Tag Archives: The Word

The Message in the Trees Series: 1. The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil

The Messages Found in the Trees:

  1. The Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil (January 28, 2018)
  2. The Cross: A man-made tree (February 4, 2018)
  3. The Tree of Life: Eternal Life (February 11, 2018)

 

Let’s begin with a foundational statement:

The Bible is literature. God has gifted all with unique talents; and the Holy Spirit is God’s presence alive within human beings. In no way does this message challenge anybody’s belief in the holiness or sanctity of the Bible. The faithful have preserved The Word in these books, broken down into Old Testament and New Testament. The Bible is the foundation for all faithful followers of God, regardless of the denomination, the translation or published language. The Bible is literature, it is a historical record, it is a textbook, it is a hymnal and it is God speaking to each individual who decides to pick it up and read The Word.

This is the image of the stained glass window now installed at the Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS.

 

The Messages Found in the Trees:

  1. The Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil (January 28, 2018)

 

Today’s reflection spins off from the artistic expression of The Word presented in stained glass. Leawood, Kansas’s Church of the Resurrection commissioned the window for its latest worship center and includes three different tree images: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, The Cross, and The Tree of Life. Today, we review the message behind the Bible’s story of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

 

Scripture: Genesis 2:9-17, NLT

     The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

     10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

     15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

Scripture: Proverbs 1:7, NLT

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.

 

Scripture: Psalm 111:9-10, NLT

He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

 

Looking at the stained glass image of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil does not match my personal image created in reading the creation story in Genesis. In the window, the tree has yellow leaves and dots of red, supposedly representing the fruit. The yellow leaves troubled me, but in the Church of Resurrection’s explanation, the yellowing leaves indicate the withering or dying of the tree.

The verses from Genesis 2 introduce the image of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

The Tree of Knowledge establishes a basic life rule for us, but understanding the significance of the tree is difficult. The rule simply is follow God’s law, avoid evil’s temptation and he will take care of us. The problem is that such a simple rule becomes complicated when evil forces battle for control in our life. Good versus evil takes a disciplined lifestyle that begins with The Word.

Reading the Bible is essential to hear God speaking to you personally. God speaks to each one of us in his own way and in his own time. What we hear depends on the filters of our own lives. These filters include our upbringing, our nationality, our experiences, and even the people who interact with us. Reading the Bible is a discipline necessary to manage the ever-changing face of evil and to hear God’s timeless wisdom even today.

For instance, the artist’s representation of a wilting, dying Tree of Knowledge (TREE OF KNOWLEDGE) does not match my image, which is of an apple tree like that of my childhood orchard or those in the commercial orchards along Hwy 24 in Lafayette County, MO. The childhood story of Eve eating the apple from the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE created the visual image of a healthy, vibrant, fruit-filled apple tree.

What happened after Eve ate that first apple/fruit was the story of Adam caving in to temptation as he bites into the fruit, too. The symbolic meaning of this bite teaches us that giving in to evil’s temptation is destructive. Nothing written in the scripture states that this human decision destroyed the tree itself, but as an adult I can see the artist’s interpretation of how giving into evil temptation destroys.

Today’s world now includes the visual language of emojis. Today, we use emojis to openly express our feelings. Therefore, I wanted to introduce the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE to the kids through the happy face and the sad face emojis—just the two emojis, not the myriad of emotion images available through our social media. Why? The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE is defined as simply the knowledge of good and evil—the happy face and the sad face.

How simple life can be if it can be boiled down to just a simple decision of whether something is good or evil. There would be no grey zone of emotions, of right or wrong, of good or evil. Unfortunately our world is far more complex, and as we look at the full color version of our stained glass windows here and in the COR’s window, we know life cannot be just good or evil.

The Word begins with the story of the Garden of Eden where Eve picks the fruit and convinces Adam to take a bite. The result symbolically unleashed the forces of good versus evil in all human lives. The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE in the window towers over the images of the Old Testament stories so familiar to readers. These stores serve as lessons about all the different ways humans must battle the forces of evil. (And even the images in the window are only a few of the Old Testament stories.)

Reading the Bible is a critical element in being a faithful Christian.

In the words of Proverbs 1:7:

 

 Fear (and remember this means ‘respect or revere’ by 21st century understanding) of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

 

We are reminded how important it is to read The Word so we develop wisdom and discipline. The stories develop our skill to determine good and evil. We will make mistakes; but God is forgiving, and each story we read shows us how God forgives over and over. We have the ability to make our own decisions; but if we live randomly, putting our personal selves in the center, we fail:

  • We fail to keep God at the center of our lives.
  • We fail to love one another, as we want to be loved.
  • We fail to choose good over evil.

The Bible is our “how to” manual for life. It guides us in how to take care of our world, our families, our communities, and yes, ourselves. But we must be disciplined in reading The Word.

