Tag Archives: Paul

By & With God’s Grace

Sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2018:  Beginning a series loosely based on the figures in the Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS, stained glass window that show the growth of The Church since Jesus’ resurrection.  Today the timing of Martin Luther King’s assasination made the inclusion of his portrait in the window the starting point.  The scripture references are included within the text of the reflection.

             1968:  The year was filled with notable events within our country’s history, but that does not make it any different than any other year along history’s timeline.  But 1968 has a definite place in our lives as Americans and as Christians.  And today, 50 years later on the Sunday after Easter, I cannot ignore some comparisons between the words spoken by Jesus and those of Martin Luther King, Jr.

These words are from the speech in Memphis, TN, on April 3, 1968:

     And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

     Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

     And I don’t mind.

     Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

     And so I’m happy, tonight.

     I’m not worried about anything.

     I’m not fearing any man!

The words are prophetic, as MLK died the next day, assassinated.

Compare those experiences and the words of Jesus’s ministry and death.  The similarities cannot be ignored.  In the gospel of John, we hear Jesus’ words that are equally prophetic about his own death.  John 13:31-36:

     31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man[h] to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son,[i] he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once. 33 Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

     36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”

And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”

These words come directly before Jesus tells Simon Peter that he will deny even knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crows.

Living ones Christian beliefs can place you in very critical positions between good and evil.  And even though Jesus lived and died over 2,000 years ago, the conditions around us remain the same.  There is good and evil competing for our attention.

MLK and Jesus experienced discrimination and their prophetic words as they neared their final day are eerily parallel.  The discrimination experiences are different; but they are also the same.  How both chose to confront discrimination was to follow God’s commandment:  Love one another, as you want to be loved. Following that commandment mirrors the grace God provides us.

MLK was assassinated 50 years ago, but the Civil Rights movement continues.

Jesus was assassinated 2,000 years ago, but the Christianity movement continues.

Since the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus commissioned the disciples to continue his work:

     16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

     18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  [Mathew 28:16-20, NLT]

As the disciples stepped out of hiding and began to follow Jesus’ instructions, the community of followers developed into The Church,.  And the Church is the vehicle that continues to move Christianity forward.

            The Church grew.  The movement continued and continues.  God’s grace is a message so valuable that Christians have gone to great lengths to share the story.

The images that surround the Tree of Eternal Life in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window have all accepted the commission, “. . . to make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  Each one’s story is different yet the same. Each one’s story is God’s story—love one another.  Another common trait is that they exhibit God’s grace.

Maybe understanding grace is a key to unlocking the value of Christianity.  Theologians have defined grace a bit differently than a common dictionary would define the term.

  • According to the on-line edition of the Oxford Dictionary, grace is
    • Smoothness and elegance of movement
    • Courteous good will

But then the Oxford Dictionary adds the third definition:

  • (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
  • According to the website, wllaboutgod.com, grace is explained more fully in this manner:
  • In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards men who merited the opposite of love.
  • Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves.
  • Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty ones be reconciled to God and received into heaven.

The website includes the scriptural reference from 2 Corinthians 5:21, 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

This is the good news that The Church has carried forward since Jesus’ resurrection and commissioning of the disciples.  God’s grace is for everyone that is the message filling Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  The same website includes scriptures that develop Paul’s argument for accepting Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection in Romans 3:22-24:

     22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

     23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

This argument fueled the earliest Christians to carry the movement forward.  Each disciple, each man and woman and child who accepts God’s grace and believes that Jesus frees us from sin joins in the movement to spread the good news.  The Church is an inclusive term that continues to evolve as it carries the story forward through the years and around the world.

MLK is included in the images of the window because he accepted God’s grace and lived to actively demonstrate that loving one another should erase all barriers between one and another.  The civil rights movement is an evolving process—the word movement itself should remind us that change takes time and must continue forward.  MLK wanted all people, regardless of race, to be included in society equally.     If God loves all people, we are to love all people as we want to be loved.  God did not segregate any peoples from his grace after sending Jesus Christ to teach us how to love one another as we want to be loved.

Paul shared how grace saves those who believe in the story of Jesus Christ with the church in Ephesus:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  [Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT]

After the crucifixion, running and hiding must have been much easier than continuing to meet with the other Christians, who were certainly a minority in their communities, experiencing discrimination. No visual difference identified the Christians from the Gentiles, the Jews or the Pagans, but they were targeted as being different.

