Tag Archives: unconditional love

Puppy Love: Unconditional love in a bite for our duo

This is one of those days that the brain seems a bit fractured.  Maybe that has a negative twist, but I suspect most of you know those days.  As I went from one task to another without a plan, I realized that I needed some kitchen therapy.

I would never have considered kitchen therapy two years ago because after a busy school day and doing whatever household chores had to be done, esp. laundry, the kitchen was just another task.  After two years and moving to three, I have found that when I can’t seem to focus well, I turn to the kitchen.

Today, I decided that I needed to refill my homemade doggie treats, so I started the process.  I have taken two different recipes and tweaked them.  I use the basic standard of graham flour, rolled oats (not quick), egg, and applesauce, but then change them up.

Puppy Love Treats:  First batch out, now a second.  I even cook the scraps for a little extra in the food bowl.

I have found that baby food purees are a great way to add the sweet potatoes, peas, and apples that seem to please the dogs, so I add that in, too.  Vanilla seems to be a special ingredient in a wide-range of recipes, so I generously add that, too.

This time I am adding steel cut oats partly for the roughage, but also because it is smaller for my small Havanese to manage chewing.  Our bassador has no problem with anything and at 13 he has no teeth issues.

I cut them pretty thin and small so we do not overuse them, and they store very nicely.  The smell is great in the kitchen today, and even though the spring sunshine makes it look delightfully warm outside, it still is in the 50s.

Our Duo

Meet Possum the Havanese and Ralph the Bassador. They provide unconditional love whenever needed, so why not a little puppy love for them right out of the oven–cooled of course.

 

 

My brain is kicking in a bit better now, so I have also made my husband one of his favorites:  Butterfinger toll house cookies.  I think he will be surprised when he gets home that the oven has been working this afternoon.  They are in the oven now.

I have one more major task I wanted to accomplish and I think my brain is cleared enough to get it done.  Thanks for seeing how a little Puppy Love treat makes me percolate a bit better and the family gets the benefits and it all comes from unconditional love just like God loves us and asks us to love others.

 

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Mary Magdalene at the The Cross/The Tree of Jesus

Easter Sunday sermon:  The scriptures are embedded in the text, but I would also like to share that I am sharing some of the music from Jesus Christ Superstar during the service, also.  Please listen to Mary Magdalene’s song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and the final song, “Jesus Christ Superstar” at its inclusion.  I was fortunate to see the Broadway production in 1972 with my high school classmates on our senior trip.  The fact that it is going to be a live performance this Easter Sunday on NBC will be a dramatic ending to this Easter Sunday.  

Let me introduce you to Mary of Magdala.  Her image is the final one in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.  She is sitting on a stone, weeping and alone—at least the artist has her pictured this way in the window.

The trial and the crucifixion is over and the very same people who were standing along the road cheering as Jesus arrived on a donkey one week earlier are now in hiding.  Mary of Magdala is not.

Mary stayed beside Jesus as he hung on the cross and died. Joseph of Arimathea takes the body and places it in his personal tomb late Friday just before Sabbath began. The first opportunity Mary and a few other women have to complete the burial practice was Sunday morning:

It was customary to wash the body and anoint it with perfumes and spices, not ever for embalming but always to control the odors. . . . The hands and feet were wrapped with linen clothes (grave-bands), and the face and head were covered with a small cloth and bound.  It was loving friends and relatives, mostly women, who prepared the body.  The Jews did not use coffins and did not embalm. [Accessed on 3-29-18 at http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/burial.html.]

 

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary of Magdala is first introduced by Luke earlier in the story of Jesus’ ministry found in Luke 8:1-3:

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.

 

This introduction immediately follows the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet while at a dinner with the Pharisees.

But who is this Mary and why did she stay beside Jesus only to be the one who witnessed and recognized his resurrection first?

Research shares insight into the character Mary Magdalene, but the reality of this woman cannot be definitively identified with factual details.  The possibility of her relationship with Jesus being more than a disciple is the subject of movies.  The research cannot refute it, but the fact does not change the importance of Luke’s and John’s reporting of her presence at the resurrection.  And, if the possibility of the intimate relationship with Jesus is true, the morning of the Resurrection may actually be more believable.

