Tag Archives: hope

Remembering and Trusting in God’s Promise

 

 given on Sunday, May 29, 2016

Scripture connection: Revelation 21:3-7, NLT

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

 

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Reflection:

Memorial Day Weekend: our culture has decided this opens summer. The kids are out of school, vacations are planned, family reunions begin, and for a few days work is not a priority. The enormous rains from this week even have the farmers stepping away from the fields.

Yet, Memorial Day was created to remember those who served our country. Our country’s history developed due to the sacrifices of its citizens. War birthed the nation, and the battles that have preserved its declaration of independence and its constitution have filled cemeteries from coast to coast. The red in the flag reminds us of all the blood shed through this country’s history.

The historical significance of Memorial Day is dwindling, though, and it is important for us to remember that the veterans who have died and those still with us answered a call to serve at the risk of their own lives in order that we may live safely as Americans.

Sadly, the Church’s significance is dwindling, too. This Memorial Day Weekend can also serve to remind us of the saints who have also remained faithful to God’s call to love one another. Cemeteries around this world are filled with the bodies of those who died for their faith. Some are martyrs whose death was violent, vicious, unprovoked, or silent while sitting in prisons.

There is absolutely no way to prove to the skeptics the promises shared in the Bible. There is no way to guarantee that certain statements of faith or even lifestyles assure us that life is eternal. Yet, the words captured in the Bible, first shared orally and now translated and printed in every language found in our world, continue to tell us that God does offer us life everlasting even though our bodies do not.

John’s book, Revelation, challenges today’s readers’ perception of God’s promise. The imagery teases us with the beauty promised, but the surrealistic images also cause us to question the truth of the words because they do not match our understanding of reality. Yet we are drawn to read and understand what John is telling us.

Understanding the words depends on our willingness to trust that God speaks to us through these words, but also through our experiences and even those of others. Memorial Day can be one more time that we remember God’s promises while remembering those in our lives who have done all they could for others in all kinds of ways.

In John’s words shared in Revelation 21:3, we hear a promise:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.

 

These words provide hope for the living. This weekend we hear those words and know that God is with us as we travel the highways, as we work the fields, as we clean our homes, and battle the tiresome routines of living. Our faith in God provides us hope in managing all that we do.

As we remember all those who have lived and died in our lives, we can see example after example of those whose faith made it possible to manage all the trials and tribulations of living. We can take courage in knowing that they lived with God, and even now are still living with God.

Today, celebrate the living by living with God in your lives. Celebrate those who you loved and even those in the generations before you who lived with God in their lives. Celebrate Jesus, too. God did whatever he could to make our faith real. He even stepped down beside us in the flesh as Jesus to demonstrate how easy it really can be to live a Christ-like life, a God-driven life.

We have witnessed faith in others, and we know we can live with faith, too. The trials and tribulations, even the battlefield’s trials and tribulations, can be managed with our faith and the hope that God’s promise of eternal life will erase all the negatives of the here and now.

The words from Revelation 21 continue:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

 

Tears may well be part of this Memorial Day Weekend as we feel the loss of family and friends, but the promise that God provides and has provided throughout history wipes away the tears and the sorrow.

In the study notes from the Life Application Bible, we hear hope in words that share an understanding of John’s revelation:

Have you ever wondered what eternity will be like? The “Holy City, the New Jerusalem” is described as the place where God will “wipe every tear from their eyes.” Forevermore, there will be no death, pain, sorrow, or crying. What a wonderful truth. No matter what you are going through, it’s not the last word—God has written the final chapter, and it is about true fulfillment and eternal joy for those who love him. We do not know as much as we would like, but it is enough to know that eternity with God will be more wonderful than we could ever imagine.

 

We do not know the reality of life eternal, but we have faith in those who have learned the reality. This Memorial Day Weekend is the perfect time to remember that God loved us so much that he gave his only son Jesus Christ so that we might have life eternal, too.

I have had family and friends who wanted me to believe, and I only hope that those in my life know I want them to believe, too. How I share that news may not be as open and honest as it should, but John did not hesitate to share what God shared with him in his revelation:

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

 

The promise is shared. The promise gives life purpose. The promise is the reason for living and for remembering all those saints who now know that God is the Alpha and the Omega. The saints we honor this weekend are those who now share the cup and the bread with God, the father, the son and the Holy Spirit along with the multitude of saints already there.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, the Alpha and the Omega,

 

Wipe away the tears of those who suffer,

Who feel the pain of loss and loneliness.

Wipe away the tears of those struggling

To understand the promise of life eternal.

 

Use us today to share your love

To provide hope to the hopeless.

Use us today to share your love

To ease the pain and suffering.

 

Give us the words to assure the questioning

That living Christ-like lives gives purpose

To our daily lives and all its ups and downs

And will lead to the ultimate life eternal.

 

Thank you for all of creation.

Thank you for the gift of unfailing love.

Thank you for the saints in our lives.

Thank you for the blessing of life eternal.

 

In your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen.

