Tag Archives: Old Testament

Hearing Joel’s prophecy for today

given on Sunday, October 23, 2016

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

Opening scripture: Joel 1:6-7, NLT

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

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

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

 

Reflection: Hearing Joel’s prophecy today

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This is what we read in the 32nd verse:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Closing prayer:

 

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

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

May we hear your words of promise

over the din of today’s plagues.

 

Let us find ways to defend ourselves

from the attacks on our faith

so we may continue as your disciples.

 

Let us share in study and in worship

so we may strengthen our faith

and to teach others to live God-centered lives.

 

Let us step out to serve others

in ways to strengthen our community

to become part of your kingdom.

 

Thank you for the gift of Joel’s prophecy

and from others throughout history

who share the good news of your grace.

 

May we be the tools of love

guided by the Holy Spirit

to provide others hope of eternal life

by belief in the life, the death

and the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

your son.

 

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

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What a Difference Faith makes!

given on Sunday, August 7, 2016

Scripture connection: Hebrews 11:1-16, NLT

11 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.

It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.”[a] For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[b] that God would keep his promise. 12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.

13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Key questions: Why difference does faith in God make in my life?

  • What does faith look like?
  • How do I develop faith?
  • How does faith change my life?

 

Reflection: What a difference faith makes!

             Surely you have noticed that it is August and there is something decidedly different about this August—it is as green and colorful as though it were still May, right after the April showers when everything looks bright green with an array of rainbow colors glowing in the sunlight.

August in the Midwest typically looks quite different—brown, brittle grass. Tired, worn out gardens usually struggle with little color left from the annuals planted around the walks or in flowerpots. The only thing that seems to do well is the spindly okra soaking up the sun and thriving on very little water. But not this year. This year our late summer world is green and colorful.

What a difference God’s rain and sunshine make in our world today. Farmers and gardeners know that planting seeds is an exercise in faith. The conditions that surround the seed and seedling are critical to the entire growing process. During the growing season, conditions vary dramatically, but somehow the majority of seeds does germinate, grow, and mature. The yield varies depending on the quality of the growing conditions that nurtured those crops to fruition.

Faith is much like the seed we place in the ground. Faith begins as a tiny little idea that dropped into our lives at any time. Sometimes the seed is planted by accident and sometimes it is carefully, lovingly placed by parents who know the difference faith makes in one’s life.

Yes, faith makes a difference in our lives; what type of difference depends so much on the circumstances, the challenges, the failures and the successes. Faith becomes a powerful force yielding the greatest reward imaginable—salvation and the life eternal alongside Jesus Christ and a host of faithful souls including those who have made a difference in our earthly journey.

In Hebrews, the definition of faith is given: Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. The verse is used so repeatedly that it has become a cliché and possibly has lost its value as a life-changing principle. Still, faith makes such a difference in the quality of one’s life.

Unfortunately, many cannot identify faith in their own lives and struggle to figure out what makes life journey fruitful. The Old Testament stories that are included in Hebrews 11 provide evidence of how faith supports even the most faithful during the most difficult trials. The stories begin with Cain and Able and continue through even the books of the prophets.

Still understanding faith today is difficult. Because faith is not a product that one goes to a store or gets on line to purchase, faith sometimes fails to be planted in our lives. Maybe our parents did not plant faith’s seed because they were not equipped to plant and nurture that seedling. Perhaps the parents did plant the seed, but then the environment or circumstances interfered and the seed of faith sat fallow, not germinating but remaining as a faint promise.

Today faith is evident around us even though many argue that is not. Evidence of faith may not sound like the Old Testament or even the New Testament stories, but they are listed there, too. Consider the stories of the woman who had such strong faith in Jesus’ healing power that all she wanted was to touch his robe in order to heal. And her faith did heal her. Lazarus’s family believed and Jesus raised him from the dead.

Even the circumstances of the Last Supper paint a picture of how the brutal ending of Jesus’ life fueled the earliest Christians to band together and carry God’s message forward. Those disciples who shared the bread and the cup with Jesus certainly had their faith challenged, but despite the negative growing conditions, the church did grow.

Faith is essential to the quality of our lives. Faith is a seed sitting there just waiting to grow. We need to know that we are equipped to nurture that faith and encourage it to grow to fruition so God can harvest it when the growing season ends.

