Tag Archives: I Thessalonians

From Kids to Saints: God is there

given on Sunday, October 30, 2016

Scripture connection: using the NLT

I Thessalonians 5:14-17

14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. 16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying.

 

2 Thessalonians 3:1-3

1Finally, dear brothers and sisters,[a] we ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you. Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.[b]

 

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

11 So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. 12 Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.[a]

 

 

Reflection: From kids to saints: God is there

 

Here we are at the end of October and we are still feeling like summer, but the calendar clearly states that summer is over. The calendar shows us that in this particular week, we are marching straight into November. The seasons are changing and in this one week we go from kids to saints in just 24 hours—well, so it seems.

Tomorrow, October 31, is Halloween (as if I needed to say that). This is a holiday that has gone from simple trick or treat runs from one house to another into an insane retail extravaganza. Halloween seems to be one of those timeless holidays that is no longer just a kid’s event, but now includes all ages—from kids to the parents to the grandparents and even the great-grandparents. One day on the calendar traditionally for the kids takes us into a day for the saints.

As October slips away into November, the “All Hallows’ Eve” becomes “All Saints Day.” Googling Halloween and All Saints Day brought some interesting pieces into the conversation:

  1. Hallow is really a term for Saints.
  2. John Wesley was fond of All Saints’ Day.
  3. All Hallows’ Eve became Halloween.

 

Growing up on the farm, eight miles out of town, Halloween was not a significant day for me. In fact, my mom felt it was wrong and only allowed my brother and I to get involved in minimal ways, such as attending the 4-H Halloween party. Yet, she strongly supported us in the UMYF’s efforts to “trick or treat for UNICEF.”

Mom’s discomfort for Halloween came from the ‘glorification’ of the witches, ghosts, devils and other such non-Christian images that seem to promote un-Christian behaviors. Part of her discomfort might have been due to the long-held belief that Halloween began as a pagan tradition. Googling Halloween and reading Wikipedia’s entry might have eased her mind:

It is widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated from Celtic harvest festivals which may have pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, and that this festival was Christianized as Halloween. Some academics, however, support the view that Halloween began independently as a solely Christian holiday.

 

This explanation certainly shows how Halloween and All Saints Day really can take us from kids to saints all in 24 hours.

One of our personal saints is Earlene George. I cannot separate Halloween from Earlene. When she asked if she could have a Halloween event at the church for the local kids, I hesitated. I had to let go of all the negative feelings I had about celebrating Halloween, especially at church, as she moved into action.

When I walked into the church fully decorated for Halloween, I simply had to scream—and then laugh, giggle, and join in the fun. No one witnessing the kids walking in and experiencing all the fun and goodies could question the value of this unusual ministry.   Halloween is for the kids, but the night transforms into “All Saints Day” at midnight.

The UMC denomination does acknowledge All Saints Day as a time to remember and to honor the ‘saints’ of our church, local and global, who are no longer present with us. An article by Joe Iovino on the UMC.org website explains Wesley’s attitude toward the holiday:

November 1 is All Saints Day, a sometimes-overlooked holy day in United Methodist congregations. It is not nearly as well known as the day before, All Hallow’ (Saints’) Eve, better known as Halloween, but is far more important in the life of the church.

 

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from November 1, 1767, Wesley calls it “a festival I truly Love.” On the same day in 1788, he writes, “I always find this a comfortable day.” The following year he calls it “a day that I peculiarly love.”

 

My mom might have enjoyed the Halloween a bit more if she realized the connection to All Saints’ Day. Halloween may be for the kids, but it also connects us to the saints in our lives that we honor the very next day.

Wesley did caution us about holding saints in too high regard:

The Articles of Religion that he sent to the Methodists in American in 1784, include a statement against “invocation of saints” (Article XIV—of Purgatory, Book of Discipline paragraph104). Wesley did not see biblical evidence for the practice and discouraged Methodists from participating. However, he also advised against disregarding the saints altogether. [Iovino]

 

Even though this week we are talking about Halloween and All Saints Day, there is more to the story. God is with us all the time, and as we open the doors to serve the kids in the community, we are also demonstrating the saint-like behaviors that God has commissioned us to do.

Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians are filled with guidelines on how to live and these guidelines are for everybody—from the kids to the saints. In fact, those who live by the guidelines are often considered to be saints in the eyes of those who witnessed the Christian behaviors.