 

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Graduating in Faith

sermon given on Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016

Scripture Connection: Romans 5: 1-5, NLT

12 “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

Reflection

Certainly you have noticed that it is graduation time around our communities. The stores remind us with the displays of graduation gifts, decorations, and cards. Snippets from graduation speakers are shared in the news. And school is out, so kids are sleeping in before heading out to enjoy summer vacation.

Graduation signals transitions from one level of education to the next. For some, graduation closes the door of school but opens the door to the work world. In truth, though, graduation does not signal the end of learning, just a change in settings.

The book of Proverbs is filled with advice. In the eighth chapter, Solomon introduces wisdom much like one introduces a guest speaker at graduation. Graduation speakers are selected because of their experiences, contributions, or relationships with the goal of providing the graduates insights into life’s continuing journey:

12 “I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment.
I know where to discover knowledge and discernment.
13 All who fear the Lord will hate evil.
Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance,
corruption and perverse speech.
14 Common sense and success belong to me.
Insight and strength are mine.
15 Because of me, kings reign,
and rulers make just decrees.
16 Rulers lead with my help,
and nobles make righteous judgments.[a]

These words were written almost a thousand years before Jesus was even born. This year’s graduates will hear words of wisdom that often reflect Biblical truths shared over the millenniums.

Do we acknowledge that developing our Christian beliefs is much like developing academic knowledge? Do we acknowledge that our faith education is a developmental process? Do we ever graduate in our faith?

Solomon’s introduction of wisdom along with the words of Paul in Romans and Jesus’ words in the gospel of John creates a graduation speech for Christians who are developing wisdom in faith. Christians develop a lifetime relationship with God without any formal, published, or prescribed curriculum.

Christian knowledge develops in a very-customized curriculum based on formal and informal learning experiences. Graduating in faith cannot be packaged and prescribed. Faith education is God-driven and no one can predict when graduation will occur.

Even if one graduates in faith, learning does not stop because life’s journey does not stop. And consider this, once the Christian students accepts Jesus in their lives, they accept the gift of life-everlasting even when death ends earthly life. Graduating in faith leads to eternal life.

Education begins at birth and continues throughout our life. I cannot imagine living without faith in God. I see faith as a developmental process that never ends. I was fortunate to be born into a Christian home in which my education began with the love of parents who wanted me to develop the faith that would sustain me throughout life’s journey.

The beginning of faith often depends on the examples of those in our lives. Faith that there is a God, that God is with us despite what life delivers us, and that God experiences the same pains and joys we must experience provides another critical component in our Christian education: Hope.

Hope in necessary. With hope we wake up each morning to begin a new day. What happened yesterday is over, and a new day means new opportunities. Hope is key to continuing our Christian education. Hope becomes a fuel that pushes us to do more and to do it better and to share what we believe with others. Hope is phase two in our Christian education.

Each Christian discovers that even on the worst of days, faith in God provides us hope that even in death there is life. Hope keeps us alive in the moment and pushes us to share the excitement of living with others. Graduating in faith means we continue growing with hope.

Jesus provides hope. Historically, Christian education teaches us that when hope fails, life fails. God saw that the evil in the world was destroying his creation and when no other means was available, he stepped in personally in the form of his son, Jesus Christ. Faith alone needed a tangible example to follow.

Jesus exemplifies hope. The knowledge base provided in the historical teaching and the literature of the Jewish people needed a real-life example of how faith worked. Jesus’ teaching, healing, and modeling of faith provided clear evidence that hope makes living a faith-filled life possible even through persecution as vicious as his own crucifixion. Graduating in faith leads to hope. Hope develops the ultimate degree of faith: Love.

Love is God in action. Love becomes the final product of a faith-filled life. Love is hope-fueled faith doing all that can be done for all who may need it and in as many different formats as possible. Love is good triumphing over evil. Love is personal and can be demonstrated in every facet of one’s life.

God provided each of us the model of living a faith-filled life in the form of his son, Jesus Christ, but even more he provides us the Holy Spirit to live within each one of his faithful servants. The Holy Spirit makes it possible to manage all the trials and tribulations that life hands any one of us. The Holy Spirit transforms wishes into love-based actions.

The words from “Diamonds” remind graduates in faith that God is never done teaching us how to graduate in faith, how to maintain hope, and how to love one another. The lyrics explain how God works in our lives:

Here and now I’m in the fire, in above my head
Being held under the pressure, don’t know what will be left
But it’s here in the ashes
I’m finding treasure

He’s making diamonds
Making diamonds
He’s making diamonds out of dust
He is refining
And in his timing
He’s making diamonds out of us

 

Graduate in your faith. The process will take us from being lumps of coal into precious diamonds.

Graduate in your faith knowing hope makes life manageable. Hope polishes us into the diamonds carefully cut and polished into gems.

Graduate in your faith, fueled with hope, and live God’s love in action. The lumps of coal pulled out of the earth, cut and polished with hope reveal the sparkles created by life’s challenges.

