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April 3, 2020
As we prepare to enter Holy Week we are faced with the expanding ravages of what has been described as the “hidden enemy” – COVID-19. Fear is the reaction of many. Some try to minimize that fear by saying that this is all a hoax (yes, there are still some that are saying that) or that people are blowing this out of proportion (again, some are still holding onto that thought). There are others that have moved to the other end of the spectrum and are in full panic mode.
As I thought about this, I do believe that there is a place for fear and, the truth be told, fear is often the proper response to certain stimuli. For example, most people do not walk into the road during rush hour traffic. What holds them back? Fear. They are afraid of getting hit by a vehicle that is moving at substantive speed and outweighs the average human being by nearly 3,000 pounds. COVID-19 may not be 3,000 pounds moving at 35-70 miles per hour but it is a microscopic virus that is moving far more quickly and is every bit as deadly.
Fear is the proper reaction; panic is not; denial makes no sense. Perhaps another word that can be used is respect. Respect allows me to own my fear and move through it. It allows me to embrace the new reality, the new normal, and continue to live by respecting the governing authorities and loving those that surround me. When Martin Luther ministered during the time of the bubonic plague, he had no N95 masks, he had little protection, he had faith and trust in God, and he took no chances. He ministered when necessary but he took every precaution available to him in that day. We can do the same today and with greater efficacy.
Our call is to love God and love our neighbor. The evidence of the former is witnessed in the action of the latter. During this time, there are several things we must practice to display this call to love – physical distancing, washing hands, sanitization of surfaces and clothing, and stay at home. You can read about the rest on any site. There’s another thing to practice – grace.
Speaking for myself, I get frustrated by those that continue to gather in groups; and, I get frustrated by those that use profane/vulgar language in telling people to stay !!!!! home. We can hold one another accountable to proper codes of conduct but to do so with no accountability for one’s own actions is the reality of duplicity.
All our actions and comments that are the result of panic or denial are a complete disregard for the greatest commandment – Love. How can we come together during this time and recognize our new reality? How can we display God’s love with respect to our neighbors – both in distancing physically and respectfully holding one another accountable verbally?
May the Lord richly bless you as you walk in peace.
March 19, 2020
Psalm 46 is a powerful reminder to us of God's presence in our lives. "An ever present help in trouble." And later, "Be still and know that I am God." There are two other passages that come to mind for me today. One is from scripture and the other not.
I am reminded of Mordecai's conversation with Esther. It was a time of fear and Esther's fear was magnified. Mordecai gave a word of encouragement regarding her role in the deliverance of her people. "Who knows but that you have come to this place for such a time as this?"
The other is the opening of the book, A Tale of Two Cities. "They were the best of times they were the worst of times...the period was so like the present period...
I recognize differences in context of those passages and where we are today; however, fear in the midst of trying circumstances is real no matter what the context. It is into this context that the church is God's light to dispel the darkness. The church has the opportunity to be the expression of God's love to a world enslaved by fear.
Our day is not like any other that has been before us, except by way of superlative comparison only. Technology changes but the struggles of life continue no matter whether we be rich or poor... In the midst of it all, we hear the voice of God, "Be still..." I am reminded also of Elijah. He needed to be still to hear the gentle whisper of God.
How often do the circumstances of our lives hold us hostage? How often do we forget to be still so that we can hear the gentle voice of God?
Precious Savior, lead us through the darkness that threatens to engulf us. Let your light shine in and through us so that we might be your instruments of healing for all people.
January 29, 2020
"Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness" (James 3:18).
"Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).
We live in a divisive time that is not unlike any other time. There is a need for peacemakers in this generation not unlike any other, yet this time is our time and the children of God must speak peace into it. Every generation must apply God's timeless word into it's own circumstance. Too often, the voice of the church becomes strident and out of tune, we become a cacophony of sound that is anything but peaceful. It's one thing to be a prophetic voice, it's yet another to live out the prophetic call. The church, to show the world that we are the children of God, must learn to speak the prophetic truth with love. To do any less is to add to the chaos and, effectively, silence the word of the still speaking voice of God. It's not that God is silenced; rather, it is that we have made it irrelevant by our voice and actions.
Jesus' words, "That all of them may be one..." becomes relevant when we live in peace with one another. How can the world know peace if we, the children of God, are not sowing peace? "Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness." In other words, the voice of God spoken through God's children is not chaotic and discordant; instead it has melody and harmonies that strike a chord of peace to the benefit of all and to the glory of God.
Lord, help me to be a peacemaker so that I may speak and live your word in a way that brings peace and harmony to a fractured and discordant world.
