Tag Archives: love one another

From chaos to order at the Lord’s table

Sermon given on Sunday, October 1, 2017 and includes communion as part of World Communion Day.

Scripture connections:

Philippians 1:2,6

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

. . .  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

Philippians 1:27-30; 2:2-4, 12-13

1: 27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

 

2: Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

     Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

. . . 12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

 

Philippians 4:4-6, 8-9 & 13

4: Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.[c]

     Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

. . . And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

. . . 13 For I can do everything through Christ,[d] who gives me strength.

 

Reflection: From chaos . . .

This week has been tough. How does one go from such a high as a baptism service, then experience utter chaos and then wake up to a new day? Prayer.   The only answer is prayer and turning to scripture.

Today the Christian world joins in the oldest sacrament of discipleship there is—Communion, Eucharist, or as listed in our denomination’s hymnal, A Service of Word and Table. The entire Christian community is sitting down at the table, speaking figuratively, and hearing the same words in their native languages and tasting the bread and the wine or juice as is customary in their local community.

Last week is over and the new week is ahead.

At no other time is sharing in the word and the table more critical than it is today. The crisis in our own church family is just a miniscule issue in comparison to the myriad of crises that span our state, our country, our hemisphere, and our world. Still the pain of any crisis is real and the answers seem evasive. Where does one turn to find answers, to find solace, to find purpose?

This week my crises lead me to serious reflection, prayer, discussion and scripture. My days seemed flat, so to speak, but I still go to bed, still wake up, and still continue the routines I have established, even rely on, whenever chaos clutters up my life.

Yes I cried. I yelled. I whined. I cried some more. Then I found quiet, and the world slowed down a bit. My mind cleared and I prayed. Remember, in baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and God is within us. I had to clear my head and find quiet in order to hear God through the Holy Spirit.

Returning to my personal practice of reading the lectionary in preparation for the Monday morning discussion group, I heard God speaking. I realized that the work over these past few months of reading Paul’s letters and discerning or seeking God’s advice through those letters was just as important if not more important this week than in the past weeks.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians provides me and us words to restart church or to use in reassessing this faith community through scripture and prayer. The chaos of one Sunday is simply a symptom of an illness that lingers for years. In the first two chapters of Philippians, Paul provides the prescription for a healthy, or at least healthier, congregation.

Remember, Paul is in prison and is visited by the congregation’s leader. He hears what is going on from this messenger and writes the letter in praise, not only for sending him a care package as we might call it today but also for the success of the congregation:

“. . . for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work. . . (Philippians 1:3)

Hearing these words this week causes me pain. Reading Paul’s message of praise to the Philippian church forces me to evaluate the work of our church: Can we honestly say that we are spreading the Good News about Christ?

God calls each one of us to share the message that God loves us, in fact God loves us so much that he joined us on this earth as Jesus, a child born of a man and a woman just like any one of us, a child that had to go through all the same physical development stages as we did, and a child raised in the faith of his human family like so many of us. We share the human experience with God through Jesus Christ.

Paul’s experience was no different, and he was raised as a Jew just like Jesus was, too. The difference was that Paul did not “hear” the good news. Instead, he persecuted those who did hear Jesus’ message of loving one another and disregarding the Old Law of Moses.

Last week baptism reminded us that loving one another is God’s law. Last week we reaffirmed our own baptism through the words of the liturgy that is used in our churches around this world. Today we share in the word and the cup in union with Christians around the globe. Our personal lives may be filled with chaos, but we return to scripture, to the table, and to prayer in order to be in communion with God.

Let us enter into an attitude of prayer as we join God and the host of the faithful who have been, are and will be ever part of the Christian family:

[UMH p. 6 for “A Service of Word and Table I]

Returning to the reflection. . . to order . . .

During the week, I have read and re-read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. When I first began the journey as a pastor, I found myself relying on the Philippians verse 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

For several years I had enjoyed the Mitford Collection, a series of books about an Episcopal priest, Father Tim. His verse was Philippians 4:13 and as I read through the series and thought about my own life, I discovered myself holding on to that same verse. That was my guiding principle I used on the bulletin that first year. This week while sorting out the chaos, there was the verse again.

Paul’s letter primarily was a compliment to the church, but the lessons he shares help pull me out of a sense of chaos to a sense of order. In the first chapter, I hear the purpose and the outcome of being a Christian:

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. (Philippians 1:10-11)

Reading on, the message seemed earmarked for me:

  • . . . everything that has happened to me here has helped spread the Good News. . . .
  • . . . preach about Christ with pure motives.
  • . . . the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.
  • . . . as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.
  • . . .fully expect and hop that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bod for Christ. . .
  • . . . trust that my life will bring honor to Christ. . .
  • . . . living means living for Christ. . .

And then, in verse 25 is the overall goal of life as a pastor:

  • . . . [to] continue to help all of your grow and experience the joy of your faith.

Last Sunday was a high, the baptism of young people, but the chaos that followed the service crashed my world. I can apologize for the human weakness I exhibited, but it has caused triggered a week of self-reflection and re-ordering of my life. The work is tough, but Paul’s letter provides the guidance God wants each of us to follow:

[Insert the scriptures: Philippians 1;27-30; 2:2-4, 12-13]

[UMH p. 8: The Service of Table and Word I]

  • Confession and Pardon

 

Reflecting continues . . . at God’s table

            The passing of time in God’s world does not match the sense of time we experience in our daily lives. The chaos of a week ago is gone. The week of reordering our lives is over, now, too.

Today, we join the world community of Christians at the table. At the table, there is promise. At the table, we are in union with God through the gift of his son Jesus Christ. From chaos to order all at God’s table. All!

An act of thanksgiving:

  • Offering (with offertory)
  • *Doxology UMH 95
  • *Prayer of thanksgiving:

                                    Dear Loving Father:

                                         Please accept these gifts

                                       as thanks for your grace.

                                         for our salvation through Jesus Christ,

                                         and the promise of life eternal.

                                         May we work together

                                         to serve as your disciples

                                        so others may experience your love. –Amen

 

UMH p. 9-10: The Service of Table and Word I

  • Thanksgiving and Communion
  • Breaking the Bread
  • Giving the Bread and Cup

 

Closing Philippians 4:4-6, 8-9 & 13

 

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Managing Faith’s Freedom

Sermon given on Sunday, September 10, 2017

Scripture foundation:

Opening: Galatians 5:1

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. 

Sermon: Galatians 5:4-6, 22-26

But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. . . .