The Gospel of John reports the morning’s events to the earliest Christians:

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

     Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

     11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in.12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

      14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary came from the city of Magdala, a trade center, and probably was a successful businesswoman in the textile industry. She was afflicted with seven demons according to the scripture.  The story does not explain, but you know the demons that can cause one to lose focus. Maybe she was mentally struggling with manic depression.  Maybe one demon was physical pain from something like endometriosis or rheumatoid arthritis. Maybe she had a strawberry birthmark that caused her embarrassment.

The demon does not matter, but what the story tells us is that Jesus loved her unconditionally and healed her from the demons. Such unconditional love is the message that Jesus delivered.  Mary chose to accept that unconditional love and responded in a manner that she became a disciple—maybe even one of Jesus’ inner circle, an apostle.

Put yourself in Mary’s place on that Sunday morning. Would you have been sitting on that rock weeping?  Or would you have been one who had gone into hiding?

Mary’s story continues as she arrives at the tomb early Sunday morning.  Her sorrow keeps her steps slow and heavy.  Her head remains downward.  She carries the supplies she needs to complete the burial ritual.  There is no joy in her heart, in her step, nor in her expression.  Her eyes are red from the tears shed over the past several days.  Her hair is a mess.  She has no reason to fix herself up.  She is raw.

And as she reaches the tomb, she looks up.  The stone is rolled away from the opening! The exhaustion she feels turns into agitated confusion.  Why is the tomb open?  Why is the tomb empty?  New tears begin flowing now from confusion and uncertainty and even fear.

Then she turns and sees a figure.  Out of context.  Out of a mind.

And the figure speaks to her. Only when he addresses her in that familiar tone she knows so well, “Mary”, does Mary of Magdala recognize Jesus.  In John, the story continues:

     16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

     17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

     18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Tears turn to joy!

Mary carried the news to the other disciples.  She knew where they were.  She knew the importance of reporting what she saw—who she spoke to. The story of Jesus’ ministry must continue and she who may have been the most emotionally connected to Jesus now had to take a new role—deliver the message of his resurrection.  He still had work to do and even though she wanted to hold him, she couldn’t.  Her faith caused her to move into action.

In a male-dominated culture, where Jesus treated the women equally, Mary Magdalene recognizes the truth of the resurrection. Jesus is alive and all the disciples now must carry the story forward.  They must live as Jesus taught them.  You, too, even 2,000 years later are to join in the task of telling the good news, living the Christian lifestyle, and loving one another as you want to be loved.

Why did Jesus speak to Mary that Sunday morning?

Because he lives.  [Conclude with the music, Because He Lives.]

Closing prayer

 

Dear ever-loving Lord,

May we experience the joy

Mary of Magdala did

As Jesus called out her name.

May we hear God call our names

As Mary Magdalene did

Knowing we, too, are with you

Now and forever.

Guide us to understanding.

Guide us to commitment.

Guide us to serve

One another in love,

Unconditional love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

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Getting along with God

given on Human Relations Sunday, January 17, 2016:

Scripture base: Psalm 36, esp. v. 5-9, NLT

 

Get along with God. It sounds so simple, so why don’t we do it. Get along with God! Today is Human Relations Sunday according to the UMC calendar, but nationally it is also the weekend that is designated to honor Martin Luther King’s work in civil rights. Can you imagine what our world would be if everybody simply used “get along with God” as a guiding principle.

Accepting God in our lives and acknowledging that Christ was born, lived and died for us, we accept the responsibility to get along with God. God asks us to use grace each day to maintain loving human relationships, yet we continue to fail.

Each day we depend on God to guide us and to protect us. As Christians, God expects us to guide and to protect one another. God depends on us to be his representative in our communities. If we model God’s grace and unconditional love, we will get along with God as well as make a difference in our own world.

Consider the word ‘depend.’ Mental health practitioners analyze human relationships and see patterns of behaviors that are reactions to how people treat each other. As the world shrinks and boundaries blur, human relationships depend on unconditional love. A breakdown in a relationship can even lead to a diagnosis of codependency:

of or relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way. [Accessed on January 14, 2016 at dictionary.reference.com.]

 

Sadly codependency becomes a systemic cancer as it leads to repetitive behaviors between generations and also has a magnetic quality as codependents gravitate to one another.

Following God’s law, offering grace and loving one another unconditionally can prevent codependency. Relationships based on the non-judgmental, unconditional love God demonstrated through Christ’s ministry lead to an interdependent peaceful community within one’s own home, neighborhood, country and even globally.