January 15, 2020
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
Muscle memory is the ability to repeat a specific muscular movement with improved efficiency and accuracy that is acquired through practice and repetition. No matter what our level of expertise in any endeavor, our training requires repetition and practice. There's a saying, "Practice makes perfect." Of course, that's not accurate because if you practice incorrectly the result will be increased imperfection. Undoing this ingrained muscle memory will be difficult...though not impossible. To say that "perfect practice makes perfect" makes more sense but this is, truthfully, impossible for fallible human beings.
As Christians, we seek to live in a way that expresses our love and honor for God which is manifest in the way we live with one another. "Love the Lord your God...and your neighbor as yourself." This sums up the whole of God's commands. We are to "pray without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances." So, the love we have for God is demonstrated in our love for one another. Our relationship with God is built on the foundation of Christ Jesus and our willingness to give ourselves to the continual act of communication (prayer). This requires trust. There are circumstances in our lives that may inhibit our ability to trust the God that is revealed in love. "Why?" is a regular question asked by the victimized, the disenfranchised, or the one experiencing some disability (illness and the like). It's difficult to say but "Why" may not be the best response.
The Apostle Paul did not say be thankful for, he said be thankful in, all circumstances. The preposition is essential to note in the verse. We are thankful in the circumstance, not because of it but because God has promised to be with us and will never abandon us.
Here's the place where muscle memory comes in for us. When circumstances arise in our lives (positive or negative) what is our muscle memory response? Do we begin to figure out how to deal with the situation? Do we complain? Do we seek to walk with God in prayer? In prayer, do we offer thanks to God for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives? I've always loved the musical Fiddler on the Roof because Tevya (the lead character) is always talking to God (whether in good or bad times). Tevya was very human (not unlike the psalmists) and he expressed himself both positively and negatively to circumstances; but, the one thing he did do - he prayed. In all circumstances, muscle memory moved him (and the psalmists) to prayer.
Is our relationship with God part of our "muscle memory" or do we imperfectly struggle to get it right on our own when faced with trying circumstances? My prayer is that we all find that place of joy in our lives that is the result of "muscle memory" being perfected in our lives.
November 15, 2019
"Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that openly profess his name..."
A sacrifice of praise is a wonderful thought. What does it mean? My initial thought was to offer up words that express my affection for God. Then, I thought it is the life lived in faithful obedience - a picture paints 1,000 words. Of course, both of those thoughts are valid but they are more the result of the actual sacrifice of praise. They are chosen responses to what is in our minds and hearts.
The sacrifice of praise begins with the open profession of the One that is. It is the mind and heart engaged as one acknowledging the reality and presence of God revealed in Jesus. The outflow of that sacrifice is one that pleases God. "Do good to one another, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."
I was reminded recently (by a former congregant) of three words I used in a number of sermons - Head, Heart, Hands (thank you, Jodi).
With our Heads we believe.
In our Hearts we receive.
With our Hands we achieve.
The sacrifice of praise begins when we openly profess the Word of God within. The evidence of that fruit is witnessed in the way we love one another.
November 8, 2019
As I continue my journey with John Piper, "Desiring God," and as I read through Hebrews 11 (in preparation for this past Sunday's sermon), I am astounded by those Veteran's that have gone before us and those that are still serving in active duty (not yet "Veterans").
Monday, we celebrated Veteran's Day and rightly are thankful for those men and women that sacrificed so much, often with little to no fanfare. Many of us have children serving in the armed forces today and we are grateful for what they are doing in many parts of the world, even as I write.
The truth that we often forget is that, like those in our armed forces, there were men and women that gave their lives in service of the God of all creation because:
1. They treasured a relationship with God that far surpassed the momentary struggles of the day.
2. Their "joy did not just arise from the backward glance in gratitude. It also arose from the forward glance in hope..."
My hope, as we come to Thanksgiving and then to the Advent season, is that we become increasingly engaged in ministry. Two thoughts: One from Warren Wiersbe (I quoted him back in July), and one that I'd like to take credit for (but most likely it isn't a new thought).
1. "Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God" (Wiersbe).
2. "Engaged in acts of kindness does not mean that we do ministry. Doing ministry always means engaging in acts of kindness."
Let us be a people engaged in active service, advancing the word and work of God. We may, or may not, be remembered in a who's who list for others to see; however, when we meet our Savior in the heavenly kingdom will we hear the words, "Well done my good and faithful servant."
October 30, 2019
One common thread that makes up the tapestry of Romans is God's desire to have the saints engaged in ministry. The list of names in Romans 16 is comprised of men and women. I believe that there was an age range and that there was a socio-economic gap among many in the wider community. Paul commended these people to all the readers and expressed his love and affection for them.
