Tag Archives: John 3:16

LOVE: The Christmas Present that Won’t Break

This is the second in a series based on James Moore’s and Jacob Armstrong’s Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  Again, I want to thank them for their work and allowing churches to use their ideas.

John 3:16

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


UMH 242     Love Came Down at Christmas

Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine;

Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.


Worship we the Godhead, Love incarnate, Love divine;

Worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?


Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine;

Love to God and all men, love for plea and gift and sign.


Luke 2:8-20

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.


LOVE: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break


            Love is a word that may seem almost overused or bantered about so much that the true meaning of it loses significance or importance. Consider how easy it is to say we “love” this or that. For instance, consider some of this times we use the word:

  • I love sunshine.
  • I love chocolate chip cookies.
  • I love the Royals or the Chiefs.
  • I love the color green.
  • I love summer.
  • I love snow.
  • I love. . . . and the list just grows.


Do we use the word love to describe so many different things in our lives that the value of love as found in John 3:16 loses value?

Hear the words of that verse again:


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


In Moore’s Advent study, Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break, he writes:


. . . What puts the meaning of Christmas deep into our souls? What writes the Christmas spirit indelibly on our hearts?   Well, of course, the essence of Christmas is love. God’s incredible love for us, expressed when he sent his only son into the world to save us. “Love Came Down at Christmas”—that’s how the hymn writer puts it. That’s the answer to our question. Whenever and wherever we receive God’s sacrificial love, whenever and wherever we pass it on to others, whenever and wherever God’s love is accepted and Shared, Christmas comes once again! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 39)


The answer sounds familiar, especially for Methodists, as it echoes the John Wesley quote once again:


Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. (Wesley 2017)


This places each one of us in a responsible position to act as the arm of God in so many ways that it might even cause us to become numb to the very way we can put love into action.

Moore provides three specific scenarios that makes it easier to identify how we can put love as the essence of Christmas, yes, but also for each day of our lives:

  1. When we love God, there is Christmas.
  2. When we love our families, there is Christmas.
  3. When we love other people, there is Christmas. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 39, 41, 42)


Consider Moore’s first answer to how we demonstrate love. When do we love God? This may be the toughest of the three times to show how we love God. God is an abstract idea for most, and to share that love with others so they can fully identify love as a viable factor in their own lives can be so difficult that we avoid even trying to sharing it with others.

I suggest that when we love God, we also do not feel comfortable sharing our love of God openly in our daily lives. We can easily just live quietly loving God not wanting to interfere with others and their own opinion of God. At Christmas, though, we join in the outpouring of the holiday festivities. Are we openly showing how we love God at these times or are we just trying to fit in with all the traditional practices, not making waves about what the essence of Christmas truly is—love?

            Personally, I have to admit that loving God openly has not always been easy. Just doing what everybody else does at Christmas is easy. It does not really mean investing into the story and deciding how God wants us to live. Instead, we put up the tree, decorate, bake, and shop.

On the outside, others might think that we believe because we join in the celebration of Christmas, but are we celebrating because we love God? Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. I know that life circumstances have challenged my enthusiasm for Christmas as a special holiday. I have had to go through a range of emotions from fun to hurt to loneliness to uncertainty and even to anger.

But, despite all the real-life experiences that altered the Christmas expectations I thought were so important from my childhood through to even today’s vision of Christmas, I had to discover something. Without loving God, there is no Christmas. The way we celebrate Christmas must begin with our love of God.

Reaching that understanding did not come quickly; rather it came from living life managing all the challenges without giving up on God. Despite everything, God has walked my journey with me just as he walks the journey with any one of us. Christmas begins with loving God and that makes it possible for us to love our families and to love other people, too. This is the love that is the essence of Christmas as Moore puts it:

Whenever and wherever we receive God’s sacrificial love, whenever and wherever we pass it on to others, whenever and wherever God’s love is accepted and shared, Christmas comes once again! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 39)


Giving the gift of love is one that never breaks. Even when we give gifts that can break, the foundation of the giving is the love we feel for God, demonstrated in the love of our families and of all other people that come across our life’s path.

Loving God and living the lifestyle that Jesus taught, we can manage to show love to all others even when the life experiences we have cause pain and heartache. For instance, consider all the families who have been broken through death or divorce.