In I Thessalonians 5:14-17, the list of behaviors can be a checklist for us to live by, for us to teach the kids, and for us to determine the saints in our lives:

  1. Warn the lazy. (v. 14)
  2. Encourage the timid. (v.14)
  3. Be kind to everyone. (v. 15)
  4. Be joyful always. (v. 16)
  5. Pray continually. (v. 17)
  6. Give thanks. (v. 18)
  7. Test everything that is taught. (v.20-21)
  8. Avoid evil. (v.22)

 

Consider these guidelines as we open the doors for Halloween, but also as we model our Christian beliefs. God is with us always, and when we live by these guidelines, we can be confident that God is with us from the time we are kids until the time we join those saints who are already in the presence of Jesus Christ.

Following Paul’s guidelines to the Thessalonians will not be easy for the kids nor for any of us as we continue life’s journey. Yet, there are those living saints that are doing all they can to make sure we remain part of God’s family. Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians within the year after he wrote the first one. He heard that there were some problems and he wanted to make sure they remained faithful—that is also an example of saint-like behaviors.

In the second letter, he reminds the members that the main defense if prayer when they are under spiritual attack. He adds that they should study the Bible, memorize scripture, associate with other Christians, and practice what the spiritual leaders teach.

These reminders in Thessalonians are the same ones we need to teach our kids and to practice throughout our own lives. These rules are for kids to saints. These rules transform kids into saints.

This week as we celebrate Halloween and All Saints’ Day, we need to read, study, and practice Paul’s words because God is for kids, their parents, their grandparents and even the great-grandparents. God is always with us and will never fail us, as Paul writes in Hebrews 13:5:

Celebrate Halloween with our kids knowing that everything we do to share God’s love can transform lives through the work of the Holy Spirit and develop saints like those we honor on All Saints Day.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for Paul’s wisdom found in scripture.

Thank you for the gift of your son Jesus Christ

and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

As we depart this morning,

Guide us in sharing the Good News

Through all the means that we can,

even if it is in a treat-filled Halloween.

 

Then, as the midnight hour approaches

May we shift our thoughts from kids to saints

Let the day reconnect us with the saints

of our lives who taught us your ways.

 

In the name of Jesus Christ

and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, amen.

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The Fears of Christmas

given on December 14, 2014

Maybe the idea of fears at Christmas time is unsettling, but mentally check the picture of the little kids who line up to see Santa. Parents are planning the annual photo op and kids want to make sure Santa has their Christmas list. Then fear sets in:

  • The photo op turns into pictures of screaming kids squirming to get off Santa’s lap,
  • Babies are crying and faces are turning bright red,
  • Parents are embarrassed, or they are laughing,
  • Toddlers suddenly see Santa as a stranger and a danger warning clicks in their heads,
  • Feet go into a kicking mode and Santa’s face shows signs of pain, and
  • Youngsters suddenly panic wondering if they are on the naughty or the nice list.

Fears do invade Christmas, and this list is only from the point of view of the families lining up in the Santa lines. Fears have always surrounded Christmas.

In fact, Christmas is the result of fear and this fear does not mean respect as defined by so many sources in translating scripture. Frequently the phrase “Fear the Lord, your God” is used, especially in the Old Testament. For today’s Bible readers, fear is an emotional response that usually comes with a fight or flight response. Early translations used the word fear that we know understand to mean respect or honor God.

Today, though, the fears of Christmas are a reality that we tend to shove aside or to ignore because they do not fit the public images of Christmas. Yet, the fear God had that his people would not remain faithful is the very root of today’s Christmas.

Times were horrific in God’s view. His people were living among pagans and unfaithful people caught up in the hubbub of living. God was not the center of the people’s lives. The prophets had issued warnings, but the people were not making the life changes. Sending God’s son was a last ditch effort, as we might say today.

God’s fear caused him to join his people on earth in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, from the line of David, the Son of God, Mary’s and Joseph’s son, a cousin to John the Baptist. Every prophecy was fulfilled with this birth.

Does our world, right now, have fears this Christmas? Absolutely. In fact, the fears of children lining up to see Santa is just a light-hearted news clip of what God must be seeing. Fear exists in God’s eyes as well as the eyes of so many people anywhere on this globe: killings, stealing, unethical behaviors, environmental disasters, health challenges, and more. Finding Christmas joy is tough.

Yet, consider the fears we ourselves have as Christmas Day nears. Certainly we have that sense of anxiety that we have missed someone from the Christmas card list, or maybe it is that we have forgotten to include someone on the invitation list, or that the gift we bought is all-wrong. These are real fears, true, but they are not the ones that cause God to hear our heartfelt pain.

Christmas season creates a set of fears for men and women, adults and children that as Christians we need to see. We are to serve as God’s hands and feet while we live our faith out loud. Jesus is the reason for the season; are we living our faith in a manner that we can help others not to be afraid?