Love given is the greatest gift of all. God loved us so much that he gave us life. God loved us so much that he gave us the greatest teacher to provide us hope. God loved us so much that he now trusts us, graduates in faith, to love one another. Graduating in faith means we are diamonds sparkling here in God’s light. Nothing can destroy the diamonds, not even death because as graduates in faith we continue on with life eternal.

Closing prayer

Dear Master Teacher,

We lift up the graduates from our schools.

So many are still lumps of coal

Not understanding how faith works in our lives.

 

We lift up the souls struggling to find hope

Managing lives without faith

Crumbling under life’s pressures all alone.

 

We lift up your faithful

Continuing to learn how faith and hope

Transforms into love sparkling like diamonds.

 

Thank you for the gifts you give us

As faith provides hope

Leading us to share love with one another.

 

Thank you for the wisdom shared in scripture.

Thank you for the wisest teacher, your Son.

Thank you for the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

May we graduate in our own faith

Teaching others how hope sustains

Creating love-filled gifts for others.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

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Angels: Messengers of Hope

given on November 29, 2015, the first Sunday of Advent

Scripture foundation from The Message

  • Joel 2:12-14
  • Jeremiah 2:19 and 33:14-16
  • Luke 1:8-19, 26-38

 

Reflection in three parts

Welcome to Advent! The Christian season filled with anticipation, with hope, with love, with joy, and with peace. Around us the stores are filled with sparkling decorations and all the dazzling displays of products designed to capture our eyes. Even the weather decided to let us know a new season has arrived—at least here in the Midwest.

We are bombarded with messages that something is going to happen, and yet how often are we unprepared or even worse how often do we miss the message? Our lives become so filled with the business of living, that we miss the latest news reports or overlook a story in the paper. We need a personal messenger.

In the scripture from Joel, the message is to warn the people of Judah, which was the southern kingdom of Israel, of how bad things were. The people were prosperous and complacent; they took God for granted; they were self-centered and were turning to idolatry and sin. God was unhappy and would bring his judgment if the people did not repent and return to living by God’s law:

“Come back to me and really mean it!
Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!”

13-14 Change your life, not just your clothes.
Come back to God, your God.

Here it is the first Sunday of Advent. Can we say that we are faithful? Joel’s words are part of the message God sends to us through the scripture.

 

Part 2:

Angels are messengers. Some may argue whether angels are real figures or simply a literary device to get the reader’s attention. Yet, angels are included in scripture and theologians have analyzed and studied the holy words. The conclusion is that angels are indeed part of God’s heavenly forces.

One reference, What Does the Bible Say About . . ., provides interesting facts and outlines the various references to angels in the Old and the New Testament:

  • . . . angels are among the ministering spirits that serve God and the people. . .
  • The Bible presents angels as real beings and provides limited information about them, but for the most part it leaves them veiled in mystery. Apparently God wants us to know reality extends beyond our normal perceptions, yet He does not want us to know too much about it.
  • Angels are members of an order of heavenly beings who are superior to humans in power and intelligence. However, unlike God they are not all-powerful or all-knowing.
  • . . . [angels] announce good news . . .
  • . . . warn of coming dangers. . .
  • . . . Angels played a particularly active role in the events surround Jesus’ birth, resurrection, and ascension.

The Advent lectionary includes one of the traditional prophecies of the coming Messiah.   Found in Jeremiah is a reference to the angels serving as a messenger. God’s angel reminds the people that they can not run away from God, that you cannot ignore God:

Your evil ways will get you a sound thrashing, that’s what you’ll get.
You’ll pay dearly for your disloyal ways.
Take a long, hard look at what you’ve done and its bitter results.
Was it worth it to have walked out on your God?”
God’s Decree, Master God-of-the-Angel-Armies. . . .

The angels did whatever they could to warn us that our behaviors needed to change and to remain focused on God’s law. Are we following God’s law to love one another as we want to be loved or are we trying to run away, to be self-centered and complacent?

Part 3:

Angels visited two individuals in the Christmas story; to begin the Christmas story. First the angel came to tell Zachariah that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist, as we now refer to him. This baby was the cousin of Jesus but his role was to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah.

The second angel in the Christmas story visited Mary, the mother of Baby Jesus. He announced that she would be the mother of Jesus, God’s son. Her disbelief was quickly quieted as her faith assured her that the angel was from God. Her faith gave her the confidence to serve as the mother of Jesus.

The scriptures today all prepare us, thousands of years later, too. We are to review our own lives, our own actions, and our own hearts. Are we remaining faithful to God? Are we following the crowd, so to speak, and becoming more self-centered and complacent? Are we listening to our own angels who share God’s messages to us?

Advent is a season filled with hope. The human mind needs hope. In the commentary for this week’s lectionary, the need for hope is as important as the basic human needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Hope is so important even in the worst situations. As Christians, we have a responsibility to keep hope alive.

As we move closer to Christmas, let’s use the Advent season to consider whether we are providing hope to others. What do we say that encourages one and another? What actions share hope with others? As a church, do we deliver messages of hope or are we trapped by despair?