As we step away from the heightened awareness of Christ’s birth, the excitement of Christmas diminishes as we face the reality of daily life—the bills, the broken water pipes, the extreme cold, the work world, the loneliness, and the uncertainties swirling around us: we need God. It is so easy to lose our self-discipline.

The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE of Good and Evil is the opening message of the Bible. It is the first story humans need to know and to understand in order to be equipped with the skill to journey through life. Evil lurks around us all the time. Evil begins when the eyes open. There is the temptation to ignore everything and stay in bed because it makes us feel safe–warm and cozy.

But evil lurks even in the safest places in our lives. We need God all the time to guide us in good versus evil. Learning good and evil begins with one’s first breath; therefore, parents need the knowledge of good and evil to provide the best environment possible for their children. Sadly, even then evil lurks around our homes as we all too often learn from the news.

The Word must be part of our lives so we can develop the knowledge of good and evil and be able to defend ourselves from evil. The symbolic representation of the dying TREE OF KNOWLEDGE reminds us that without The Word we, too, can wither and die. Our responsibility to God is to read and to teach The Word. The Bible is our tool. The stories create the inner knowledge of good and evil. The stories equip us with the knowledge necessary to defend us from evil in virtually every setting imaginable, in every relationship we develop, and in every transaction we make.

The Psalms are examples of hymns written to help the faithful maintain their worship discipline. In Psalm 111, The Word looks ahead and tells us that God, even when we make the mistake and get tangled up with evil, forgives us as long as we continue to ‘fear’ or as we would now say, respect or revere The Word:

He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

 

As Christians, we accept God’s role in our lives, but we also accept the responsibility to share the story with others. True, that begins in our own families as we teach our children the knowledge of good and evil, but it also continues in our lives’ journeys. We are to teach in our churches, in our communities, in our work places, in our recreation, and in our choices as citizens—not only as national citizens, but as global citizens.

Knowing how to identify evil is so very important, but it must be taught by our words and our actions so evil can be rebuked, confined, and hopefully ended. Our work is never done, and we are reminded that by the visual image of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE in the stained glass window. We are reminded that in the books of the Bible. We are reminded that when we are in Christian fellowship with each other.

Today, we can see the damage that evil causes in the image of the withering, dying TREE OF KNOWLEDGE of the stained glass window. We can see the emoji-dressed tree our kids have created. We can read the story of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE from the Bible, and we can hear the story told over and over in so many different ways. But do you understand the importance of the story? Do you accept the responsibility to continue telling the story? Do you need to re-read and study the stories of The Word to reinforce how you live a good versus evil life in God’s world?

Each week, join your church family to do just that. Keep the mental picture of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE present in your mind. Talk about it with others. Evaluate your decisions whether good or evil. Read The Word and find God talking to you. Your life will be a window to others so that they may see God in their own lives, too.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Protect us in our daily lives from the evil

that swirls around us.

Teach us through your words and works

to understand how good wins over evil.

Thank you for sharing The Word through gifts

you granted faithful artists and writers.

Thank you for giving us the ability

to understand The Word in all forms.

Guide us to use the gifts you gave us

to share The Word in our own ways.

May we be the model of disciplined, faithful Christians

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The Word Reflected in Stained Glass

Sermon given on Sunday, January 14, 2018:  This sermon serves as an introduction to sermons based on the images included in the stained glass window.images

Special note: The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS, has a stained glass window that captures God’s story and during a conference the images mesmerized me. The next few weeks, God’s story will be shared based on the artistic images of the window. Thank you to COR for investing in such an artistic interpretation so The Story can live in all who view it or who learn The Story shared by others.  See attached link.

 

Scripture connections:

Genesis 1:1-2, NLT

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 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.

John 1:1-5, NLT

1In 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,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

Revelation 1:7-8, NLT

7Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
And everyone will see him—
even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Reflection through art: The Word Reflected in Stained Glass

Sitting in our sanctuary in rural Missouri, we are wrapped by stained glass windows that share God’s story in brilliant images and vivid colors. The symbolism of the stained glass windows reflects the literature of the Bible; and we are privileged to be surrounded by these windows.

Stained glass windows have spoken to me since a child sitting in my hometown sanctuary where the windows allowed smoky light to filter in during the Sunday morning service as the sun rose behind them. The pew in which I sat each Sunday, I watched the window of Jesus holding the lost lamb. I suspect many recognize that story because they too have seen that picture either in their Bible or in a frame hanging on a wall or in a stained glass window like I did.

My awareness of God’s story and fascination for the stained glass windows probably led to the overwhelming sense of awe as I stepped into the newest sanctuary (hardly an accurate word for the enormous room or auditorium) at Leawood’s (Kansas) Church of the Resurrection. The window is huge and measures 35 feet by 92 feet. [The completed jigsaw puzzle is preserved and on display so others may inspect it as we work through the stories and the meaning of the work.]

Briefly, the window has three primary panels that merge together, bordering along a river path that wraps around the central panel. The first section reflects the Old Testament, the middle section is Christ’s story as found in the New Testament, and the final section is The Church after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The window is packed with images—some very familiar, some less so. But every element of the window carries God’s story forward. There is no time better than today to begin a journey through God’s story as shared in the window.