How does faith grow? The directions are sprinkled throughout the Bible. We must read and study the Bible in order to fertilize our faith. John Wesley was educated and still he struggled to understand how faith operated. His own brother served as an agent of change for Wesley. John and Charles were both raised in the church, and it took Charles’s recommendation to continue in reading the Bible and praying. And John did. He placed himself into a disciplined environment and continued his ministry right up until his personal moment of enlightenment referred to as his Aldersgate Moment when he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed.’

Life is going to challenge each and every one of us in ways that we cannot predict. Watching the Olympics opening ceremonies, I was reminded how unifying the games can be. The inclusion of a team of refugees is a testimony in faith. The discipline of Olympian athletes is often a quality reflected in their lives whether on or off the competition. The discipline carries them to the finish line and the refugees maintained that discipline even when they had no country, no alliance.

We have the tools to grow faith, we just must be disciplined enough to do it. Wesley explained that we are to practices the acts of piety and the acts of mercy to develop the fruitfulness of faith. We are to join in fellowship with other Christians to worship, to pray, and to serve together.

Faith is knowing that God is with us throughout the challenges in our lives and trusting that we will receive the ultimate reward. Faith is knowing that we can manage the ups and downs in life because God is with us always.   Faith takes work but it is easier to do when working together with others who believe.

Today we join together at the table to renew our connection to God through the bread and the cup. We are practicing the very same methods God taught the first disciples to strengthen our faith. May the ancient words from scripture, from the liturgy, from the hymns, and from those around us so we may find the peace, the joy, and the contentment that enriches our faith-filled lives.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for the words of encouragement shared in the Bible.

Thank you for the guidance of the faithful surrounding us.

Thank you for your patience as we struggle to understand faith.

Fill us with the Holy Spirit as we share in the bread and the cup.

Fill us with the joy of knowing your grace and your love.

Fill us with the courage to battle the challenges to our faith.

May we take our faith and use it to share your grace with others.

May we demonstrate our faith so others may see it in action.

May we lead others to identify the power of faith in their lives, too.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, 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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1. Laying the foundation: Scripture, The Word

Building Our Christian Foundation: a sermon series on the basics of Christianity

  1. Laying the foundation: Scripture, The Word  given on Sunday, January 11, 2015

 

Over Christmas or on birthdays, I expect many discovered Legos or Mega blocks wrapped in the pretty packages. Or maybe it is a set of Lincoln Logs that trigger the imagination of building log cabins, houses, and forts. Kids love to create all kinds of structures with these blocks; and whenever kids begin playing with the pieces, the imaginations take off.

Just ask them to tell you what they are building. The stories show just what is going on in their minds while they pick the pieces up, lock them together and buildings, towns, or even cars, trucks or airplanes appear. Telling the story of what is being built can be as entertaining as simply watching the structures grow, shift, fall and rebuild.

Building Christian faith is very similar. The very foundation of our faith begins with the stories of the Bible. The characters and their stories are the very bricks and mortar that build that foundation of our faith.

The stories can be as entertaining as any high drama found on the television or in the movies. As we listen to the stories, we begin wondering how we would act if we were in those situations. Of course the settings can be very different than what we are experiencing now; but as in all literature, the stories are timeless because the message is the foundation, not the setting.

The verse from I Peter appeared on the opening screen when I clicked on Biblegateway.com, which is my primary source for scripture searches. I did not plan on using it, but I was on the search for today’s scripture and this was Saturday’s verse (January 10, 2015):

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT

 

Those words confirmed the very thought I was gelling into today’s message. The scripture is the direct link to God.

Scripture is the foundation for all Christians as they begin building their faith. Each book is included after very thorough review by theologians and educators. Some might wonder why the Old Testament is included since the New Testament is the story of Christ, but the foundation begins developing with those first words of Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

Before everything, God existed. Life is filled with mysteries, and it is easy to get trapped into the arguments concerning whether or not God is real. There is no evidence that science can provide to prove or to disprove that God is real and proof is simply not necessary. The scripture tells us that the “Spirit of God” was the creator, existing before everything.

Being Christian begins with the story shared in the Bible. The United Methodist Church has defined the Bible as “sacred text” and googling what Methodists believe, the website about.com makes this simple statement: “The Bible is considered inerrant and inspired in its original manuscripts, and it contains everything one needs for salvation.”

