Tag Archives: Gospel

Fear of the Lord

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”           — Proverbs 1:7

I heard a radio preacher talk about the fear of the Lord yesterday. i expected him to go to start talking about the fearful, terrified, condemnation-style fear and how God was, well, almost like a bully that we’d be afraid of running into. But he didn’t! Instead, he talked about the kind of fear that I would call reverence.

And then this morning, I opened up a devotional called Augustine Day By Day and today’s entry, “Chaste Fear,” was bringing out this same approach.

Just from the fact that you try to avoid evil, you improve yourself, and you begin to desire what is good. When you begin to desire what is good, there will be a chaste fear in you.

That fear by which you fear being cast into hell with the devil is not yet chaste, since it does not come from the love of God but from fear of punishment. But when you fear God in the sense that you do not wish to lose Him, you embrace Him, and you desire to enjoy Him.


When I was growing up, so many of the gospel presentations were not GOOD News, but rather FEARFUL WARNINGS!

  • ‘You better make the right decision or you’ll go to Hell!’
  • ‘If you accept Jesus, you’ll be saved from Hell!’
  • ‘Turn or Burn!’
  • ‘Make sure you’ve got you’ve signed up for your eternal  fire insurance!’

I have one fellow pastor and friend who is always dwelling on the negatives. And yes, I know that seems like a generalization, but in this case it’s pretty accurate! He tries to draw people’s attention to how horrible, bad, awful, and sinful the world is around us. And that’s his attempt to share the “good” news! I love him and he has the sweetest wife, but I can only be around him for short periods of time and generally avoid reading anything he writes. It’s all pessimism and fear based. I don’t need more of that in my life!

It seems to me that that radio preacher (I don’t even know who he was) and St. Augustine have the healthier, more Godly approach. Yes there is a gratitude for what Jesus saves us from eternally in regards to punishment, that’s NOT the motivation for my walk with Christ or my understanding of God. Instead, there is a JOY in getting to know God better as I walk with Christ… as I learn to be His disciple and become more like Him. My relationship becomes more and more about love and respect and gratitude and reverence… not fear of punishment.

After all, the definition of “gospel” is supposed to be “GOOD news.”

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entry for July 29 “Chaste Fear” in Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Catholic Book Publishing:New York, 1986, page 113. Quote drawn from Augustine’s sermon on 1 John 9, 5.

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All Possible Means

This was my pastor’s letter for the August newsletter from Clarks Mills UMC.n2014-08a

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I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

  — 1 Corinthians 9:23 (NIV)

      The Clarks Mills church has a long history of using creative ways to get God’s message of love out to people.  We’ve held Vacation Bible School’s using themes and dressed up as angels, or island natives, or weird animals. Throughout the years, we’ve used flannel boards, stuffed animals, soloists, special music groups, choirs, instruments, dramas, games, computers, videos, audiobooks, stories, and interactive events like ‘Night in Bethlehem’ and ‘Journey to the Cross.’

Some may wonder “Why?” Why not just preach sermons and teach regular Sunday School classes? Why do we have to do all these other things? Well, we got the idea from the Bible.

We all know the Bible shows people lecturing or preaching pretty often, but the Scriptures are also filled with examples of people using stories and parables to get the message to their listeners. Jeremiah used pottery, Ezekiel acted out the siege of Jerusalem,  Jesus made up stories to illustrate his points (parables), Paul talked of wrestlers and racers, and John describes dragons, beasts, scrolls, and  seals. God even had the prophet Hosea choose a wife based on God’s need to teach the people a lesson using Hosea and Gomer as an example! They used whatever means necessary in order to get the message of God out to people.

No matter how different it might appear, no matter how many times something might have been done before, the prophets and teachers in Scripture assessed what their situation was in their setting and, under the direction of God’s Holy Spirit, used the means necessary to proclaim the unchanging truth of God’s word.