Let’s begin with Genesis 1:1-2, NLT

 

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 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.

 

These words share the beginning of our understanding of Creation. The world God created is represented as coming out of the cosmos in the puzzle, a dark purple circle of heavenly-like bodies—an image I recognize from sitting out gazing at the night sky.

What better time than these first weeks after Christmas to review the opening of Genesis and consider the relationship of God to this world. How one perceives Creation, or explains how the world came to be, is not an issue for me. What matters is that there is an omniscient being I know as God, and no matter what, I am convinced that God’s story includes the stories of the Old Testament and led to the necessity of God joining us in the human form of Jesus Christ.

Reading the gospel of John, the Story is summarized in those first five verses:

1In 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,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

 

The words we use each and every day are the very tools to carry God’s story forward. The Bible’s words record the relationship of humans to God, provides examples of life challenges and how faith in God makes the human experience bearable. The words shared through the Bible warn, teach, and love us.

John identifies God as The Word. From the cosmos, the Word became the world we know. The Word carries the story forward so all humanity can understand. The Word gives us the ability to tell the story in so many ways—from the visual images as we see in our own stained glass, in the art hanging on our walls, in the sounds of the music we hear, in the words of the literature we read, and in the words we share with one another.

John is one of four different views of Jesus’ story. The middle panel of the COR stained glass window takes The Word and records it visually for us. The Word shared in the gospels tell the stories of Jesus’ life, but maybe more importantly the words provide us the lessons for living in this world with others from around this world.

Interestingly, John’s gospel ends with these last two verses:

24 This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.

25 Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.

The reality of the Bible is that there is no way that The Word is complete. The Word continues as The Church fueled by the Holy Spirit and this is illustrated in the third phase of COR’s stained glass window.

The panel is filled with the images of disciples who have carried The Word forward around this globe in almost every different setting one might think up. As Jesus the man died on the cross, he commissioned his disciples to become The Church. He did not say build a structure to keep the faithful inside, he said to be The Church. The Word continues in the words, the actions, and the story of the disciples that continue following Jesus’ teachings.

The gospel John shares Jesus’ vision for The Church in the book of Revelation. Again the words confirm and continue the timeless story:

7Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
And everyone will see him—
even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

As we continue to review the story of God as shared in the words of our Bible and the stories of the people who illustrate living a life faithful to God and serving as The Church, we will see that the gift of Jesus Christ provides all the gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy and peace.

By following The Word, the Teacher and the Holy Spirit as all those before us and those reflected in the COR’s stained glass, we will met Jesus Christ personally. We will see that God is “the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end . . . the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for all your disciples

Who share the Word in the Bible,

In the visual arts of stained glass,

And in the auditory arts of music.

 

We ask for your presence in our lives

As we find you speaking to us

In so many different ways:

Through written words

Through visual arts

And through music.

 

Guide us, too, as we continue your work

Sharing The Word in new and surprising ways.

May we be the Church

Sharing the gifts of hope, love, joy and peace. –Amen

 

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Why am I a church member?

given on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Scripture connection:

Ephesians 2:19-21 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.

Ephesians 4:12-13 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Reflections:

 

How many of us have moved from one community to another? We are living in an extremely mobile society and communities are so different in our country that stepping into a new community is frightening.

When I first moved into Lexington, I knew it would be a challenge as I had always called Winter Wonderland in Montgomery County home. Certainly I had moved to Columbia for my college years, but home was still that farm about three miles from Buell, population around 30, and eight miles from Montgomery City, population around 2,400 and the county seat.

I knew the community and its people. I knew its values, it economic base, and the traditions that were all part of that community. Lexington was a state away and I knew no one on the west side of Missouri. I moved into the new community and felt totally alone.

The one place I recognized and knew was the Methodist Church, and that is where I felt safe and accepted. The church was my community even on the opposite side of the state from where I grew up. I stepped into the sanctuary and was at home. The stained glass window was the same one I had in my home church. The music was the same; the messages were the same. I was at home.

Belonging to a Methodist Church created a home wherever I was. Even the move from Lexington to Warrensburg was easier because I simply moved into my church. The setting was different this time as the stained glass window I knew was not there, but the music, the liturgy, and the messages were familiar.

The people there were still the same family members I had known in Lexington and in Montgomery. We all believed in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. My baptism as a child was just as valid in any church as it was in my home church. Only a request to change membership was necessary to be automatically included in the ‘new’ churches I attended.

When I hear someone ask why he or she should be a member of a specific church, I cringe. Church membership is not the same type of membership that one might have in a professional or social club. Church membership is merely a step in one’s spiritual journey that is unique to each individual.

Today belonging to a church may be more important than ever. Our 21st century culture brings each and every one of us into close proximity to each other. There is a global community and what affects us in our own homes may very possibly affect someone else half the world away.