That experience can make one question what love is; but I believe that when one lives with God as the foundation of life, love continues. In fact, that very love of God makes it possible to continue loving one another even when heartbroken, lonely, and yes, even angry. Moore makes this statement that helps explain this:

Unfortunately, in many homes this Christmas there will be a chill in the air. You see, there is a big difference between everybody being at home. . . and being at home with everybody. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 41)


With God as the foundation of one’s life, it is possible to be at home with everybody—family, friend, neighbor, strangers and even enemies. I know this because I have been broken at Christmas, yet somehow God’s love still makes the Christmas story, the carols, and the decorations soak through all the pain to remind me that Christmas is about God’s love—a love so unconditional, so unbelievable, that he decided to step down on this earth as a man Jesus.

Moore puts into words what I have learned:

Whenever and wherever there is peace and harmony and tenderness and respect and thoughtfulness and caring in the family, Christmas comes once again. When we love God, and when we love our families, there is Christmas!


And what we learn about loving our families, expands as we step out of our homes and meet others in our daily lives. God’s love fill us up and we see all people as equals with their own stories struggling to find love in their lives. We see people who do not know how to love others with pain in their own lives.

God loved all people pain and all. He wants us to love all people too just like we know he loves us. Accepting Jesus Christ as our savior, we have a responsibility to freely give that love away. This giving does not mean that we run out to the local store to buy gifts that can break or not fit, rather we are to give the gift that won’t break, the gift of openly loving one another. Moore writes:

. . . When we see Christ in other people and love them, then at that precise moment Christmas comes once again. . . . When we love other people, there is Christmas. The Christmas gift of love is surely a Christmas gift that won’t break! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 42, 44)


Just what does the Christmas gift of love look like? Jacob Armstrong wrote in the devotions that the gift of love is not an object but it can be identified by what it provides:

  1. . . . love casts out fear
  2. . . .love comes to where we are
  3. . . . love means that we aren’t alone.
  4. . . . love leads us to long for more. . .


What is it that we long for? When we discover God’s love, we discover that we long to share God’s love. God’s love leads us to live life with a drive to learn more of God and to find ways to love one another.

Celebrate Christmas this year knowing that God loved us so much that he sent his only son so that we might open the gift of God’s love and transform our lives. Let us be like the shepherds who left the fields and found the baby Jesus. Let us go back to our homes and give this gift through stories and actions that God’s love is a present that will not break.

Closing prayer:


Dear God, thank you for the gift of love.

May we share this gift with others

and learn how to love unconditionally.

Help us during this Christmas season

to practice love in action

with family, friends, and strangers. Amen.

(Moore and Armstrong 2017, 46)



Works Cited

Moore, James W., and Jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.



Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

God so loved us

given on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017:  I finished Easter Sunday service and began a week’s vacation.  I apologize for not posting sooner.  May you know that God loves you so much he gave his only son for your salvation.

Scripture connection

 John 3:13-17

13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 John 20:1-10

1Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.

Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

John study notes from the Life Application Bible (NLT):

“Nicodemus Visits Jesus at Night”

3:14,15—When Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God sent plague of snakes to punish rebellious attitudes. If snake bit, looking up to Moses holding the bronze snake and believing that God could save them, did save them.

3:16–. . . When we share the Good News with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.

3:16–. . . eternal life is not an extension of a person’s miserable, mortal life; eternal life is God’s life embodied in Christ given to all believers now as a guarantee that they will live forever. In eternal life there is no death, sickness, enemy, evil, or sin. When we don’t know Christ, we make choices as though this life is all we have. In reality, this life is just the introduction to eternity. . . .

3:16—To “believe” is more than intellectual agreement that Jesus is God. It means to put our trust and confidence in him that he alone can save us. It is to Christ in charge of our present plans and eternal destiny. Believing is both trusting his words as reliable, and relying on him for the power to change. If you have never trusted Christ, let this promise of everlasting life be yours—and believe.

3:18—People often try to protect themselves from their fears by putting their faith in something they do or have: good deeds, skill or intelligence, money or possessions. But only God can save us from the one thing that we really need to fear—eternal condemnation. We believe in God by recognizing the insufficiency of our own efforts to find salvation and by asking him to do his work in us. When Jesus talks about unbelievers, he means those who reject or ignore him completely, not those who have momentary doubts. (emphasis added)

“Jesus Rises from the Dead”

20:9—Jesus’ resurrection is the key to the Christian faith. Why?

  1. Just as he said, Jesus rose from the dead. We can be confident, therefore, that he will accomplish all he has promised.
  2. Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ, not a false prophet or imposter, is ruler of God’s eternal Kingdom.
  3. We can be certain of our resurrection because Jesus was resurrected.   Death is not the end—there is future life.
  4. The divine power that brought Jesus back to life is now available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life.
  5. The Resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world.