No political affiliation or nationality identified who was Christian or not.  No, God sent Jesus to assure all people that he loved them all and wanted all of them to leave their evil ways and accept God’s grace.  God’s agenda was to provide unconditional love and forgiveness to all individuals regardless of anything:  there were no restrictions, no limits, no boundaries—geographical, political or racial. This is God’s unconditional love and accepting that premise results in knowing God’s grace.

As Christians we are part of The Church. Our job is to push forward, to keep the movement growing.  God’s grace removes any barriers between people.  MLK saw no reason for discrimination and he stepped forward. His dream is God’s dream:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.  . . . And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” [Accessed on April 6, 2018 at kinginstitute.stanford.edu.]

            How do you define God’s grace?  Do you live by grace or do you live with grace? Did MLK live by grace as he led the civil rights movement?  By following God’s one commandment to love one another as you want to be loved, are you perpetuating Jesus’ teachings by the way you live?  MLK chose to live out God’s message because he knew God’s grace and wanted to do all that he could to assure that all Americans were free.

The Church today has weathered many challenges, but the message of God’s grace and the salvation available to us through Jesus Christ is the story, but do you live by grace or with grace?  The Church lives by grace when is offers “courteous good will.” The Church does not always work smoothly or elegantly, but whatever it does to love one another continues Jesus’ work.

Today you live with God’s grace when you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior; and you live by God’s grace whenever you unconditionally love others as you want to be loved.  You are part of the  Christian movement that continues to grow and to spread the Good News.  God expects each of us to do all that we can in any way that we can to demonstrate God’s grace to others through unconditional love.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

Thank you for granting us grace

Thank you for Jesus Christ, our teacher.

May we each find ways to share

Your grace with all others.  –Amen

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Paul’s tools will work

Sermon given on Sunday, November 5, 2017.  After completing the letters of Paul to the early churches, this sermon focuses on the letters he wrote to the pastors he appointed to two of the churches, Timothy and Titus.  

For two months I have been totally consumed with the fallout from the chaos that followed our baptismal service. I have questioned my calling. I have tried to apologize. I have tried to sort out the details of what happened. And I have kept moving forward. All the time, I have not been able to shed the immense sorrow that I feel as a result of that day’s events.

I continued reading Paul’s letters to the early churches and asked what would the message be for our congregation. There is truth in each letter that applies as much to today’s church as it does to the earliest churches. Sadly, I do not think the lessons made an impact.

During these weeks, I have sought council. I have heard opinions. I have experienced shunning. And I have had to answer to the district superintendent. All the while, only one source continues providing Christ-like advice and that is the Bible. After exhausting all the various sources I could, I turned again to Paul. This time I found the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, two of the pastors he placed in churches.

Last week, I shared a brief scripture from Titus, so this week I decided to focus on reading the two letters to Timothy. I discovered that Titus was actually written between the two letters to Timothy and 2 Timothy was written by Paul while he was under arrest and trying to prepare for his final trial that in historical perspective turned out to end in his execution. Therefore, 2 Timothy was his last letter to the earliest Christians.

This week, searching for answers and direction, Paul’s advice to Timothy may provide needed guidance. Let’s begin with today’s opening verses (2 Timothy 2:10-14):

10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.

11 This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
12 If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

These words written as Paul sat in a Roman prison alone, about AD 66 or 67, are words that pastors need to hear. These are words of encouragement, almost like a mantra to develop one’s self-confidence. But these words are for all faithful followers, not just pastors. As long as we remain faithful to God, he will continue to be with us.

The rumor mill that has churned out stories in our community have caused damage. Words have divided us in ways we may not even realize. But Paul wants us to remember to stay faithful. To remain loyal. To endure hardships. And in verse 14:

 

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

Those words mean the same thing regardless of the translation:

 

  • KJV: 14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
  • NRSV: 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God[a]that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.
  • NIV: 14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
  • MSG: 14-18 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.
  • CEB: 14 Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them.

 

Today, these words must be the very basic principle that is the foundation of a healthy congregation. When one is hurt by the words that are being spoken, healing is difficult. But with God, anything is possible as long as all words spoken whether by myself, the pastor, or by any of us need to be Christ-like at all times.