At Clarks Mills UMC, we want to get the message out in whatever way we can. Come and join us… you may meet a weird animal, hear the word acted out like a reader’s theater, see a Jewish High Priest (Caiaphas), or hear angelic voices… but you’ll definitely hear the word.

Pastor Dayton


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Church Signs… Funny or not?

Please check out this video and then read my response. I’m interested in having some conversation about my concerns.

The Funniest Church Signs!!!! from churchsignslol on GodTube.

I enjoyed some of these. But I wonder if I’m SUPPOSED to be enjoying them. (Not that there’s something wrong with my enjoyment, but rather shouldn’t the public sign of a Christians church offer hope and invite the non-Christian into relationship with HIM? Signs that only a Christian insider can understand are probably lost on the ones we say we’re trying to reach? And signs like “God doesn’t believe in Atheists” and to the “dyslexic atheist” seem to be a deliberate snub or mocking of the atheist. And I was appalled to see a United Methodist Church sign mocking victims of natural disasters and blaming them on God. How does that do to help them receive the REAL message of Christ?

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How To Spot A Christian

These were my sermon notes from Sunday morning. I don’t guarantee spelling, grammar, etc. are used correctly since these were only my speaking notes.

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Gospel Reading:        John 13:31-35

Scripture Text:           1 Corinthians 13

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On June 13, 2003, I was ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church.

 A lot had to happen in order to get that far, but one of the tougher ones was the series of theological questions I had to give written answers for.

 One of the questions:  “What are the marks of the Christian life?”

 How will you know if someone else is an authentic, real Christian and not just faking it?

 How will someone else know if YOU are an authentic, real Christian and not just faking it?

 Scripture speaks of a multitude of “marks” signifying the authentic Christian life.

 James 1:27…   keeping oneself ‘unpolluted’ is one mark of the Christian life that I see throughout Scripture… the idea of holiness.

 “Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance,” Peter explains in I Peter 1:14-16, and then calls us all to “be holy.”

For me, holiness boils down to Christians making personal choices about their personal behaviors based on the choices God would make as described in the Scriptural record.

 One mark of a Christian when they obey the principles of the Bible. I John 5:3  reads: “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” Jesus said “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).  

 We also read that in Matthew 7:22 where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”

As a United Methodist, I believe other marks of the Christian life include meeting together in worship (Hebrews 10:25), active participation in worship by singing, praying, listening, giving, and such (I Cor. 14:26-27), baptism (Matt. 28:19), sharing Holy Communion (I Cor. 11:17-33), hearing the “instruction of the apostles” (Acts 2:42), studying the Scriptures (II Tim. 2:15),  discipleship (Matt. 28:19), and being witnesses of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8).

 But let’s take it a step further, shall we? 

 Paul spoke of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5: 22-23) that would be natural by-products of a Christian life:

  • love,
  • joy,
  • peace,
  • patience,
  • kindness,
  • goodness,
  • faithfulness,
  • gentleness, and
  • self-control.

 Ultimately though, I think it boils down to what Jesus says in John 13:35, when he clarifies that love is the determining mark of who is or isn’t Christian… “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Years later, his disciples would reiterate that delineating mark of a Christian in passages like First John 4:7-8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

And the love that marks a Christian life is evidenced by our willingness “to lay down our lives for our brothers…” including sharing our material possessions.



John cautioned the church to “not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth” (I John 3:18).

James explained that this action- and truth-based form of love would be seen by believers caring for those in distress… even orphans and widows…. (James 1:27).

Peter encouraged the believers to “Live such good lives…” that “they may see your good deeds and glorify God…” (I Peter 2:12).

Jesus Himself spoke of the importance of action-based love when he explained that reward and punishment for those who claimed to be his followers would be based on what people had done “to the least of these” because that was the same as doing (or not doing) for him.

Therefore, If I am TRULY a Christian, then I “love my neighbor”(Matt. 19:19) in such a way that I reach out and help with what I have as much as possible to the hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, orphaned, widowed, and needy… physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.


