Pastor's Message

Bigger Peace 12/3/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 3, 2022 & Sunday, December 4, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Savior God, guide us by your Word and Spirit that we might hear your truth, heed your call, and be prepared for Christ’s birth this Christmas.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Isaiah 11:1-10 (page 690), Luke 2:14 (page 1027), John 3:16 (page 1065) 

Sermon Message:  “Bigger Peace” 

Without hope there is no peace.  But hope fulfilled can lead to peace realized.  

Jesus would sometimes share a simple little story in his effort to communicate and get people to think.  I have a very brief little story that you can perhaps ‘relate’ to. 

Two little girls saw there was only one cupcake left.  The one little girl says, “I want the bigger piece.”  Placing a knife on the table the mother says, “One cuts, the other gets to choose.”  So, the elaborate process begins; one daughter trying to cut the cupcake exactly in half to prevent her sister from having “the bigger piece.”  Oh how honest children are! 

Some folks are still after the bigger piece. Today I will share with you some insights into peace, spelled P-E-A-C-E. 

In the Bible a symbol of ‘peace’ is the dove.  I know some of us place a dove on our Christmas trees each year when we decorate.  We sometimes get Christmas cards that speak of ‘peace.’  It’s an important word because peace is such an important concept.  It is important that people get along with each other and feel at peace inside.  Conflict, war, and harsh disagreements are something we try to prevent and resolve.  Jesus is sometimes called the "Prince of Peace." 

Peace is the absence of conflict, but it is so much more.  The word ‘shalom’ is the word Jesus used when he appeared to his disciples.  It is the same word used by today's Jewish people as they greet one another.  It means peace, but it really means much more.  The word also implies God's blessings upon the recipients of the greeting.  So, I say to you today, “Shalom.”  “Shalom” leads to a bigger peace.  

Angels remind us of peace.  Angels came to bring us a bigger peace from God into our lives; within our world. The angels and a great company of the heavenly host praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 

May God’s ‘favor’ rest upon you today and lead you to a bigger peace. 

Some parts of the Bible make you ‘think’ as you consider their message.  For instance, today’s first scripture reading from Isaiah offers his vision of the “peaceable kingdom” -- a world where “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, the cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together.”  It’s an enticing vision, yet it also seems like an impossible dream.  How exactly is that supposed to come about?  How can genetic predisposition be overcome?  Those questions seem particularly apropos for us today as well since we live in a world rife with divisions and enmity, especially in the wake of particularly vicious political campaigns and election results that have left all sides with raw emotions and worries about the future.  How can we listen to those with differing viewpoints, put aside lingering resentments, and sit down together in fellowship and unity?  Moreover, how can we reconcile the various parts of our own personalities that represent the lion and the lamb?  And how can we avoid being lions that unnecessarily prey on vulnerable lambs and the powerless?  In the current environment, achieving all of that seems almost unimaginably difficult.  Yet the prophet provides the simple prescription for finding peace when he observes, “and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:1-10) 

Have you ever taken the kids to the zoo?  I sometimes wonder how some of those big animals, bears, lions and gorillas tolerate the human beings that seek to care for them.  Who feeds them on a daily basis?  What’s that like, I wonder? Are the animals somehow confined when the workers come into their area to feed them, clean up, or strive to examine them?  How do the animals and the keepers learn to inhabit the same space, without harm to either one?  

Within today’s scripture lesson from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah those questions are kind of resolved.  Isaiah does not speak of ‘how’ God gets animals who are natural enemies to live in peace with one another.  He just supplies us with a vision, God’s compelling vision that it will happen.  How it happens seems awfully big, don’t you think?  

How would a snake learn to transcend the reptile brain and not be a threat to a baby?  What basis would the wolf and the lamb find for their friendship?  How full would the leopard have to be to pass up a plump, young goat? 

Isaiah promises that the natural order will change once the world knows the fullness of God’s peace.  Even dead tree stumps will crack so new life can grow.  We can’t help but wonder how this will come to pass, and if it’s even possible anywhere other than the mind of God.  God welcomes us to consider and be a part of the bigger peace. 

As a pastor, I have been more than impressed, often times simply amazed, to see how the church community works to achieve and maintain this ‘bigger peace!’  Here in the church, I not only see quite distinct and different people worshipping together but also working together.  There are some very impressive signs of the peaceable kingdom coming to life in all of God’s churches.  I have observed the highly educated and the very wealthy roll up their sleeves and work right alongside people who just don’t know how they are supposed to ‘make ends meet’, serve a fundraising meal or a community luncheon together. I have witnessed those with plenty and those with little, pruning the hedges and mowing the grass, planting flowers and painting the church together.  Best of all is when this occurs in worship.  My heart is warmed and my spirit feels so blessed with the peace, the bigger peace, that stems from witnessing all different scenarios and types of people ‘here’ worshipping God, side by side.  We all need prayer, we all need fed the Word of God, and we all need faith fellowship.  We all have need for support, opportunities to give and share.  We all are seekers of God’s peace, His bigger peace, that is far greater than the kind of peace we can know simply on our own. 

God’s vision of a bigger peace can be brought to life more fully in the church!  Functioning as a church family we live together striving for a bigger peace so our differences enlighten each other.  As people of God, we need to make sure the wolf and the lamb both have their voices heard. 

Additionally, try thinking about the lion and the lamb that both live inside each one of us.  Images for Jesus include both the lion and the lamb, and our path in following him incorporates both.  How do we know when it’s time to use the lion’s strength, and when it’s time to lead with the lamb’s gentleness?  When we’re using our lion skills, how do we not scare the lambs?  When we’re in lamb mode, how do we not get gobbled up by the lion?  

God wants all of His children to have a bigger peace.  Draw some analogies from today’s scriptural teachings and illustrations.  Perhaps you, like myself, have been taught for years, Do not be quick to purchase items of food, clothing, automobiles, and so on, developed by people who are being paid poverty wages or enlisted in slave labor so that large stores and corporations can make a huge profit.  This is perhaps a modern-day analogy of wolves, gobbling up lambs on a daily basis as our lives are sustained by modern-day subsistence labor.  How can we change our wolf-like nature to impact the lives of people who are more like the lamb than we are?  We don’t need to change everything at once, but begin with one change we can make in our consumption.  Do that, and then “the next right thing,” and then another step.  The peaceable kingdom comes one step at a time. 

People still hope for what may seem impossible.  No doubt many in Ukraine hope for what seems quite impossible with Russia’s war being daily imposed upon them.  Perhaps within your own life, your work, your family, and your health, you perceive needed peace, a bigger picture of peace than seems at all attainable.  God’s vision of extreme opposites growing to be at peace with one another across multiple centuries and amongst diverse peoples has seemed impossible.  But that doesn’t mean we should stop working for it. 

As with so many areas in our walk of faith, we can’t obsess too much with the results, but we do need to remain faithful to God’s vision of what He says can be.  

Consider just ‘how’ you can be effective in working and attaining the bigger peace in any and all situations and scenarios, then work towards it.  Use your degrees of effectiveness wisely and abundantly. I know and you know, you have some ways and means, some abilities to help attain a bigger peace somewhere in this old world IF you will but try.  Be faithful not only unto God, but also be faithful to your own abilities and gifts streaming through you.  IF you keep considering and affirming how ‘small’ your effectiveness might be, you will take on smaller and smaller tasks.  Many a soul who has stood for high values never lived quite long enough to fully realize the effectiveness of their endeavors.

To work for the bigger peace this Advent and Christmas season, you and I need to ‘hang in there’ for the long haul. 

Whether we’re wolves or lambs, snakes or babies, living together peacefully requires us to step out of what we know into an unfamiliar, uncomfortable world.  Our usual instincts don’t work here -- we need a different kind of wisdom only God can give.  Being together harmoniously isn’t possible in an instant -- we have to learn new ways of thinking, and then new patterns of living.  But God is on our side in this work, just as God has always been on the side of peace.  Our world holds the same darkness and fear that Isaiah saw, and God’s word of promise belongs to us too.  But we have to learn enough to take our place in the world God dreams for all of us. 

An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about the kind of life that leads to a bigger peace. 

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.  “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves.  One is evil -- he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”  The old man continued, “The other is good -- he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  The same fight is going on inside you -- and inside every other person too.” 

The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” 

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”  My friends, feed that part of you that leads towards the bigger peace. 

Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” 

Prayer can lead a soul to a bigger peace.  Hear, receive, and reflect upon this familiar prayer for peace; Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:  where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. 

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

Amen.

Advent: Hoping and Waiting 11/26/2022

Sermon Message for the First Sunday of Advent

November 27, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Open the heavens, O God.  Open our hearts.  Let your Word be heard, remembered, and received.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 40:31 (page 720), Ephesians 4:1-6 (page 1175), Romans 8:22-25 (page 1133) 

Sermon Message:  “Advent: Hoping & Waiting” 

Christmas is coming.  In fact, just 29 days from today it will be Christmas Day!  I am ‘hoping’ to have a better Christmas than I did the year building up to it.  I am ‘hoping’ for a white Christmas, just not the bitter cold nor freezing rain. 

These days leading up to Christmas are days of hoping and waiting.  After all, this IS the spiritual inclination of this church season we refer to as ‘Advent.’  While Advent is to be seen as a time of both preparation and waiting, with hope, Christmas is hope personified. Christianity is a religion of hope. 

Today we begin the Advent season by lighting the first Advent candle, the candle of hope.  As we heard a few minutes ago, this candle reminds us of the hope God gave His people when He promised to send them a Messiah, a Savior, a Deliverer.  The candle reminds us that this promise was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.  And it invites us to look forward in hope to the day of Christ’s second coming, His second Advent, when all the promises that were initially fulfilled at His birth will be completely fulfilled at His return. 

We wait for Christ’s second return.  We wait for Christmas to come.  Throughout the year our lives are marked by periods of hoping and waiting. Some folks feel that’s such a waste of time.  However, our faith teaches us a better ‘way’ a greater ‘understanding’ associated with hoping and waiting. 

Several of us realized just this last year that we had to hope and wait a long time to gain an appointment to see any of our medical caregivers.  I waited six weeks to gain an appointment with a doctor who would read the test results associated with the pain I was having in my hip and leg.  After consulting with the doctor, I then had to wait from mid-July to the end of August for much-needed surgery.  I continue to hope and wait for strength to return and healing to further come. 

None of us are exempt from times of hoping and waiting.  We hope for the lines to move fast when we go shopping for groceries or Christmas presents.  We often times have to wait at the pharmacy and hope that the medicines will ‘do the trick!’ 

Perhaps you have also gained this following awareness; having hope and being patient as you see others ‘wait’ is troublesome and sometimes quite frustrating.  If you’ve ever striven to help someone you love and keep running across obstacles that make you wait for the things that will help them, you understand what I am communicating. 

Hoping and waiting can lead a soul into apathy whereby you set back, allow anger to roll over you, plus some disgust and dismay with not being able to do anything.  A soul just sometimes grows tired and weary waiting for something to happen. 

I think we have all also found that we do end up striving to help, to do, to speak up when our hoping and waiting seems to have become too much to bear, especially so when we see someone we love suffering.  Quite often we know they would strive to do something for us if the roles were reversed. 

Advent is widely regarded as a season, which recalls a period of hoping and waiting, by Israel for the coming of the Messiah.  But it is altogether too easy for us to misinterpret the command "Wait!" as "Do nothing!"  Waiting hours should not be thought of as wasting hours. 

For instance, if you prepared any portion of the Thanksgiving meal, you know what I am saying.  When the turkey was cooking, we didn’t stop all activity and sit back watching it.  We most likely busied ourselves with other food preparations such as the potatoes, the stuffing, the veggies, and setting the table. 

Hours of hoping and waiting are not hours of wasting. 

Pregnant women have to wait an average of forty weeks hoping right along for that precious baby to develop fully before labor and delivery.  But hoping and waiting does not mean stopping or doing nothing.  Life still goes on.  Normal work has to be accomplished.  Rooms have to be prepared.  Classes associated with ‘giving birth’ need to be attended, and the principles taught need to be practiced. 

Within the midst of our hoping and waiting we ‘go on’ for Mom’s sake, for the baby’s sake, and for the sake of others we love and care about in life’s situations and circumstances. 

With all of the technology we are blessed to have, there are still periods of time whereby we have to hope and wait for the screen to open, the program to download, the given instructions to work. 

Common to us all is the theme of expectation.  Folks will sometimes say, “If you have no expectations, then you won’t be disappointed.”  Perhaps in a few areas that might be true.  Yet in the on-going reality of life that people have experienced down through the centuries and right up to these present times, we do become expectant. 

We expected our turkey to ‘get done’ and enable us to have fun and fellowship consuming.  We expect in several areas of our lives our hopes and times of waiting shall produce healthier results and better answers.

I used to hear the familiar verse, "those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31) and sort of imagine someone sitting down in a rocking chair, facing the east, and waiting for God to appear in some kind of sky-rending event. 

I don't think that way any longer.  For what God really says is just the opposite:  Get up and at it!  While you're waiting for Me, wait on Me.  The world's needs are very great, and I have commissioned you to bear My gospel, My love, My mercy and compassion, and word of My justice, power, and majesty to all people.  "Those who wait for [expect, anticipate, yearn for] the Lord shall renew their strength."  You don't get strong by repeatedly sitting down or lying around.  You get tired, lazy, and apathetic. 

There was a star, one especially bright star shining in the sky when Christ was born.  That one star gave them hope and helped them to wait.  Today we are reminded and reaffirmed by God’s Holy Word that we, along with the entire creation, have been waiting and groaning inwardly as our spirits, our very souls, hope for and await our redemption. 

I think we’ve all seen it happen. You know whereby we get so very tired of hoping and waiting, then give up and give in to some sort of apathy.  That happened centuries ago too when many knew, or at least thought they knew, the prophecy about the Savior’s coming.  They let their spiritual vision get weak.  They let their faith muscles atrophy. 

We are called into this one blessed hope of Jesus Christ coming into our world, into our lives, renewing and transforming things, birthing new life and greater hope. 

Hope is not automatic.  In fact, sometimes hope is very difficult.  Sometimes our circumstances seem anything but hopeful; on the contrary, sometimes they can seem all but hopeless.  So how do we sustain hope in the midst of disappointment and difficulty?  How do we keep from being completely overwhelmed by trials and pain?  How do we maintain an attitude of hope when everything in us wants to yield to despair?  When we can’t see a way out?  When we want to give up?

We’ve all faced situations where there seems to be little objective reason for hope – in our jobs, in our marriages, in relationships with family members.  Some of us have faced seemingly hopeless medical or financial problems.  Some of you, right now, may be in situations that seem hopeless, so that you are tempted to give up hope.  How do we hold on to hope during those times when our circumstances seem hopeless? 

Put your hope in God. 

First and foremost, put your hope in God.  Trust in Him for help.  That may seem obvious, but too often we are willing to seek help from anyone and anything before we turn to God.  He becomes the appeal of last resort.  After we’ve exhausted every other option, we go to God.  So, if the problem is financial, we don’t look to God first; we look to a banker, or maybe a rich uncle.  We rack our brains trying to think of any way we can put our hands on more cash.  If the problem is relational, a conflict with a spouse or a family member, we’ll buy books on marriage, scour articles in magazines, listen to Dr. Phil or another, and then finally, maybe turn to God for help.  We will try everything we can think of, and then if nothing else works, we will think of praying.  But that’s backwards!  We should go to God first, not last.  Listen to what the Psalmist wrote:  

“No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.  A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.  But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.  We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.  In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.  May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.”               ~ Psalm 33:16-22 (NIV) 

Advent is a season that reminds and informs us of hoping and waiting. Sometimes it takes a little inner “push” to act instead of vegetate.  Remember from the Bible, the Advent/Christmas story of old. Some did act.  Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, and Elizabeth.  John.  The shepherds.  Those “kings from the east,” and others of living faith. 

The narratives of the Christmas season strive to teach us of the drama, the miraculous and the unbelievable.  Yet we are also to remember in both our times of hoping and waiting that God sent His Son in the form of an ordinary child born to ordinary parents in humble scenarios.  

Look for Christ's advent in you.  Look for his advent in others.  Our further hope is to be born again in Him.  We are never more ‘alive’ than when we know and see Christ alive within us and flowing through us. 

May this Advent season teach us all that hoping and waiting is worth it.  Hope and wait for Christ’s further advent in you.  Hope and wait for your life to change, your prayers to be answered, and your soul to be saved. This type of waiting is certainly NOT a waste of time. 

Hope for change in this world this advent season.  Change for the better.  Hope and wait for the war in Ukraine to come to an end.  Hope and wait for change to occur within you and within others.  Hope, pray, and sincerely work at changing for the Lord’s sake.  

Without hope there is no peace.  But hope fulfilled can lead to peace realized.  Amen.

A Thoughtful Thanksgiving 11/20/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 19, 2022 & Sunday, November 20, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: We are thankful for the Word of God.  We are thankful for Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.  Send now Your Holy Spirit upon us that we may be inspired by this Word of God we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 8:1-9 (page 539) and Ephesians 1:15-23 (page 1173) 

Sermon Message: “A Thoughtful Thanksgiving” 

 ‘Thank you’ is among the greatest forms of prayer.  ‘Thoughtfulness’ is among the greater forms of faith. 

A family once shared their Thanksgiving Story. They had two sons; Billy, who was nine at the time, and his big brother, John, who was 11.  The grandparents were there for the meal.  So too were some of their aunts, uncles, and cousins. Billy was always the polite little boy.  John was the more mischievous one. The boy’s parents thought it would be nice if Billy would ‘say the blessing’ for the Thanksgiving meal.  Billy began his prayer by thanking God for his family and his friends, naming them one by one. Then he began to pray for the food.  He called out every item by name; the green beans, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the baked corn, the cranberry sauce, the rolls, the pumpkin pie.  Then he began to thank God for the turkey.  He said in his prayer, “The turkey looks so good!  I can hardly wait to eat some.”  He proceeded within his prayer to thank his Mom and Dad for preparing the turkey, for baking it, and for serving it.  He went a bit further and even thanked God for the store that sold them the turkey, and for the farmer who raised the turkey. 

Billy paused, looked up from the table with his hands still folded and asked, “Did I leave anyone out?”  Just then his big brother, John, blurted out sarcastically, “Well you’ve thanked everyone but God!”  Without missing a beat Billy said, “I was getting to Him!” 

A cute little story that comes with a reminder. It seems as though at Thanksgiving we thank everyone, and we should.  We wish everyone a happy “Turkey Day.”  We should thank the people that have contributed to our lives; it’s thoughtful to consider our forefathers and foremothers, and we should further praise our family and our friends.  But let’s not forget God.  He is the source of all blessings. 

“Thanksgiving” is a way of living.  I sometimes wonder what it must be like for people who don’t think much about God.  I wonder what it might be like for people who don’t really ‘know’ God and worse still for folks who choose not to ‘believe’ in God.  I don’t think Thanksgiving would be very ‘thoughtful’ if we didn’t know God and choose to thank Him for our many blessings.  I hope and pray, while strongly advising, don’t wait around this Thanksgiving or anytime during the year to thank God. 

Thanksgiving became a national holiday at a time in American history when Americans were prone to see their rich country and their good fortune to be born into it, as a direct gift from God.  They spoke of the heritage of the Pilgrims who gathered after the first harvest to thank God for the bounty that was theirs.  According to tradition, their good friends, the Native Americans, brought turkeys and venison, and together they enjoyed a great feast in primitive Massachusetts.  

So here’s a challenge to us all. This Thursday, after millions of turkeys have been prepared, served, and consumed, and you are possibly snoring with the remote control rocking on your full stomach watching, off and on, the football games, who received thanks for the good life?  Remember to reflect even after you pray, eat, and hopefully help with the ‘clean-up.’  Be intentional about Thanksgiving being Thoughtful! 

Try thanking God for Who He is, what He has done, and what He has given us. 

Today’s first scripture lesson, Psalm 8, was written by a man who was a king; King David.  Today is also Christ the King Sunday. Acknowledging Christ as King requires extensive thoughtfulness.  King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, touched by the very hand of God, joyously reflects upon the majesty and the glory of God! Perhaps one night, as he stares up at the vast expanse of the sky, he considers God who put it all into place.  Take detailed notice of Psalm 8.  David begins and ends this psalm with God.  He does not forget the source of all blessings. 

Let us remember to be thoughtful Christians as we call upon the name of the Lord this Thanksgiving.  Hear again King David’s reflection and reference to God; “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1) Affirming God’s name as “Lord’ is a reference, a submission, and honor and glory to the attributes of ‘who’ God is!  God’s “glory” remains an ongoing expression of His goodness.  This eternal quality is for thoughtful Christians to ponder and place into their hearts and daily lives.  God is good and so too should we be in all areas of our lives. 

You’re going to “miss’ some folks this Thanksgiving.  So will I.  IF those folks we miss were lost and gone for good, that would be quite hard to take.  Consider God’s ‘heavens’ this Thanksgiving.  The Psalmist declares, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of him?” 

Perhaps this Thursday you will ‘take a little walk’ if not outside, at least to your window, look out, look up and give further thanks.  Be thoughtful of how you ‘give thanks’ this year.  This has been a year, in some ways unlike any other year.  Only God holds the year yet to come.  Remember this when you look up and look out, the vastness of the universe is the vastness of God. The Psalm reveals that God created the heavens with his fingers. This huge created order is the work of God’s fingers!

The inquiry comes from this ‘king’ David; “what is man that you are mindful of him, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:4)  God who created the Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy, and a hundred million universes that are tossed all over space as mere handfuls of stardust, cares for us; you and me. God thinks of us.  He remembers us.  He keeps us in His heart and on His lips and in His eyes.  In all of that vastness, God thinks of us and sees us. 

For the created order, for our creator and the creation of you and of me, we are so thankful.  More importantly, remain thankful for being invited into a relationship with God.  God knows you by name.  When we bear the name ‘Christian’ and let others both see and know we are ‘Christians,’ God thanks us. 

King David reminds us of the moon and the stars.  Consider this analogy; we, like the moon, reflect the energy, the light of God when touched by the Son even on the blackest of nights. 

The story is told of a little girl walking home from church when she turned to her Mom and said, “Mommy, the preacher’s sermon this morning confused me.”  The mother said, “Oh, why is that?”  The girl replied, “Well he said that God is bigger than we are.  Is that true??”  “Yes, that’s true,” the mother replied.  “He also said that God lives within us.  Is that true too?”  Again the mother replied, “Yes, that is true.”  “Well” said the girl, “If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn’t He show through?” 

God wants to show through each of our lives so we can bring light into this dark world.  This remains something very important we are to do for God.  Let His light shine in us and through us for others to see and know God.  

The Apostle Paul writes of being thankful and praying for people as he remembers their faith.  He prays for these people he cares about to get to know God better.  Now there is a healthy thanksgiving prayer. To pray for people we care about to get to know God better.  That is thoughtful thanksgiving. 

Having a thoughtful thanksgiving is not restricted only to reflections and memories of times past.  Nor is it only thankfulness for those whom we know and love.  The Bible reminds us to also thank God not only for this present age but also for the age to come. 

Right now God is preparing a special place for us.  Life is more than here and now.  Life has a future focus, and for believers, an eternal home.  Heaven is a place prepared for those who choose to call God their Father.  “Our Father who art in heaven…” 

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms, many mansions, I go and prepare a place for you.  I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am you may be also.” 

A few ‘recommendations’ for a thoughtful Thanksgiving, now and throughout the year; the next time you step out at night, see the stars and thank the One who put them in space.  The next time you take in a sunrise or a sunset, say a prayer of thanks to the One who created it.  Or for that matter when you see a rose, or a babbling brook, or a rainbow, or that first blanket of snow, don’t forget to thank the One who gave it to you and me, no strings attached.  Just a simple gift so we can enjoy. 

Because of God’s care, we should be thankful for his presence.  It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Do you realize how much God cares for you?  God perceives our needs and responds.  God learns of our ‘wants’ and sometimes ‘protects’ us from harming ourselves!  We don’t always see God, nor do we always ‘feel’ His presence.  But God is there. God, like a caring friend, a good doctor, and a loving pastor all rolled up in one, focuses on our needs.  He quietly intersects our lives meeting our needs when we need him most.  

Do you remember the footprints story?  A man looks back on his life and sees two sets of footprints.  One is his; the other is God’s.  As the man observes his life when things are going well, there are two distinct sets of footprints.  But, interestingly, when life is difficult and the times are trying, there is only one set of footprints.  He questions God, as to why he leaves him when life is hard.  God responds by saying, “My son, you don’t understand.  When there is only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” 

God is a caring God.  Like Hallmark cards, “He cared enough to send the very best.”  When he saw our need for forgiveness, he sent his one and only Son to die for our sins.  He did for us on the cross what we could not do ourselves.  For that we should be eternally grateful. 

We truly have much to be thankful for, don’t we?  Giving thanks to God for all he has done should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ.  Is that true of you?  Or has the spirit of ingratitude hardened your heart and chilled your relationship with God and with others?  Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart.  And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.     

To be grateful, after all, is to see God, the world, and ourselves aright – to recognize that all of life is a gracious gift from his hand.  We are all God’s debtors.  Do strive to believe in God.  This Thanksgiving I hope you don’t forget God.  Make sure he is first and last on your thanksgiving list.  

I pray you and I shall have a thoughtful Thanksgiving.  Amen.

The Way of Generosity 11/12/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 12, 2022, & Sunday, November 13, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Luke 19:1-10 (page 1052) & Matthew 6:19-21 (page 971) 

Sermon Message: "The Way of Generosity" 

When it comes to being generous, the question God presents to us is,“Where is your heart?” 

Jesus reminds us that we need to look at our heart and respond from our heart.  There remains both blessings and warnings in scripture regarding the way of generosity. 

Perhaps what ‘comes to mind’ when we think of generosity is someone giving money.  While generosity may well involve finances, there are many ways any of us can be generous. 

Being ‘generous’ is harder for some folks than it is for others. For instance, folks with more skeptical or scientific minds tend not to act or react quickly to ‘matters of the heart.’  While generosity is not merely actions guided by the heart, it certainly does help to ‘care’ when being generous. 

The way of generosity is a way of thinking as well as believing.  Foundational to the way of generosity are our beliefs as well as our ‘feelings.’ 

Consider the Gospel of Luke that includes the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector.  Luke, the writer of this particular gospel, was a physician.  It is believed he had a skeptical and scientific mind.  While the Holy Spirit put Luke to remarkable use, it wasn’t without both some trials and some further growth before Luke subscribed to the way of generosity. 

Starting around this time of year and beyond we are likely to be bombarded with requests for donations to a wide variety of ‘causes’, organizations, and individuals. 

The way of generosity is not to be delegated to just a ‘season.’  Even the generosity we experience during the Christmas season should be a sincere part of us throughout the year. 

I continue to become nicely aware of folks who spend some time researching ‘who’ or ‘what’ is a good cause to support, to be generous towards.  I personally have benefited from gaining knowledge of what ‘percentage’ of my donations goes to ‘overhead’ or administration versus helping the needing individual or grouping of persons. 

Luke had ‘heard’ much about ‘who’ Jesus was; Luke chose to study, pray, and investigate things for himself.

It is believed that Luke was a person of great privilege and self-confidence.  He was learned and able to write well enough to undertake writing a book: The Gospel of Luke. 

Prior to his writing he had time to make independent investigations regarding the awareness of Jesus’ movements and miracles.  He did some traveling as part of his investigations. 

But this privilege and self-confidence was not, for Luke, an invitation to hold himself higher than others.  On the contrary, what is perhaps most notable about Luke’s gospel is his emphasis on the place of women, the poor, and outcasts (including lepers and Samaritans) in Jesus’ ministry and in the early church. 

A vital aspect of Christian stewardship we learn from Luke is ‘The Way of Generosity.” Generosity is giving freely without anxiety or thought for your own or another’s deserving; sharing what the world would call “yours” because you cannot conceive of behaving another way.  Luke is generous in his inclusion – in sharing the Jesus story as one that is for all people, without regard to financial status, nationality, gender, or relative status.  Not only are all welcome at the table, but anyone might turn out to be evidence of generosity in some form within the Gospel of Luke.  There are many unique examples of this in Luke, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna (Luke 8:2-3).  There is also the ‘Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37); Martha and her sister, Mary (Luke 10:38-42); Pharisees, tax collectors, and lost sheep (Luke 15); ten men sick with leprosy (Luke17:11-19); and many others. 

There is another story in the Gospel of Luke that teaches us about stewardship.  It is the story of Zacchaeus.  It’s quite ironic; Zacchaeus means “Innocent.”  This man whose name was “Innocent” had been stealing from his own people.  He was colluding with the occupying enemy forces, and for his help in raising money for the continued support of their army, Zacchaeus was given the privilege of collecting as much extra as he thought he could get away with in order to enrich himself.  Zacchaeus, then, was not only a man of “privilege,” he was a man who had elected to exercise this privilege in hurtful ways.  What a contrast with Luke, who used his privilege to make it clear that God’s grace and God’s church was open to all people! 

The ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of Zacchaeus are quite clear and remain relevant to us still today. The conversion of Zacchaeus was swift and thorough:  all it took was for him to be aware of Jesus, and he turned from his old way of living, committing to return his fraudulent earnings four-fold, and furthermore to give to the poor.  It is hard to say for certain, but this may well have entailed giving everything he had. 

Jesus noticed Zacchaeus, not because he was wealthy or powerful, though he was both.  Jesus noticed Zacchaeus up in a tree – a man who had made himself an outcast in his community by giving into his greed; a man wanting so badly to see Jesus that he couldn’t help making a fool of himself.  This man was ripe for repentance. 

Zacchaeus would not have been in a position to give so much if he had not taken so much.  Better for us not to take in the first place than to have much to give!

Some years ago in a rural Western Pennsylvania town there lived a man who owned a neighborhood bar.  The citizens of that town were mostly poor.  Several were on welfare.  Work was not plentiful nor even nearby for those folks.  Yet that bar owner did well.  Wives would often times approach the bar owner and beg him not to keep serving their husbands who continued to ‘drink away’ what should have been food on the table for the kids.  Yet he continued to do well most often ignoring their pleas. 

Like far too many, that particular business man was gripped by entitlement.  Similar observations could be seen within the town’s only mechanic, the owner of the only nearby grocery store, and so on.  Entitlement is so easy to feel and aspire towards.  It can be found in areas boasting multiple businesses that are similar.  Entitlement can possess the heart, the mind, and the soul of any of us.  Foundationally, ‘entitlement’ decrees what’s mine is mine and you can’t have it.  I’ll take whatever I can for as long as I can and call it all ‘mine.’ 

Jesus notices Zacchaeus, the man who owned the bar, the grocery store, the mechanic, even you and I, right where we are.  Wherever we are, whoever we might be or have become, Jesus, just like in the story of Zacchaeus, holds us all in high regard.  Jesus notices us, loves us (and them), and invites himself to table with ‘those people’ and with ‘us people’ even before we make any commitment of our own to change, to care, to share, to become better and more fair stewards of what we have grown to feel entitled to. 

Jesus appeals to the heart.  He appealed to the heart of Zacchaeus, and we saw where Zacchaeus became generous.  His whole way of thinking became that of the way of generosity.  “How can I help another?  What might I do to ‘make things right’?” 

Jesus sat at table with Zacchaeus and received his change of heart with forgiveness and compassion, so Jesus invites you now to His Communion table. 

In the weeks leading up to last week’s elections we saw increasing numbers of attacks on candidates.  Some commentators asserted that such volume of attacks severely clouded the awareness of what was truth.  Within these past few years we have seen increasing evidence of anger generated from opposing views.  Some Christians are proclaiming, as a result, ‘enough is enough!’  

The way of generosity begins with the treasures that are in a person’s heart.  Is it love or hatred we have for one another in this world?  Is it blessing or cursing of others?  The way of generosity calls us to treasure what God has provided and how he calls us to live in peace with one another. 

Luke affirmed treasures in heaven through his way of generosity.  He cared for the place of women, the poor, and outcasts, (including lepers and Samaritans), in Jesus’ ministry and in the early church.  Luke’s heart was in the right place.  

Friends, it requires generosity of the heart to care for others.  The world has shown us it’s so much easier to put others down, even hate them.  

It requires generosity to give time, care, even finances to the church.  The world decrees you are much too busy and have greater priorities for your time, your care, and even your finances than the church. 

Luke was a disciple of Jesus Christ.  He was also a physician well thought of while being skeptical and also subscribing to a more scientific approach.  He was believed to be a more mature Christian. 

Mature Christians have learned much concerning the way of generosity.  In all subjects and areas of life they respond to the maturing of the Holy Spirit inside of them.  It’s an on-going form of communion. 

The Holy Spirit inspires that we have more need to give, to be generous, than God has to receive our generosity.  When we live into the way of generosity with our care, our time, even through our tithes, gifts, and offerings, we are the ones being blessed by God. 

Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. Amen.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives 11/5/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 5, 2022 & Sunday, November 6, 2022 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: Open us, Holy One, to your Word and your way.  Clear our minds of daily distractions.  Fill our hearts with the humility we need to hear and receive the message you intend for us today.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Job 19:25-27 (page 515) & Psalm 17:1-9 (page 543) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” 

The Bible is a book for all ‘seasons’ in our lives.  From the celebration of births to the sadness and sorrow of death and everything in between; God’s Word appeals to us. 

Through the centuries and into our own times, the relevancy of the Bible remains. 

Neither you nor I have to think too hard nor vastly stretch our imaginations to find contemporary correlations to the story of Job. 

Many of us go through some of the challenges that Job went through in his life, though not all at once.  Loss of property, financial decline, humiliation, and death of a loved one are only some of the things that seem to follow us in our lifetimes.  For those of us who have experienced tragedy, the story of Job holds a special place in our hearts, because it teaches us always to trust God no matter what we might face in this world. 

Christianity is a world-wide religion and appeals to all sorts of people.  There are Christians living in Ukraine.  Perhaps we can imagine a father in Ukraine seeking vindication and an audience with God over the atrocities that have consumed his life and his country’s.  A father who has lost his family, his home, his physical and psychological well-being to warring Russia. 

Just imagine the mother of a child gunned down in her Uvalde, Texas, classroom, crying her questions of “Why?” to the school board, the local sheriff, and her priest.  She, like Job, wants answers to the unanswerable.  She wants justice.  She wants the irrational, violent world she knows to make sense.  She wants her child’s life back. 

Looking back, we can imagine George Floyd pinned down by police officers, struggling to survive the knee on his neck, the oppressive forces of White supremacy and a policing system that targets Black men.  Job wished for his words of protest to be written down, inscribed and engraved on a rock.  Floyd’s words — “I can’t breathe” uttered more than 20 times— have been Sharpied on poster board, spray-painted on confederate statues, and inscribed on signs at street side memorials that call us all to vindicate social injustice. 

Beyond a desperate hope for the restoration of life, home, and sense of safety, we wish that the suffering we have endured be known, that our tribulations may have meaning.  We wish that however irrational the world, it is still possible to hope that injustice, deprivation, and violence would somehow inspire their opposites — vindication, plenty, and peace. 

Job had a problem. Well, actually, Job had a number of problems. He had lost virtually all of his earthly possessions. He was bereaved of all of His children. His health had fallen completely apart, and his wife was none-too-supportive. She was nagging him to "curse God and die." The only really positive thing we could say about Mrs. Job is that she could not have been after the inheritance, because, at this point in time, there was none.  

Added to Job's woes were his "friends", Eliphas, Bildad, and Zophar.  His friends were not all that much in the way of comfort. They were committed to the theology of Glory and Prosperity, which said perversely, 'if you are suffering, you must have done something to deserve it - something really awful!' Job maintained his righteousness, which admittedly could sound somewhat egotistical, except that the book of Job begins with God saying that Job was righteous, more than any other man. His friends all assumed that Job was either deluded, or that he had a problem with basic honesty. You had to have done something really awful to be suffering the way Job was suffering.  So THEY thought and proclaimed. 

These men completely affirmed the idea that good things happened to good people, and bad things happened to bad people.  It is still being taught, and, even more, being assumed by many Christians today. It forms the basis of the health, wealth, and prosperity "gospels" of the myriad preachers on TV and Radio. They are always telling us that health and wealth and success are God's rewards to the good, to the believers, to those who trust Him enough to “name it and claim it.” 

But that is not what we actually see in this life, is it? Good people do sometimes suffer, and evil folks tend to do surprisingly well, at times.  The Bible also tells us this truth! The rich are not often paragons of virtue, and the poor and the downtrodden are not necessarily bad actors or immoral, at least not any more immoral than is common in all society. The problem is so striking and common that books have been regularly written trying to answer the troubling question of why bad things happen to good people. One of the first books to be written on the subject, actually, was the book of Job. 

It’s normal to ask “Why me?” when something goes wrong in your life. One answer that comes our way is “Why not me?”  Nobody wants troubles or trials, although we know into each of our lives some will come. The more ‘entitled’ we become or feel, the greater our expectations for life to be perfect.  Taken to an extreme, some will quit church and turn away from God when troubles come.  It’s as though they believe that God had betrayed them, and so they were no longer going to trust Him. 

Job provides some further insight and spiritual help to our inquiries, our faith questions regarding “Why me?”  Earlier on in his terrible time of trial, Job’s wife confronted him as she too realized all of their trials and horrible experiences. His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your dignity Job?  Curse God and die!”  Job’s response to her is not only memorable but faith affirming as well.  Job declares, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?"  

Job understood of His redeemer that this earthly life would not be perfect.  Trials would come.  Like the Psalmist of old and akin to us, Job sought to ‘make his case’ with God. 