The same sense of proximity makes the role of Christians even more critical. What we do can have a ripple effect that really can provide a positive—or negative—influence on someone in a different country with different life circumstances, different traditions or customs.

What we do in our church does make a difference and as a member of a local church community, we are empowered to make a difference that can be combined with other local church efforts to create a powerful difference in ministry.

Believing in God, our creator, and in Jesus Christ, our redeemer, is personal, true. But when joined together with other believers the power of community worship and service grows our faith journey in ways that can only be explained by understanding how the Holy Spirit works within us.

This is why we need to be church members—to make a difference as a body of Christ rather than as a lone believer doing all that one can do by one’s self. Stephen Covey, one of the most respected authors in time/business management, would say that working in a team creates synergy making the results more successful, more dramatic, and more lasting.

The value of being a church member depends on understanding what church membership means. Answering that can be as basic as understanding the principles of team dynamics, but church membership goes beyond a work setting or a sport competition.

Church membership places believers in settings that Paul and the earliest disciples knew first hand. Church membership is designed to spread the Word in ways that change lives and the world that one could not do alone.

John Wesley saw that working in small groups addressed spiritual growth in a systematic way holding each other accountable for their actions as well as assisting in understanding God’s Word and its application in one’s immediate culture.

Small group study leads to small group actions. Small group actions spread God’s love and grace more effectively than any person could do by his or her self. Small groups working collectively with other allows for God’s Word and work to grow even faster and further—mathematically it is called exponential growth.

Rick Warrens, even though he follows the Baptist doctrine, his message of living purpose-driven lives follows the Wesleyan format of using small groups or class meetings to grow in faith and in service, also. His spiritually successful movement is one our generation has witnessed.

In all of the small, early churches that Paul established to the Wesley’s class meetings and Warren’s small groups, the role of the church member is the same: live a Christ-centered life and do whatever you can to spread the Word and make disciples of Christ. At the same time, all the work that one does to meet the needs of others in all the different ways possible is what Christians do.

Being a church member looks like Jesus. Being a church member looks like being Wesley and Warren. Being a church member looks like the members of our church who have served one another in our own community with love and grace in so many different ways. We recognize them and we try to model their examples in our own lives.

Being a church member and working side by side with others who believe in God and serve as God’s emissaries in our own communities makes a difference in our own faith journeys as well as in the lives of those around us. As a church member teaming up with others in the church, God’s actions can reach out to others more effectively and efficiently.

Being a local church member provides us a personal safety net when challenges become so overwhelming we feel lost. We can turn to each other with confidence that our church family will guide us and put their arms around us to provide the grace and the love that we need as we struggle through the challenge.

Being a church member means we can join together to defend ourselves from evil but also work to keep evil from invading our community. As a team, we can rally to the needs of others struggling with financial battles, with addictions, with broken relationships, and with life challenges of raising families.

Being a church member creates a family when forced to leave one community and relocate in a new community. Church members hold in common the same values whether in one’s home community or whether located in a community in a different town, state, or even country because God’s love reaches everywhere in this world.

Question: Why are we church members?

Answers: (1) We are church members because we believe in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (2) We are church members because we can grow in our own faith journey through the small group studies, fellowship and Christian relationships. (3) We are church members because as a team we can make a difference in a world–whether local or global–that is challenged with all types of evil challenge whether man-made or nature-made. But maybe most importantly, (4) we are members of The Church because God commissioned us to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world; and working together we can accomplish more than we can by ourselves.

Closing prayer

Dear Lord,

The Word clearly tells us that we need to be in fellowship

with other believers.

Thank you for this community of faithful believers

with whom we join in fellowship.

Jesus demonstrated how fellowship and worship

with other believers strengthens our faith.

Thank you for those who lead our small groups

as we work to learn study and to serve.

The earliest disciples accepted their responsibility

to grow the church by telling the story.

Thank you for our brothers and sisters in faith

who encourage us in our local and global missions.

Faithful leaders throughout the millenniums

have guided The Church’s growth.

May we work together to learn and to grow

in our personal faith journey.

Today a revival is underway in order to spread the Word

in as many ways as we can whenever we can.

Guide us, Lord, to find the best ways to preserve

and to spread the good news of your grace and love.

In your holy name, amen.

 

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God’s words, not mine

given on Sunday, July 31, 2016

Scripture connections:

Matthew 28: 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

 

Matthew 22: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(NIV)

 

Galatians 2: 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[a] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

 

Galatians 3: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 5: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. . . . 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 6: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Colossians 1: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

Colossians 1: 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 2: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 3: Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

 

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

 

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

 

 

Reflection:

 

I apologize. I am not Paul nor do I ever presume that I have all the answers. Yet, I do try to pray, read, study, and listen for God’s word in order to lead others to Christ. I have failed.

After walking away from last Sunday’s service, I realized that somehow, some way a breakdown of God’s church was developing and I needed help. First, I had to clear my head and that took a couple of days and those days were filled with everything but a divine inspiration.

