving of our means. In Jesus, who gave the most. Amen

Rev. Dr. Jaime Potter Alvarez, Pennsylvania 

Georgina Maria Domingos cares for her daughter Maria Costa at their home in the Cacilhas village near Huambo, Angola. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Imagine No Malaria-Lenten Devotion Day 8: February 20

Wednesday, February 20, 2013: Hope 

Romans 8:24-25 “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” 

On a journey through West Africa, I was left with an a-typical loss for words to describe the depth of the experience. 

In Côte d’Ivoire, I visited schools in rural communities where there is no water. Fetching water, a responsibility of the young girls in a family, is a task that can take hours each day. When the family is faced with the choice of having water or sending a daughter to school, the decision is simple: the family needs water. A well can make all the difference. 

In Liberia, I saw the amazing work of the Camphor and Ganta missions, where health care is being delivered in the most limited conditions. I had the privilege of meeting the traditional birth attendants (TBA) at the Camphor mission. Mothers-to-be in rural villages entrust their prenatal care to the TBAs, and each day, they deliver their babies into the hands of these dedicated women. The incidence of problematic deliveries has been reduced in the villages thanks to the TBAs. 

In Guinea, I visited a small clinic supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) that is the only hope for those who suffer from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases of poverty. Similarly, in Sierra Leone’s Kissy Hospital and the Manjama clinic, life-giving care is provided to the people of a war-ravaged country. 

It is difficult to find words to adequately respond to the sight of a baby gasping for breath as she struggles with malaria and pneumonia. Or of the child lying in bed whose life is being cut so short by tuberculosis. Or of the man in a wheelchair who lost his leg to leprosy. It is hard to find words…. But in each of the places I visited, I knew I was a privileged witness to hope. 
My trip to West Africa was a long one, but I measured it in more than distance or days; I measure it in hope. As I held the baby gasping for breath and prayed for the young boy dying from tuberculosis, it became clear to me that this was not a journey that required words, it was a spiritual journey. It was a journey of love and of possibilities for a new future. It was a journey of hope. 

Prayer: Gracious and holy God, it is often difficult for us to see hope in situations that appear hopeless. Our human eyes do not allow us to see life as you see it. It is only when we see life through our eyes of faith that we catch a glimmer of hope that only comes from you. Give us eyes to see the world through eyes of faith and hearts to love as you would want us to love. Amen. 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Conference 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Imagine No Malaria- Lenten Devotion Day 7: February 19

Tuesday, February 19, 2013: Princes and Princesses 

Matthew 19:14 “Let the little children come tome, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 

About a month ago, I traveled to Haiti as part of a building team. Our group included folks from all walks of life - a lawyer, a pastor, a chef, a church secretary, and a nurse to name a few. What we all had in common that week was the desire to serve and to connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ in this country. 

But we had something else in common that week. We were all at risk of contracting malaria from a simple mosquito bite. Without proper medication, we could become severely ill from a wound the size of a pin prick – a mark so tiny and yet full of deadly potential. So while we were unpacking our luggage, our host was explaining the use of the mosquito net that we would sleep under each night. As we prepared to go to bed, my roommate joked that she felt like a princess sleeping under the net. I laughed, but visions of Disney fairy tale characters like Snow White ran through my mind as the gossamer net wafted in the nighttime breezes. As my body relaxed and I felt the tensions of the day’s travel subside, I thought of this country and others like it, where a mesh fabric so thin you could easily see through it was helping to save so many lives..a simple mesh net. How many young ‘princes’ or ‘princesses’ in this country had such a life-saving advantage each night, in countries where the smallest of insects could bring your life to a horrific halt? How about the continent of Africa - how many young children there would have the benefit of a net this evening, or the advantage of life-saving medical treatment should they contract the illness? 

Imagine No Malaria works for the princes and princesses of this world, for the mothers and children of Sub-Saharan Africa who will not live in luxury, but for whom a bed net and access to medical treatment seem like great and glorious treasures. They may seem like the uncounted and unimportant to some, yet they are valued, they count, they matter to God. Around our globe there are those who care enough to fight the good fight to protect the vulnerable, and to eradicate this menace once and for all, and they are making significant progress. We as United Methodists are part of that good fight. 
But it starts with seeing people differently. It starts with seeing a ‘prince’ or ‘princess’, instead of a poor child with ragged shoes, and torn clothes. It starts with knowing that they are truly the sons and daughters of God who deserve this net to protect them from harm, and deserve the medications being developed to keep them far from the hurt which otherwise might befall them. It starts with a life that is valued in the eyes of God, and by us all. 