The littlest child can be afraid. The basic needs of life are food, shelter and clothing. Without them, life fails. The littlest children who depend on parents to provide those basic needs may be afraid each day that there is not food, that they are cold, or that there is no place to protect from nature’s elements whether rain or snow, heat or cold. What have we done to make sure these children of God have no fears?

Children in school are often afraid here at Christmas, too. Living in a social world created by the culture surrounding them creates fear: Fear of exclusion from social groups, of being bullied, of school failure, of poor athletic performance, and of poverty where gifts under a tree simply cannot be provided. For school-aged children, even the tweens and the teens, these are very real fears and certainly can make them dread Christmas. Are we dong all that we can do to make sure our young people have nothing to fear?

Even our native president Harry S. Truman knew how damaging fear is. Living by the principle that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Truman led this country to recover from World War II. Adults have fears that may include the same things as children; yet, adult fears often take much more complicated solutions.

Granted homelessness is a very real condition as is social isolation from mental illness and addictions and the loneliness from the loss of a spouse, child or friend. Adult fears multiply due to an enormous range of issues and Christians are just as susceptible as any human. God fears that his children may not remain faithful led to the birth of Jesus Christ, the reason for the season. Are we doing whatever we can to share God’s word: to love one another?

Christmas is filled with fears, but these fears can all be faced with the love of Christ. This is the third Sunday in Advent and the third candle representing joy can be extinguished when fear takes over. As Christians, the gifts we give should fuel the joy of living. We know that hope flickers whenever we show others God’s love. We tell others of God’s promise to take care of us now and throughout eternity making hope’s flicker a flame.

Are we listening to Scripture’s words? Today’s reading from I Thessalonians tells us how to live in order to avoid developing fears:

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.”

Following the principles from the Bible is a practice that can keep fears from developing. It is not easy, but it does work. In fact, the other tool we each need to find is prayer: The same scripture tells us how to use it, too:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

This third week of Advent, let us take the hope and the promise of Christmas and turn it into joy that warms us from the inside to the outside. Let the joy shine like the sun. Let the fears disappear like shadows on a moonless night. God’s promise of the Messiah came true so fears can turn into joy. The gifts we give do not have to be wrapped up and placed under a Christmas tree. The gift of prayer should never be wrapped up and put away; it should always remain open. Prayer is the biggest most powerful gift we can give to anybody, anytime, anywhere. Use it to calm the fears of self and others not only during the Christmas season, but continually:

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

The joy of Christmas will shine through you so all may see Christ’s light shine year round.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father of Christmas,

Thank you for giving us prayer to use

Whenever we need to fight our own fears

Or fears of family, friends, and foes.

Hear our prayer this Advent morning,

Asking that the fears of young and old everywhere

Be replaced with joy in loving one another.

Help us to use our spiritual gifts

To keep your Christmas story alive

And to serve as your loving arms for those afraid.

Thank you, too, for giving us the gift of your Son

Who taught us how to love one another

And replaced our fears with joy unending. –Amen

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Why practice thanks?

given on Sunday, November 3, 2013:

         November is here!  No one seems to understand why I dread this month, and that might be why I am discovering a shift in my attitude.  Thank goodness, because I needed a change.

Maybe living around so many enthusiastic deer hunters is part of it.  Maybe it is watching all the fun a Halloween event can be.  Maybe it is the anticipation of the Christmas holiday.  Maybe it is all the birthdays that have developed in the middle of the year.  Why it might even be due to the winning season of the Chiefs and the Mizzou Tigers!

Whatever it is, thank goodness!  I needed to broaden my joy into and through November.  I need to say thanks for giving me a month back to live to the fullest.  I need to practice giving thanks.

Why practice thanks?  Why do Christians need to give thanks to God?  Giving thanks to God, and I dare say to others in our lives, too, is a discipline.  When one disciplines oneself to practice any behavior, that practice becomes internalized in such a manner it takes no thought or effort to carry it out.

Consider what our world would be like if people did not practice certain behaviors or routines.  Think about driving—what if we did not follow the basic traffic laws?  What if we did not practice courtesy on the roadways?  What happens when we make mistakes such as pulling out in front of someone?  Would our lives be safe?  The courtesy we practice on the roadways allows flexibility among drivers who make mistakes or protects us from those who are aggressive.  Aren’t we thankful that almost all drivers do practice courtesy while on the roads?