  • Conversations were replayed in my head.
  • Textbooks readings surround my living spaces.
  • The calendar keeps filling up.

In the center of it all, I felt lost. My mind simply could not process anything and I knew I had to regroup quickly. Life was not going to slow down for me. If God was going to have a chance, I had to change something.

Once I had processed what was cluttering my brain, I began seeking sage advice. I read the lectionary, the commentary, and a few more odds and ends from the stacks of books surrounding me. Then I started sorting out questions. Slowly, a major line of thought—a God inspiration—began emerging: What does the Bible tell me? What does the Bible tell the church?

The answer lies in scripture, not only this week but over and over and over. Return to the Bible.   Read. Listen. Study. Read again. Pray. The Bible is holy literature that has withstood the test of time for thousands and thousands of years. The answer is not always easy to locate and sometimes the answer is pretty difficult to acknowledge. Still, the answer is buried in those words and the words of theologians and translators who have done the very same thing as we do today—read, study, pray, and listen.

I apologize if I have failed to communicate God’s timeless message in a manner that leads us to fulfill the commission Jesus issued to his disciples:

Matthew 28: 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

 

Reading the lectionary reminds us that human nature has a tendency to repeat the same behaviors and every three years the theologians guide readers through the entire Bible three times never repeating the same verses within that time frame. The theory is that by following the lectionary for three years, readers will have read the entire Bible once.

The lectionary is a tool. The study notes of our Bibles are supplementary tools. Add to that the textbooks or additional materials available provide more opportunities to hear God speak to us. I have struggled with the daily discipline needed to combat my human character and personality and to follow God’s calling to serve. How does one quiet the babbling in one’s head to hear God talk? Much less, how does one find what is God telling his church to do?

During the past couple of months, the assigned readings from the lectionary have included selections from Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Colossians. In my Life Application Study Bible, each chapter begins with a sidebar “Vital Statistics” and it begins with the purpose of each book. Looking at the purpose of Paul’s letter written to the church communities, one sees that today’s challenges are really no different than challenges to churches throughout time:

  • Romans: To introduce Paul to the Romans and to give a sample of the message before he arrives in Rome.
  • I Corinthians: To identify problems in the Corinthian church, to offer solutions, and to teach the believers how to live for Christ in a corrupt society.
  • 2 Corinthians: To affirm Paul’s ministry, defend his authority as an apostle, and refute the false teachers in Corinth.
  • Galatians: To refute the Judaizers (who taught that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish Law in order to be saved), and to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ.
  • Ephesians: To strengthen the believers in Ephesus in their Christian faith by explaining the nature and purpose of the church, the body of Christ.
  • Philippians: To thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent Paul and to strengthen these believers by showing them that true joy comes from Jesus Christ alone.
  • Colossians: To combat errors in the church and to show that believers have everything they need in Christ.
  • I Thessalonians: To strengthen the Thessalonian Christians in their faith and give them the assurance of Christ’s return.
  • 2 Thessalonians: To clear up the confusion about the second coming of Christ.

 

Seven different churches all were sent letters to communicate Paul’s messages. Each different congregation had its own issues and as Bible readers/students learn, these problems appear in churches repeatedly. Paul’s letters continue to guide today’s congregations and that means our own right here, right now.

Beginning the last Sunday in May, the weekend before Annual Conference, the lectionary included the first reading from Galatians and that, remember, is the letter Paul wrote to clarify the application of the New Law to the Jewish traditionalist wanting to force the Gentiles to follow the Old Law.

Do we, in our own church need the same reminder? Of course we do. Reading through Galatians during the remaining weeks of June, churches are reminded that the stringent laws are not required, that the church is open to all people. There is no closed door in a church that is following God’s call to serve all the people in all the ways that they possibly can. God’s words overrule my words or any other person’s words:

Galatians 2: 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[a] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

 

Galatians 3: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 5: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. . . . 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 6: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

 

These words send red flags to today’s churches that are struggling to survive in a corrupt culture that seems to creep into our lives as silently and stealthily as the fog we have seen these past few days. The sun burns the fog off, and God’s Son should burn the fog off in today’s churches.

And again, I apologize. God’s message is not getting communicated well. I continue to read and to study, but life gets into the middle of my own calling and I fail.

The lectionary does not fail, though, and as July began Paul’s letter to Galatians continued to explain how the Old Law did not apply once Christ delivered the New Law, was crucified, died, and arose. Does our church need Paul’s words to guide us to opening our doors to others?

Then the lectionary shifts into Colossians and Paul tries:

 

To combat errors in the church and to show that believers have everything they need in Christ.

 

As the month continued—and now ends—with the readings from Colossians:

Colossians 1: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

Colossians 1: 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 2: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 3: Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

 

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

 

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

 

How can we ignore the words written so many years ago but still apply today? We are living in a corrupt society. We are still trying to preserve the way things were rather than adapting our methods to a world that has raced ahead filling our communities with so many temptations that our churches cannot ‘combat evil’ successfully.