Do you see princes and princesses in this world? I do. 

Prayer: God, give us the wisdom to see our neighbors as you see them. Amen 

Rev. Pam Carter, Western North Carolina Conference 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Community Lenten Services

There is a wonderful tradition of ecumenical partnering in the heart of Downtown Knoxville.  Several churches, some with steeples, some that meet in unique settings downtown are involved in a monthly meeting of senior pastors that enjoy fellowship and common experience of downtown life.  Out of these meetings opportunities have emerged to worship together and share our common faith.  One tradition for the last decade is to journey through Lent together during Wednesday Noon Worship. We travel to each steeple church for a 30 minute service of worship that begins at Noon, followed by a donation-based lunch in the fellowship hall of each setting. We try to carefully keep our time together within the bounds of the lunch hour so that working and retired people can attend.  This is a great way to worship with other Christians in the city, discover commonalities across denominations, and to see the inside of the beautiful old steeple churches of Downtown Knoxville! Parking is limited at some of the churches, so if you are able, we encourage you to park at Church Street and enjoy a brisk walk to our neighboring churches.  The schedule for this year is:

February 20th—Church Street UMC
February 27th—First Baptist
March 6th—St. John’s Episcopal
March 13th—First Presbyterian
March 20th—Immaculate Conception

Services are all on Wednesday, starting at Noon, followed by a quick lunch (donations accepted). We hope to see you there!  

--Rev. Sarah Varnell

Imagine No Malaria - Lenten Devotion Day 6: February 18

Monday, February 18, 2013: A Portion… 
Deuteronomy 26:7: “We cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.” 

The story of God leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, to freedom and to a life of abundance, is one of the most important stories of God’s work for liberation and just social relationships found in the Bible. During Lent, we are drawn toward the images of the wilderness, as we remember Jesus’ time of fasting and temptation, and as we explore the barren or overgrown places in our own spiritual journeys. But as I read Deuteronomy 26:1-11, I notice that we begin not with slavery, not with liberation, not even with the forty years of being lost so as to un-learn the way of life the Israelites had known before. This reading begins with a kind of end-point, the people’s arrival in the promised land. 
The instructions that follow are not logistical, but liturgical: when you arrive and settle in, when your life begins to go well, and you are able to harvest the fruits of the land and your own labor, what matters is that you remember God. Put aside a portion of the abundance you are so eager to experience, rather than claiming it all for your own enjoyment or storing it away for a rainy day. Take your offering to the priest and remember, not just for yourself but for all to hear: recall the story of how you got here. 
Remember where your people came from, the journey you have been on, the struggles you have gone through, and God’s faithfulness and care throughout the generations. 
The story can have meaning for any of us, whether we are currently experiencing God’s bounty or still crying out to God from a place of pain and suffering. God is faithful, and we are called to respond with our own faithfulness and generosity as we move toward the abundant life God desires for all people and all creation. 

Prayer: God of our ancestors, when your children are suffering, hear our cry. Help us to remember your faithfulness in ages past, and teach us to offer ourselves and our gifts as generously as you do. Let our giving bear witness to your love and make it possible for others to experience the abundant life Jesus offers. May our journey this Lent draw us closer to Christ and so to you. Amen. 