Job didn’t just cry out in some sort of self-righteousness or ‘Holier Than Thou’ attitude.  His response, his faith, was well formed over a lifetime of walking with God.  He knew God, and Job trusted that God knew him quite well.  Job thought it through and realized deep inside his soul that current circumstances, the present experience, was certainly NOT all that he knew of God or that God knew about him.  You see Job had grown to know, understand, and believe that his redeemer lived over the course of his lifetime.  So should we. 

Job’s words: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth,” these are not only expressions of faith but words of comfort.  Job went on to say that he knew his flesh would fail, yet he shall see God! 

Job was not asserting that he was without sin. He knew better. He was first asserting that nothing in his conduct had earned the horror that his life had become - at least not compared to other men. He was a good man. What was happening to him was horrible, to him it was incomprehensible, and it made him wish that he had never been born, but it was not happening to him because he was a monster among men. He did what was right and worked at being a good person, caring about and helping the less fortunate (when there were those who were less fortunate than he was). But he knew that he was not utterly without sin. So, he looked forward to the Savior - the One he called "my Redeemer". 

There are patterns of prayer throughout the Bible.  These patterns of prayer are provided to both teach and inform us of ‘how’ we should pray and from what basis our prayers should come. 

Psalm 17:1-9 is one such ‘pattern of prayer.’  The psalmist ‘makes his case’ before God.  Notice what the psalmist does NOT do in his prayer pattern. He does NOT appeal to God negatively complaining, “Well you haven’t heard me before, but I am willing to try again!”  Such prayer patterns tend to be fruitless!  The healthier pattern of prayer in today’s scripture lesson from Psalm 17:1-9 affirms a relationship with God.  A relationship of history with God and trust between God and the individual who is praying.  

This healthy pattern of prayer asks God to hear.  States that it is not out of deceit that the prayer is made, affirms that God sees and knows already what is ‘right.’  

Friends, our own conscience is to be such that when we pray, we know deep inside that we are not trying to manipulate nor coerce God.  Furthermore, we know from inside our own conscience, that God is walking with us and continues speaking to us through our conscience.  A Christian’s conscience is sometimes referred to as ‘God’s deputy for the soul’; the spirit, the soul of a person, is sometimes viewed as ‘a candle of God’ bringing light.

Within this healthy pattern of prayer, there is healthy affirmation of being ‘right’ with God and of having lived ‘right’ for God.  Humbly, when any of us pray in this manner and from this lived foundation, we just know that God has and God will answer our prayers.  There is this very strong affirmation that our relationship with God will provide strength for pour souls as well as forthcoming answers to our genuine prayer requests. 

There is this ‘trust’ that God keeps us as ‘the apple of His eye.’  This IS a reference to tenderness, closeness, trust, rest, and protection.  We have this further affirmation and ‘image’ of God as ‘hiding us in the shadow of his wings.’ 

The psalmist is quite ‘real’ in his prayer as he declares there are those who are “out to destroy me.” 

Sometimes it just might feel like you don’t even have a prayer.  Job felt that way.  David did sometimes.  You and I can relate. 

When backed into a corner, when confronted by all sorts of evil and suffering, when questioning ever so deeply ‘why?’ some things are happening, in the final analysis we are to review ourselves and our standing with God.  Examine your heart, mind, and soul.  You may NOT find yourself to be perfect, yet you just might sincerely find you are a good soul who simply and sincerely seeks to love and serve God. 

Like Job of old, choose to reaffirm that you KNOW your Redeemer lives, and one day, He will come to rescue, renew, and reaffirm.

Saints That Reform 10/29/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 29, 2022 & Sunday, October 30, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Our Lord and our God, we bless You for Your Word. We ask that by Your Holy Spirit, You would open our eyes to understand it; that You would grant us the faith to believe it; and by Your Spirit, You would enable us to walk in that belief. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 116:7-9 (p. 609) & Romans 12:3-21 (p. 1137) 

Sermon Message:  “Saints That Reform” 

Within the Christian Church there are two significant occurrences right now: All Saints' Day and Reformation Sunday.  Most folks are probably thinking more about Halloween than either of the two aforementioned occurrences. 

I am looking forward to Halloween.  Our 3 grandchildren from Elizabeth, PA, are each in their teens.  Grandma and I used to attend their school Halloween parades and visit with them at their house for Halloween.  They’ve outgrown school Halloween parades but haven’t quite given up on the dressing up part, and they still go door to door for some free candy.  We are looking forward to one of the last few years seeing them dressed up and ‘Trick or Treating!’ 

All Saints' Day is November 1st.  Reformation Sunday is today. 

“Saints” are people who are very close to God and show evidence of that in their beliefs and lifestyle.  Saints may be people living now or possibly folks who are currently in heaven.  Saints bring reform. 

‘Reformers’ are people known for initiating change that transforms lives. 

All Saints' Day is designated as the 1st day of November each year.  The day prior is Halloween.  Some ‘saints’ of God enjoy Halloween.  Others disdain it as a pagan holiday.  While it is not biblical to endorse or represent demons, evil, sin, or anything that would lead another to sin, there is no injunction in the Bible against making lanterns out of pumpkins, wearing superhero costumes, and asking neighbors for candy.  Many churches use Halloween to care for the kids, further meet the neighbors, and extend some caring outreach.  Our beloved faith community has participated a time or two in ‘trunk or treat’ here at our beloved faith community.  This is where some of our folks give out candy and goodies from the trunks of their car to ‘halloweeners!’ 

Hopefully we can all benefit, even just a little, from a message pertaining to saints that reform. 

It takes a saint to live the way today’s scriptures point out; overcoming evil with good, caring for your enemy, being at peace with everyone, and even blessing those who persecute you.

Let’s take a brief look at some ‘saints’ who put into practice some of these teachings and in doing so, brought reform. 

Around this time of year folks need to consider what they will be doing for Halloween.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but Halloween is growing in its prominence as a holiday that people ‘go all out for!’  I recall a neighborhood where most families did the usual for Halloween.  They put out a few decorations, carved a jack-o'-lantern or two, purchased lots of candy, and left the light on each year as ‘Trick or Treaters’ came by for candy.  One family in that neighborhood took a very dim view of the whole ‘Halloween’ thing and made no bones about decrying it to be a pagan holiday that worshipped evil, demons, and darkness. 

That family believed they were ‘right’ in what they were doing.  However, the kids in the neighborhood and their parents saw things differently.  They saw more than a ‘Bah Humbug’ in that family.  They saw some sort of religious belief that seemingly punished little kids who just wanted to dress up in costumes and go door to door for candy and smiles. 

Halloween Trick or Treating was scheduled for the evening.  Earlier in the day this one neighbor, a grandma herself, took her dressed up granddaughter over to the house of the people who disdained Halloween.  Her little granddaughter was dressed up as an angel.  Grandma wasn’t ‘pushy’ but invited the people to just say ‘hello’ to her granddaughter and ‘take a look’ at her costume.  Seeing the ‘innocence’ of this little angel melted their hearts and changed their attitude as well as their strict stance against Halloween.  A gentle saint brought reform to Halloween and to strict hearts and souls. 

‘Evil’ portrayed in costumes, even with some accompanying make-up, is one thing.  You and I know there remains evil in the world that isn’t restricted only to a holiday.  Evil exists throughout the year and is personified in evil people.  Dealing with evil requires many assets of faith.  Today’s scriptures teach us to ‘bless those who persecute you, associate with low people, don’t repay anyone evil with evil, be at peace with everyone, don’t take revenge, feed your enemies, and overcome evil with good’. I think a person really and truly has to be a saint in order to live life that way.  One such saint brought much-needed reform in very trying circumstances. 

A fellow grew up believing mainly in himself and in pursuing whatever it was he wanted, regardless of the costs to others.  Although he had some religious background in the church, years ago he dismissed that as being just so many ‘ideals.’  One type of ‘church’ preached the ‘prosperity gospel.’  That ‘form’ of belief strives to win people over by convincing them that IF they will just pray in a certain way, believe in a certain manner, and give their money to the church, God would prosper the individual. The guy ‘liked’ that part of religion because it didn’t require him to do any changing, just be blessed!  The guy firmly believed in ‘survival of the fittest’ and in his personal ‘joy’ of being superior to others, even ‘making them squirm’ when and where he could.  The world was kind of a playground to the fellow.  He grew to accumulate quite a collection of coins and old cars.  What’s more, he’d brag about how he acquired his collections. His philosophy was watching when others became weak, then swooping in to gain access to their coin collection or antique car at a drastically reduced offer from what was the current value.  He did this when he learned of an older fellow growing weak and needing to go to a care facility.  He did this to new widows and widowers as he became aware of an antique vehicle they possessed.  He thought nothing of what he was doing.  To him this was kind of a ‘game.’  Because he lived believing he could have whatever he could put his mind to and get away with, he had very low morals.  His further ‘sport’ was seeking to ‘take’ another man’s wife, then laugh and walk away from her.  For years it appeared as though there was no stopping him.

A Christian fellow living in his neighborhood kind of ‘caught on to him.’  He would occasionally talk with the fellow and gently remind him that his behavior would one day catch up with him.  The other guy would nervously laugh and sometimes swear at his Christian neighbor.  Finally the Christian neighbor stopped talking with the guy.  This occurred soon after that ‘guy’ tried to weasel some things out from under the Christian fellow’s nose.  The Christian fellow was wise enough to realize that ‘talking’ had not really ‘gotten through’ to the guy, nor had it produced any reform.  So it was, the Christian fellow quit talking.  Not to be mean, but mainly to disassociate himself from a fellow who made a mockery out of all that Christian stood for. 

Gradually things changed.  The guy who was all about himself felt alone when fewer and fewer of the neighbors talked or listened.  Fewer and fewer people were impressed by his coin collection or his old cars.  Sometimes they never even looked up when he drove by.  Loneliness becomes a rough teacher to a fellow bent on pursuing evil and mocking God. 

The guy did his level best to persecute the Christian to the other neighbors.  But it didn’t work.  His attempts to ‘put down’ a good soul, a saint of God, failed miserably so. 

The Christian tells his ‘side’ of the story.  While you and I might reference him as a saint, he surely didn’t think so.  He confessed to his pastor on more than one occasion how much he hated the mocking neighbor.  How he wanted to ‘take him out’ even ‘teach him a thing or two.’  But the pastor served God as a saint and advised the Christian against it.  The pastor repeatedly advised that Christian to ‘take it to the Lord in prayer.’  So he did.  In taking his neighbor to the Lord in prayer something seemed to release itself inside of him.  He felt peace and began to trust that God would somehow ‘handle’ things.  Eventually the guy who wanted and took everything he could lost out.  Somehow, someway, folks ‘caught on’ to ‘who’ he was and ‘what’ he was about.  In part because a quiet saint brought reform.  Not all ‘reform’ can be done quietly and in stillness. 

We are aware of saints, some who are living, some who have gone home in faith before us, and some who lived long ago. 

Protestant churches affirm saints who brought reform through the centuries.  Some of the ancestors of our faith have prompted reform in the church universal.  From 1517-1529 ‘reformers’ sought to bring change. One of the ‘reformers’ back then was Martin Luther.  He was a German Theologian who strongly disagreed with how ‘the church’ was being run.  Specifically, he listed 95 statements or ‘theses’ and nailed them on the door of a church for the priests to read.  This was a more common method back then for starting dialogue between the clergy and the people. Martin Luther disagreed with how the Catholic church back then sold ‘indulgences’ as a means of people gaining forgiveness of their sins. Since Martin Luther’s theses and process of reform, there is no longer the sale of indulgences.  Martin Luther is viewed as a saint who brought reform.  Eventually his reforms led to the beginning of new ‘church denominations’ such as the Lutheran Church. 

Another Reformer from that time period was John Calvin.  He was a French Theologian and pastor who strongly believed in thrift, hard work, strict morality, and that God predestined many who would be saved.  John Calvin broke away from the Roman Catholic Church seeking to instead ‘reform’ people’s awareness and understanding of God.  This ancient saint of God is accredited with being the founding father of Presbyterianism. 

There are numerous ‘reformers’ from that time period.  Their work grew to bring rest to troubled souls who felt they could not easily access God nor the salvation of their souls. 

Friends, when folks work on our behalf to bring change, specifically that wholesome change that helps us to see God, experience God, and better know God, we are most grateful.  Some do that for us in the church, others do that in our everyday lives.  Saints help to bring the kind of ‘reform’ in our lives that enables us to appreciate God and more wholesomely love people. Like you, I have been blessed by good people, ‘saints’ who are holy, godly, and shaped my life to perceive the goodness of God.  As the Psalmist declares, there is rest for my soul when we know the Lord has been good to us. 

The greatest ‘reformer’ God ever sent is Jesus Christ the Lord.  He has delivered us from death, close calls with death, the fear of death, and even from spiritual death.  I’ve personally known how the Lord has delivered my eyes from tears and my feet from stumbling in order that you and I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.  The ‘land of the living’ is this life we are now living. 

There are saints ‘on the other side’ with God in heaven.  There are also saints among us here in the land of the living.  God gives some guidance for how we can be saints that reform. 

Being a saint starts with being at peace with God.  Bringing reform starts with sharing God, His ways, and His love with others.  

Come to Jesus. Believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son.  Ask Jesus into your heart and soul, into your life to be your Lord and Savior.  Jesus as ‘Lord’ offers guidance for our lives.  Jesus as Savior offers us deliverance from sin and overcoming evil with good. 

No matter how very good or how terribly bad my life, or yours, might be from time to time, knowing Jesus, coming ‘home’ to Jesus, informs us all that there was only ONE who was truly good.  There remains ONE who shall love us, still choose to know us, and forgive us even when we are at our worst.  As a Christian pastor, I continually take great comfort in knowing there is only one Savior; Jesus Christ.  Experiencing and honoring Jesus Christ keeps me humble and provides me with a more sober judgment regarding who I am and who I am not. 

Saints know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and follow His teachings.  The Bible reminds us that we are all parts of His one body, even though we have many members and each us has different gifts.  A family could not be a family unless there were two or more.  Those two or more share many things that unite them, yet they remain individual personalities.  So it is with the church.  We come to church in many shapes and forms, from different backgrounds; all of us are different ages, yet we assemble together and function as one.  I enjoy gathering with the saints each week.  I truly enjoy how our gathering together with Jesus blesses my life, makes it better, and brings ongoing reform. 

There’s a nice steadiness and stableness to the saints of God.  Their love is sincere.  They know what is evil, declare it and deal with it.  All the while honoring one another.  Saints inspire us to be better people, calmer souls, and more spiritually enthused. 

Saints bring reform.  Amen.

Better Days Are Coming 10/23/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 22, 2022 & Sunday, October 23, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed and do what you have commanded.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 65:1-4 (Page 573), Joel 2:23-32 (Page 911), & Luke 18:9-14 (Page 1051) 

Sermon Message: “Better Days Are Coming” 

God wants our lives to get better.  God wants us to look forward to better days.  God inquires of us to be patient in our faith and to believe in something brighter.  We are to never lose sight of better days no matter how hard things might get. 

As the Psalmist declares, we also affirm that God answers prayer.  Friends, we are here in church to thank God and praise Him for answered prayers. Specifically, we are called by God to acknowledge that when we were far from God, He forgave us and welcomed us home to His church. God keeps a good house!  A Holy temple.  There is an abundance of good things in His house; prayer, preaching, singing, and fellowship.  But also grace, forgiveness, guidance, righteousness, and the comforts we share of the everlasting covenant.  As we come to church, participate in worship and ministry; invest ourselves in God’s work.  We are filled with the good things of His house. 

Better days are coming when we become filled with the good things of God’s house, His church, and His temple.  ‘Church’ provides for our future.  In church we learn and affirm better days are coming. 

Years ago in a different community, I was called upon to officiate a funeral for a woman who had passed away due to some long lingering health problems.  Her husband had been so faithful to her, consistently by her side through it all.  But they had remained ‘unchurched.’  Andy worked in a local grocery store.  He was by all accounts a ‘good man.’  We shared in the funeral.  I met his extended family.  Afterwards as we parted, I invited Andy to ‘give me a call sometime’ if he just wanted to talk some more.  About a week later he did.  Andy and I talked that day and for lots and lots of days since then.  Consistently he would share with me this one special insight into himself and his family.  “His spiritual ‘gas tank’ was running on empty.”  Andy and I would talk.  He started to come to church and brought some of his family members; his daughter, his nephews, and grandchildren on different occasions.  Eventually several of those family members joined the church.  Several came to be baptized.  It wasn’t just ‘me’ they identified with.  It was the church, the people who spoke with them, welcomed them and invited them to help out around that church.  You see God keeps a good house, and those who come to be a part of God’s house realize things that enable them to have better days and to begin to believe that better days are coming.  Andy is but one example among many of those who have become blessed and fed by the good things of God’s holy temple, His church. 

The prophet Joel speaks of God giving us ‘autumn rains.’  Literally speaking we have seen ‘autumn rains’ this past week.  They are kind of cold, somewhat dreary, and make the gorgeous leaves fall to the ground.  The term ‘autumn rains’ are also a Biblical reference to the steady and reliable provisions of God in all seasons; something we should trust and can trust for better days ahead. 

‘Autumn’ can also be a reference to a time or ‘stage’ of our lives. Some of us are living in the ‘autumn’ of our lives.  A few peculiar insights into people in their ‘autumn years.’  While the prophet Joel speaks of equality among the ages, between sons and daughters, old men and young men even with ‘servants,’ that may be all well and good in God’s realm.  But in our world we need some translation between the generations.  For example, if a young person calls somebody, and it goes to voicemail, they will probably just hang up.  If their communication is urgent, they’ll send a text message.  Folks in their ‘autumn years’ just don’t tend to see the point in this.  If they have something to tell you, they’ll leave a long and perhaps rambling message on your voicemail.  What’s more, they expect you to listen to all of it!  Folks in their ‘autumn years’ tend to take pictures of places and things other than themselves!  Folks, it's kind of common for people over 50 to still have a landline.  Patty and I do.  We use it mainly to screen the hosts of scam calls.  Some folks firmly believe you MUST keep a landline available ‘just in case there is an emergency!’ 

Another peculiar insight; if your pockets or purses are filled with enough nickels, dimes, and pennies to pay for just about anything with exact change, you’re probably in the ‘autumn years’ of your life. My wife likes having quarters. Lots and lots of quarters. 

I hope they never close the mall at Robinson, because it provides a private walking trail for folks living into their autumn years. 

Having grandchildren informs me of a secret weapon I still have; being able to write and read in cursive! 

There are stereotypes we have with each generation. We say the Greatest generation is thrifty but just doesn't understand technology.  Some suggest that millennials are not very hard working and are bad with money.  Stereotypes are limiting and quite often hurting.  God reminds us in the Bible that each person of any generation has particular talents, and every generation has a unique worldview.  In order to have ‘better days’ may we not operate from our assumptions.  Each generation carries with it the intrinsic responsibility of preparing the next generation for better days ahead.  I pray you are able to ‘look back’ to the world you came from, the world you grew up in, and perceive where your efforts and mine have made this world a better place for this and future generations to come.  The prophet Joel calls us to imagine and trust in a world where people of all ages have something to say on God’s behalf.  How is God’s spirit being poured out in our faith community?  Are better days coming?  I trust and believe they are.

We are Christians, people who believe ‘in’ God and seek to ‘serve’ God.  In our beliefs and in our work we are to serve God by helping others, not just ourselves, see that better days are coming. 

Numerous are the scriptures that point out God has good plans for us, God seeks to save us, renew us, restore what was lost, and make life better.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, teaches us that we can’t go around thinking that we are better than the rest.  Within the Gospel of Luke we are told of some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.  Some of those folks who acted like that were Pharisees or tax collectors, to name but a few.  Pharisees in the modern sense might include strict people who feel morally superior to others, not just because of their theology or their legalistically rigid lifestyle, but also because of their education, their vast experience, their intelligence, or their position in the world. 

Simply put, the difference between arrogance and confidence is humility. 

Arrogant people don’t give me a ‘better day ahead.’  Confident people make you and I feel comfortable.  Arrogance might be a ‘cover’ for insecurity and other areas of weakness.  Confidence takes in its stride both strengths and weaknesses.  

Jesus Christ spoke of a group, the Pharisees, who made themselves feel good by making others feel lesser.  Jesus further spoke of a tax collector, perhaps confident in his profession but humble, by choice.  Consider with me some of the attributes, the characteristics of the types of folks Jesus was speaking of and perceive what it is that might provide better days for others or us. 

The tax collector was able to admit his weakness, whereas the Pharisee seemed to view himself as superior and never admit to making mistakes. 

Haven’t we all seen in life that arrogant people must feel superior to others?  Confident people can feel good about themselves without the need to put others down.  Which ‘type’ of person can lead others into better days ahead? 

Arrogant people don’t have time to listen to others and usually blame others when things go wrong.  Confident people tend to be attentive listeners and are willing to acknowledge their own mistakes.  

Confident people are aware of their own weaknesses and know how to deal with them.  Arrogant people can’t admit they have any weaknesses. 

People in relationships with arrogant people report the relationship causes them pain.  People in relationships with confident people feel good about the relationship and their place in it. 

Confident people make eye contact and can make you feel that you are the most important person in the room.  Arrogant people are constantly looking around the room trying to find the most important person they can talk to in order to enhance their own standing in the eyes of others. 

Scripture is full of examples of those whom Jesus referenced as being immersed in their own righteousness and who looked down on everyone else.  Jesus teaches us to instead choose to be humble. 

In the eyes of the Almighty we’re all the same; sinners who need God’s mercy and grace.  Jesus Christ calls us to be confident in our relationship with God, self-assured but with humility and respect.  Arrogance has no place in the house of the Lord. 

Better days are coming if we will continually choose to humble ourselves before the Lord and treat others with respect, love, and care. 

We should all be warned that it is rather tempting to ‘demonize’ others who are ‘different’ than us.  Easily enough we may ‘demonize’ those whose appearance we are weary of or whose behavior we consider unworthy.  

During this election season politicians tend to play on generalized fears and distrust of those who look or act differently. 

Jesus teaches us not to judge one another while proclaiming our own righteousness.  Instead the Lord counsels us to look in the mirror and acknowledge our own shortcomings. 

Our human nature is to divide ourselves up by labeling, categorizing, and even ‘demonizing.’’  But God, through the ages, remains most interested in multiplying His grace, for one for all that will make everyone’s lives better. After the elections, after the storm, following the war, candidates and leaders, common people and known individuals, shall need to humble themselves in order to make life better. 

Yes, better days are coming IF we are humble enough to receive, embrace, and share them.  Amen.

Faith Beyond Adversity 10/15/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 15, 2022, and Sunday, October 16, 2022

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ, Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 25:20-21 (P. 549), Romans 8:22-28 (P. 1133), & Philippians 4:12-13 (P. 1181) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Faith Beyond Adversity” 

Hopefully, you and I enjoy reading the Bible for lots and lots of reasons.  It remains a guide for daily living, a preparation for eternal life, and an ongoing awareness of how others have nurtured faith even through adversity. 

For instance, within today’s first scripture lesson, the writer of this Psalm, David, appeals to God during his personal struggle with adversity.  Psalm 25 begins with these words of David: “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.  I trust in you.” (Psalm 25:1-2)  

That’s always a good beginning for prayer; “In you Lord, I put my trust.”  David did not have this unfaltering faith, especially so when adversity entered his life. Yet David, akin to us, grew to learn that God can rescue us from adversity.  God can help use adversity for the good in our lives.  God can transform adversity into something that teaches a spiritual foundation of trust in all circumstances. 

This kind of ‘faith beyond adversity’ must be cultivated over a lifetime.  I suspect that at the beginning of each new day David may well have prayed what he wrote as one of his ‘Psalms’; “Guard my life today, God, and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  May integrity and uprightness protect me because my hope, Lord, is in you.” 

How do you and I ‘start out’ our prayers each day?  Ask God each morning to be ‘present’ not only to answer YOUR prayers and fulfill YOUR agenda for the day.  More importantly, ask God to guard your life each day, rescue you from anything and everything that might bring ‘adversity.’ 

Throughout the Bible there remains a recurring theme, even from Jesus Christ, for God the Father to help us, deliver us, rescue us, and restore us. 

‘Adversity’ basically means ‘hard times.’  ‘Spiritual adversity’ has to do with times and occasions when our faith is challenged and possibly depleted. 

Rising gas prices remain a form of ‘adversity’ for most.  Inflation, challenging politics, war, and disturbing weather patterns are all forms of adversity in anyone’s life.  

There are various ‘forms’ of adversity in life; 6 types of adversity include:  

1)   Physical adversity.  As the football season unfurls before us, several ‘Steelers’ remain concerned with injuries that could drastically change their playing abilities and their life’s trajectories. The older any of us become the more we seem to become concerned with physical adversities, such as a fall, heart condition, etc., that could alter our daily lives and negatively impact our life trajectories.  Faith remains a response.

2)   Mental illness as an adversity may limit someone.  This can be something as basic as mood swings, depression, or anxiety.  Seeking help from professional caregivers can greatly improve one’s dealing with mental adversity.  This remains true both for the individual first-hand experiencing mental adversity and for the family, plus others, who seek to care.  Faith remains a response.

3)   Emotional adversity is simply a part of growing and maturing throughout life.  Perhaps we all could benefit further from an increased awareness of our own self-worth and how we choose to understand and respond to problems.  Striving to control our emotions so that they do not control us remains a lifelong endeavor.  Faith remains a response.

4)   Social adversity is a lifelong challenge from our younger years here on earth all the way through our elderly years.  Social interaction is crucial to human life. We must continually work at developing and refining our social skills for developing friendships, maintaining a family, and working with others.  Faith remains a response.

5)   Spiritual adversity is mentioned throughout the Bible with plenty of examples.  As Christians, every one of us will go through times when faith is challenged, and we cannot help but wonder, ‘where is God?”  Even Jesus Christ asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Faith remains a response.

6)   Financial adversity is perhaps the most apparent adversity that our society and the rest of the world faces.  Not being able to afford necessities creates barriers and leads to compromised human behavior such as jealousy, anger, even theft and deception.  Faith remains a response. 

The Apostle Paul endeavored, heartily so, to serve God.  Of all the people in the Bible, Paul was among the most challenged in his faith by adversity.  This man, Paul, tried hard to think through ‘how’ God moved in life, particularly so within his life.  Like the author of Ecclesiastes, Paul pondered the meaning of life in the midst of adversity.  He affirmed, “all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”  He went on to perceive that God’s Holy Spirit prays for us even when the challenges, the adversity, is greater than we can handle or understand.  In His spiritual growth and maturity Paul realizes something.  He affirms, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” 

When David faced adversity, and Paul faced adversity, and even Jesus Christ faced adversity, their faith response had one common element we can further nurture in ourselves.  They chose to trust in God. 

Look around. Even the most successful people you know face challenges in life.  We all have to deal with some struggles and times when things don’t go our way yet choose to trust God has a plan.  Think back upon faith.  Haven’t we all seen whereby God can use, can transform, even our adversities into a better plan, a greater outcome in our lives? 

There are a lot of things we don’t like in life.  It’s disappointing when a friend betrays us or we don’t get that better job, or what we had hoped to be a doorway we might walk through is instead slammed on our face.  None of us like it when it seems as though our prayers go unanswered.  Like the Apostle Paul and others throughout the Bible as well as in our present life, there are many things we just don’t understand.  Our faith attitude, our faith trust, our faith response will strengthen us. 

Part of the basics of faith is growing to realize we are not going to understand everything that happens.  Trying to ‘figure out’ why everything happens helps a bit yet can also lead to frustration.  Faith further means trusting God for the bigger picture for our lives. 

Sometimes a soul just has to get to a point of saying, “I don’t like what’s happening, but I believe God will help to work things out.” 

Faith remains a response.  Faith isn’t reducible only to one’s ‘belief’ in God.  Faith requires interaction and trust. 

There are times in any of our lives where we pray and ask God for something.  We ask God for what we want and perceive to be beneficial for us.  Especially when we are dealing with some type of adversity.  ‘Trusting’ means choosing to believe that however our prayers may or may not get answered, God knows what’s best.  IF we’re not trusting when we are praying, perhaps we are just giving God orders.  “All things work together for the good of those who love Him.” 

I realize adversity hurts.  It tends to ‘rub us wrong.’ We can get negative, live with bitterness, even ‘give up.’  The better response is to ask God, in faith, to help things to work together for the good.  Even when you can’t see that happening. 

Faith remains a response.  Faith is a lens through which we see all of life, especially so, our life with God, from God, and through God. 

Faith must be grown and nurtured over one’s lifetime.  Quite often, faith is a choice we have to make and implement.  Trusting in God helps that, a lot. Our faith outlook is key to finding strength in adversity. 

Sadly, I’ve watched people respond to adversity in ways that changed their entire destiny.  I do not pretend to have all of the answers for how any of us deal with adversity.  I trust in God, and I further invest my trust in teachings from the Bible that further reveal better, healthier ways to grow my faith while dealing with adversity. 

A ‘faith lens’ that helps is found in the Apostle Paul’s writings to the people of the church of Phillipi.  To those Philippians and today unto us Paul affirms, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4 12,13) 

Adversity can affect any of us.  Reconsider at least six types of adversity: 

1. Physical Adversity; 2. Mental Adversity; 3. Emotional Adversity; 4. Social Adversity; 5. Spiritual Adversity; and 6. Financial Adversity. 

The darkest ‘adversity’ in the Bible occurred on Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified upon the Cross.  His poor mother Mary must have suffered greatly from seeing her son die on a cross. However then and now, the world has chosen to view that great adversity through the eyes of faith, and to this day we refer to the occasion as Good Friday.  

Any and all adversity can feel like so much darkness in our lives, within our world.  We struggle, even now, with recovery efforts from Hurricane Ian, from strained politics in our nation, from war between Russia and Ukraine, plus our own daily doses of adversity in its many forms. 

Remember what faith taught the world back then, and now. Good Friday is our faith review, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, God’s Sabbath, reminds and reaffirms we are still loved by God, cradled by God, and destined for goodness by God. 

God we affirm in all things you can and shall cause all things to work together for the good.  This we trust.  This we affirm.  This we believe. 

This, O Lord is our faith beyond adversity.  Amen.

Growing Gracefully 10/9/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday; October 8, 2022 & Sunday; Oct. 9, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson:  Ecclesiastes 3:1-12 (p. 664) and 2 Timothy 4:7-8 (p. 1199) 

Sermon Message: “Growing Gracefully” 

This past Monday we began our Fall Bible Study.  There were several areas of interest we focused on.  The one area we reviewed made us all smile a bit.  It had to do with ‘the very old’ in the Bible. We don’t really use that term, ‘very old’ today.  It sounds perhaps, politically incorrect. Instead we tend to make reference to senior citizens, the elderly, and perhaps old age. 

In the Bible, old age appears to start at age 60.  Jewish tradition had taught that people were to stand to honor someone who is sixty years old or older.  Imagine what that might be like in our church.  Many of us are in our 60’s. For myself, I’m not ready for people to stand and honor me as I enter a room because of my age.  

During our Bible study this past week we learned that God often chooses and uses older adults to do God’s greatest work.  Abraham was 75 when God called him to the Promised Land and promised to create a nation through him.  Years later, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was 90 when she gave birth to Isaac.  Is there anyone receiving this message who is in their 60’s or older who would like to go through childbirth at this age? Moses was 80 when God called him to lead the Israelite slaves out of captivity.  There isn’t much room for retirement in the Bible. 

Zechariah and Elizabeth were ‘up there’ in age when God called upon them to give birth to a son who grew to become John the Baptist. 

All of these folks had lived the majority of their lives when God called upon them to do something very important.  Gracefully, they accepted God’s calling.  Perhaps because they had been growing with God throughout their lives. 

How many years do we have here on earth - 80 - 90 - 100? Or perhaps more?  Ask any of us who are in our 60’s or older how fast those years have gone, and you will most likely hear us say they are gone in a blink!  A recurring theme of advice from the older generation to the younger generation remains this: you better live your life well while you’ve got it.  

From the cradle to the grave, if we choose to spend our lives growing gracefully, we shall have a life of no regrets. 

A vital aspect of growing gracefully is following and choosing to implement the most sound and firm teachings of God. Haven’t we all grown to gracefully see that what makes us rich is the people we love more than all the money and stuff we may accumulate?

1 Corinthians 13 teaches us that love never fails.  Love helps any of us and all of us, at any age and station, to grow and to mature gracefully.  Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.  Matthew 6:19-20 shares the grace of growing to know that our greatest ‘treasures are not here on earth nor with things that can be destroyed, broken into, or stolen.  There is grace for living when we affirm our greatest treasures are in heaven.  Where our hearts are there will our treasures be also.’ 

I suspect there is a ‘truth’ that those older folks lived by all of their lives that most of us, as we age, also choose to live by. Because God has been in our lives, Jesus saves and the Holy Spirit inspires; we don’t look back at our lives with regret.  While any of us might think to ourselves, ‘If I knew then what I know now things might have been different,’ THAT my friends is what’s termed as ‘wisdom,’ not regrets, 

I would not choose to go back and live any of my life over.  God’s hand has been upon me all the days of my life, and I have walked with Him intentionally so, through it all. 

Another ‘funny’ thing we can appreciate from studying the Bible and learning of the many whom God did not call upon to do their greatest life work until they were very old is this: those folks, just like you and I, grew to see we are just getting to our best years yet! 

As a pastor, I have had the privilege and the spiritual opportunities to keenly observe how folks grow gracefully.  I have officiated hundreds of funerals across the years.  Some for good, church-going folks who knew God keenly.  Others for folks whose ‘connection’ with God was something as basic as driving by this or perhaps another church and acknowledging there is a ‘God.’  What we have all grown to perceive is that the longer we live, the fewer friends we have, for we begin to ‘outlive’ those we love.  Therefore, a vital aspect of growing gracefully is always making sure you ‘have someone’s back.’  Care for your friends, consistently so.  Be a good friend; genuine, sincere, and quite ‘real.’  

Growing gracefully surely means many things. As the author of Ecclesiastes advises, there is a time, a season, a purpose for everything under heaven.  

A time to be born and a time to die. All life begins at some new point.  For all of us, gain wisdom in knowing death is a part of life.  There is grace in knowing and accepting that. 

Ecclesiastes mentions many ‘times’ for us to consider and grow with.  Remember there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Sometimes we certainly do need to reach out to others in their time of need.  There also remains ‘times’ when we simply need to ‘leave well enough alone.’ 

Ecclesiastes also speaks of a time to keep and a time to throw away. One of the ways we ‘keep time’ is in the sharing of memories.  The older we get the more valuable our memories become.  They are almost as a ‘grace’ from across the years.  We all have memories.  They are a gift from God.  Some make us laugh.  Some make us cry.  May your memories and my own make us grow. For we HAVE lived life abundantly so. 

Something else that I firmly believe is similar between those older folks God called upon and within each of us is this: the older we become the more we pray. Have you noticed that?  The older we become the more I think we pray.  That’s not always because we have ‘oh so many’ problems!  While aches and pains do increase with age, there is something far better within our lives and our walk with God as we grow gracefully. We come to know God better from having lived our lives and experiencing God.  So it is we ‘talk’ to God more. I believe we pray more because we have more to say to God. 

The more thankful we become. 

Can you think of a ‘for instance’ when you were ‘growing gracefully?’ 

Some years back when I was still a very young pastor, I was privileged, honored actually, to know and become acquainted with some more ‘senior’ pastors.  This one aged, white-haired pastor had grown to be not only a friend but also a mentor of sorts to me.  He helped me navigate some of the ‘ins and outs’ of church, administration, and long-term planning.  He touched and influenced my life spiritually.  I still miss him.  I will refer to him simply as ‘George.’  

A mutual friend to George and I was a fellow about 15 years my senior by the name of Cowan.  While George was serving in retirement as an assistant minister of pastoral care, Cowan was deep into this large cathedral church he was serving back then.  Admittedly I admired both of these men of God and grew because of their influence and presence in my life. 

One day I received a phone call letting me know that George was in Allegheny General Hospital, and things ‘weren’t going well.’  I decided to go there and visit my mentor friend.  He warmly greeted me.  I wasn’t at his bedside long until Cowan walked into the room.  George was just as glad to see Cowan.  There we were, just the three of us, this side of heaven, ready to lift George up in prayer.  Something special happened that day.  George informed us that ‘his time had come,’ and he was ‘ready to go.’ So, following some further discussion and words of comfort and care, George said, “Let’s pray boys.”  He looked at me and said, “Tom, how about you ‘going first?”  Admittedly, I blubbered a bit, yet managed to get a fairly okay prayer out. Cowan followed in his more elegant and learned style.  Finally George prayed. He prayed as did Jesus. He quoted scriptures, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord will award me, and not only to me but to all who have longed for his appearing.” 

Then I cried. 

As you walk with the Lord, be thankful for the life you’ve lived and for the life you’re living still.  Together we are growing gracefully.  Amen.

The Blessings of Communion 10/2/2022

Sermon Message for Worldwide Communion 2022

Saturday, October 1, 2022, and Sunday, October 2, 2022 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: O God of wisdom and knowledge, illumine us by your Spirit and by your Word.  From the Scriptures may we learn your instructions, and by your Holy Spirit may we be inclined to follow these instructions to live a good and holy life.  Amen.  