How, then, do we live in a challenging world that seems filled with judgmental, hateful and faithless people? The Golden Rule may be ringing in our ears, but applying it can be difficult. Yet, God has provided the prescription and sent Jesus to demonstrate how to use this perfect form of love. All we need to do is get along with God by getting along with one another.

In Psalm 36, King David outlined the benefits of getting along with one another. We depend on God’s grace and love:

Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
    How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
in the shadow of your wings.
You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
letting them drink from your river of delights.
For you are the fountain of life,
the light by which we see.

 

Even in David’s ancient times, long before Jesus was born, the prescription for healthy human relations is explained:

Because I love Zion [God],
I will not keep still.
Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem,
I cannot remain silent.
I will not stop praying for her
until her righteousness shines like the dawn,
and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.

–Isaiah 62:1 (NLT)

 

Do not stop praying for her or him or for a country or a neighbor or a family member. Dependency on God will keep unhealthy relationships from developing and getting along with one another is also getting along with God.

Depending on God leads to healthy independence from the unhealthy human relations whether it is between family members, friends, neighbors, strangers, or even cultures. Turning over negative relationships to God through prayer frees us to develop our healthy relationships. So . . .

  • Practice dependency on God. Turn the hurt over to God in prayer.
  • Practice independence from people who trigger negative behaviors.
  • Practice interdependence with Christians who work together to share God’s love.

 

The outcome of a non-judgmental, faithful, and loving lifestyle is a world that radiates freedom. Getting along with one another is getting along with God.

This Sunday may be Human Relations Sunday, but every day should be. God created a world that was designed to meet our every need. He created us with free will, too, but we fail to use God’s law and a healthy relationship with him—we get along with God.

As we continue into this new year, remember to offer grace to others who may not yet know God’s grace and unconditional love. Each person you meet needs your unconditional love, too. Get along with one another.

When something gets your ire up, stop and think. How do you want to be treated? Treat others the way you want to be treated. Do not use cross words in reply, pray for God to guide you. When a driver cuts you off on the road, take a deep breath and cry out to God for help.

If you react negatively, others react negatively towards you. God will be missing in your life. God’s grace is your fuel, so use or offer grace in all your relationships with others. That is how you get along with God, but it is also the way you get along in a diverse world of believers and non-believers, too.

Today may just be 1/365th of an entire year, but in all your relations on each day of the year, practice God’s law. Let others see what dependence on God does in your life so they will find the blessing of God in their lives. Getting along with God makes getting along with others positive not negative. And the ultimate outcome is salvation and joining with others getting along with God throughout eternity.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Daily we are challenged by relationships

That hurt our feelings or even our bodies.

We struggle to offer grace to those who hurt us.

We struggle to love unconditionally when filled with pain.

 

Guide us to follow your son’s example.

Guide us to love one another

even when we do not love the behaviors.

Guide us to offer grace

even if others do not.

Guide us to get along.

 

Thank you for your grace and unconditional love.

Thank you for your son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for the promise of everlasting life

When we get along with you, God. –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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Star or No Star? Belong or Not Belong?

given on the fourth Sunday of Lent, March 30, 2014

references the book The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss by Rev. James Kemp

Star or No Star?

Belong or Not Belong?

 

            How many groups do you connect with? Do you go to school reunions? Have you paid any dues for various organizations that share interests with you? Do you get publications you subscribe to because it applies to your profession?

If you can identify even one group to which you belong, then you know the comfort you feel because of that relationship. The importance you place on the relationship typically determines how much time and money you invest in belonging to that group.

Consider this question: Was what you believed more important than belonging or was belonging more important in learning about the group/interest?

Another thought to consider: Would you have joined that organization or even subscribe to that publication if you had no knowledge or even little knowledge of the subject?

Rev. James Kemp read The Sneetches, a Dr. Seuss book written during the civil rights movement, and he connected the overriding theme to Paul telling the earliest Christians that there was no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles: “For all of you are one in Christ Jesus. As a Christian, all were completely equal.

These are the words from The Sneetches that capture the message:

Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.

The story continues showing how the stars excluded the non-stars from playing together. Simply put, the stars discriminated the non-stars. For those born prior to the 1970s, the story is a political satire concerning the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and the 1960’s. We might even tune out the story since we lived through it ourselves.

