Tag Archives: hope

The Wonder of a Promise

The advent series this year is based on Ed Robb’s and Rob Renfroe’s publication The Wonder of Christmas available through Abingdon Press.  Many thanks are owed them for making this available.  The opportunity to share their work is a delight.

The Wonder of a Promise given on Sunday, December 18, 2016:  Week 4 of Advent series

Sharing the Christmas Story: Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT)

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement[a] quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[b] for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[c]
which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Promise by Rob Renfroe

The very sight of a Christmas gift all wrapped up in pretty paper and wrapped in ribbons and bows triggers our curiosity. What is hidden in the box? The mere box suggests a promise of something very special just for you.

Wrapped gifts surround us in the stores, on the cards in the mail, and under the Christmas trees, and all suggest a promise. They also represents a relationship from one person to another, one family to another, one friend to another friend, and even one co-worker to another. The practice of giving gifts reflects the value we place on maintaining relationships with one another.

God wanted a relationship with us so much that he decided to join us in the package of the baby Jesus, born under the light of a star, announced by the angels, and named Immanuel. But, he was not wrapped up as anything special, rather he was wrapped up in swaddling cloth and laid to rest in a manger. What a wonder that God would go to such an effort to be with us, to do all that he could to establish a relationship with us.

Our very creator desires an intimate relationship with us. For generations God worked through the faithful in an effort to deepen the relationship; but then decided to be with us. Rather than waiting any longer, God joined us as the gift of the baby Jesus to demonstrate how to be in an intimate relationship not only with God but also with each other. What a wonder that God’s gift continues to be unwrapped generation after generation, by one people after another.

Have you unwrapped God’s gift to you?

Have you shared God’s gift with others?

The wonder of Christmas is that sharing gifts with one another is one more opportunity to affirm relationships we have with one another. Yet, God asks us to live our lives in such a loving manner that our relationships with each other reflects the behaviors demonstrated by Jesus Christ.

The wonder of Christmas is that God’s love is infinite and available to all people. For those who accept God’s gift, unwrap it, and use it, the transformation is truly wonderful. The gift of a relationship with God evolves into the one true gift that keeps on giving and gives us a new name—Christian. The wonder of the name Christian transforms our lives.

God’s gift of Jesus Christ wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is the promise that God is always with us. It is a promise that establishes a relationship with God that we demonstrate in all the relationships we experience in our own lives. Accepting God’s gift turns us into a gift too.

Opening up God’s Christmas gift comes with instructions how to give that gift to others. We just have to follow God’s instructions on living in relationships with people rather than live as though we are against each other or above each other or simply living among others. As Christians we are to live with each other just like God did as Jesus.

Stop and consider the importance of that one small word ‘with.’ The Old Testament stories tell us how the ancient faithful understood the relationship of God to man. In the Advent study, The Wonder of Christmas, Rob Renfroe explains:

The Old Testament reveals that God’s people ‘believed in God.’ First and foremost, they believed in God above us. When they sinned, they believed in God against us. And when they thought they were doing everything right, they were able to believe in God for us. But they did not believe in God with us—at least not in the ways we need most. Not with us as a mother or father is with a child. Not with us as a person who understands what it is like to be human—a tiny being in a monstrously large universe. Not with us as one who knows what it’s like to give your best and see it do no good, to give your heart only to be rejected, or to cry at night because those you love are hurting and you can’t take their pain away.

 

Even today we can know those same perceptions. We can understand how the Israelites and even so many today still express those same beliefs that God is above us, against us, and even for us. Yet, God made a promise through the prophet Isaiah:

The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). [NLT]

 

In that promise, there is that small word with. In the wonder of a name, God promises that in the birth of a baby, God is with us not above, not against, and not simply for us. God promises to be with us.

Unwrapping God’s gift at Christmas we must read the instructions in order to make sure that Isaiah’s prophecy is a reality. We find the instructions in the scripture, especially in the New Testament that records Jesus’ ministry, the teachings, and the modeling of God being with us. The instructions are quite simple: Love one another, as you want to be loved.

First to live in a Christian relationship with God, we must understand the people with whom we live—not only just our own families but in our community.   We cannot be in a positive relationship unless we live with others. We cannot live as though we are above, against or for others. Maybe we do not co-exist in the same circumstances, but as Christians we have the capacity to with others through empathy.

