August 8, 2019
A "knee-jerk response" is an immediate response to a comment or action without examination of the causes or facts. Typically, this is highly emotionally charged and can exacerbate an already difficult situation.
The devastating and tragic events in El Paso and Dayton last week have created (rightfully so) at atmosphere that calls us to re-examine gun laws. The purpose of this illustration is not to advocate for any position; instead, I point to the reaction of many in their advocacy of whichever position that they hold. The emotions (again, rightfully so) are running high and there is a great deal of rhetoric being espoused from different political and religious sectors. At times, the reactions are so emotionally charged that words are spoken that vilify those that are not in agreement. When these words are spoken (or written) there is no taking back what has been communicated.
Knee-jerk reactions occur in communities at large, in neighborhoods, in homes, and in faith communities. There is an inherent reaction in humans to demean when others see things in a different light. Instead of discovering that which can unite us, we seek to insist on our own way whether, or not, it is at the expense of another. At the least, there is silence and isolation from those that hold a differing opinion. Perhaps, there is a debate on the merits of the positions being espoused. Too often, we witness the escalation of bitterness and anger that can, and too often does, lead to violence (whether physical, emotional, or spiritual).
In Romans 12:9ff, Paul expresses the strong statement - "Love must be sincere/genuine." The original language states, "Love must be without hypocrisy." We cannot hide behind a mask pretending to be one thing while, in fact, we are something else. "Hate what is evil, cling to what is good....Live in harmony with one another...As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
We'll look into this more deeply in our worship service on Sunday. Meanwhile, let us be in prayer for the families of those effected by the tragedies of last week and for our leaders as they seek to discern what is best and right.
Lord Jesus, words don't convey the depth of sorrow, anger, and fear that is in us when we see the pain all around us. We pray for those most directly affected by the violence of last week. We also pray for those that experience violence every day and yet is unreported in the media. If there is ever a need for genuine love it is now. Of course, that genuine love is born of your Spirit and we need you now. Come, Lord Jesus, and heal your people.
July 10, 2019
Forty-eight (or so) years ago, the band Ten Years After released the song, "I'd Love to Change the World." Though the song uses language that is not politically correct in 2019 the lyrics express an angst regarding the state of the world that is (if possible) more relevant today than ever before.
"I'd love to change the world but I don't know what to do...so I'll leave it up to you."
As Christ-followers, we could buy in to the frustration and anxiety or we can hear the words of a more recent song by Matthew West - "Do Something." Highlighting a portion of the song (go to YouTube for the rest):
"God, why don't you do something. God said, 'I did...I created you.'"
The world is, on a good day, a mess. Often, we pray for God to do something and then sit back and expect a miracle. We need to remember that the incarnation (in all its fullness) is the miracle; and, now as Christ-followers filled with the Holy Spirit, we are the miracle for the world in Jesus' name.
Acts of kindness, expressions of mercy, and living our love for God in community declares God's miracle in our midst. "Love your neighbor as yourself." "Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others." "Don't think of yourselves more highly than you ought..." So much more, but we can see that God's word is not only about "right doctrine," it is about "right action."
Together, the people of God know what to do. We are not to leave it up to others to change the world; it is up to us to be God's agents of transformation. It is up to us to do something so that all may know our invitation - "No matter who you are or where you are in life's journey, you are welcome here."
May 10, 2019
"It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy...Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?" (Romans 9:16 & 21)
I must be honest, I struggle with the words of this passage. The struggle is not so much because I think God is unfair; instead, it is because (in my humanity) I don't like what I'm reading. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. I wrestle with the concepts of foreknowledge, predestination and election. I don't like that I am not the one in control of my destiny.
Of course, I think more deeply about these concepts and God's working in human history. We use language to try and wrap our minds around the purposes of God. Language to express ourselves to one another is often misunderstood; imagine how the words we apply to the divine boggle the thoughts of human comprehension.
Many books have been written on these words and have only created greater division and confusion. Some are written better than others. All are inadequate. The issue is not so much about the words as it is about whether, or not, we can trust God. Reading Ephesians 2:8-10 we find, "For it is by grace we are saved through faith, this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, so that no one can boast..." There's something a little unsettling about the text but it does not carry the seemingly oppressive weight that Romans 9 seems to have.
It comes down to trust. Do we believe that God loves us? Do we have faith that God's purpose is in the best interests of God's children? This calls for a much deeper discussion because there's not enough time for this in a brief column. I choose to trust. I choose to have faith and hope. I choose obedience - not as the means by which I enter the promised salvation from God, but as an expression of the relationship I have with God because of God's plan in my life.
Prayer for the day:
Lord, help me to walk in faith. Open my heart to receive your love. Encourage me to be an instrument of your love that is expressed through grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Help me to choose obedience to your plan because of the work you have done and are doing in my life so that others may be empowered to be part of your plan.
May 2, 2019
"Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and all people" (Proverbs 3:3-4).
Love and faithfulness are characteristics that are not only directed to our relationship to God, they are witnessed in our relationships with one another. "Bind them around your neck and write them as a tablet on your heart" are exhortations to embody these qualities to the extent that they are manifestations of an inner work of God in our lives.
Additionally, as I read of these qualities, my thoughts went in another direction: First, "binding them around the neck" reminded me of being yoked together with Jesus. If I am to be Christlike, it is important that I walk alongside him as closely as I may. When love and faithfulness falter (and they do), I am able to continue because of the strength of my Lord. Second, writing them on the tablet of my heart reminds me of the synopsis of the Law by Jesus (love God...and love one another). This calls for a view of the Law as a radical display of love rather than a list telling me what to do and not to do.