. . . 22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

 Closing: Galatians 5:6b, 10a, 13b & 16a

. . . What is important is faith expressing itself in love.

. . . I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings.

. . . Use your freedom to serve one another in love.

. . . let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.

 

Reflection: Managing Faith’s Freedom

Do you know what it feels like when you suddenly have a change of plans and you are free from prior obligations? All too often, we get so busy managing our hectic lives, that we are slaves to our calendar. Then, all of the sudden something gets canceled and you are free—at least for the day.

Oddly enough, that unplanned free day causes me problems. In a sense, I am lost. I have no idea how to relax or how to add in a chore needing to be finished that had been put off too long. The sudden release from the obligation causes me to be careless in managing my time.

I cannot help but wonder if that was similar to how the Jewish Galatians felt when suddenly the Old Law of Moses did not apply to their lives. All their lives they were held to the stringent law that the religious leaders administered.

Every little step in their lives was dictated; they were slaves to the law. Paul heard that the old religious traditions were still being required, even of the Gentiles. His letter is scolding the leaders that no longer are the old Jewish laws necessary. As Christians, Jesus Christ freed them from the Old Law and no longer required the Jewish traditions, even of circumcision.

Reading Galatians is difficult for us today. The Old Jewish traditions and laws no longer apply, and the thousands of years since then have distanced us from the legalistic style of religion practiced by the ancient Jewish people. We may not really understand the stress the Jewish Christians were placing on the Gentiles now following Jesus Christ.

Therefore, back to the calendar. Looking at a busy week, the daily chores have to be managed—meals, laundry, cleaning, etc. Yet the calendar shows appointments, meetings and events making for a busy week.

Then suddenly, a meeting is canceled or the doctor’s office calls and asks to reschedule. The calendar abruptly changes and you are free! What happens with that slot of time now?

The sudden opening in one’s schedule can cause one to ‘lollygag,’ so to speak. You know what I mean, waste time. I do not quickly reassign that time to some other task that needs to be done or schedule something else.

The freedom that I sense can lure me into wasting the time I just got back. I can fail to be productive. I can ignore my responsibilities. I become frozen and unable to get anything done.

Paul warned the Galatians that the freedom from the law did not give them the freedom to do whatever they wanted. He warned them of how easy it is to be lured into sin. The list is given in Galatians 5:19-21:

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

The list is specific, but it also is not the only list of sinful behaviors. We could easily add more. Being a sloth, for instance, could be listed, which means lazy and/or unproductive.

Using every argument Paul could, he repeatedly told the Galatian Christians that faith in God through belief in Jesus Christ releases us from the old law. We are free to live as Christians following the one commandment: love one another. Paul states this in Galatians 5:13-14:

13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

One law supersedes all others. One law provides the direction for all Christians to follow Jesus Christ. And with because we accept that Jesus Christ died for our sins, we receive the Holy Spirit. Paul goes on to tell the Galatians (in 5:22-23) what they receive when they accept Jesus Christ:

22 . . . the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

Our church may not be struggling with the Old Law of Moses, but we need to make sure that we do follow God’s one law that Jesus Christ taught us. We are not the Pharisees wanting to do things the way we always have done them.

We may think we are beyond those outdated behaviors, but as we review how our church is carrying out God’s great commission, we need ask here Paul’s message to the Galatians. Are we managing the freedom our faith provides? Are we truly following the Holy Spirits guidance?

As a church, our calendar is open right now. We need to listen to Paul’s words to the early churches and find how to follow his advice today. We cannot hold on to the past because change happens. We must listen to the Holy Spirit to love one another as we want to be loved. God will lead us forward if we listen carefully and we learn to manage the freedom from the old ways.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

We read Paul’s words to the early churches

And struggle to learn what he tells us today.

Open our ears so we may hear you speak

Through the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

Open our eyes to see the old ways that may not work

And that only one law never fails: Love one another.

Open our minds to the discover new ways we can serve

With the freedom that comes from loving one another.

Open our hearts to welcome the 21st century Gentiles

Who do not know the old ways and struggle to learn the new.

Open our doors to those who hear the Good News

And want to be in relationship with You and your faithful.

Let Paul speak to us today in ways we can understand

So we may continue to make disciples of Christ

For the transformation of the world.      –Amen.

 

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Paul tells the Ephesians all are one in Christ; same message today

given on Sunday, February 5, 2017  (This will be the first of four in a series based on Ephesians.)

 

Scripture connections: Ephesians 2:11-22, 4:1-16 (NLT)

Oneness and Peace in Christ

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

A Temple for the Lord

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 4:1-16 (NLT)

Unity in the Body

4 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all, and living through all.

However, he has given each one of us a special gift[a] through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say,

“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]

Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world.[c] 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Reflection:

 

“Life isn’t fair.” Just three words, but how many times have we heard that or even used them as we listen to someone talk about how tough things are. I certainly do not like hearing them thrown at me. In fact I dislike them so much that I try very hard never to use them, especially if someone is telling me how difficult life is for them.

How, then, does a person listen to a friend or a family member when they are complaining or whining about how tough life is for them? For me, I listen, but then I hear God. From the pages of Genesis right through to Revelations, God listens to the complaints of even the most faithful; but he never tells them life isn’t fair, instead he challenges them to love one another.

Granted that is an oversimplification of God’s instructions, but here it is February and our society is flooded with images of hearts, flowers, candy, and love. Just do a search on special events for the month, weeks, and days in February. Suddenly this short month is crowded with reasons to demonstrate love or at least pay attention to life challenges, different groups or organizations, even sweet potatoes—yes, February is Sweet Potato Month, along with November.

Life may seem terribly unfair, but God puts us into a powerful role when he authorized us to love one another, as we want to be loved. Currently our society is bristling over decisions that appear to pit those who have versus those who have not. Forgotten is the fact that the system that placed us in this dilemma is designed to be fair and equitable. If today’s Christians dropped all the whining and complaining and listened to God, I am convinced that the negatives would be smothered by the positives.

God created a world wanting a relationship with us. He did not create a world that was purposefully filled with conflict; we created the conflict. In Ephesians, Paul tells the congregation in Ephesus that living a God-centered life is key to a healthy relationship with God, true; so using the same approach to all relationships can remove the life-isn’t-fair mindset. Living a God-centered life is exactly what our society wants if February’s labels are any clue.