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Psalm 133:1, Romans 15:1-6, and John 17:20-21a 

SERMON MESSAGE: “The Blessings of Communion” 

Do you remember the first time you received Communion?  I do, for I was raised in a Roman Catholic Church in Seward, PA, not far from Bethlehem Steel in Johnstown, PA.  Back then we were required to attend a number of spiritual ‘classes’ within our Catholic church before the priest would approve our becoming ‘confirmed’ in the faith and worthy to receive our first Holy Communion. 

Confirmation classes simultaneously occurred in Protestant churches, such as the local Presbyterian, United Methodist, Lutheran, and Baptist.  Within Protestant churches there was not as much significance placed upon one’s first receiving the Sacrament of Communion. 

Whether or not you may recall when you first received Communion, it is my solemn and sincere prayer today that you just might recall a time or two, or possibly even more, when ‘communion’ was meaningful, hopefully a “blessing.” 

I believe it was somewhere around 1983 or 1984 that I received a very ‘special’ communion blessing. I was serving two United Methodist churches near Elizabeth, PA. The first service, as I recall, was at the smaller Elrama Church and began at 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning.  The second worship service was at the West Elizabeth Methodist Church just a few miles down the road at 11:00 a.m. 

Within those Methodist churches the tradition was for folks to come forward and kneel at the communion rail just in front of the altar when receiving communion. 

This was always such a meaningful time as they knelt at that communion rail and I, serving as their pastor, spoke the sacred Words of Institution and administered Holy Communion to each person. 

I was always quite moved by the sacredness, the kneeling, and the close proximity.  Most folks would kneel down, fold their hands, and bow their heads as this sacred time progressed.  But on this one particular Sabbath one of our esteemed elderly ladies did NOT.  Helen struggled just a bit to kneel there, but as the others bowed their heads, folded their hands, and then received first the small portion of communion bread then the small cup of communion juice, Helen instead watched ME.  In fact, she never took her eyes off of me! As a young pastor, I was not fully aware of what was going on but had a spiritual ‘suspicion’ that this had become a more sacred moment for both Helen and me. I remember finishing that 9:30 worship service, getting in my car, and traveling to the next church for 11:00 a.m. worship. Afterwards I went home and shared in Sunday Dinner with my family. 

Following dinner, I received a phone call.  The person on the other end of the line was filled with tears. She told me her Mom had died unexpectedly.  Her Mom was Helen. 

The “blessing of communion” for Helen was a spiritual preparation and sacred moment shared in her small beloved church earlier in the day.  The “Day” was Worldwide Communion Sunday!  I knew I would never forget the day. 

The Sacrament of Holy Communion is for life.  It remains a time to renew one’s life in Christ, seek and give forgiveness, all the while drawing one’s heart closer to the kingdom that Jesus spoke of.  One of the “blessings of Communion” is how it draws us closer to the Lord and one another through shared faith. “Unity” is a further “Blessing of Communion.” 

Jesus Christ established “Communion” as we reference this sacrament, in the Upper Room with his 12 disciples, several centuries ago.  He broke bread, shared the cup, and conveyed deeply meaningful words and further practices around that initial ‘communion table.’  I doubt that His table looked anything like our communion table. 

“Communion” always includes prayer.  Jesus prayed many times, the scriptures record. One day Jesus looked towards heaven and prayed for his disciples.  He stated this simple prayer unto the Father:  “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” 

It was a simple, yet sincere prayer of unity.  “That all may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you.” 

Christians through the centuries have also needed to pray Jesus’ prayer for unity. 

Long before Jesus physically walked the face of this earth, people, Holy people, prayed to God for unity.  In Psalm 133:1 the psalmist prays in an affirmation of faith: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” 

Through the years have you thought much about “WHY” this is referred to as Worldwide Communion?  

Each year the first Sunday in October is designated as World Communion Sunday.  This remains a time for us to acknowledge and celebrate our ‘oneness’ in Christ.  Did you further know that World Communion Sunday was kind of a ‘gift’ from the Presbyterian Church?  I’ve been to the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. Long before I was even born, back in 1933, the very first celebration of Worldwide Communion took place at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church.  Dr. Hugh Thomas Kerr served as the pastor.  The Session records of Shadyside Presbyterian Church reveal that Dr. Kerr conceived the notion of World Communion Sunday during his year as moderator of the General Assembly (1930).  World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside Presbyterian Church.  It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.  Dr. Kerr readily admits the spread of World Communion Sunday was quite slow for the first few years.  People just didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. It was actually during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold because more and more people were seeking to hold the world together. Worldwide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense.  It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The celebration of Worldwide Communion was adopted as a practice in the Presbyterian Church US in 1936.  Although churches from other denominations were invited to celebrate World Communion from its inception, it wasn’t until 1940 when the organization that became the World Council of Churches promoted the practice that it became a widespread spiritual reality still existing to this day.  World Communion Sunday IS celebrated around the world to this day.  I believe an important blessing of communion is unity. 

Long before Jesus physically walked the face of this earth there was such a dire need for unity in the world at large and throughout the Jewish faith.  Jesus himself dealt with the need for unity among his disciples and with the crowds of people seeking their own agenda. Factions were occurring then in both churches and government, within families, and among nations. 

Today we see widespread disunity among the nations.  There remains intense suffering and pain due to the War in Ukraine.  Some foreign nations criticize the United States “Call” for democracy when so much disunity prevails within our country. 

Last week Reverend Patty spoke to us regarding “Truth.”  Within our own country, who bears the “truth?”  Is it the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?  Entire states remain divided over legislation regarding abortion rights and gender identification. Yes, there are many ‘gray’ areas in our current world. 

What might the Christian church embrace and do when even our constituents are sometimes gravely divided?  

I for one suggest we return to and further embrace some things which have ‘worked well’ through the centuries. 

Worshipping God centers our lives, not only our hearts, on faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

The Sacrament of Communion continues to show evidence of the blessings of communion.

Back in the 1930’s and 1940’s that idea conceived, perhaps spiritually inspired by one Presbyterian pastor at the Shadyside Church in Pittsburgh PA ‘caught on’ and became an accepted notion worldwide for a faith sharing that actually did provide for spiritual unity among the people, the churches, and the nations.  May we not ever minimize the impact of faith neither on worldwide concerns nor upon our own community, our own church, our own family concerns. 

Remember this as we share today in World Communion with brothers and sisters of the faith throughout the world, in war torn and also in peace filled countries. 

Jesus Christ unites us.  In heaven Jesus sits at the right hand of God and still prays for us.  Hear again his prayer, “I pray also for those who will believe in me that they may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” 

Perhaps some folks view Jesus Christ’s words as ‘so much idealism.’  I trust in Jesus Christ.  I further trust that God the Father Almighty sent the Holy Spirit to inspire others in the faith and record words that became firm spiritual insights and directives for faith through the centuries.  Consider with me again the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 15: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves.  Each of us should please our neighbor to build them up.  For even Christ did not please himself but as it is written; “the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 

Disunity often contains elements of insult and sometimes injury between people. 

Unity is better achieved when we who are strong do not seek to impose our beliefs nor injure others with our actions even due to their insults.  God gives us a spirit of endurance and encouragement.  Our goal throughout this lifetime is to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

As we do this we become ‘communion blessings.’ 

Today may we pray as share in this worldwide sacrament, for God’s Holy Spirit to inspire someone, somewhere to hear, receive, and share an idea, a notion, an insight that many in the world will receive, embrace, and respond to.  Just as the good Lord did back in the 1930’s and 1940’s when He inspired the idea of Worldwide Communion.  In the words of a Christian Camp song, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”  Amen. 

Communion Blessings.

Truth From The Heart 9/24/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 24, 2022 & Sunday, September 25, 2022 

Sermon Message: "Truth From the Heart"

by Reverend Patty Giles-Petrosky

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 15 & John 8:31-36 

Does Psalm 15 affect you like it affects me? Until I fully understood the grace and mercy of God – or at least as far as it is possible for a person to understand it – I figured there was no way I would ever live on God’s Holy Hill. I certainly am not blameless in any way, shape, or form. The truth is – not one of us is. 

It’s rather concerning to think about. But Scripture tells us that if we want to know how to live a Christian life, that God’s written word is a faithful director, and our conscience is a faithful monitor.  

I like the second half of Verse 2 – we are to speak the truth from our heart! What does that mean? If we’re speaking from our hearts, then our hearts had better be pure. After all, God knows our hearts better than we do – He knows what’s in there – and it had better be pure! 

I’d like to share a letter with you from a fellow named “Lucifer.” Lucifer has the ability to be very handsome and convincing. In fact, he and his minions are rather popular all around the world. Some refer to him as the prince of this world.  

Anyway, here’s the letter: 

Dear Constituents: 

I’ve written letters like this across hundreds of years and in many languages. I’m pleased to meet you this morning, even if we are in my enemy’s home. You may be a bit uneasy because we have the most influence when, like some government agencies, no one suspects that we exist. Or if they are aware of us, they don’t consider us very important. 

However, we have goals to achieve and hope to embed ourselves concretely into your lives. Our stock in trade is instant gratification and constant self-absorption. One thing we do not tolerate is being ignored. And we keep our cards close to our chest, so to speak. 

We are very careful to expose to you only that which is pleasing and exciting, and, as I stated, instantly gratifying. 

I am extremely careful that some information doesn’t get leaked, because I’ve seen what happens when the truth about secret things becomes public knowledge. I assure you, none of us wants that. So, none of you better go all holy on me, or I will have you for lunch – literally. 

Now, the heart of the matter is, I want to move into every area of your life. I want you to define yourself by logic – my logic. You see, I take all that is given to me and distort it. It’s not very difficult, because I realized long ago that most of you are so good at NOT being attentive to what is right in front of your eyes on Sunday mornings. 

I like to play with your desires – it’s truly one of the best instruments in my toolbox. It works like this, with a little encouragement from me; your desire becomes an inclination, which often becomes a habit; and those habits are hard to break. Desire is so deeply rooted in people’s souls, that it becomes their identity. And at that point, they belong to me. Think about it … vanity, greed, lust, envy, laziness … they all have earthly effects. Oh – resentment too! It’s like savoring a victory, especially when your most hated and feared enemy loses. Kind of like the relationship between the fans of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox – it’s not enough for one’s own team to win, the other team must lose – how sweet the revenge! 

It might seem like small stuff to you, but we use every episode of your life and just keep building on it. The small things are so easy to distort. We can destroy your whole life by starting small – vanity, greed, lust, envy … you know those desires, right? Oh, and we feed the ego. That’s our playground. And we keep you so busy and involved in so many things that you have no time to attend to your soul. Man – we get you into all kinds of mischief! 

However, some folks cause me all kinds of grief. When the true consequences of your behavior are uncovered for what they are – self-deception on a level you never expected – you might actually (and I hate using this word) – repent! 

Such joy I get when I see individual lives ruined through betrayal or abuse. We actually celebrate where they end up! After all, violence is at the heart of our purpose. It’s one of the ways we manage the world - me and my minions, that is. And there is an infinite variety of forms that violence comes in. We never get bored! 

Well, enough said. I believe you get the gist of this letter. I can’t give away too many of my secrets and processes. Wouldn’t want you getting wise to me! 

Just sit back, think about my words, let the excitement stir you up. I have the world to offer you.  

Have no doubt, this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing from me.  

I remain sincerely yours, 

Lucifer 

 And Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin … BUT, if you hold to my teachings, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

The truth of Jesus Christ is indeed freedom – freedom from slavery to sin. It is spiritual freedom. Rely on His promises and obey His teachings, and we will find where our hope and strength are – the tools we need to withstand Satan’s (Lucifer’s) fiery arrows that take us into sin. Jesus clearly reminds all of us that when we are living a sinful life, we are slaves to that sin. 

Christ gives us freedom from living in sin. He has the power to give us freedom when we repent for our sins, and when we place our faith in Him. 

The next time you sense you’re receiving mail from Lucifer, just hand it over to Jesus. Dwell in His sanctuary, Live on His Holy Hill.  Walk blameless with Him. Do what is righteous. Speak truth from your heart.  And know that by doing these things, living your life this way, you will never be shaken. 

And to Him be all the glory, now and forever. Amen.

The Real Final Answer 9/18/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 17, 2022 & Sunday, September 18, 2022 

Sermon Message: "The Real Final Answer"

by Reverend Patty Giles-Petrosky

Scripture Lessons: Hebrews 9:24-28 and Colossians 2:13-15 

A man once said to a minister, “I really want to believe that God forgives me, but I can’t accept it. How can you really know that God forgives your sins?” 

The minister said, “How long have you been struggling with doubts about God’s forgiveness?” To which the man answered, “Ever since I was a kid. I did something very wrong when I was young. Every day I beg God to forgive me, but I just can’t believe that He has.”  “How old are you?” the minister asked. “I’m 62” said the man. Incredulously the minister asked, “Do you mean to tell me that you’ve been begging God to forgive you for over 50 years?” The man sadly said, “Yes, yes I have, and I feel I’ve wasted my life.” 

Some folks may be able to identify with the man. I’ve heard others say they feel like they’ve been racking up a huge sin debt across the years. Here’s the real final answer to those beliefs: 

UNTIL YOU REST IN THE FINALITY OF THE CROSS, YOU WILL NEVER EXPERIENCE THE REALITY OF THE RESURRECTION! 

Back to the minister and the man. The minister asked the man, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes,” said the man. “I believe Jesus is Lord, I confessed Him as my Savior, and I have gone to church my whole life.” The minister said, “I have some news for you. You already are forgiven.”  

We already are forgiven! Forgiveness isn’t something we can earn, it’s something that God, through Jesus Christ, has already done for each of us.  

Jesus has already forgiven all of our sins – past, present, and future – on the cross!  

God has already forgiven the sins we committed long ago, and He has forgiven the sins we’ll commit tomorrow. 

THAT is what the FINALITY OF THE CROSS means! 

And Jesus forgave sins ONCE FOR ALL! Notice I didn’t say once and for all. That means something different.  

ONCE FOR ALL means that His death on the Cross – His sacrifice for us – was accomplished because of His one-time death on the cross.  

He gave us eternal forgiveness, not with the blood of an animal – as the sacrifices in the Old Testament. But with His own blood, Jesus removed sin by sacrificing Himself. Not partially, not temporarily, but completely.  

He did this one time, for all time! One time, for all sins, of all the people, for all time.  

The finality of the cross is not the end of the process of our salvation. It’s the beginning! So now, the issue of sin no longer separates us from God. The cross wasn’t the end, but rather, the beginning of new life in Christ. 

So… until we rest in the FINALITY OF THE CROSS, we will never experience the REALITY OF THE RESURRECTION! Christ’s resurrection is the way to a new life in Christ, but we can only experience it if the matter of our sin is settled.  

Want to hear the good news? God has forgiven us – once for all! Because He has, we can have a relationship with Him. Not because of anything we have done, but because of what God, through Jesus Christ, has done for each one of us. Accept that truth personally. Sometimes we can think that God is constantly disappointed in us. But – the pressure is off! Jesus has done for each of us what none of us could ever do.  

The truth is, our sins are not forgiven because we confess them. No, they’re forgiven by the shed blood of Christ. A new covenant has been established. And it’s written in our hearts as a gift of God’s love.  

The forgiveness of our sins involves a change of heart in us. When we are set free from the guilt of sin, we are also free from the power of sin! What a gift. Jesus didn’t simply cover up our sin, He took it away! On the cross He said, “It is finished!” In the Greek language those words mean, “paid in full”! The debt for our sins has been paid in full; nothing more needs to be paid! 

God isn’t dealing with us on the basis of our sins like the man in the story believed. Don’t get me wrong, we can still choose to sin; but why would we want to carry around all the guilt that sin produces in us?  

The finality of the cross actually makes us feel God’s love. The finality of the cross leads us to live in holy freedom – freedom to let God love us and to love Him in return.  

Carrying around that burden of sin is heavy. However, if we truly believe in the finality of the cross, we can stop carrying that heavy burden, stop focusing on sin, and start focusing on life with God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

So… the real final answer is until you rest in the finality of the cross, you will never experience the reality of the resurrection.  

To God be all the glory. Amen.

God's Promises 9/10/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 10, 2022 & Sunday, September 11, 2022  

Sermon Message:  "God's Promises"

by Elder Laurie Zickgraf  

Have you ever made a promise to someone?  Did you always keep that promise? Chances are you didn’t keep all of your promises. Usually you have a very good reason, but sometimes you might have forgotten the promise. With luck, the person you made the promise to also forgot. We’re human, and so we have problems with memory – like where are my car keys or where did I lay my wallet?  My favorite is when I am looking for my glasses and they are on my nose. 

When you make a promise, you are making a commitment to do something or to make something happen.  Other words for promise are:  pledge, vow, or covenant.  Promises are important.  When you fulfill a promise, you are building trust with someone.  

I knew someone that would routinely break what they called 'little promises.'  They would offer to bring something to a family dinner and forget or promise to be somewhere at a certain time and then show up late. While the dinner may not be ruined if they don’t show up with the carrots, what if they forgot the stuffed turkey?  What if they show up 5 minutes late or 2 hours late?  Does that make a difference?  Breaking a promise also breaks trust.  Once trust is broken it takes a lot of effort and time to build that trust back up. 

The Bible tells how God created the world and all of life.  It tells about an idyllic garden where man lived.  All the wondrous things God created for mankind, including animals, plants for food and the oceans, the sun, the moon, and the stars. 

The Old Testament is also full of promises made by God.  One thing we can be sure of is that when God makes a promise, whether it’s to one person or to a whole nation, He’ll keep that promise.  

As you read through the Bible, you’ll see hundreds and thousands of promises.  Some scholars have estimated over 8,000 promises are found in the Bible.  Many of these promises talk about physical things.  In the Old Testament some of God’s promises included a promise of prosperity.  Some of the men that believed in God and were faithful were rich in material things.  Abraham was rich in livestock, silver, and gold.  (Gen. 13:1-7) Isaac had so many flocks, herds and servants that he was envied by the Philistines.  When he planted his crops, he reaped 100 times more than he expected.  (Gen. 26:12-14) Jacob had many flocks and servants as well.  (Gen. 30:43) Joseph lived in the house with his Egyptian master because everything he took care of prospered.  (Gen. 39:2-6) We see that God asked Solomon what he wanted.  When he chose wisdom over wealth God gave Solomon wisdom and also wealth and honor – so much that he would have more than any other king. (1Kings 3:13) and Job, while he lost everything when he was tested by Satan, God restored to Job twice as much as he had before the test. (Job 42:10-17)   

God promises that He loves us and will always be there for us.  

Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand

Jeremiah 29:11 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 

There are promises that took many years before they were kept.  These promises told people in the Old Testament that a Messiah was expected and how it will be when Christ returns and we live forever with God.  

One of these promises come to us in the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and no one could interpret it.  This made the king so mad that he ordered all the wise men to be killed. Daniel returned to his friends and told them what was going on. “18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision.” (Daniel 2:17-19) The next day, Daniel went and told the king that the dream was a promise that God of heaven would set up a kingdom which would not be destroyed – it would last forever. (Daniel 2:44) 

Another promise about the Messiah is found in Isaiah chapter 9. “For unto you a child is born, to us a son is given.” What a wonderful promise of hope! 

Jeremiah warned his people for 20 years that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians. God also told Jeremiah that:  

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant

with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. (Jer. 31:31) 

And while it took hundreds of years for this promise to be kept - all the promises that God had made about the Messiah were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.  He ushered in the new covenant that included all those that wanted to be a part of the kingdom of God.  Anyone who believed in Jesus could have eternal life! (Luke 22:20) 

Sadly, the Jews, who should have seen Jesus and wept because the promises of the Messiah had all come true – didn’t accept Him.  Jesus didn’t fit their idea of what the Messiah would be.  They couldn’t connect the dots between the Old Testament promises and Jesus. So, they went after Him.  Over and over again they tried to show that Jesus was not the Messiah.  

In one incidence Jesus cured a man who had been sick for 38 years. He did this on the Sabbath which was against the law. When Jesus is confronted by the religious leaders He tells them:

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24). 

During this same incident Jesus tells them:

39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40) 

Jesus is telling people that the prophecies and promises from the Old Testament are being fulfill by Him. He told the Jewish leaders and he told a woman at a well. Not just any woman but a Samaritan woman. The Jews hated the Samaritans so much that they would walk across the Jordan river and go around Samaria rather than go through their country. But here is Jesus – sharing the good news with her so she can tell her people. 

“The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:25-26) 

God has kept His word. It is something we can trust! He promised a Savior, a Messiah and He sent Jesus to keep that promise.  

Do you believe that the promises of God are true? Do you believe Jesus when He tells us:

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2) 

Do you believe what was said when Jesus ascended into Heaven? 

“10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11) 

God sent an angel to John who shared his vision in Revelation and tells us: 7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him,…” (Rev. 1:7a) 

Many of God’s promises have already come true. God has shown us that He doesn’t lie. We know there is more than just this physical earth. Right now while we are waiting for all of the promises to come true, we can share in the Spiritual life that Jesus showed us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Trust in God.  When you have questions, ask them.  When you are sad, or frightened or when you feel alone reach out to God. When you are happy and blessed, praise God and thank Him. For now, we don’t have all the answers but we will. We know this because we were told: 12 “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) 

God is in control, Trust God! Praise God!            Amen.

Families 9/4/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 3, 2022 & Sunday, September 4, 2022 

Scripture Lessons: Genesis 1:26-28 and Ephesians 2:18-19 

Sermon Message:  “Families” by Elder Laurie Zickgraf 

When God put people on this earth, He made a family.  He made Adam and Eve.  Since the beginning of mankind, our society has been based on the family unit.  The traditional family in the Bible is a group of people who are related to each other by marriage or by blood.  At its most basic it would include a man and a woman and a child or two.  Anyone who lived in the household was considered family. 

Beyond the immediate family you have an extended family.  These are people usually related by blood but don’t live with you and may not be involved in your day-to-day life.  This may include your in-laws, cousins, uncles and aunts, grandparents, and so on.  This can be just a few people or can be quite a large group.  

Every family is different, but every family was created to love, teach, and support one another.   

Family composition and size has changed over the years.  Back in 1850 it was common to see between 6 and 9 children in a family. Grandparents lived with their children and grandchildren.  By 1960 the average number of kids was about 3-1/2, and now it’s down to a little over 3.  Most families don’t live with grandparents or aunts and uncles anymore.  If you watch HGTV, you know that every child must have their own bedroom and bathroom in order to grow up happy.  Nowadays it is not common to see an extended family living together, but if you win the lottery, you will have relatives EVERYWHERE! 

I got to see a large family once.  We had moved to Maryland, and in 2004 I worked with a woman who became a friend of mine.  She told me she once dated a man who was really nice.  They went out a couple of times, started to get to know each other, you know – where did you go to school, where did you grow up.  They had A LOT in common. Ends up, they had the same father! 

Their father had two families!  Neither family knew about the other, and each family had 12 children.  After the shock wore off, the two families decided to blend the two groups together and become one family.  I was invited to a family get together, and there were over 75 people!  They had to rent a church hall so everyone could come for dinner.  It was not a traditional family, but it was a sight to see!  The relationships these people had with each other showed that they loved and cared for each other.  It was amazing. (Oh yes, my friend and her newfound half-brother stopped dating!) 

In a 2010 survey by Pew Research Center in Washington, DC, 76 percent of adults surveyed stated that family is “the most important” element of their life—just one percent said it was “not important” (Pew Research Center 2010). 

President Ronald Reagan once said, “The family has always been the cornerstone of American society.  Our families nurture, preserve, and pass on to each succeeding generation the values we share and cherish, values that are the foundation of our freedoms” (Lee 2009). https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-introductiontosociology/chapter/defining-family/

I was watching the news one night and started to wonder – if this world started with 2 people and grew to 2 billion by 1900 and now is up to 8 billion – what happened? Why all the fighting and the wars?  The answer is in the question. It started with 2 people – the next part is what we don’t usually say….It started with 2 people that listened to Satan and not to God! 

In the beginning, everyone was related to Adam and Eve.  We see the original family in the garden, and we’re told how they sinned by not trusting God and allowing Satan to manipulate them.  The problems got worse when they were sent out of the garden. Cain and Abel show us clearly that sin was on the earth.  God tells Cain that ‘sin is crouching at the door; and it’s desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7)  Something we should all keep in mind. 

Sadly, Cain did not master sin and moved further away from God when he killed his brother.  As the original family grew and moved away from each other, they also moved away from the relationship that Adam and Eve had with God in the Garden of Eden.  They made up other gods to explain how and why things worked the way they do.  As people moved away from Yahweh, they became more corrupt and evil.  The Lord saw that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  (Genesis 6:5) God punished mankind by sending a flood to cover the earth.  

Now many of us know the rest of this story.  Noah was a good man and was told by God to build an ark.  Noah and his family were to use this ark to survive the coming flood. Once the ark was built, Noah, his wife, and their 3 sons entered the ark along with the wives of the sons.  This is 8 people.  Eight people that started with an immediate family that became an extended family and grew into a group of distant relatives that had nothing in common.  This group grew so large because they did exactly what God told Noah to do – “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1b) 

Noah’s 3 sons had 17 children between them.  As their family grew, they started to spread out and moved to different areas. Japheth and his descendants moved to the area around the Black and Caspian Seas.  There is some research that suggests that some of these family members ended up in what we now call China, Russia, and Japan. 

Shem’s family headed for areas on either side of the Euphrates Rives and in the Arabian Peninsula.  This group became the Assyrians, Syrians, and others.  Shem’s line also produced Abraham and Jesus. (Genesis 14:13) (Matthew 1:1-17) 

Ham’s family populated many parts of Africa including Egypt, Ethiopia, and Algeria.  

From the very beginning God gave us families, but He also gave us laws to guide us.  We are not allowed to do anything we want without consequences.  When God created Adam and Eve, He instructed them on what they should and shouldn’t do.  In Genesis 2:17 God tells Adam:  “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” 

According to Jewish tradition there are 613 laws in the Old Testament. Leviticus Chapter 19 gives us a list of laws that deal with our daily life.  It starts with a statement:  “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The list goes on: 

Keep the Sabbath, do not look or turn to idols, when you harvest your land do not harvest the very corners of the fields.  This is to be kept for the needy and the stranger.  Don’t be partial to the poor man or the rich man but judge everyone fairly.  Do not turn to mediums; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. At this time in my life I think my favorite is verse 32:  “You shall rise up before the gray-headed, and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” These rules and laws were to be passed down to the children and to their children. 

Proverbs 22:6 tells us:

Train up a child in the way he should go:  and when he is old, he will not depart from it. 

As the sons of Noah spread out over the earth, they took their families, their animals, their belongings, and something more important; they took the knowledge of God with them.  Noah’s sons and daughters-in-law knew God; they had a relationship with Him when He saved their lives. 

But something happened to the families.  As they grew and spread out, they no longer taught their children or remembered God.  Sadly, once again, men of the earth became corrupt and evil.  They lost their relationship with God and move toward other idolatry and other gods. 

Throughout the Bible we are told of people who knew God, had a relationship with Him, but turned away from the creator of all things.  Has anything changed?  How many people in this day and age have turned away from God and look squarely at this world for happiness and for joy.  

Yes, God made families here on earth, but then He did something miraculous – He sent Jesus to show us how to be a part of God’s spiritual family.  It is not enough to be a part of a physical family here on earth.  We must become a part of the spiritual family who believes in God.  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  We must remember where we came from.  We must remember that we were created by God and our actions have consequences because we are living in a corrupt and evil world.  

At a time in our history when our attention is being pulled in myriad directions at the same time:  cell phones, TV with a bazillion shows and movies, games and social media, war in Ukraine, the threat of China, world terrorists, inflation, jobs, the price of gas, health problems and the list goes on! 

Are you able to tune all of that out and focus on the spiritual side of life?  Can you look at this world and see what God has made, or do you see things that man has made? 

Let me paraphrase Romans chapter 8 verse 9: 

We don’t live in the flesh, we are not controlled by the sinful nature.  We live in the Spirit – the Spirit of God lives in us and directs us and guides us.  If you don’t have the Spirit of Christ, then you are not a child of God. 

How do you get the spirit of God in you? You ask for it!  You believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He came to show us the way back to God.  When you do this, you will see yourself as a sinner and you will ask for forgiveness.  It’s the simplest thing to do and the hardest thing to do because you have to give up control! 

You have to see how far away from God you really are.  You have to acknowledge that you are nothing without God.  You have to believe this in your heart and in your soul – you have to believe that you can’t save yourself – you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps, or find the right self-help book or a weekend retreat.  You can’t watch a You tube video with the latest person that claims to have seen the light. You have to hear about Jesus and believe! 

Ephesians Chapter 2:8-9 “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast”

When you walk out of the church, being a Christian doesn’t end.  As you go about your business every day - strive to keep your family strong.  Share your faith with family members, sometimes by talking, but sometimes just by being an example of how a Christian lives and loves and cares for others.  If you have a big or small physical family, remember that you are a part of something that can’t be contained by this earth.  You are part of a spiritual family that has a relationship with the living God!  You belong to something amazing and wonderous!  You belong to the family of God - a family that cares about you, who prays for you, and who loves you. 

Always remember that we have hope because we have the promise of eternity that will be spent with our Father in heaven! 

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 

Amen.

God's Heaven 8/28/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 27, 2022 & Sunday, August 28, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Eternal God, your Word speaks truth into our lives.  When we humble ourselves to listen, you mature us with knowledge and strengthened faith.  Open us to your Word read and proclaimed today, so we might hear and embrace the message you intend for us.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Isaiah 65:17 (Page 748) & John 14:1-4 (Page 1081) 

Sermon Message: “God’s Heaven” 

This past Monday, I was called upon to reference both Heaven and Hell in my life. My dear wife and I attended a class at Sewickley Hospital for those anticipating either hip or knee replacements.  The instructor taught us ‘how it will be’ following surgery.  She said when you climb steps, remember this: “Good leg goes up towards heaven first, followed by the leg you received surgery on.  When descending steps remember: bad leg goes downwards, towards hell, followed by your good leg.” It’s a meaningful reference I am counting upon. 

Typically, when people reference ‘where’ heaven is, they associate it with being ‘up there’ in the sky.  ‘Hell’ on the other hand is often times referenced as being ‘down below’ where fire and brimstone dwell in the center of the earth. 

Heaven is a very common term in the Bible.  You will find it used for the sky, for the space beyond our atmosphere, and for God’s dwelling place.  Jesus frequently talks about the Kingdom of Heaven as a present reality with a future, final fulfillment.  And heaven is frequently associated with the home of believers when we leave this life.  A home in Christ, in the presence of God. 

Across the years there have been numerous ‘jokes’ regarding heaven.  One of our church members shared a joke about heaven I will convey to you. 

A man died and was taken up into heaven.  There he met St. Peter.  After his one-on-one visit with God, the man was being escorted to his ‘home’ in heaven.  He and his escort saw various mansions as they walked along.  All of them were so beautiful and ‘open’ for all to see and visit. All except one. This one ‘dwelling place’ had no windows, and the door was shut tight.  So, the fellow asked why this was so?  St. Peter placed his hand upon the man’s shoulder and said to him, “Oh that’s the Presbyterians in there.  They think they are the only ones up here!” 

What might it be like in heaven?  Some say there are at least three different ‘levels’ to heaven. Here is an ‘attempt’ someone shared regarding these ‘levels.’  The first level of heaven is perhaps for people who have led good, righteous lives.  These people will reside in a place of peace and happiness where they will be reunited with their loved ones who have passed away.  The second level of heaven is perhaps for people who were not perfect but who made serious efforts to live good lives.  These people will be given a chance to make up for their mistakes and to learn about God’s love.  The third level of heaven is perhaps for those who have rejected God and lived wicked lives.  These people will be punished in hellfire for all eternity. 

These ‘interpretations’ do NOT have a sound Biblical basis.  Do recall Jesus Christ’s teachings regarding heaven; “In my Father’s house there are many rooms, many mansions.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you?” 

Things will be ‘different’ in heaven.  Our bodies will be different in God’s heaven.  1 Corinthians 15:35-57 speaks of this new ‘body’ we will be given. 

Think of it this way; when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, many did not recognize him initially.  In part that was because his earthly body was ‘transformed.’  It took even the disciples a while to recognize this new, heavenly body that Jesus appeared in. 

Some folks believe we will be like Jesus when we get our new bodies.  Others insist we will become angels or at least ‘look like’ angels. 

1 John 3:2-3 informs us that we will in some way be like Christ.  Matthew 22:30 informs us that we will be like the angels in heaven. 

More importantly God’s heaven is a place; a very real and certain place where “God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or crying or pain anymore.” (Revelation 21:4) 

Remember these words of Jesus Christ; “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms, many mansions, I go and prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2,3) 

I believe in heaven and hell.  I believe God has written eternity upon our hearts and a very real and sincere yearning for heaven. As much as there is a God in heaven, there is Satan on earth who strives to deceive good people to do bad things and compromise their lives and the lives of others.  Satan strives to convince us that neither faith nor heaven is ‘for real.’  It’s part of Satan’s nature to lie, deceive, contrive, and cause confusion. 

May we bear in mind what we know to be true in our heart and soul; good people go to heaven.  Bad people go to hell. 

God’s heaven is a place.  In heaven we will meet God, we will sit and talk with Jesus.  One of the things that I and many others look forward to in God’s heaven is having every question answered, every mystery explained and understood.  In God’s heaven we will “see His face.” 

When we pass from this life to the next and enter God’s heaven, we shall look into the face of God and see the fulfillment of everything that we know to be right and good and desirable in God’s universe.  In the face of God, we will see the fulfillment of all the longings we have ever had.  We shall know perfect love, peace, and joy.  We shall know truth and justice, holiness and wisdom, goodness and power, glory and beauty.  

To quote the psalmist, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord to seek Him in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)  

Jesus came proclaiming the coming of the kingdom.  Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is a spiritual kingdom that Christ rules over.  A kingdom that includes all the redeemed.  While this kingdom has eschatological ramifications, it is a kingdom with present-day reality. 

This kingdom that Jesus proclaims reflects a dramatic shift in thought.  The coming kingdom had been envisioned as a physical earthly kingdom centered on Jerusalem.  But the kingdom Jesus proclaims was a spiritual kingdom without an earthly center. 

Jesus speaks of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ being present among us. (Luke 17: 21) God enables us to experience and appreciate the kingdom of heaven now.  When we know God in our lives, experience Jesus Christ in our hearts, feel inspired by the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God is in our midst.  The kingdom of heaven is where the poor in spirit are blessed, those who mourn are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled, the merciful are shown mercy, the pure in heart see God, and peacemakers further become the children of God.  The kingdom of heaven comes in our midst when our persecutions become our blessings and evil intended against us becomes used by God, transformed for a better ‘good’ - a greater ‘way!’  I firmly believe we get ‘glimpses’ of heaven when we witness the birth of a child, the first tastes of Spring, sunshine and rainbows after rain, peaceful sunsets, and hope-filled sunrises.  Where forgiveness reigns and love takes place over evil, there is the kingdom of heaven among us. 

I long for heaven.  Yes, it is written upon my heart and engraved into my very soul.  I long for heaven not because I am at all unhappy here on earth.  Quite the contrary!  I long for heaven when and where I ‘see’ not just with my physical eyes. Heaven for me is not just an extension of my life here on earth.  Of course, God’s heaven is a place where there is no bad health.  God’s heaven is a place where we never grow old.  Spiritually speaking, God’s heaven may be alluded to in the imagery of the 23rd Psalm; a place where we will walk with the Lord in green pastures and beside still waters. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, then you should sincerely look forward to God’s heaven.  Within your soul perhaps you can begin to ‘see’ a place where there is no more pain, no more suffering, nor even any more tears. 

Here on earth some folks act as though they are our judge, our jury, and Jesus Christ.  In God’s heaven we shall meet the ONE who judges all with compassion, mercy, and love. 

Mostly, God’s heaven is a place of love.  Each person shall be held accountable for how they loved God, others, and lastly, themselves.

There are also many accounts in the Bible of people being given brief glimpses of heaven, such as when Stephen was stoned to death or when Paul was caught up in a trance and saw things that “no one is permitted to tell.” (2 Corinthians 12:4)  These experiences give us just a small taste of the glory that awaits us in heaven. 

I’ve been blessed to become acquainted with current day folks who’ve experienced a ‘glimpse’ of heaven as well.  From what we read and study in the Bible and glean from people’s more recent accounts, heaven is not at all to be feared but awesomely anticipated.  I for one believe heaven is SO very good, if we were able to really and truly perceive it, we would not want to remain here on this earth for another minute! 

Heaven is the Dwelling of God.  While the church may be God’s house, heaven remains His home. Our best times on earth have been those realities blessed by God, ordered by God, and affirmed through His presence.  I for one want to be with God more.  I want to live with Him after I die.  I want to go home. 

The Bible is further clear; heaven is our home.  We are citizens of heaven.  Philippians 3:20,21 records “Our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” 

We tend to ‘want’ so much in this life.  But Jesus Christ teaches us: 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) 

Do you have any ‘treasures ‘laid up’ in heaven?  Are there any souls you’ve helped to rescue?’  Good things you have done?  Love you have shared?  Service on behalf of God you have extended to another soul or a greater ‘cause?’  In God’s heaven you and I have ‘treasures’ that this world and all its wealth cannot buy.  

Let it be your prayer that when the time comes to enter God’s heaven, those gates swing open wide.  Long to hear our heavenly Father say “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter now into that place that I have prepared for you.  Welcome Home.  You are my son; you are my daughter.”  Amen.