Prayer for the day:
Lord Jesus, empower me to walk with you in love and faithfulness. Let my life display those characteristics so that you are honored and praised by all. Help me to live up to the name of Christ-follower and let me bear the name of Christ with joy and honor.
April 26, 2019
"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Can you imagine how the disciples (especially Thomas and Peter) felt following the crucifixion of Jesus. The great news they heard from the women was that Jesus was raised from the dead. The bad news is that Thomas struggled with seeing the forest because of the trees (in other words, he had a doubting problem). Peter had a different issue - he denied he knew Jesus (now he wondered if his relationship could ever be restored).
When people doubt the presence of God or when they feel they have failed God in any way, it is often followed by insecurity and/or depression. There may also be the temptation to isolate and brood over personal failure. Then, in a moment of keen spiritual insight we offer the comforting words of Romans 8:28. My question: How comforting are these words to a person that is feeling guilty and/or anxiety ridden about what they did or failed to do?
Jesus' approach was direct in both cases. I encourage you to re-read John 20-21 to see the atmosphere that Jesus created to bring comfort, hope, and restoration to these two men and the rest of those that followed him.
The power that brings comfort, hope, and restoration comes in the willingness to speak the truth in love and empower those that we love to experience the presence of God in a new way and at a deeper level. Our service may not bring immediate healing; however, it begins the process by which our brothers and sisters can become more than conquerors through Jesus who loved them.
Prayer for the day:
Lord Jesus, help us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. When we listen, help us to avoid the quick fix answer because we know that rarely is what is best. Instead, empower us to be your loving conduit in the lives of those whom we serve.
April 25, 2019
"There is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).
You've heard it said, "Behind a cloud there is a silver lining." Perhaps, in a simplistic way, we can accept that premise. However, I would encourage that we look a little deeper. In Romans 8:28 could be understood this way or we could grapple with the uncomfortable reality that there are times of trial that leave us speechless (even in prayer). However, the resurrection life we live empowers us to see all circumstances through the lens of faith. We trust that God's love is for us and that God will never leave or abandon us. We know that the life of faith is a stretch that will often cause great discomfort and/or pain. This is because the resurrection life brings us to a place of transformation (that is, change) and there is little that we try to resist more than change.
Look at the lives of Thomas and Peter - post-resurrection of Jesus. Both were filled with sorrow and pain, each for their own reasons. Jesus ministered to them in different ways and in those circumstances created an atmosphere that brought growth through hope and healing for these two men (as well as the whole group of disciples). Jesus didn't offer a "silver lining." Jesus brought a deeper, a more profound understanding of the life they were to live.
We'll look at this more as we gather together this Sunday. God bless you and empower us all to live the resurrection life in Jesus' name.
April 16, 2019
"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose...and nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:28, 39).
The power of the gospel (good news) of Jesus is in the resurrection hope that brings to life all those who come through him to God in faith. One could say that there is resurrection from spiritual death to life. Others may call it more of a renewal or a revitalization that stimulates growth in ways unexpected. However, we must always remember: for resurrection to occur, there must first be death; for renewal or revitalization to occur, there must first be the willingness to remove what is no longer functional; and, for new growth, there are going to be growing pains.
New life. Renewal and revitalization. During this Holy Week we prepare for remembrance and celebration. We remember that new life for the children of God came at a cost - Jesus' life. We also celebrate in remembrance that, in Christ, we are made more than conquerors through God who loved us (v. 37).
We invite you join us in all the events of this week at St. John's Center UCC (also posted on FB), as we give thanks for the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
April 5, 2019
"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...Now, if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ..." (Romans 8:1, 17).
How do you self-identify? This is a question that has been asked in different ways as long as there have been people. Today, this question is a minefield through which many try to navigate.
My purpose this Sunday is not to address the issues faced by many (this is not to be a political manifesto for personal rights for any individual or group). Rather, I would ask another question that may help determine how we, as a faith community, would identify ourselves.
How do we manifest the reality of God's presence in our lives for the benefit of others? How do we show the light of God's love in the lives of those that have been disenfranchised, to those that are wounded, to those that are brokenhearted?
If, as Paul wrote, we are God's children upon whom the love of God has been lavished (see 1 John 3:1), then we are responsible to be the conduits of that love to all others (not just those that think and act the way that we do). More than that, it is essential that the evidence of our choices and actions must be displayed to one another in the local faith community.
For the church to be relevant in the 21st Century it is essential that we recapture the vision of being one in Christ. We are to be the conduits of grace and not judgment. We are to love unconditionally and extend mercy.
Our identity is as God's children created in God's image. Our purpose is to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and our works. Together, let us be committed to this awesome call.
Prayer for the day:
Our Father in heaven, as you have lavished your love on me, help me to be the conduit of your love in the lives of all within my sphere of influence. Then, let them be one in you and do likewise.
March 29, 2019
"For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing...it is sin living in me" (Romans 7:18-20).
"The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Most of us have heard, and/or used, that statement. As I wrote some time ago, there are reasons and there are excuses that keep us from ministry. We may have the desire to take away the pain and heartache in a person; however, we discover that being human limits our abilities to accomplish this task - this is a reason. An excuse is bailing on that person because there are things we'd rather do.