 I Cor. 13:4-8   Love is…

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.

Not that any of us does this perfectly, but we know it’s what we are to strive for.

O God, help us to love those you’ve put in our path… that we have the “mark” that shows others that we are YOUR disciples!


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Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Reflecting on John 13:3-17

When I was still attending my home church, Shinglehouse UMC, back in the mid ‘90s, the bulletin each week listed the following leaders of the church:

Pastor: Rev. Randy Headley
Organist: Barb Wheeler
Ministers: All The People

Did you catch that? ALL THE PEOPLE are ministers!

It reminds me of the Scripture in Matthew 25 where Jesus tells the story of the sheep & the goats and how doing things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick & those in prison, are all ways of showing love to Jesus himself. His words there are “because you’ve done these things for the least of these my children, you’ve done them for me…”

Our little church had captured that! The Pastor is in a church as a servant, and an administrator, and as a preacher, but most of the ministry of the church actually comes from the lay people who sit in the pews each and every Sunday. The ministry of the church comes primarily through them!

Well, what Jesus told in story form in the end of Matthew, he retells the night before his death, in very easy to understand, hard to miss terms by simply using an example.

John 13 (NLT) words it thusly: 4 So [Jesus] got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.

Even though the apostle John spends several more chapters on what Jesus did that final night, and what he taught, this teaching on service is the final night before his crucifixion. He wanted the disciples to remember these things, because they are some of the most important aspects of following Christ: the whole idea of service.

And Jesus goes about it in a way that they cannot forget. He, the leader, the master, the teacher, the KING, starts acting like one of the lowest of slaves… He gets down and washes their feet. He serves them.

Verse 4 says “so he got up from the table…” Later in verse 26, he is back sitting at the table and dipping the bread. ‘So what?’ you might ask… ‘What you getting at preacher?’

Just this… Jesus shows us here that service sometimes is inconvenient… maybe even in the middle of a meal. Yet, by his own example, we see that even a meal, the very meal that was to become the most famous meal in all of history, The Last Supper, even a meal is no excuse to keep us from serving others.

In my life, it was my grandmother who showed this behavior best. I’m thinking of the big Sunday dinners, or for that matter the everyday evening meals, where most of the way through the meal she is up & down, back & forth, making sure there were enough potatoes or meat or beverage or vegetable or whatever… but if she saw that one of us needed something, especially my grandpa, she would drop her fork, with food still on it, and get up to go get whatever was needed. Then she would return to her meal and the food on her plate.

Jesus does that here. Even though it’s the middle of the meal, he stops eating and takes off his outside coat, rolls his sleeves up (so to speak), grabs a towel, and starts washing the disciples’ feet.

Sometimes service as a disciple of Jesus Christ will be equally inconvenient, yet still necessary. Yet how many times do we say, ‘Wait a few moments, or a few days, and then I’ll be able to help?’

Notice also that Jesus also washes Judas Iscariot’s feet. They all sit down to the meal and are eating, when Jesus gets up and washes the feet of the disciples. Then he goes back to the meal and tells everyone that the one who will betray him is the one he gives the bread to. In fact, Scripture even records Jesus talking to Judas after the meal. There is no question about it… Judas was there when we are told that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.

How many times do we say we want to serve Christ, but then when he deliberately puts us in a place where we need to serve him by serving others, we refuse to serve some just because they’ve been mean to us or hurt us in some way? We are more likely to say something like “If that’s the way she’s going to be, then see if I ever try to help her again!” Yet here is Jesus, who already knows what Judas is up to and what he’s about to do, and still he is shown the love of Jesus like every other disciple.

And lest we think that this is just a message for just the “church leaders on how to serve their church and their God, look again at verses 12-17.

ANY of us who call ourselves followers of Christ are his disciples and are called to serve him and follow his example. We are to be involved in service… through the local church and as individuals. It reminds me of the story I once read about “Who’s Job Is It?”