The Sabbath Day 8/21/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 20, 2022 & Sunday, August 21, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: O God, your Word is more precious than fine gold, and sweeter than purest honey.  As we turn to your Scripture, send your Holy Spirit to infuse your Word with truth and grace — so that the good news of your love would shine before our eyes and delight our senses so that we cannot help but respond with wonder, faith, and trust.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Mark 2:23-27 (Page 1003) and Luke 13: 10-17 (Page 1045) 

Sermon Message: “The Sabbath Day” 

Jesus was reprimanded for doing good on the Sabbath.  I also recall a time when I was reprimanded for doing good on the Sabbath.  Back in 1982 I was a student pastor at a small white-framed church just outside of New Castle, PA, in the community of Edinburgh.  At the time there were seven kids in our confirmation class.  Because I was a student pastor, I was only at that church on weekends.  During the week I was still attending seminary.  One of our upcoming Confirmation classes was to include a study on the resurrection.  I had two young adults who were also members of that church assisting me with these weekly classes.  One of the kids asked if we could go see the movie “E.T.” which had become quite popular back then.  The other two adults and I discussed how we could assimilate some of the resurrection themes.  That next week, with parental permission and escort, we went to see the movie “E.T.”  Well let me tell you, one of the older members wanted to have me crucified for even considering such a waste of time when kids were supposed to be in Confirmation class, especially on a Sunday, don’t you know! 

She reprimanded me gloriously so.  Thankfully she did not gain much support from anyone else in that small country church. 

Throughout church history the “Sabbath” is known to be a day of rest and a time to be kept ‘holy!’ 

Let’s consider some of the ‘history’ associated with the Sabbath. 

I believe some who are present in church today remember the old blue laws.  When I was a child, most stores were closed on Sunday.  If a store did happen to be open, such as a pharmacy, many sections of that store would be covered over with sheets of cloth or paper to restrict or limit purchases to only necessities.  Sundays were special.  Sunday was viewed as equivalent to the Old Testament Jewish Sabbath Day.  It was to be a day of rest and worship.  In many homes, Sunday was observed with almost the same rigidity as the Pharisees forced upon the Jews.  Today the pendulum has swung almost to the opposite extreme where, not only in our society but also in many Christian homes, there is almost no importance placed on the Lord’s Day.

In accordance with the Bible, the Sabbath is the first day of the week.  From Christianity’s Jewish heritage the first day of the week is Saturday.  The early Christians devoted themselves to honoring the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, on Sunday. 

Jesus and His disciples were walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath enroute to worship at the synagogue.  The disciples were hungry and decided to pluck some of the grain.  While the Old Testament law regarding the keeping of the Sabbath in no way prohibited picking a handful of grain to satisfy one’s immediate hunger, the traditional law added many rules and regulations that were nothing more than man-made traditions.  Those traditions were rigid concerning Sabbath observance.  The Talmud, the book of Jewish traditions, has 24 chapters listing various Sabbath laws.  On the Sabbath, you could not travel more than 3,000 feet from your house.  You were not allowed to carry anything that weighed more than a dried fig.  You couldn’t carry a needle for fear you might sew something.  Taking a bath was forbidden.  Water might splash on the floor and wash it.  Women were not to look in a mirror; they might pull a gray hair.  Having been observed by the Pharisees, the disciples were charged by the Pharisees with violating two of man’s traditional Sabbath laws; plucking the grain and rubbing them in their hands.  Christ addresses the charges levied by the Pharisees by stating that.“The Sabbath was made for man, not the man for the Sabbath.  So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27,28)  The sabbath was not meant to restrict necessities.  In affirming His Deity, Christ declares He is Lord and is greater than the Sabbath.  He therefore has the right to overrule man-made rules and traditions. 

On still another Sabbath day Jesus was preaching in the synagogue, the church.  He noticed a woman doubled over who had been that way for eighteen years.  Her contemporaries blamed it on demon possession.  Today, we might call the condition fusion of the spinal vertebrae.  Jesus took the mercy-filled initiative.  Luke tells it:  "When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, 'Woman, you are set free from your infirmity!'  Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God." (Luke 13:12-13) 

The words "crippled by a spirit" remain intriguing in our lives and in our church.  Aren't we all from time to time “crippled by a spirit?”  There are still spirits which can distort us from the way we ought to be.  The Bible warns us of some of them:  "The cravings of sinful people, the lust of their eyes, and the boasting of what they have and do." (1 John 2:16)  It warns us of a spirit of greed which can addict us to wealth and put us in bondage of getting and keeping money. 

Sometimes, too, we get all wrapped up in the fear of what other people will think of us.  That one has kept so many of us as spiritual runts when God would have us be giants.  The spirits called alcohol and drugs.  The spirits of a jealousy which can tear our relationships apart.  The spirits of suspicion which infect working together with other well-meaning and motivated people.  And, of course, there is that spirit of "me first" and self-centeredness which reduces our human nature to one of being bent over in conniving and manipulation.  Then there is the seductive, distorting spirit of power over others.  There are spirits of racism and ugly prejudice as well.

We were not created by God to be possessed and crippled by these spirits which distort our stature.  Today Jesus says to us, as well as to the woman bent over for eighteen years, "you are set free from your infirmity." (Luke 13:12b) 

Especially so on the Sabbath, when we come to church to learn of God’s Word for us, sing His praises, lift up our prayers, and share our strength of faith with one another; Jesus Christ offers to set us free from OUR infirmities.  Freedom; relief from guilt and worry, confidence we are okay, courage to face the future, the stuff necessary to deal with it, and liberty.  So, like that bent-over woman, we can stand tall again. 

The Sabbath was made for rest, for worship, for holiness.  

God created and continues to create each Sabbath for us.  God, in His wisdom, recognizes that we, His children, need time off from the hectic schedule of daily living, time to focus on those things that are of ultimate meaning and worth:  our relationship with the Lord and those bonds of love that link us to family.  Moreover, we need the rest that does restore us in body, mind, and spirit.  For only so will we be prepared, not merely to endure, but to respond creatively to the challenges of this week and every week.  Thus, on this and every Sabbath, we seek God’s presence and guidance in worship - the encouragement of His Word and the refreshing of His Spirit.  Jesus remains Lord of the Sabbath. 

Even as many a Jew in Jesus' day squeezed joy out of the Sabbath, so are we in our day guilty of stripping holiness from the Sabbath.  In our society, it seems that anything goes on this day.  Far from being a day to honor God and so find ourselves refreshed spiritually, it has become a day to pursue one's own personal pleasure.  Instead of building up the total person with such resources of renewal as God can offer, we continue to push ourselves to the brink of emptiness, of estrangement from that which ultimately counts and makes for life, in other words, to the very point of spiritual exhaustion.  Let us come home to our Father each week in worship, in fellowship, in praise, in prayer, and in rest. 

It is vital to our lives that we set aside time for rest and worship.  These are two things we desperately need.  As human beings, our Creator did not design us to work seven days a week.  Our bodies and souls both need rest, and taking off one day out of every seven is good for us.  Those of us with workaholic tendencies may find it difficult to get into the habit of a regularly scheduled day off, but we need it.  It should always be something to which we look forward. 

Every day as believers we should take time to read the Bible, pray, and express our praise to God.  But it is important to have at least one day in seven, which we set aside so that we can have an extended time to worship and focus upon the Lord both corporately and individually. 

What does ‘the Sabbath’ look like in your home?  In your heart and soul?  What might we further glean from God’s Word that will point us in the right direction, the better perspective for 'keeping holy the Lord’s Day' and honoring God with a day of rest?

Throughout history humans have needed and benefited from a time of rest.  Each generation has responded to God’s directive to “keep Holy the Sabbath.”  A consistent insight throughout history has been that of honoring God by worshiping Him on the Sabbath.  This not only honors God; this further provides spiritual nourishment for our very soul, comfort for our anxieties, forgiveness for our sins, fellowship with the family of faith, and all the while calling us to ‘set aside’ time for God in our lives.  Such efforts have and shall continue to provide ‘rest for the soul’ and nourishment for our spirits. 

Also, throughout history, and specifically so during the Lenten season, Sunday, (Sabbath) is recognized as a day of affirming the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Thus Sundays, during the Lenten season, are not to be days of fasting for they are to remain affirmations of the resurrection of Jesus. 

When we assemble together for worship, we are once more affirming the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The resurrection, for many, is thought of either as an event that happened long ago when Jesus rose from the dead OR is considered to be an event yet to occur in the distant future.  Jesus’ resurrection IS affecting us in the here and now.  Jesus Christ is making all things new; our lives, our hopes, our forgiveness, and especially so, our love, and our faith.  Each Sunday should thus serve as a reminder of ‘what’s new, better, and more hopeful’ because of the resurrection touching our lives. 

Across the years much of people’s best gatherings have been on Sundays.  Many a family history is enriched by Sunday dinners and family times.  

If you think about it, going to church, family resting together, and affirming the hope of heaven is a lot of what Sabbath is about.  I firmly believe Sabbath should look like a glimpse of what’s coming, what’s in store, what’s hoped for.  

There’s nothing quite like the Sabbath for restoring the soul, resting the body, nurturing the family, and affirming the faith.  Amen. 

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures:  Grant that I putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of public worship, and grant as well that my Sabbath upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Salvation 8/13/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 13, 2022 & Sunday, August 14, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed we may trust in you with all our hearts. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 7:21 & Philippians 2:1-13 

Sermon Message:  “Salvation” 

‘Salvation’ is a ‘church word’ for many.  I well recall a time in our culture when it was quite popular to hear people asking, “Are you saved?”  I still recall lots and lots of people asking me that question.  No matter how many times I affirmed, “Yes, I am,” still, they wished to pursue teaching me what it means to be ‘saved.’ 

‘Saved’ or ‘delivered’ from our sins is but one component of salvation.  

Some equate ‘salvation’ with being ‘born again.’  In essence this means coming to know and accept Jesus Christ into your heart as Lord and Savior.  ‘Rebirth’ is believed to take place when one confesses their sins to Jesus, asks to be forgiven, affirms belief in Jesus, and inquires of Him to come into their lives, dwell within their hearts, and inspire one’s mind as Lord and Savior.  For some, this ‘born again’ experience helps to change one’s negative and sinful behavior.  Sad to say we have all likely met a few folks who ‘say’ they are Christian, can affirm they have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but don’t ‘act like it.”  That is, they still evidence hurtful and sinful actions in their lives and towards others.  Thus, we read, reference, and strive to better identify with today’s scripture lessons. 

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 1:12-13) 

The ultimate concern of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is salvation.  Look back to the story of creation.  In the beginning everything was good.  But Adam and Eve sinned -- they ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They decided to think for themselves -- no God was needed to separate right from wrong, order from chaos, provide wholeness ... salvation.  But they were mistaken.  This was the way Israelite mothers and fathers explained to their children why so much was wrong with the world.  Human arrogance upset God's good order, and the Genghis Kahn’s and Adolph Hitler’s and Saddam Hussein’s and Vladimir Putin’s of this world have offered stark and tragic testimony to that ever since. 

But the ancient Hebrews believed more.  They knew that God would not leave the world in disarray, nor would God leave the covenant people to fend for themselves.  When the psalmist declares, "The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation," (Psalm 118:14) it is an affirmation that God delivers the people from all sorts of disasters -- slavery in Egypt, wars with the Canaanites, bondage in Babylon.  Indeed, one who followed Moses, one of the great heroes of ancient Israel, the one who further led the people into the Promised Land, was named Yeshua; Joshua, the Hebrew word for salvation.  There is little or no concern with life after death in the Old Testament.  Salvation is here-and-now, protection from enemies, a restoration of order. 

By the time we get to the New Testament, we find another powerful personality named "Salvation"; Yeshua, which Greek turns into the name, Jesus. In the announcement of his coming, the angel told Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)  Indeed, there were all sorts of little boys being born around the time of Christ whose Jewish moms and dads named them Jesus in the hope that their son would be the promised Messiah, the Deliverer, the salvation of Israel from the bondage of Rome, the one who would restore God's good order.  Life after death was still no issue. 

As Jesus began his ministry, something new became apparent.  The salvation he was offering was much more than political deliverance for the chosen people.  He said that he had come "to preach good news to the poor ... proclaim release to the captives ... [restore] sight to the blind," (Luke 4:18) "to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10)  To the woman he healed of a hemorrhage, the blind man who could now see, the leper who had been cleansed, he said, "Your faith has saved you."  Salvation was not a promise of pie in the sky, by and by, but a restoration of order in the here and now. 

By the time we come to the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation, we find more clearly than anywhere else that salvation, restoring order, goes beyond this life.  In its complicated but beautifully poetic way, Revelation affirms to the early church, people who were in danger for their very lives because of their commitment to Christ, that God will deliver, will save God's people, and will make creation good again:  no more hunger, no more thirst, no more tears, no more death.  Salvation. 

The Christian message is that God's plan is salvation.  As the gospel writer has it, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17)  Salvation is forgiveness and hope.  Salvation IS closeness with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Salvation is making a sick creation healthy and whole again.  Salvation is the promise of heaven, a new heaven and a new earth.  We are born again, born from above, and re-born within ourselves as Jesus Christ is welcomed, accepted, affirmed, and followed. 

We commune today with Jesus.  He IS our salvation. 

We ‘commune’ with Jesus in the bread and cup of today’s communion meal.  We further ‘commune’ with Jesus in how we live out our salvation.  Today’s scriptures direct us to have tenderness and compassion, be like-minded, have the same Christ-like love for one another, and be of one mind in Christ.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but to the interests of others.  BE LIKE CHRIST.  Let people SEE Christ in you; then they will know of your salvation.

As the Bible further decrees, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2: ff) 

What does it look like in a believer’s life to “work out one’s salvation with fear and trembling?” 

A few personal examples.  The first one is kind of funny. 

At our house, my beloved REQUIRES that I wear one set of slippers around the house and an entirely different set of slippers when I take the dogs outside.  Every now and again I forget.  When I do, I come back inside with some ‘fear and trembling’ because of the ‘wrath’ that is about to follow. 

On a more solemn note; I grew up under the influence of an alcoholic father.  I watched, first-hand, his abuse, verbally and physically, of our family, including myself. 

In part, ‘salvation’ for me means being ‘saved’ from ever becoming an alcoholic.  Some children of abusive alcoholic parents become alcoholics and abusive in their adult years.  

While some of you might ‘enjoy a beer’ now and then, I never acquired a taste for it, never will, and don’t want to.  I refrain from anything that might put my life, my ‘self’ out of control and possibly even mildly abusive of another soul. 

For me, this becomes a further dimension of ‘working out my salvation with fear and trembling.’  When I see my physical size and know of my mental capabilities, plus the position and title God Almighty has called me to, I am fearful and do tremble with the thoughts of ever misusing any of God’s blessings or what He has ‘saved’ me from. 

Our world today still very much needs a savior.  We need salvation.  We should be fearful and tremble at the realities of war, violence, abuse, neglect, prejudice, and hatred in our world.  

As we commune with Jesus today and He with us, ask Him into your heart, accept Him in your life as Lord and Savior.  

We are ‘saved from’ and by the grace of God; we are ‘saved for’ more, so much more goodness and grace from God Almighty flowing through each and every one of us.  Amen.

My Soul Waits 8/6/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 6, 2022 & Sunday, August 7, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us.  Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, and in our living.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 130: 5-8 (Page 618) and 2 Peter 3:8-15a (Page 1227) 

Sermon Message: ‘My Soul Waits’ 

There is this ‘funny-silly thing’ I sometimes do with family and close friends.  For instance, we went with our grandchildren to Rita’s ice cream store a while back.  The line was so very long, and the sun was beating down on our heads.  There were two serving windows open, so I thought to myself, “Oh the line will go fast.”  Suddenly, without notice, one of the two server windows closed, and one of the staff disappeared.  Immediately I realized this process was now going to take twice as long.  Perhaps I was bad, possibly a bit sarcastic, when I said to my family, “Oh don’t worry, we can out-wait them!”  A play on words that doesn’t seem to help very much. 

Waiting is difficult.  In our age of instant gratification, we find it very hard to wait.  To try to avoid waiting, we have drive-in restaurants, drive-in cleaners, and drive-in pharmacies, all designed to get us what we want, when we want it.  Yet, we cannot avoid waiting. 

We wait for people to answer the phone.  We wait at traffic lights.  We wait to have our vehicles fixed.  We wait for babies to come and for suffering loved ones to die.  We wait in doctors' offices and for lab reports.  We wait at hospitals for news about how surgery has turned out.  We wait to hear from loved ones far away.  We wait for loved ones to arrive. 

Waiting is difficult.  We tend to be impatient, some more, some less.  One woman sensing her problem of impatience, prayed, "Lord, give me patience, and give it to me right now." 

Some years back I met a fellow who just hated to wait.  Waiting was a form of hell to him.  His teeth would clench, his face became red with apparent rising blood pressure.  Oh so quickly his perception of the situation narrowed, and his temper would erupt!  Lots of times he embarrassed his wife, his friends, and himself at the things he said and done when he had to wait. 

Several times a week I am forced to wait -- at supermarket checkout counters, on I-79 traffic snarls, at the bank, and sometimes at the gas station.  These daily waits can get to any of us if we’re not careful. 

Some situations of waiting are more ‘acute’ than others…the waiting of a childless couple for a child to come, the waiting of a single person for marriage to come or whatever is next, the waiting of the chronically ill for health or death, the waiting of those who are scarred, emotionally so, for peace, the waiting of those in dead-end jobs for a break-through, the waiting of unhappy marriages for something to ‘change for the better!’  One of the worst ‘waitings’ is for the lonely seeking solace to belong to somebody. 

Waiting is the common denominator of us all.  Some who are wealthy or perhaps in positions of authority can cut through some of the ‘red tape’ associated with waiting.  But for most of us, we just have to deal with the problems and the challenges of waiting.  Waiting is generally a negative experience, but there is one kind of waiting described in the Bible, which is good.  It is called waiting for God. 

The psalmist of old speaks of this kind of waiting -- waiting for the LORD:  "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope." (Psalm 130:5)  I invite you to read Psalm 130:5 as your memory verse for each day this week.  It will enrich your life. 

How does your soul ‘wait’ for the Lord?  Waiting for the Lord is rewarding. 

Waiting for the Lord means at least three things:  help, humility, and hope.  First, when we wait for the LORD, we realize our need for help with our sins and our suffering.  The context for waiting for the LORD in Psalm 130 is the realization of a need for help.  We do not know why, but we do know that the psalmist got in touch with his sin and realized what his iniquities were doing to separate him from God.  He saw his need for help with his offenses.  Whether it is our sins or our suffering, or both, our soul benefits from waiting for the Lord. 

In Psalm 130:1-4, the psalmist writes:  “Out of the depths I cry to thee, O LORD!  Lord, hear my voice!  Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!  If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” 

Have you ever experienced a sleepless night?  Have you ever experienced a sleepless night when troubles seem too many, fears are plentiful, and you feel so all alone?  Akin to the Psalmist we cry to the Lord from the depths of our souls.  There are those times in every person’s life where we become helpless.  It is hard to admit that we are helpless.  It is hard to admit that we have done wrong or that the suffering we’re enduring is just too overwhelming!  It is difficult to face the fact that we are out of control and that we need God, but that is the school of life in which we can learn the greatest lesson of all -- that God is willing to help us with our sins and with our sufferings.  The psalmist wrote of crying out to the Lord from the depths of his soul.  He learned a valuable spiritual lesson.  We sometimes have to discover that we are ‘out of control’ and learn to depend upon God.  That dependence is called waiting for the LORD. 

We don't know what suffering the psalmist was experiencing, but we know that he was suffering greatly.  Perhaps it was a cry for help from spiritual, psychological, and physical suffering which caused him to cry out for help, to cry out from the depths.  This is often the case with us as well.  We too need help with our sins and suffering.  But we need more.  If we just discover our helplessness, we will stay far short of the full meaning of waiting for the Lord.  We may wind up in the never-never land of hopelessness. 

Second, when we wait for the LORD, we have to learn humility.  Humility means turning from the realization of our helplessness to someone who is stronger than we are.  The psalmist puts it this way:  "My soul waits for the LORD." (Psalm 130:5) 

Several friends who are recovering alcoholics have told me that they did not start on the path to health until they confessed that they were helpless in their struggle against their illness and then turned to God for help.  That turn is possible because God turned to us through Jesus Christ. 

Saint Paul describes our need for discovering our helplessness and our need to depend on what Christ has done:  "While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." (Romans 5:6 RSV) 

Turning to Christ who died for us is an act of humility.  On the cross, Christ did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  He died for us to give us help while we are helpless.  He died to give us what we cannot accomplish, the forgiveness of our sins. 

Humility means not only realizing our helplessness, but also turning to someone higher than us to resolve our sin and suffering.  Just to realize our helplessness against sin and suffering may leave us in the never-never land of despair.  We must turn in humility to the One who can help us. 

Humility is not looking at ourselves poorly or lowly.  Humility is a clear view of oneself in relation to others and above all, to God. 

The Christian faith doesn’t ‘make sense’ to some.  For instance the Apostle Paul, having endured great suffering, shipwrecks, prison time, and severe rejection wrote of ‘rejoicing in our sufferings!’ 

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, RSV) 

Consider a further spiritual insight; When we ‘wait for the Lord’ something changes inside of us. God forges us into the person He wants us to be.  God’s timing for this change is not our timing.  When our soul waits, it's not just something we do until we gain what we want or hope for.  Waiting for the Lord is part of the process of becoming what we hope for. 

Waiting for the LORD means humbly trusting him for forgiveness and in times of suffering. 

Quite important, when we wait for the LORD, we discover the best thing for all:  hope.  Hope is what can happen when we realize we are helpless with our sins and suffering and then humbly turn our problems over to the LORD. 

Waiting for God means hope.  The psalmist says:  "In his word, I hope." (Psalm 130:5)  He also says, "O Israel, hope in the LORD!  For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption." (Psalm 130:7)  Waiting for the LORD means discovering God is redemption, which gives us hope. 

This kind of waiting with hope can result in renewal.  Isaiah 40:30-31 describes renewal and hope this way: “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” 

In our day of instant gratification where we don't want to wait for anything, it is good for us to learn to wait for the LORD and thus renew our strength and find the focus of our hope. 

Scriptures describe Jesus as “Light shining in darkness.” (John 1:5)  To the soul that waits for the Lord all things reveal themselves, provided they have the courage not to deny in the darkness what they have seen in the light. 

Remember this too: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow in helping, caring, redeeming, or reforming us.  REALIZE WHY the Lord is patient with YOU. “Because He is not wanting anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance.  The day of the Lord WILL come.” (2 Peter:3 ff) 

“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” (2 Peter 3:15a) 

There is a wisdom to waiting, a clear spiritual wisdom.  May we choose to be holy, living godly lives as we look forward to the day of the Lord. 

When someone tells you, “I cannot wait,’ smile inside of yourself knowing, “Yes, I can out wait them!”  My soul waits for the Lord!  Amen.

Grow To Know Faith 7/30/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 30, 2022 & Sunday, July 31, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: God our helper, by your Holy Spirit, open our minds, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may be led into your truth and taught your will, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Luke 12:13-21 (Page 1043) and Colossians 3:1-17 (Page 1184) 

Sermon Message: “Grow to Know Faith” 

Jesus Christ found himself in an awkward situation.  He was right in the midst of preaching to a very large crowd of people, and this guy just interrupts him.  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Jesus. 

Jesus, the Master, was preaching to a crowd of people instructing them to rely on the Holy Spirit in times of peril, and this guy just abruptly interrupts him.  It was common practice to take unsettled disputes to respected rabbis.  Jesus must have had that reputation.  However, there is a time and place for everything.  This man should make an appointment to discuss such a personal matter.  Instead, he interrupts the Master in mid-thought.  This behavior speaks volumes about him.  "Hey, Jesus, I really don't care to hear about the Holy Spirit.  I really don't care that there are thousands of other people listening to you.  I want you to drop everything and take care of my issue."  We all have encountered people like this.  They live in a world bounded on the north, south, east, and west by themselves. Perhaps the crowd just sighs, for this is not likely the first time this guy has complained about his brother and his inheritance.  Jesus, however, does not want to get sucked into the fellow’s family fight over the inheritance.  Few things are more dangerous than an outsider wading into another family's battle over money.  Wisely, Jesus sidesteps the guy's demand.  "Friend, who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you?"  Then the fellow sits down.  He is disappointed, but everyone knows he will continue to complain to anyone who will listen.  Jesus gets back the crowd’s attention by speaking of how material possessions do not ensure happiness.  Many things seem to be happening in this narrative.  Perhaps Jesus is asking the fellow and all of the crowd, and us, to grow to know faith.  Perhaps Jesus perceived the fellow’s problem to be with greed, not failure, to share on his brother’s part.  Perhaps he was a soul that just could not get enough. 

Jesus would sometimes ‘preach’ making use of parables; short stories with surprise endings that illustrate life’s principles.  Jesus tells the crowd a parable about a rich man whose farm yielded an abundant harvest.  Notice he did not build additional barns to store the abundant harvest.  Perhaps money was no object, so he tore down his existing barns to build bigger ones.  The farmer goes on to dream about a coming day when he will ‘take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.’  But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.” 

Sometimes we wait too long, work too hard, and prioritize the wrong things only to find out we lose our health, our family, our job, our career, or even our lives. How do you wish to be remembered?

Years ago, after officiating a funeral service, this one guy spoke to me afterwards, sharing his rather ‘unique’ story.  It seems that back then someone misunderstood what had happened to him in an automobile crash, and somehow an obituary notice came out regarding him.  Even though he was still very much alive! He read his own obituary and was saddened by how he was ‘not’ remembered.  Sad but true. His story brings to mind another true story, that of Alfred Nobel.  Alfred was a famous Swedish scientist born in 1833.  Quite a gifted man intellectually so.  By the time he was 15, he could read, write, and speak four languages besides his native Swedish.  Alfred Nobel discovered a functional use for nitroglycerin, which led to the development of dynamite.  He became both rich and famous from this discovery, and he also found an abundance of oil on his land that he was able to sale at quite a profit. Alfred Nobel was one of the richest men in the world.  Akin to the fellow in Jesus’ parable, Alfred Nobel thought to himself, he could sit back, relax, and enjoy life.  Alfred's serenity came to an abrupt halt one day when he picked up the morning paper and read the headline, "Dynamite King Dies."  The story was about him.  That story, plus the accompanying obituary in the paper were erroneous, for he was very much alive and well.  Nobel decided to read the article, however, in order to know what people would think of him after his death.  Besides all the normal facts and dates of an obituary, he read a description which labeled him "the merchant of death."  The expression disturbed the scientist greatly.  Certainly, the comment came in reference to his association with dynamite, but this did not lighten the blow.  Nobel realized at that moment that the life he had led was not one for which he wanted to be remembered.  He could not change the past, but with God’s help and guidance, he certainly could change the future.  He changed his Will leaving his vast fortune to a committee which each year would select people who, in theory and in practice, had made positive contributions to the furthering of humankind.  Among those annual awards is the famous Nobel Peace Prize. 

Is the life you lead one for which you want to be remembered?  Do you know who you are, or is life more a masquerade?  Do you understand how much you have, or are you never satisfied with what life provides?  

Death is not mentioned as a punishment for greed in today’s scripture lesson as told by Jesus.  

The life of Alfred Nobel and the surprise, yet inaccurate, announcement of his death in the daily newspaper raised heart-searching questions for him.  We can read in the Bible ‘instances’ of people, even entire groups of people, who never thoughtfully reviewed their life nor how they might want to be remembered.  This ‘review’ should be an on-going process each of us has with God. 

Some folks end up ‘reviewing’ when it’s entirely too late.  Even as Jesus stated, your life or my own might be required of us today.  Jesus is not warning us that we are going to be punished with death.  Instead, he inquires of us to ‘think things through’ and grow to know death can happen to any of us at any time.  It certainly will happen to all of us sometime. 

Jesus teaches the fellow who interrupted him that greed can lead to idolatry among other things.  We all need to grow in faith to understand and implement the teachings of Jesus Christ in our lives.  

Christianity is a religion of faith.  This ‘faith’ we refer to is not something just automatically poured into us.  We have to grow, continually so, to know faith. 

Bluntly, the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, informs us that we NEED to put to death some things.  Things such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed.  He further writes, “Because of these things the wrath of God is coming.”  Faith keeps us informed.  Faith helps us to grow.  Faith further warns us of what might be coming if we choose to do wrong things in this life.  

Death is not referenced only as a physical event in the Bible.  We can become ‘dead in sin’ that separates us from God and one another.  We can become ‘dead in our sinfulness.’  We can become so very busy in our self-established priorities that we end up forfeiting love, life, and enjoyment with our family, our friends, and our church.  

Scriptures teach us to “die to our sinful, earthly nature and set our minds on things above.”  Put our faith into action.  As we grow to know ‘faith’, we are further required to rid ourselves of such things as anger, rage, hatred, slander, and filthy language.  Do not lie to each other.  You are a Christian.  ACT LIKE IT! 

Because you and I have grown to know faith, we are new, different, and hopefully ‘better’ in how we represent Jesus and care for others, not only ourselves. 

Do keep some ‘reminders’ to help you as you grow to know faith. The apostle Paul speaks of his having a ‘thorn in his flesh’ that kept reminding him to grow in faith while remaining humble in the same.  Some scholars think that perhaps Paul’s ‘thorn in his flesh’ was some type of eye fungus that appeared from time to time. 

Choose to deliberately keep something that reminds you of what has caused you to grow to know faith. 

In my garage at home there hangs in one corner a very old, ragged, and musty coat.  Years ago it was given to me by a man who stepped into my life when I needed a father and a friend the most.  He encouraged me in the faith.  He pushed me to grow to know how to apply faith into my life, my job, and especially so within my family.  For a lot of years that coat served me well as something practical to be worn when I went anywhere.  Eventually it wore out, and I outgrew it.  But I just knew I wanted to hang onto it.  Once or twice a year, when no one is around, I grab that old coat and dust it off with my hands.  I can’t get it on any longer and have begun to realize that it is falling apart.  Patty suggested I throw it out for it’s not even a candidate for Goodwill or St. Vincent DePaul.  That old coat remains one of my greater treasures for it keeps my heart and soul humble with appreciation for love, friendship, encouragement, and care bestowed upon me by those who did not ‘have to.’  

Faith is a choice we all make.  God gives us free will to choose.  He also touches our hearts in oh so many ways.  As Jesus was teaching the crowds so long ago to rely upon the Holy Spirit, he teaches us still to do the same. 

As you pray to God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ask for the divine favor and blessing of growing to know faith in all its completeness and practicality for life here and in the hereafter.  Pray, not always seeking more, but pray seeking to thank God for what you have.  Grow to know faith by recognizing and sharing your blessings instead of demanding more and more. 

I found this illustration that just might help: some children were assisting their father who was a junk or should I say ‘scrap’ collector. In this one woman’s large yard there were a few items that quite possibly could have been items donated for scrap.  They rang the doorbell, and this distinguished, elderly lady answered the door.  Politely they introduced themselves, and she invited them in for some warm hot chocolate and shared with them a plate full of cookies.  Their father waited patiently, trusting all was going well.  Quickly the hungry kids ate and drank. Then in amazement the little girl says, “Wow, are you rich lady?”  The lady replied, “No, just comfortable.  Why do you think I am rich?”  “Because” said the little girl, “your cups and saucers for our hot chocolate match!” 

My dear friends, as we grow to know faith, stop and consider what we do have and how we shall share our blessings with others so that we will be favorably remembered on earth and in God’s heaven. 

Some very basic ways we can incorporate inside of us to grow to know faith are pointed out in today’s scriptures:  “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.” 

Grow to know faith.  May we be remembered for our faith and for our love.  Amen.

Unanswered Prayer 7/23/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 23, 2022 & Sunday, July 24, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 121 (Page 616) & Luke 11:1-13 (Page 1041) 

Sermon Message:  “Unanswered Prayer” 

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13) 

God is portrayed as a loving Father in heaven who cares for us.  We may also understand from today’s scriptures that our heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers. 

I cannot remember when I first became a Christian.  Some can, but I cannot.  I’ve always been a ‘Christian.’  I’ve always been acquainted with God and grew to know and well appreciate that God’s hand is upon me.  I’d go so far as to say God and I have always been ‘on speaking terms.’  Yet there are times when it really seems as though my prayers are unanswered.  Perhaps you’ve experienced ‘unanswered prayers.’ 

Across the years there have been some precious ‘insights’ as to why God does not answer our prayers.  Some time ago, a Sunday School class was discussing unanswered prayer.  The folks were discussing and sharing their thoughts; simple basic wisdom. One fellow says, “I believe God answers every prayer.”  A second fellow quickly concluded, “Sometimes the answer is ‘no!’  As a pastor, I’ve also seen where God seems to be saying “Wait” OR “I’ve got something better in mind” OR “Chill!”  Along the way I can’t help but think that God must sometimes scratch his head and say, “Are you out of your mind?” 

I do know that God is loving.  He cares.  There are some reasons, or should I say ‘insights’ as to ‘why’ prayers are sometimes unanswered. 

Lots of folks like to blame God for unanswered prayers. 

I spoke with a fellow regarding some very heavy grief he was experiencing.  Also, his wife and their daughter were so saddened.  Their dog died.  He was the family pet, companion, innocent love, and enduring guardian for the family.  The guy just could not, would not, be comforted.  He just could not understand why God did not answer their prayers for their dog to live.  Our first conversation entailed mostly listening and offering a brief prayer.  The next day I at least was able to learn the doggie’s name. A few days later he was able to answer my inquiry as to how old their dog was….17.  A small dog which, in actuality, lived significantly longer than most dogs of this breed.  But the guy kept insisting on his grief, as well as, his proclamation that he just could not understand why God ‘took his dog from him!’ 

Eventually our conversation included some basic insights into the ‘course of nature’ which teaches us we all have a limited lifespan on this earth, even our pets.  Further insight involved a beginning awareness that a loving God did not wish for this precious, innocent animal, their beloved pet, to suffer.  So instead of viewing the situation as though God ‘took their pet’ from them, we began to agree that God lovingly welcomed home an aging, suffering pet. 

I’ve seen scenarios where the innocent dies young.  The good person suffers.  Accidents occur.  Violence hurts.  I’ve been called and privileged to walk beside folks whose lives were literally turned upside down, and there were no thoughts of awareness as to why somebody’s prayer, somewhere seemed to have gone unanswered. 

I’ve learned in my walk with God not to demand answers but to seek them.  I’ve learned to trust in Jesus.  I KNOW that God is far wiser than am I.  Mostly I continue to grow to know God holds me, God holds US, in His hands. 

Yet there are some significant ‘insights’ we can ‘think about’ today as to why God may not answer our prayers. 

James 4:3 informs us that we sometimes do not receive because we ask with wrong motives. Folks, it’s wrong to ask God to strike someone down because we had a fight with them OR because somebody has something we want. God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. 

Within today’s scripture lesson from Luke 11, Jesus teaches, he informs us, that sometimes we don’t receive because we don’t ask.  Some folks think God should just bless them regardless.  God wants to hear from us.  God desires for us to ask; then we will receive.  Our relationship is not to be ‘assumed.’  

Think of it this way also: IF prayers are answered because we are obedient and do what is pleasing in God’s sight, then it stands to reason those prayers will not be answered if we are disobedient and do NOT do what is pleasing in God’s sight. (1 John 3:22) 

If God hears us when we pray according to His will, then He does not hear us when we ask things contrary to His will. (1 John 5:14) 

Throughout my life of faith, I have learned a lot about unanswered prayers.  In my life I personally remember God using unanswered prayers to make me more like Christ and to build spiritual growth.  Some prayers He answered at the last minute to build my faith and trust in Him.  Follow Jesus’ advice to keep on praying.  Sometimes we get discouraged because He doesn’t answer right away, but continually knock on His door.  God knows what is best.  Never lose hope and always seek God’s will and not your own. 

God’s will is about the advancement of His kingdom, not necessarily just OUR agenda. 

Matthew 6:33 - “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” 

Proverbs 16:2 - “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” 

Proverbs 21:2 - “A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.” 

Sin separates us from God.  Some sin is unconfessed.  Some sin is a continuing rebellion against God and His wisdom. 

1 Peter 3:12 - “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers.  But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.” 

Folks, it’s simply wrong to think only about me, myself, and I.  There are needy throughout our world.  Sometimes we close our ears to the needy. 

Proverbs 21:13 - “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” 

God is not a ‘convenience peace’ in our lives.  Perhaps you are not having fellowship with the Lord. Maybe your prayer life is non-existent, and you never spend time in His Word.  

John 15:7 - “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” 

Quite possibly your prayers are not being answered because the Lord is protecting you from danger that you do not see coming. 

Psalm 121:7 - “The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life.” 

Doubting is never a good thing when it comes to prayer.   

James 1:6 - “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” 

Jesus instructs us to “ask and we will receive.  Seek and we shall find.  Knock and the door will be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9,10) 

On the other hand, there are times when God doesn’t answer so we can grow in humility.    

James 4:10 - “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” 

Truth be told, there are times God doesn’t answer because of our pride.   

James 4:6 - “He gives us more grace.  God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 

Some folks just pray for attention. Those prayers tend to go unanswered. 

Matthew 6:5 - “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.  I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.” 

Sometimes we ‘give up’ on God.  You must persevere.  

1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 - “Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  

Galatians 6:9 - “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Luke 18:1 - “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” 

Lack of faith contributes to unanswered prayers as well.  

Hebrews 11:6 - “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” 

Jesus made a ‘Big Deal’ out of forgiveness.  If you won’t forgive others, you make it hard for God to forgive you, hear you, and answer you. 