John Wesley lived in a corrupt world, as did so many Christian theologians. We live in a corrupt world, too, but there is no reason to give up trying to make a difference. My high school graduating class selected a quote that continues to be a driving force in my own life:

Take the world as you see it,

but leave it better.

 

I googled those words and I could not find the original source, but I certainly remember the work we put into selecting that quote and the value it has provided me in my life. When you add that quote to Wesley’s quote:

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

How can one go wrong following God’s New Law found in Matthew 22 when Jesus was asked:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(NIV)

 

Let’s put these words into action. Let’s work together. Let’s study together. Let’s pray together.

Join together in conversation. The second week of the challenge to meet on Tuesday morning, 10 am, at the church to read and to discuss the small book, I am a church member, is open to each and every one in our community. We have just five more weeks to prepare for the fair and our doors are literally wide open. There can be no better opportunity to open the hearts of our neighbors to the love of Christ who offers hope in a world filled with corruption.

Closing prayer:

Dear Guiding Father,

Your servant Paul has guided the church for centuries,

We read his words but struggle to understand.

Use the words to open our hearts.

Use the words to guide us in the very principles of love.

Help us to work together to change our world.

Help us to demonstrate service in all the ways we can.

May we love one another as you have loved us.

May we serve one another as you served us.

Keep us focused on your message of compassion.

Keep us focused on the promises of life eternal

As we live our Christian faith out loud in our community

So others may find grace and hope in your love. –Amen

 

Benediction from Scripture:

Colossians 3: 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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Mission begins with creation

given on Sunday, February 14, 2016–first Sunday of Lent and Valentine’s Day

From Lent’s lectionary: Romans 10:8b-13

In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;
it is on your lips and in your heart.”[a]

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[b] 12 Jew and Gentile[c] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[d]

Scripture base for “Mission begins with creation”

  • Genesis 1:1-2:3 – creation of earth and inhabitants

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. . . .

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” . . .

Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. . . .

14 Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. 15 Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. . . .

.20 Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” ,,,

24 Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. . . .

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings[b] in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,[c] and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings[d] in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. . . .

31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!   . . .

2 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested[e] from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.

Lent’s 1st Reflection: Mission begins with Creation

Not one day begins or ends without knowing the value of God’s creation. We are blessed to live in his world filled with all the glory of the sunrises, birds singing, breezes blowing, and even the sunsets while the moon and stars begin appearing. Each time we look around our world and take in the awesomeness of God’s creation we need to remember that our mission begins with His creation.

In our corner of the world, talking about the wonder of creation may seem out of sync with the seasons. The calendar places us in the midst of winter (here in the Northern Hemisphere, in the middle of North America, even the middle of the continental United States) when the snow typically is mounded up and turning black from weeks of ice, salts and cinders, melting and then refreezing. Winter when the sun shines but we shiver in the artic blasts just does not fill our thoughts with the awesomeness of Gods’ creation as recorded in Genesis.

Yet, creation begins everything; and whether it is in the dead of winter’s most intense artic blast or whether the sun heats up the parched land in the middle of a heat wave, God created this massive world that needs our care. God created us to be the caretakers; God assigned a mission when he created us and we need to make sure we fulfill that mission.

How does mission connect to Lent? Lent is a time for reflecting on faith and while many are giving up on religion and living lives centered on themselves, God continues providing us all that we need. Are we doing all that we need to do as God’s missionaries in his creation?

The Word is a record of God’s creation and includes all the instructions needed for us, his children. Do we know The Word well enough to do God’s work? Do we know history well enough not to repeat the same mistakes over and over?

A couple of weeks ago I presented a challenge: over Lent, fast by adding daily scripture reading, studying, journaling and/or discussing the Word with others. Our mission to be caretakers of the earth is assigned in the earliest chapters of the Bible:

15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

God created us with a clear mission to care for the earth—not just the land, the flora, and the fauna, but everything and that includes each other. Are we carrying out our mission or not? Lent is a time to reflect on the job we do as Christians fulfilling God’s mission, and that means knowing The Word.

According to a new format of the story, Max Lucado and Randy Frazee want to make sure that The Word is shared with everybody in a reader-friendly manner. [Share the Lucado/Frazee book The Word as a visual example] The first chapter begins with the very same words from the Bible included in our worship today:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

            And God said, “Let there be light,” . . .

 

The Story does not change. The mission does not change. The concern and the reason for a season of reflection is that we change. Adam and Eve represent all of humanity, and throughout history we humans have failed to fulfill the mission.

What began with creation, regardless of when or even how that happened, continues. The Story continues. In Lucado’s and Frazee’s welcome to the new format of the Bible, we are invited to reconnect with God:

This book (or any version of the Bible) tells the grandest, most compelling story of all time: the story of a true God who loves his children, who established for them a way of salvation and provided a route to eternity. Each story in these 31 chapters (an abridged format of the Bible) reveals the God of grace—the God who speaks; the God who acts; the God who listens; the God whose love for his people culminated in his sacrifice of Jesus, his only Son to atone for the sins of humanity.