We are to be involved in service… through the local church and as individuals. We are called, like Jesus said in verse 17: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Jesus is our example here. We are to serve, we are to serve even if it’s inconvenient, and we are to serve even those whom we don’t like or who hurt us. But how we serve speaks of how we love our Lord.

We may gather on Sundays to worship God, but our service is how we work together and individually for the kingdom of God.

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The Rest of the Story

My notes from my Sunday sermons at Reynoldsville: First UMC yesterday.
First Scripture Reading: Mark 1:4-11
Second Scripture Reading: Acts 19:1-7
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This morning, we look at a short passage from the book of Acts, where Luke has recorded details impressed upon him as important by the Holy Spirit of God, as he follows the ministry of Paul and the early church. But it’s part of a bigger story…
In the chapter before this, Paul has been on an extended tour, preaching and teaching about how to faithfully live life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Paul’s travels, in that one chapter alone included stops in Athens, Corinth, Syria, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia… and the Bible says that he “held discussions” (18:4,19), and he was “preaching the message” and “testifying” (18:5), “teaching” (18:11), “greeted the church” (18:22), and “strengthening all the believers” (18:23).
And we know that this took a while, first of all because there were no turnpikes… or airports… or taxis, but also because we know that he spent at least a year and a half in one spot alone, Corinth (18:11).
And in our text this morning, he’s at it again and ends up back in the city of Ephesus, where he had stopped briefly in his last set of travels (18:19-21).
And the first thing Luke tells us… is that Paul gets there to Ephesus… “while Apollos was in Corinth…”
OK… so who’s Apollos… and why do we care that he’s in Corinth when Paul gets to Ephesus?
Well, at the end of the chapter before this, in verse 24, we find that Apollos was a Jew who was “eloquent” when he spoke and had a “thorough knowledge” of the Scriptures.
Verse 25 of chapter 18 then lets us know that he had received instruction in “the Way of the Lord” and was able to teach others the facts about Jesus… correctly in fact.
In fact, he ends up teaching and preaching in Ephesus, where Paul had stopped back in verses 19, 20, and 21, but where Paul had not been able to stay long enough to do any long term explanations or teaching or discipleship.
And here comes Apollos, filling in the gap… teaching what he knows… and doing it really well.
But, the Bible goes on to say that Apollos “knew only the baptism of John.” (18:25)
And then here we are now in chapter 19 with Paul encountering Christians from that very same Ephesus and he finds that they “haven’t heard” that there even was a Holy Spirit, let alone received the Holy Spirit.
They, like Apollos before them, had only received a piece of the story… and had followed the form of what they thought was good religious practice… they were baptized in the way that John the Baptist had done… a baptism of repentance.
Folks, without stepping too deeply into the deep waters of baptismal theology, I think there are a couple of things God might be saying through these verses for you and me as we minister here in this place.
First of all, we, like Apollos and the Ephesian Christians Paul encounters, may have all of the instruction and training about Jesus and still be missing a major piece of the life of a Christian disciple.
The head knowledge about Jesus is good, and it’s a great place to start… that’s why we spend so much time and effort and money in having Sunday Schools… We want our children (and even us as adults) to have the godly, Christ-centered head knowledge to make informed and godly decisions… about salvation, about discipleship, about living in the midst of the world as an ambassador for Christ…
But that’s can’t be where it ends… Like Apollos, it’s not enough to simply be knowledgeable, or even eloquent and convincing…
Luke spends several verses, over the course of two chapters, explaining the difference and the incompleteness of Apollos and these Ephesian Christians who only had the baptism of John… Their baptism was simply a response on their part to symbolize their own repentance… And twice, Scripture emphasizes that that simply isn’t enough…
Christian baptism isn’t just a symbolic representation of your repentance or mine… that became clear when Jesus insisted on John baptizing him… Jesus had nothing to repent of… and John knew it… If you remember, John didn’t want to baptize Jesus and said ‘no Lord, I need you to baptize me…’ Because in John’s mind, baptism was a matter of repentance.
But, as would be the case so often in Christ’s ministry, Jesus turned John’s whole idea of baptism on its head… It could no longer be just about repentance. Jesus refused to baptize John in a baptism of repentance and insisted that John baptize him… and Christian baptism changed from that moment on.
John found out from Jesus, Apollos found out from Aquila and Priscilla, and these Ephesian disciples found out from Paul. Christian baptism doesn’t represent what you and I do or decide…
That’s why we, as United Methodists, don’t get all hung up about baptizing children and infants… because it’s not about their repentance, it’s about God choosing to pour his grace and mercy out on people who were still sinners and don’t deserve the gift of salvation… and yet God chooses them anyways.
And babies, toddlers, children, teens, adults, and even senior citizens all need God’s grace equally… and God pours out his grace on each one… whether they’ve repented yet or not… Baptism is a visible sign of what GOD has already done and is still doing… Offering and grace and mercy to all…
In fact, Scripture teaches that God’s grace is what enables us to even experience the gift of repentance so that we can respond to Christ’s offer of salvation…
Baptism represents God’s grace…
“Well, preacher,” you may be thinking, “I don’t see why this is so important… what difference does it really make anyways?”
Well, enough of a difference that it was included in the Scriptural text as part of the words of God that are for our instruction, doctrine, correction, and training in righteousness. God Himself felt this was important enough to make it into the book…
It makes enough of a difference that the Ephesians were then baptized as Christians in the name of Jesus… because the baptism of repentance simply wasn’t good enough… not for a Christian who had freely experienced the grace of God poured out on him through no effort of his own.
So what do we see here that we can specifically apply, in our day and age, in our situation, in our lives?
First, On this day when we remember Jesus’ baptism, let’s not get baptism and repentance confused… repentance is US recognizing our sin and US choosing to give up that sin. However, baptism is all about what GOD does… not what we do.
Second, let’s take a lesson from Paul, and make sure that we leave people like Aquila and Priscilla, good and mature Christians who can follow up and disciple newer Christians… It’s not enough to have Sunday School training and head knowledge, but rather we want to entrust our young in age and young in faith to people who are living out the Christian walk of faith… and can lead by example as well as by words…
Third, let’s remember that our journey of faith, including our baptism, and also times when we respond to God, are nothing until we allow God to pour out His Holy Spirit on us… filling us and immersing us in His presence and His power through His Spirit.