Today our society seems to be screaming, “life isn’t fair” as one decision is made after another. Our culture may compare closely to the one in ancient Ephesus. The city was a leading center of trade. The influences that created it’s profile came from all corners of the world as ships docked in the port and trade routes went inward to land-locked regions. Paul spent three years in Ephesus working to establish the church soundly as a Christian community in the midst of the diverse culture.

Paul’s letter, written while imprisoned, served as a love letter to the congregation. Filled with good wishes, the letter also provides advice how to love on another whether in one’s own home or whether at work or just in the community. Life might not seem fair, but following God’s commandment gives Christians no excuse for complaining. Rather, Christians are challenged to act. The ancient Biblical literature works just as well today.

The complex culture in which we live today developed just like it did in Ephesus.   People all over the world chose to come to North America to establish homes and businesses. The United States evolved from those Atlantic communities, and the history books are full of the challenges. The history is really no different than the history of the ancient world shared in the Bible. Therefore, Paul’s letter is just as appropriate for us in our community this February 2017.

Paul tells us, as he did the Ephesians, that no matter whether you were Jewish or Gentile—a believer or a non-believer—once you accept Jesus as your savior, you are all equal. No matter what your physical makeup, financial status or cultural heritage, as a Christian we are all one. Life is fair when we acknowledge that we are all one in Christ:

12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

Knowing that each one of us sitting in this sanctuary today believes in Christ’s salvation makes us equal. And when we look past our differences and work together as one, the power of the Holy Spirit takes over.

Paul tells the Ephesians how the Holy Spirit works through the church that is unified as one in Christ:

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Each Christian has gifts that God uses. Our task is to stay focused on God’s commandment to love one another right now in February 2017, the heart month, to build relationships that are God-centered.

Invite others, who still see life as unfair, to know God as we know God. We know God through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We know God because we know Jesus as his son sent to take our sins away. We know God because he baptized us with the Holy Spirit that powers our ability to love one another, as we want to be loved.

Life may not be fair, but when we accept God into our life and live by his commandment; life is good. Looking at our lives as God looks at our lives, we see the positives and find ways to manage the negatives. This February we open our hearts to God with thanksgiving, but we also open our hearts to those still hurting. Share God’s love so more and more can become one in Christ.

Paul was a prisoner and he had every reason in the world to say life was not fair, but he did not. He chose to continue using all his gifts to share God’s message of love to all he could:

  • He left a powerful position as a Jew to preach to the Gentiles. He saw no difference between the believers and the non-believers; he saw they were all one in God’s eyes.
  • He left his old life and literally stepped out on a new path that led him around the Mediterranean coast, stopping in communities, working, and sharing the good news—God loved them so much that he gave his only son so that their sins were forgiven and they could have eternal life.
  • He was forced to even leave his mission travels because legal authorities confined him, but he still shared the message that all are one in Christ.

And today, Paul’s letters continue to guide us in living as one in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians reminds us even today that life may not be fair, but living as one in Christ makes a difference in the quality of our lives.

Paul gave us a Valentine’s letter that guides us, encourages us, and fills our hearts with love. This February we will celebrate the love of God and review the lessons that Paul shared with the Ephesians. Tough times take some tough words; and God shares them with us to strengthen us and to show us that life is good when filled with God’s love.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

 

Thank you for loving us so much

That you sent your son Jesus Christ

To teach us how to love one another

And to save us from a life that is not fair.

 

Thank you for your missionary Paul

Who learned that all are one in Christ

And stepped out to share the Word

Even when life was not fair to him.

 

Thank you for the gifts of the Holy Spirit

That equip us with gifts we need

To love one another in our lives

Doing what we can to make life fair.

 

Guide us in our lives today and tomorrow

To demonstrate love for one another;

To share your love in as many ways we can

So others learn that love erases differences. –Amen.

 

 

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Thanking God for God’s Giving

Sermon for Sunday, November 20, 2016.  (No sermon was published for last week as it was a vacation Sunday.)

Opening scripture: Philippians 4:1, NLT

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters,[a] stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.

Scripture connection: Philippians 4:2-7, NLT

     2 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner,[b] to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.

     4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.[c]

     6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

*Closing scripture: Philippians 4:8-9, NLT

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

 

Reflection: Thanking God for God’s Giving

 

“Thanks for giving” is the commercial’s message. Young children sharing that simple thank you has captured my heart yet I cannot even tell you what the business is that runs the commercial. “Thanks for giving” is part of the Christian lifestyle.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is filled with guidelines for living the God-centered lifestyle. He challenged the members to put aside their differences and to work on maintaining Christ-like relationships in order to remain thankful for all the blessings God provides.

These reminders are as appropriate today as they were when the Philippian church struggled to establish itself and to maintain the very values that Jesus Christ modeled and Paul taught. We must ask ourselves to consider the very same problem: Are we allowing problems with personal relationships to interfere with the work Jesus commissioned us?

This week is filled with traditions, and filled with thanks for all the blessings we have received. The holiday traditions bring families together, provide opportunities to renew memories, and of course, fill our tummies with all those carefully prepared meals that families have cooked for generations. Thanksgiving is designed to thank God for all that has been given to us.

Yet in the midst of all the holiday business, do we offer thanks for the giving? Do we follow Paul’s advice to put aside disagreements, to resolve relationship issues, and to refocus on the joy of God’s giving to us? Are we thanking God for all we have been given?

Paul had heard of the problems between two women who were devoted workers for the church, and he admonished them and the others in the church to resolve the problems in order to keep the church centered on its responsibility to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s words are as applicable today as it was 2,000 years ago. The internal relationships within the church can interfere with the work of the church. Thanksgiving in our church should be a time to thank each other for the blessings that they provide through service to our community—locally and globally. Thanksgiving is part of our Christian lifestyle:

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

 

Right now, right here, we must ask ourselves if we are maintaining the very Christ-like relationships that Paul tells the Philippians to do in order to be the Christians God asks us to be. Are we serving as God’s agents? Are we willing to accept one another with grace as God accepts us? Are we able to do whatever we can to serve one another in love? Are we sharing the good news with others?

Part of the Thanksgiving tradition is acknowledging the blessings that we experience. For some, the meal begins with a blessing that thanks God for all that he has provided. The families do give thanks for giving. In some homes, the thanks for God’s blessing are silent.

The commercial’s message, “Thanks for giving,” is a reminder that we are called to share God’s grace with others. Paul even goes on to remind the Philippian church to pray:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

 

This Thanksgiving we are called to thank God for the blessings given us. This Thanksgiving we need to pray that the unity of our own church is healed and the work God asks of us is renewed.