Rev. Kerry Greenhill, Field Coordinator, Rocky Mountain Conference 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Imagine No Malaria - Lenten Devotion Day 5: February 17

Sunday, February 17, 2013: Jesus Renounces the Tempter 
Luke 4:1-13 “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” 

There are times when we have to say “No.” Even “no” to things that, at first glance, may appear to be good things. As Jesus went into the wilderness he was tempted by Satan in a number of ways. In each case he takes a stand against the tempter, even though in many regards the things he is being offered could be good for him, things that would benefit his ministry. 
The first temptation was the offer of bread. Have you ever gone to the grocery when you are hungry – everything looks good. Even if I went in to buy a couple of things, if I am hungry, I come out with a basket load. Worst of all, most of the things I’ve bought are the most unhealthy choices possible. Now imagine going to a grocery after not eating for a number of days? Surely, after fasting for forty days, the stones were, indeed, beginning to look a bit like loaves of bread. Jesus was being tempted to succumb to the focus his mission on himself and his own needs, rather than the great mission God had called him to. 
The second temptation was about winning the favor of human beings by putting on an amazing show. Can you imagine how Jesus’ fame would spread if people heard stories about him jumping from the pinnacle of the temple only to be saved from sure death at the very last second by angels? Couldn’t this be a good thing for him? He is trying to draw crowds and win converts, right? Couldn’t this be part of his outreach plan? 
The final temptation has everything to do with temptation to gain power. Jesus was tempted by Satan to sell his soul for “all the power in the world.” Satan was saying: “Jesus, you can be a King! And not just A king, you can be THE king. You can be King of the entire World! Imagine what good you could do with all that power. All you have to do is partner with me. But Jesus knew this too was not the kingdom way. God’s kingdom grows up from below as the poor hear the good news, the imprisoned find liberation, the hungry are fed and the blind come to see. 
Most of the things that tempt us are good things. In many ways the things that tempt us are similar to the temptations laid before Christ – the lure of having our human needs met, the promise of popularity, power and prestige. In their place these things are not evil in themselves. What made them evil in this case? They were evil because they were seductive promises that would draw Jesus away from the mission of the kingdom. He was being tempted to let his own interests take precedence over the call of God. To follow God means to put God first before all else and not let ourselves be seduced by the wiles of the tempter. 

Prayer: Help us, O Lord, to not take our eyes off of you. Help us not be seduced by the promises of the world that lead us to turn away from your desire for us. We need your help God to see clearly and remain focused on the work you would have us do. 

Rev. Clayton Childers, Virginia, General Board of Church and Society 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sermon: February 17, 2013 - Lent 1

Grudging Grace
Luke 15.1-10 - The Shepherd Who Searches for One Lost Sheep

            Lent has begun – the season of spiritual preparation and return.
            Throughout this Lent, we are going to focus on Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. This is the familiar story of the younger son who turns to his father and asks for his share of the coming inheritance. You recall how he took the money and ran away to the foreign land; there he wasted it all. Later, he comes back, expecting nothing, only to discover that his father has been watching the road for his return. He also comes back to the disapproval of his older brother who had dutifully stayed at home.
            The parable is a story about sons and fathers; it is a story about families; at another level, it is a story about the character of God. Jesus uses a story about fathers and sons to help us understand how the Heavenly Father works.
            As a resource, we are going to use Dr. Kenneth Bailey’s book, *The Cross and the Prodigal* (1). Dr. Bailey taught for many years at the Middle Eastern School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon and used his experience there, especially among the societies of poor rural villages, to understand better the world of the Bible.

            In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, the nuns at the Abbey where she has come as a novitiate introduce “The Sound of Music,” Julie Andrews’ character, Maria. She is young; she is not settled as they are; she is upsetting the status quo. The nuns sing, lovingly I think, as they talk about the problems she presents:
She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee
Her dress has got a tear
She waltzes on her way to Mass
And whistles on the stair
And underneath her wimple
She has curlers in her hair

I hate to have to say it
But I very firmly feel
Maria's not an asset to the abbey (2).

The scribes and Pharisees are complaining about Jesus. But, the loving tone of the nuns in the “Sound of Music” is missing. This is real disapproval.
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