Would Paul have asked us to ignore the issue of discrimination or not? Hardly. In his own life experience, he first would have been a Sneetch with a star on his belly, but along the road to Emmaus, God removed his Jewish star. God wanted Paul to get the message of Jesus Christ; and since Paul was persecuting the first Christian believers, God needed him to get the message in a very direct and concrete manner.

The no-star Sneetches knew they were being excluded even though they were exactly the same as the starred Sneetches. The problem of belonging to a group or not is found throughout history. Due to Paul’s personal conversion, he learned there were no differences between Jews and Gentiles as he writes to the Galatians:

28 There is no Jew or Greek. There is no slave or free person. There is no male or female. Because you belong to Christ Jesus, you are all one.

 

In today’s society, belonging is everything. Everybody seems to find some way to connect with people through genealogy, social media, alumni organizations, sports teams, common experiences. The list continues to grow and sometimes it seems a game to see just how many ways you can “belong” to as many groups as you can. (Sorry to John Wesley for the parallel phrasing.)

Fortunately, characters like Sylvester McMonkey McBean are not always around trying to find a quick fix to connect one to some particular group through false methods. The Sneetches paid the $10.00 charge to add a star to a belly. The fix worked until the Sneetches with the stars naturally discovered they were no longer special and Sylvester McMonkey McBean devised the machine to take the star off, too.

The New Covenant delivered by Jesus eliminates such risky investments. Rev. Kemp places the emphasis on the inclusiveness of God’s love. No longer is there any reason to look for ways to belong, believe in Jesus Christ and you do belong.

Rev. Kemp focuses on the similarities rather than the differences:

  • Creation. We all are created by God. We are both alike and different from one another, but God called the whole of creation good.
  • Calling. There is purpose in life for each and everyone of us. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament were called, we too are called for a purpose.
  • Sin. All of us have fallen short of what God requires. We deceive ourselves if we think we have not sinned. But to acknowledge this does not mean accepting it as the last word.
  • Christ.We share in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God loves us despite our failings. This is by far the most important basis for our unity. [p.70-71]

 

People want to belong. There is a very basic human need to feel connected with others and belonging to special groups helps fulfill that need. It is the very reason that gangs continue to grow in today’s culture.

A mobile, global society has significantly altered the sense of belonging to a community. In small towns, the economic need for a community has shifted. Transportation has eliminated the 10-mile radius that once determined where business was transacted. Communication is instant and no longer needs a central location to connect people to people.

Belonging to a family, a community, or a church is no longer dependent on genetics or even beliefs. Belonging comes first. Once individuals develop that sense of belonging, the practices in that setting lead to belief. After one becomes accustomed to the practices, the belief becomes part of the foundation.

This faith process is just opposite of what it has been for thousands of years. What you believed determined where you belonged. Beliefs led to practices that identified to what group you belonged. Belonging was the result of the belief system.

Paul’s message to the Galatians came at a time the belief system was changing. The belief in Christ eliminated the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. As the centuries passed, the Christian faith grew. People belonged and it created the Judeo-Christian foundation for governments, human relations, and more. The Western Cultures were defined by the Christian beliefs.

Today, the Sylvester McMonkey McBeans character might be considered an excellent marketing executive, but marketing today—even in our churches—is to show others how they belong, and in our churches the unchurched first need to know they already belong in God’s world. There can be no discriminating factors in our churches because Jesus erased them. The doors are open, but our arms must be open, too.

Rev. Kemp wraps up his sermon focusing on how we all belong to God. We can do it, he says,

“Proclaiming and celebrating unity in the church . . encouraging others and not boasting about our own accomplishments.  It means courting a spirit of gratitude instead of pride. It means that we cannot separate love for God from love for one another.” [p. 71]

Any church that can demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance creates a sense of belonging. In this 21st century, those outside of the church are watching closely to see who belongs or who does not belong. They are watching to see if the arms are as open as the doors.

Rev. Kemp closes with these thoughts:

No kind of Christian is the best Christian in the church. There are no Star-Belly Christians. We are family. We are one in Jesus Christ. [Ibid.]

 

Churches who can demonstrate this depth of Christian love for one and for all, then others will come. Others will discover they do belong to this family, a Christian family. They will be able to work together in acts of mercy and to develop their acts of worship. John Wesley lived when the belief, supported by the practices, created a strong bond of belonging within the church.

What works is what James wrote in his letter, too:

. . . treat everyone the same.