The Bible and all the stories provide the foundation of Christianity. As John Wesley continued his ministry, he also identified the value of the Bible as the very foundation of Christian faith. He included in his works of piety the study of Scripture. The same about.com website listed among the descriptors of Methodist doctrine this statement: “Close adherence to the teachings of Scripture is essential to the faith because Scripture is the Word of God.”

The opening words of John also makes the definitive statement:

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.[b]

 

Scripture tells the story, it provides the lessons, and it speaks to us whenever we read and study it. The church began with the first Apostles that Jesus called to ministry, and the stories from the New Testament share how God wants us to live using the New Law rather than the Old Law found in the Old Testament.

Learning how to live a Christian lifestyle is not easy, but through the words of the Bible, we can. Wesley read and studied the Scripture daily and expected his followers to do so even holding them accountable during class meetings (now referred to as small groups). The essentials of the Methodist beliefs were stated in the website article in very clear words:

  1. Shun evil and avoid partaking in wicked deeds at all costs,
  2. Perform kind acts as much as possible, and
  3. Abide by the edicts of God the Almighty Father.

 

The scripture provides all the examples, the methods, and the authority needed for us to live by these three simple rules. The hard part is practicing it enough to get it right but most importantly that it becomes habit.

Practice, practice, and practice some more. Laying a foundation takes careful planning, using the best products, and making adjustments as needed in order to erect a building that can withstand all the storms that nature can slam into the outer walls. Creating a Christian foundation for our own lives takes the same care. If we do make the foundation strong, it will last throughout the generations yet to come.

Practice building your foundation. Share the secrets with your family and friends. Shun evil that surrounds you. Practice random and planned acts of kindness. And keep adding to your foundation by reading the scripture. The stronger your foundation, the more you can tell the story to others—whether in modeling the story, telling it in your own words, creating a piece of art, or even singing a song. God’s message is as strong as your Christian foundation.

Closing prayer

Dear God, the Word,

Speak to us through the scriptures,

Through the work of others,

Through the visual arts,

Through the melodies of music,

And through the models of faith.

We all want to build strong foundations

Of Christian faith.

Guide us to plan ways

To build our own foundations.

Keep us focused on the process

Of reading and studying scripture.

Then let us share the story

In all the ways that we can

So others may discover the Word

And how it creates a strong foundation

On which to build one’s life

And to bring others to know you, too.

Amen.

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Connecting then to now

given on Sunday, July 20, 2014:  Scripture reference is Hosea 4:1-14 (NLT)

Okay, I admit that reading and understanding the prophets can be difficult. Yet I know that Hosea 12:6 speaks to Christians all around the world as much today as it did—or should have—in 735 BC. Yes, that is the time frame for the book of Hosea that we reading now over 2 ½ millenniums later!

That little phrase from that one verse in one chapter of the entire Bible is so power packed: . . . hold fast to love and justice. Those six words are buried, in one sense; but even the entire verse is worth memorizing and holding fast to now as much as it was then:

But as for you, return to your God,

Hold fast to love and justice,

And wait continually for your God.

The question today is how do we connect the lessons from the Bible, even the Old Testament ones, to our lives today.

Today we live in a fast-paced world where communication really has neither any geographical nor time limits. What is going on in Israel right this moment is in our own homes within only a few seconds. The typhoon in the Pacific Rim region of Asia is reported right along with the weather for our Kansas City viewing area the instant we turn to the weather apps on our smartphones or pick up the remote and tune in to the Weather Channel or local news.

Today’s world may appear very different from the ancient world recorded in the Bible, but the people are still people. The same life challenges that affect our lives affected their lives. Tempting us are the same things such as wealth, material belongings, power, titillating relationships, feel-good experiences, and the list goes on and on. There is no difference now in how God asks us to live our lives than there was in 735 BC or even before that.

One would think that studying the history of man, there would be no reason to repeat the same sins generation after generation. Still, we need God and we need to hold fast to love and justice and wait continually for your God.

In today’s scripture, Hosea 4:1-14 (the NLT), we can read it as though it were ancient history, and we can read it again as though he is speaking of our world today. We are connected to then even though it is now:

Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
The Lord has brought charges against you, saying:
“There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land.
You make vows and break them;
you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
one murder after another.
That is why your land is in mourning,
and everyone is wasting away.
Even the wild animals, the birds of the sky,
and the fish of the sea are disappearing.