Reflection: God so loved us

[Sing Morning Has Broken, UMH 145]

Today is the third day after Jesus was crucified. Today is Easter and morning has broken, as the hymn reminds us, like the first morning. The earth continues to revolve around the son, the birds still sing, and after the rain, everything is like new. Yet, today is Easter 2017, over 2,000 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and we awake to a new morning.

Do you sense the awesomeness of the new morning?

Do you sense the renewal of our world after a spring rain?

Do you sense the love of God?

Hear these words from John:

1Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

[Sing Lift High the Cross, UMH 159]

Mary and the other women greeted that Sunday morning with a tremendous sense of loss. Certainly they did not see the awesomeness of Easter morning, they were beginning the new week with a tradition of honoring the death of a loved one.   At the moment, their steps were slow and their shoulders were sagging. They were simply following the tradition of mourning, carrying the spices to the tomb. The mood was anything but joyful.

Yet, the story in all four of the gospels reveal the same shift in emotions when the women discover the stone rolled away from the tomb’s opening. Can you not see the change in the women’s posture and expressions when they reach the tomb, look up from the path and see the open tomb?

The Sunday morning suddenly turned from grief to joy. These women experienced the glory of God as they see, first hand, the promise of God revealed by an empty tomb. The glory of God evidenced as the figures in dazzling white robes, white as snow, tell them Jesus is risen from the dead, as Luke tells the story (Luke 24:5-7):

5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

[Sing Up from the Grave, UMH 322]

How awesome it is to realize the prophecy shared for thousands of years has come to fulfillment! Mary, the other women, and now the Apostles are learning firsthand the revelation that Jesus, a man with whom they had walked and talked was indeed God. Do you sense the renewal of hope that the gospels share with us today, this Easter Sunday 2017?

Jesus arose! He is alive! Jesus is the Son of God. The women ran to tell the Apostles, the other disciples, and surely all their friends even who still did not believe. This news was a personal witness so how could anyone still doubt the truth of these eyewitnesses to God’s amazing love of us.

John, the apostle that Jesus loved most, wrote the gospel for us. We are Christians so far removed from the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry that we are still seeking to understand God’s love (John 3:16-17):

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.


John had to learn firsthand that Jesus, someone he was deeply devoted to, a friend so close to him that as he was dying on the cross told him that he was to take care of his mother as though she was his own mother and that his mother was to accept John as her own son. This is love.

[Sing What Wondrous Love is This, UMH 292]

God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that we might be forgiven of our sins and have eternal life. Do you sense the enormity of that love? In our earthly world, the full meaning of God’s love is beyond our human understanding. We get glimpses of it in our lifetimes, but full understanding seems just beyond our reach.

True knowledge typically comes from first hand experience and we have yet to experience our own death and resurrection. We depend on the words of the gospel, the letters of Paul and the others books in the New Testament to provide us the guidelines for living as Christ’s disciples; yet, first hand knowledge of the Easter experience continues to be a promise made by God in the Old Testament stories, by Jesus as revealed in the gospels, and by the Apostles and disciples who were there.

[Sing Where you there? UMH 288—used during Maundy Thursday]

Today, Easter 2017, we continue to share the story and live with the expectation that we, too, will remain in relationship with our loving God, until the time we, too, will experience life everlasting. As we read the resurrection story and hear the promises of the hymns, again consider:

Do you sense the awesomeness of the new morning?

Do you sense the renewal of our world after a spring rain?

Do you sense the love of God?

Where are you in the story?

Where are you in your relationship with God?

Where are you in living the life God has given you?

This Easter morning, consider then what John has shared in his gospel:

17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Find the awesomeness of living in this world today, but remember the story and sense the full love of God as you walk out the doors to enter into our real life world today. You have a story to share and it is amazing. Live with the knowledge that life is a gift but the promise is that eternal life with God is even more wonderful than we can imagine.

[Sing Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, UMH 302, &/or He Lives, UMH 310.]

Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

Be excited about God’s love as you step out today. Feel a sense of renewal because Christ did arise from the grave. But remember that as much as God loved us, we have been tasked to carry the story forward and to live as Christ has taught us to live: Love one another as you want to be loved!

Closing prayer:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, God!


You have lifted Christ from the grave

And you promise to life us, too.


You have refreshed the world with new life

As we witness in Spring’s glory.


You have demonstrated love in the worst of times

So we may learn that love wins every time.


Thank you, God, for sharing life with us.

Thank you, Jesus, for teaching us to love.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being with us always.