Closing prayer

Dear loving Father,

 

The season filled with anticipation is here.

We see angels in the decorations,

We hear angels in the holiday music.

We fight thousands of mixed emotions.

 

We feel despair as we find ourselves

Separated from You by the business of living.

We know we have traveled away from you

Rather than traveling with you.

 

Fill us with hope, with anticipation,

As we move through this Advent season.

Send your angels to guide us home to You.

Energize us with love so we can provide hope to others.

 

Thank you for patience for our wandering souls.

Thank you for angels found in scripture.

Thank you, too, for angels we meet daily.

Thank you for hope shared by angels of old and of new.

May we serve as messengers sharing hope with others.–Amen

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Revelations reveal secrets and builds hope

given on Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scripture base: Revelations 21:10-21 & Revelations 7:9-17 (NLT)

I admit I have Royal Fever. The excitement with the World Series makes it very difficult to admit that November is here. The weather must be confused, too, with all the delightful weather we have had and forecast for the week ahead.

Of course the biggest problem is that Royal Fever tends to distract a person, so I admit to another issue—preparing today’s worship service. Today is All Saints Day. The temptation is to connect the two but that might be a real stretch. Yet, there is one image that can—the concept of Kingdom.

Witnessing the transformation of Kansas City into a Royal Kingdom with blue fountains, blue lights, and the Royal logos everywhere creates a visual image and a unity that is creating a kingdom filled with new life.

Reading Revelations can be intimidating, but today’s two selections create visual images that help us anticipate the new life promised for those who accept Christ in our lives. The heavenly kingdom shared in Revelations 21 builds a mental picture of breathtaking beauty:

11 It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal.

And the description goes on listing precious stones: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst and even pearls.

Granted the Royal Kingdom is colored by all the blue sapphires, diamonds, and pearls one could imagine, and it has transformed our world. Does the description of God’s heavenly kingdom create a sense of excitement and anticipation for you?

On this All Saints Day, the picture created in Revelations captures my attention. I cannot imagine the visual glory that will greet us as we enter into God’s kingdom, but the words in Revelations 21 gives me renewed conviction that God’s promise of eternal life is real.

Just in the past year, we have witnessed losses in our community as well as in the national and international communities.  Those who have died took a little light away from our community, but the promise of Revelation’s words provides each of us hope. Not only hope for our own eternal life, but also hope to reconnect with those who have already moved to God’s eternal kingdom.

All Saints Day provides an opportunity to review the list of those who have moved away from our world and on to the heavenly world. We know those who have gone, and we know the promise God has made for all Christians. We use Communion to review and to reaffirm our own covenant as Christians.

In the scripture from Revelations 7, there are echoes of Christ’s story in these words that we share during the liturgy of communion:

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in[a] the great tribulation.[b] They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

The words remind us that accepting God’s gift of his son and his death for our sins, we are purified. Remember the promise in John 3:16:

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

or

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (NRSV)

or

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

or

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NLT)

Powerful words. A guarantee. A home run—no a grand slam.

Today, All Saints Day, we hear the promise and we can imagine heaven through the words in Revelations. And, remembering all those who have guided us in this earthly world, we hear the promise of joining those already in God’s heavenly kingdom:

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom free of all the tribulations of our earthly life. The decision to believe in God and to accept his greatest gift of his son will turn our earthly tribulation-filled life into an eternal life may not be easy, but believe. The saints in our lives know and the secret is revealed in the words of Revelation:

17 For the Lamb on the throne[c]
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelations reveals the secret to eternal life and provides us hope. All Saints Day and celebrating the sacrament of communion provides the perfect diamond for a winning season. Each of us is a royal witness to God’s kingdom. Share the story, live the story, and receive the crown.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You manage our lives in ways we do not see.

The saints in our lives have coached us

By modeling the one rule that guarantees

A winning season in our earthly world:

Love one another as you want to be loved.

May we share in the meal of champions,

The bread and the wine of the Lord’s table.

Let them be for us the blood and the body of Christ.

Purify us so we may be winning Christians

Teaming with love for one another.

Thank you for all the grace you provide,

For all the opportunities to serve one another,

And for all the forgiveness when we err.

May scripture strengthen us in our tribulations.

May the legends in our lives be saints at your table.

May the promise of life eternal fuel for our game.

Grant us peace as we share in the cup and the bread.

Fill us with energy as we continue in life’s journey.

Keep hope alive as we hear your word.

And forgive us when we stumble.

We thrill with the promise of life eternal

As we join together at your holy table. –Amen.

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Theological virtue #2: Hope. Dare to Hope

given on Sunday, September 13, 2015:

            Lamentations. The word alone can set a tone of sadness and futility. The Old Testament book is one of a set written by Jeremiah; the first being the book of Jeremiah itself. One book gives the history of Jeremiah’s country—Judah, the people and the destruction of Jerusalem. The second book is the eulogy or lament.