Matthew West wrote the song, "Do Something." (Listen on YouTube.) He comes to the conclusion that God has chosen to use his children to be the conduits by which the pain and heartache of the human condition is cared for. We cannot take away the pain; however, by the power of the Holy Spirit we can be a healing salve, a listening ear, or a cup of cold water.
We want to be filled with the Spirit. We want the world to be a better place. Yet, so often we're like little children expecting needs to be met without taking responsibility for our choices and actions. The disciples wanted to stay with Jesus. They wanted to support him. Instead, they argued in the Upper Room. In Gethsemane they fell asleep. "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."
We know what is good. We know what is right. We know (or can know) what God desires from us. When the rubber meets the road, do we make excuses or are we responsive to God's call?
Sunday we'll explore this in more depth. I do want to leave with a word of encouragement that I've found powerful in my own life and I hope you will as well. "...there is nothing in all creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Even when I am weak, God loves me.
Prayer for the day:
Lord, I know that I want to see you at work in my life but I'm not always willing to exercise the discipline that it takes. Help me to exercise my will in accord with your word. Help me hear your voice speaking through those you've brought into my life to be the conduits of your grace for me. Then, empower me to be your conduit to those with pain and heartache.
March 21, 2019
"I don't understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (Romans 7:15).
"I am so confused." You may remember the statement from Vinnie Barbarino (from the '70's TV show Welcome Back Kotter). All too often, we feel that state of confusion. We have options. We evaluate them. We see one is better...and we choose the other.
The Apostle Paul is like so many of us. "I don't understand what I do..." At the beginning of the year people make New Year resolutions...that last a short period of time. Then comes the season of Lent in which we make a "sacrifice" for the 40 days...sometimes the sacrifice lasts longer than the resolution, but not always. The resolution and the sacrifices are often the willing (though not always committed) changes to behaviors and practices that we ought not be engaged in anyway. When we fall short of the desired outcome, we will lament our inability to do what we thought would be so beneficial to our overall well-being.
To say that we live in a state of confusion understates reality. Instead of giving something up (as I've mentioned before), what would it look like if we chose to give of ourselves? Instead of a resolution to eat healthy and exercise or to sacrifice eating chocolate (or its equivalent), what would it look like if we chose an act of loving service - and then continued that beyond the season?
Of course, we begin with the best intentions; then, even though we know what is best, we stumble and/or fall. Paul closes this section in v. 25, "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" We remember that our lives are a developmental process. Sometimes we choose the best; sometimes we choose the worst. There are two things to consider: First, how can we choose to learn in the process of our decision-making? Second, how willing are we to rely on God's grace to redeem the choices that run contrary to his will?
We'll look at this in more depth in our worship time.
Prayer for the day:
Lord, I'm confused more often than I wish to be. I know what is good. I know what is not. Too often, the "what is not" is more appealing than what is good. Help me to see more clearly the benefit of choosing the best...then, empower me to make that choice.
March 19, 2019
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever" (Psalm 136:1).
"God's love endures forever."
This psalm of remembrance of the great things God worked in creation and then in and for his people is a song of praise and thanksgiving. Even when there were troubles, God did not forget his children. I invite you to read the whole psalm.
How often do we forget all that God has done? How often do we choose to remember? Remembering God's enduring love is essential to a life at peace..a life of peace. Forgetting is unsettling because we are unable to get past the moment. We become overwhelmed. Then, we remember and for a moment we are in the arms of our heavenly Father. Peace, acceptance, affirmation are the by-products of God's enduring love.
"God's love endures forever."
Prayer for the day:
Heavenly Father, fill our minds and fill our hearts with remembrance so that we may delight in you and share that with all those you bring into our lives.
March 15, 2019
"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me...Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me" (Matthew 25:40, 45).
I'm reminded of the song by Matthew West - Do Something - when I read these words. In the song, West confesses that he sees a troubled and hurting world, he sees poverty and angst all around, and he sees the reality of evil wherever he turns. He wonders aloud, "God, why don't you do something?" God's answer, "I did. I created you." I remember Paul's words to the Ephesians, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
"Whatever you do (or don't do) you do (or don't do) for me." During Lent so many look to "give ____ up" (each can fill in the blank). I would suggest that instead of giving something up we should consider what we can give. God's not interested in our "fasting" unless it has an impact on a change of heart (ours) that has direct cause and effect on the lives of those with whom we associate (directly or indirectly). As Matthew said later in his song, "If not us then who, if not now then when." We are created by God with the opportunity, and responsibility, to give to others as we have received from God.
So, instead of giving something up for this season, please pray about what you can give. Sunday we have a opportunity to hear a speaker connected with a re-entry program who will talk about how we can assist former inmates to regain standing in the community. It's more comfortable to minister to hurting people (homeless and the like); it's another thing to minister to those that were in prison. Jesus spoke of the homeless, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. Let's see where God is leading us as we "do something."
In the 1700's, Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." God created us to something...even when it moves us outside our comfort zone. Let Lent be the time of giving of self for the benefit of others so that God may be glorified in our obedience to "do for the least of these."
Prayer for the day:
Lord Jesus, give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the hands to work for the benefit of all those that need to experience your love.
March 9, 2019
"But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" (Romans 7:6).
"I have a dream...Free at last..." These words from the August 1963 speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. resonate and reverberate throughout the decades in our minds and hearts. The call to freedom during a time of great civil unrest is just as poignant today.