Mark 11:25-26 - “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” 

Sometimes God says no or not yet.  Sometimes too the good Lord is making you rely and trust in Him more.  

Proverbs 3:5-6 - “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”   

Our awesome Lord is in control and God has something better for you.  

Romans 8:28 - “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  

Jeremiah 29:11 - “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

1 Peter 3:7 - teaches us that we are not supposed to treat our spouses badly for we are heirs together of the grace of life.  “Give honor to your spouse that your prayers may not be hindered.” 

When you pray, WAIT for God’s timing.  

Isaiah 55:8 - “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 - “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.  What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” 

Amen.

Humbled By Grace 7/16/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 16, 2022 & Sunday, July 17, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Philippians 2:1-11(Page 1179) and John 3:16, 17 (Page 1065) 

SERMON MESSAGE:  “Humbled By Grace” 

The hymn is entitled ‘Amazing Grace’ for a reason.  The man who wrote this familiar and long-loved hymn experienced God’s grace in SUCH an amazing way, it humbled him.  The fellow’s name was John Newton.  Though he was brought up in the church as a child, he became a calloused man full of anger, pain, and uncertainty.  Because of that, he experienced many troubles. 

At one time, John Newton was a commander of a slave ship.  He would anchor his ship off the coast of Africa and pack it with slaves.  They were ruthlessly chained side by side, row after row, one after another, just like a can of sardines.  Many slaves died on the long voyages and were thrown overboard for the fish to eat. 

During a raging storm at sea, John Newton finally gave his life to Jesus Christ.  Over the next few years, God brought people across his life in order to disciple him.  He later became one of Britain’s most powerful evangelists.  Feeling guilty about his past slavery involvement, he triumphantly fought against the slave trade.  He wrote many hymns during his ministry years, but the one that became most notable was ‘Amazing Grace.’ 

Have you ever been humbled by grace?  God’s grace can occur in lots of differing ways. 

There is a Common Grace we receive.  If you have ever seen a beautiful sunrise or sunset that seemed to have ‘taken your breath away’, perhaps your mind felt humbled by a common grace God gives to all people.  Matthew 5:45 declares, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” 

God loves everyone.  So, there is a common grace that He gives all people whether they acknowledge Him or not.  ALL people can become humbled by the many means of God’s common grace. 

I suspect John Newton, who authored the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, experienced Saving Grace.  This is different from Common Grace.  Scriptures record, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)  By His saving grace, God has paid the ransom for everyone who will receive His gift of salvation.  This alone is overwhelming and quite humbling.  I pray you have been blessed to know individuals who came to know and experience Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Their lives are changed.  What occurs is incredible.  If you experience ‘Saving Grace’, your heart is humbled, and you truly do become a ‘new person.’  We must pray for more and more people to become aware of who God is, know Jesus, and receive Him into their lives and within their hearts as Lord and Savior.  Jesus is for real.  Jesus Christ is God’s grace embodied for all to experience.  Two verses of scripture I ask you to incorporate into your life and share with others: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Do recall this scripture verse from time to time and share it with others.  The other verse of scripture I ask you to ‘remember.’ John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”  Grace that is humbling. 

Not all ‘salvation experiences’ take place inside the church.  I think I’ve shared with you all before regarding my father, God rest His soul.  My Dad was a rough alcoholic.  While many condemned my father, God sought him out.  He experienced God’s Saving Grace at an AA meeting.  I thank God that he did. 

A ‘church term’ that not everyone is familiar with is ‘sanctification.’  In essence this means to make something better, holy, pure, separate from the rest of the world.  After affirming God in your life and asking Jesus into your heart, God begins to work with you to make your life better, purer, and changed for the good.  When God has His hand upon you, things begin to change.  This ‘change’ - this grace - is so good it is humbling. 

At a former church I served, this fellow and his wife were pretty faithful attenders.  Truth be told their steady attendance was a bit ‘challenging’ to lots of the folks in that church for HE was a constant criticizer.  He criticized the building, the choir, and the deacons when they served a meal, how others dressed when they came to church.  He criticized how warm or cold it was in that sanctuary.  He criticized everyone from the humblest Sunday School teacher and custodial staff on through the membership and of course, the pastor.  We had more than one ‘Come to Jesus Meeting.’ 

Suddenly both he and his wife were just ‘gone.’  Several of us tried calling but could only get so far as their answering machine.  They were not even seen in the neighborhood grocery store.  One day, while working in my church office, I received a phone call.  That same fellow asked, quite humbly so, if he could please come by and ‘talk’ for just a bit.  Somewhat reluctantly I remember saying, “Yes.” 

For the better part of two years, he had been unraveling his family, his marriage, their finances, and even his health due to on-going, untreated alcoholism.  To make a long story short, he knew he needed to make amends with a lot of people before his life and redemption could go on.  For the next two years, right up to his passing, he was a model Christian and truly did bring his family to see and experience how God can ‘sanctify’ a soul that is willing to be helped.  Our church family was amazed by the lasting change in that man’s life. 

Everyone needs to make some change to improve things in their lives and in their walk with God and among others.  This is where we have to choose of our own free will to not only ‘change’ but also learn to ‘obey’ God in our lives. 

You play a part in your purification through obedience, but ultimately you have to count on His sanctifying grace and know that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6)  Perhaps God has ‘laid it upon your heart,’ ‘inspired’ you to swear less, take better care of your body, rest better, be kinder, or do some good for another.  If you have seen any of this happen in your own life, then you’ve been humbled by grace. 

It seems that every ‘now and then’ something ‘good’ comes our way, often times unexpected.  This is God’s provisional grace.  I trust you have seen where God takes care of all our needs.  Maybe not our ‘wants’ but certainly our sincerest ‘needs.’  Sometimes when we are driving, those ‘instances’ occur whereby we know if not for the grace of God, we could have hit something or someone, caused an accident, or been harmed.  At other times folks have shared with me they received money unexpectedly, just when they truly needed it.  Possibly a phone call or an email message comes from a friend or family member just when most appreciated.  The point being, God has a way of providing for all of our needs.  He alone can cause all things to work together for the good.  In the Book of James 1:17 it is recorded, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  When you get a better job or an unexpected gift, count it as grace from God.  Such grace, when it comes, is humbling. 

Have you ever paid much attention to miracles in your life?  Actually, they are ‘all around’ and do occur often.  

Each day is a miracle.  The abilities to love and be loved are further miracles.  Every time a prayer is answered, that’s a miracle.  We associate ‘miracles’ sometimes with dramatic occurrences.  But most everyday miracles are quiet, perhaps private, and thus become sacred to the person receiving them.  I am sure each of us could spend some time in reflection and humbly realize some everyday miracles of God’s grace moving in our lives. 

Through His grace, God still does miraculous things every day.  He doesn’t have to do this.  He does it because He is full of grace. 

God supplies us with serving grace.  Every believer is freely given spiritual gifts to serve others and bolster their faith.  1 Peter 4:10 tells us, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  We each receive serving grace.  The grace to serve others.  Sometimes we don’t act on grace or from grace.  There are times in everyone’s life where we act upon pride instead of grace for ourselves and unto others.  

A funny story: A computer whiz, a minister, and a Boy Scout were the only passengers on a small commuter plane when suddenly, the pilot rushed back into the cabin and told them there was a mechanical problem, and that the plane was losing altitude.  He opened the storage compartment and discovered that it contained only three parachutes, meaning that they were one short.  Then he quickly announced, “One of them needs to be mine, so I can tell the investigators what happened and prevent future problems with this model aircraft.”  Having said that, he took a parachute, opened the door, and jumped. 

The computer whiz said, “I should also have one of the parachutes, since I’m probably the smartest man alive, and the world needs my brilliance.”  So, he quickly grabbed one, opened the door, and jumped out. 

The minister turned to the Boy Scout, and with some sadness in his voice said, “Son, I’ve lived a rich life, but you’re still young and have your whole future ahead of you.  You take the last parachute.  I’ll go down with the plane.  I’m ready to meet my Maker.” 

But the Boy Scout answered, “It’s okay, Reverend.  The genius just took my backpack.” 

Humility is God consciousness.  Pride is self-consciousness.  All sin begins with pride. 

True humility is God-consciousness.  Pride is self-consciousness, and it begins as you take the eyes of your heart off of God and begin to look to yourself.  All sin comes from deception, and pride is the beginning of deception.  Pride can begin unnoticed as a subtle distraction that causes you to take your eyes off God and begin to focus on something else.  As the eyes of your heart lose focus on God, your imagination begins to wander into scenarios that trigger emotions, and soon your mind is on a journey of introspection, which does not include God.  Pride is when you consciously or unconsciously begin to believe that the universe revolves around you.  This can lead to any type of deception followed by sin. 

Humility keeps you focused on God and His ways.  Humility helps you see the big picture, which is that the universe is vast and revolves around God.  This gives you a more accurate perspective and helps you keep your confidence and trust in God as you look to Him and depend on Him for everything. 

The greatest grace God has given us is Jesus Christ.  Stay close; stay very close to Jesus and follow His examples.  He chose to be a servant.  He obeyed His heavenly Father, even unto death. 

God’s grace is available and is even being ‘presented’ to us each day, every day, in many forms.  Pay attention to grace.  It’s so good, it is humbling.  Amen.

You Reap What You Sow 7/9/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 9, 2022 & Sunday, July 10, 2022 

COMMUNION SUNDAY 

Prayer For Illumination: Since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Luke 6:37-38 (Page 1033) & Galatians 6:7-10 (Page 1171) 

Sermon Title: “You Reap What You Sow” 

"You reap what you sow" is a proverb that says future consequences are inevitably shaped by present actions.  ‘Proverbs’ are sometimes best explained and better understood with illustrations; life examples. 

A very young boy had a special place all his own.  It was up in a very old fruit tree in the middle of his back yard.  That tree had long branches and plenty of leaves, but it had not produced any fruit in years.  Way up in the branches there was this perfect spot for a little boy to sit and dream away the hours. 

Up in that tree he was a space ship commander, traveling to galaxies unknown; he was Tarzan, living in a jungle; he was a philosopher solving the riddles of the ages.  He didn’t just go there to play.  He also went there when he felt mistreated or misunderstood, or just when he felt like being alone.  Little boys sometimes feel that way.  It was his hideaway.  His ‘special’ place. 

You can probably imagine how he felt when he heard his father telling his mother that he was thinking about cutting down that old tree since it had not produced any fruit for years. 

The little guy was ‘up against it!’  IF he told his father not to cut the tree and told him WHY, then his secret hideaway would not be a secret any more.  So, he came up with this wonderful plan.  There were a number of apple trees nearby in a field.  He and his best friend got a whole bushel basket full of apples.  That evening while his parents were busy inside, he and his best buddy climbed the tree and tied the stems of the apples to almost every limb on that old fruit tree. 

The next morning his father went out and looked at the old tree and was amazed to see that it had big fat apples.  The little boy was so anxious to hear his father’s reaction.  His father came back into the house and said to his mother, “You aren’t going to believe this, but a miracle took place last night.  That old fruit tree is full of apples.  There are fat juicy apples on almost every branch.” 

His wife said, “That’s remarkable!”  “Yes,” the father said, “and it is even more remarkable because that’s not an apple tree.  It’s a pear tree.”

Apple trees don’t produce pears.  When you sow apple seeds, you expect apples.  When you sow pear seeds, you expect pears.  When you sow wheat, you expect wheat because we learned a long time ago that what you sow is what you reap. 

Sometimes teenagers ‘come into their own’ and truly believe they have found a ‘unique’ and ‘better’ way than most adults.  Within every culture there arises a time when youth, transitioning into adulthood, must spread their wings, try flying, so to speak, and become their ‘own person.’  I think we all at one time or another sought to ‘sow our wild oats.’  A wise man told me during my adolescent years, “you can’t sow wild oats and expect to reap Quaker oats!”

Charles Reade, an English Novelist and dramatist back in the 1800’s, was known to have said, “You sow a thought and you reap a deed.  You sow a deed and you reap a habit.  You sow a habit and you reap a character.  You sow a character and you reap a destiny.” 

The better religion is that which is ‘lived’ in our lives and throughout our life choices.  Our religion reveals what we sow and evidences what we reap.  ‘Religion’ must be ‘real’ or it becomes a deception instead of a way, a good and wholesome, healthy way of life.  We may deceive others, even ourselves, but we cannot deceive God.  For God sees into the heart and soul of each person.  Since God cannot be deceived, He certainly will not be mocked. 

You reap what you sow is more than a nice proverb for us to ‘think about.’  This remains a divine imperative.  Even Jesus Christ teaches this spiritual truth through varied examples. Jesus told us “Not to judge and we will not be judged.  Not to condemn and we will not be condemned.  Forgive and we will be forgiven.  Give and it will be given back to you.  A good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 

Notice we ask for ourselves in proportion to what we give to others.  We ask God to forgive us our wrongs even if we don’t deserve it just as we forgave our brother his wrongs even though he may not deserve it. 

In the same way, when we sow the grace of giving to others, we will reap a harvest of gifts from God.  If you sow charity, you will reap charity.  If you don’t reap charity on earth, you definitely will reap it in heaven. 

People sometimes say to me, in a very sad way, ‘families’ aren’t what they used to be.  No, they are not.  Families are evolving.  Yet families remain the basis for how we live, interact in the world, love, and grow. 

It remains within the family that we learn how to ‘get along’ with others.  

Jesus’ teaching to not judge others so we won’t be judged, don’t condemn others so we won’t be condemned, forgive and we will be forgiven, begins at home with the family.

A young couple had been married for a while and decided they would like to visit and ‘get to know’ each other’s extended families.  They were sadly amazed when they visited some of their extended family.  They found that whoever they were visiting readily ‘put down,’ ‘judged,’ and ‘condemned’ other family members who lived a distance away.  Eventually they saw what this led to. Each family became more isolated from other relatives.  There were less ‘visits’ between families, some episodes of hurt and degrees of stress, when it came time to deal with ‘family matters’ such as funerals, milestone birthdays, and anniversaries.  If you sow judgment, you will reap judgment. 

It's true, we really do reap what we sow.  You do not plant beans and expect beets.  The truth is equally applicable to the spiritual realm.  You cannot sow apathy in spiritual matters and expect to reap depth of resource to draw; anger and expect to reap peace; impatience and expect to reap perseverance; covetous and expect to reap content. 

Do not be deceived - God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. 

On the other hand, God teaches us what we ‘should’ sow, what we ‘must’ sow in order for us to reap benefits for life, for love, and for eternity. 

A farmer was asked how many bushels of seed corn does it take to plant one acre.  The farmer replied, “Less than a half bushel.”  He was further asked how many bushels of corn did he expect to harvest from each acre, on average.  The farmer replied, “170.” 

You will always harvest way more than you sow.  It takes less than half a bushel to plant an acre, really, one bushel will plant 2.5 acres.  Now, the farmer expects an average of 170 bushels per acre.  That means for every bushel of seed planted, he’ll see a return of over 400 bushels.  For every single seed planted, he’ll get 400 back.  You see, the great principle of sowing & reaping not only tells us that we will reap what we sow, but also that we will reap more, much, much more than we sow.  Our actions will have huge consequences to come, good or bad, 400-fold. 

And that is what Paul reminds us of today.  He writes, "Do not be deceived."  How many of us are deceived this morning?  How many of us are fooling ourselves into thinking that what we do doesn’t matter?  How many of us are fooling ourselves into thinking we don’t have to do anything?  Paul continues, “A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”  And as we were reminded this morning, not only will we reap what we sow, but we will reap it 400-fold.

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

Brothers and sisters, what we do today will have a huge effect on the future.  What you do in your lives will have a huge effect on your life.  What we do now, as a church, will have huge effects on the future of Coraopolis Presbyterian.  With that in mind go forth and live your life with a farmer’s mentality.  Live your life like you are planting seeds every day with the harvest in mind.  Live your life like you are planting seeds on purpose, with the future always in mind.  Live your life as the apostle Paul challenges us today, not hesitating to do goodness. 

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Freedom of Those Who Hope In The Lord 7/2/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 2, 2022 & Sunday, July 3, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: In his own hometown Jesus could do no miracle because they did not believe in him.  Lord, protect us from the familiarity that turns the scriptures into nothing more than words.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 40:28-31 (Page 720) and Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (Page 1171) 

Sermon Title: Freedom of Those Who Hope In The Lord 

The 4th of July is celebrated here in the United States as ‘Independence Day!’  This is the day that we acknowledge the signing of that renowned article that set into motion the founding of this great country of ours, a country based on freedom. 

One legend declares that when the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was being signed, John Hancock, one of the biggest signatures, was supposed to have said:  “Gentlemen we must be unanimous; we must all hang together.” 

After hearing this, Benjamin Franklin supposedly replied, "We must indeed all hang together -- or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." 

Those signers of the Declaration, plus their families, could have well faced great personal loss by committing themselves to the Declaration of Independence. 

These next few days within many of our communities we shall see and hear fireworks celebrations affirming our 4th of July holiday. 

My wife and I live in Robinson.  Seventeen years ago when we first purchased our house, from our back yard we had this awesome panoramic view spanning McKees Rocks, Ohio Valley Hospital, downtown Pittsburgh, Greentree, and even parts of Bridgeville.  I recall counting some 22 plus fireworks displays taking place at the same time as I observed from our back yard. The small pine and pear trees planted all those years ago by our neighboring condominium association have long since grown and obliterated most of our previous panoramic view.  On a personal note, that has felt like the loss of some of our ‘freedom.’ 

‘Freedom’ is an everyday word.  Mostly we say it without thinking.  When we hear about it in the world-wide news reports, it typically indicates some sort of severe loss between countries, peoples, and peaceful lifestyles.  ‘Loss’ of freedom is occurring in Ukraine right now. 

‘Freedom’ is more than just a word.  It is a whole philosophy, a way of life, and a thought process.  A small word containing just seven letters, yet huge in its concept and meaning.  Freedom is a noble word.  Our nation bears many memories of freedom worth dying for.  For better or for worse, we all seem to have our own concept of what freedom is and isn't.

For those who seem to have enough of anything and everything that money can buy and a desire to protect it, freedom means:  "Leave us alone." 

For those who don't have enough and desire the opportunity to better themselves, freedom takes on new meaning.  It means:  "Give us a chance." 

Then there are those who don't have enough and don't want the opportunity to better themselves; they just want anything and everything that money can buy.  For them freedom means, "Give me what you've got."  Freedom can be interpreted to mean all kinds of things. 

Today’s scripture lesson found in the Apostle Paul’s writing might be deemed the ‘Declaration of DEPENDENCE.’  Paul talks about freedom, but is saying true freedom comes from faith in Christ.  Paul asserts that apart from Christ, we cannot really know true freedom.  Paradoxically, freedom comes through giving oneself to Christ.  Once we give ourselves to Christ, then we are called upon and empowered to live the Christian life.  Here, Paul reminds us of both the Christian life, a "life in the Spirit," and its alternative, "life in the flesh." 

He cautions us and says, "For freedom Christ has set us free" (5:1).  And then he reminds us not to let our freedom become "an opportunity for self-indulgence" (5:13) by giving us this long list of attitudes and actions to avoid.  Sexual immorality, impurity and overindulgence, idol worship, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. 

That’s a whole lot of things to be freed ‘from’ in this life.  God doesn’t want us to be a part of these things.  Nor are we to become slaves to these sins.  Sin compromises life, peace, our souls, and our eternal destination. 

Freedom does NOT mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want.  Nor does it mean we can have all that we want whenever we want. God reminds us there remains some ‘do’s and don’ts’. 

A discussion was occurring at an elementary camp one summer.  They were discussing with their leader the purpose God has for everything He has created.  Obvious insights came regarding why God created clouds and trees, rocks, rivers, animals, and just about everything else in nature.  One of the children asked ‘why’ God created poison ivy?  IF God has a good reason for everything. As you might imagine, the leader of the group was kind of at a loss for words.  One of the other kids offered an insightful answer by saying, “God wanted us to know there are certain things you should just keep your cotton-pickin’ hands off.”  So, it is today’s scripture lesson that provides us at least a partial list of certain things we should keep our cotton-pickin’ hands off if we are to be free from sin and adversity. 

As we put our hope in God above and Jesus within, please remember and reflect upon that which we have been freed ‘from.’

While God’s Word to us today reveals things we should avoid, I pray you and I readily perceive where these very same scriptures are more concerned about faith and about "life in the Spirit."  If we accept that "freedom comes from faith in Christ," then we must also accept that our faith does more than just bring freedom.  Part of freedom and part of faith is bearing fruit. 

The Apostle Paul gives a list of the spiritual fruit we should bear.  He says, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."  Paul reminds us that this is not a list of fruit that we have to try to produce all by ourselves.  Through our faith in Christ and living for Christ, we can have the guidance and the power of God's Holy Spirit to help us bear the fruit of the Spirit. 

Freedom is sweet for those who put their hope in the Lord.  

I shall always enjoy ‘coming to church.’  When I ‘come to church,’ I know I am with people who strive to know God and love others.  I have always enjoyed being around people who care and share. 

I don’t want to be nor become that type of person that wants to be left alone because others may be trying to take things from me.  I enjoy the freedom of being a Christian and living in a Christian environment and nurturing Christian friendships.  Even as God proclaims, “Come let us reason together,” (Isaiah 1:18) so it is we who put our hope in the Lord and are freed to reason together in love instead of hate, in joy instead of strife, with peace instead of unrest and confusion, through abiding patience instead of resolute anger, with kindness instead of agitation.  It’s good to be ‘good people.’  I admire and respect gentleness over harshness. Christianity has taught us many powerful and highly beneficial lessons on self-control as well. 

Freedom for us is not only a celebration of our nation’s freedom from tyranny.  Our freedom becomes a way of life, the Christian life embraced by many throughout the world.  

The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States affirms we are “endowed by our Creator to certain unalienable rights.  Among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  When Jesus walked upon this earth, he declared that he had come from God to give us life, abundantly.  Jesus did not come just for a select few, but for many and for all.  Jesus reminds us still that what we have done to the least of our brothers and sisters we have done unto Him. For those around the corner or around the world who don't have enough and desire the opportunity to better themselves, freedom takes on new meaning.  It means:  "Give us a chance."  People looking for ‘a chance’ place their hope in God.  Clearly the Bible warns that when we indulge instead in what we want even if it costs others plenty, then everyone’s freedom gets compromised. 

How very unfortunate it is to see a war occurring in a land that did not provoke such atrocities.  How scary and sad it remains to see the increasing need for firmer and stricter security measures in our churches, our homes, our workplaces, even where we shop because of those who feel so very entitled to take, to hurt, to negatively impact others merely because they were not fulfilled as they demanded. 

I wish I could say we are all perfect people living within an imperfect world.  Yet we readily know this is not the case.  Any of us can and sometimes do commit sin of some sort that negatively impacts others, sometimes whole groups of others. 

Choose this day and for all of your tomorrows to affirm and respect our Declaration of Dependence that comes from faith in Christ and response to our hope in God. 

I like knowing that God carries me, many times beyond myself and my scope of knowing and doing.  I like knowing that the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  Though you and I may grow tired and weary from our own life’s misgivings, as well as from the events of this world, God’s understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Young people may grow tired and weary, some will even stumble and fall.  

Oh, but for those who hope in the Lord, God says He shall renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint. 

The bald eagle became a national symbol in 1782 when Congress decided it would be represented on the Great Seal of the United States.  It was chosen because it represents strength, courage, and freedom. 

Our nation became great because we put our hope in the Lord.  Salvation from war, strife, economic and political unrest but also from so much recurring violence needs to be addressed from how we put our hope in the Lord. 

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Amen.

Follow Jesus 6/25/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 25, 2022 & Sunday, June 26, 2022 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your Word.  Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSON:  Luke 9:51-62 (Page 1039) 

SERMON MESSAGE:  “Follow Jesus” 

When we think of people choosing to follow Jesus, our familiar thoughts may be of Jesus’ calling those early disciples, who dropped everything they were doing in life, and immediately began going along with Jesus.  Today’s scriptures inform us that’s not always how it happens, not for us, nor for Jesus. 

Things were changing in the world back then.  Things were changing in Jesus’ life.  He knew he’d be called home to heaven soon, so it was he became ‘resolved’ in his movements and last endeavors.  For three years folks had chosen to respond to him affirmatively, and many did become followers.  Faithful followers. 

But now some of those same people he had helped began to reject him.  Jesus was kind, caring, accepting, and helping of the Samaritans, but now they would not welcome him or his disciples into their village.  The ‘church’ back then was a temple.  The devout Jews worshiped God in the Jerusalem temple.  The devout Samaritans worshipped God on Mount Gerizim near Sychar.  Because Jesus was going to the Jerusalem Temple, the Samaritans rejected him and would not welcome Jesus or his band of disciples to stay in their village.  Seeing they were ungrateful, two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, wanted to call down fire from heaven and destroy them.  Perhaps James and John felt as though there was just ‘no excuse’ for their behavior.  Notice what Jesus does and does NOT do when rejected. He does NOT get even with those rejecting him nor does he allow his supporters to get even with those who now opposed Jesus.  What Jesus does do instead is, he moved on. You and I may encounter ungrateful people who reject the goodness, the love, even the very presence of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Our goal is never to force people to follow the faith nor even us.  When rejection happened to Jesus from those who should have chosen to welcome Him and follow Him, he moved on. 

Sometimes ‘moving on’ is the better way, the more appropriate response. 

For that grouping of Samaritans, “Following Him” was based upon ‘whom’ they thought Jesus should or should not associate with.  We might assess this scenario and say there was ‘no excuse’ for this attitude and accompanying behavior.  We’d be right.  However, let us further be cautious in how we evaluate ‘whom’ Jesus relates to today and our evaluation of the same.  Jesus Christ remains present in the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, the Baptist church, and the non-denominational churches.  Praise God for people coming to follow Jesus wherever they may worship.

Do not drive people away from the church by pride, passion, and personal revenge, even under the guise of ‘zeal’ for our Master. 

Soon we learn that as Jesus and his disciples proceeded further along the road, they met up with three additional ‘would-be’ or should I say ‘wanna-be’ followers.  Perhaps Jesus was impressed by their resolve. Possibly we’ve met some of these types. 

An extremely ‘forward’ fellow robustly proclaims to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go!”  He just blurts it out!  Kind of ‘rash!’  Surely we’ve ‘come across’ people who promise a lot but just cannot or do not deliver because they have not really counted the costs nor thought it through. 

In all aspects of our lives stop and consider what it is you are offering or promising before declaring. 

Jesus responded to the ‘forward’ speaking fellow by talking metaphorically of “foxes having dens and birds having nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 

In other words, "Have you counted the cost, good fellow?  If you follow me, the Kingdom of God is now your home.  And the journey is more important than the destination.  What we do as we walk along beside one another will be more important than the destination.  For all your enthusiasm, have you counted the cost?" 

Don’t just ‘pretend’ to follow Jesus.  Don’t just make a lot of promises and proclamations.  Mean what you say and say what you mean.  Thoughtfully so.  

Jesus invites another fellow saying, “Follow me.”  The fellow says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 

The second fellow receives even harsher treatment from Jesus than the first guy.  If there ever was a good excuse to delay discipleship, this guy surely seems to have it.  Burying the dead was a duty of great importance in Jewish tradition.  The commandment to honor one’s father and mother was included in fulfilling this final act of respect and devotion.  In fact, in Judaism all other normal religious obligations could be set aside in order for a person to perform the pious duty of burying the dead. 

But Jesus would have none of it.  With one of his strongest calls to discipleship and harshest words in Scripture, we hear Jesus say, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God." 

I have been a minister of the Gospel and faithfully preached the Word of God since 1979.  As might be expected in any follower’s life, there have been family funerals, weddings, birthdays, gatherings, vacations, and all sorts of family-related opportunities.  While churches have been more than kind to me through the years, still this calling from God to preach, teach, and care continues on beyond my circumstances.  I well recall ‘officiating’ my own father’s funeral in Homer City, PA, and just a few days later receiving a phone call from one of our members inquiring if I might ‘officiate’ a funeral for a cousin of theirs.  The point being, the calling to care still goes on. 

I could not tell you, for I do not know myself, just how many family weekend get-togethers I’ve missed across the years, for I chose to be here or in whatever church I was serving instead of ‘there.’  I wanted to offer Jesus excuses at times for why I wanted to be ‘there’ instead.  Yet there remains some ‘absolutes’ of our faith and our call to Follow Him. 

Sometimes too our ‘call’ to follow Him isn’t just to some place where we ‘go and do’ what God wants us to go and do.  Many times our calling to Follow Him is into a resolved lifestyle that we live.  For instance, it’s easy to swear and take God’s name in vain when you are in the company of others that do just that.  Jesus does not ‘excuse’ us or even our greatest of excuses for ‘joining in’ with others.  Sometimes we are kind of like adolescents who say, “Well, everyone else is doing it.”  Remember and be resolved knowing you have been called out by Jesus Christ to follow Him, His teachings, and His example. 

A third disciple wanna-be offers his response, his excuse, for delaying following Jesus:  "Let me first say farewell to those at my home."  To which Jesus says,  "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  "Leave the past behind," he is saying.  "Following me means new life.  You can't plow a field with your eyes looking behind you.  Leave the old for the new." 

Harsh words to hear, to be sure.  But discipleship requires, according to Jesus, an uncompromising commitment.  Jesus never said, "Follow me, but only when it's convenient."  He didn't say, "Follow me, after you've taken care of your agenda."  He didn't say, "Follow me, it will be a simple trip -- only a cross awaits."  He did say:  "Follow me." 

The requests of those three would-be followers of Jesus Christ seemed to be pretty fair. 

It’s as though Jesus is saying “No excuses!” 

Life is full of excuses.  We’ve learned to live with excuses.  What teacher hasn't heard somewhere in his or her career, "The dog ate my paper"?  What wife hasn't heard the myriad of excuses we husbands can concoct as to why the honey-do list hasn't even been started?  What husband hasn't heard the words, "But it was on sale?"  And what parent hasn't known the frustration of hearing from their teen, "I'll do it later; I promise?" 

Excuses -- we know them; we use them.  They are explanations, often rationalizations, for our behavior or lack thereof.  I was reading that in the business world the prominent excuse is: “It wasn’t my fault.” 

Jesus received some excuses from would-be followers.  Pastors have also heard lots of excuses.  I recall one pastor who instituted a ‘no-excuse Sunday’ and advertised it among his members and beyond.  He had cots brought into the sanctuary for those who like to sleep in; blankets for those who found the sanctuary too cold; fans for those who found the sanctuary too warm; sand for those who preferred the beach; television sets for persons who prefer services on the screen; and poinsettias and lilies for those accustomed to entering the church only on Christmas and Easter. 

Jesus was no stranger to excuses, as witnessed by the Gospel just read. 

I can tell you this -- Jesus never attended the School of Modern Church Growth that preaches, “make everyone comfortable.”  Modern day teachers of church growth tell us to sing upbeat hymns that everyone can follow and further develop the music that makes people joyous and happy.  Don’t overemphasize Prayers of Confession lest people squirm in the pews.  Make things ‘entertaining’ and ‘people friendly.’ 

Our world and our lives are full of excuses as to why we are NOT choosing to well follow Jesus.  Nations excuse their behavior ‘for’ or ‘against’ other nations.  Political leaders excuse their perspectives and tend to place ‘blame on their political rivals.  Gas prices and food prices seem to soar, and excuses remain as to why. 

Jesus’ words to His ‘would-be’ or ‘wanna-be’ followers seem to be words of ‘absolutes’, counting the costs and accountability. 

Easily enough we can rationalize and say we are waiting for others to do what’s right before we will even consider doing what’s right.  We can become engrossed in things that are dying and fail to live. 

 ‘What’s wrong’ is pointed out in every generation.  Each generation proclaims things are worse and the world is more unfair for them than for previous generations or for other people. 

Jesus rebukes our calling down fire from heaven, even metaphorically speaking, to get even with others.  Those ‘others’ may be opposing God and refuting Jesus, yet the Lord calls us to move on and follow him. 

‘Following Him’ is not so much ‘bravado’ and false promising stemming from any of us.  Surely our world has heard more than enough of that concerning any current subject.  THINK about what you are promising to do, offering to do.  Then do it in how you submit to following Jesus. 

Some excuses seem more valid than others.  Don’t hide behind them.  God’s calling in our lives and for this world is of ‘absolute’ nature.  Carry forth His ministries of love, care, and worship.  Jesus said “Follow Him.”  Amen.

Spiritual Fathers 6/18/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 18, 2022 & Sunday, June 19, 2022 

Father’s Day 

Prayer For Illumination: May the Lord Bless our spirits, open our minds and cause us to see His wisdom in these scriptures, we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Matthew 7: 9-12 (page 971) and Luke 15:20 (page 1048) 

Sermon Message:  ‘Spiritual Fathers’ 

The best example of a spiritual father we have was from a man who wasn’t even a father.  Was not even believed to have been married.  I am referring to Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior.  Jesus’ words, in today’s initial scripture lesson from the Gospel of Matthew, are very sound words of both advice and warning to all fathers, to mothers, to children, actually to all citizens of heaven and members of the Christian faith. 

Jesus reminds us that we know how to give good gifts to our children. 

I wish to share with you today some actual examples of fathers who gave good gifts.  To better appreciate these examples, I hope to also present to you, for your consideration and thoughtful review, further examples of what Jesus referred to as “those who are evil.” 

Stanley worked full-time as a mechanic in the coal mines.  Often he’d come home from work literally covered in black coal dust.  His clothes were so bad he’d have to shower in his basement, rinse his clothing in the shower, then hand them outside to dry.  Stanley’s hobby was motorcycles, scooters, and go-karts.  Many of the neighbor kids ‘hung out’ at Stanley’s garage.  His wife still enjoyed baking cookies and bringing them out to the garage for all of the neighbor kids.  Even since their own children were growing up and going their own separate ways.  Stanley was a good man; a father, but also a ‘father figure’ to many in that small-town neighborhood.  His advice, his time, his listening ear, and his wife’s cookies sure went a long ways towards consistently promoting some degrees of goodness in many a young soul. 

Also in that same small town, Jimmy and his brothers grew up under the harsh disciplining hand of their father.  These were the ‘bullies’ in town.  The father ‘hung out’ at one or more of the town’s bars.  Quite often he left his ‘mark’ on one of his sons, even occasionally upon his wife and daughter.  The police knew the family.  This grouping of bullies, spanning at least two generations, was most often shunned and further avoided in any way folks could do so.  Dad liked to ‘raise refute’ at the local grocery store, the town’s Post Office, and the doctor’s office.  He liked to spread his evil and share it with his relatives.  He was NOT an example of a good father. 

Bob was a man similar to Stanley.  Bob gave part-time work to adolescent boys and girls around his house and the trailer park he and his wife owned.  Along with the few dollars kids earned, they were provided with picnic-style burgers, ice cream, large glasses of iced tea or lemon aide, and plenty of helpful advice.  Bob liked Snickers candy bars.  Each Father’s Day he received more than a dozen Snickers bars from appreciative kids.  Many a young soul learned the discipline of good work for solid wages, but equally important, they continued to learn to ‘say a prayer’ before meals and turn to God for every subject under the sun. 

Paul spent his ‘free time’ with another ‘congregation’ of sorts.  He chose to be with his bar buddies over his home and family.  The kids felt neglected.  Once in a while he’d ‘grace’ them with his presence or show them a ‘little something’ regarding family time or some project.  Mostly, Paul remained unavailable and unreliable. 

John and Ralph were relatives through marriage.  John spent lots of time ‘putting out fires’ that Ralph started.  John was the kind of father that complimented and affirmed even the smallest of accomplishments.  Ralph, on the other hand, well taught his children they were not good enough and never could they ‘get things right!’ 

Chuck was a church-going man.  He was surely pleased when his two adult sons started back to church one Christmas Eve.  His sons had become discouraged by the conflict that too often hailed in their church.  Their father was often brought into the center of those conflicts.  Chuck ‘locked horns’ plenty of times with Leo, a younger, ‘know-it-all’ sort of guy with three kids of his own.  Leo though more highly of himself than any man should.  Oh how it showed in his actions and through his ‘input’ at that church. Chuck had this ability to smooth things over, especially when Leo stirred things up.  For instance, a side entrance door to their church needed to be replaced.  It was beyond repair.  Leo insisted on a rather expensive wooden exterior door.  Chuck quietly guided the members to think about the benefits and long-term endurance of a metal exterior door. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a conflict to break out.  The people had to ‘pick sides’ in order for a decision to be made.  Months passed before the issue could be resolved.  Finally, Leo agreed to help remove the old door and assist with installing a new metal door designed with wood type trim. 

Ed and a number of fathers went on a mission trip over Father’s Day one year.  James stayed behind and instead ‘kept his thumb’ on things at home. Ed and a few other fathers returned from their mission trip and shared lots of pictures and videos of faith in action.  They even brought back with them articles from the country they had journeyed to.  They were so proud to have helped build a school for kids in that foreign land. James was proud that he ‘kept his thumb’ on things back home.  Not much happened while the others were gone because he would not let it. Ed was a father who empowered others by example, by care, and by striving repeatedly so to put his faith into action.  James was a father who preferred his methods of control and systematic obedience to ‘the letter of the law.’ 

Scott and his wife had five children.  When they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, their family alone evidenced a large number present.  Moving stories were shared at their 50th wedding anniversary.  Folks appreciated seeing what a spiritual marriage looks like, not only for that couple and their children, but also for lots and lots of folks who knew this remarkable couple across the years.  She passed before him.  He spent his remaining years remembering and longing to see her again.