Reading through history books, each factual chapter could be followed by a lament of its own. Right now our personal history is being written and history books will record the facts—violence, hate crimes, natural disasters, political chaos, greed, and more, I am sure. The historians will try to keep the analysis to the facts, but the lament will shadow the words.

Why? Why do humans continue to be mean, greedy, and downright hateful? How can such dismal behavior continue when God already sent Jesus and changed the law to such a simple premise: Love one another?

Jeremiah cried out in the book of Lamentations. The first two chapters are a record of all the bad that had happened, but it is the third chapter that issues the challenge: Dare to hope.

This week the anniversary of America’s terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City serves as a reminder that bad things do happen even to good people, as the cliché states. The thousands who died fourteen years ago left gaping holes in families and communities. Yet, one word can reflect an outcome that carries all the promise of a bright future despite all the destruction—HOPE!

Hope, the second of three theological virtues, a habit builds on the first virtue of faith. Faith establishes a relationship with God. Accepting God and his gift of grace, sets our life journey in the direction of eternal life. The faith-directed journey is fueled by hope.

Life is going to be challenging. Even if we do not cause the problem ourselves, the forces of nature and the decisions of others will deal us difficulties. At times, we will feel totally alone, even from God. The trials of our earthly life do shake confidence, tear at our hearts due to the loss of family or friend, or challenge our ethics even at the work place. But God never leaves us and that faith-based relationship provides life-sustaining hope.

Think about what qualities hope provides our lives: happiness, optimism, promise, and enthusiasm. Certainly a list of other qualities could be included, but hope changes the quality of our lives even in the absolute worst times. Hope keeps us God-centered. Hope fuels us in our lives and demonstrates to others how faith works in good times and in bad times.

Dare to hope! The scriptures tell us that, faithful Christians have modeled it, and it is our responsibility to live it. God is always with us. Our task is to maintain and deepen the relationship with God. How to hope begins with Lamentations 3:40: Let us examine our ways and test them and let us return to the Lord.

Examine our ways: consider how we live our lives. Are we living our Christian lifestyle as God would want us to live it? Are we keeping our work ethics? Do we love our neighbors as we want to be loved? Can we avoid gossip?

Test our way of living and see if it is working or if it is failing. What we say we do must show in the outcome. Are we honestly giving our best effort at work? Do we care for our bodies and our world as we should? Do we complain but do nothing to change the problem? Do we work to maintain our relationship with God?

Wandering away from the Lord is very easy in a world filled with evil. Staying in a strong relationship with family and friends is no easy task. To maintain the relationship with God, we need scripture study, we need worship with our Christian community, and we need to serve. The result is a wonderful journey filled with happiness, optimism, positivity, and enthusiasm—HOPE.

Date to hope. Life filled with hope will lessen the sting of life challenges. Hope will shine through you to others who are seeking a happy, optimistic, positive and enthusiastic life. Others will see God shining through your eyes and know that hope is fueling your journey. Dare to hope, dare to have faith in God, dare others to learn about faith and hope.   The result will be a world-filled with love.

Closing prayer

Dear God of Glory,

Life challenges us daily making us weak and drained.

Thank you for staying right beside us.

Even when we believe, we make mistakes.

Guide us in examining our ways of living

as we strengthen our relationship with you.

Help us test our ways of living our faith out loud

so hope fills our journey to life everlasting.

We dare to hope, to strengthen our faith,

and to love one another.

May our faith-filled lives, fueled with hope,

invite others to join your Christian family.–Amen, Lord, amen.

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Theology Virtue #1: Faith. It Defines Us.

given on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Scripture base: James 2:14-20, NLT

Faith without Good Deeds Is Dead

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.[n] Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Reflection:

Welcome home! Labor Day weekend brings families back together for one last summer blowout. Locally a fair has dominated this holiday weekend for 68 years. The wild time in the small town (this year’s theme) is representative of the history for the families and friends of the community.

The weekend is a showcase for the talents and gifts of the many generations that grew up on the farms around this little town. The school lets out early. The arena is busy with horse shows, queen contests and feature events. There is laughter, storytelling, friendly greetings, and kids squealing with excitement.

Home is where we learn who we are. We try out various behaviors during our school years, along the streets and country roads of the community. We develop our personality, our practices, and our habits.

The close knit community shapes our lives in a range of ways, and the churches typically are an integral part of that heritage. The social world has changed, but the values and the practices many families develop traditionally include the church.

The New Testament book of James reads like a textbook for Christian living. The focus in the first two chapters is faith, but continuing with the reading, two other qualities are identified: hope and love.

Faith, hope and love are virtues that separate Christians from non-Christians. Using the lectionary commentary, virtue is a Greek term meaning “habit” or “a lasting attitude that defines a person.” Faith, hope and love are defined as “theological virtues.” These virtues are the foundations of a Christian lifestyle.

In the reading from James, faith is connected to good deeds. Yet, good deeds come second or as a result of faith. Explaining faith is tough because it is one of those intangible concepts. There is no visible way to prove or disprove the very source of one’s faith.