As I gave it thought, and in light of the Wiersbe description of ministry (see Oct. 25 below), I had an insight about ministry that I thought made sense and shared it on Sunday. "We can do acts of kindness without doing ministry; we cannot do ministry without acts of kindness. The difference between the two is our heart." Acts of kindness are good and beneficial to those giving and receiving. The difference is that when it is ministry there is a profound understanding of loving obedience to the One that created us to be love and to do the good works prepared in advance for us to do (see Ephesians 2:10). This is not to diminish the good deeds of philanthropists; rather, it recognizes the difference between doers of good deeds and the Christ-follower.
There is much more to explore and we will continue to do that as we move through this season of Thanksgiving and into Advent. "God bless us everyone."
October 25, 2019
"...They risked their lives for me...They have been in prison...They are tested and approved in Christ..." (Romans 16:1-16).
How often are we amazed to see people that are willing to give their lives in service to the Lord? We are filled with awe and often comment, "If only everyone would engage in that kind of ministry." Of course, we often think about that for other people to become engaged and not ourselves. Too often, there is a sense in the church that we can vicariously be connected to ministry, spectators if you will, and feel a sense of satisfaction in ministry done well. This is not unlike going to a sporting event, a play, or a concert and feel an emotional attachment and sense of well-being at the conclusion of what we witnessed.
Ministry is not about being a spectator; it is about participation. As Wiersbe wrote, "Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God." Sunday we'll explore this statement in light of Romans 16:1-16. We will note that people were engaged in ministry - men and women, younger and older. They loved those they served and they committed to the way of the Lord. There was a cost to engagement but for the sake of expressing their love for God they were willing to be part of the ministry of the church.
Together, we will unpack this statement by Wiersbe in the context of Romans 16 and then see how that impacts us in 2019. God bless us all as we participate in the ministry to which God has called us.
October 15, 2019
"It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known..." (Romans 15:20)
We wonder if this verse is applicable to us in the 21st Century in an age that is so technologically advanced that events across the world can be known within minutes. However, just because information is nearly immediately available it does not mean that everything is heard. Let me explain:
We can listen to the news, yet we do not hear what is said because of distractions, desensitization, or bias. We shut out the words being spoken because they don't fit with what we want to hear. There are times we choose not to listen because we know it will provoke anxiety.
We live in this time, one that is not unlike any other time, and discover that there is an antipathy to the truth of God revealed in Jesus. Thus, we live in an age where the majority of people have never darkened the doors of a church. This is not because the things of God are unavailable to be understood; rather, it is largely because people are distracted by their view of "more important things" and/or are disconnected because the "messenger" does not match the Message (people don't tolerate hypocrisy in others).
Jesus said that now is the time for the harvest. That was said 2,000 years ago and the message continues today. This is not the church of the 1st Century but we live in a world that is as ignorant of the gospel message as they were. The gospel was not heard in most of the world, at that time, so Paul had ample opportunity to preach to those that had not heard of God's love in Jesus. For us it is different. The gospel has reached the four corners of the earth. However, to preach the gospel where Christ is not known only requires that we step out into our neighborhoods and be the embodiment of God's love revealed in Jesus.
Paul planned to go to Spain to bring the message of God's love to a people not yet exposed to this good news. We know that God calls us to be ministers of grace. We know that there are people that need to know acceptance, peace, and joy. God doesn't often call us to go to foreign lands, but he calls us to be willing to go into uncharted waters (as near as our sphere of influence). On the one hand, we won't be breaking new ground; on the other hand, we are doing a new work in the lives of those that we touch with the love of God.
Paul planned to go to Spain by way of Rome...he never got there. This was not due to lack of effort, it was due to the fact that he was arrested and later put to death. What do we plan to do? How many of those plans include declaring the love of God in word and in deed with those that have not experienced the loving hand of God in their lives?
Lord, let all of my plans include you. Let my life be a living witness of your love so that those that have never heard the gospel message may hear and see it in me.
October 2, 2019
As we approach the anniversary of the Reformation, I have begun re-reading John Piper’s book, Desiring God. It is not light reading. To say that it contains challenging and stretching concepts is to understate. The truth be told, though I am persuaded by much of what I read I struggle at times because Piper’s words provoke me to deeper thought. I don’t have to agree with everything to benefit but even when in agreement I find myself stretched.
The Westminster Catechism states: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Piper suggests: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”
If we struggle with the language: “The chief end of humanity/humankind is to glorify God by enjoying God forever.”
One word changed and the thought is subtly and profoundly changed. There was never an intention, so says Piper, of separating “glorify” and “enjoy;” rather, glorifying God and enjoying God were one in the same…the two are inseparable.
Just a thought…
September 27, 2019
"Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification..." (Romans 14:19).
We all appreciate a solid effort from those that seek to entertain us - whether in sports, music, or movie industries. We express appreciation for our children when they come home from school with comments from the teacher as to the positive effort of the student (so often the grade is not as important to the parent, or teacher, as the maximum effort to do the best that they were able to do).