Tuesday will mark the 53rd anniversary since the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Every Thanksgiving reminds us of how this country handles challenges, and JFK’s words are ones to guide us as Americans, but also as Christians:

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

 

Paul’s words continue to teach us how to live lives that model Jesus Christ. The words “Love one another” is how we give thanks for all the blessings we receive. There is no reason to close minds or doors to one another. Closing minds and doors results in hardening hearts.

Return to Paul’s words to remember how to experience the joy of giving blessings to others. Pray. Pray for the church. Pray for the community, the country, and the world. Pray that we can do all we can in our community to see that God’s love blesses all, not just a select few. Pray that Advent will bring a sense of joy and renewal as we share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to review our blessings, and it is the perfect time to review just what each one of us does:   sharing the story of how God blessed us with the birth of Jesus Christ so that we may do all that we can do to bless others with God’s grace.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and giving God,

Thank you for loving us so much that you sent Jesus Christ

who showed us how to love one another

who had to suffer ridicule, harassment, and death

so we may might receive the ultimate gift of life everlasting.

 

Thank you for your grace granted without expectations.

Thank you for the gift of forgiveness when we ask.

Thank you for the freedom that comes with loving one another.

 

This holiday weekend, open our hearts and minds

to how we can provide blessings of your love

to others so they can experience the joy of Christian living.

 

Thank you for the community that we call home.

Thank you for the families that join us at the table.

Thank you for the blessings we experience daily.

 

We pray for the healing of relationships.

We pray for the healing of bodies broken with illness.

We pray for the healing of communities worldwide.

 

Thank you, God, for giving

us your Son, Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit.

May we serve one another in love

as thanks for your gifts. –Amen

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Mission Rebounds: The Old Testament scorebook

given on Sunday, February 28, 2016

Scripture connection: Isaiah 55, NLT

Invitation to the Lord’s Salvation

55 “Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.
See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.
    I made him a leader among the nations.
You also will command nations you do not know,
    and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,
because I, the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
12 You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
13 Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”

 

Basketball season is wrapping up and it is almost time for the big college playoffs commonly referred to as The Final Four. Locally the game keeps everybody on pins and needles, too. What is it that makes competition so entertaining! Adrenalin surges when there is a foul or the opponents score. The heart beats hard and the crowd comes alive when the home team rebounds adding points to the team’s score.

Lent is a season of reflection much like when a season ends and it is time to review the team’s performance. The Christian team uses Lent to carefully analyze how well we carry out the mission God has given us: to love one another. If we follow God’s game plan, the result will be the transformation of not only our lives, but the world’s. God’s mission will rebound returning to the Garden of Eden He created.

In order for God’s mission to rebound, Christians must reflect on our individual performance as well as evaluate the team’s performance. This can be rewarding but it also is painful. Lent is the time for such analysis.

Every team does this. Each player must review his or hers own performance, the coach must review the overall function of the team plus his or hers own coaching skills. Then the team comes together for reflection and creates an improved game plan. The mission, God’s mission must rebound.

Right now the video of the world seen daily in the news broadcasts might seem like God’s scorebook filled with losses. Lent is God’s annual video replay. The game plan began with God choosing the team, the ancient tribes of Israel. The playbook opens with the Law now preserved in the first five books of the Old Testament.

Today we know that the Old Testament story is filled with mistakes of the people. The leaders of Israel made mistakes much like coaches who fail to develop a winning team. There is no doubt that the Law of Moses was simple: just 10 rules to follow and none of them complicated. Unfortunately, God’s opponent Satan was uncannily good at convincing humans to make mistakes.

Still, the dismal record of failure also includes opportunities God provided to repent, to make right some wrongs, and to be forgiven. Even when leaders made terrible mistakes breaking the God’s law, God did not give up on his team. Wrongs were righted. God forgave them. They were redeemed.

But look at what else is included in the Old Testament. Not only is the Law provided, illustrated with stories, but also the prayer book. The book of Psalms includes the prayers, hymns and liturgy that we use even today. The prayers reflect the full spectrum of human emotions. Some psalms praise and some cry out, but one thread ties all of them together—God’s love wins; the mission rebounds.

The psalms are the cheers and rants of the crowds. In sports, cheerleaders lead fans to spur the team to put out that extra energy to rebound and make a change in the team’s performance.

Certainly there are times when the cheers fail, but the cheerleaders, the coach, and the team work together to rebound. The psalms are tools that help the faithful continue the mission. God sees; God hears; and God loves. He responds, too, when he hears the cheer “Two. Four. Six. Eight. Who do we appreciate!” The psalms respond, “GOD!”

The Old Testament helps teach men and women how to live a God-centered life. God-centered living affects every facet of life, and reading Proverbs, we find how the wise sayings can guide the faithful to continue God’s work. The scriptures are God’s instruction manuals   including the library of videos to review.

Sadly, as we know in our own lives, humanity has repeated mistakes. It is a pattern we try to stop, but the world throws so many temptations at us that we become distracted from God and we make mistakes again. In reading through the verses of Isaiah, we are told:

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

 

Every time we err, God knows and he is always ready to forgive. The reflective time of Lent gives us that opportunity to honestly evaluate how well we are following God’s mission. The words of Isaiah assure us that God knows and listens for our awareness and confession so that he can forgive us.

The Old Testament records how the faithful succeeded and how they failed to maintain God’s mission. The different stories march God’s story through time. The story does not change even though the culture changes, education changes, political leaders change, commerce changes, and even the climate changes.

Prophets tried to warn the generations that failure to keep God’s mission would lead to destruction. Some prophets, of whom Isaiah is one, spoke openly about how God loves us and forgives us. But forgiveness comes only when one is honestly aware of what they have done wrong. Isaiah’s verses in chapter 55 speak to us yet today:

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.

 

Are you reading the scriptures? Are you reviewing the video of your life right now? Are you doing your best to stay God-centered?

In the lectionary’s commentary, the only way God’s mission rebounds is if. . .

. . . [we] name our sins and repent of them so that we might have life. . . . Pay attention to the way sin has us in its grip. To truly repent, we need an awareness of what we’ve done—and not done—that’s led us into this waterless land. Repentance reorients us toward God’s love and mercy, where we find sustenance and rest.

 

This is the same thinking a coach has as he reviews the game’s video and enters the next practice. He then offers guidance or advice as to how the player improves. And with each rebound, the mission to win the game becomes one play closer to reality.