May we, with the help of you, God,

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Live today knowing that you loved us so much

That you died for us. –Amen


Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Scripture & Reflection for World Communion

given on Sunday October 2, 2016 as part of the Service of Word and Table I in honor of World Communion Sunday

Opening scripture: Lamentations 1:1, 2b & 6 (NLT)

 1 Jerusalem, once so full of people,
is now deserted.
She who was once great among the nations
now sits alone like a widow.
Once the queen of all the earth,
she is now a slave.
2. . . All her friends have betrayed her
and become her enemies.
. . .

All the majesty of beautiful Jerusalem[b]
    has been stripped away.
Her princes are like starving deer
    searching for pasture.
They are too weak to run
    from the pursuing enemy.


Today’s focus & reflection: Lack of unity in global community

            Reading scripture written thousands of years ago does not always seem to connect to today’s world, but these verses in Lamentations can send chills down one’s spine. Jerusalem, the Jewish capital city, was captured and destroyed by Babylon.   The Jewish people were killed, captured and made slaves, or exiled fleeing their homeland.

The book of Lamentations is a sequel to Jeremiah, both written by Jeremiah. The first book predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and the second tells the story after the destruction. The prophet’s words were not heeded and the result was heart-wrenching.

The lesson today needs to be heard again. The faithful today must stand up and do whatever they can do to follow God’s commandment to love one another. Jeremiah’s prophecy to the ancient Jewish community is just as applicable today. God wants us to follow the same laws he gave Moses—the Ten Commandments.

The Old Testament records the struggles of the faithful to maintain the commandments in the global context of the ancient world. The human will faces temptations today that are just as destructive as they were in ancient times.

The place we are today whether is it here in our very small, rural community or whether it is at any other spot in today’s global community is the same as it was in Jerusalem thousands of years ago.

The place we are today in history’s timeline does not change the fact that God’s commandments are just as applicable today as ever. We cannot ignore these laws. We are faithful followers of God today and we must remain true to his law.

Today the faithful around this world join together at God’s table. It does not matter who we are, where we are, what we use as bread or what we use as wine/juice. We are God’s faithful and we renew our commitment to do all that we can to serve as stewards of this world in any way that we can.

Jeremiah wept. We weep. The stories of the Bible are lessons for us today. We are commissioned to be stewards of this earth and that means all that lives on this planet, too.

Scripture lesson: I Corinthians 10:12-18 (NLT)

12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

14 So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. 15 You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16 When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17 And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body. 18 Think about the people of Israel. Weren’t they united by eating the sacrifices at the altar?

More reflection on scripture: Communion unites global community

Everybody knows that the more things change, the more they do not change. Today’s communion is no different, really, that sitting down with friends and family throughout history. We sit down at the table and chatter about the weather, the kids and grandkids, and the latest news.

One change, though, the local community now expands to reach around this globe on which we live. The advancements in communication make the stories on the opposite side of this globe as real to us on this side of the globe. The ability to witness in our own homes, in real time, the events that affect others regardless of the location makes us active participants with complete strangers.

Today we share the elements of communion that are familiar to us just like other Christians are doing at any other church or meeting site. We have learned what God did to save us. We know that Jesus was God on this earth delivering the simplest way to live possible: Love one another as you want to be loved.

Are we living our lives that way? Are we honestly loving one another as we want to be loved? Are we able to keep God at the center of our lives or are we lured away by other idols?

Today we are so fortunate to have scripture to read and to study. Today we are so fortunate to live in a country that allows total freedom to be the Christians we chose to be. Today we share in the bread and the cup as reminders of our commitment to be the faithful right here, right now.

And what better time to remember this commitment than now? As Christians, we have responsibility to live our faith out loud in all the ways that we can. As Americans, we have the opportunity to live our faith at a time that could be compared to ancient times in Jerusalem and even the faithful Paul addressed in Corinthians:

16 When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ?


Today, we join the global community of God’s faithful. Let us remember our covenant with God and do whatever we can do to lead others to God and to live our faith out loud as models to others of God’s love.

Closing Scripture: John 3:16 (NLT)

 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.


Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

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)


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)


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)


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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

It’s February: How is your heart?

given on February 3, 2013:


It’s February:  How’s your heart?


We have opened up a new month, the shortest in the year, yet it is so packed with special days and honorees and themes that it is easily overwhelms the daily routines we establish in our lives.

Consider this February list:

  • American Heart Healthy Month
  • Black History Month
  • Ground Hog’s Day was the 2nd
  • Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is the 12th
  • George Washington’s is the 22nd
  • Now President’s Day combines those so we have a holiday weekend—the 16th-18th this year.