     2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes. And suppose a poor man in worn-out clothes also comes in. Would you show special attention to the one who is wearing fine clothes? Would you say, “Here’s a good seat for you”? Would you say to the poor person, “You stand there”? Or “Sit on the floor by my feet”? If you would, aren’t you treating some people better than others? Aren’t you like judges who have evil thoughts?

 

Today’s churches are working to make sure all feel as they belong. First they invite, they host, they teach, and they love one another. As one feels a sense of belonging, they join in the practices, and they live what they now believe. Sounds backward and upside down, but the churches who grow know loving one another breaks down all the differences. We are truly “one in Christ Jesus,” as Paul wrote the Galatians.

Closing Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for granting complete equality for all who believe.

Thank you for loving us before we know we are worth loving.

Thank you for sending your Son to teach how to live your love.

What barriers you have removed between people,

help us to keep them torn down,

help us to reach out to include them,

and help us to share the joy of Christian family.

Guide us in our decisions, in our efforts, and in our plans.

May we welcome others into the glory of God’s grace. –Amen

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God’s Gifts: promises fulfilled

given on Sunday, December 15, 2013

            Preparing today’s thoughts could have been very difficult due to the personal events of the past two weeks.  Yet, returning to life’s daily routine allows for the spinning, ever-changing world to slow down to a manageable pace.  And, who cannot help but sense the excitement and expectations that are part of Advent.

The seasons do not stop even for the calamities of life whether it is a destructive natural phenomena such as ice storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes or whether it is an international event such as the death of Nelson Mandela or whether it is a personal life event such as a scary diagnosis or a loss of a spouse, a parent, a child or even a friend.  The seasons continue racing along.

Advent began two weeks ago, and suddenly Christians face the clock.  Christmas is only 10 days away and the race is on.  The wish lists must be filled.  The cookies and candies need preparing.  And amazingly, as the days tick down, it all gets done.

What happens, though, when all the social hubbub crowds out God?  Generation after generation Christians look forward to Christmas, yet God’s gifts seem to be hidden below all the papers and bows, mixed up with tinsel and lights.  God’s gifts easily become lost.

God’s gift of life seems so basic that the significance of our own creation is lost.  Even as children are born, the new lives are viewed simply as a byproduct of an organic act; so many are even thrown away because the biological parents are lost in addiction.  God’s gift of life is tossed away.

For just a moment, put yourself into God’s position.  Out in the cosmos, the idea of creating a world leads you to create a garden and then you begin adding to the creation all the gifts we now know as the flora and fauna of our earth.  The creation is pleasing, but it lacks something.  And you realize that a garden needs attending, so the next creation is ‘adam (Hebrew) or humankind:

. . . the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  . . . In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  . . . The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”  (Gen. 2:7-17, NIV)

God’s gift of life includes the gift of free thought:  New ideas.  Relationships.  Dreams.  Hopes.  New life.  Knowledge.  Choices—good and bad.

History records how well humans have handled God’s gift of life.  The choices made certainly have created this 21st century world filled with all the innovations of creative minds.  But this world is also filled with all the horrors of destructive minds.  God’s gifts were given along with responsibility.  God promised us a life filled with all that we need as long as we follow his rule.

God made promises to humankind to take care of us.  God gave us grace and turned humanity loose to tend to the garden.  Standing guard over us, God watches us, feeling joy with our successes and weeping at our failures.  Yet never has God gone back on promises.

The generations continue, history keeps recording humanity’s successes and failures, and God’s promises remain.  The third Sunday of Advent is a time to pause and reflect on God’s promises.  Has he fulfilled them?  Yes.  Has he given up?  No!

God’s promises remain steadfast.  God gives us grace.  Each one of us is loved unconditionally.  At no time is that love taken away.  God’s grace is a gift that keeps on giving, as the cliché states.

Accepting God’s gifts also gives us hope.  In our humanity, we make mistakes.  The story of Adam and Eve demonstrates that God’s grace is like a safety net protecting us from ourselves.  With that first bite from the tree of knowledge, God’s grace was tested.  God told them they would die if they ate from this tree, but with grace and unconditional love, they lived.

The choices we humans make ever since that first bite demonstrates God’s grace and unconditional love.  We learn to trust God.  We learn that when we make a mistake, God forgiven.  This hope that God loves us despite our mistakes gives us courage to continue forward.  Hope allows us to love one another unconditionally, too.

Scriptures record story after story of human errors being forgiven.  Stop and review the story of Abraham who listened to God and offered his own son as a sacrifice, trusting in God right along to the final moment when God provided a ram to replace Isaac as the sacrifice.