Secondly, remember that we, too, had to accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ. There are times in our lives that we allow something or someone to separate us from our intimate relationship with God. Once we are separated from God, we slip into the mindset that God is above us or against us. We might be able to say that God is for us; but at those times we are separated from God, it may be difficult to even see that. The wonder of God’s promise is God is with us at all times.

Even as Christians, there are times in our lives that we become separated from God: God does not separate from us, but we make decisions that do separate us from God. Remembering our own human stories gives us the compassion to relate to others who have not accepted God’s gift.

The third set of instructions that comes with God’s gift is that we are to care about others. God knew that living with us as Jesus Christ establishes the intimate relationship that creates a bond of trust. Renfroe states:

When we tell people that God is with them and they can trust their lives to Jesus, we are asking them to trust us. Essentially we are telling them that we can show them how to create a different ending to their story. We are saying and promising, “Trust us with your lives; trust us with your stories. We will take you to the One who loves you. Trust us; we will not disappoint you.”

You don’t earn that kind of trust by telling people how badly they have lived or by acting superior. You earn that kind of trust by caring enough about their stories that you want their hopes and dreams to be redeemed. You earn that kind of trust by demonstrating humility and compassion as Jesus did—who was willing to leave the comforts of heaven and be born in a manger, disappointed by friends, rejected by the masses, and crucified on a cross—so that you can make the lives of others better.

. . . What enables people to trust us is our genuine care for their lives and their stories. And most often, what changes people is love. Most people are not argued into the Kingdom, lectured into the Kingdom, or guilted into the Kingdom. Most people are loved into the Kingdom.

 

The wonder of Christmas is as exciting as all the pretty packages sitting under the tree promising new and wonderful things. As Advent season begins, we experience the hope of God’s promise. Then we get busy in all the preparations and we seek relief from the hustle and bustle of the holiday, and ask for peace in our hearts and in our world. In the third week of Advent, we practice love in all that we do with one another. Each week of Advent we sense the joy of the season as we wait to unwrap God’s ultimate gift—a son to show us how to be in an intimate relationship with one another and ultimately with God forever.

Closing Advent prayer:

Lord Jesus,

Today I stand in awe with a heart full of gratitude at the wonder of your promise to be Immanuel—God with us today, tomorrow, and forever.

You are a God who truly understands our struggles, because you lived in our world and experienced life in the same ways that we do. You have compassion on us, recognizing that we are sheep in need of a tender shepherd.

Help me to have that same compassion for others, reaching out to love them just as you have loved me. With your help, I will seek to “keep” the promise of Christmas—not only this season but all of my days. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hearing Joel’s prophecy for today

given on Sunday, October 23, 2016

Scripture connection: Joel 1:6-7, 2”: 2-13, 32 [NLT] Joel provides hope to all faithful people, but also calls them/us to repentance.:

Opening scripture: Joel 1:6-7, NLT

1: 6A vast army of locusts[a] has invaded my land,
a terrible army too numerous to count.
Its teeth are like lions’ teeth,
its fangs like those of a lioness.
It has destroyed my grapevines
and ruined my fig trees,
stripping their bark and destroying it,
leaving the branches white and bare.

2:12 That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.

2:32But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved,
for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape,
just as the Lord has said.
These will be among the survivors
whom the Lord has called.

 

Reflection: Hearing Joel’s prophecy today

 

The week certainly has been filled with news that can fill one’s psyche with fear. American troops are again fighting in the Mid East, road rage became deadly, shootings continue, strange cases of assault are reported, weird weather continues to cause flooding and record breaking, and on top of all that the oak mites are irritating all of us as we struggle to understand the political campaigns.

Pestilence: An Old Testament word used repeatedly to share all the life irritations that challenged the faithful. Seems that the word applies just as much today as it did during ancient times. The prophet Joel understood the challenge to the faithful that the plagues caused; yet his prophecy still applies to our lives in the 21st century.

Consider the size of Judah where the tribes of Judah and Benjamin lived and to whom Joel is prophesying: ancient Judah was approximately 2,270 square miles. Missouri is 69,704 square miles, and Johnson County is 823 square miles (Wikipedia). Joel’s prophecy is just as important to us almost 3,000 years later (believed to be written between 835 and 796 B.C., as it was to the ancient Jewish tribes of Judah. Why do we tend to ignore this prophecy? Or maybe we just have not heard it before.