Certainly honest reflection and corrective action is necessary and often painful, but the outcome is winning eternal life with God. The commentary shared Augustine’s thoughts about our restless desire to win:

. . . [God] understands our restlessness to be a result of our sin; we are restless because of our repeated attempts to take refuge in something other than God.   When we mistake any other good thing—whether it be love of another person, food, money, material possessions, sex, you name it—for the Ultimate God, Augustine argued, our hearts remain restless, unsettled.

 

God is our coach and he has assistants that are recorded in the Old Testament as prophets. In the New Testament, the story continues with the Apostles teaching God’s commandment to love one another.

God’s mission depends on our rebounding from our sin to follow his commandments. The coaches in our lives are God’s co-workers who can review the video and guide us to improve. Read the scripture from Genesis through Revelation to know the story and to learn how God’s mission is our mission, too. We are responsible for God’s mission to rebound.

Closing Prayer

Dear God,

Each day I read your word,

See your world,

And meet your children.

I am reminded of your love.

 

As we reflect on our lives,

Help us see our actions honestly.

Help us listen to our coaches,

And help us name our errors.

Then accept our pleas for repentance.

 

As we rebound and recommit to your mission

To transform the world by loving one another,

Coach us to improve living a God-centered life

So we can score redemption leading to life eternal

Beside you and your son Jesus Christ. –Amen

 

 

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Angels of Love: Tough love when tough to love

given on Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2015

Scripture references:

  • Philippians 1:3-11
  • Genesis 32:1-12
  • Luke 22:14-20

 

Reflection:

 

In the midst of the holiday season, even in the middle of a holiday party, violence erupted. The shooting in San Bernardino, California, shattered the holiday spirit of the nation. The nightmare reaches each and every one of us in a different manner, and it is tough to love.

Consider the angels who are God’s messengers. Can you even imagine what God sent them to do in the midst of the carnage? Can we even consider what the angels are telling us? Why, here it is Advent, can we even consider how to love one another after learning of the massacre half way across this nation?

God spent millenniums using the principle of tough love. He loved all his people and tried repeatedly to guide them to live life loving one another. When a mistake was made, consequences occurred. Tough love is tough to do, yet throughout the Old Testament, story after story shows how much God loved his people. Yet, the mistakes people make had to be addressed with tough love from God.

Where were the angels? The angels were delivering the warnings and the consequences. The Old Testament has angels involved in different ways, but love and forgiveness are part of the messages they delivered.

Even today, in the aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting, Sandy Hook shooting a few years ago, and even 9-11, angels share messages with us, too. We are neither ignored nor exempt from our Christian roles. The messages angels have delivered in the past are still needed today, December 6, 2015.

In fact, messages of loving one another constantly are sent to us via the Holy Spirit, the scriptures we read, and the messages we hear from our real-life angels in our personal world. Why, then, is it tough to love?

Looking through the Bible verses in which angels are part of the story, angels carry messages from God do provide guidance and hope. The earliest story with angels is found in Genesis 32: “Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God?”

Jacob was in a tough situation and was frightened about meeting his brother Esua. Stealing Esua’s birthright, Jacob knew his life was at risk since Esua had threatened to kill him. The angel of the Lord supported the decision to face with encouragement in verse 12 : “I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.”

One study note explains how this tough situation continues to apply in many tough situations in our life:

“Now [Jacob] was about to meet this brother for the first time in 20 years, and he was frantic with fear. He collected his thoughts, however, and decided to pray. When we face a difficult conflict, we can run about frantically or we can pause to pray. Which approach will be more effective?

 

The Old Testament demonstrates how ‘tough love’ works. Today, we use that term or philosophy for techniques that draw clear boundaries for behaviors and consequences. The theory can make dramatic changes in the life of young people who make negative choices risking their own lives or even their families’ and friends’. Tough love is hard work.

Today, angels do exist. Sometimes they are not identifiable or do not appear as the Biblical-style angel; sometimes they are the people who influence our own lives. Angels can be the very closest individuals in our life who practice tough love when we make poor decisions.

The book, What Does the Bible Say About . . ., makes this statement:

. . . it is much harder to do the tough work of living it (love). Love as God intended it is more than just passion, romantic feelings, or sentimental expressions. It involves commitment, sacrifice, and service–the kind of things that benefit both the giver and the receiver.

 

When loving is tough, use tough love.

Right now society worldwide is struggling to understand the mindset of the radicals that carry out vile acts against humanity. We need angels who can guide us in using tough love not only with our own behaviors but in managing the behaviors,

Consider the first responders to the scenes of violence or even accidents. They are humans but they are angels. When the journalists were interviewing Lt. Madden in San Bernardino, he used love to carry him through the experience.

His role was to find the shooters, and being the first to see the result of the massacre, he had to race on. As much as he wanted to stop and care for the dead and the injured, he had to locate the shooter(s) in order for the nightmare to end. He certainly assumed the role of angel to the victims.

In that moment, the Lieutenant was forced to make a tough decision. But at the same time, the love that flowed from one victim to the next was as real as the blood that drained from the wounds. Those who could helped those who needed it. Angels shared God’s love with each human touch, with each word of solace, and with each action to help one another.

In a world filled with trials and tribulations, each time one provides an outpouring of love for another, God’s love moves into action. Angels serve as God’s messenger; and in tough times, using love to serve creates real-life angels. The news may tell the story, but in each story there are angels demonstrating God’s compassion for his children. Even when the news reports violence half way across a nation, we can identify real life angels teaching us how to use love, even tough love, to provide love for one another.

God sent angels and shared messages through a variety of ways such as scripture, prophets, and actions to teach us how to love one another.   Yet, when the people failed to hear the message, he made one more move to save his children. God sent his angels to tell of the coming Messiah. Did the people hear the message?

The three years that Jesus lived out his role as the Messiah, he selected the apostles, he trained them, he healed the sick, he loved each person and he showed us just how to love one another. The apostles walked beside him, they ate with him, and at the last supper, Jesus shared a final meal.

Angels announced the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus, cousins. They lifted their voices heralding the baby Jesus’ birth so that all knew of the miracle. Those who heard and saw the angels made the journey to Bethlehem. The message had been fulfilled. The shepherds and the Wise Men went to the manger to see for themselves.

The angels’ messages included in the scriptures can be just as much a message to us today as it was to the apostles during Jesus’ time. And today we will join in sharing the bread and the cup in unity with the apostles and generations that have passed. Have we heard the message? Have we done whatever we can do to share God’s love?