Faith is trust in or knowledge about God even though we do not have concrete evidence. Faith in God is like knowing that there is a sun that will shine each and every day regardless of whether there are clear skies or cloudy ones.

Faith is a habit the opens the relationship between God and us. Faith begins with a conscious awareness that there is a God and we are his children. Faith supports our understanding of the scriptures that tell the story of relationships between God and his children over and over again.

James moves the fundamental relationship between God and us and shows us how to demonstrate that faith in our own lives. He emphasizes the good deeds we do is evidence of our faith. The relationship we have with God leads us to do good deeds. James writes:

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

James was Jesus’ brother. Understandably, James and Jesus had a brotherly relationship, but even that relationship had to expand as James witnessed the ministry of Jesus. A brotherly relationship had to develop into a personal relationship with God.

The letter James writes takes the words Jesus’ teachings and develops them into action—good deeds. A relationship that is a verbal statement is not a relationship with meaning. God teaches us that we are to demonstrate that relationship with God through good deeds.

Going back to the Old Testament stories, James supports the argument that good deeds puts faith into action. He points out the absolute trust that Abraham places in God when he takes his son Isaac to be sacrificed. That faith in God took Abraham to the very last moment of sacrificing his son—the altar built, the child secured, and the knife in hand.

He then adds the story of the prostitute Rahab whose faith in God was secure enough to protect the spies as they tried to reclaim Jerico, a city of Israelites, from its captors. Her good deeds saved her and her family from the city’s destruction.

Do we have stories of faith now that continue to show how faith works? Certainly. In our own lifetimes, we have studied history and know that faith in God has saved many from death. We see friends and family members live out their faith by the good deeds they do.

Faith in God creates a trusting relationship that deepens with each good deed.   As young people watch parents and adults, they begin to develop the faith they witness. Going to church and saying one is Christian may be outward signs that a person is in a relationship with God, but true faith is seen in the good deeds that person does day in and day out.

Maintaining a relationship with God is faith. Living that faith is done with good deeds. Reading James, we can learn how to live our faith openly. We do not have to tell everybody that we have faith in God because the good deeds will prove our relationship with God is real.

Closing prayer

Dear Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Thank you for the words of James.

What a gift his letter is for us still today.

Let us take the words and put them into action.

Guide us in learning to do good for one another

In a challenging world that holds us captive.

Help us hear the cries of your children in need

So that we can show how much you love them

Through the good deeds we can do.

Thank you, too, for all your children in our community

Who demonstrate faith daily with good deeds.

May we continue to develop our own faith

Living it out loud by the good deeds we do, too.

Amen.

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The sounds of Christmas: Harmony or Cacaphony

given on Sunday, November 30, 2014

Radio stations are playing Christmas songs, the familiar tunes create a background at all the stores, and the sounds of Christmas clearly remind us that we are getting ready for a very special celebration, a birthday party for Jesus.

The sounds of Christmas are everywhere:

  • the bells ringing at the red kettles of the Salvation Army,
  • ornaments jingle and jangle as they are carefully placed on the Christmas trees,
  • pots and pans bang around in the kitchen as cookies and candies are made in the kitchen, and
  • boxes and wrapping paper have a quieter sound, but it is a noise that adds to the sounds of Christmas.

 

How could anyone ignore Christmas with all the sounds surrounding us? Yet, for many, the harmonic sounds of Christmas are anything but delightful. For those who do not understand the significance of Jesus’s birth, the sounds become cacophonic.

Cacophony is “a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds” as explained by the American Oxford Dictionary website. Compare that to the definition of harmony which is “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.”

For those of us sitting in church on any typical Sunday morning, the sounds of Christmas tend to be harmonic. Hearing the familiar Christmas carols provide us a sense of goodness, an inner little giggle as we hear a favorite or watch as our kids or grandkids or even great-grandkids. The sounds set our mood, adds to our worship, and kids begin squealing with anticipation.

The harmonic sounds of Christmas are not so pleasing for some, and that is a concern for each of us. If the sounds of Christmas have become cacophonic for Christians, how harsh can those sounds seem to the unchurched, the non-Christians. In today’s secular world, the sounds of Christmas may stir up unanswered questions or unpleasant memories or dismal business situations.

The prophets of the Old Testament knew that a change was needed in order to stop the downward spiral that was separating the Israelites and God. The warnings were going unheard:

23 “What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the Lord.

Therefore, this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them. But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!

The hymn, “Send Your Word,” shares the faithful’s cry to God. The secular noise surrounding the faithful in the Old Testament were so loud, so distracting the prophets warning was not heard. Today we can sing the hymn as a prayer for our world:

Send your Word, O Lord, like the rain, falling down upon the earth.

         Send your Word. We seek your endless grace,

         with souls that hunger and thirst, sorrow and agonize.

         We would all be lost in dark without your guiding light.

Are we, as Christians, part of the harmony of Christmas or are we part of the cacophony?