Oh my!  I decided to do a little deeper exploration and turned to the web.  The list is much, much larger than I expected.  Why I think the list is longer than the days of the month:

  • February 1—National Freedom Day
  • February 2—Ground Hog’s Day. Pancake Day, National Woodchuck Day, and Candlemas—which I did not know and learned it is a Christian holiday recognizing the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the Temple
  • February 3—Halfway Point of Winter (interesting how it is the day after Groundhog Day where we learn whether it is 6 weeks of winter or a month and a half until spring)
  • February 5—Apache Wars Began (1917 in Arizona)
  • February 5—Dwight L. Moody’s birthday
  • February 6—Ronald Reagan’s Birthday
  • February 7—Charles Dickens’  and Laura Ingalls Wilders birthdays
  • February 8—Boy Scouts of America founded in 1910
  • February 9—Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley’s birthday and the day National Weather Service was established in 1870
  • Jell-O Week begins (second full week of the moth)
  • February 10—Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck in Malta, AD 60—not often recognized, but remember this is Paul, first known as Saul
  • February 11—Thomas Edison’s birthday and now National Inventors Day, plus it is also “Make a New Friend Day”
  • February 12—not only Lincoln’s birthday but Kindness Awareness Day
  • February 13—the first magazine, The American Magazine, was published in 1741
  • February 14—St. Valentine’s Day
  • February 15—now Susan B. Anthony Day but is also Galileo’s birthday clear back in 1564
  • February 15—National Engineers Week which included the side note that this is typically assigned as the week that includes George Washington traditional birthday, but sometimes has to be adjusted
  • February 17—analog TV switched to digital format in 2009 by Federal law.
  • February 18—Planet Pluto discovered in 1930
  • February 19–Japanese Internment Anniversary (1942)
  • February 20—Ansel Adam’s birthday (1902)
  • February 21—International Mother Language Day plus was the day that a stream train traveled 10 miles in 1804
  • February 23—Banana Bread Day as well as the beginning of the Alamo siege
  • February 24—Wilhelm Grimm’s birthday (1786), Steve Jobs’ birthday (1955) and my friend Cathy’s
  • February 25—Renoir’s birthday in 1841
  • February 26—Grand Canyon National Park Anniversary
  • February 27—No Brainer Day
  • February 28—John Tenniel’s Birthday (1820), First US Chartered Passenger Railroad Service in 1827, and the DNA Double Helix was discovered in 1953
  • February 29—Leap Year that is not part of the 2013 calendar.

[Accessed on February 2 at http://www.knowledgehouse.info/month_02.html%5D


This list came from an educator’s site in Arizona, so it adds in a few which not other state might add such as the Apache War, still the fullness of the calendar and its events can keep classrooms busy and focused on the worst of winter days.

February may be the shortest month, but it is a transitional month for many of us.  The themes attached to the month typically are connected to human relationships, to the heart of mankind.  Therefore the question is “How is your heart?”

As Christian’s the commandment to love one another is a year round, life long rule of thumb.  Unfortunately, the world has not completely embarrassed that premise and the lack of honest love for one another keeps leading people into painful, hurtful, damaging situations.  Certainly all the violence on the streets and political violence is not driven with the emphasis on random acts of kindness.  Instead, the random acts of violence occur and hearts are damaged.

Where in any of the Ten Commandments is there any mention of acts of revenge, violence, jealousy, or cruelty of any kind.

Exodus 20 1-2 God spoke all these words:

I am God, your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of a life of slavery.

No other gods, only me.

4-6 No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.

No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.

8-11 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.

12 Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.

13 No murder.

14 No adultery.

15 No stealing.

16 No lies about your neighbor.

17 No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.

The Ten Commandments are such simple rules for all of God’s children to follow one would think the heart-throbbing month of February would be a full month of celebration.  But, so many people—historical and present—break these rules causing heart ache rather than heart-felt loving experiences.

As individuals who are committed to living a God-centered life loving one another, February can be a celebration of loving one another.  The Ten Commandments worked for years, but then they also did not work, as the Israelites seemed to clutter up the basic rules with more and more complex rules.  The constant demands and changes lead so many to make heartless decisions.

This brings us to God’s decision to try one more time.  He took the Ten Commandments and made it one, all-inclusive commandment that has the potential for transforming the world.  One super simple rule to live by—love one another.  And for 33 years, God worked through the form of Jesus Christ to make sure that this one law could be used successfully with all people regardless of race, gender, circumstances, nationality, or even personal experience.  Everybody is everybody’s neighbor and that one commandment should be enough.

Where does this bring us today?  Back to February.  One additional entry on the calendar is Lent.  Advent and Lent are the two most celebrated seasons in the Christian year, and Lent begins this month.  What better time to ask. “How is your heart?”