Andy and his wife ‘made it’ to 50 years as well.  But there was no huge gathering nor Golden Anniversary celebration.  Not one of their children, family members, or friends even bothered to suggest such an event, for Andy was not ‘true’ to his wife across the years.  The kids loved their father but just did not want to be ‘like him.’ 

Jack was a quiet sort of man. He had been ‘in love’ a few times, but it never resulted in the kind of commitment that led to marriage.  Eventually he met Sarah who had three children to a previous marriage.  Although Jack was not their biological father, those three grew to love him, depend upon him, and sincerely enjoyed his devotion to God and the Christian faith.  Their biological father, Tim, was estranged from them.  Tim sought to reconcile but most often found himself expressing his anger through growing degrees of sarcasm. 

I shared with you numerous accounts of real-life fathers who illustrate what Jesus referred to as ‘fathers who know how to give good gifts to their children but also to those who are evil.’ 

In another portion of scripture (Luke 15:20) Jesus summarizes his narrative concerning an earthly father who welcomed his son home.  The story is well known as the narrative of the Prodigal Son. 

For certain we have probably encountered scenarios where a family fight takes place, words are spoken that cannot be unsaid, and then there is distance, estrangement, bitterness, and hurt, sometimes for years to come. 

Jesus gives evidence of a father who saw his son coming from a long way off.  Although that son had done wrong and had even ‘done him wrong,’ still he allowed his heart to be filled with compassion.  Clearly Jesus declares that father RAN to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. 

I pray my narratives concerning varying ‘types’ of fathers have helped you to discern spiritual fathers from not so spiritual fathers.  In discerning we learn and appreciate whose we are and what we need to become in order to please our heavenly Father. 

Jesus tells the story of a prodigal son.  It can further be understood as the story of a prodigal father.  May we all grow to be sons and daughters who seek to reconcile our differences and run to love others with all that we’ve got. 

Just before Jesus left this world, he declared that he was returning to His Father and our Father.  Jesus referenced the Father as “ABBA” which translated means “Daddy.”  

Above everything else you hear and receive this Father’s Day and beyond, strive to remember and affirm this; because of Jesus and through Jesus, God the Father is now our father.  We are all adopted sons and daughters of the one Jesus called Abba, daddy.  

Judging from the spiritual fathers who have touched our lives, I’d say we’re in pretty good hands.  Amen.

God Is With Us 6/11/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 11, 2022 & Sunday, June 12, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Guide us, O God by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Matthew 28:16-20 (Page 1000)/Romans 5:1-5 (Page 1130)/Psalm 62: 5-8 (Page 572) 

SERMON MESSAGE:  “God Is With Us” 

It’s not often that we have three main ‘themes’ for worship.  Today is Trinity Sunday, we honored graduates, and it is also Communion Sunday.  Surely God is with us. 

Clergy sometimes pronounce a ‘blessing’ in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This is to affirm God is with us in the three persons of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus taught his early disciples, and Jesus teaches us that we are to “make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” 

Some scholars declare that this “Trinity” of God is actually evidence that God is good at multi-tasking. 

As we honor our graduates today, I believe each one of them could easily affirm their education had to be based upon their abilities to multi-task in order to study the material and ‘make the grade!’ 

Communion is typically a reference to closeness with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Yet God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are present during the sacrament of Holy Communion. 

This doctrine of the Trinity of God some find difficult to comprehend.  How can God be three different persons at once?  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Perhaps we ‘think too much sometimes.’ Education has taught us to think.  A differing ‘form’ of education reminds us not to ‘think too much’ at times.  Not to over-analyze what’s readily discernable. 

Perhaps if we think of the Trinity of God in analogous fashion to how we perceive ourselves, this approach might help.  Each of us have a name and are referenced by our name.  Yet we also have three distinct ‘parts.  A mind, a body, and a spirit.  God the Father is the overall ‘mind’ of creation and the universe.  Jesus is the body or embodiment of God.  The Holy Spirit is the spirit, the soul, the on-going ‘inspiration of God. 

Jesus’ further message, His on-going affirming message remains:  “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

God is With Us. 

When God is with us, when God is with any soul for that matter, there is peace.  The second scripture lesson for today teaches us that because we have been “justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

Graduates, wherever your education takes you peace with God is vital for life here and in the hereafter.  Education informs us.  Communion commits us unto God and one another. 

Christianity is a rather ‘strange’ form of education in some respects.  Take for instance today’s teachings from the Book of Romans.  There it is stated we “glory in our sufferings.”  At first ‘read’ that does sound a bit strange perhaps, to ‘glory in our sufferings.’  But that’s only if we take the Bible, or some portion of scripture ‘out of context.  Remember to read what the rest of the Biblical text is also saying.  “We glory in our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” 

I trust we have all found in our Christian education and our communion with God that suffering only ‘makes sense’ if you have the ‘eyes of faith’ to see some spiritual and personal benefits.  

A more ‘contemporary’ selection of Christian music declares, “Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God.  I’ve learned to believe upon His Word.”  Another verse says, “I’ve had lots of fears and sorrows I’ve had heartaches for tomorrow, my trials only come to make me strong.  That’s the reason I sing through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in God.” 

When we believe and feel as though God is with us, there is peace.  Stay at peace with God.  Not only do you ‘know’ God.  As today’s scriptures declare and further remind us, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts.” 

Graduation is an achievement, communion is a commitment, a spiritual covenant.  Both prepare and preserve us for the life we lead and choose to live. 

We are a most blessed people in that we have learned about God and ‘of’ God.  Most importantly because we have experienced the presence of God, we know the essence of “God with us.”  

Christians are best known for how they illustrate with their lives that God is love. 

Today we honor our graduates.  Your diplomas will say that you have knowledge, riches, and honors.  How you use them will depend on whether we have taught you to love well. 

Do you ‘believe’ that God is with us?  Perhaps you have seen ‘God with us’ in the words of scripture but also in our parents and teachers, in nature, and in the tears and cries of our suffering world plus in the eyes, hands and voices of those we love the most. 

Our ‘education’ may be of the form of diplomas, degrees, and formal academic understandings.  These are well intentioned, needed, and remain quite important.  Our ‘education’ may also have been ‘schooled’ in the church, the pew, the home, the neighborhood, the family and what some deem to be ‘the school of hard knocks!’ 

Education, universally so, leads to increased awareness.  We were born to live in the company of others under the umbrella of God.  I pray whatever your form of education may be, and further become, may it lead you into moral action.  We know that the first step of all moral action must be compassion.  To love a neighbor, we must open ourselves to feel what he or she feels. 

As Christians, we believe in heaven and hell.  There is the ‘hell’ of eternal damnation but also the ‘hells’ of poverty, starvation, and injustice.  May we never fail in either our education or our communion with the Lord to give others the love which God gives us. 

My life of faith with God has well educated me to know and understand; we are blessed to be a blessing.  We are most blessed to know God, to commune with Jesus and have gained knowledge.  Love gives.  One who has knowledge, riches, or honors, shares it. 

I have further learned and continue to learn this valuable lesson; never stop being a student of the Bible.  Faith teaches us not only how to ‘get along’ with God and others.  More importantly our faith inspires and instructs us in our time and purpose for being here.  

God has something for each and every one of us to do.  Some say it is our ‘time’ or our ‘purpose.’  I’ve further learned that God has a mission for each one of us.  Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.”  Just as God the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends us into the world to do the Father’s work, equipped and accompanied by the Spirit of God. 

God’s work involves more than taking individuals to heaven when they die.  God’s work is to bring in his kingdom on this earth, so that God’s creation can know the shalom of God. 

Perhaps the best wisdom is the wisdom that comes from God.  David, known as ‘a man after God’s own heart,’ was inspired by God to write these following words: “My soul finds rest in God, my hope comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and salvation; he is my fortress.  I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend upon God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” God IS with us.  Amen.


The Holy Spirit Continues 6/4/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 4, 2022 & Sunday, June 5, 2022

Prayer For Illumination:  God, send your Holy Spirit upon us today that we may grow to hear, understand, and apply the Word of God to our lives. In the precious name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Acts 2:1-21 (Page 1091) and Romans 8:26-28 (Page 1133)

Sermon Title: "The Holy Spirit Continues"

When these scriptures were written, they provided an account of how God was moving in their midst.  The folks back then, the disciples of Jesus Christ in particular, were overwhelmed, even frightened by what was happening.  People were upset and suspect of the government and of each other.  Even the disciples were experiencing severe doubts, penetrating fears, and on-going concerns.

It seems Jesus had brought them so much peace, hope, and assurance.  But now, that all seemed to be over following his crucifixion on the cross.  Yet he had assured them that he would indeed send them help, comfort, and guidance for the future.  He seemed to be saying, “You need not fear!”

Jesus did send the Holy Spirit. Today, we are to know that the Holy Spirit continues.

How do you perceive the Holy Spirit continuing to move in our world?  Within our daily lives?

Perhaps we shall gain some spiritual insight this Pentecost season on how the Holy Spirit continues.

Today’s scriptures inform us that when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

What is, what ‘becomes’ the ‘one place’ we are all together?  Is it this church, our sanctuary, or is it also the ‘place’ where we see ourselves, our lives, our communities, our nation, and our world?  What ‘place’ do we see ourselves being ‘together’ in?

The physical ‘place’ where the remaining disciples of Jesus were was most likely the Upper Room, where they had previously shared in the Last Supper with Jesus while he was living among them.  Now, the ‘place’ they were in seemed to be a ‘place’ of fear, overwhelming bewilderment, and confusion.  There was mistrust, disbelief, and severe doubts.  The Holy Spirit, Jesus spoke of, was a ‘gift’ that would come to them from God the Father.  It became quickly apparent that this ‘gift from God’ came when most needed.

We sometimes think of a ‘gift’ as something we receive on a particular occasion to recognize or celebrate some significance in our lives.  The Holy Spirit came not as an expected or well-known type of gift.  Rather, the Holy Spirit came when God the Father deemed it would be most needed and appreciated.

What ‘place’ is our world in right now?  What ‘place’ are people ‘in’ at this time?

When those disciples were all together in one place, they ‘heard’ what seemed to be a sound like the blowing of a violent wind from heaven that filled the whole house.

In the Book of Psalms 46:10 God spoke and said, “Be still and know that I am God.”  On Pentecost there was not a still, quiet voice but rather a mighty rush of powerful wind that filled their entire house!

Sometimes the clear messages of God are spoken in still, quiet moments.  At other times, God will use extreme measures to communicate the depth and sincerity of His messages.

On that very first Pentecost there was disunity.  At another time in Israel’s history there was severe disunity. Far back in the Book of Genesis the account is given of the people constructing a huge tower that they proclaimed would reach to heaven.  The purposes of that tower were to provide a direct connection with heaven, a means for God to come down to the people, and sadly enough, a perception that the people might be better able to control God, instead of the other way around.

As the ancient scripts communicate, when the people were constructing this Tower of Babel with the aforementioned intents, God did come down from heaven, not as ‘they’ intended, but to instead confound their languages preventing them from their attempts to somehow ‘harness’ the presence of God.  Because the workers could not understand one another, their work stopped.  To this day when we cannot seem to understand one another, we make reference to “Babbling.”  A referral to what happened at the Tower of “Babel.”

Within our world today we have striven to create a ‘place’ where all might dwell together in unity.  Yet it seems as though we have failed, miserably so.

“Peace on earth good will towards all” seems like quite a distant ideal associated with Christmases past.  Daily we are made aware of war, participating in war, preparing for war, and reacting to war.  Yet the Holy Spirit continues to come.  Part of the Holy Spirit’s message to us this Pentecost is the reminder that not all nations are at war with one another.  War and the threat of war are being responded to with endeavors to unite against the few who will cause war to happen.

Today’s scriptures further inform us that the disciples saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  ‘Tongues of fire’ illustrate the presence of God in a special way.  On that very first Pentecost those ‘tongues of fire’ were the presence of God that filled them in such a way they understood each other in ways they could not prior.

In the Old Testament portion of our Bible there is a Book known as the Book of Lamentations.  It is not a very long book, containing just 5 chapters.  The theme of this particular book of the Bible is ‘wailing’ or ‘lamenting’ due to desolations being experienced.

In times of desolation, in response to God’s people ‘wailing’ the Holy Spirit continues to come, affording God’s presence.

There remains a repetitive theme of ‘wailing’ and ‘lamenting’ in our world these days.  Millions have died, and many have suffered as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  It’s not over yet!  Millions have died in this war in Ukraine.  Millions upon millions are suffering from death, dislocation, rising prices, and world-wide insecurities.  “Lament” and actual ‘wailing’ are on the nightly news each and every day.  Young people are being killed.  Innocents are dying.  Countless numbers are running scared lamenting heavily so and wailing from both fear and awareness.  Does the Holy Spirit continue to come?

When the Holy Spirit came upon those first disciples, not only did they ‘see’ the presence of God, they further ‘experienced’ a unity that moved inside of them.

Today's scriptures inform us they began to understand things differently, in ways they could not or did not prior.

It seems the Holy Spirit continues to come and reveal God’s presence among us and flowing through us.

Increasingly we are becoming aware of God’s movement, God’s call to unity.  This ‘unity’ is not groupings of people gathering around a campfire and singing rhythmic melodies such as 'Kum Ba Yah.'  That helps, but so much more is needed.

Throughout history when the people of God and the disciples prayed, listened, and longed for the Holy Spirit to come, a new spirit was felt, and a differing form of unity began to prevail.

The world seems to be ‘censoring’ the actions of Russia in Ukraine. When we think of a ‘censor,’ possibly we think of a person authorized to examine books, films, or other material and to remove or suppress what is considered morally, politically, or otherwise objectionable.

The world at large is ‘censoring’ what Russia is doing. The world, and the church, continue to censor, by our reviews and our actions; ‘war.’  We are imposing sanctions, sending military and financial supplies, calling attention to the immoral atrocities, and taking further political actions designed to slow down and stop war.

Nations that formerly did not think much about political togetherness are now striving to align in unity.

World economies are changing, reflecting the ‘censoring’ of previously assumed trading that could have contributed to war.

‘Censoring’ further implies defining what is right and what is wrong.  Dealing with the wrong has always been a calling from God to assist those who are most vulnerable.

No doubt on this Pentecost Sunday God still hears the ‘lament’ of people who are suffering because of the free-will choices and actions of others.

Today’s scriptures remind us that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)

Being “saved” is often times associated with salvation from sin.  Being “saved” is also associated with being “saved” from our worst fears, our greatest nightmares, and sufferings.

“Lament” is not a new word.  Yet it has become a common reality unto many in our world.  “Lamenting” is a form of crying.  It is a firm disclosure of weakness and being overwhelmed.  Many have been crying as school, supermarket, and church shootings still take place.  Those possessing insight and authority decree it’s just not going to be over very soon.

Pentecost this year is not to be merely an historical reflection of how God appeared and made His presence known centuries ago to troubled disciples.  Nor is it to be a debate on exactly what those ‘tongues of fires’ meant, nor even that of the winds that blew back then.

This is a time to take our weaknesses to God and ask His Holy Spirit to continue to come. We may not know nor hold the answers for so much “lamenting” in our lives nor in the world.  Yet we do what others before us have done. We gather together, in one place.  We await the movement of God, and we unite to carry forth the spirit’s guidance.

“Censoring” in its many forms seems to be a movement that is slowly, yet surely working.

Praying has produced results.

We do not always know ‘what’ to pray for, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes.

God the Father sent the Holy Spirit when those first disciples were feeling so much weakness.  Today we are experiencing so much weakness.  Today’s scriptures ring true on this Pentecost; “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.  The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Daily news reports make us sadly aware of violence that continues to cause suffering, pain, fear, and death to unsuspecting and undeserving innocents.  Some reports suggest our government enact stricter gun laws.  Some states are seeking to expand gun laws striving to equip teachers and civic leaders with guns to help protect and stave off those who would bring us harm.  How should we pray; for less or for more gun control?

The world’s economy is suffering extensively.  Should we pray for more legislation or for less?  Should we pray for higher or lower interest rates?

Regarding the war in Ukraine.  Should we pray for the Ukrainian people to continue fighting with all of the military might and supplies given them?  Or should we pray for their leadership to concede certain portions of their country to possibly bring this war to an end?  Political commentators present diverse options.

Do we daily pray for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives to bless us or to enlist us in the ‘causes of God and the kingdom of Jesus Christ?’

How should we pray?  Who do we trust?  Is there a time, a place, and a purpose for so much ‘lamenting’ in our lives and throughout the world?  In the midst of disunity how do we even begin to work towards and pray for unity?

Who and what can we trust? Do we trust for tomorrow?  Where might the answers be?  How will this all turn out?

Pentecost revealed to those disciples, and Pentecost still reveals to us that our trust is to be placed in the God of heaven and earth.  In faith that sees beyond the hurt, the pain, the weakness, and the deepest questions associated with the obvious realities in and among us.

The Holy Spirit isn’t just ‘coming someday’ or ‘possibly ‘sometime.’  The Holy Spirit is even now in our midst.  We need to perceive with eyes of faith and wisdom.

Not all nations are at war.  Not all peoples are dying.  Not all schools are in danger.  Not all guns lead to violence.  Not all economics are leading towards devastation.  Not all leaders are to be mistrusted.

Spiritual trust must be invested from the free will of the people.  Choose this day to receive the Holy Spirit in how you choose to trust that in all things (according to the Bible) are working together for the good of those who love him; who have been called according to his purpose.

The Holy Spirit continues to come to his disciples, to our world, to this church, and to us.  Amen.

Look For What Is Un-Seen 5/29/2022

Guest Speaker: Elder Laurie Zickgraf

Today I want to talk about things that are seen and things that are un-seen. 

First - the obvious - things we see. I can see you, our beautiful church, I can look outside and see the trees, sun, traffic.  There are so many things that we can see at one time that we don’t notice everything - we can’t focus on everything at the same time.

There are also things we can see but need a bit of help or some tools. In most cases doctors can’t look at you and see if you have a broken bone, they need to get an x-ray to make the diagnosis. We need a telescope to see the amazing vastness of the night sky. I was reading the other day about a special microscope that has been built and you can actually watch a plant’s roots grow. Pretty cool!

There are also things we see but there’s a difference. Our perception gets involved  blurs the image or changes how we see it and how we react to it. For example, my husband Bill and I are in a car; he’s driving. If you watch how I tense up, grab at the car door and the dashboard and stomp on my imaginary brake you might think I can see demons flying toward me. But, no! It is only my anxiety reacting to what I think I’m seeing.  Bill thinks he is driving down the road carefully and he is, he’s a very good driver.  But I see all kinds of things. I see him swerving into oncoming traffic. He’s too close to the car beside us and he drives too fast or way too slow. Whatever he is doing is scary. Now I understand that his perception is much more accurate than mine but while we are in the car, my brain latches onto the false sight and causes me to look like someone with a major psychological problem. Perception usually wins over reality.

So, there are things we can see, with or without tools and what we think we see which depends on  our perception. This brings us to the realization that the most amazing things are un-seen, things we can’t see with our eyes. These things are perceived or seen by the effects they have on our surroundings or on us.

A few examples of things that are unseen:

Love - seen when you collect canned goods for the food pantry or when you are a caregiver for another person. 

The Belief that all men are created equal - seen when someone stands up for equality.

Compassion - seen when someone gives money to help people we don’t know in a country almost 5000 miles away. Or when we cry with families that have lost children in a senseless act of violence.

Patriotism - seen in every member of our Armed Forces. Those men and women that serve proudly to keep us safe and to keep us free.

Faith – is nothing until our words and our actions show what is unseen.

It is very important to remember; things that are unseen – love, beliefs, compassion and patriotism that must be proven if you will. Words are not enough, action must backup the words – someone must see the effect.

Saying I love you and walking away when someone needs you – that’s just empty words. Love is not seen because it’s not really there.

Jesus tells us in John, ‘the wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes’. We see the effects of the wind, whether it’s the gentle blowing of the leaves on a tree or things flying through the air during a tornado. We don’t see the wind, but we do see the effect.

The Scripture readings today talk about – the un-seen.

In Numbers, we are told the people are upset. To understand what is going on let’s go back briefly to see why they were upset. Before their journey began, they were held captive in Egypt, they were slaves. Moses was told by God to rescue the people – talk Pharaoh into letting them go. Easier said than done.

But, after 10 plagues Pharaoh finally agrees to let them go. By then the Egyptians were glad the Israelites were leaving – they even gave them silver and gold jewelry and clothes – they gave them anything they asked for so they would leave quickly.

The Israelites took their families, their belongings, their cattle, everything and left Egypt. What a glorious day that would have been. They were free – no longer slaves but free. They were headed for the promised land.

Unfortunately, those feelings didn’t last. Pretty soon the people needed water and complained to Moses. God gives them water. The people complain and God provides. This becomes a recurrent theme for the Israelites.

In this part of the story we see the Israelites continuing their journey. Because the King of Edom won’t allow them to walk through his country they have to take a detour. That would be like us heading toward the Moon township Walmart by way of 79 and  Wexford then back to Moon through the back roads.  That would be really frustrating. The Israelites were frustrated, they wanted to get to the promised land not take detours.

The Israelites angry again, spoke against Moses and God so God punished them by sending fiery serpents that bit the people. After a lot of  people died, they realized what they had done and became remorseful. They went to Moses and asked him to pray to God and ask for the serpents to be taken away.

I’m impressed by what Moses does next. He forgives them and he prays for them! God forgives them as well and tells Moses to make a serpent and put it on a pole. God said if a person is bitten by a snake and they look at this bronze serpent on the pole they will live.

So what saved the people. It wasn’t the bronze serpent or the image of the serpent that saved them, it wasn’t what they saw – it was the un-seen love of God that saved them. They knew they had sinned and asked for God to help .When they turned to God and LOOKED UP they were forgiven and they were saved by God.

When Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus he mentions that the wind blows where it will. Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus that there is more to God than what he can see. Nicodemus is being too literal. Jesus brings up the story of Moses and the bronze serpent to illustrate that. Jesus says:

‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life”.

Jesus is telling Nicodemus what’s going to happen next when He says:

           “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”.

Jesus will be lifted up on the cross so that the people that believe in Him will be saved.

In the Old Testament the Israelites complained a lot. The complaints were caused by the unseen and the unfulfilled expectations of the Israelites. After their victory over the Egyptians and their release from slavery they’re pumped. They’re ecstatic – over the moon! They thought they were headed for the promised land. They had no idea they would be walking in the desert for 40 years. As time went on and they didn’t get to the promised land, they only understood what they could see with their eyes.

In the stories thorough out the Old Testament there’s always something else. Something deeper than the basic story, something that is un-seen.

The un-seen is GOD’s plan for His people, for us! He has a plan for each one of us!

We look at our lives and we complain. We wonder why we’re in the situation we’re in. Maybe we made bad choices or something happened to us that we had no control over. When bad things happen it’s hard to look beyond this world. We look at what we can see just as the Israelites did. They didn’t understand God’s plan for them. They knew what they expected but they didn’t look beyond the physical – they didn’t look for the Spiritual, the unseen plan of God.

Are we the same as the Israelites of long ago? Underlying all the events in our lives is God’s plan for us. If we don’t look for this – for the unseen in our lives we may never be the person God planned us to be. We may never experience the joy of knowing God more fully. We may never really understand how much He loves us and how He is always there for us.

When we have a conversation with someone we need to look under the surface, let’s look for the un-seen, the love, the compassion or the faith. Let’s try to move beyond the physical and look to the infinite future we will have with God.

When something happens to us or we have a decision to make, let’s talk to God and ask for help. Let God show you His plan.

Then let’s go one step further and allow our actions to show others what is un-seen in our lives. Our faith is un-seen until we do something. Until we act upon our faith no one can see it or be helped by it. Let’s show them what being a Christian is all about – God’s love should not be un-seen – it should be shown in our actions, in our words and in how we treat others and how we live our lives every day.

On this Memorial Day weekend let us thank God for the things that are unseen in people and ourselves. Especially the love of others, the belief that all men are created equal by God, the love for this country’s core values and the patriotism that keeps us safe makes us proud to be an American.

Most of all, let’s thank God for our Faith – seen by our words and our actions everyday.

Amen

He Ascended Into Heaven 5/22/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 21, 2022 & Sunday, May 22, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: O King of glory and Lord of hosts, who ascended triumphantly above the heavens; open our hearts, minds, and souls to the inspiration of God flowing through these scriptures, we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson:  Acts 1:1-11 (Page 1090) 

Sermon Message:  “He Ascended Into Heaven” 

The Ascension narrative always reminds me of ‘saying good-bye.’  There’s such a ‘finalness’ with saying ‘good-bye.’  I know of some folks who avoid this sort of ‘ending’ at all costs. 

Most often when it comes time to part, folks will embrace, sometimes through tears.  A few perhaps will say something silly to ease the discomfort like, ‘See you later alligator!’  But eventually the ‘good-byes’ do occur. 

I sometimes draw comfort in having learned that the word ‘good-bye’ is actually a shortened form of “God be with you.” 

Each worship service we share, at the end there is the “Charge and Benediction.”  Reminders that as we part from one another, God goes with each of us. 

When Jesus met with his disciples in the Upper Room for that Last Supper meal, just prior to his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, the atmosphere was so tense.  The disciples knew that something ominous was about to happen.  They were troubled and at a loss for words.  With characteristic compassion, Jesus lays aside his own intense feelings and reaches out to comfort his followers. 

"I am leaving," says Jesus, "but you will not be alone.  God will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach you all things and will remind you of everything.  I am also leaving you with something to remember me by - a farewell gift.  It is precious beyond all measure.  Don't be troubled.  Don't be afraid.  I am giving you the gift of peace."  Jesus then goes on to say that the world doesn't really understand the kind of peace he is giving. 

When we think of peace, we usually think of the absence of war between nations, or the ending of hostilities between persons.  Even though the Ukraine/Russia War continues, still we long for the peace of Christ to come. 

There is a ‘peace’ we speak of and desire, even request.  There is also that ‘peace’ which, though affirmed, is not experienced.  In our early years our ‘grown-ups’ may have ‘sat us down’ and sternly required of us to ‘just get along!’  While we may have agreed and even ‘portrayed’ some degree of ‘peace’ inside of us, we just weren’t feeling it.

The peace of which Jesus speaks is not simply the end of conflict, nor is it, for that matter, even the lack of inner struggle.  The peace of God is an internal strength and tranquility which exists in spite of turmoil whether in the world around us or deep within us.  

Jesus sincerely desired for his disciples to deeply experience sincere, internal strength and tranquility when it came time for him to say ‘good-bye.’  Jesus promised to still ‘be with them, even to the end of the ages,’ plus send them the ‘Advocate,’ the Holy Spirit.  Not only will the Holy Spirit come, but with the Spirit will come power to believe, to live, to have faith, to strengthen, to forgive, and to witness. 

Jesus seeks to give his disciples, you and I, something more to ‘go on.’  The Ascension of Jesus Christ serves us all as a reminder that Jesus Christ has provided peace, strength, ability, and assurance.  This coming Thursday is the fortieth day after Easter which means it is Ascension Day.  We do not normally celebrate Ascension Day as a church, but it is the day which marks the ascension of Christ into heaven.  When churches do celebrate the ascension, they usually do so either on the actual Thursday or the Sunday following, but I wanted to take some time this week to reflect together on the ascension of Christ and what it means for us today.  

The Ascension of Jesus Christ occurs 40 days after His Easter resurrection.  Let’s consider some of the significance of the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. 

Jesus returned to the Father. God is a trinity.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God sent Jesus to earth, but for a time, to live among us.  Jesus summed up his entire earthly ministry in just two sentences:  “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”  (John 16:28)  Jesus longed to return to his Father.  He went ‘home.’ 

The empty cross tells us Jesus died.  The empty tomb tells us he has risen.  And the empty earth tells us he has ascended to heaven.  The first reason why the ascension matters is that Jesus returned to the Father.  He came from the Father and entered the world.  He left the world and returned to his Father. 

The second reason why the ascension matters is because Jesus took his place on the throne.  When Jesus first began preaching, he had a very simple message for the people:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  (Matthew 4:17)  The kingdom of heaven was near because the king of heaven was near.  He was right there in the midst of them.  But it was not until after Jesus’ ascension and his return to heaven that he took his rightful place on the throne. 

What an amazing sight it would have been to see Jesus take his place on the throne.  When we have presidential inaugurations or royal coronations here on earth, we have great celebrations that go along with them, but nothing compares to the spectacle of Jesus taking his place on the throne of heaven.  The king is on his throne, and he has been given all authority, glory, and power.  Jesus is king in heaven.  And just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, his kingdom will come to earth.  All that is wrong will be made right, and we shall reign with him forever.

The third reason why the ascension matters is because Jesus, then and now, sends the Holy Spirit upon us, within us, and through us.  I trust in your Christian walk you have seen where the Holy Spirit gives us strength for living, power for witness, peace in trials, and helps to make us holy like Christ.  The Bible is clear in informing us that Jesus needed to ascend into heaven in order for God the Father to send the Holy Spirit further upon us. 

Pentecost Sunday is just two weeks away.  It is the Sunday when we remember the initial pouring out of the Holy Spirit which is recorded for us in the book of Acts.  The believers were all together in one room when the Spirit came like a mighty rushing wind, and tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each one of them.  They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, giving glory to God and declaring his wonders. 

Why does the ascension matter to us today?  1) Jesus returned to the Father.  2) Jesus took his place on the throne.  3) Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit.  And 4) Jesus prays for us.  When Jesus ascended to heaven, he completed his earthly ministry and began his heavenly ministry of prayer and intercession for his people.  

Now anytime someone tells me they are praying for me, I find that a wonderful help and encouragement.  It is a great comfort knowing that your church family and Christian friends are praying for you in your time of need.  But the ascension tells us something even more amazing.  Jesus himself prays for us.  In fact, that seems to be his main ministry in heaven today.  Jesus prays for you constantly. 

We read in Romans 8:34:  “Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  (Romans 8:34)  There you have the empty cross, the empty tomb, and the empty earth once again – Jesus died, was raised to life and ascended to the right hand of God.  But what is Jesus doing at the right hand of God?  He is interceding for us.  He is praying for us.  He is at the Father’s side, but he is still on our side.  God is for us, not against us.  “And if God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  (Romans 8:31-32) 

What does Jesus pray for us?  He prays for comfort and strength and peace and holiness.  He prays that you will look to him in times of trial.  He prays that you will grow as a Christian and stand strong against temptation.  And when you do sin, he prays for you and speaks to the Father in your defense.  We read in 1 John 2:1:  “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”  (1 John 2:1) 

Did you know that Jesus prays for you?  He prayed for you this morning.  He prayed for you last night.  He is praying for you right now.  It’s probably the only reason you are still alive at this moment.  Why does the ascension matter to us today?  Because Jesus prays for us. 

Jesus will come again.  (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11)

And now we come to the fifth reason why the ascension matters today. Jesus will come again. When Jesus left earth to return to the Father, he did not leave us permanently. He promised he would return to us. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 14: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)  It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would go and prepare a place for you if he wasn’t planning on coming back to get you as well. 

When Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples looked intently up into the sky as he was going.  Suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  (Acts 1:11) 

The ascension means that Jesus left, but it also means that he is coming back.  And that means we’ve got work to do.  Jesus is coming again, and so we are not supposed to be standing around looking at the sky.  We need to be busy about God’s work, the work of his kingdom:  sharing Christ so that others might follow him – and following Christ so that we might share him.  The ascension means that Jesus will come again. 

The world around us is in so much trouble and distress, and it would be easy for us to get discouraged.  But that’s where these five truths about the ascension give us great hope.  

We may not talk about the ascension as much as we do about the cross or the resurrection.  But it is still a vital part of our Christian faith.  The cross is empty because Jesus died.  The tomb is empty because Jesus rose.  The earth is empty because Jesus ascended.  

And because Jesus ascended you can take comfort in these five amazing truths:

1) Jesus is back again with his Father.  Everything is as it should be.

2) Jesus has taken his rightful place on the throne.  He is king and he is in control.  

3) Jesus has poured out his Holy Spirit into our hearts.  You have God with you every hour of every day.  

4) Jesus prays for you constantly.  It is his prayers that keep you going.  

5) Jesus will come again.  Every eye will see him, and every wrong will be made right.

All glory and honor to Jesus our Lord.

The Most Important Parts of Being a Christian 5/15/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 14, 2022 & Sunday, May 15, 2022 

COMMUNION 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us.  Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, and in our living.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Luke 6:27-36 (Page 1033) and 1 John 4:7-12 (Page 1230) 

Sermon/Communion Message: “The Most Important Parts of Being a Christian” 

Clearly the Bible decrees that ‘love’ is a very important requirement.  In our lives as Christians, ‘love’ is one of the most important parts. The kind of love the Bible speaks of and Jesus teaches is not the more general form of love folks might be familiar with. 

There are some very significant parts to being a Christian.  A ‘Christian’ is defined as a person who adheres to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps a more concise definition is: a Christian is someone whose behavior and heart reflect Jesus Christ. 

Many churches affirm ‘Christians’ as persons who believe in Jesus Christ, follow His teachings, and proclaim Him as their Lord and Savior. Some would say ‘being a Christian’ means belonging to a certain church. 

Folks have struggled through the years with concisely defining what constitutes a ‘Christian.’  

However we may arrive at our definition of ‘being a Christian,’ common to all interpretations are certain ‘parts’ that characterize God in our hearts. 

Clearly Jesus affirms what the Bible confirms, ‘love’ is a vital part of being a Christian. 

Sometimes we sing the sacred selection, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”  Being a Christian is not simply believing in Jesus Christ, belonging to a church, or claiming the title, ‘Christian.’ 

Being a Christian is a lifestyle and a choice we make, perhaps daily. Not all parts of Christianity ‘make sense’ to folks.  For instance, in today’s Gospel lesson Jesus begins with these words: “To you who are listening, I say…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” 

According to this world’s standards these teachings of Jesus Christ simply are not the ‘natural order’ of things!  Typically, the world teaches us to overcome our enemies, keep them in their place, and restrain and discipline them if necessary.  At least stay as far away from them as possible.  People who hate us we tend to ‘hate’ back.  More often we seek revenge on those who hate us.  Doing good to such people is unheard of.  Folks who curse us generally receive our reprimand or our cursing in return. Our world does not teach us to pray for people who mistreat us.  If that were the case, there would be far less road rage, shootings, killings, and court cases. 

Yet Jesus begins his words by saying, “But to you who are listening…”  One of the most important parts of being a Christian is ‘listening’ to Jesus.  We ‘listen’ in a variety of ways. ‘Listening’ does involve reading and studying the scriptures.  Specifically the words of Jesus recorded on the pages of Holy Scripture.  We also ‘listen’ to Jesus by meditating, thinking about what he is saying to us, and ‘why’ he is saying things to us.  Ultimately we ‘listen’ by incorporating Jesus’ life and teachings in our hearts and through the ways we live. 

I am hoping that you can think of some examples from your own life when you have followed the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps by choice or possibly out of necessity.  How does a Christian ‘go about’ ‘loving their enemies?’  

Tolerance?  Patience?  Reasoning together?  Boundaries, where necessary, and as some say, striving to ‘walk in their shoes’ for better understanding. Jesus teaches us to love the unlovable.  Do good to them.  Bless them. Pray for them. 

Some years back I received a postcard from Reverend Billy Graham.  I keep it on my desk upstairs.  It was a card mailed out to all Christian pastors.  It states, “The most important characteristic of any pastor is a heart for God---a deep desire to live for Christ and to see others come to know Him and serve Him.” 

That IS what’s in my heart and soul.  I hope to be reflecting that in my life as well. Billy Graham passed away February 21, 2018.  His son, Franklin Graham, has ‘stepped up’ to carry on his father’s work and ministry.  I was reading some very strong commentaries regarding Franklin Graham.  It seems he suggested we all should pray for Russian president Vladimir Putin.  While Franklin Graham was striving to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ to ‘pray for our enemies’, his critics were vehemently against his form of advice. 

Perhaps we are not identifying with what might be the world’s number one enemy, yet we all have ‘enemies’ to deal with on a daily basis. 

Across the years I’ve watched how Christians deal with enemies.  Admittedly it’s not easy to love our enemies.  But this I do know and well receive: with Jesus Christ inside of our hearts and guiding our lives, there is a spiritual difference in how we deal with our enemies. The spiritual teaching of Jesus that helps is this: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  

Let me share with you a small example of this.  A middle-aged woman, where she worked, enjoyed giving others a ‘rough time’ just because she could.   Turns out it was just kind of a lazy behavior she had incorporated into her personality some years back.  Some responded by getting even with her, some chose to ignore her, but this one person chose to love her, in spite of herself.  He would simply ‘meet her eyes’ when she unraveled some rude behavior towards him, even in front of others.  Sometimes she expected a verbal confrontation but instead received a pat on her should or a shaking of her hand.  He even went out of his way to help her.  No matter how often she repeated this awkward behavior he unswervingly met her eyes, chose to be kind, and most often afforded some personal touch or handshake.  Afterwards he just moved on. 

Jesus Christ knew then what Jesus Christ knows now; we shall win more battles, create more reform, and bring about more lasting change by loving our enemies than by cursing and becoming ‘as they are.’  One of the most important parts of being a Christian is being able to ‘put our feet on higher ground!’ 

“Turn the other cheek” is sometimes a hard teaching of Jesus to understand or implement.  Yet I believe you and I have done so repeatedly in our lifetimes. 

Jesus is our greatest example to follow.  He was often times persecuted for his words or his actions.  Yet he did not rain down fire nor brimstone on his persecutors.  There have been times when any of us might want to ‘take a swing’ at someone, yet the teachings and example of Jesus Christ comes to mind and stops us in our tracks. 