The book of Joel opens with a description of the day of the locusts. The description is filled with images that create visual pictures in our own minds:

A vast army of locusts[a] has invaded my land,
a terrible army too numerous to count.
Its teeth are like lions’ teeth,
its fangs like those of a lioness.
It has destroyed my grapevines
and ruined my fig trees,
stripping their bark and destroying it,
leaving the branches white and bare.

After completing the plague’s description of the locusts’ destruction, Joel adds in the reactions of the people to such devastation. There results of the plague of locusts is described in verses 16-18:

16 Our food disappears before our very eyes.
No joyful celebrations are held in the house of our God.
17 The seeds die in the parched ground,
and the grain crops fail.
The barns stand empty,
and granaries are abandoned.
18 How the animals moan with hunger!
The herds of cattle wander about confused,
because they have no pasture.
The flocks of sheep and goats bleat in misery.

The graphic images Joel shares continues to tell the reader the faithful what happens as a result of the plague of locusts, but then he shifts to share what happens when God’s warnings are heard. He calls the people to repent in those verses from chapter 2:12-13:

12 That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.

Do we hear the same warning in these words? We should.

Today’s plague may not be actual locusts, but we all have plagues that cause us damage. Remember the definition of pestilence can be “something that is considered harmful, destructive, or evil.” There is always something that can be harmful, destructive or evil that detracts us from God. Joel’s ancient prophecy can provide his readers, including us today, encouragement and hope in the saving grace God promises:

 

This is what we read in the 32nd verse:

32But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved,
for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape,
just as the Lord has said.
These will be among the survivors
whom the Lord has called.

 

This promise is incredible: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord”. That is a promise that has crossed through the millenniums and provides us hope right now, right here—October 23, 2016!

Yes, we are living in difficult times. The pestilence we are experiencing is a plague of words. We are inundated with negative news, tainted political ads, and violent actions in places of war but also in our own homes. We are under attack in ways that Joel would never have predicted. Yet, with God, we are able to defend ourselves from the pestilence.

As our children learn the basic foundations of faith from the Ten Commandments, to the Greatest Commandment, to verses like John 3:16, to the Apostles Creed, we are arming them with the tools to avoid pestilence in their lives. As we join together in Bible study and in worship, we review and continue to develop the skills needed to preserve our relationship with God. As we walk out the church doors, we walk directly into the path of possible attacks on our relationship with God.

Joel warned the ancient faithful, but his words can be read again and again reminding us that we, too, must protect ourselves from the plagues that attack us. In that second chapter, Joel describes how the locust invades the rural environment and destroys not only the crops and the cattle, but even march directly into our own homes. Yet, there is hope.

Joel calls all people to repent. The call is in that verse 12:  “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.

We, too, are called to repent. God wants us to depend on him, to trust in him, and to do all that we can to serve one another in love.   Joel’s prophecy is for us, right now, right here, and for always.

The prophecy ends with one more promise (Joel 3:21):

 

I will pardon my people’s crimes,
which I have not yet pardoned;
and I, the Lord, will make my home
in Jerusalem[a] with my people.”

 

Joel’s words are guiding words for us today. If we do not invest time in reading the scriptures, we will not find such words of promise to assure us in the most challenging times of our lives. We are not protected from pestilence; we must learn how to live God-centered lives despite all the challenges. We must join in Christian fellowship to strengthen our defenses. And worshiping together, we encourage each other and reach out to others to share in the grace of God provided through belief in Jesus Christ who died for our sins.

 

Closing prayer:

 

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

You are God to Joel and you are God to us.

May we hear your words of promise

over the din of today’s plagues.

 

Let us find ways to defend ourselves

from the attacks on our faith

so we may continue as your disciples.

 

Let us share in study and in worship

so we may strengthen our faith

and to teach others to live God-centered lives.

 

Let us step out to serve others

in ways to strengthen our community

to become part of your kingdom.

 

Thank you for the gift of Joel’s prophecy

and from others throughout history

who share the good news of your grace.

 

May we be the tools of love

guided by the Holy Spirit

to provide others hope of eternal life

by belief in the life, the death

and the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

your son.

 

–In God’s name, through the Holy Spirit, amen.

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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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