During the week, review the Ten Commandments.  Look closely at your personal history and analyze how well you have managed to keep the Ten Commandments.  How healthy is your heart?  Have you honestly kept no other gods before God?

Now be careful, that is more difficult than you might think because in today’s secular world it is easy to put some interest or object or goal ahead of God.  Isn’t greed one of the very deadliest sins—deadly in that it kills the relationship we have with God.  Greed puts money and possessions into our hearts as a god.  It runs lives into very unhealthy heart conditions.

Continue with your own heart exam.  Look over the other nine commandments and ask yourself:  Have I lived a life that God and others can tell that I follow the commandment?  Maybe there is a time in your life when you did envy a neighbor for one reason or another.  Maybe there has been a part of your life when parents were not honored.  Maybe there was a time when your words damaged another’s reputation that caused a relationship to die.

This is not a simple task.  There is not other way to determine whether your heart is healthy or not.  There is no other way to prepare for a month filled with love in all types of situations, in all types of manners, in all types of circumstances unless you begin with your own heart health.

This week you have time to carry out the analysis while preparing for the Random Acts of Kindness week, which begins February 10.  There is much work to be done if we are to make sure we have healthy hearts not only during February but also for the rest of our lives.  Just consider what a transformation a change of heart can bring to your life and to those around you.   And if a transformation is possible in your corner of the world, multiply that and consider how far healthy hearts really can reach.

God spent 33 years on earth to make sure we got the message.  Shouldn’t we spend one month focusing on our hearts so we can continue loving one another and transforming our world into one that is truly heart healthy.  It takes work, it takes prayer, and it takes a team effort to do all that we can in all the ways that we can for all that we can.

Dear Loving Father,

We face a world filled with such unhealthy hearts

     that we become unhealthy, too.

Guide us as we carefully, honestly examine our hearts

     to find the blockage that keeps our hearts working well.

Reveal to us the truths in our lives that block

     us from loving one another.

Help us to learn better methods, healthier diets

     of scripture, and better means of prayer.

Demonstrate the techniques to keep hearts healthy

      so we, too, can model those behaviors for others.

Thank you for Your infinite love and patience

      as we make changes to love one another more fully.

May we work to improve our hearts with your commandment,

     so others may be transformed by healthy hearts.  –Amen





Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Why Christmas?

given on Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why Christmas?

Scripture reference:  John 3:1-21, CEB

Have you ever wondered why we have Christmas?  Every year we witness the masses go a little insane as soon as the Thanksgiving dinner table is cleaned off.  The crazy push to have the latest toys, the hottest gifts, and the best Black Friday bargain begins.  Why you may not have even had that afternoon nap to sleep off that last bite of pumpkin pie!

Why do we put ourselves into this crazy frenzy when the ultimate gift was given well over 2,000 years ago?  Is it because we received God’s gift of John 3:16:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.   (CEB)

and now we want to demonstrate the significance of that gift by giving ourselves?

Today is that in-between-time when one holiday is over and the next is about to begin.  We have one extra Sunday before Advent begins, but that has not stopped the 21st century masses of Christmas gift shoppers.  The crowds revealed by the news or by personal experience raced out of the Thanksgiving feast right into the Christmas gift-giving season.  No week of down time between the two, only a maddening pace of consumerism.

Still, I found myself slowing down and thinking about why we go through this annual ritual of celebrating Christmas.  Do we understand why we do it?  Do we just follow the masses blindly into the stores?  Do we acknowledge that Christmas is the representation of God’s greatest gift to his children?

Grace is the basis for God’s gift giving, are we doing the same?  If God cared enough for his children that he decided to send the very best, HIS SON, is our 21st century gift giving the same idea—caring enough to send the best?

I struggle with this every year.  You know–wondering if the gift giving is that important or why it has to be so expensive or why should we even do it.  Why has Christmas become so materialistic?  Does our gift giving reflect God’s gift giving?

Remember the purpose of God’s decision to send His Son to walk this earth with the people.  The purpose was not because his children were being so nice, it was because they were being so naughty.           Repeatedly God had sent them warning after warning that the ancient Jews were ignoring his teachings. He had demonstrated all the different methods he could use—plagues of locust, frogs, parting the Red Sea, and the list could go on and on.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of pestilence, and words of caution from messengers and prophets.  And did the people hear the warnings?  Did all the methods seemingly go unnoticed?

God decided to send Jesus Christ rather than destroy everything on earth.  He showed grace.  He sent Jesus, and Jesus patiently grew into the man who demonstrated grace in concrete ways so we, even today, could transform the world.