Easily enough our self-value and worth can be brought into question, unfairly so, hurtingly so, by another.  One of the most important parts of being a Christian is following the teachings and examples of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus reminds us that anyone can love those who love you, but what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.  Jesus goes on to say easily enough you can do good to those who do good to you.  Even sinners do that.  The same goes for lending money and so on. 

When me, myself, and I are the most important parts of life, then hurt, fighting, and compromise are sure to follow.  

Another of the most important parts of being a Christian is realizing what the Apostle Paul spoke of and wrote, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  God doesn't expect any believer to be perfect. 

“To be crucified with Christ” means we have given up on our old selves and our old ways of doing things.  Now we choose of our own free will to follow these teachings of Jesus and live life in a far different and greater way.  

When I find myself praying for my enemies, blessing those who persecute me, not getting even and perhaps turning the other cheek, I come to realize I do so not so much for myself, but for Jesus.  He IS my Savior.  He IS God’s Son. 

Affirming in faith, our belief, trust, and wholesome heartfelt response to Jesus Christ are vital parts of being a Christian. 

The longer I live the Christian faith the less I want to be like the rest of the world.  The greater my knowledge and awareness of Jesus Christ, the better my response to those who are ‘enemies’ of any sort. 

The most important parts of being a Christian are seen in how we love. Jesus Christ loved those who sincerely did not love him.  Jesus chose to love those who did not deserve what he had to offer.  He practiced what he preached.  He did turn the other cheek.  He did do good to those who harmed him.  He gave his life for people who did not deserve. 

Saving souls is more important than ‘saving face.’  Being a Christian is the most important part of living.  Amen.

Mother's Sacred Advice 5/7/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 7, 2022 & Sunday, May 8, 2022 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:  Loving God, help us to hear your Holy Word that we may truly understand; that understanding, we may believe; and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 23 (Page 548) and John 2:1-12 (Page 1063) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Mother’s Sacred Advice” 

Mary and Joseph were Jesus’ ‘earthly’ parents.  Within today’s scriptures we learn of Mary ‘advising’ her son that the wine had ‘run out’ at the wedding they were attending.  We further learn of Jesus’ reply: “Woman, why do you involve me?”  Not a very nice response, so it seems. 

Our ‘mothers’ sometimes afford us sacred advice.  At first review it surely doesn’t ‘seem’ as though Mary’s ‘advice’ had much to do with sacredness. Yet it becomes the basis for the first recorded miracle of Jesus. 

So what might we think about this mother/son dialogue?  Was Mary’s advice sacred?  Personal or simply convenient?  Maybe something else altogether.  No doubt Jesus’ Mother had taught him many things and probably ‘advised’ him many times during his childhood and perhaps even into his adulthood.  Mary and Joseph were of the Jewish faith.  They would have taught their son to follow the Jewish religion.  Perhaps your mother taught you something about religion as well. 

I have a few ‘words of advice’ Mothers have spoken across the years.  I suggest you ‘think’ about these next words of advice and discern if they constitute ‘sacred advice’ or not. 

For instance, my mother taught me about religion:  When I spilled some grape juice on the carpet, she advised me of this: “You better pray that stain will come out of the carpet.”  Sacred advice or not? 

Perhaps your mother taught you similar ‘logic’ as did my own mother.  Recall these words of logic from our mothers: “Because I said so.  That’s why.”  I still hear my daughter say those decisive words to her children. 

Our mothers taught us to have foresight:  "Make sure you wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident." 

Would you say this entails ‘sacred advice’ thus far?

IRONY has been a part of our mothers’ advice.  Sometimes when they reach their saturation point and frustration sets in, Mom will say, “Keep laughing, and I’ll give you something to cry about." 

Remember, too, how our mothers taught us STAMINA:  "You’ll sit there ’til all that spinach is finished." 

My mother taught me about WEATHER:  "It looks as if a tornado swept through your room." 

My mother and my father were both sometimes kind of ‘rough’ with my three brothers and me when we pushed too far.  Their advice was more of a strong reminder and possible threat to our well-being and the Circle of Life, "I brought you into this world, and I can take...” 

The Bible records many words of advice; sacred advice for us to follow.  Have you ever given thought to what might be some of the best, the most sacred words of advice?  Some scholars point out that the most sacred advice found in the Bible are some further words Mary spoke regarding Jesus. 

Immediately after Jesus responds to his mother’s request for more wine, she looks beyond Jesus and says these words to the servants at that wedding, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Perhaps this IS the best advice any mother ever gave. Good advice.  Sacred advice still, for all of us today regarding Jesus. DO what Jesus tells us to do! 

Has your mother ever called upon you to help?  Most likely she has.  Has YOUR mother ever expected a miracle from you?  Possibly so. 

On this Mother’s Day it is good to be in God’s House.  Here we worship.  Here we pray.  Here we reflect and thank the good Lord for the benefits of life. 

I’ve learned across the years that many ‘mothers’ hold certain scriptures near and dear to their hearts.  An all-time ‘favorite’ portion of Holy Scripture is the 23rd Psalm.  Let’s consider some portions of this esteemed psalm. 

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Mothers and Fathers, children of any age, when we affirm with our lives and our words our belief, our bottom-line, firm foundational belief, that the Lord IS our shepherd, we illustrate sacred advice for others, all others to follow.  Affirming faith is one thing.  Illustrating what that faith means to you is another thing. “I shall not want.”  Mothers PROVE to us by both their words and their actions that faith may be shaken but never destroyed when the Lord IS your shepherd.  Because of the Lord and through faith living with the Lord, we shall not want.  Teach your children your faith.  This remains a wondrous inheritance for a lifetime, touching the souls of our family into eternity.  Many mothers have drawn upon this portion of the 23rd Psalm for their personal affirmation of faith, especially so during times of trial.

As Pastor, I suggest this further sacred advice to Mothers.  Use your Bible.  Reference it for yourselves and for whatever else you are reviewing in life.  Please make notations in your Bible.  Underline some notable verses.  Write in the margins.  One day your Bible will be passed on to another.  They will sincerely benefit from your faith reviews and spiritual insights. Leave further evidence of sacred advice for those who follow. 

The second verse of the 23rd Psalm declares, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” Perhaps on any annual “Mother’s Day” we tend to reflect upon love we shared with our mothers and some further familiar memories we associate with them.  I strongly encourage us to dig a little deeper and think a bit further regarding mothers' sacred advice.  Remember the things she said and the way she led you back to God.  That may have entailed her advising you to ‘go to church.’  It may have also included advising you to read your Bible, understand the teachings of God, and obey Jesus.  These are certainly good areas of sacred advice.  Yet there is more.  Our mothers showed us by their lives and furthered our spiritual care in the ways they guided us to meditate, close your door, and spend some time alone with God.  Sensitive mothers teach us to “pray about it” when our problems are immense and our burdens are quite heavy.  Think back today to those times and occasions when your mother guided you towards green pastures and still waters that restored your soul.  These, too, are times and occasions of sacred advice. 

Is your soul refreshed?  I certainly hope so. 

It should be the sacred advice of every mother to guide us towards Jesus and to help guide us further along the right paths for God’s sake. 

A mother’s sacred advice is especially seen when we walk through some very dark valleys. 

Sometimes all a mother needs to say is, “Don’t worry, God has His hand upon you!”  We learn to trust mothers’ sacred advice. Although my mother was a ‘worrier’ by nature, she was also a sincere Christian through faith.  When my mother reached the furthest ends of her worry, she always ‘took it to the Lord in prayer.’  Sometimes, admittedly many times, she took me to the Lord in prayer. 

Mothers, I inquire of you today to live your faith in such a manner that we grow to trust, we need not fear evil, for God is with us, and you care for us still.  

The mother of Jesus, Mary, had this special privilege I and other men shall always envy (in a good and wholesome way). Mary and all mothers carry life from God inside of them.  They are designed by God to bring life into this world.  The very beginnings of a soul co-exist with their mother’s heart, body, and soul.  What a sacred reality this remains. 

The 23rd Psalm speaks of the ‘rod and staff’ of God bringing comfort.  When my mother, or yours for that matter, quoted those scriptures:  “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” we most likely were NOT feeling real comfortable around them when they raised their eyebrows and gave us ‘the look!’ 

Do remember ‘the rod and the staff’ of protection, prodding, care, love, forgiveness, and encouragement. 

Some of this world’s greatest teachers regarding ‘forgiveness’ are our mothers. They have commonly been the peacemakers in the family and the neighborhood.  Not only do they fix our hurts, they tend to patch us up and advise us toward what’s sacred in this life and the next. 

In this world we are living, in there seems to be an endless listing of enemies.  Sometimes that list of ‘enemies to our peace’ can become overwhelming.  Violence, shootings, legal battles, second guessing, sin, death, disease, wars, and rumors of wars.  

Remember when your mother prepared the table for you to eat, to sit down, to enjoy a meal, to ‘be with’ her and the rest of your family and friends. Mothers’ sacred advice reminds us we can still do that even in the presence of our enemies.  

There is integrity to the Christian faith within you.  YOU ARE a child of God, you are not ‘less than’ any other soul on this planet. 

In the waters of baptism you have been anointed.  You and I drink still from the ‘cup of life.’  Because of God’s provisions and manifold blessings, our cup overflows. 

Be assured, be strongly assured this Mother’s Day and beyond; surely goodness and love will follow you all the days of your life, and you SHALL dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Our mother’s sacred advice remains. 

In bringing this message to a close. I have a gift to share with my own mother.  Yes, she is in heaven with the Lord.  I fully trust that.  All of her greatest questions and deepest concerns about myself and my three brothers the Lord has provided her with answers already. 

In the Book of Revelation 4:1 reference is made to a ‘door standing open in heaven…’ 

Should there be a door or a window opened in heaven today please join me in saying to our mothers, “It is well with my soul.” 

While we are not able to perform the miracle of changing water into wine, may it be so that the manner in which our lives have transformed from how we were into ‘who’ we have become be the miracle that please and fulfills.  Amen.

You'll Never Walk Alone 5/1/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 30, 2022 & Sunday, May 1. 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 1:1-6 (Page 536) and Luke 24:13-35 (Page 1060) 

Sermon Message: “You'll Never Walk Alone” 

I trust we have all had times when we felt as though we were walking through life alone.  Such was the case for these two persons going into a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  That was about a two-hour walk, at least.  The two of them were walking along and talking about current events relating to God, Jesus, and religion.  They were sad.  What happened next, they never saw coming -- this fellow comes along and starts walking with them.  At first they didn’t recognize him.  It was Jesus who came and walked with them.  But they didn’t recognize him initially.  Especially so, because what they were experiencing was so difficult. 

I can relate to a much smaller, yet, significant experience I had many years ago when I first started preaching.  I went to this quite small rural, white-framed church early Sunday morning.  I surely didn’t want to be late for my first preaching engagement at that church.  I must have gone over my sermon 30 times before arriving there that day.  I remember, the best thought I could muster up inside of me regarding that sermon all those years ago was, “It’s ok, I guess.”  When I got to that church, I met the pianist who seemed to be as old as the building itself. She asked me what songs we were going to sing.  I remember saying; “Oh Ma'am, I don’t know.  I’m the preacher.”  She looked at me and said, “Well Sonny, around here, the guy who does the preachin’ leads the singin.”  I think I wet my pants a little that day. I didn’t see that coming. 

Some things we don't see coming are really difficult:  divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, health struggles.  Sometimes unforeseen things are unexpected blessings:  a new baby we didn't think we'd have, a promotion we didn't think we'd get, cancer that is healed completely, husbands who do their own laundry. 

Well, Easter Day, over 2,000 years ago, was a surprise NO ONE saw coming.  And we're going to see how the real Jesus and His real resurrection changed everything for two guys who'd lost all hope and felt as though they had no further choice but to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking alone in their thoughts and prayers. 

On that first Easter afternoon these two guys are walking ‘away’ from Jerusalem, ‘away’ from the Cross, ‘away’ from the empty tomb, and ‘away’ from where the rest of the followers of Jesus are.  They aren’t just walking ‘away’ from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  They are walking ‘away’ from the Cross.

They are frightened, they are helpless, and they are bewildered.  Some would call them cowards!  These folks, and others just like them, Jesus calls and commissions to do His work, to further His kingdom, to build His church, and to live and share the Christian faith. 

I’ve seen it happen, time and again, in my walk with Jesus. He calls upon people who just don’t seem to have a clue, some who are even scared out of their wits and helpless.  He comes and walks with them and just continues walking with them as they bear their burdens, carry their cross, and fulfill what they come to know and further understand that which God has been calling them to do.  Jesus Christ doesn’t just ‘call’ and ‘walk’ beside us.  He sends further help.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to inspire, strengthen, lead, and guide us. 

I’ve been an ordained minister most of my adult life.  Prior to entering ministry, I attended various churches.  I do still recall some of those ‘sermons’ I heard when I was sitting in the pew.  One of my favorites still remains that associated with the Emmaus Road journey.  As I have received teachings on the Emmaus Road experience, studied these scriptures, associated with the same, and shared sermon messages down through the years, some spiritual insights have become consistently clearer. 

One of those insights is this: The Christian faith, analogous to the Emmaus Road experience for those two early believers, is not just about arriving somewhere; it's not about destinations but journeying.  

Another of the ‘insights’ we gain from this Emmaus Road narrative is that those two fellows continued to talk about God and about Jesus.  They were discussing things that they realized God had done and continually strove to figure out!  It remains ‘good’ for us, as we walk along, to talk of Christ and not only of God and His providences, but of Jesus and His love.  

I am hoping you continue to find that good conversation and communications concerning Christ remain an excellent antidote against sadness, sorrow, bewilderment, and aloneness.  

Choose to follow this example of Jesus Christ.  Choose to walk beside someone, especially so, some souls that are melancholy, burdened, or alone. 

A further ‘insight’ regarding these two who were walking along on the Road to Emmaus is this: they learned to trust Jesus.  While Jesus strove to reveal many things to them regarding the scriptures and his resurrection, THEY had to CHOOSE to trust and thus believe. 

When we come to church on Easter Sunday and there remains a glorious crowd of believers accompanied by sacred music, honorable preaching, and the strength of Christian fellowship, the ‘cross’ we are called to bear seems a little lighter.  Our walk with Jesus and His walk with us teach us that it’s not so much the weight of the crosses we are called to bear, but the manner in which we bear them.  Quite often we resist carrying any crosses in our lives.  Oh, but I have seen in you that the manner in which you carry your crosses and the manner in which I carry mine reflects our further love and trust of God more.

As pastor, I remain keenly aware of some of the crosses in your life because you have asked me to pray for you.  A few examples of ‘crosses’ we bear are these: the cross you bear for a child caught in the chains of a destructive addiction.  Disabled parents for whom you have to care.  An unsatisfying job that is apparently the best means of providing for your family that you have.  Dealing with potentially terminal illnesses.  Your ‘calling’ to serve the poor.  These and other sorts of ‘crosses’ can leave a soul feeling as though they are walking alone in this world. 

Jesus Christ is the best and the greatest example we have to follow.  Time and time again, when Jesus met with his disciples and with those feeling such ‘aloneness’ in life, he did something so very basic and fundamental; He illuminated scripture.  Jesus did so with the disciples following his resurrection as they locked themselves, in fear, behind closed doors.  He did this same thing again when he walked with the two persons journeying along the road to Emmaus. Remember – on that walk to Emmaus, He talked to them about how the prophets had spoken and how they had revealed that Christ would have to suffer before he entered His glory. 

Has it ever happened to you whereby some portion of Holy Scripture was ‘illuminated’ for your understanding and edification?  We sometimes say, “Well this or that scripture ‘came to mind!’ ” OR some portion of the Bible seemed to ‘speak to us.’  Sometimes Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to inspire us still, especially so, when we feel as though we are walking alone. 

This Emmaus Road narrative shall always serve to remind us that Jesus comes and is near to us sometimes when we least expect it.  There shall be times when your prayers are answered in ways you might not have expected.  God stills sends His Son, and His Son still sends the Holy Spirit to inspire, comfort, strengthen, and guide. 

Psalm 1 affirms we are blessed if we choose NOT to walk in step with the wicked, stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers.  We shall be blessed if we meditate on and respond to God day and night. (I like this next portion of scripture): “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season—whatever they do prospers.  For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” 

IF you choose to walk with the Lord, you’ll never walk alone.  You might be surprised by just how close God IS.  Amen.

Get Busy Believing 4/24/2022

Sermon Message For Saturday, April 23, 2022 & Sunday, April 24, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 112:6-8 (Page 607), John 20:19-31 (Page 1088), Romans 10:8-11 (Page 1135) 

Sermon Message:  “Get Busy Believing” 

Have you ever wondered if the stories about Jesus and God were really true? I think we all do wonder sometimes.  Well, what would you say if I told you that I have something inside this box (show the box) that proves all of those things were true and that Jesus was the Son of God and came back to life on Easter Sunday?  If I said I had something inside this box that proves those stories were true, would you want to see what is inside the box?  (Let them respond.)  Our story today is about someone who did want to see that kind of proof. 

The story begins last Sunday evening, the night after Easter morning.  The women and the disciples who had found the empty tomb were together in a room trying to figure out what had really happened.  They wanted to believe that Jesus wasn’t dead, but they were afraid it might have been a trick.  Maybe the people who had killed Jesus had just hidden his body to make them all believe Jesus was alive, so they could somehow catch the rest of them, too.  They were all together in a secret place and locked the doors so they could be safe and decide what they were going to do.  While they were talking, something really amazing happened.  Do you remember what happened?  While they were talking, Jesus suddenly appeared right there with them.  He talked to them for a while and showed them his hands and feet where he had been hurt.  Now they knew for sure that Jesus was alive, so I’ll bet they were all really excited, don’t you?  Well, not all of them. 

Thomas was one of Jesus’ disciples, but he wasn’t there with them that night, and when they told him what had happened and what they had seen, he didn’t believe them.  He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  Thomas didn’t believe them.  He wanted proof, and no matter how much they tried to convince him, he just wouldn’t believe the story they told him about Jesus coming to them. 

Well, the next Sunday night they all got together in their secret place again.  When Jesus had talked to them, he told them he was going to send them out to do things to take care of people for God, and they were all wondering just what they were going to do.  All except Thomas.  He still didn’t believe them.  Do you remember what happened next? While they were talking, Jesus appeared to them again, and this time Thomas was there to see him, too.  Since he was able to see and touch Jesus, Thomas finally believed that Jesus was alive again.  Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

Sometimes it is pretty hard to believe in God, isn’t it? Consider briefly today the people of Ukraine.  Perhaps they are praying from their heart and soul minute by minute, day after precious day, wondering what might become of them, their country, their homes, and their people.  As we know, some of the citizens of Ukraine are leaving the country and fleeing to other nations.  Some Ukrainian people are staying, fighting the Russian invasion.  As Russia invades and scores of Ukrainians respond, what might become their outlook?  What might be their doubts?  For those who stay, should they be learning the Russian language?  For those who are leaving, should they be learning another world language such as Polish, English, etc.?  It must be truly difficult to NOT doubt in those circumstances. Some are optimistic; others are pessimistic, I’m sure.  

This disciple of Jesus, Thomas, was pretty pessimistic.  His was a history of being pessimistic.  For Thomas, the cross was only what he had expected.  When Jesus had suggested going to Bethany when the news of the illness of Lazarus had come, Thomas' reaction had been:  ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’  (John 11:16) 

Thomas never lacked courage, but Thomas was a natural pessimist.  What Thomas had expected to happen had happened.  When it came about that Jesus was crucified and died, Thomas was broken-hearted.  So brokenhearted was he that he wanted to be alone with his grief.  

Thomas not appearing with the disciples on that first Sunday after Easter may have illustrated a measure of the depth of his sorrow and disappointment. 

Perhaps you are acquainted with someone who has experienced a depth of sorrow and great disappointment.  I ministered to a man and his young son who experienced something similar to that.  The wife/mother had died a horrid death at such a young age.  The young widower was determined to safely and securely raise his child while protecting his own heart from ever becoming so hurt again.  His was severe doubt that he or his son could ever find love, let alone trust love, again.  Eventually they did.  I was honored to ‘officiate’ the new marriage and later baptize a new baby.  

The disciple, Thomas, made a serious mistake.  He withdrew from Christian fellowship.  He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. 

When our doubts, sorrow, and grief come to us, we sometimes shut ourselves up and refuse to meet people.  I’ve recognized as a pastor that these are precisely the times when we need to be in church with other people.  We are more likely to meet Jesus in the fellowship of other people. 

There is a phrase my father would sometimes use when he fell away from the goals associated with Alcoholics Anonymous.  That phrase was, he ‘fell off the wagon.’  It meant he reverted to drinking again, or feeling sorry for himself again, or separating himself from his family and support system.  

Perhaps we have somehow “fallen off the wagon” in our spiritual beliefs. As pastor, I need to say, regardless of how ashamed any of us might be of our behavior, including our doubts, recall this: the assembled believers were ‘there’ for Thomas, and they are ‘there’ for us.  We are called out of the world by God to become his living presence in this town, this neighborhood, this church where all sorts of folks, even those like Thomas, can have forgiving love, warmth, and assurance. 

God loves and saves us.  We need what Christ’s church has to offer over and over again.  THIS remains a vital element to our spiritual lives. 

Sometimes when folks doubt the most, they seek some sort of ‘sign’ from God.  Perhaps that was, in part, what Thomas was seeking. People who doubt are seldom ‘cured’ of their doubting once and for all.  Rather, doubts tend to resurface from time to time.  

One of the legends about Thomas relates that some years after the event, Thomas was again plagued with doubts about the resurrection.  He sought some of the Apostles and began to pour out his soul's troubles to them.  But after a while, one by one, the apostles left him because of pressing duties.  He made his way to some loyal women in the company of believers.  They were surprised at his questions, but like Dorcas, they were busy in labors for the Master and let him know they didn't have time for such thoughts as these.  At last, it dawned on Thomas that it was because they were so occupied in the work of the Lord that they were free from the doubt that seemed to be torturing him.  He took the hint.  He went to Parthia and flung himself into preaching the Word and ministering to the needs of the saints and was never again troubled with so much doubt. 

When Jesus Christ appeared to Thomas, he addressed those doubts.  Notice Jesus did not reprimand Thomas for doubting.  He did not accuse him either.  Jesus simply and sincerely met Thomas where he was and in essence directed him to “Get busy believing.” 

Faith is to have integrity.  Doubts are not necessarily sins but need to also be answered with integrity.  Psalm 112: 6-8 affirms that the “righteous will never be shaken.  They will have no fear of bad news, their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.  Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph over their foes.” 

When Thomas doubted so extensively that first Easter, integrity was restored to his faith not only by the sign of Jesus’ presence but also by his faith decision to “Get Busy Believing!” 

Jesus is the Rock of our salvation.  Stand firm upon the Rock.  Do not be shaken but choose to remain steadfast in believing in the Lord.  God is real.  Jesus is alive.  He has risen from the dead.  Allow him to rise forth in your heart and soul. 

Get Busy Believing.  We are not to remain under the power of fear nor doubt. 

Romans 10:8-11 declares “The word of God is near you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart.  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 

In order to get busy believing we need to also get busy proclaiming.  Doubts need to be addressed from our hearts and souls and from our minds.  Not everyone ‘gets a sign’ from God as Thomas did.  Yet we are all called upon to choose to believe.  Choosing to believe includes declaring “Jesus is Lord.”  This is not always the easiest thing to do, yet it remains the Scriptural thing to do. Believing begins in the heart, the mind, and the soul.  It’s a choice, a faith-choice we have to make.  

Thomas teaches us still we need to move beyond the shadow of doubts, the feelings of fear, and the burdens associated with our heaviest grief.  

Easter serves to further remind us He has risen from the grave.  Jesus Christ reigns from heaven.  He is at the right hand of God the Father.  He lives. 

Jesus further affirms, we are blessed if we have received a sign from God to answer our doubts and affirm our faith.  But more blessed are we to believe without seeing a sign.  Trusting from faith.  

At various times God answers our doubts and assists us to overcome our fears.  

At the grave of Jesus God sent angels to assure the women and the disciples that Jesus was not there.  He had risen from the dead.  Jesus came and appeared to the women at the tomb, later to the disciples huddled fearfully so, in a room behind locked doors and later to Thomas.  Jesus met with two of his disciples on the Road to Emmaus and visited at length with them. 

More importantly remember this, Jesus did not induce guilt as a means of addressing doubt.  He just affirms, welcomes, and encourages.  

As members of the faith community and present-day disciples of Jesus Christ, let’s get busy believing.  Amen.

Easter, Our Greatest Hope 4/17/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 16, 2022 & Sunday, April 17, 2022 

Easter Sermon 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul.  Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Luke 24:1-12 (Page 1060) and Psalm 33:12-22 (Page 554) 

Easter Message: “Easter, Our Greatest Hope” 

That very first Easter started out as a frightening experience.  Each of the Gospel Lessons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, share a similar account.  Each tells us of specific women coming to Jesus’ tomb, to further anoint his body for customary burial preparations.  One account states there was an earthquake involved.  Other accounts inform us that those who came to Jesus’ tomb were frightened, bewildered, and confused.  

They came with their quite vivid memories of so much evil that had happened to their beloved Jesus just a few days before.  The Apostle’s Creed affirms, “He descended into Hell and on the third day he arose again from the dead.”  Jesus’ descent into hell was for the further salvation of lost souls.  Sometimes when we experience our “Hell” here on earth, we come to know ours has been a journey immersed in the darkest of places. 

You and I have grown to know in our faith walk that you can’t really appreciate the goodness and the hope of Easter unless you’ve ‘come through’ some version of darkness, fear, and even hopelessness. 

When Jesus Christ died upon the Cross and hung there for all to see, it surely felt as though evil had finally and ultimately won.  The finalness associated with bad events presents a form of ‘reckoning’ within us all.  Shortly after Jesus’ death upon the cross, a wealthy man by the name of Joseph, a respected member of the council, asked for the body of Jesus.  Joseph was a secret disciple.  “Secret” because he had been afraid of reprisal.  However, after witnessing Jesus’ suffering and death, his fear of ‘what others might think’ was overcome.  Living through darkness and dealing with evil will sometimes do that to a soul. Perhaps you’ve lived through something a bit similar?  

Another “secret disciple” of Jesus was Nicodemus.  He brought with him, to Jesus’ tomb, a large amount of myrrh and aloes for the body of Jesus. 

Jesus’ main disciples had locked themselves behind closed doors in fear of the soldiers who might determine they too deserved similar punishment.

Most everyone who knew Jesus felt defeated by evil.  In Jesus they had seen goodness personified.  He had shown them love, mercy, and grace.  Rome’s soldiers had defeated God’s Messiah.  Their King was gone.  Their hopes and dreams, even their faith, had been crucified with him.  So it was, they sunk into utter despair. 

As pastor, I’ve sat with families following the death of a young person.  I sat with groupings of teenagers after their friend’s life support systems were disconnected.  I remember being called to meet with the family of a boy who shot himself.  The list goes on.  In those ties silence is interrupted by sobs.  The urge for some sense of normalcy is there yet nothing can lift the feeling in the heart when the weight of grief presses down. 

Perhaps you know of someone who experienced terminal news.  Many of us still recall hearing and receiving the news of 9/11 and the sinking feeling that our lives would be changed forever.  

But what was it that Jesus sometimes said?  Didn’t he say something about “being in the belly of the whale for three days?”  Or “rebuilding the temple in three days?”  What did he mean by that?  What do these words still mean to us today in the midst of life’s realities of evil and darkness? 

On that very first Easter the idea that Jesus had been raised from the dead was considered unbelievable.  The women and those disciples who first went to his empty tomb and saw the stone rolled away, plus Jesus’ body gone, were filled with terror!  The remaining disciples struggled with all of this and had tremendous doubts over and against the ‘obvious’ they had experienced.  You remember the disciple who doubted all of this the most don’t you?  Thomas. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  

As an abiding Christian, I remain grateful knowing that even the disciples who were ‘right there’ struggled with doubt when it came to the Resurrection.  IF the men and women who were with Jesus found it difficult to believe, how much more so for people who live twenty centuries later and have not seen that empty tomb nor the living Christ with their own eyes.  

Jesus seemed to know his disciples would be struggling with his resurrection and telling others about what hope their faith revealed.  So it was, he promised to “be with them always.  Even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) 

You and I live in a world where seeing is believing.  Credible facts give credible belief.  Yet we remain aware of mysteries we still cannot explain.  

I visited with a 40-something year old woman in a care facility in Pittsburgh quite some time ago.  I gave her a small stone on which I had written the words, “Jesus loves you.”  She was pleased, motioned for me to come close after we prayed, and said these words: “I want you to make sure this stone is with me at my funeral this time next week.”

Her illness wasn’t life threatening, yet she somehow knew her ‘time had come.’  One week later, I officiated her funeral.  That little stone was there. 

People have sat up in bed and started talking to people or angels none of the rest of us could see.  Oh, but they did.  Folks have shared with me that they actually ‘heard’ what their family members were saying as they lie in a coma. 

Folks experiencing these ‘mysteries’ often share with me they will never forget the peace and assurance that was ‘on the other side.’  Some say it was so good they did not want to come back to us. 

“Resurrection” means different things for different people.  For the ancients it meant ‘seeing’ the physical Jesus alive after witnessing his death upon the Cross. 

For me and possibly for you, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ remains a mystery we cannot easily nor efficiently ‘explain away’ in any of our usual scientific approaches.  

A long time ago an older fellow who lived in my neighborhood shared this with me. He said, “Tommy, there’s always going to be a certain amount of mysteries in life.  Especially in how you understand God and how he works.  Be okay with that.  You don’t have to know it all nor understand it all.  Just let some things be a mystery.  That’s OK.” 

I trust the Biblical fact that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead.  Trusting transforms us. This too is the hope of Easter. 

I trust that Jesus Christ died upon the Cross after suffering immensely as an atonement for sins; your sin and my sin plus the sins of countless others.  

Mostly I trust that Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection became God’s victory over the powers of evil and over sin that alienates us from God.  These ‘mysteries’ are God’s triumph over death, which we, by faith, share. 

Because you and I chose to trust in what God has done and continues to be doing, we have hope.  The world’s greatest hope. 

I’m not sure if you might agree with me or not, but much of what’s happening in the world is frightening. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is frightening.  Where will it all end?  How many must suffer?  What further effects is this war going to have directly on us? 

Will gas prices and inflation remain high and continue to climb? 

The news reports a new variant of the COVID virus.

Before that there was the fear associated with climate change/global warming.  

Perhaps global warming is also ‘real’ but I will not live my life in fear of it.  I will not, because I believe Christ will have the final word. 

The threat of terrorism remains real.  I believe we need to find ways to address the underlying issues, but I will not hide in fear because I believe Jesus Christ has the final word.  

Economic crisis re-occur in each generation.  Yet we should not abide in fear.  Theologian, Frederick Buechner, is noted for saying, “Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.”  

Easter, then and now, is such a wondrous blessing.  It remains a celebration of the victory of Jesus over sin and death.  He has risen from the grave. 

Easter is the greatest hope we have.  What happened on that very first Easter teaches us still that God Almighty has a way of making things work out.  You and I have to trust, put forth faith, and strive to live the Christian life following Jesus.  Because we do, we have this hope deep within our souls. Despite difficult circumstances and painful situations that might lead to despair, something good is around the bend.  It is something we cannot live without. 

Hope gives us courage to confront our circumstances and the capacity to surmount them. 

Jesus loves me this I know.  I also know God and Jesus don't give us evil and disease and wars.  Yet these things remain a part of our lives.  We are to pray for evil to be eradicated and work to overcome it.  Each of us are to do our part, and together we can make a difference.  We are to treat disease, not pretend it can’t get us.  We join countless generations of our fore parents and pray for war to cease.  

We are to further pray that somehow, someway, in the midst of all these battles with evil, the glory of God might be revealed in our lives and through the lives of so many others.  

I know that Christ has risen, and because he lives, I will live.  I know that he has prepared a place for me, and when my time comes, I shall go home to be with my Father and your Father, with my God and your God. 

“From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all humankind.  From His dwelling place he watches all who live on earth.  He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.  The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.  We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.  In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.  May your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in you.  Amen.

MAUNDY THURSDAY - From This Time Forward 4/14/2022

Maundy Thursday

2022 

Prayer for illumination: O Lord, our God, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love that we may be obedient to your will and live always for your glory through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson: Luke 22:7- 23 (Page 1056) 

Communion Meditation: ‘From This Time Forward’ 

That very first Maundy Thursday was a confusing story.  Especially so to those who were there. 

On that very first Maundy Thursday, Jesus arranged for his disciples to meet with him for a traditional Jewish feast; The Passover Seder.  It was meant to be a time of joy and celebration, a retelling of the story of God delivering his people from slavery in Egypt.  Part of that traditional story included a sort of ‘hinting’ at the hope that God would one day send the Messiah. At that first Maundy Thursday meal, the disciples arrived realizing the special meaning associated with this Jewish festive meal.  They were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and that they were in Jerusalem on this Passover so that he could claim his kingdom. 

Four days previously, on Palm Sunday, the crowds in that city had welcomed him with shouts of “Hosanna!”  Why then was Jesus now speaking of his blood being shed?  So much had changed in such a short period of time. 

Jesus knew what was coming.  He tried to tell his disciples repeatedly, but they never understood. 

The events which followed that very first Maundy Thursday would test those closest to him and they would fail. 

Jesus gave his disciples some instructions regarding this special and quite significant ‘meal.’  It was Noon on Thursday, and he instructs them to “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you, follow him.” (Mark 14:13)  Carrying water was a woman’s job, so such a man would stand out on Jerusalem’s busy streets.  Jesus went on to say, “Whenever this man enters, say to the owner of the house: The Teacher asks, where is my guest room, where I can eat the Passover with my disciples?” (Mark 14:14) 

Such a house would have been owned by someone who was wealthy.  The person was therefore risking wealth, status, perhaps life itself, in order to host Jesus and his disciples. 

This room just may have been the very same room where Jesus later visited his disciples following His resurrection, on the day of Pentecost. 

It was customary for folks to take a lamb to the temple for the priests to butcher in the afternoon.  This was done for folks to have ‘lamb’ as part of their Seder Meal Passover feast.  As they did so, people would be singing Psalms.  The butchered lamb was then basted in oil or wine and roasted for three or four hours.  By about seven o’clock in the evening Jesus and the other disciples would have gathered at that upper room for the meal. 

The traditional Jewish Passover/Seder meal was a time to eat specific foods and drink specific portions of wine to symbolically recall and tell the story of how God freed them from slavery in Egypt and delivered their ancestors into the Promised Land.  It was their defining story.  The Seder meal was filled with ritual.  This traditional meal would last for hours.  At the end the folks participating, including the disciples, were so full of food and wine at such a late hour they fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prayed and urged them to watch with him. 

We now know Jesus would become the sacrificial lamb, and in so doing, would define or should I say, ‘redefine’ both the traditional Seder/Passover meal as well as one’s relationship to God. 

During the time Jesus shared this special meal with his disciples in the Upper Room, he did several things.  One of the things he first did was to wash his disciples’ feet.  While this was a ritual associated with purification, it was something Jesus did quite unexpectedly for his disciples at the time.  He further taught them this was an example he wanted them to follow; greatness in the kingdom of God is found in serving others. 

The traditional Jewish Passover meal was a festive time, filled with joy by the participants.  But this meal between Jesus and his disciples carried with it great apprehension.  They were well aware of the heightened tension between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders.  The disciples were wondering what was going to happen next?  Would Jesus be apprehended?  Would this be the time when Jesus proclaims himself to be the Messiah?  In the midst of all this ‘tension’ so thick you could cut it with a knife, Jesus does ‘cut through’ with the words, “One of you will betray me.” (Mark 14:18) 

Those disciples had been ‘with’ Jesus for some three years.  They had shared life and miracles, ministry, and teachings from God and with countless thousands of others.  How could Jesus even ‘say’ “One of you will betray me”? 

We know something of betrayal of Jesus, don’t we?  In our own age, when church leaders have abused children, embezzled funds, and more, we realize that such betrayals still occur.  I was reading an article about a Russian Orthodox priest who affirms and supports Russia’s war with Ukraine.  Still another Russian clergy speaks against the war. 

WHO is betraying Jesus? 

As pastor, I meet many ‘sorts’ of people.  Every now and then I meet a person whom I haven’t seen in a while.  One such person once shared with me they did something they knew disappointed God, so they just couldn’t bring themselves to come back ‘home’ to church for a while.

All of us disappoint God at some point in our lives.  All of us have some guilt associated with betrayal of Jesus.  

Each Communion meal we share I think we would do well to recall this portion of Jesus’ acknowledgment of the betrayal, the denial, the desertions that would follow.  Perhaps this is why in Christian churches, as we share in communion, we call for confession and repentance before receiving the bread and the wine.  May we always ask the Lord to forgive us from where we have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. 

There are some interesting ‘traditions’ associated with communion in the last century. Years ago in some churches the elders of the church would meet with folks to ‘interview them’ regarding their sins as well as their repentance.  Once completed affirmatively, a communion coin would be presented to the person granting them permission to receive communion during the worship service. 

Another communion scenario….Back in the early 1980’s, a senior Methodist pastor had significant ‘run-ins’ with one of his older white members at a well-established church in Pittsburgh.  The ‘run-ins’ had to do with the fellow’s brash prejudice against people of color.  That senior pastor went so far as to threaten to excommunicate the fellow if he continued on unchecked within that particular congregation.  Eventually the brash fellow ‘got the message.’  