The word of the Apostle Paul to the Roman church resonates and reverberates throughout the centuries and the minds and hearts of all that hear it. The call to freedom requires sacrifice of self for the sake of all. Jesus certainly did this with his death on the Cross (we consider that singular event during the season of Lent leading to Easter). God's word calls us to be willing to move beyond self-interest and feelings of entitlement and into the heart of God revealed through Jesus.
There are three things that we discover: First, obedience to the law doesn't make us right with God. Moral and ethical uprightness is not what is required to be right with God. This does not mean that we negate the law. The law is good. Second, faith in God's work in and through Jesus (on the Cross) is what makes us right with God. This does not negate the law. Jesus fulfilled the law, he didn't replace it. Third, faith without obedience (works) negates the reality that true faith exists. Our work does not make us right with God, faith in Jesus and his saving work on the Cross does that. Our work is the manifestation of that inward faith and is an expression of our loving thanks to God for what God did for us in Jesus.
We are free to live in the power of God's love - by faith. We are free to commit to the law of love for the benefit of all. We can share in the dream and truly be free at last. We can build the community as we embrace the call to justice, mercy, and humility.
So much more to say. We'll look at this a little more on Sunday. All are welcome to come and join us.
Prayer for the day:
Lord Jesus, you willingly sacrificed your life for me (and all people). Help me to wrestle with the paradox of resistance to the law and insistence that the law be followed. Empower me to know true freedom and willing obedience.
March 1, 2019
"Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance..." (Romans 6:17).
To whom do we pledge our allegiance? We speak of the flag and the nation it represents (this is good). More specifically, we may speak to the ideals for which it stands, even when we question those in leadership (this leadership is on both sides of the aisle and every other place, as well). This statement is not about politics, however. I want to explore something that is far deeper and more personal.
To whom do we pledge our allegiance? What informs our decisions? What inspires our choices and prompts us to action? The hard truth is that our allegiance is most aligned with self-interest. Of course, there is a numerical spectrum (1 - 10) from extremely self-absorbed to unconditional love for others and we all fall into the scale somewhere. Thinking about it that way, there is only one that has made it to the number 10 - Jesus. Given that, I wonder where most of us are aligned - I'm even a little anxious about trying to discern that for myself (and I would never do it for someone else).
Paul's call to us is to change our allegiance from self-centered to God-centered. Of course, being God-centered moves us to the place of unconditional love for those God brings into our lives. God's desire for us is to engage in the process of moving up the scale so that we might increasingly become the instruments of God's love, mercy, and grace.
We will explore this in greater depth on Sunday. All are welcome to come and be part of the process of pledging our allegiance and of expressing our love and devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Prayer for the day:
Lord, you have designed me to bear your image in the world that we live. To say that I have blurred that image is to understate the reality of where my own allegiance too often lies. Empower me in the process of transformation so that I may more clearly reflect your presence to those you bring into my life.
February 27, 2019
"For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his" (Romans 6:5).
"United we stand..." is a powerful word of encouragement to draw disparate interests towards a common goal. Instead of focusing on what divides, we find that place of commonality. When we choose a united front it doesn't mean that we don't work through some significant issues; and, it doesn't mean that there aren't bruised egos along the way. However, it does mean that a team works to build continuity and/or consensus; and, it does mean that every voice is heard so that "the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts."
God heard the cries of broken/hurting people. God gave the Law to guide our interactions. The Law showed the nature of sin in humanity and made plain the need for mercy and grace. As with the people in Egypt (before the Law), God heard the cries of the downtrodden, the disenfranchised. God answered the prayer by stepping into our lives - Immanuel (God with us) - Jesus, the Son of God.
The next step was painful for God the Son as he gave his life as a sacrifice for humanity. Then God called us to respond by faith - dying to self and living to God - and this becomes uncomfortable for us. By his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53). However, our act to choose the way of faith brings us to a place of pain because we want what we want and we believe that we deserve it. If we choose the way of the Cross, we realize that our prayer is for the will of God to be accomplished in us and that means that we choose to be united to Jesus in death so that we may be united to him in life.
In this unity, we agree with God that our ways are not best and that the way of our Lord brings new life to all that believe. We choose to serve faithfully. We choose to walk in obedience. We choose to move from death to life and to offer ourselves as people that choose love, mercy, and grace. It is in this choice that we (united with Christ) engage in ministry as the conduits of God's presence in the world.
Prayer for he day:
Our Savior, we give you thanks for your choice to give your life as a sacrifice for us. Help us to be willing to be united with you in the Father's will for the sake of all those you bring into our lives. Empower us to be united with you so that the world may know "how great the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we might be called the children of God."
February 15, 2019
"God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
The Wizard of Oz said, "A heart is shown not by how much you love others, but how much you are loved by others." When I was a child and enamored with the Wizard of Oz, I thought this was a wonderful Hallmark saying (though I didn't know Hallmark at the time). As I grew up, I began to see that this is the antithesis of what the Bible says about God's love.
Perhaps sentimentality makes us a see wisdom in the charlatan wizard from Kansas, but the demonstration of love is first seen in the exercise of one's heart for the benefit of another. It is wonderful when there is reciprocation; however, as with God's love in Jesus, there's not always a great response - after all the response to God's love in Jesus was crucifixion at the hands of those God loved. We looked at this concept last week.
This week we note the "sin" of Adam and God's grace in Jesus. Sin came into the world through one man...and through one man grace overflowed to the many. God's heart is shown in God's love for humanity - God, in Jesus, once for all paid our sin debt so that we could live in perfect communion with God forever. John wrote, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:10-11).