Hope turns into joy, another gift from God.  Abraham’s sense of relief and joy propelled him forward.  His life was not easy, but he relied on God.  Turning over one’s life to God provides a sense of joy immeasurable by any human standard.

The list of God’s gifts continues to grow.  We can create our own list of gifts received from God that is customized to our specific strengths and weaknesses.  Yet, opening that gifts of God’s unconditional love and grace provides a sense of joy that springs alive within us and radiates outward touching the lives of others.

Today, and each day of Advent, we need to evaluate how well we are sharing God’s unconditional love with others.  We need to ask ourselves if the grace God provides us is modeled in the grace we give to others.

The generations recorded in the Old Testament provide a testimony to how well God’s human creations implemented God’s laws.  Failures seem to outnumber successes, but God never gives up hope.  Over and over God tried to help; and when all else failed, the prophets warned the people.

The Old Testament prophesized or referred to a coming Messiah in 44 different scriptures.  In Isaiah, the prophecy of a Messiah is recorded in nine different ways (Fairchild 2013).  When the Christmas story is recorded in the New Testament, it answers the prophecies.

Isaiah 7:14:  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Matthew 1:23:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

God’s gifts never fail.  The Word tells the story.  Advent allows us to relive the expectations of the faithful throughout history.  We never tire hearing the story over and over again because we receive hope and joy from God’s gifts.  We demonstrate God’s unconditional love and grace with our own gift giving.  And that gives us one more gift—joy, represented by the third candle on the Advent wreath.

As we continue to mark off the days until Christmas, keep God’s gifts in mind.  Prepare your heart for the final gift of the season—the purest, Jesus Christ, son of man and son of God.

 

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and giving Lord,

In the midst of our holiday season,

            help us to remember the greatest story ever told.

As we rush from place to place,

            keep us safe along the bustling streets.

When we greet the faces of family and friends,

            let the love and grace given by you, shine.

In those moments when sorrow sneaks in,

            translate the loss into heart-felt memories.

With each Christmas carol we hear and sing,

            hear our praises and our thanks.

With each card we send or we open,

            spread a little more Christian love.

            Thank you, Lord, for the gifts we receive

                        today, tomorrow, and forever.  –Amen

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God’s Gifts: The Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control

given on 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2012

Scripture:  Galatians 5:16-26                  the CEB

     16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, 20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, 21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

     22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires.

     25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. 26 Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.

 

         Have you ever received one of those holiday baskets of fruit?  In the middle of December, someone would giveus a basket of fruit.  My mental image is always the little red basket wrapped up in red or green cellophane, gathered at the top with a bow tied on.  The basket would take a place of honor, usually on the dining room table, untouched—at least for a few days or maybe even a week or more.

At first a basket of fruit was just a ho-hum type of gift.  There were no toys in it, no candy, just fruit.  It was easy to ignore it sitting on the table because it was not something on my wish list.  And it did look pretty sitting on the table.  Oddly, even Mom and Dad did not open it and begin eating the grapefruit or the bananas or the apples.  For those first few days, the basket took a place of honor, sitting on the table almost like part of the Christmas decorations.

Gift giving is such a tangible way of sharing love between one and another.  God’s gift of his son was tangible, too.  Jesus was born, grew up, and ministered to the world so that we might receive the ultimate gift of eternal life.  No doubt eternal life is a gift that keeps on giving, but sometimes it seems so far out of reach that we fail to accept the gift and treasure it.  God’s gift is often pushed away and sent to the table just to look at rather than open and use.

God’s fruit basket was also delivered that first Christmas.  Remember that God is in three parts:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The fruit basket is delivered to each and every one of God’s children through the Holy Spirit.  The fruit basket provides us the immediate result of loving God by loving one another.  It is unwrapped the minute we accept God’s grace, believe in Jesus, and join in the Christian family.

As soon as we open God’s gift of grace and that of his Son, we also open the gift of the Holy Spirit’s fruits.  Just like the fruit baskets that are given out over Christmas, the Holy Spirit’s fruits are life sustaining and enriching.  The fruit basket represents all the vitamins and tastes and textures from all regions of the earth.  The Holy Spirit’s fruit can do the same thing and it is never completely consumed.

The scripture from Galatians lists the fruit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are the character qualities that stand out among those we know are filled with the Holy Spirit.  These qualities make all the difference in the world between those who believe and those who do not.