This is a tremendous order that Paul has sent to Timothy, and it is a tremendous one for each of us. I do the best that I can, and I apologize for any words that may be hurtful. What I must do now is stay focused on the words Paul shares and all the words of the scripture. I must turn over my hurt feelings and my self-doubt in order to move forward and continue sharing the Good News.

Reading on through the second chapter of 2 Timothy, there is a metaphor that applies to us:

 

20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

 

We must continue developing the tools that work for us each and every day whether a special day or an ordinary day. The tools will assure that we work as a team to carry out the various ministries of our church. The tools will demonstrate our skills to live our faith visibly in the community. The tools are defined and refined in the words of the scripture, from the first book of Genesis, through the last book of Revelations. Are we using the best materials to develop our tools, or are we failing to use the tools?

Last week while reviewing the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, the verse from Titus 2:12 was shared:

 

12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God . . .

 

Paul continues this instruction with the second letter to Timothy in 2:22:

 

22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

 

Sadly, I do not believe we have achieved this level of Christian fellowship. Our tools are not sharpened and honed to perfection as a congregation. Instead, there is a split that continues to divide and destroy the effectiveness of the sharing the Good News God has commissioned us to do.

Right now, today, we must consciously turn to Paul’s instruction and ask for God to forgive us and to ask each other for forgiveness, too. I know that the heart of this church is for the transformation of the community. The truth is that no transformation has any chance if the church itself is battling “foolish, ignorant arguments” as Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:22: 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.

Still, Paul does not give up on making his point. He continues stating:

 

24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

 

Paul’s letter was to the pastor Timothy. The words may serve to remind today’s pastors also, but the words are true for all Christians. The Wesley Study Bible’s notes for 2 Timothy 2:25-26 states:

“Gracious and theologically sound instruction results in salvation. Wesley persistently argued Paul’s point: Scripture rightly interpreted saves sinners from “the snare of the devil” (v. 26).”

 

Personally, I will do all that I can to provide “gracious and theologically sound instruction” through the reading and study of scripture. I expect each of you follow the same set of instructions that Paul gave Timothy to develop the tools that can assure you live the Christian lifestyle that the scripture defines for us.

I apologize for any of my words or actions that may have been misunderstood or hurtful, and I expect each of you to honestly evaluate your own use of words and actions. Together we can continue to serve God by living our faith out loud—boldly demonstrating the value of loving one another.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

We come to worship,

     Yet there is pain in our hearts.

We come to hear your words

     But our hearing is often blocked.

Open our hearts to your words

     So we can heal the pain.

Open our minds to learn

     The lessons so we can heal.

Forgive us of our closed hearts

     And our closed minds.

Forgive us of our actions

     That keeps doors closed.

Let us come to the table

     Unified in Christ.

Let us experience pure joy

     Knowing your grace.

Send us out the doors

     With renewed conviction.

Send us out to live boldly

     As faithful servants

     Loving one another.

In your name, God the Father,

     The Son, Jesus Chirst,

     And the Holy Spirit, amen.

           

[The prayer transitions the service to the sacrament of Communion.]

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Oops! Did you misunderstand my letter

This is the sermon and related scripture that I gave on Sunday, October 22, 2017.  The format is a bit different so I hope you can follow it easily.  This also concludes the series of Paul’s letters and the message that still applies to today’s churches.  Thank you all for reading along.  I appreciate your interest and hope these words speak to you.

Reflection: Oops!

How many times do you say something to someone and then discover that maybe they did not really hear what you were saying? All too often, correct?

Paul writes his second letter to the Thessalonians because that is what he thinks may have happened when the church received his first letter. He was afraid that they were not understanding what he said about Jesus’ second coming.

Imagine Paul’s sense of urgency when he learned that members of that Thessalonian church were not following the list of do’s and don’ts that his first letter listed because they only heard that Jesus was returning soon.

Consider the scriptures of this second letter as though you were misunderstanding Paul’s first letter:

 

Opening scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 11-12, NLT

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

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

 

Reflection continues: But just in case . . .

Communication always has the potential to be heard through a wide range of filters. What one says may not be heard the same way as the speaker intends. How come? There are many reasons the message can become twisted.

For instance, the forecast for the weekend might be partly sunny and that would be fine for an outdoor event. But maybe the partly sunny also means partly cloudy and those clouds might be filled with rain. If you are planning on a day outside, you might hear that forecast as ruining the weekend’s plans while someone who may not need to be outside would hear that same forecast and it would not be an issue.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians tried to address the issue of Jesus Christ’s second coming, but some did not hear Paul’s emphasis on the do’s and don’ts that one should live in order to be prepared at any time for Jesus’ return. What some heard was only that he was going to return at any time. Nothing else mattered to them except that he was coming.