The vile events of this week is a reminder that God loved us so much that he sent us his son who died for us so that we may have eternal life. Maybe you have heard the angels already or maybe some individual in your life taught you how to use love. Jesus lived it and taught it so today we remember the tough love God used as Jesus was born, he lived, died, resurrected and will come again.

Listen carefully as you share in the bread and the cup. Is there an angel trying to reach you? Have you had an angel in your life already? Is everything challenging you or do you know someone else who is challenged? Maybe God is sending you as an angel for someone else.

This past week we are reminded that it is tough to love, and we know that tough love is hard to administer. As we join in communion, think of all the angels that have loved you. Let us commit ourselves to practice loving one another whether it is tough or not. While we take and eat the elements let’s pray over the evil lurking in our communities. For those who are tough to love, may we use tough love or any form of love to spread the angels’ message of God’s unconditional love for each one of us.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and forgiving Father,

 

Many families are grieving this weekend,

Send them angels with messages of Jesus’ love.

Open our hearts, our eyes, and our sound

To hear and to recognize the messages you send.

 

As we hear the comforting words from scripture,

From hymns, and even from angels sitting beside us,

Fill us with the love Jesus taught the apostles

So we, too, may love one another in your name.

 

And as this nation continues to use tough love

Along with other countries fighting evil forces,

Guide us in ways to love one another

Granting grace as you have given us grace. –Amen

 

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Theological virtur #3: Love. Love is a Verb

given on Sunday, September 20, 2015–third and final of series

Scripture lesson:             Romans 13:8-14, NLT

Love Fulfills God’s Requirements

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”[a] These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

 

Reflection: Theological Virtue #3: Love. Love is a verb.

“But our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself, which is at the very center of the concentric circles. There it “sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul;” it is the love of God and humanity “which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.” –John Wesley via Hal Knight’s article, “Zealous for What? The Choicest Zeal”

Two weeks ago, the weather was dripping-sweat hot, the fair was winding down and Labor Day promised a brief respite before the regular workweek resumed. That Sunday the sermon’s theme was the theological virtue faith and last Sunday it was hope. Today the virtue is love, the third and final one.

Love is a commonly used topic in sermons, so the challenge is how to identify the topic as a habit or a lasting attitude that defines a Christian. Remember, that is how the lectionary commentary defined virtue.  For Christians, love is a habit, but it is a habit of action not simply an emotion.

Love is a verb. Christians establish a relationship with God and can express that relationship as faith. Confessing one’s belief in God, though, is just the beginning of a Christian’s journey with God.

Once in a relationship, one hopes for a deeper relationship. Hope must become a purposeful effort to deepen one’s knowledge and practice of Christian principles. One must dare to hope, to study scripture, to worship in Christian community, and to live that faith daily deepens the relationship with God.

Being able to declare one’s faith and daring to deepen the relationship with God, leads Christians to the third virtue love. Love is the action that Christians demonstrate toward others. Love is a habit that moves the Christian off the sofa and into the community to serve as God’s agent.

Mother Teresa, now declared a saint by the Pope, provided a vivid example of the modern Christian. She demonstrated her faith by doing, by providing hope to the poorest, the sickest, and the lost through her loving actions.

“Faith in action is love—and love in action is service,” Mother Teresa said. Not only did she say it, she lived it. Faith, hope and love defined Mother Teresa throughout her servant life.

John Wesley certainly would agree with this saint. His focus in ministry became serving one another. He did not care who needed what, if he could find a way to provide it, he did.

Much less, Wesley developed the methods for Christians to use as they developed their relationship with God or faith; and continued to deepen the relationship be expecting accountability to a small group. These practices opened the hearts of the followers to serve one another; to love one another. Love is an action; love is a verb.

Love has one of the strongest meanings as a noun, but love as a verb must be a practice. Of course, love, the noun, certainly creates all types of images of human relationships, but love as a verb puts one’s faith into action.

Hal Knight studies Wesley and is an authority on him. The quote from his recent article in The Missouri Methodist shares Wesley’s viewpoint about being zealous for God: “But our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself. . . “

Knight explains Wesley’s zeal using the image of concentric circles, like when the water’s surface becomes when a fish jumps or a stone is thrown in. He explains:

Wesley asks us to envision a number of concentric circles, each representing something deserving our Christian zeal. The closer to the center of the circle they are, the more they should elicit our zeal.

In the outmost circle is the church. Every Christian should be zealous “for the church universal, praying for it continually,” and especially for his or her own local church.

. . . Even more than the church, Christians should be zealous for praying, “for the Lord’s Supper, for reading, hearing and meditating on his work, and for the much neglected duty of fasting.”

But more than these, the Christian should be zealous for the works of mercy which constitute the next circle.

Any work of mercy is love in action. Love is a verb and Wesley placed the importance of serving in the center of the circles because without works of mercy, God is absent in the community. The UMC website identifies Wesley’s works of mercy:

Individual Practices – doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others

Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

Each decision we make personally and collectively as a church must answer to Wesley’s theology.   Faith in God is daring to hope deepen that relationship while loving one another.

Living one’s faith openly is challenging in this 21st century. As was explained by Jeremiah in Lamentations, we must examine our ways and test them. We must put our ways to the test so Saint Mother Teresa and John Wesley can see that our Christian faith is in action as we serve one another, as we want to be served.

Knowing whether one is living with God in the center of their life is challenging. The world around us seems to through roadblocks at us all the time, but we take courage in God, too. He loves us, as he wants to be loved. The more we practice, the better we become. Wesley does give us one more test to see whether or not love is a verb in our life:

“. . . our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself . . .   it “sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul;” it is the love of God and humanity “which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.”

Faith in God is daring to hope deepen that relationship while loving one another. Stop and examine yourself. Is you relationship with God strong enough that it fills your whole heart and it overflows in loving one another. Is love a verb in your life?

Closing prayer:

Dear Omnipotent God,

Love is a verb that you demonstrate repeatedly.

We dare to hope others see your love through us.

May faith be more than a word but a relationship.

Let us work in community to serve one another.

Let us share our faith with all we meet.

Let us invite others to dare to hope, also.

Thank you for the wisdom of words

Not only in scripture but from others

Who love God enough to share with others.

May we be your love in action today. Amen

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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

 

 

 

 

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God Said It First: Lean on me!