Still, why does God expect us to practice gratitude as Christians?  The scriptures share various stories about giving thanks, and sometimes it is difficult to identify why we should give thanks.  The story today of the Israelites coming out of Egypt struggling to survive in the desert, wanting a change in the diet of manna that God was providing may seem far-fetched to us, especially right here in the breadbasket of the nation.  Yet, the Israelites were whining and not giving thanks.

How often does that happen in our own lives?  We have everything that we need, but we whine when we do not get what we want.  We watch friends getting more wealth or more stuff than we do, and we whine.  We ask God why do they get it and not us.  Do we stop and practice thanksgiving?  Do we stop watching what others are getting and doing and say thank you God for what we have?

Two of the very reasons I have long dreaded November are now turning into the very reasons I can give thanks to God:

  1. The loss of the green colors and the leaves on the trees signaled the cold, dreariness of winter that I shudder every time I think about it.  Yet, practicing gratitude, I can shift my thinking.  I love the colors of fall and the crispness of the cooler evenings.  The smell of wood burning delights me even when it drifts across my nose as I let the dogs in and out.  The rain this week seemed to provide a glossy finish to the leaves shining in the trees and the ones piling up on the bright green grass.  Thank goodness I can see God’s splendor in this early November day.  Thank you, God, for the delight of nature’s brilliant display.
  2. Over the years, November has signaled loss.  Too many family members seemed to die.  The worst calamities seemed to occur in November—the fire in our woods, the encephalitis Dad developed, and even the assassination of JFK.  But now November has signaled new life with birthdays to celebrate—a sister-in-law, a granddaughter and a grandson, a stepson not to mention an uncle and a cousin and who knows how many more.  I can even add an anniversary to that.  Thank goodness I have learned to see the gains of November.  Thank you, God, for the joy of life rather than the sadness of losses.

My manna from heaven may not be the little beads of nourishment that the Israelites woke to find in the mornings.  My manna is discovering that there is more joy in life than the negative.  Learning to practice gratitude is a discipline Christians need.  The outcomes are so important and can demonstrate to others one more value to living a God-centered life.

Giving thanks may not be one of the acts of piety that John Wesley identified, but even Moses and all the examples of faithful leaders from the Bible knew that showing gratitude to God was critical to maintaining a faithful relationship with God.

For the Israelites, the sacrificial rituals became the religious practice that kept them faithful to God.  The sacrifices were highly structured and the gifts were the first, the finest crops or livestock that could be given to God.

The strict rules that the Israelites followed placed the importance on the gift worthy enough to thank God.  The Old Testament tells story after story of sacrifice that the faithful provided as proof of their obedience to God.  The stories also share examples of when sacrifices were not worthy.  In those stories, the failure to provide thanks with the best gifts or to be deceptive in the giving illustrates how destructive impure gratitude can be.

The New Testament reveals the story of God’s sacrifice to us.  With his gift of his son, he strips away the need to demonstrate gratitude in such ritualistic manners.  No more do we offer sacrificial lambs on an altar because God sacrificed his own son so that we may be forgiven our sins.  What an act for which we can be thankful!

Because God offered his Son, we are not exempt from Christian practices.  In fact, because we do not have to offer the tangible evidence that we believe in God and that Jesus died for our sins, our practice of thanksgiving should be central in our lives.

Practicing thanksgiving each and every day keeps us focused on God.  Giving thanks to God, to one another, to family and friends, even to clerks or service providers keeps us positive.  We show the joy that we experience in our lives because we are God-centered.  We see each worker, each person with God’s eyes and we thank God by our actions of Christian love.

People know us by the radiance in our face, by the twinkle in the eyes, by the hugs we share, by the giving we do, by the words of thanks that we give.  These are the results of practicing our faith.  When we keep our lives God-centered, our perspective of who is in control is kept in check.

Here is the challenge for November:  Practice thanksgiving each and every day of the month, of the year, and in the years ahead.  You will see a difference in your life.  You will see a difference in the lives of those around you.  You will witness the shift from loss to joy in your life.  A life filled with thanksgiving is a life filled with God.

Dear Gracious God,

These November days signal the end of a season,

         but thank you for the glory in the colorful leaves.

These November days may be colder and blustery,

         but thank you for the warmth of our homes.

These November days are filled with excitement,

         as hunters prepare for a new season, too.

These November days are filled with anticipation,

         as families look forward to celebrations.

 

As we awake each morning this November,

         keep us centered on giving thanks.

As we arrive at work each day this November,

         let us share our thanksgiving with others.

As we sit down at our tables this November,

         hear our prayers for the blessings we receive.

As we close our eyes each night this November,

         thank you for another day filled with life.

 

Thank you, Gracious Father, for Novembers.

May we practice thanksgiving to the glory of You.  Amen.

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