Now Paul hurriedly sent the second letter because he did not want the Thessalonian Christians to continue being idle. Those who thought all they had to do was sit and wait were not living their faith as testimony to Jesus’ teachings.

 

Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4, NLT

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.

 

Reflection: . . . you misunderstood my first letter, let me restate . . .

Addressing any misunderstanding is awkward. If one is the message sender/speaker, the words chosen make sense to that person and even if written out and re-read, there is a potential for misunderstanding. The misunderstanding can develop from a range of possibilities.

For instance, maybe there is a translation issue. Paul new more than one language, but who knows the native language the different members of the Thessalonian church making it necessary to translate the letter. Another possibility is that as the listener hears that first letter, the selective hearing only catches Paul’s statement that Jesus will be coming soon.

The same thing happens in communication efforts today. We may hear a news story through a personal filter that is different than the main purpose of reporting that story. Or maybe we have a prejudiced feeling toward one of the people (or party) that is central to the news report. That filter may “color” how you understand the story.

Reading on into the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians needs to be read with care, too. Reading this portion of the chapter might cause us to do the same thing that the early audience did concerning the second coming.

Hear Paul’s words with open minds, and try listening carefully through the filter of the earliest church and be alert to possible filters of today such as being an American:

 

Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12, NLT

     Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you? And you know what is holding him back, for he [Jesus] can be revealed only when his time comes. For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming.

     This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. 10 He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. 11 So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. 12 Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.

 

Reflection: Let me restate what I mean.

Paul’s primary message is just as critical today as it was when he wrote that first letter to the Thessalonians which had to be why he felt so much urgency to write a second letter. This places today’s reader in a position to read it carefully—listen to it carefully.

Only one thing matters at all: live each day in the same way that Jesus lived his. Love one another. Read scripture. Worship. And live each day to the fullest: don’t be idle or lazy; work hard. In fact, Paul stated what he recommended very straight forward:

we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us . . . [2 Thessalonians 3:6]

Paul did not want any misunderstanding. He wanted these believers who were new to their faith to fully understand that waiting for Jesus’ return did not mean to quit living.

As Christians still waiting for Jesus to return, we must follow the same advice that Paul gave the Thessalonians in both of his letters. God’s timeline does not match our human timeline; so, while we wait, we live. We live a Christ-like life doing all we can for one another in love. We live a Christ-like life studying scripture and worshiping. And, as Paul tells all the churches in his letters, we pray.

 

Closing scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, NLT

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you. Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you. May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.

 

Closing prayer:

Dear Patient Father,

May we honestly hear Paul’s ancient words

            as words of advice for us yet today.

Help us to listen carefully without filters

            so we may learn to live Christ-like lives.

Guide those who share the scriptures’ message

            so your words are not misunderstood.

Show us how you want us to share the news

            of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection

            and how our faith leads to salvation.

With these words, and the words of Paul,

            may we hear the promise of eternal life. –Amen.

 

 

 

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Just what do I do?

sermon given on Sunday, October 15, 2017–continuing with the letters of Paul and asking the question:  What does Paul’s letter tell today’s church?

Opening scripture: I Thessalonians 4:1, 11-12, NLT

. . . we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. . . . 11 Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 12 Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

 

Opening reflection: Just what do I do?

Only two more letters that Paul wrote to the early churches remain to review. The overarching question these past several weeks has been what message is in the letter for today’s church right here in our own community.

Each letter has followed a basic outline as any business letter we might write even today. There really is not a marked difference: the salutation, a brief familiar introduction, and then the business of the message—the reason Paul writes the letter. Once he is done with the business portion, he wraps up the letter with personal messages and reminders, even suggesting what he plans to do next.

By the time we read the two letters to the Thessalonian church, we know what to expect. But the first letter could be written to any individual in the church with whom Paul was concerned had strayed from the basic teaching. The instructions are very specific.

These opening verses seem very personal, especially if you include the reminder about sexual morality that is covered in the verses 2-10. As Paul greets his reader, so we greet each other with these opening verses. Do what Jesus taught you and you will be respected and not depend on others.

