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. 

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​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..."

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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." 

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​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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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​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.