We can't pay the sin debt, that is God's alone. However, we can make the presence of God felt in the way we choose to love. Our heart is not in how much others love us, but in how much we choose to love those that God brings into our lives. When we love with the love of Jesus, we are choosing the way of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. We are choosing the way that breaks down the barriers that divide and build the bridges that unite.
Prayer for the day:
Lord Jesus, empower us to be an instrument of your love so that the world may see you in us. We pray that we are not so concerned with how much others love us; rather, that we engage in the ministry of love by choosing to give ourselves to others - no matter who they are or where they are in life's journey.
February 5, 2019
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Colossians 3:12-14).
The words I hear that cause me the greatest level of fear when anyone is talking to me, "I've been thinking." Well, to be fair, I'm going to say the same thing and hopefully it will not cause great amounts of trepidation. "I've been thinking."
It is easy to become a Christ-follower. All one needs to do is receive by faith that Jesus (God's one and only son) came into the world and took the penalty for my sin (and that of the world) upon himself when he was crucified, and that he was raised from the dead on the third day. Okay, maybe easy isn't the correct word, maybe simple is better. However, to live the life of a Christ-follower is not at all easy...though perhaps one could say that it is simple. Paul wrote that we are to clothe ourselves with the apparel stated in the above verse and that the final adornment is to put on love because it binds all together in perfect unity. I guess that sounds fairly simple and maybe easy.
When I thought about this (and this is where it could get frightening), the part that gets difficult is the call to forgive those with whom I have a grievance. Wait a minute! There's a part of me that demands the right to hold a grudge against a person that has harmed me. Yet, God says, "Forgive as you have been forgiven." We even pray it, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
The call to be a Christ-follower requires us to grow in the understanding and implementation of forgiveness. The evidence of our faith is seen in its increased understanding and implementation in our lives. This is both a faith issue and a process. The process begins with humbling ourselves before God and asking for forgiveness. The next step is to accept God's forgiveness. Then, we begin the process of forgiving those with whom we have a grievance. This is not easy. It is where the "rubber meets the road" and we begin to walk the road that leads to unity with God and one another. This is where we show ourselves to be "the light of the world."
Prayer for the day:
My Lord and Savior, help me to be clothed in the virtues of your love so that I may become an instrument of your love, grace, and forgiveness.
January 30, 2019
“Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
“If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-23).
How often do we face obstacles in our lives and begin to wonder about (to doubt) the promises of God? We have faith; however, there is a persistent doubt that creeps into our heart and it undermines that faith. Like the father we say, “If you can…”
Abraham is extolled for his faith is Romans 4; however, when we read his story in Genesis we discover many times that his faith waned and he manipulated situations for his benefit. When it came to the moment that God promised him a son, Abraham (despite evidence to the contrary) believed. When told to sacrifice his son, the writer of Hebrews said that Abraham believed that God could raise the dead. Abraham “against all hope…in hope believed…”
We all face obstacles (whether they be giants like Goliath or stormy seas) that can only be overcome by the power of God at work in and through us. What are you facing this day? How much are you like the father that believed and was still plagued by doubt?
We’ll explore more of this on Sunday as we delve into the story of Abraham recounted in Romans 4.
Prayer for the day:
“Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
January 29, 2019
"We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).
"Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God" (Warren Wiersbe, On Being s Servant of God).
I have always loved the definition and/or identification of ministry and when it happens. I am reminded that ministry is intentional and that all God's children are invited to participate in the activity. God provides the resources to meet the need of the broken through those willing to be the conduits of love and grace so that God is glorified.
The Church, at large, is struggling to remember its mandate - "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..." (Matthew 28:18-20). What is it that we are commanded to do? Love one another as the outpouring of our love for God. This certainly means acceptance of others that don't think, speak, or act as we do. It means loving those that are different than we are. It means that we are to strive to be a united and uniting body of Christ. The reason for this unity is so that the world may know that God sent Jesus into the world so that we may all know the completeness of the unity of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). To be united and uniting requires an intentional will to love one another so that we may be the conduits of God's loving grace for the outcast, the alien, and the broken-hearted.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians that the dividing wall of hostility was destroyed so that God could create one new humanity, thus making peace. There's a lot to unpack here and not enough time to do it; however, let me suggest that the peace we broker (as the Church) is one that offers justice, mercy, and grace, meted out in love in the name of our crucified and risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
With the issues that the community (local, national, and global) faces, please consider how Jesus responded to those that were hurting and outcast. Pray before your respond to social and political agendas that are not in line with your own ideologies. Then, remember before you speak that your are a "loving channel" of "divine resources" to meet "human needs" so that in your life "God is glorified."
Remember, the early church had the greatest impact on the community not by badgering people with theology but by practical application of the theology of God's love for the world.
Prayer for the day:
Lord, fulfill your purpose in me by using me to be a conduit of your love for every person that you bring into my sphere of influence.
January 25, 2019
"Apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known...This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" (Romans 3:21-31).
There was a time when the word "righteous" was a synonym to the word "awesome." Of course, being righteous is awesome but it one cannot equate the two as carrying the same meaning. Righteousness has more to do with moral uprightness and virtue. Paul wrote that God is righteous and followed that with the testimony that no human (apart from Christ) is righteous before God. "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God..." This is not palatable to most people and there is an effort to re-frame who we are and where we stand before God in a morally ambiguous world.