Interestingly this fruit keeps us healthy in the midst of a world that seems to thrive on evil.  The list in Galatians 5:20, written in A.D. 49-50, is a list that mirrors the evil we continue to see yet today, 2,000 years later.  Sometimes it feels as though the world is spinning out of control and there is no way to stop the insanity.

But there is.  Remember that God’s gift of his son was his way of transforming the Jewish faith into one that was simpler, love-filled, and available to everyone—not just those who were identified as the ‘chosen’ ones, those of the Tribes of Israel.  Just three years of Jesus’ ministry truly did transform the world.

God’s love was unwrapped, used, and then crucified so that we might receive eternal life.  The Holy Spirit’s basket of fruit was given when we accepted Christ and chose to follow God’s New Covenant.  The fruit of the Holy Spirit cannot be destroyed unless we fail to open it and use it.

Take the cellophane off the basket and see what it offers.  Mary Slaughter has done this and created a study book, Following Jesus, where she defines the fruit:

  • Love—the ability to unconditionally accept and love others, even when you may not feel like it.
  • Joy—a deep, inner gladness gained from an intimate relationship with Christ; often found in the midst of difficult circumstances.
  • Peace—an inner harmony and sense of well-being because we know God has accepted us; even during conflict or distress because we trust that God has everything in control.
  • Patience—ability to exercise restraint and calmly persevere in waiting on God; accepting consequences, endures the wrong of others, bears injuries and suffering while refusing to retaliate.
  • Kindness—treating others with openness, sensitivity, and love; Christ-like way of treating others with compassion, mercy, friendliness, and loyalty.
  • Goodness—able to know right from wrong, to do good to others, and to expose evil and injustice; work for social justice (must work hand-in-hand with kindness).
  • Faithfulness—unshakable loyalty to God; displayed by being trustworthy, reliable, and responsible, carrying out commitments to God and others.
  • Gentleness—demonstrating consideration and thoughtfulness; requires openness, humility, and a teachable spirit.
  • Self-control:  taking responsibility for one’s self and exercising discipline to avoid sin; resulting in a lifestyle appealing to God and bringing the support and power of the Holy Spirit to prevent and/or overcome excesses.

Wow!  Opening the fruit basket provided by the Holy Spirit is amazing, but I guarantee that each one of us who has known the life-sustaining qualities these fruits provide us already knows that.

When one looks back over this list of fruits, there are names of people in our lives who have exemplified them.  Apply a mental test and see just how many of these character qualities describe people you admire.  Compare them to others you have met who fail to exhibit these qualities.  Do you see who is Christian and who is not?

Now, take the mental test one step farther:  Which of these character traits describe you?  Have others complimented you for any of them?  Do you struggle with any of the traits?  How do you think these fruits have enhanced your life?

God through the Holy Spirit has given you a fruit basket.  You must open it or it will rot and go to waste.  You must take steps to keep it fresh and replenished or your life will feel empty.  This is one Christmas gift that requires opening on a daily basis.

Opening such an invaluable gift will sustain you, but it will also make it possible for God’s grace to expand even further.  Opening up the Holy Spirit’s fruit and using them will result in our giving God’s love to others.  It will make a difference in this world.

Others will see what a difference God makes.  It will provide grace to those who need God in their lives.  It will reflect what a difference Jesus makes in our lives so others can see God in us.  And, in time, we will transform the world by loving one another because we have opened up God’s gift given by the Holy Spirit.

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

Thank you for the gifts you have given us.  They are gifts that transform lives.  The gift of your Son continues to give love to us.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is so personal and fills our world with fruit that overflows our basket and leaks out onto others.

Thank you for those around us who have shown us how to use the gifts each and every day.  The quality of these gifts are reflected in all that we do.  As we continue to unwrap your gifts, may others find their gifts, too.

Thank you, God, for those who teach us about your gifts.  Help us to learn more in an effort to guide others in opening their own gifts.  Use us this holiday season to deliver the gifts and make sure they are opened so others may be transformed, too.  –Amen.

Scripture:  9-10 What would be an adequate thanksgiving to offer God for all the joy we experience before him because of you? We do what we can, praying away, night and day, asking for the bonus of seeing your faces again and doing what we can to help when your faith falters.

     11-13 May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you! And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you. May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers.  –I Thessalonians 3:9-13. the MSG

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