Grace, as an entry into a dictionary, begins as a noun, an idea from the Greek language meaning “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune.”  [The Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, p. 366]

God’s gift of His Son was intended to do just that—bring delight, joy, happiness, and good fortune—to all the faithful followers.  God saw that the original intent of providing a Garden of Eden to his children so they could simply live in grace had reached such a chaotic mess he had to do something drastic to get everybody back to that original plan.

God loved us.  He offers us that love freely, without any expectations other than to love one another.  That is grace in action—a verb.  Looking through the entry in the Bible dictionary, the concept of grace is traced from the beginning of the time as recorded in the Old Testament, through the apocrypha, and into the New Testament.  Not once does the basic premise change.

Added to the concept of grace is “divine grace” which is at times is referred to as “divine mercy.”  Divine grace is understood simply as God’s presence in the form of Jesus Christ or in the examples of other faithful leaders “who subsequently grow in grace, speaks gracious words, and like a divine man, passes unharmed through a hostile mob.”  This is how the Bible dictionary has analyzed the verses from Luke (Luke 2:40, 52, 4:22 and 30):

Luke 2:  40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.  . . .  52 Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.

Luke 4:  22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”  . . .  30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.

God’s Christmas gift was delivered through the birth of Jesus Christ.  And that gift took almost 30 years to be opened by the very people who received it.  Have you opened your gift?  Have you received God’s grace?  Have you learned how to use the gift?

Maybe the answers lie in why we celebrate Christmas in such a materialistic manner.  Maybe we feel gift giving, holiday parties, and glorious decorations are ways to share grace with others.  Such traditions do “bring delight, joy, happiness, and/or good fortune.”

But are those gifts bringing God’s grace and peace into the recipients of those gifts?  Are those gifts making a difference in people’s lives, transforming them into Christians who will open up their own gifts to “bring delight, joy, happiness, and/or good fortune” to others, too?

God’s gift giving was intended to transform the world.  The world was in disarray, much like our world today could be described.  Greed continues to be a problem.  Greed comes with dollar signs attached, but it also is demonstrated in power struggles, in territorial disputes, and even in materialistic goods.

And greed is just one form of today’s problems.  There are so many more that can be listed:  racism, abusive relationships and behaviors, all forms of social injustices, no value for human life, addictions, and the list just keeps growing.  Does the 21st century need grace?  Certainly.

The New Testament carefully preserves the history of God’s gift giving, and it demonstrates or outlines all the acts that we are to follow in order to transform the world into one that “brings delight, joy, happiness, and good fortune” to all who follow Jesus.  Has that first Christmas gift worked?

Maybe that is another reason we have Christmas:  to try once more to give gifts that will create grace in the lives of others.  Maybe our Advent season is like the introduction to an operator’s manual.  We need this season to refocus our lives around God.  We need to look at the gifts God has given to us personally and then look at how well we have used them to give grace to others.

The insanity of gift giving today has developed as we wandered away from the very foundation of Christmas.  We are given grace by God each and every day, but are friends, strangers, or ourselves able to give grace to others whether family or not?

This Advent season, stop and review the gifts in your life that bring you delight, joy, happiness and/or good fortune.  The gift of Advent may be the gift of renewal, reaffirmation, or resolve to accept God’s gift of His Son as he tries to transform the world into a grace-filled Garden of Eden.  We, as his followers, are to accept the gift, and then learn how to use it to provide grace and peace to others.  Such gift giving will surely transform the world into one filled with delight, joy, happiness and good fortune.

Why Christmas?  Why not Christmas!  Each year we need to renew the story so we never forget.  Each year we need to open up the gift of God’s grace and figure out how to give the same gift to others.  That is why we have Christmas.

Holy Father, giver of gifts,

Prepare us for Christmas once again.

Guide us in our own gift giving

as we try to follow your example.

Use this Advent season to share the story

of Your greatest gift, Your only Son.

Help us open your gift so others may receive

the grace and peace given to them.

Teach us how to give your gift to others

so they too may be transformed.  –Amen


Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

The Big Evangelism: With whom do we share the good news?

given on Sunday, March 11, 2012–the third in a series

         Let’s review the last two weeks before starting in on today’s thoughts.  Two weeks ago, the idea of evangelism was introduced.  The point was to remove the negative emotions that are conjured up when that word is heard.  The Big E of evangelism really is not that difficult but is really the Big Easy.