We confuse the words "justify" and "rationalize" by making them synonymous. Though some see them this way, I suggest that justify brings about a sense of what is true and right; rationalize gives a sense an attempted excuse to make something appear as true and right. For example, I can follow the posted speed limit and be right before the law and thus be justified; or, I can choose to exceed the posted speed limit because of specific reasons and I can rationalize that choice to be right even though I have broken the law.
Scripture shows us that all have sinned and we seek to rationalize our behavior and cite the reasons for our choices. When rationalization doesn't work we play what I call "the blame game" by pointing the finger at someone other than ourselves. Scripture also tells us that we are able to be justified before God but it is not because of our goodness; instead, it is the goodness of God in Christ Jesus that justifies us.
Sunday, and in the coming weeks, we will explore this in more depth. The hope that we are given is that when we are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation - we are truly justified. With that justification in place, we are called to live a life that displays that we are walking with God. Our obedience is an act of thanksgiving, praise, and love. It doesn't save us; it shows that we are saved.
Prayer for the day:
Lord God, help us to look to all that you have done for us in Jesus Christ and trust you for our justification. Then, empower us to live obediently in your love so that our lives may declare your goodness and love for the world.
January 11, 2019
"What advantage... Much in every way! But what if...?" (Romans 3:1-8)
We're often amazed when people refuse to take responsibility for their actions and/or blame others for choices made. Of course, when it is our choice to pass the buck, it's obviously justifiable.
As we look at Romans 3 in a four part series, we will note several things: First, that we have the advantage of being entrusted with the word of God. Much like the Jewish Christians of the first century, we have the great advantage of God's revelation (we now have both testaments, whereas the early Christians had the one). Second, God's judgment is right and it is enacted against those that forsake the Law. Third, God's grace doesn't promote lawlessness so that more grace abounds; rather, it is because of human propensity to abandon God's Law that grace is given. Fourth, we are not brought into relationship with God because we obey the Law; instead, because of our relationship with God we choose to strive to obey the Law.
We live in chaotic and, some would say, evil times. If we ever need to see the consequences of our choices, look at the divisiveness of our nation...and of the Church. Instead of focusing on what unites us, we indulge personal agendas at the expense of others (this comes from every side, the blame is not on any one person).
The goal of our study is discover order in the chaos, sanity in the midst of irrationality, and hope for all in despair. The place where this is found is in the heart of God. Paul wrote a word that calls us to look in the mirror and see who we truly are. Then, he calls us to a hope that is beyond ourselves, a hope that is found in the open arms of Jesus.
Prayer for the day:
Our Father in heaven, guide us into the heart of your love and empower us to offer that love to those you bring to us. Help us to see beyond rhetoric and personal agenda. Help us to see the broken in need of healing. Help us to offer the light of hope to those in the darkness of despair. I pray that we be willing to be the embodiment of the love of Jesus for all.
January 8, 2019
Highlighting Colossians 3:15-17. “Let the peace of Christ rule…Be thankful…Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly…Whatever you do…do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
We are always faced with choices, sometimes we find them easy and sometimes not so much. For the child of God, the choice is simply stated but not so easily lived - this passage gives us direction.
The 3rd Commandment tells us to refrain from misusing the name of the Lord. Instead of seeing this as a casual cuss word or an off the cuff reference to God, what if we saw this in light of honoring or dishonoring the name of the Lord God of all that is. Please understand, our lives are a testimony of who we are in God’s plan. All that we do matters. With that in mind, our lives are to be a living witness of Christ in us. This brings our lives in line with God’s design.
Too often, we find ourselves at a loss for discerning God’s will. We know that we need to make a choice and we’re caught somewhere between rationalizing and justifying what we think we should do. Rationalization is never a good choice and we often confuse justification for rationalization. Truthfully, if our focus is “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…,” then we will discover the best course of action.
Last thought. Our choices impact God’s word and work in this world. The way that its impact is most greatly felt is in our relationships with one another – and this is to mirror the relationship we have with God. If our relationship with God is giving to others all that we have received in love, grace, mercy, and, forgiveness, then it is likely that we are walking in God’s will for our lives – God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Prayer for the day:
Lord Jesus, help me to get to know you better today. Help me to make choices that honor you so that your word and work may advance in the lives of those people I touch.
December 14, 2018
“The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
How often do we find ourselves just wanting to make it through the day? Even with the wonder of Christmas and visions of grandeur as to what the “spirit of Christmas” is supposed to be, there are moments that we just want to survive the season.
Casting Crowns wrote a song several years ago entitled, Thrive.
So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire
Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on high
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It's time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive
It’s easy to lose our joy when we lose our focus on Christ Jesus. Advertisers, Hallmark, and so many others keep us blinded from the true Spirit of Christmas. It’s not that anyone is intentionally trying to undermine Christmas; what we see is Christmas through a foggy window. It reminds me of Paul’s statement to the Corinthians, “Now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face…” Of course, the mirror at that time was not nearly as clear as those we have now.
The poor reflection that we see in culture is all that Christmas holds for most people. Clarity of focus is when our Christmas joy is found in relationship with God’s Son, Jesus. When that joy is discovered, we find strength – not to survive but to thrive. This is God’s desire for and design in us. It is then that we become joyful reflections of God’s glory for the world.
Prayer for the day:
Lord, help me to have a clear vision of your love revealed in Jesus so that, during this season, I can be the embodiment of joy that enables others to see you.
November 30, 2018
"This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight...that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ..." (Philippians 1:9-10).
As we enter the season of Advent, what are our hopes? What are our expectations? What do we anticipate?