The verses written for the people of Israel are as timely as if they were written this week for the people in our communities. We see the very same sins/crimes now. Humans are humans no matter whether then or now. The behaviors are the same whether in our own homes or whether it was written over 2500 years ago in a country on the other side of the ocean. The temptations are the same. The outcomes are the same—war, broken relationships, meanness, bullying, robbery, killing, erosion, and the list continues to grow.

Even God’s anger and reaction are the same:

“Don’t point your finger at someone else
and try to pass the blame!
My complaint, you priests,
is with you.[
a]
So you will stumble in broad daylight,
and your false prophets will fall with you in the night.
And I will destroy Israel, your mother.
My people are being destroyed
because they don’t know me.
Since you priests refuse to know me,
I refuse to recognize you as my priests.
Since you have forgotten the laws of your God,
I will forget to bless your children.
The more priests there are,
the more they sin against me.
They have exchanged the glory of God
for the shame of idols.[
b]

God recognizes that the leaders (priests), the very people who were born to lead the people in worship and to teach how to live, were at the root of the problem. He clearly blames them for all the people doing all the wrong things.

Granted, now we might not place all that responsibility on the clergy of our churches, but when this was written the priests were the spiritual and sometimes political leaders of the tribes. Still, the leaders then were just as susceptible to temptation as they are today. We can create quite a lengthy and colorful list of today’s leaders both political and religious who have or can lead the people away from God. God told the ancient leaders words that leaders now need to hear:

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
So the priests are glad when the people sin!
‘And what the priests do, the people also do.’
So now I will punish both priests and people
for their wicked deeds.
10 They will eat and still be hungry.
They will play the prostitute and gain nothing from it,
for they have deserted the Lord
11     to worship other gods.

The faithful Israelites began following the conquering Assyrian customs that included idol worship to Baal. Temple prostitutes were part of that tradition. The results then are the same now:

“Wine has robbed my people
of their understanding.
12 They ask a piece of wood for advice!
They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
serving other gods and deserting their God.
13 They offer sacrifices to idols on the mountaintops.
They go up into the hills to burn incense
in the pleasant shade of oaks, poplars, and terebinth trees.

“That is why your daughters turn to prostitution,
and your daughters-in-law commit adultery.
14 But why should I punish them
for their prostitution and adultery?
For your men are doing the same thing,
sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes.
O foolish people! You refuse to understand,
so you will be destroyed.

Reading the scriptures is fundamental to remaining faithful to God. How else can we hold fast to love and justice if we do not have the words of Hosea to guide us, then we cannot stay connected to God. In this prophet’s words, we are taught to remain faithful. The analogy of Hosea’s personal marriage to a prostitute is to Israel remaining faithful to God. Hosea listened to God, married Gomer, dealt with her prostitution, yet followed God in remaining faithful and confronting her. His waiting was rewarded, and Gomer too healed.

The key continues to be in Hosea 12:6:

But as for you, return to your God,

Hold fast to love and justice,

And wait continually for your God.

Life is never easy, but following Hosea’s prophecy and God’s instructions to Hosea, we can remain faithful and our lives will be rewarded. The history books tell us of those who failed to follow this advice, and the news continues to report such failures. Then is never far way from now; so return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.

Closing prayer

Dear God, father of Hosea and all your children,

Guide us through the days filled with such terrible sins.

Teach us how to hold fast to love and to justice.

Reveal to us the false gods in our lives.

and when we stumble and fall into sin,

show us the way out so we may return to you.

Strengthen our resolve so we can hold fast

to love and to justice.

Give us patience while we wait for you

with the gift of your grace and eternal life.

–Amen.

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Help! I just fell off my horse. What do I do now?

given on Sunday, January 19, 2014

            Don’t ask how the title for today’s thoughts developed because I have no good answer.  All I know is I was thinking about sermons and suddenly the phrase just popped into my head—and I have not been able to shake it off.  Sometimes you just have to follow what God seems to drop into your head.

Last week, the thought I had was whether or not one could yell at God.  While working on that, this idea came through, too:  I just fell off my horse so what do I do now?

Most of us have had the experience of riding a horse or maybe a bicycle.  We know that if you fall off you must get up, brush yourself off, and get on again.  If you don’t, you may not ever get on and try riding again.

Believe it or not, I went searching for a connection to this brain flash.  I thought surely there must be a proverb that connected to the idea, but there is not one!