 

Sermon’s scripture connection: I Thessalonians 5:6-22, NLT

     So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk.But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

     For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

     12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. 13 Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.

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

     15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

     16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

     19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

 

Reflection continues: Do all you can to live like Jesus.

            All my life I have had books around me. Of course growing up before all the multimedia tools existed helped, and I learned early that if I had a book report to make I did not have to do chores until I finished it. Reading was fun and lead me to dream a great deal.

Remember those early book series, The Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames the Nurse, and my brother’s choice The Hardy Boys. We also had National Geographic, Look, Life, Farm Journal, Successful Farming, the Mexico Ledger and the Montgomery Standard. We had reading materials available in all kinds of forms. Reading let us go beyond the 160 acres of the farm or the boundaries of the Bellflower Elementary School and later Montgomery County R-II.

Reading Paul’s letters is somewhat like reading self-help books. The author identifies a problem, and then outlines the advice one should follow to rectify the problem. And yes, I have read my share of self-help books on a range of topics for a variety of reasons: co-dependency, dieting, teaching, organizing, time management, goal setting, and the list continues including assigned readings for pastors.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a self-help manual. It is not overly wordy and not filled with a great deal of examples. This letter is to the point, and reading it one might wonder just what in the world the people really were doing. Hopefully the tabloids were not spreading the news and he was listening carefully to the church’s leaders.

By the time one reads through the introduction, Paul’s message becomes clear. Just what does one do to live as a Christian while they wait for Jesus to return? Even though Paul reminds them of the one commandment: love one another; he does acknowledge that they are following that rule. Yet the church apparently is struggling to know just how long the wait for Jesus’ return is.

Like reading self-help books, the final goal of such reading is not just one event or one moment in time, the advice is for a lifetime change regardless of where one is, how old one is, or whether there is a finite date attached to the timeline. Paul explains that there is no way for anybody to know when Jesus will return but we must do what Jesus taught us to do all the time.

Certainly today, over 2,000 years later than Paul’s ministry, we know that our perception of when Christ will return is impossible to define. We cannot continue to focus on the exact time Jesus is expected to return; rather we are to focus on doing all that we can do to live Christ-like lives.

Paul knew this and in the effort to help the Thessalonians live confidently and expectantly for Christ’s return whenever it might be, he lists the specific behaviors that each Christian should exhibit in verses 5:6-22. If these were listed in a self-help book today, they would be summarized in bullet format or might read like a table of contents for a more in-depth book (located on the bulletin’s cover and extemporaneously discuss each listing):

  • Stay alert and be clearheaded (don’t get drunk).
  • Encourage and build each other up.
  • Honor leaders giving spiritual guidance.
  • Show spiritual leaders respect and wholehearted love.
  • Live peacefully with each other
  • Warn those who are lazy.
  • Encourage the timid.
  • Take tender care of the weak.
  • Be patient with everyone.
  • Do not pay back evil with evil.
  • Try to do good to each other and to all people.
  • Always be joyful
  • Never stop praying.
  • Be thankful in all circumstances.
  • Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.
  • Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything said.
  • Hold on to what is good.
  • Stay away from every kind of evil.

 

These behaviors are so clearly stated the Thessalonians did not have to question what Paul expected of them. The return date of Jesus Christ was not important, but living Christ-like was. By following these guidelines, the Christians are always ready for Christ’s return whether it is in broad daylight or in the middle of the night, whether this week or next week, or maybe in a year or two.

            Just what do we do? Simply do all that we can to live Christ-like lives. We live like Christ individually and as a church. We read the self-help books Paul wrote to the earliest churches; we continue to read all the Bible’s books seeking for the wisdom of living as God asks us to live loving one another.

Waiting is tough, especially if the deadline is not evident and is completely unclear after two millenniums. We must live simply and lovingly doing all that we can to share God’s infinite love with all of creation. We must keep doing whatever we can to teach others about God’s grace and love. We must worship God together thanking him for his love, his grace, and the promise of salvation.

Just what do we do? We simply do what we can, all the time we can, so we can be filled with the joy of living never worrying about when Christ will return. And, as Paul said in his opening: (1:12) Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. (4:17). . . we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up. . . Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18So encourage each other. . .

Closing prayer:

Dear gracious, loving and patient Father,

 

When we ask just what we are to do,

You tell us through the words of scripture.

Today Paul’s words share your message

That is timeless, encouraging and practical.