As much as we appreciate maximum effort, we have a real problem with zero to minimal effort. We look at those situations and we are disappointed (not only with the effort but with the person that failed to try). I think it may be interesting to consider the situation from that other person's point of view. We find fault. We tell them, "I could have done better." Then, we are asked to look in the mirror. We, if honest, discover that we don't always put out the effort that is best suited to what we are trying to accomplish.
Paul wrote, "Make every effort..." To do what? "To do what leads to peace and mutual edification." What does that mean?
September 20, 2019
"God's divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness..." (2 Peter 1:3).
"I want more." "I deserve more." There's more, but this is enough to display my self-centeredness. Actually, my inner focus is the result of insecurity. My feelings of entitlement are the fruit of feelings of inadequacy and my need to blame Someone for what I think, or feel, is lacking.
Peter wrote that we have enough information. We have everything we need to know to live a godly life. The problem isn't God's, it is ours - it is mine. The following verses, in this passage, tell me what I have been given and what to do to live a life of freedom in Christ so that I may be effective advancing the word and work of God into the community in which I live. Even more, I know how to be God-honoring in my home and with my extended family.
How much effort am I willing to invest for the sake of working out in my life all that God has worked in? Peter wrote, like others in the NT, that we are to "make every effort..." God made the effort to reach out to humanity...and succeeded in Jesus. God expressed his love for us in this way - God gave his one and only Son as atoning sacrifice for our sins. Our effort is to receive that grace and then live that grace incarnationally (that is, we are to be Christlike) in our lives so that others may see God's love alive and relevant. Paul told us to "work out what God has worked in."
Take a moment and read 2 Peter 1:3-11. Two times Peter uses the phrase, "Make every effort." We ask, "How much will it cost me?" The answer is "Everything." We ask, "Do I have what is necessary?" The answer is, "Yes, because of what God has revealed in Jesus."
Lord Jesus, complete in me what you have begun. I know your are willing but you call from me a willingness that I don't always possess ("I believe, help me in my unbelief"). I want the easy way. I want the path of least resistance (preferably no resistance). Help me to trust you and to remember to fill the gap of my inadequacy with the power of your love.
August 29, 2019
"Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established..." (Romans 13:1)
There are any number of ways to look at this text. Many have used it in the church as a means by which church leadership controls its members. Others have used the text to keep the wider population under control of existing governmental structures. As I look at it, both of these views are misrepresented/misunderstood. This leads to a misuse of the word which leads to an abuse of God's word in the church and in the culture at large.
Leadership, at any level, is a called position to serve (please look at the example of Jesus). Jesus washed feet. Jesus fed the masses. Jesus suffered at the hands of those that humiliated, tortured, and killed him. All of this because Jesus chose the path of love in his servant-leadership. For more, I encourage the reading of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) followed by Philippians 2 (there's more but that is a good beginning).
When leadership fails in its responsibility it fails those it is called to serve and is ultimately accountable to God. Paul wrote to this issue in an era that allowed no recourse for the people other than revolution and that didn't work out so well for those opposing the Roman Empire. Today, our leaders are accountable to the people they are elected to serve. We can change those whom we choose to be our servant-leaders (in the church or in government) which was unheard of for most centuries of human existence. However, the attitudes of our hearts towards those who lead will either bring us under indictment before God or will make it possible for us to hear the words, "Well done my good and faithful servant."
We don't have to agree with a leader or even like the person that holds a leadership position. Many can recognize functional and dysfunctional leadership; however, this does not give us the "right" to denigrate the person or the system under which we live (denigration may be the kindest word I can use based on some things I've heard said and seen written). People may want a revolution (of culture or system) but the truth is that this is not the answer.
Let me suggest a different kind of revolution - one of the heart. We insist on our own way, our own rights, or our own entitlements. When circumstances don't go our way, we become embittered and resentful which leads to anger and rage. What I suggest is not an easy course but it is the only one that can change the world. Paul said it rightly in Romans 12:1-2 - "Therefore, I urge you, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
The revolution of the heart is the call to stop and listen to the good and perfect will of God. We are to choose the path of mercy and love. We are to choose the way of obedience to the Law of God. When leadership fails to serve the people we have the opportunity to change and find those that would be servant-leaders. Until then, we trust the process and work within the system afforded to us. We, like our leaders, are ultimately accountable to God and we are to be a people of mercy and grace which are by-products of the love of God born in the hearts of the children of God.
Our Lord and God, you are sovereign. There is nothing that occurs of which you are unaware and that you are unable to redeem. Help us to trust that you are at work in us and all circumstances to advance your word and work into all the world.
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.