Step 2 was to figure out how this phrase relates to our Christian lives.  Is there something to which this old adage is connected?  Is this a metaphor for one of Jesus’ lessons for us?  I was reading my nightly devotional and the phrase interfered.  But I found myself connecting it to the concept of forgiveness.

God forgives us.  Jesus tells us that we are to forgive one another.  Now how does that fit with falling off a horse!  Then the connection became clear!

We all know that falling off your horse or bicycle is part of the learning process.  There is no other way to learn than to simply get on, put your feet in the stirrup—or on the pedals—and nudge forward.  On a horse, you use your knees to urge the horse to begin moving.  On the bicycle, you keep one foot on the ground and push off as you push down on the opposite pedal.

Balancing is also important.  In the saddle, you must keep your balance in relation to the horse’s leg movements.  The feet are in the stirrups; the knees tucked in against the horse, and you balance while the horse moves.  One of the most important tricks of staying on the horse is knowing how to use your legs as springs absorbing the unevenness of the gait or the ground.

Now bicycling is a bit different.  It seems like everything is moving in different directions once you pick up your foot off the ground.  The handle bars move, the feet are moving, the wheels are moving, and suddenly you are moving—hopefully forward, but all too often you fall to the ground.  That is when the parent is right there to catch you and to encourage you as you get up and back on the bike.

These experiences are just like living the Christian life.  If you fall off, you simply have to get up, brush off the dirt, and get on again.  God is always there and always loves us.  He does not leave us stranded.  Instead, he waits for us to realize we have fallen, and then he starts to help us.

As a parent, when our kids fall, we rush to their sides to help them get back up; but they continue to grow and we begin letting go so they can develop their own independence.  God is always beside us, but he also knows he cannot do everything for us.  He cannot physically pick us up, carry us and fix our problems for us; he has to let us do it ourselves.

Throughout the Old Testament, the stories tell of the mistakes the faithful made.  When one looks up the term ‘forgiveness’ in the index or in a concordance, the Old Testament references are outnumbered almost 2:1 by New Testament references.

One of the references is annotated with the phrase:  no sin too great for God to forgive.  That phrase is then connected to four passages, two from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament:

  • 2 Chronicles 33:12-13–11 Therefore the Lord brought against them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh captive in manacles, bound him with fetters, and brought him to Babylon. 12 While he was in distress he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 He prayed to him, and God received his entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord indeed was God.  [NRSV]

 

  • Psalms 51:1-7–Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
    according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;[a]
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  [NRSV]

 

  • Acts 2:14–14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  [NRSV]

 

  • I John 2:2–and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  [NRSV]

These verses lead us to understand how much God loves us and that he gives us simple instructions on how to live a Christian life.  Yes, three verses make absolute sense, but that one from Acts is confusing.

Why is a verse on forgiveness referencing Peter?  The key is to look at how Luke explains Peter’s story.  The fuller text creates a more complete understanding.  Peter is addressing the Crowd who just witnessed the Pentecost, Acts 2:13-21:

13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,

before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Peter was speaking, and knowing that he had denied Christ three times during the trial, Peter had fallen off the horse, so to speak.  He was struggling to understand the full story, struggling with how to share the story, and simply did not know how to get back up from the entire series of events through the trial, the crucifixion, and then the resurrection.

Pentecost made God’s word real once again.  Peter, after receiving the Holy Spirit, found his ability to once again share the story with authority.  And the first thing he shared was a reference to the Old Testament prophet Joel.

“No sin too great for God to forgive” is shown through Peter’s own experience.  From denying he knew Christ, he was forgiven, baptized by the Holy Spirit, and continued to follow the commission to make disciples of Christ.

Christians need to remember that they are always learning how to be Christians.  We are humans and we fall off or out of God’s favor all too often.  But, when we realize our errors, we ask God for forgiveness and we get back up and continue to learn.

God does not care if we made a mistake, he only cares if we do not acknowledge that mistake, ask for forgiveness, and return to living by the one commandment to love one another as we would want others to love us.  We must get back up and get on the horse to become better and better.

Certainly no one wants to fall off, but society has a way of throwing off our balance and we fall.  We might run with the wrong crowd.  We might ignore someone who is hurting or share a rumor that turned out to be hurtful.  We might overspend and forget to tithe.  We might drink, eat, or talk too much; but we must do the right thing when we realize our mistake.

Get back up, shake off the dirt, and get back to God.  It really is not hard to step back into church after you have been absent.  It is important to get back to reading the Bible or go to Sunday school.  Why, you can even ask for something new, a new tool, to help you grow in your Christian life.