         Of course it is not easy to evangelize if we do not know how to talk about it.  Therefore last week the emphasis was to understand what the good news is that Jesus told use to share with others.  Evangelism is the gospel, the gospel is the good news, and the good news is John 3:16—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)

Unfortunately that still is an abstract idea rather than something concrete.  Each one of us might interpret this differently, but the closest words I can find include descriptions of experiences that create emotions filled with love.  The test, I believe, is when someone makes a comment like “it certainly does not take much to make you happy” about how I live my life.  The kingdom of heaven or of God is that state in which we experience a sense of awe, joy, blessing and/or peace in our life. 

         The definition and the understanding of the kingdom of heaven and/or God are for continual discussion.  This makes Bible study and discussion important even critical in order to follow the Great Commission each of us is tasked to do.  But study is ongoing, and the next question is to ask with whom are we to share the good news, today’s topic.

Preparation for the sermon today was triggered by a little bit of humor that showed up at home this week.  The paper is titled, “You might be in a country church if . . . “  Needless to say the chuckles are also somewhat nervous chuckles:

You might be in a country church if . . .

  • the call to worship is “Y’all come on in!”
  • people wonder when Jesus fed the 5,000 whether the two fish were bass or catfish.
  • opening day of deer season is a church holiday.
  • four generations of one family sit together in worship every Sunday.
  • the only time people lock their cars in the parking lot is during summer so their neighbors can’t leave them a bag of squash.
  • there’s no such thing as a “secret” sin.
  • you miss worship in the morning and by 2 pm you have had a dozen calls inquiring about your health.

Redneck humor certainly can lighten up a serious topic like small country churches, but underlying all humor is truth.  The truth for us today is whether or not we can honestly identify who our neighbors are.  We drive right past their houses.  We stand in line at the store with them.  We work beside them in the field, in the businesses, or in community projects.

Right now, stop and mentally name—or write them down on the bulletin—who lives between your house and the church.  You passed them this morning and you may have even noticed whether or not the cars were in the drives.  Do you know what church they attend—or do they even attend?  Have you spoken to them within the last week?  Have you ever invited them to come to church with you?

Undoubtedly the answers to these questions can be uncomfortable or maybe they are not.  If you are answering these questions positively, then congratulations you are evangelizing.  If you answer these questions and are a bit uncomfortable, maybe now it will not seem so fearful to ask others to join you in church.

Still, the people living between here and your homes are not the only ones to consider reaching.  We know from the scripture we discussed in the first week’s sermon, Matthew 25:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’   (MSG)

These descriptors seem so logical and they stand out when we live in a close-knit community, but do we reach out to all of them or to just a random one or two a year.  That is the problem.

We all know which people are unchurched in our own community.  We can drive into the parking lot and see who is here, but we also can see who is not here.  Have you ever considered that targeted prayer might make a difference?  Maybe prayers can include the names of people we want to see not only parked in the lot, but sitting in the pews.

The challenge of making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world is not easy, but we can train ourselves how to do it.  We can learn to see those who are unchurched, those who keep busy calendars and rest on Sunday, those who believe but don’t worship or study, those who would do anything for others in need and yet stay home on Sunday morning or take off for a day of recreation.

The Big Evangelism always sounds more difficult than it needs to be, but even the simple steps have to be carefully planned, prepared, and carried out.  The task ahead for each of us is to find the way to use our natural talents to fulfill the Great Commission.  To accomplish this task, we need to make a personal commitment, but also a corporate commitment.

We need to keep a positive attitude, pray, and study as we take our own understanding of the heaven/reign of God and find out how best to share it with others.  We need to act so that the needs of others are met.  We need to find energy from serving rather than dissatisfaction from not doing.

This may be one small, quick statement about who we are to share the good news, but we need some discussion time.  The work started when the fair revenue was earmarked for an emergency need fund.  The work continues as the teapot money is targeted for special giving.  The work continues each year the apportionments are met, but . . . and this is big . . . what is our next effort going to be.

As we meet for our monthly meals, let’s talk.  Let’s brainstorm some ideas that we might like to try.  Let’s open our eyes and see our community through God’s eyes.  Let’s pray for concrete answers.

Dear Holy Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

We hear a word, evangelism, and we begin to tremble.

We look around our sanctuary, and we sigh at the empty seats.

We drive down the road, and we notice who are not churched.

Though we are small in numbers, our hearts are ever growing.

Though we are in church, we still have no solutions.

Though we have dreams, we need to take action.

Guide us, God, to work together and to reach out to others.

Guide us, Jesus, to teach, to preach, and to heal as you did.

Guide us, Holy Spirit, to become energized and to step out in faith.

Today we begin the conversation about how to evangelize without fear.


Leave a comment

Filed under Religion