Scripture:  Psalm 121

 Lyrics for “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand (Chorus)
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Second Verse
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand (Chorus)
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on

If there is a load you need to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me

Call me (if you need a friend)
Call me (Call me)
Call me (if you need a friend)
Call me (if you ever need a friend)
Call me (Call me)
Call me
Call me (if you need a friend)

[Written by Bill Withers.  Lean On Me Lyrics © Interior Music Corp.]

 

We hear those words, we sing those lyrics, we read the Bible verses over and over, but do we do it?  Hardly.  In fact, we may have that idea logged into our subconscious, but in the haste of the moment we cannot pull it up into our conscious and act on it.

“Lean On Me” seems so simple, but the concept–or maybe the right word is premise—escapes us at the most critical times in our lives.  We fail.  We fail time after time to lean on God.  What makes us think that we can carry on alone at the very times we should call on God!

As the week began, the list of trials and tribulations began.  Not to say that any week someone, somewhere could create such a list of issues, but in my immediate Christian community a list began to develop.  News surfaced of illness, job-related issues, surgeries, life transitions, personal challenges, and more.  And this list did not even include all the national and international news items which filter into our lives, also.

Mid-January and we are still in a severe drought pattern, but just a state away there has been a massive winter storm causing havoc all over the southern and eastern states.  Rain, freezing rain, ice, snow, tornadoes, and flooding—in January!  Still right here in our state, in our geographical region—a drought.

Surely you know this, surely you include the crisis in your prayers, and surely you have chosen to follow the scriptures and lean on God.  Or have you?

The psalm in today’s responsive reading (121) is believed to be written by someone other than David, possibly Hezekiah.  Under its title is the phrase “A song of ascents.”  This particular psalm is classified as one of the “Pilgrim Psalms” or Psalms of Ascents” which were sung by pilgrims as they went to the temple for the annual feasts.  It is something like a cadence used by military troops marching together.

The psalms 120-134 were sung throughout the entire journey to Jerusalem.  These psalms share the common theme of allowing God to lead the pilgrims in the journey as well as throughout their lives.  The pilgrimage was a time of prayer, but it was also a time to celebrate.  The pilgrims included families so one can only imagine the songs being sung while walking along the dusty paths to the temple.

The context of the psalms may explain the ancient setting and traditions, but the very message presented in them is easy to overlook in this 21st century world.  We do not make pilgrimages to holy sites.  We do not gather and travel in masse with other families just to celebrate a holy event.  We tend to take control and rely on ourselves to handle just about everything we face whether it is a spiritual journey, a family vacation, a personal challenge, or a wide-spread drought.

We fail to lean on God over and over.  We fail to join with others in prayer.  We fail to depend on ………. (I am sure you can fill in the blank on a very personal level).  Why do we fail to lean on God!

Reading through the list of 100 Favorite Bible Verses, I discovered that the thematic thread of leaning on God was clearly woven through five of the verses (for number people that is 20% of the verses) including Psalm 121.  Those verses wove throughout the Bible—Old and New Testament books.  How could any Christian not hear the message:  God said, “Lean on me.”

I know it is hard.  God gave us the ability to be independent thinkers.  He has given us special gifts and talents to use throughout our lifetimes.  He tells us not to give in to the secular world around us and to depend on him.  His spirit is all encompassing.  He knows our strengths and weaknesses.  He knows out heartaches as well as our joys.  He knows everything while we know only what is in front of us at the moment.

The other four scriptural selections that Lisa Guest includes in her book echo the need for we humans, God’s children, to lean on God.  The lyrics from Wither’s “Lean on Me” can be today’s psalm.  It can be God’s call to depend on him.  It can be man’s cry to other men of God to be a friend to one another.  Leaning on God is leaning on one another in the lowest times of our lives as well as the peaks of our greatest joys.

Remember how last week I shared that a popular quote from Les Miserables was “To love another is to see the face of God.”  Maybe Withers saw how loving one another is being there for each other at times when life’s challenges seem too much for one.  God is present and may very likely be that friend you call when you need a little help.

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Is that not when we need to lean on God?

If there is a load you need to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me

Call God with your prayers and share with him.

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

God hears you.  He is with you.  You just have to ask.

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show

There is nothing wrong with asking for help.  Remember, the face of God is on the face of those you love and who love you.  God has told us over and over to lean on Him.  When we love one another as God commands, then we can see God on faces of our Christian family.

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand (Chorus)
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Even today’s lyrics speak to us as the lyrics of the psalms did thousands of years ago.  The message, though, is the same:  When times are tough and you feel downtrodden, lean on God.  God is always there.

Dear Heavenly Father,

There are so many troubles to wear us down,

yet we know you are there to lean on.

Guide us as we tackle one issue after another

with the confidence that you are in charge.

Let us help one another, too, so we can lean on one another.  Amen

 

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God’s Gifts: Accepting and using spiritual gifts

given on Sunday, December 14, 2012:  Gifts even in midst of a national tragedy.

        Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.  [UMC 191]

 

Those words became a litany running through my head as soon as I stumbled into the news that the Sandy Hook Elementary School was the sight of an unthinkable mass shooting.

Elementary children, kindergartners, first, second, third, and fourth graders.  Why?

Teachers, principals, secretaries, paraprofessionals, and maintenance personnel all hovering around children doing all they could to protect them.  In loco parentis. (The legal definition means that in the absence of parents, the teacher/administrator, etc. serves as the parent).  When parents drop their children off at the school door, these professionals become the parents while the children are in their care.  Why?

The litany rings through my head again:

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.

Jesus, the teacher, is God’s gift to us.  Even though it has been 2,000 years plus since the man Jesus began walking this earth, we are still his students.  While Jesus lived as a man teaching us, he was also serving in loco parentis.

God loves his children so much that he sent Jesus to be present with us and to teach us how to live.  Each and every one of us, whether family, friend, or stranger, are enrolled in life’s classroom.  Not one of God’s children is ignored.  Not one of us is overlooked or deemed dispensable.  Not one of us goes without receiving God’s gift of grace.

Turning on the TV these last 48 hours has thrown us into the chaos of today’s world.  It is filled with evil, and the shooting yesterday once again causes the world to scream out ‘Why?’   No answer can make sense of this tragedy, but the litany continues:

         Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.

Jesus is our teacher, the textbook is the Bible, and the Holy Spirit provides the fruits that enrich our lives.  As students we also have the ability to learn.  Not one child born into this earthly world is ignored.  Each one receives special gifts to use while living on this globe.

During the horrific moments at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as any of the horrific moments recorded in time or experienced by any one of us, spiritual gifts leap into action.