 

May we turn to each other to strengthen

our skills to live as Christ lived.

May we join together to do good

And defend ourselves from evil.

 

Guide us and arm us with the Holy Spirit

So we may share the joy of living like Christ

Doing all we can to encourage others

And practice what Paul teaches in his letters.

 

May the drunken become clearheaded,

May the homeless be housed,

May the hungry be fed, and

May the weak be strong.

 

Through the words of the Scripture

And by the power of the Holy Spirit

Let us serve one another in love

Doing all that we can so we may meet Jesus. –Amen.

 

Reflection’s conclusion: And The Church must follow the advice, too.

I encourage each one of you to read the Bible as your own self-help book. Paul is guiding us as individuals, but he is also guiding us as The Church. The advice is not always pleasant and may cause us to wince as we honestly evaluate what we do against what Paul tells us to do.

Attending the New Wineskins conference provided me an opportunity to hear what today’s innovative spiritual leaders are doing. When John Wesley redefined The Church into what we know as Methodism, the change was tough to accept for many. Yet, Wesley’s theology and his methods continue to follow Paul’s advice.

We must do what God asks us to do, both individually and as one of his church’s congregations. Somehow we have to find the courage to live Christ-like lives right here, right now, in any way we can or we have to find a new way.

Closing scripture: I Thessalonians 5:23-24, 28, NLT

23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. . . . 28 May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

 

 

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The Church’s Do’s and Don’ts

Sermon given on Sunday, October 8, 2017

Opening scriptures: Colossians 1:15—20, NLT

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,[a]
16 for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.[b]
So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

 

Reflection: The Church’s Do’s and Don’ts

            Weeks ago I began the process of reading Paul’s letters for advice that made sense to our own church now 2,000 years later. I could not predict what each letter was going to tell the church that made sense in our world today, yet the message always seems appropriate.

No one can ignore the horrific news that greeted us Monday morning about the insane shooting in Las Vegas, yet reading the letter Paul wrote to Colossians continues to be as important today as it was in those earliest days of The Church. We must be unified in Christ and determine what we as a church, as well as individuals, can do to tell the Good News to others.

In our opening scripture, we have a statement that summarizes The Church’s relationship to Jesus Christ. That opening verse reminds us that Christ was a real human being: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. . .

These opening verses emphasizes the very basic foundation of the church and its relationship to Jesus Christ. In a world filled with all types of evil and doubting thoughts, we need to hear Paul’s statement and know it to be the very basis of why The Church must do all it can to spread this truth in our world today. It is just as important as it was in Paul’s day or any time in human history since Jesus Christ walked the earth demonstrating and teaching how to love one another despite all the heretics yet today.

 

Scripture continues: Colossians 3:8, 12-17, NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. . . .

     12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

     16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

 

Reflection continues:

Admittedly I am a ‘newsaholic’ and could easily sit and work around the house with a news station running 24/7. I don’t because that is also mentally unhealthy. Living in a world that can feed all the events occurring anywhere around the globe instantly into our own homes, we are beaten up by negative input.

True, there is positive news that can be reported, too, it just does not meet what is considered newsworthy that must be shared immediately. While in Journalism School in the mid-1970s, students were taught that there is a responsibility to report news that is timely, that is geographically related, and that pertains to people who have name recognition in the area of publication.

The communication technology was beginning to effect society and studies in the 1970s included whether what was on television or movie screen would negatively effect viewers, especially young people. Now, 40 years later, the effects are evident. The Church can be an active element in society today if it can follow the guidelines that Paul provides in the letter to Colossians.

            Paul outlines the dos and don’ts for The Church and should also be the does and don’ts in our own individual lives. Christ is in us and it is in us as The Church. There is no excuse for not following these guidelines right now, especially in light of all the horrors that are broadcast at us at all times. Paul’s guidelines work and can be more powerful than anything broadcast at us through our media today.

The verse 3:8 lists the don’ts and they seem so obvious: . . . get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. . .  Sadly, the list seems to be the very themes of almost any entertainment program, movie or even video game. We are being flooded with such graphic images of these very don’ts Paul listed.

Defending ourselves from these is tough as adults, just imagine how tough it is for our young people who are growing up with them daily. There is no limiting the access to these very negative behaviors through the seemingly infinite sources that flood our lives today.