The K-Love radio station is trying a new approach.  They are asking people to take the 30-day challenge.  The station asks listeners to commit, call in and commit, to taking the 30-day challenge of listening to nothing but Christians music.  They believe it will make a life-change for the listeners.

Should we set a challenge?  What type of challenge would strengthen us in our Christian journey?  I suggest a challenge, try reading a daily devotion from now until Lent.  Maybe it is just a paragraph like the Daily Word, Guideposts, or the Upper Room.  Maybe it is a devotional that pops up in the inbox of your computer every day.

A challenge could be along any of the basic recommendations from John Wesley such as daily prayer, grace before each meal, sing a hymn or listen to Christians music, read the Bible, have a discussion with a friend or a spouse.  Whatever you choose, get up and get it going!

God does not care if you just fell off or if it has been a little while since you fell off.  All God cares is that you realize you fell, and that you want to get back up and learn more.  He forgives our mistakes and he will rejoice many times over if you pick yourself up and return, too.

Closing prayer:

            Dear Patient Father,

            I fear I made a mistake and fell off my Christian path.

            Help me to start all over with the skills you have taught me.

            Help me to make changes in my daily life that show I believe.

            Help me to show others that I can return to my faith

                        by listening and following your words.

            Keep me near to you and let me lean on you when I stumble,

                        and open my heart to others who may have fallen, too.

            Let me be a little like Peter knowing I am forgiven.

            Give me the words and the actions to share God’s love

                        with those who are so alone without a Christian family.

            Let my lessons be examples to others so they may know

                        how much You love them, too.            –Amen

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Where is the light?

given on Sunday, June 30, 2013

Supporting scriptures:

Genesis 1:3Let there be light…

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

  • Psalm 27:1—The Lord is my light…
  • Isaiah 42:1-9–…And you will be the light…
  • Matthew 5:13-16…You are the light…

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

  • Luke 2:22—He is a light to reveal God.
  • John 1:1-9—The Word gave…light…
  • John 3:20-21—All who do evil hate the light…
  • Acts 13:47-49I have made you a light… (to Paul & Barnabus)

47 For the Lord gave us this command when he said,

‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’[a]

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. 49 So the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.

  • I John 1:5-7—God is light, and there is no darkness…
  • Revelations 21:21-25…The lamb is the light…

21 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass.

22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.

Did you see the Super Moon?  What about the lightening the night before last?  Did you notice that even when the electricity went out, there was enough of the Super Moon to help get around the house, not to mention out on the porch?  The natural lights of the moon, the sun, the stars, and even lightening cannot match man-made lights.  God’s light is the best.

In thinking about the changes that our world undergoes, there are constants that remain the same and those are the God things.  God’s lights are one of the constants.  The question we each must ask is where is THE LIGHT in our own lives, or in other words:

  • Where is God in our lives?
  • Are you living your life in such a manner that others see the light as a constant?
  • Do you radiate God’s light so well that others see you as a constant?
  • Does your God-light shine so brightly that even in the darkest moments you can see the way?
  • Can others see the way because of you?

These are the questions that can keep a person awake at night.  Personally I ponder whether or not my life is a reflection of God’s grace.  Sometimes I go back and review, wondering where did I fail.  Other times I feel so good about life, I simply praise God for all the good I see.

Praying hands are simply a must in a world that we have so little control over.  Keeping that open channel with God becomes like breath itself.  At times it is difficult to even know if we are praying, yet at the same time we also know when we are not praying.  Others can even tell.  When we live a prayer-filled life, we shine God’s light so brightly that others recognize it and even seek to follow it.

Keeping God’s light blazing bright in our lives comes down to practicing the disciplines that keep The Light charged up.  If we fail to keep the disciplines, then the light dims and pretty soon looks burned out.  Once the light is gone, it becomes difficult to see, to work, to love, to play, and even to sleep.  It takes work to get that Light back on.

Wrapping up the church year, each one of us needs to check our practices and see if our lights can shine as brightly as they can for the coming year.  The time to evaluate the sources of our spiritual energy is right now, so we can shine for all those we meet.  We cannot, must not, put it off.  Therefore, here are the evaluation questions:

  1. How often do you read the scriptures?
  2. Do you pray daily, hourly, or continually?
  3. Are you actively participating in a small group?
  4. Can you remember the last sacrament you took?
  5. Have you practiced fasting in one form or another?
  6. How often do you attend worship?