Remember that God has given us a spiritual basket of fruits that In, Following Jesus, Carolyn Slaughter defines as “a cluster of character qualities that are progressively produced in us through a life constantly yielded to the Holy Spirit.  [p.55]”  Those nine fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Slaughter continues to explain that the spiritual gifts are “a supernatural power within you to serve others. … more than a human talent or a skill that you have learned; it is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, empowering you in a specific way to serve well…  It is how the Spirit chooses to be revealed through you…as a teacher, a helper, an administrator, or any of the other spiritual gifts.  [p.64]”

Undeniably Slaughter’s examples were mirrored in the tragedy in yesterday’s shooting because those teachers, helpers, administrators and all the others responding to the 911 call had to rely on those spiritual gifts to continue working for the well-being of the children.  At that moment, the world witnessed God’s spiritual gifts in action.

The list of spiritual gifts is long, 20 according to Slaughter, but think of how many different talents and skills it takes to run this world.  All of God’s children have spiritual gifts and all are needed to keep this world in operating condition.  Yesterday’s events also provided a worldwide broadcast of how well individual gifts fit together to meet the needs of the moment.

Reviewing the list of spiritual gifts may seem like a classroom drill, but it also causes us to stop for a moment and consider just what it takes for a global community to work fluidly:

  • Exhortation (encouragement)—ability to encourage people and assist them in moving toward spiritual maturity and personal wholeness; uses skills of comfort and confrontation, encouragement and instruction.
  • Giving—give of material wealth freely and with joy; uses physical resources in response to assessed needs.
  • Leadership—ability to see ‘the big picture’ and assemble component parts; uses ability to motivate, coordinate, and direct efforts.
  • Teaching—ability to understand and clearly communicate God’s truths to others in ways that leads them to apply God’s truth to their lives.
  • Prophecy—ability to proclaim God’s truth in a way that’s relevant to current situations and to envision how God would will things to change.
  • Mercy—ability to perceive suffering of others and to minister to them with empathy and without condemnation.
  • Serving—demonstrates God’s love through the ability to identify the needs of others and selflessly working to meet them.
  • Wisdom—ability to understand and apply biblical and spiritual knowledge to practical, everyday problems.
  • Knowledge—ability to understand, organize, and effectively use information … esp. for the advancement of God’s purposes.
  • Faith—ability to recognize what God wants to accomplish and confidence God will see it done.
  • Healing—ability to effectively call on God for curing illness and restoration of health in a supernatural way.
  • Discernment of spirits—ability to recognize what is of God and what is not of God.
  • Helps—ability to work alongside others and see the value of accomplishing practical and often behind-the-scenes tasks that promote God’s kingdom.
  • Speaking in tongues—ability to supernaturally speak in a language, known or unknown to others, with no prior knowledge of that language.
  • Interpretation of tongues—ability to understand and communicate the words of those speaking in tongues.
  • Pastoring (Shepherding)—ability to guide and care for a group of Christians.
  • Miracles—ability to effectively call on God to do supernatural acts that glorify God.
  • Administration—ability to organize information, events, or material.
  • Apostleship—ability to see overall picture and respond by starting new churches, pioneering new ministries, or ministering transculturally (missionaries).
  • Evangelism—ability to share the gospel with those who don’t know God.

Yes, this is a long list, but it is one individual’s—Carolyn Slaughter’s—list created and defined based on the scriptures from Romans 12:4-8, I Corinthians 12:4-11, 27-31, and Ephesians 4:11-13.  Other people have made other lists that are similar; for instance, Howard Gardner has crated his list of intelligences.

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.

The litany continues.  Jesus, the son of God, loves us.  God loves us unconditionally.  Can you imagine the tears he shed yesterday?  At the same time, he provided all the spiritual gifts needed to manage the emergency as it was underway as well as after the gunshots stopped.

Christmas is typically considered a time of great joy, yet in Newton, Connecticut, joy is accompanied by unbelievable pain.  It takes the enormity of God’s love, distributed by his children through an enormous range of spiritual gifts, to take a community—even a nation—through the process of healing.

Verse two of the litany:

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

                           as he loved so long ago,

                           taking children on his knee,

                           saying, “Let them come to me.”

God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  God as the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual fruit that enriches our lives dramatically.  God also gives us the spiritual gifts that allow us to interact with others to take the children on our knees or to preserve this earth or to love one another in as many different ways as we can to transform this world.

While the joy of living can sometimes be sucked out of our souls, we also know that the pain is temporary, even if it is never forgotten.  We accept God’s grace, we accept the garden he has provided us, and we experience the joy of our earthly lives while anticipating the unlimited joy of our heavenly life.

Verse three of the litany:

Jesus loves me still today,

                           walking with me on my way,

                           wanting as a friend to give

                           light and love to all who live.

This is Christmas.  We are responsible to accept all of God’s gifts and then do all that we can to give light and love to all who live.  If our Christmas celebration can turn on just one more light for God, then the tragedies in this world can lead to transformations in so many lives around this world.

So remember the chorus:

Yes, Jesus loves me! 

                           Yes, Jesus loves me!

                           Yes, Jesus loves me!

                           The Bible tells me so.

We walk through the days of Advent anticipating the coming of Christ, but the Bible tells us that God sent his son over 2,000 years ago, the gifts of our spiritual fruits and of our spiritual gifts are to keep Jesus alive in our world today.  If we don’t, how can the tragedies of this world become transformed?  If we don’t, how can the little children reach Jesus’ knees?  Please join me in prayer:

Dear Loving Father, giver of gifts,

         Today we ask you to bring 20 little children into your lap.  We ask you to include those caring educators who also risked everything to protect these tiny souls.

         Today, in the midst of Advent, we know there are others who have lost the joy in their lives.  Hold them in your arms, let them cry, and then wipe their eyes so they may see your love.

         Today help us to open our own spiritual gifts so we, too, may serve as your earthly servants.  Teach us how to use the gifts in order to love one another and to preserve this worldwide garden.  May our gifts reach out to others who have yet to accept your gifts so the Holy Spirit’s fruits may enrich their lives and they, too, become the children of God.

         Hear our words of our prayers and the hymns as we thank you for the gifts you have given us.  May we work in your name so that others may see your love:

                           Jesus loves me!  This I know,

                           for the Bible tells me so. …

                           Jesus loves me!  This I know,

                           as he loved so long ago.  …

                           Jesus loves me still today;

                           walking with me on my way,

                           wanting as a friend to give

                           light and love to all who live.         –Amen

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