Think about the Christmas tree. What does it represent - to you? When we see the tree set up and decorated, what comes to mind? I know that children don't think deep theological thoughts; instead, they have visions of wrapped gifts accumulating and waiting to be opened. Their hopes are that they will receive that special gift that will make their day complete.
Paul shared his prayer for Philippi, it was a prayer that would carry them through until their hope was realized - the day of Christ. Paul wrote about love, knowledge, discernment, purity, and blamelessness. All of these in place in the lives of God's children so that they are prepared for the return of Jesus.
If I don't attain all this, will I be prepared for the day of Christ? I'm like the child worried about the "naughty or nice" list. What if I don't measure up?
Advent begins with hope; fear and despair are not part of the life of the child of God. This Sunday we will focus on the hope we have for the day of Christ and how we can prepare for that day. Remember, we are all children looking with eager expectation for the Day that is coming.
Prayer for the day:
Lord, may your love abound in me more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that I may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ..."
November 16, 2018
How do our lives display “overflowing thanks” to God?
We enter the season of bedazzling lights - the Christmas season is upon us (preceded by Thanksgiving). Lights and life often are seen together and hope springs anew in our culture as we celebrate Christmas. Please note that I didn’t say that we celebrate the birth of Jesus. To be sure, there are religious symbols and overtones to all that is Christmas; however, for many it is limited to the miracle of human perception rather than divine revelation.
What can we do to broaden the perspective so that all the lives we touch can see the wonder of God’s love? I believe that it begins with our overflowing thanks to God for the work that God is doing in our lives. True, it is not always comfortable (being stretched to better “health” rarely is); yet, this work is an expression of God’s love for us – a love that transforms us and those that we love in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus.
With Thanksgiving ahead, let’s ask ourselves how we can radiate a life of overflowing thanks to God. Let us commit to being beacons of light – not lights that bedazzle – but light that illuminates and thus empowers others to see God’s love through lives overflowing with thanks. How do our lives display “overflowing thanks” to God?
Prayer for the day:
Lord God, I pray that I may be a conduit of your love as I live a life of overflowing thanksgiving. I pray that your power may shine through me so that I may truly be the "light of the world."
November 9, 2018
"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
"Not many of you should presume to be teachers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways..." (James 3:1-2).
Appearances can be deceiving. A person can look like the real deal - remember King Saul. Saul had the physical attributes and the charisma that people often look for in a leader. However, as we move forward in his life we discover that Saul had serious character defects and this ultimately cost him his leadership role and his life.
The truth is that everyone is saddled with the burden of flawed character - it is the result of the reality of sin. This does not remove from us the responsibility of striving to live righteously before God and those within our sphere of influence (directly or indirectly). We are charged with the responsibility of developing godly character (see the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians and the call to holiness in 2 Peter). Many believe the character of a person is best seen in the face of adversity; however, I suggest that character is witnessed at all times - whether in the trenches or in victory (just as there are "sore" losers, there are obnoxious winners).
Though we will never be perfect, we are to strive for it through faith. Our relationship with God is not based on how good we are, that is a matter of grace through faith; however, our character must radiate the reality of our relationship with God. If I am a child of God, then I am the light of the world. If I am the light of the world, then I dispel the darkness wherever my feet take me. If I dispel the darkness, then the light of God's love gives sight to those unable to see.
The role of the minister (not just the pastor) is to be filled to overflowing with the loving, healing, and forgiving grace of God. This is a word that not only comes in the words we speak but in the Word we live.
Prayer for the day:
Lord, let your light shine in me so that others may discover the glory of your Presence and discover life in the fullness of your love.
November 2, 2018
"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else...God does not show favoritism" (Romans 2:1-11).
Justification or rationalization. Reasons or excuses.
The truth is we all engage in choices in which we see cause and effect. We "justify" our choices (at least in our way of thinking) when, in reality, we rationalize our choices so as not to make us look bad. When the results of our choices come home to roost we give reasons for the negative consequences; however, the reality is that we are really making excuses so that we don't need to take responsibility.
God's word reminds us that there are no excuses because we know God's design. God also makes it clear that God's love is for all people that trust the deliverance offered in Jesus.
This Sunday, we look a little more deeply into the letter to the Romans to see the kind of people that God has designed and the transformation process necessary to get there.
Prayer for the day:
Lord God, thank you for the work you are doing in me to transform me and empower me to serve you. Help me to be responsible in my choices. Help me to have a reason for my choices and to not make excuses when they don't go the way I want. Help me to avoid rationalization for my actions when I live before you as one justified by faith in Jesus. Help me not to judge others (or even myself); rather, empower me to be your minister of grace to those that need to experience your love.
October 19, 2018
"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16-17).
It seems that everyone likes a "makeover" story. Reality shows of makeovers come and go. People's lives are changed (at least for the moment). There is joy in the moment of the transformation of home, body, or business. There is a new vision, a new perspective. There is hope for the future. The viewers of the show are left to wonder, "How long will it last?"
Transformation lasts as long as one remembers that it is a process. The quick fix rarely goes to the heart - it touches the surface, it touches that which is presentable. If we want a makeover that transforms, we must remember the process. The process begins in the head - what we believe; it continues to the heart - what we believe; and, it is completed with the hands - what we achieve.
The letter to the Romans is one of encouragement to transformation, not a simple makeover. It is the power of God for everyone that believes. The word translated "believes" gives us a sense of process - belief occurs in the moment and continues as a work in progress in the life of the child of God. What work are we committed to in our lives? Do we want a quick fix? Do we desire something that will last?