The sounds of Christmas surround us in so many different places. We hear them in our homes, in our cars, in the stores, and even in the various programs from schools to nursing facilities. Advent is a season of preparation; but for Christians, the season provides an opportunity to share the Word with others.

A surprise that popped up in my inbox was a UMC post about “Giving Tuesday.” Obviously we have gotten so overwhelmed with giving gifts to family and friends, we focus on all the special shopping events that begin over the Thanksgiving weekend. But that constant pressure to spend more and more can create a discordant, unpleasant emotion about Christmas.

“Giving Tuesday” answers that secular challenge by reminding us to look at the world through God’s eyes, not retailers’ eyes and to give to the various charities or specific needs that often struggle to manage all the demands placed upon them such as the Salvation Army, United Way, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and the list can continue.

Looking at the world through God’s eyes means we are also able to listen like God would listen. The sounds of Christmas should point out the harmony of Christians around the world. Unfortunately, the harmony is marred by so many trouble spots. The goal of unconditional love right here in our own state much less around the globe seems so unattainable, but it is the season of hope.

Can Christians bind together to quiet the cacophony of the riots, the suicide bombings, the warfare, and even the globule arguments among political leaders and even within families? Looking and listening to the world as God would do should quiet the discord and lead to harmony. Are we doing all that we can to make sure there is harmony in our homes, in our communities, in our countries, and in our world?

The second verse helps us keep the harmony in our world:

         Send your Word, O Lord, like the wind, blowing down upon the earth.

         Send your Word. We see your wondrous power,

pureness that rejects all sins, though they persist and cling.

         Bring us to complete victory; set us all free indeed.

 

Using these words as our prayer for peace and harmony in the world, we are sending God an urgent plea during these first days of Advent.

Prayer is one gift we can give daily. We talk to God, we sing to God, and we thank God through our words. As we continue through the next few weeks, let us focus on our prayer life as a gift to others:

  • Consider praying for your least favorite people.
  • Pray for peace in the Mideast.
  • Use your words to encourage rather than discourage others.
  • Ask God for guidance in the toughest of times.
  • Talk to God about healing of self and of others.
  • Pray that all people value others as they value themselves.

 

Advent begins with an ending. The harvest is completed and we mark the seasons’ passing with a tradition of a meal. The meal brings people together and the prayers continue.

  • Thank God for providing for our needs.
  • Thank God for gifts he has given us to use on his behalf.
  • Thank God for his unconditional love.

 

Unconditional love. God gives it and asks us to give it. When the world seems to be so noisy and we cannot hear the music, we know we can listen for God and trust that he is always with us despite the noise. The sounds of Christmas can be the very healing we need. We use the Salvation Army’s bells as reminders of the needs so many have. We hear the jingle bells as reminders of the childlike faith we all need to use.

The sounds of Christmas signal the unconditional love of God. The last verse explains how God’s love works:

Send your Word, O Lord, like the dew, coming gently upon the hills.

Send your Word. We seek your endless love.

For life that suffers in strife with adversities and hurts,

send your healing power of love; we long for your new world.

 

With the gift of Jesus Christ, the prophets’ words of warning were transformed into a New Law of unconditional love.

The sounds of Christmas filling our ears reminds us that God did send his Word—also called Jesus Christ, the Messiah, or the Savior. He loved us so much that he did not destroy us: He sent his Son so that those who believe in him can have eternal life.

Harmony is found in the sounds of Christmas for those who accept God’s gift of his Word, Jesus Christ. The sounds of Christmas may create cacophony for those who have not accepted God’s gift of unconditional love. The only way to turn cacophony into harmony is to spread the Word.

We need to check our own list of whether we are naughty or nice. Have we done whatever we could do for all we can in all the ways we can? If the sounds of Christmas are harmonic, congratulations, you have heard the Word and know God’s unconditional love. You can help others to find the harmony, too.

Closing prayer:

Dear Loving God,

We hear your Word in all the Christmas carols,

In the sound of jingle bells,

And even in the rattle of paper and ribbon.

As we feel a sense of harmony during Advent,

Guide us as we share your Word.

Help us reach those who only hear cacophony

So we can share the harmony of God’s Word.

With each gift we give,

With each gift we open,

Let the sounds of Christmas

Fill our world with harmony.

–Amen.

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God’s Gifts: promises fulfilled

given on Sunday, December 15, 2013

            Preparing today’s thoughts could have been very difficult due to the personal events of the past two weeks.  Yet, returning to life’s daily routine allows for the spinning, ever-changing world to slow down to a manageable pace.  And, who cannot help but sense the excitement and expectations that are part of Advent.

The seasons do not stop even for the calamities of life whether it is a destructive natural phenomena such as ice storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes or whether it is an international event such as the death of Nelson Mandela or whether it is a personal life event such as a scary diagnosis or a loss of a spouse, a parent, a child or even a friend.  The seasons continue racing along.

Advent began two weeks ago, and suddenly Christians face the clock.  Christmas is only 10 days away and the race is on.  The wish lists must be filled.  The cookies and candies need preparing.  And amazingly, as the days tick down, it all gets done.