The skills to defend ourselves and our children and our communities are listed in Paul’s letter as the do’s for The Church trying to maintain Jesus’ teachings. The verses in 3:12-17 outline the do’s for The Church but also for each one of us:

  • . . . clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
  • Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.
  • Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.14 
  • Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
  • 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.
  • And always be thankful.

Each one of these do’s are so practical. The cost is nothing other than our own willingness to demonstrate them.

The Church can work as a media element itself. It can do whatever it can to show people how to use the do’s that Paul lists in these verses. The Church must be a place where one can step in for a worship service and expect tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, peace, and love.

The Church is more than a building or a location in any form, the Church is the people of Jesus Christ. As humans, we are fallible. We come to church to fine-tune the do’s Paul teaches us. We come to church to find peace. We come to church to ask forgiveness. We come to church to learn and to counsel each other in how to live our beliefs in a world filled with evil and all forms of cynicism.

Paul’s letters from the first one to the Romans, through today’s verses to the Colossians and I am sure in the letters to the Thessalonians, continue to teach us how to combat false teachings, how to live in unity in Christ, how to tell the Good News, and how to pray.

Today, we must remember the do’s and don’ts that Paul lists in his letter to the Colossians as though they are written to us today. We must not fail because we have a responsibility to God that we accepted upon our baptism. We are to do all we can to be The Church so that others may learn the Good News of Christ’s life, death and resurrection so that we may be forgiven of our sins and join him in life eternal. We are God’s representatives and we must forgive one another as well as encourage one another to continue living as God’s messengers to all.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and forgiving Father,

We ask you to speak to us through the words of Paul.

We ask you to forgive us for our anger, rage, malicious behaviors,

            slander and dirty language.

We thank you for giving us the strength to demonstrate tenderhearted

            mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

We thank you that Paul guides us in how to forgive others,

            and how to love one another.

May we continue to learn from Paul’s letters and scriptures

            from the books of Old and New Testaments, especially the Gospel.

May we find wisdom while we teach and learn from each other,

            and through our worship.

May we know the joy of living our lives giving thanks to You for the gift

            of your son Jesus Christ, so that our lives are transformed.

In the name of You, God the father,

            Your Son, Jesus Christ,

                        And the Holy Spirit which is you within us. Amen

 

Closing scriptures: Colossians 4:5-6, NLT

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive[a] so that you will have the right response for everyone.

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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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Have you noticed the changes?

Special note:  Thank you for the patience needed before this posting.  We have had a vacation, a guest speaker, and a funeral all in the last three weeks–not to mention our church’s annual fair concession over the weekend.  Thank you, too, for following the blog.  I appreciate your notes and hope that it speaks to you.

 

given on Sunday, September 3, 2017

Scripture connections: 

Opening: Galatians 1:15-20, NLT

     15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him 16 to reveal his Son to me[e] so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.

When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being.[f]17 Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus.

     18 Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter,[g] and I stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I declare before God that what I am writing to you is not a lie. 

Sermon support: Galatians 3:23-29, NLT

23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

26 For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[b] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[c] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[d] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Closing: Galatians 3:29, NLT

29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[p] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Reflection: Have you noticed the change?

Driving back and forth into town this week, the seasonal changes have become evident. Monday on the way to Peters Market, we noticed the super dark caterpillars were crossing the roads not just one at a time, but several at a time. The folklore says that super dark color means we are in for a severe winter—the first reminder of the seasonal change.

Additional reminders that the seasons are changing include the temperatures and the color of the trees. With the cooler evenings and all the excess moisture from this summer, the evenings are damp and cool. The trees have lost the glossy look of summer. I even notice some of the leaves are curling and actually changing color. Summer is winding down,

This brings the season discussion to today, the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, the cultural mark that summer is over. In our community, even the fair is over and everybody is worn out. The summer push is done and now it is time to move into harvest and prepare for the winter.

Seasonal shifts are just part of the life cycle and it is easy to forget that all lives develop a pattern of changes. This week we lost one of church’s matriarchs. Her 92 years were filled with seasons of change, yet her faith supported each phase of her life. She heard God’s voice in music, and she spoke God’s love through the music she played. Her special gifts shared God’s message with all who listened.

Yet, her earthly season ended and she moved to the next season with God. She never doubted that the season would change and she never seemed to fear that change. We know that life seasons are going to change; yet we may dread those changes. What we do not know can cause us to freeze up and refuse to prepare.