This morning, I want to encourage each of us to ask ourselves a question…
Where do we find ourselves in these passages?
Are we like these twelve Ephesian disciples? Trying to be faithful, doing all of the right things as best as we can understand them? And yet, still basing our entire Christian walk on our efforts and our decisions and our rational choices and logical understandings?

If so, reach out in prayer to God and allow him to take you beyond mere religious response and fill you with His Spirit… that your life would be a life marked by the outpouring and experience of grace, not merely a religious set of ‘gottas’ and ‘can’ts’ based in your own understanding.
Perhaps, you have already come to that place where you’ve gone beyond the head knowledge and have experienced the power of God being poured out into your life… If so, then according to Scripture there is some gift of the Holy Spirit that He has also given you… for these twelve Ephesians it was tongues and prophesy… Do you know what spiritual gift (or gifts) He gave you when He poured out His Spirit on you?
Finally, are you one who’s experienced the maturing power of God in your life? Then, like Paul, and Aquila and Priscilla, we need you to be reaching out in ministry to those who are still en route… What ministry are you actively involved in… where you are using those spiritual gifts and helping to teach, preach, encourage, or strengthen those younger in the faith like Apollos or the Ephesian disciples?
Can we… WILL we… take that next step?

–Adapted from a sermon I preached Jan. 12, 2003 in Patton, PA

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