I believe, and am not ashamed, to declare that God is calling us to a deeper place. The good news of Jesus (our crucified and risen Lord and Savior) is a message of promise and hope that leads to a transformed and transforming life. We will begin to explore what that can look like as we begin to look at this rich letter from the Apostle Paul.
Prayer for the day:
God, you alone transform the lives of those that call upon your name in faith. It's more than a makeover. You go to the heart and make us new. We know that we have a role to play - we are called to trust and to work out all that you have worked in. We remember the words of the father in the gospel that declared, "I believe, help me in my unbelief." We are like that man. We want to experience your work, yet we are often fearful of what it may require. Let us grow in faith so that we may trust that you love us and your work in us is to fulfill your design for us.
October 4, 2018
"Continue to work out your salvation..., for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:12b-13).
I'm sorry but I skipped the words "with fear and trembling" because the words are too often misunderstood. The fear and trembling is not about our being afraid of a vengeful God, remember John wrote, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment..."
Fear may be better understood, in this context, as our understanding the nature and character of God and being in awe of the Creator of all that is. If God did this awesome work, then what is our response to the One that spoke the universe into being? We can all respond by working out in our lives all that God has worked in.
This Sunday, World Communion Sunday, we are celebrating our faith with like-minded faith communities. We are also celebrating the first graduating class of Stephen Ministers at SJCUCC. These seven have committed to working out the grace and love of God in their lives by being trained and now being ministers to those who are hurting. The goal is to walk alongside those that are struggling during their time of need (no matter what the issue or problem). Each has received 50+ hours of training in Christ-centered care-giving. Each is continuing with ongoing training and accountability. When it comes to working out what God has worked in, these Stephen ministers are loving conduits of God's amazing grace.
Prayer for the day:
Our gracious and loving God, we entrust our lives to you in this day and ask that you connect each of us in the love of Christ for the mutual benefit of all the children of God. Let us be united in mind, heart, and action so that the world may know you. Let us be the embodiment of the peace of God for all people.
September 27, 2018
"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5).
I'll be honest...I'm not always sure that I want the same mindset as Jesus. I'm not saying that I want to avoid God's working in me to become more Christlike; yet, at the same time, I'm not sure that I don't want to avoid God's work in me.
Think about it for a moment in light of this section of Philippians.
Jesus could have used his position ("being in very nature God") as a place of entitlement to advance himself in the world.
Jesus could have done what he wanted; instead, he chose to be a servant of all.
Jesus could have set an agenda that was self-promoting; instead, he humbled himself and in obedience endured the Cross.
Now, none of us are God and so we don't have the position and entitlement that Jesus could have insisted on. And, there are few of us (if any) that would choose the Cross (or its equivalent) as our act of ultimate obedience. So, as it comes to being of the same mindset as Jesus, this is an extremely uncomfortable proposition.
More than that, Paul is writing about this mindset regarding our relationships with one another...he doesn't seem to address this as a way of thinking about God. Of course, this is exactly what he did. Our mindset regarding others will be directly related to the relationship that we have with God. If I am willing to put others first, it is because I have already put God first. If I am unwilling to be a servant of those within my sphere of influence, it is because I am unwilling to be a servant of God.
There's more, but this gives us enough to start to rethink the words we pray every week, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors..."
Together, we will explore this mindset a little more on Sunday. Come, join us and be part of the fellowship of people seeking to learn to be more Christlike. As the "famous" philosopher, Red Green, reminds us, "We're all in this together."
Prayer for the day:
Our Lord and God, in view of your mercy, grace, and love for me, empower me to be transformed in the renewing of my mind so that I may more fully display your character - in my thoughts, my words, and my actions.
September 19, 2018
"Each...should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4).
Self-interest is the focus of people with a sense of entitlement. Please understand, this does not mean that we avoid self-care (in the physical, emotional, or spiritual areas of our lives); Paul is clear in Philippians that we must engage in self-care (that is, look to our interests). However, if all that we do is focused on us, we miss the point of being a Christ-follower. Jesus taught us to "deny oneself" and to "carry our cross daily." Paul encouraged his readers to walk in humility, like Jesus, and to be willing to seek the interests of others, to the point of self-sacrifice.
The context here is that we do nothing out of selfish motivation or conceit; instead, we willingly look to the best interests of others. If we want others to treat us with love and respect, it would be beneficial to begin in that place with others - "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Many would do well to heed this word.
This Sunday we'll build more on this thought so that we may be more fully aware of what it means to be a Christ-follower. We invite all to come and join us.
Prayer for the day:
Our Father in heaven, empower me to move outside myself and into the lives of those you bring into my sphere of influence. It is not mine to control; rather, it is my responsibility to walk with them in their journey, to discover who they are and how you have designed them for that which is yet before them. Help me, in humility, to look to their interests even as Jesus looked to my best interests and the best interests for all humanity.
August 18, 2018
"Let us love one another, for love comes from God..."
God is love. Jesus is the embodiment of love and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to be that love today. Verses 9 & 10 repeat the display of God's love through Jesus - in his life and especially in his death, paying our sin debt. If this love is for us and in us, then we are to love one another. Love is to be sacrificial. Love needs "skin in the game." When this occurs, God's love is made complete in us.
Prayer for the day:
Lord, work your love in and through me for the sake of your kingdom and the benefit of those you've called me to serve - my family, your church, and all those that you bring into my life.
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