What’s more: this same God is alive and active today—still listening, still acting, still pouring out his grace on us. His grace extends to our daily foibles; our ups, downs, and in-betweens; our moments of questions and fears; and most important, our response to his call on our lives (our mission). . . .

 

God created a world that was to meet all the needs humanity as long as we fulfilled our mission. Therefore:

  • Read The Word and determine the mission of God’s creation.
  • Read The Word to see how God struggled to teach us how to live.
  • Read The Word to learn from the mistakes of others.
  • Read The Word to find the secrets to a joy-filled life.
  • Read The Word to understand how God loved us so much that he “[sacrified] his only Son to atone for the sins of humanity.”
  • Read The Word to find the promise of eternal life.

 

Read The Word and reflect throughout the season of Lent. Make it a mission to know The Story and how your life reflects God’s love.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, Creator of our world,

Thank you for all the beauty that surrounds us,

even the changes of the seasons.

Thank you for entrusting each one of us,

past, present and future, with your creation.

Help us to remain faithful to the mission

of caring for the world and its inhabitants.

Help us to live confidently knowing you love us

even when we fail the mission.

Thank you, too, for the time and space to reflect

on how we live to fulfill the mission.

Thank you for The Word and the Christian family

surrounding us, supporting us, and working together

to fulfill the mission creation began. –Amen

 

[Lucado, Max & Frazee, Randy. The Story: the Bible as one continuing story of God and his people in NIV.   Zondervan; 2005. Available at CBD.com for $5.00.]

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The Word is Power: The Word was, is, and will be power

 

given on Sunday, January 24, 2016

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.

–John 1:1-2, NLT

Scripture reference: Luke 44:14-21, NLT

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.[
a]

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Reflection

Words communicate what we need and/or want shortly after we are born. We hear words of comfort and words of correction. We learn the proverbs of life and discover that sticks and stones may break bones, but words . . . well, words are not suppose to hurt us. Yet, words have power.

The scripture today tells the story of Jesus’ public declaration that he is the fulfillment of the scriptures’ prophecy. Walking into the temple, locating the prophecy from the scroll of Isaiah, he read The Word and then proclaimed to be that person. Powerful words!

The Word is God. Jesus is God. I Am is God. Jesus says, “I Am God.” The scripture is the written record of The Word and the foundation of our faith. The Word is God and translates into power, especially when the faithful follow The Word’s message.

Following The Word’s message can be challenging. The first scriptures were handwritten on scrolls that could not be reproduced in mass so each family could have their own copy. The scrolls were kept safe in the temple and read publically only during worship.

The Word has to have power to survive throughout history making the transition from oral to handwritten scrolls and finally into mass production. The Word also has power to spread from the tribes of the Israelites to homes circling the globe today. The Word is so powerful that it carries the message through the millenniums crossing the cultural and political boundaries.

Wordsmiths or, more academically, linguists continue to studyThe Word, carefully tracking the origin, preserving the message’s accuracy and translating the words into languages for each different culture. Such analytical work has maintained the power of The Word. The work is God-driven.

Consider the various titles that prophets used to identify Jesus: Messiah, Savior, and Redeemer.

  • Messiah (noun): 1. the promised and expected deliverer of the Jewish people. 2. Jesus Christ, regarded by Christians as fulfilling this promise and expectation. John 4:25, 26. 3. (usually lowercase) any expected deliverer. 4. (usually lowercase) a zealous leader of some cause or project.
  • Savior(noun): 1. a person who saves, rescues, or delivers: the savior of the country. 2. (initial capital letter) a title of God, especially of Christ. 3. (initial capital letter) Classical Mythology. an epithet of Artemis.
  • Redeemer (noun): 1. a person who redeems. 2. (initial capital letter) Jesus Christ.

 

These three terms are very similar but the connotative or emotional meanings demonstrate different ideas of how The Word demonstrates power.

Even King Herod knew about the prediction of “King of the Jews.” Clearly his perception was that a king would be a challenge to his own position or title. As a king, Herod was a political leader, and the news that a new King was born caused him to expect a challenge to his power. Look at the word king:

King: 1. a male sovereign or monarch; a man who holds by life tenure, and usually by hereditary right, the chief authority over a country and people. 2. (initial capital letter) God or Christ.

  1. a person or thing preeminent in its class: a king of actors.

 

These definitions place an entirely different understanding of Herod’s concern that a new king had been born. The Word has power even over a king.

Lectionary readings this week focused on the power The Word has on the lives of the faithful whether in the earliest days of creation to the current day in which we struggle to apply The Word in our personal setting. For this very reason, taking time to read and to study the scriptures is critical or the power of The Word is lost.