What happens, though, when all the social hubbub crowds out God?  Generation after generation Christians look forward to Christmas, yet God’s gifts seem to be hidden below all the papers and bows, mixed up with tinsel and lights.  God’s gifts easily become lost.

God’s gift of life seems so basic that the significance of our own creation is lost.  Even as children are born, the new lives are viewed simply as a byproduct of an organic act; so many are even thrown away because the biological parents are lost in addiction.  God’s gift of life is tossed away.

For just a moment, put yourself into God’s position.  Out in the cosmos, the idea of creating a world leads you to create a garden and then you begin adding to the creation all the gifts we now know as the flora and fauna of our earth.  The creation is pleasing, but it lacks something.  And you realize that a garden needs attending, so the next creation is ‘adam (Hebrew) or humankind:

. . . the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  . . . In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  . . . The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”  (Gen. 2:7-17, NIV)

God’s gift of life includes the gift of free thought:  New ideas.  Relationships.  Dreams.  Hopes.  New life.  Knowledge.  Choices—good and bad.

History records how well humans have handled God’s gift of life.  The choices made certainly have created this 21st century world filled with all the innovations of creative minds.  But this world is also filled with all the horrors of destructive minds.  God’s gifts were given along with responsibility.  God promised us a life filled with all that we need as long as we follow his rule.

God made promises to humankind to take care of us.  God gave us grace and turned humanity loose to tend to the garden.  Standing guard over us, God watches us, feeling joy with our successes and weeping at our failures.  Yet never has God gone back on promises.

The generations continue, history keeps recording humanity’s successes and failures, and God’s promises remain.  The third Sunday of Advent is a time to pause and reflect on God’s promises.  Has he fulfilled them?  Yes.  Has he given up?  No!

God’s promises remain steadfast.  God gives us grace.  Each one of us is loved unconditionally.  At no time is that love taken away.  God’s grace is a gift that keeps on giving, as the cliché states.

Accepting God’s gifts also gives us hope.  In our humanity, we make mistakes.  The story of Adam and Eve demonstrates that God’s grace is like a safety net protecting us from ourselves.  With that first bite from the tree of knowledge, God’s grace was tested.  God told them they would die if they ate from this tree, but with grace and unconditional love, they lived.

The choices we humans make ever since that first bite demonstrates God’s grace and unconditional love.  We learn to trust God.  We learn that when we make a mistake, God forgiven.  This hope that God loves us despite our mistakes gives us courage to continue forward.  Hope allows us to love one another unconditionally, too.

Scriptures record story after story of human errors being forgiven.  Stop and review the story of Abraham who listened to God and offered his own son as a sacrifice, trusting in God right along to the final moment when God provided a ram to replace Isaac as the sacrifice.

Hope turns into joy, another gift from God.  Abraham’s sense of relief and joy propelled him forward.  His life was not easy, but he relied on God.  Turning over one’s life to God provides a sense of joy immeasurable by any human standard.

The list of God’s gifts continues to grow.  We can create our own list of gifts received from God that is customized to our specific strengths and weaknesses.  Yet, opening that gifts of God’s unconditional love and grace provides a sense of joy that springs alive within us and radiates outward touching the lives of others.

Today, and each day of Advent, we need to evaluate how well we are sharing God’s unconditional love with others.  We need to ask ourselves if the grace God provides us is modeled in the grace we give to others.

The generations recorded in the Old Testament provide a testimony to how well God’s human creations implemented God’s laws.  Failures seem to outnumber successes, but God never gives up hope.  Over and over God tried to help; and when all else failed, the prophets warned the people.

The Old Testament prophesized or referred to a coming Messiah in 44 different scriptures.  In Isaiah, the prophecy of a Messiah is recorded in nine different ways (Fairchild 2013).  When the Christmas story is recorded in the New Testament, it answers the prophecies.

Isaiah 7:14:  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Matthew 1:23:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

God’s gifts never fail.  The Word tells the story.  Advent allows us to relive the expectations of the faithful throughout history.  We never tire hearing the story over and over again because we receive hope and joy from God’s gifts.  We demonstrate God’s unconditional love and grace with our own gift giving.  And that gives us one more gift—joy, represented by the third candle on the Advent wreath.

As we continue to mark off the days until Christmas, keep God’s gifts in mind.  Prepare your heart for the final gift of the season—the purest, Jesus Christ, son of man and son of God.

 

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and giving Lord,

In the midst of our holiday season,

            help us to remember the greatest story ever told.

As we rush from place to place,

            keep us safe along the bustling streets.

When we greet the faces of family and friends,

            let the love and grace given by you, shine.

In those moments when sorrow sneaks in,

            translate the loss into heart-felt memories.

With each Christmas carol we hear and sing,

            hear our praises and our thanks.

With each card we send or we open,

            spread a little more Christian love.

            Thank you, Lord, for the gifts we receive

                        today, tomorrow, and forever.  –Amen

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