A. You see, in the world of ancient Judaism, the faithful were expected to give evidence of their faith by keeping themselves pure. This comes from the same concern that our mothers expressed when they warned us as children to keep away from bad company. The people you spend time will shape the person you become. Bad company yields more troubled kids; good company yields good kids. Every Mom, watching her kids grow up, knows there is great truth to this concern.
            Taxes were collected in ancient Israel through a system of contractors. A person would contract with the Roman authorities to collect the required taxes for an area. They were hated.
1.     First, these tax contractors were traitors to their own people. They agreed to collect taxes from their own people and then turn them over to Rome.
2.     The Romans were an occupying army; the Israelites hated them as we would hate an occupying army in our land.
3.     Then, to add insult to injury, these tax collectors were notoriously corrupt – extracting whatever they could from the people. Abuses were rampant and expected.
When the Scribes and Pharisees charged Jesus with welcoming sinners, this was a serious charge. Did he support their treason? Did he support the Roman occupation? Did he approve of their ill-gotten gain? Was Jesus loyal to his own people? Or, had he sold out for a fancy meal with bad company?
B. Jesus realized that this was at its heart a conflict of values.
a)     B. On the one hand, God through the scriptures cautioned Israel to keep itself away from sin – to practice holiness. Leviticus 20.26 says: “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” Taking this seriously, the Scribes chose holiness.
b)    But, God, through these same scriptures, has spoken of his mercy – God’s desire to restore the lost and the sinner to Himself. The only way to seek and restore the lost is go where they are – to get so close to the sinners that some of their smell clings to you. Thus, anyone who seeks the lost is going to look like one of them much of time. This, it seems, is the cost of mercy.
c)     The Scribes and Pharisees contended that each of us has to choose: holiness or mercy. They chose holiness.
On one hand, God in holiness is calling all believers to be holy and to keep themselves holy – to keep themselves from anything that would lead them into sin. On the other hand, God in mercy is determined to restore the lost to himself.
So, which rule was Jesus supposed to follow? Should he keep himself from the riff-raff, lest he fall into their sin? Or should Jesus go out in the name of God to lead sinners back to faith?
[APPLIC:] And what about us? Should we choose holiness so that we are always ready to stand before God? OR, should we go out among the bad reputation people, knowing that God could use us to call them back to God in repentance?
The human tendency is that keeping ourselves away from the riff-raff makes us less willing to extend grace to those who stumble, less willing to forgive, less willing to spend our time with “those people.” If they get in trouble living the way they do, they must have brought it on themselves. If they reap the natural consequences of their ways, then that is the result of their bad choices. Because we focus on the holiness of God, we see no reason to go further. But, Jesus did – see a reason to go further, that is. In the balance between God’s holiness and God’s mercy, Jesus came down on the side of God’s mercy. And when Jesus chose mercy, he ran the risk of looking too much like the sinners and tax collectors he wanted to call home to God.

III. The first parable comes from their daily life:
4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

There are some things I want you to know about this parable, which will help it come alive for us.
1.     First, by telling a story about shepherds, Jesus is poking his finger in the eye of the Scribes and Pharisees. Shepherds were necessary in Israel but considered lower class; their work was considered unclean. In other words, Jesus is comparing the scrupulous Pharisees with shepherds who were anything but scrupulous.
2.     Second, Jesus is addressing this parable to the Scribes and Pharisees. By answering with a parable, instead of an explanation, he draws them into the story, making them help him answer their complaint. If the story rings true of shepherds’ tenderness toward their sheep, and if it rings true of God’s mercy toward His people, then what does it say about their complaint regarding Jesus’ way with sinners?
3.     A hundred sheep represents considerable wealth. My guess is that sheep got lost from time to time for many reasons: injury, a predator or simply getting separated from the flock. If you had 99 healthy sheep close by and realized that one had gone missing, would you leave the 99 and go looking for the one lost sheep? Maybe there is an under-shepherd to keep the 99. Maybe there is a cave where the 99 can be contained. But, there is no mention of these; the impression is that the shepherd leaves the 99 without his protection and goes out to seek just one. On the one hand, I’m not sure that this is great animal husbandry; on the other hand, it speaks of a mercy from God that is very attractive to me. Any of us would want to believe that God in mercy would go looking for us if we became lost.

B. “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.” The image is lovely, and it has generated some beautiful paintings, but the reality is not very pleasant. The shepherd would be tired from the search. The sheep is tired from its wandering and, if it realized the danger, may have exhausted itself in panic. A female adult sheep weighs between 100 and 220 lbs.; males weigh somewhat more. Yet, the shepherd puts the heavy sheep on his shoulders and carries it home rejoicing.
[SINAI:]  In 2008, I hiked to the top of Mt. Sinai. On the way down, we were asked to carry down a woman who had died on the trail. Four at a time, we took turns carrying that stretcher along a good trail. It was exhausting.