But let’s go back to understanding the folklore behind the caterpillars. An internet search can provide some insight into the legends:

  • The color of the “woolly bear” caterpillars develops along 15 segments of the body. The color develops through molting and on how well it feeds during the summer. The better the food source, the browner the segments.
  • The darker the color, the older and more prepared the caterpillar is to cool down in preparation for the winter hibernation. (I had no idea they hibernated.) As the temperatures drop, the body freezes bit by bit. The fur called setae allows for the slow production of antifreeze known as glycerol. They can literally survive in temperatures as low as -90 degrees F.
  • Caterpillars’ crossing the roads is an indication that they are looking for a good place to hibernate for the winter. Good places include under bark, a rock, or a fallen log. [Accessed on September 2, 2017 at https://www.weather.gov/arx/woollybear]

 

Maybe the folklore of the caterpillar seems disconnected to our faith, but I suggest that it is once again evidence of how our cultures look at living our faith. Our church also has seasons and as we struggle to continue sharing God’s message. We can retreat into behavior patterns that follow growth cycles that inevitably end in death.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatian church, the church was retreating to the customs and traditions of the Jewish law rather than openly accepting all people (Gentiles) regardless of their understanding of the old law. Paul had heard of the conflict developing in the church over the necessity of following the old law for those who were not of the Jewish heritage:

23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Paul was showing the Galatians that the season had changed with the life and death of Jesus Christ. The old law was replaced:

24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

Churches today are facing the shift in seasons. We can look at the how things have always been done, and we can try to force fit them into today’s culture. The result often creates dissension, frustration, and ultimately death. Today’s churches are struggling to understand how to adapt their old law to a new season in God’s church.

The old timers know that there is some base of truth to the folklore of predicting weather, but it is not always scientifically sound. Sometimes it is necessary to let go of the well-seasoned practices and look for new practices that can be successful. The science behind the folklore of the caterpillars reminds me that good feeding and healthy living creates the woolly bear caterpillar with a dark coat of fur that can weather the worst winter conditions.

Today’s churches must consider what makes God’s message more than folklore and really the most successful lifestyle to manage the stressful seasons of earthly living. The Bible provides the timeless messages of how faith sustains us in all the challenges of life. Paul personally experienced the shift from the old law to the new law and became passionate about sharing the message. We need his wise words to guide us in the seasons of our own lives as well as the life of our church.

Reading Galatians is like an internet search. As Paul heard of the church’s problems, he wrote the letter with a loving but firm scolding. He wanted the message Jesus Christ demonstrated to become the guiding principle that moved the Jewish faithful to be the loving, flexible, openly accepting Christians. He wanted them to remember that the old law could prevent others, Gentiles especially, from God’s all inclusive love:

26 For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[b] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[c] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[d] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

By writing to the Galatians, Paul was assuring the young church that loving one another was the only law needed as the season changed from the old timers’ culture to the post-Jesus Christ culture. Today’s churches need that honest reprimand, too. The only law that matters is that we love one another as we want to be loved.

The old ways may be how we developed in our faith journey, but the seasonal change means we need to re-evaluate our personal faith journeys and make sure that we are not clinging to the old ways so tightly that we are failing to prepare for the seasonal changes of the future.

Christianity is not folklore, it is a lifestyle that survives the challenges of cultures, of lifestyle fads, of drought years, of flooding, of boiling hot summers, and frigid winter nights. Christianity is a lifestyle that places God above all the other challenges in our lives and keeps us grounded, always preparing for the next storm, and ultimately life everlasting alongside of Jesus Christ who prepared the path for us.

Having been raised on the farm, I know that as summer moves into fall and the harvest is completed, there is a need for rest and renewal. The winter months become a time to hibernate in one sense, but also to prepare. As a church, we need the same—a time to rest, renew and prepare. Let’s continue to listen to Paul’s words and find the message of how to keep the church truly open minded, open hearted and opened doors.

Closing prayer:

Dear Loving God,

As we come in your sanctuary with weary bodies,

Help us to hear your words of guidance.

Guide us to accept the reality of life’s seasons

But teach us the ways to share the reality of your love.

Be with us as we step into a new season

Seeking rest and renewal to prepare for the next season.

Let us keep our minds open, our hearts open, and our doors open

As we work together in loving one another as we want to be loved.

In your name, your son’s name and with the Holy Spirit, amen.

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