If we teach children that “sticks and stones may break bones, but words can never hurt me,” then we must teach and reteach ourselves The Word. The Word is a powerful defense to the innuendoes, the slurs, the name-calling, the false statements, the slander and even the ridicule that we sling at each other—even towards ourselves.

The Old Testament is filled with the stories of ancient people facing the very same problems we face today. The environment may not be the same as the ancient settlements along the Jordan River. Lifestyles, careers, communication, transportation and technology may be dramatically different today than when Jesus began sharing The Word.

All these differences today do not change the power of The Word. During the ancient times, the Scriptures were read during Temple and the listeners spent hours listening. They wanted to hear the Law read to them. Today society has changed the way The Word is heard, but the power is the same.

This week Martin Luther King’s speeches echoed along the air waves. His powerful words reflected God’s Word and have driven the dream to value each human equally is one of this country’s most constitutional ideas. The Word to love one another, even your enemies, is powerful.

And still, there are those who have not followed The Word. Many have not even been exposed to it. They live in different cultures, they are illiterate, or they simply are unchurched. The Word needs us to share the good news. As long as there is one person who does not know The Word, Christians—each one—is responsible to share the message of God, The Word. The Word is power, but the power must be sustained,

Today you are challenged to know The Word personally. Read The Word, listen to The Word, study the word, discuss The Word, and practice The Word. The Word is power but it must be activated.

Closing prayer

Dear God, Almighty,

The Word brought Jesus to us so many years ago;

But today The Word seems to be missing.

The Word is power that fuels so much good,

But today the bad seems to disconnect us from The Word.

The Word promises to power us with love,

But today love seems to be losing strength.

Send The Word to empower each one of us

So today we can fuel others with your love.

The Word is power that never runs dry,

So today fill us up so The Word burns brightly.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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The Truth of Christmas: Unconditional Love

given on the 4th Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014

Advent ends this week. We meet this morning to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Over the weeks of Advent we have talked about the sounds, the promises, and the fears of Christmas. Today it is the truth of Christmas.

In the midst of a world filled with challenges, God loved the people despite all their flaws. He used every prophet, every leader, every set of parents he could to warn the ancient people to remain faithful, and to trust that he would meet all needs. A few clung to the promises and maintained hope while trusting in God.

The truth of Christmas is that God’s unconditional love for all of his creation led to the birth of Jesus. The warnings had not worked. Life’s challenges were wearing down the people. The magnitude of God’s unconditional love led him to send Jesus.

Jesus is the Word, as John explained in the opening of his gospel. He is God. He walked the roads just like we walk. He experienced the heat of a summer son, the dust blowing up in his eyes, and the chill of a northern wind. The truth of Jesus’ life is the truth of our lives.

The miracles, the compassion for the sick and the infirmed, the love for family and friends, and the concern he felt for the Apostles’ uncertainty are truly the same emotions and feelings we experience in our own lives. Jesus demonstrated how unconditional love can lead to solutions, can help us make decisions, and can show us how we can serve one another.

The truth of Christmas is that God meets our needs with unconditional love. We can also use unconditional love to keep Christmas alive in all that we do. God expects us to create harmony when we speak with each other, when we work side by side with each other, and when we take some time to relax and to play with one and another, too.

God waited years, thousands of years to see if we could learn the truth to leaving in peace. God never gave up, but a time came when words were not enough, the plagues had not worked, the trials and tribulations, the proof that he provided manna and even birth when it seemed impossible. The truth of Christmas is that we had to see, to touch, to know how to use unconditional love.

Are we able to unwrap this gift and use it? The truth is that we must. Accepting God’s gift means we accept our role as his children. And as we all know the people we are reflect our own human parents through genetics, but reflecting the unconditional love of God proves the truth of Christmas each and every day.

Let us greet Christmas Day with the enthusiasm of all the little children waiting for Santa’s visit. Let us watch with glee as the gifts are opened, the meal is shared, and the stories are told. Enjoy all the twinkling lights in the dark and the melodies filling the air. Share a hug as you greet guests and thank each other.

Christmas is one time each year that offers us a chance to thank God for his unconditional love. It is one day, one season that the truth of Christmas becomes so real. Unconditional love is demonstrated in so many different ways, but we must open this gift and share it year round. Use prayer continually. Study the Word as preserved in the scripture. Worship together. Be in community with one another as you work to carry God’s love to others around us and even in regions we cannot see.

Today we are closing in on Christmas, but Christmas is a truth that lives with us daily. God loved us so much that he sent us his son to teach us how to love unconditionally. Let us share the truth of Christmas with all that we know, too. We must give the gift of unconditional love.

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious God,

Our world is filled with wrapping paper and ribbons.

Sometimes we see only the gifts under the tree.

May we open our hearts to know your gift,

The gift of your son Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

Guide us as we join our family and friends

For a celebration filled with unconditional love.

May the love we share with one another

Reflect the truth of Christmas, unconditional love,

That day when Mary and Joseph gave birth to Jesus. –Amen

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