Yet, Jesus tells us that the shepherd was *rejoicing* at the grueling task. I think he is telling us something about the greatness of God’s mercy – though we are lost in sin, God in mercy rejoices at the burden of carrying us back to restore us. The Pharisees had to get the point just as we do.
            C. Then, when he arrives home, the shepherd calls the whole community together to hold a party. “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
I will follow Bailey closely in this section. He has some powerful insights (3).
1.     Whatever concerns we might have about the wisdom of searching for one lost sheep while leaving 99 at risk, the shepherd made the decision to search. He is that sort of shepherd.
2.     The shepherd calls the community to come out and rejoice with him. Bailey points out that the large number of sheep suggests that in a poor village this large flock would not be the property of one person or one household but more likely the combined sheep of several close neighbors, all likely related. Thus, they all have a stake in the welfare of the flock. The shepherd, watching the sheep on behalf of the neighborhood, went out to search for one that was lost.
3.     Now, what if the one *lost* is a person? What if the one lost is a member of the family of faith? One lost person from the faith is a loss to the family of God. When an individual is lost, the community should mourn, and the "shepherd” who returns restoring that person should receive a joyous hero’s welcome from his “friends.”
4.     The Pharisees, as religious leaders, were indeed the “shepherds of Israel.” Thus, in this parable Jesus holds them responsible for any “sheep” or any person that is lost from the community of faith (like sinners and tax collectors). In the parable the shepherd does four things:
a.     He accepts responsibility for the loss.
b.     He searches without counting the cost
c.     He rejoices in the burden of restoring the lost sheep.
d.     He rejoices with the community at the success of restoration.
5.     Jesus is setting a high standard for the church in any age. Think about what Jesus has done.
a.     He told a parable in response to the criticism that he was too happy to spend time with the lost.
b.     Instead of defending himself, he tells a parable to remind them about the character of God who is very concerned to find and restore the lost sheep of Israel.
c.     For the Scribes and Pharisees to continue their criticism of Jesus, they must contend that the mercy of God so vividly portrayed in the parable is not true of God.
d.     But, of course, such mercy is true of the character of God. In acknowledging this, they themselves state the argument against their criticism. They also acknowledge that the shepherds of Israel, like themselves, have not gone out gladly to do the work of searching out and bringing home the lost.
            What do you and I now say? In our concern not to dirty our hands with the riff-raff, and our impatience with those who have made a mess of their own lives, have we denied God’s call to seek and to save the lost? To accept this parable as the teaching of Jesus is to acknowledge God’s call to leave our comfortable places to seek and to save the lost.
            As I sat in a coffee shop this week, working on this sermon, I noticed across the room a fellow approaching other patrons of the shop. I did not pay much attention until a clerk from the coffee shop approached him and told him that he could not panhandle in that place. Though the fellow denied that he was panhandling, the clerk was firm and walked the fellow outside. Frankly, I was relieved at the assurance that I would not be approached by panhandlers inside that store.

It was a great example of why seeking and saving the lost is hard to do. The clerk did what everyone in that store wanted him to do. And no, I did not rush out to talk with the fellow. No, I did not buy him a sandwich. I was busy getting ready for Sunday’s sermon; I had no time. We all know that getting involved with people from the street can be very time consuming and will likely end in failure. It left me wondering what parable Jesus would be telling about me.

Did Jesus get burned sometimes or even most of the time? We will never know. All we have are the stories when Jesus enjoyed wild success: Zaachaeus, the Ten Lepers, the woman with a decade of bleeding, Jairus’ daughter, for starters. 
I hope you hear along with me the *holy ought* from Jesus. We give grace only grudgingly. We *all know* that the lost are often hard to restore. We *all know* that such people can become a never-ending project with no guaranteed success. We all know… But, even though the task is difficult, Jesus keeps pestering us to seek and to save the lost. We find Jesus reminding us that God did not give up on us. And, because that is the character of God, we must do the same. Instructively, Jesus did not quit, and neither should we.

1. Bailey, Kenneth. The Cross and the Prodigal 2005
2. Rodgers and Hammerstein, “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria,” The Sound of Music.
3. Bailey, pp. 32f