For most church members, attending worship and praying regularly are not a problem.  And if the church practices regular days for communion, then in all likelihood, that is not a concern.  The problem spots are the practices of reading and studying scripture, fasting, and participating in small group or Wesleyan-styled class meetings.  Even worship attendance can be an issue if you do not follow the recommended 48 out of 52 weeks of attendance.

These are the acts of piety that John Wesley felt were essential to maintaining one’s faith.  He knew that maintaining God’s light in our life is difficult and with the methods he insisted following, that light became a guiding beam to those who were without hope, without food, without shelter, and without the essentials for daily living.  And, as the light draws in the moths on hot summer nights, the Wesleyan disciples drew others to God.

Are we, right here in our very own community, following the Wesleyan methods we say we believe in a manner that God’s light radiates through and from us to draw others to God’s light?  That is a question we must answer if we are to follow God’s commission.

This is the point when the praying hands get dirty fingernails.  Granted, we realize that this is a metaphor, but Wesley certainly did not separate the two.  An area in which his ministry was well received was the coal-mining region in England.  One of the dirtiest jobs that seemed to deposit a level of grime over everything needed the most. The people needed God.  Now consider our own region.  Isn’t it interesting that at one point this area was once a mining region, too; but since the industry is now gone, does God’s light shine?

Even if the type of economic base switches in a community, there is no reason to think the need for God’s light has changed.  God is available for everybody.   God’s region is not limited by one geographic set of boundaries.  God’s region is global.  This is why Methodists get dirty fingernails just about anywhere they go.  This is why the acts of mercy Wesley encouraged becomes part of the fuel source for God’s light.

Evaluating how dirty our fingernails are getting as a small rural church as well as part of the global church might be challenging.  Well, it is challenging because it is tempered by the economy of a small church.  First, there should be no apologies for the lack of funds available for all the various missions whether it is the Heifer Project, the Ludhiana Medical Mission, the Hydrate Haiti project, the Imagine No Malaria campaign, or the Mozambique initiative.  The list can go on and on.

God’s work is not recorded by the amount of dollars spent.  Rather God’s work is measured by illumination.  Beginning in our own homes, are we being good stewards of God’s resources and the money we earn.  And in our own communities, the light needs shining.  As we evaluate how dirty our fingernails are, we need to begin at the center of our geographical community.  Here we go:

  1. Are the people in the community fed?
  2. Are the neighbors able to afford clothes that they need?
  3. Is the neighbors housing safe and adequate for their needs?
  4. Is the community prepared to handle a disaster?
  5. Does a special need come to mind?

Certainly an evaluation begins with the basic needs for life to be sustained, but it can be broadened to consider the next level of needs—educational, social, community services, and more.

In the pre-conference prayer study, the example of concentric circles was used to demonstrate the various levels of prayer.  The same concentric circle pattern can also identify the levels of ministry for a local church.  The nucleus or center is the physical church itself.  The next circle is the immediate area in the community.  The third circle is outer limits of the town, and then the circle one-mile from the church.  Additional circles needed to be included in rural communities based on how far reaching the members determine.  This may mean a 5-mile radius or a 10 mile-radius, and since our counties pivot around a larger community, an additional circle that bumps up to the city limits of the county seat.

What about the outreach beyond the immediate community, you might ask?  The connectional aspect of the United Methodist Church comes into the picture at this point.  The apportionments that are assessed each church provide the basic foundation for connectional ministry.  It is the choice of the individual churches to determine how involved they wish to become in the global ministries.  This does not mean that the small churches are exempt; it simply means that they can determine the extent of giving beyond the apportionments.

The acts of mercy send out the beams of light so all may know God.  What our small, rural church does adds just that much more to the luminosity of God’s light.  During the next year, we need to keep God’s light shining brightly.  We need to remember that all we do is for the glory of God, and when we keep that as the ultimate goal, we are the light, too.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are the source of light:  sun, moon, and stars.

You are the source of love in our lives

         that shines so brightly others see you, too.

Guide us as we learn how to turn on our lights

         so others are drawn to your love.

Guide us as we strengthen our faith

         through the spiritual disciplines.

Guide us as we learn to minister to others

         so the light shines for them, too.

May we determine ways to shine your light

         so others may find the way to salvation.  –Amen

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