Through the centuries and into current times, this season of Lent remains a time for folks who have denied Christ in thought, word, or deed, to be brought back into the fellowship of Communion with the Lord and the people of God. 

The traditional Jewish Seder/Passover meal was the story of God’s liberation of the Israelite slaves.  Jesus’ transitional meal became the transformation in meaning of God’s liberation of all humankind from slavery to sin and death into forgiveness and new life.  

From this time forward, what we share in each communion, yet specifically so during Maundy Thursday Communion, remains a welcoming into new life and a new beginning for people, just like you and I and people the world over who choose to follow Jesus. 

What happened on that very first Maundy Thursday becomes our story, our defining story of life with God, communion, and covenant with Jesus Christ. 

I hope you continue to find what countless others still find; Communion reshapes our lives from this time forward. 

Communion reminds us where we come from, it defines who we are and who we shall be.  The bread and the wine are inside of us.  This serves as both an awareness and an assurance that Jesus Christ resides within.  We choose to live in covenant with him.

The Sacrament of Communion is also called “Eucharist” from the Greek word for thanksgiving.  This IS a profound and holy meal, filled with good news.  Each communion meal should affect us. 

For you and me as Christians, our defining story is accompanied by a sacred meal and the sacred words:  “On the night he was betrayed (Jesus) took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.  In the same way he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:23-26) 

Holy Communion takes us back to the cross to remind us what God has done to save us; but it also points us ahead to the day when we will eat this meal in the kingdom of heaven. 

On Maundy Thursday Communion, also remember that as Jesus Christ approached his death, he found it comforting to be with his friends.  Jesus said to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you…” (Luke 22:15) 

Jesus sought his companions to be with him at that Last Supper meal and in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prayed.  

Sharing faith and communing together with God are the more important realities of our lives lived as Christians.  Consider ‘who’ you would like to have near you, perhaps ‘at table’ with you, should you know your time was nearing its’ end. 

From this time forward may we ‘commune’ with Jesus Christ and with others who have shared life, faith, hope, and the promise of God’s heaven with us.  Amen.

Be Holy, For I Am Holy 4/10/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 9, 2022 & Sunday, April 10, 2022 

Palm Sunday 

Prayer for Illumination: Almighty God, we recognize this Palm Sunday the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus, for the sins of all humankind, and specifically for our sins.  Help us now to humbly receive God’s Word for our lives.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: 1 Peter 1:13-16 (Page 1221) and Luke 19:28-40 (Page 1053) 

Sermon Message: “Be Holy, For I Am Holy” 

Today we begin what is termed ‘Holy Week’ in all Christian churches.  This week begins with Palm Sunday, continues throughout the week, and concludes on Easter Sunday. 

Throughout our years of Christian faith, we identify with the events and teachings of Holy Week.  Let’s consider ‘holiness’ and what that means for ourselves and our world. 

The word ‘holiness’ in the Bible means to be set apart for God, devoted to God, and living life closely associated with God.  

While we know Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, that very first Palm Sunday began with a parade.  Actually, three parades!  Better known as ‘royal processions’.  Jesus and his disciples entered the Holy City of Jerusalem. He rode into town humbly so, on the back of a donkey.  Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the territory, rode into Jerusalem bringing with him at least 1,000 Roman soldiers on chariots, on horseback, and on foot, all with their weapons and regalia.  Theirs was a show of force!..The third procession was that of King Herod Antipas with his large numbers of soldiers and weaponry.  He, like Pontius Pilate, knew how to use violence to suppress the people.  It was he who had beheaded John the Baptist. 

Two of the three rulers entering Jerusalem were iron-fisted men known for their cruelty.  They were quite willing to kill in order to hold power.  They used impressive shows of force to demonstrate that fact. 

Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a King.  He never resided in a castle, nor did he have an army of soldiers and servants at his ‘beck and call.’  He was a ‘king’ of some fishermen and tax collectors, a ‘king’ of despised Samaritans and prostitutes, and also a ‘king’ of blind beggars and crippled persons.  It was these persons who laid their coats down on the road to welcome their king.  He loved them regardless of how they dressed or looked.  He loved them regardless of who they had been in their past.  He placed little or no value on their position in society.  ‘They’ had great expectations of Jesus that very first Palm Sunday.  Their ‘hope’ that day was for Him to ‘take on’ Pontius Pilate, King Herod, and all of their soldiers and military might with his strength and authority from heaven. 

Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, his ‘parade’ of sorts, was actually history’s first non-violent demonstration.  As uncomfortable as it still is to hear, Jesus’ ‘demonstration’ was for a king and a kingdom built upon a radical desire to love God and a commitment to love one’s enemies. 

Palm Sunday reminds us that those crowds back then, and many of us still today, strive to define Jesus the way WE want Him to be rather than worshipping Him as King of our lives.  On the other hand, perhaps at least part of our desire to ‘define’ stems from the ‘hope’ we place in Jesus to be and further become our Savior.  Biblical history reveals that God’s people repeatedly needed to place their hope in God as through the centuries they dealt with crisis and exile. In our present-day reality as Russia’s assault of Ukraine continues, Ukrainians are experiencing their own moment of exile.  As part of my personal daily devotions, I strive to identify with what might be the heart-wrenching prayers of hope crying outwards and upwards from the Ukrainian peoples.  Etched in many of our minds are pictures of people ‘parading’ away from their war-torn country seeking an exile that will give them ‘hope’ for some sort of tomorrow.  Palm Sunday is a day of reflection and a time of appreciation and a spiritual growth in ‘hope.’ 

On Monday of Holy Week, scriptures teach us that Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple.  He overturned the tables of the money changers and extortionists.  He declared, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.”  It is further recorded that the children were shouting in the courtyards, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  Oh, how Jesus loved to hear their voices!  May we remember to come to church and participate in worship with child-like faith.  Jesus loves us, this we know, for the Bible tells us so. Tomorrow remember and pray for child-like faith to bless others and to guide you especially so during this Holy Week. 

On Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus visited the house of Simon.  While he was there, a woman came and poured some perfume on his head.  This was an act of respect and reverence.  It was such expensive perfume she used that some criticized her saying the perfume should have been sold instead, and the money given to the poor. Jesus admonished those critics.  He told them to leave her alone.  His critics were scheming of how to deal with Jesus.  They wanted him silenced.  Worse still, they wanted him killed.  On Tuesday we remember and reflect upon those who seek to criticize and kill faith and hope.  Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, also began scheming as to how he could betray Jesus.  Trials and tests come to all.  They came even to Jesus.  This Tuesday reflect upon and remember the costs associated with faith, with being a Christian, with being a follower of Jesus Christ.  You and I will not always be ‘popular’ nor appreciated.  But may we choose to remain faithful. 

Wednesday of Holy Week was a day of silence.  In the silence there becomes a turning point in one’s hearts and minds for better or worse.  Jesus continues on Wednesday to love and to work out his mission on our behalf.  This Wednesday remember silence is much needed in our relationship with the Lord if we are to truly hear God. Practice sincere times of prayerful silence this Wednesday.  Be Still and Know He is God. 

Thursday of Holy Week was a day of preparation. (Matthew 26:17-29) It was the time of The Last Supper for Jesus and his disciples.  Jesus was preparing for His suffering and death.  Jesus was preparing his disciples for ‘living on’ and for ‘living through’ the certain trial and suffering ahead.  Thursday; Maundy Thursday is a good day to be in church, to come together, to commune with Jesus.  This Thursday remember to kneel in prayer as did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We can’t well receive the message of Easter unless we humble ourselves, kneel in prayer, and even weep with Jesus.  It was in this Garden that Jesus faced his greatest fear.  It was also in Gethsemane that Jesus submitted to his Father’s will. (Luke 22:47-53) Be in prayer this Thursday.  Come to church this Thursday.  Pray from your heart FOR others this Thursday.  Recommit your heart and soul, your life and actions to God this Thursday.  Jesus showed us that if we are constantly focused on ourselves, seeking to be served, we will find that we are never satisfied.  But if we bless and serve others, carry our success with humility, seek to understand and live the lessons associated with that Maundy Thursday Last Supper Communion, we will find satisfaction for our souls, success in our spirits, and blessings we never anticipated.  Personally, I daily remember that portion of Jesus' prayer in the garden when he said unto God the Father, “Not my will but Thy will be done.” 

Friday was the day of death.  We call it Good Friday. The day when Jesus carried his cross, was mocked and further tortured, was nailed to and hung from a cross.  He was spit upon and ended up dying upon that cross.  His closest family and friends were forced to stand back and watch it all.  Cruel soldiers and criticizing religious leaders mocked and made fun of Jesus this whole time.  On Good Friday we need to recall that darkness covered the earth for three hours as Jesus hung upon His cross.  Such a catastrophic and horrible day came to be known as Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin, and the celebration of Easter, the highest apex of Christian festivities.  This Friday remember to sing the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  Remember to spend some time in silence.  Remember to thank Jesus for living for you and dying for you.  Thank Him this Good Friday for being The Way for forgiveness.  Holiness does at times require sacrifice.  The sacrifice of Jesus and our sacrifices should forever be birthed from love. God so loved, You and I so love. 

Saturday of Holy Week was a day of mourning and a day of questioning. (Matthew 27:62-66) 

Easter, well that’s another story!  That’s a very good story for many and for all. 

Throughout Lent I’ve been encouraging us to perhaps focus on some particular item or symbol.  The hope associated with that was prayer, meditation, and appreciation.  In many places throughout this church there are crosses.  One cannot well look at a cross without being led to gratitude and awe. 

Holy Week still remains a reminder in our world and within ourselves that Jesus’ way calls for authentic followers.  The world back then and the world now has religious hypocrites.  Jesus is further known as “The Way.”  His “way” requires compassion for the hungry, the thirsty, and the naked.  Jesus’ ‘way’ is a path of servanthood and sacrificial love.  The ‘way’ of Jesus still provides much needed hope in all sorts of darkness.  Yet Holy Week reminds us further that following Jesus and walking in his footsteps will require us to “take up our cross” and follow him. 

Holy Week is not the end of Jesus’ story, nor is it the end of our faith journey.  The spirituality associated with Holy Week remains something we can all count on for the rest of our lives and into eternity.  Amen.

The Thirsting of My Soul 4/3/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 2, 2022 & Sunday, April 3, 2022 

5th Sunday in Lent 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, even as our bodies thirst for water, today we thirst for the Word of God that will quench our spirits.  Help us now to drink from streams of Living Water, in the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 42:1,2 (Page 560) & John 19:28,29 (Page 1087) 

Sermon Message: “The Thirsting of My Soul” 

God sent Jesus into the world to identify with us.  Ever since Jesus was among us, we continue to seek to identify with him.  

Today’s scripture lessons speak of ‘thirst.’  

From upon the Cross, Jesus spoke the words, “I thirst.”  At other times He spoke of ‘living water.’ 

‘Water’ is the most frequently mentioned natural resource in the Bible. 

We are familiar with the Biblical phrase, “He leads me beside still waters.” “Still waters” are waters that flow very slowly and calmly; they bring much peace and rest to one’s spirit.  One of the most relaxing things in life is the sound of a bubbling brook or flowing stream of water…it is something that brings you to a place of calm, where you can focus without any distractions. 

Early on in the Bible, the term ‘living water’ was a reference to water that could be seen bubbling out of the ground.  Gradually ‘living water’ became more of a reference to faith that was being nurtured and flowing.  Living water can also be understood as a symbol for salvation and a true knowledge of God. 

Jesus Christ cried out “I thirst.” At Jesus’ crucifixion there are three times when Jesus is offered a drink.  He was NOT offered water. 

The first offer was just before he was crucified.  Scriptures record, “Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means place of the skull), and they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” (Mark 15:22-23)  This could also have been wine mixed with gall.  Wine mixed with myrrh or gall were possible poisons that were given to expedite death or possibly numb and deaden the pain.  Jesus chose NOT to accept this drink.  He intentionally chose to suffer.  He suffered to identify with the suffering human beings face at times in our own lives.  He chose to face the evil that humanity has to offer and the despair we sometimes feel.  He suffered to face sin, evil, despair, and death head on.  This was His mission, and he did not choose to take an easier way out.

Mostly, we do long for the easy way out in our daily lives.  If things aren’t going well, we want a quick fix in our physical bodies, our minds, our jobs, our families, our marriage, and so on.  We prefer comfort over pain and convenience over inconvenience. 

Jesus took the uncomfortable way, the inconvenient way most of us don’t want to go.  Sometimes we need to do the same.  Jesus invites us to, at times, take the more difficult path.  That’s what he meant when he said, “If any would be my disciples, they must deny themselves.” (Matthew 16:24)  

The second offer of wine occurred sometime after Jesus was nailed to the cross.  The Gospel of Luke records that the soldiers offered wine to Jesus in mockery, as though it was a toast.  This ‘offer’ of wine was probably just out of his reach.  They further ‘mocked’ Jesus by placing a crown of thorns on his head while taunting him with their words, “Hail, king of the Jews.” 

The third offer of wine is somewhat different from the first two. Just before His death Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Hearing that mournful ‘cry’ someone near the cross took a stick, affixed a sponge to it, dipped the sponge in sour wine, and offered Jesus a drink.  This was also known as wine vinegar.  It had a bitter taste.  Imagine drinking balsamic vinegar.  Not bad on a salad, but you probably would not want to drink a cup of it.  

Jesus was dying upon the cross.  I’ve been with people who were dying.  Feeling extremely weak that person will sometimes say, “I’m thirsty.”  Typically a nurse or loved one will bring a cup of ice chips and a spoon to place a chip or two on the person’s tongue.  Sometimes a cup of water and a straw are used.  In his humanity and nearing his death, Jesus became thirsty.  He thirsted as we thirst.  He died as do we also eventually die. 

Just prior to his crucifixion Jesus had prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Jesus’ thirst upon the cross was an indicator that he had finished drinking the cup (of suffering) that his Father had given him.  He had completed his mission to suffer and die on behalf of the human race. 

There is a ‘thirst’ for water, and there is also a ‘thirst’ for ‘living water.’  

From upon the cross Jesus spoke the words of ‘thirsting’ in his body, but also ‘thirsting’ in his soul. Perhaps when Jesus said, “I thirst,” he was speaking of his physical thirst and of his longing for God, the Father.  Here we are reminded of the words of Psalm 42:1-2: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” 

What is it that you ‘thirst’ for in life?  What touches your soul?  What might it take to satisfy this thirst?  

Let’s further consider ‘water.’  How much do you think about water when you’re not thirsty?  If you’re like the average person, not very much.  If you’re health conscious, perhaps you think of water regularly as part of your overall wellness regimen — a disciplined hydration. 

But how much do you think of water when you ARE thirsty?  A lot.  You can’t help it.  It’s near the forefront of your mind.  The thirstier you feel, the more water dominates your thoughts.  You begin to notice everything that has water connotations:  cups, fountains, rain, pictures of water.  The greater the thirst, the more earnest the search. 

The thirstier you are, the less you desire other liquids.  Soda, for example, is most appealing as a form of liquid entertainment or distraction, and you might crave it if you feel a low-grade thirst.  But when you feel parched, you don’t want soda — in fact, you don’t want any other liquid.  You want the one thing that will most quench your thirst:  water. 

Water is really only experienced as satisfying when our real need for it makes us really want it.  Likewise, God is only experienced as satisfying when our real need for him makes us really want him. 

Within the Psalms we read of David fleeing various assassination attempts.  He is craving God in his midst, to rescue, protect, provide, and secure.  His words, His prayer is this, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1) 

The barren places teach us what we want most, what we need to seek most, and what we need most. 

Sometimes our soul’s thirst can only be quenched by turning to God and receiving hope from God.  The thirsting of our soul can occur at various times.  Quite often our souls thirst for God as we also suffer, question, fear, or doubt. Additionally, there can be a thirsting of our soul bubbling up like living water as we draw near to faith, taste and see the goodness of the Lord, and grow in and through worship.  Sometimes a soul thirsts for God when appreciation is overflowing, especially so, during those moments that take your breath away. 

When life makes us thirsty for that which this world cannot seem to quench, we need to seek God, cry out, perhaps from our earthly cross, “I thirst.” 

Sad to say when things are good and we are feeling quite ‘blessed,’ our souls can lose our ‘thirst’ for God.  When King David became somewhat ‘complacent’ in his blessings, he soon became intoxicated in his desire for another man’s wife.  David did something in his prosperity he never would have done when he was feeling weary and afraid from his assassins. Too often and too easily we stop thirsting for God and choose instead to indulge in whining and pining in over indulgence and all sorts of things we grow to feel ‘entitled’ to.  

Spiritual discipline is good for the soul.  Disciplines such as daily prayer and regular worship; things such as intentional acts of love, faith, and prayers of appreciation daily. 

We ‘thirst’ for God because we grow and see our need for God. 

From upon the cross Jesus cried out to God, “I thirst.”  In the next moment he commended his spirit back unto God and breathed his last. 

These seven last words of Christ from upon the Cross teach us that Jesus Christ, in hours of greatest need, trusted in the Father and therein gained some satisfaction for his soul. 

I believe we seek our satisfaction in God most when God is what we need, thirst for, and desire the most. 

This Lenten season here is some further spiritual ‘food for thought.’ Jesus Christ, throughout his earthly life and even during his trial of great suffering, and while upon the cross was able to drink of God and taste something that is better than staying alive on earth. 

Have you in your faith and in your closeness with God experienced anything close to that?  

Lots of folks can say they desire God in their lives.  That’s good.  

The Apostle Paul shares a spiritual truth when he writes in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  I believe and trust that our souls ‘thirst’ for God and to live with Christ and for Christ. 

Throughout these days of Lent, especially so during your trials, disciplines, and devotions, have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good?  

May the Lord be for you and for me, the source of Living Water.  May my heart and yours thirst after nothing quite as much as it thirsts for the Lord Jesus Christ.  May you and I, as sincere and abiding followers of Jesus Christ, extend water, both physical and spiritual, to all who are thirsty.  Amen.

Forsaken But Not Forgotten 3/27/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 26, 2022 & Sunday, March 27, 2022 

4th Sunday in Lent 

Prayer For Illumination:  Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 22:1-8 (Page 547), Mark 15:29-36 (Page 1022) 

Sermon Message: “Forsaken But Not Forgotten” 

From upon His cross Jesus is remembered for at least seven last words: 

“Father Forgive Them.”  “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  “Behold your son, behold your mother.” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  “I thirst.”  “It is finished, into your hands I commit my spirit.” 

Perhaps the most haunting of these words are those reflected in today’s scripture lesson, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

This moving, disturbing, and powerfully haunting statement of Jesus reflects not only the darkness of the horrific experience Jesus endured, but also the darkness within those who surrounded Jesus at the foot of the cross.  

We need to further study the psalm Jesus was praying, from which his words came.  Psalm 22 points to a deeper faith that sustained Jesus in his suffering on the cross.  Hopefully we will find that Jesus’ ‘cry of dereliction’ from the cross also carried with it a deeper trust and hope known through long-established and nurtured faith. 

Jesus was crying out to God.  No doubt about that whatsoever!  “My God, My God, WHY have you forsaken me?”  Jesus’ intellect may have realized God the Father was not far away.  His intellect may have known that THIS was part of God’s plan.  But it surely did not FEEL like it right now in Jesus’ heart.  He hurt, he suffered.  He was being tormented beyond measure in his physical body, in his human heart, and even mentally so, by those around him at the time. 

Jesus Christ, who was both fully human and fully divine, wanted something, anything from God the Father at that moment.  Any sort of ‘sign’ would do. 

Others were looking for some sort of ‘sign’ from heaven as well.  His dear mother, Mary.  Also, Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus’ beloved disciple, John.  The ‘other’ disciples stayed at a distance, perhaps ‘hoping for the best’ while fearing for themselves because of their ‘association’ with Him.  There was a crowd of people there that day; even some ‘passers-by’ who ‘joined in’ with the mocking and the sarcasms of the soldiers and especially those derisions from the religious elite, the chief priests.  All, in their own way, longed for a ‘sign.’ 

From our study of the Bible, we realize folks for centuries had been praying for some ‘sign from God’ regarding the hoped for, long-awaited Messiah.

The world was given a sign during Jesus’ crucifixion that is still being given throughout the world.  A ‘sign’ we may not have asked for or desired, yet it has come and continues coming to us. 

Scriptures inform us (Mark 15:33) “At noon darkness came over the whole land.”  The ‘sign’ of darkness! 

Some ‘darkness’ we may say is not our fault.  We did not ‘ask’ for Russia to invade Ukraine.  We did not necessarily ‘ask’ for Covid-19 to affect us.  Yet, when we see the bombings, disasters, and killing in Ukraine, surely those so affected also cried out their prayer of dereliction, “My God, My God, Why?” 

To this day as people become even a bit ‘ill’ we tend to turn to the question prevalent inside most folks: Is it Covid? 

These are but two larger than life examples of darkness in our world.  Signs that make the entire world community question if we are somehow God-forsaken? 

Darkness is not limited only to world-wide events.  Darkness begins in the hearts, the souls, the lives of individuals, even inside of us. 

Let’s ‘take a look’ at some of the ‘darkness’ when Jesus hung upon the cross.  There was a physical darkness that came over the whole land.  It was a sign of the darkness that had come and was coming further upon the nation.  Soon, they grew to know that the things which belonged to their peace were now hidden from their eyes. 

That former Israelite nation was referenced as ‘the people of God.”  What went wrong?  Even ‘God’s people’ can do wrong. So we have seen.  So too, have we learned.  

At Jesus’ crucifixion it seems as though some of the most pious people of God got caught up in mistreating, taunting, and dehumanizing Jesus.  Deeply committed Jews and their leaders joined in.  The Romans in authority just wanted Jesus silenced.  They imposed the most inhumane form of capital punishment on Jesus.  The religious did not stop there.  They also sought to humiliate him and crush his spirit as he hung there. 

In another portion of Holy Scripture (Matthew 25:40) Jesus teaches, “Whatever you have done for the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done for me.”  I think we need to ask ourselves from time to time what are we doing to the least person we come across?  Are we hurting them?  Humiliating them?  Dehumanizing another? 

Further consider, in our own time there have been several publicized cases of cyber bullying that have resulted in suicides.  Every day in the news there are reports of harassment, assault, violence, murder, terrorism, and war.  We are aware of and do see the dark side.  We know it exists.  

We have seen in our own land times when we are so divided, we justify violence against those of differing views.  Among the examples are political rallies where people show up with guns.  Politicians have been harmed, gay and lesbian people have been beaten, students have plotted to blow up their schools, enraged people choose to gun down even the innocent. 

Sometimes it is politics.  Sometimes religion or fear.  Nowadays it’s sometimes just being told “NO.”  We are used to getting our own way, and we don’t like it when someone tells us “NO.” 

I’ve watched people go into a ‘rage’ at the store when they are told ‘”NO” when they cannot return some item.  I’ve seen some of the same at restaurants.  Drivers will at times respond with ‘road rage!’  

What’s behind all of this?  WHY?  Why are we sometimes forsaken and seemingly forgotten?  Human beings have always dealt with selfishness, pride, fear, and ignorance.  Any of these negatives in abundance can lead to rage and hate.  When things ‘don’t seem right,’ too easily we tend to demonize those who look at the world differently.  This includes our families, our friends, our religion, our politics, the Bible, and economics to name but a portion. 

Here is a question for Lent - what is it that leads any of us to dehumanize others?  What is it that in essence leads us to join the crowd such as the ‘religious’ who stood around Jesus to humiliate him?   We sometimes see ourselves in the crowd. 

Jesus Christ knew what it felt like to be abandoned by God.  As he hung on the cross, He felt forsaken, alone, and abandoned.  It felt as though the presence of His heavenly Father was gone! 

Some years back I had a funeral for a young man that died in a car accident.  I cannot say it was his ‘fault.’  Afterwards his parents grieved heavily so and questioned their faith for quite some time.  We were talking one day, and the question came up of ‘why?’  No one had adequate answers.  What we did do was share this story of Jesus on the cross when he felt so forsaken, abandoned, and ‘empty’ from the presence of God.  

Sometimes we lose someone dearly close to us.  Or we find ourselves facing a battle we never wanted to face.  There are times when we, too, are humiliated and feel quite small.  There are thousands of ways people can feel abandoned by God.  Times when God seems conspicuously absent and silent. Again I say, perhaps Jesus knew in His intellect that God the Father had not abandoned Him.  But in His heart, He felt forsaken and forgotten.  

Remember this: when we feel forsaken, hopeless, and in despair, pray to the one who walked the path before us.  There is a myriad of reasons for loving Jesus.  Love him for undergoing such a dreadful experience for it tells us that he identifies with, understands, and has compassion on each of us as we walk through dark and dreadful places. 

Life and love seldom occur without sacrifice and suffering. 

The world of religion grows artificially when those seeking God predominantly pursue entertainment in their worship. 

The world of religion grows exponentially when we give ourselves so that others might know the love of God.  Has the sharing of God’s love cost you anything or given you any discomfort?  Have you been willing to pay the price or sacrifice much for this call? 

Some of the fundamental things churches do are worship, prayer groups, food pantries, Meals on Wheels, and supporting missions.  We also tithe our income, call upon others, and deliver care.  Not always easy nor comfortable.  I see people, good Christian people, who are willing to routinely and voluntarily choose to take some risks, set aside some of their own comfort and convenience in order to follow our crucified Messiah. 

When the Messiah, Jesus, felt abandoned and forsaken by God, He chose to pray.  His words from upon the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” are actually the first verse of Psalm 22.  Perhaps our typical response when we experience tough times is our tendency to become disappointed that God did not help us in the way we wanted.  Jesus questioned God, “Why?”  Yet there was more to his words.  Psalm 22 was sometimes sung, at other times prayed.  The words of this precious Psalm are a form of worship.  

Have you ever felt compelled to worship God in the midst of something dire or difficult?  Folks tell me they sometimes feel compelled to sing or hum some portion of the song “Amazing Grace,” when they feel God’s love, experience His forgiveness, or simply feel forsaken but not forgotten in their soul. 

Psalm 22 seems to begin as a prayer of despair.  However, throughout this precious scripture the psalmist consistently affirms TRUST in God.  Just as Amazing Grace ends with the hopeful vision of singing God’s praises for all eternity, so too those Jews at the foot of the cross knew that Psalm 22 ends not just in a cry of dereliction but in a note of confidence that God had not abandoned. 

My friends, faith is at its best when it trusts beyond what is seen, felt, or experienced at the moment.  Within Jesus’ pain and despair, he would have also put his trust in God that His Father had in fact heard him and would deliver him.  We, too, grow to trust that even death is not the final end of things.  Although it may seem so. 

This is Lent.  Do remember how it ends—at an empty tomb.  Among Jesus’ final words, His feelings of abandonment plus God forsakenness and even death itself would not become the end of Jesus’ story.  Neither will suffering and death be God’s final word for us. 

Although we may sometimes feel forsaken, we are certainly NOT forgotten.  Amen.

The Family of God 3/20/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 19, 2022 & Sunday, March 20, 2022 

3RD WEEKEND IN LENT 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: Shine within our hearts, loving God, the pure light of your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds and hearts that we may understand and embrace the message of the Scripture.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Romans 8:14-17 (Page 1133) & John 19:25-27 (Page 1086) 

SERMON MESSAGE:  “The Family of God” 

Jesus’ family was present at the Cross.  His Mother, Mary, was there.  It is believed that his earthly father, Joseph, had died some years previously.  Also present were his mother’s sister-in-law, Mary, wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and his beloved disciple, John. 

The name “Jesus” was a pretty common name back then.  Jesus’ family all had common names back then as well.  In raising Jesus, his mother and father treated Jesus like any other son.  Although they sometimes struggled to understand his behavior. 

As time passed, Jesus’ family expanded greatly.  His ‘family’ included not only those biologically related to him but also ‘others’ whom he grew to know, appreciate, and help. Take for instance Mary Magdalene.  Previously Jesus had helped her by driving ‘demons’ out of her as a remarkable form of healing.  In turn Mary Magdalene became one of his faithful followers throughout his earthly ministry.  History records that Mary Magdalene and a few other women provided their own financial support for Jesus and his 12 disciples. 

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a strong and determined woman.  She loved her son as much as any woman ever loved a son.  Her ‘boy’ was the joy of her life and the purpose for her existence.  For some time, Jesus had sought to prepare her for what lie ahead in Jerusalem.  It seems as though Mary had always known he would not live to a ripe old age.  She saw him giving his life in oh so many ways, to save the world and everyone in it. 

Mary was determined to stand near Jesus as he suffered.  She promised herself to hold back the tears as she sought to show her son strength and love.  She was a good ‘Mom’ still seeking to ease his pain and to give him hope.  Perhaps she pushed her way through the loud, nasty crowd that was hurling insults at Jesus and those two criminals crucified on either side of his cross.  Almost able to touch him, Mary remembers her faith. She recalled His many references to God, the Father.  In her utmost attempt to talk, to love, and to assure, she says to Jesus, “I love you, my son.  Your Father will soon come to help you.  You are in his hands.  I love you.” 

Perhaps anyone would think that’s the end of the story.  That’s all there was.  After all, Jesus could barely talk.  He was suffocating from being crucified, hung by his hands on a cross just a few feet off of the ground.  But not so. It was precisely then that Jesus looked at his mother and spoke slowly and tenderly to her.  “Dear woman, this now is your son.”  He nodded his head toward John.  And then to John he said, “Here is your mother.” 

No mother should have to watch her son die the agonizing death of crucifixion. Six hours. 

From upon the Cross, Jesus’ message to his mother Mary seemed to be this: “I am going back to heaven.  Because of this, you and I must have a whole new relationship.” So it was, he gave her a new family to care for and to love.  They would help her, and she was to help them.  This became true of the disciples as well.  They were called to preach, to teach, to heal, and to save.  They were called upon to create and continue Christ’s mission, His church. 

When we are bound together in divine bonds of love, we become the essence, the true nature of His church.  In the family of God, Christ expresses His love to us by giving us each to the other. 

Mary, the mother of Jesus, many say was the single most important human being of God’s saving plans aside from Jesus himself.  When as a youth Mary was approached by God to carry, deliver, and raise the Messiah, she replied, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Mary taught us by her life and by her actions we must all share in ‘whatever it takes’ to be part of the family of God. 

Sometimes we don’t want to be a part of doing ‘whatever it takes’ with our family.  People ‘get busy’ with their own lives, and family diminishes somewhat.  This can further apply to how we ‘feel’ and respond to the family of God. 

There are reasons, sincere fundamental reasons, why the Lord requests for us to be, not just a part, but involved in the family of God.  We need family, and family needs us.  Especially the family of God.  Scriptures teach us that we ARE to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). “Do not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9,10). 

We are living in a world where increasingly so we need to bear one another’s burdens.  Sometimes this is due to world-wide events affecting us all as we have seen throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.  We are further aware of this unprecedented war between Russia and Ukraine that is having a profound effect upon the international community.  Prayer and care remain in order.  

Some ‘burdens’ we see coming.  Others, we have no clue.  Burdens can sometimes seemingly ‘shake our faith.’ 

I have a few examples to share with you that further lead us to our need for being and receiving the family of God: 

Sometimes we don’t want to be a part of bearing one another’s burdens, doing ‘whatever it takes’ with our family, or even ‘doing good.’  People ‘get busy’ with their own lives, and family diminishes somewhat.  

I recall a young man who drove with another fellow in one of those maximum-security trucks that delivers money to various businesses.  He and his wife had 2 children.  Their first daughter was healthy, tall for her age, and just full of play.  Her dad couldn’t much be bothered with the cares nor the concerns of other parents or grandparents.  Actually, he was ‘indifferent’ to people’s problems.  He had ‘what it takes’ with his own family, and that was plenty enough. Their second child, also a girl, was a normal delivery.  Mom and Dad brought her home from the hospital, and her ‘big sister’ was thrilled.  Sadly enough this second child suffered from Sudden Infant Death syndrome.  Everything changed after that. He once said every day was like getting further and further down ‘the hole.’  The sadness was immense. Some of ‘family’ on both sides were nearby.  Most lived further away.  One of the ‘further away’ relatives kept insisting that they get involved with a church family.  They did, and you know what?  It helped.  It really did help. 

Throughout my lifetime I’ve met some highly successful people.  This one fellow says if you were to chart his adult years on a graph, it would disclose a 45-degree line pointing upwards.  Life was good.  Success was abundant.  His parents though, were never good about planning for the future.  His father died early leaving his mother behind.  He shared with me his story of how he came to know that the Holy Spirit of God was convicting him to do more for his own mother.  He came to realize that his mother needed companionship and financial help.  She wasn’t ‘making it.’  

That same fellow tells me that from his study of the Bible and from the history of the Christian church through the ages, he needed to move into that practice that’s been common throughout most of human history; caring for one’s parents similar to what Jesus was asking John to do for his mother. 

Folks, it’s easy to become too busy or perhaps ‘numb’ to all of the problems we see and hear about day after day.  Don’t wait for life to shake your faith.  Learn from Jesus.  We all have a cross to bear.  From His cross Jesus saw a sorrowing woman in need of comfort, care, and security.  What is it that you ‘see’ as you carry your cross?  Others in need that you might help?  Jesus gave us a legacy for when we might need it most, a new family. 

I’ve heard some very impressive things in my lifetime.  One of the more impressive things was spoken to me by a woman who truly enjoyed and had greatly benefitted from her church family.  She said these words: “Once you become part of this church you never have to bear a burden alone again.”  I liked that and have always remembered that.  I have found that to be quite true in my life and in the lives of many of you. 

In the moments just before Jesus died, he gave those who cared about him that which would see them through, enable them to carry on, and sustain them.  He gave them each other.  They became above all else a family in Christ.  They were to be bound together in the divine bonds of love which would be the essence of the church.  They were to care for each other as Christ had cared for each of them.  They were to bear one another’s burdens.  At the cross, Jesus was assuring His mother of His love as He took His choice disciple and gave Him as a son to her.  The true nature of the church, the body of Christ, was expressed at that moment.  It was expressed when the Savior gave two people whom He loved to each other.  That is part of what is involved when we become believers.  When we come to the Savior, we become a part of the family of God.  Christ expresses His love to us by giving us each to the other. 

The season of Lent teaches us many things.  We learn of many sufferings Jesus incurred throughout his ministry and near the end of his earthly life.  We are increasingly aware of many sufferings in this world, in the lives of others, and sometimes within our own. Yet we still know and affirm within the family of God that we continue to be led by the Spirit.  That same Holy Spirit receives us so that we do not need to live by fear, but strongly and affirmingly remember we are children of God, some even adopted. With Jesus we sometimes cry out “Abba Father.”  We are part of the family of God.  We do share in Christ's sufferings as we remember, reflect, and journey through Lent.  Lent reminds us all that sufferings are real, and Jesus gives us to each other to help bear our burdens.  We bear one another’s burdens, and in so doing, we share the heavy load associating with suffering. 

While Lent reminds us, even informs us, that sufferings are a part of this world, soon Easter shall transform both our thinking and our awareness that we will also share in his glory. 

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.  Aren’t you? Amen.

Second Chances 3/13/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 12, 2022 & Sunday, March 13, 2022 

2nd Sunday in Lent

Prayer For Illumination: O God, send your Spirit to us to open our hearts that we might discern your Word amid the words of Scripture we read today, so that in hearing your Word we may be formed in the way of Christ for one another and our world.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 25:1-7 (Page 549), Isaiah 49:14-16 (Page 731), Luke 23:26-43 (Page 1059) 

SERMON MESSAGE:  “Second Chances” 

I’m so glad to be a Christian.  Just the other day I was thinking about how very much my life has changed and has become so much ‘better’ because of the Christian faith. 

‘Religion’ has always been a part of my life.  Sometimes, more than others.  Earlier on in my youth, the ‘religion’ of our family felt almost like another ‘parent’ present in my life reminding me of not only ‘right and wrong’ but also inducing guilt inside of me whenever I did not ‘measure up.’ 

Lent is a good time to reflect and remember.  In my youth I saw religion as more of an obligation than a way of life.  My view of God was ‘colored’ in part by a religion that tended to make me feel guilty and ‘not good enough.’ 

On the other hand ‘religion’ does not bear sole responsibility for some of the ‘slip-ups’ in my youth.  I was no angel, nor did I raise too much ‘Hell!’ 

My family was quite poor, but we ‘made a go of it.’  We did not always blend well or ‘do well’ but through it all, things got better. 

Looking back, I for one take comfort in the scriptures found in Psalm 25 which seem to be a prayer lifted up to God.  “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths, you are God my Savior…Do not remember the sins of my youth…” 

As you and I reflect and remember various parts of our lives and God’s presence throughout, we realize there have been times when we were among the ‘least’ of God’s children.  Perhaps there have been times when we felt as though we were last on anybody’s ‘list’ of ‘good persons.’  Lent further reminds us to reflect upon when we felt lost in this world.  Sometimes we are the ones ‘lost.’  At other times it feels as though God has forgotten us. 

From my youth onwards I learned, as perhaps you have also, that a person is known by the company he or she keeps.  Sometimes this is a bad thing.  At other times, a good and affirming thing.  A fellow who was a kind of ‘father figure’ to me was known for his ‘sayings.’  One such saying was this: “If you lay down with dogs, you will get up with fleas!” 

Religion helps us all to see life differently.  Reading and studying the Bible we further become acquainted with numerous characters and their lives with God.  Have you discovered what you and I have in common with such Biblical characters as Noah, Moses, Rahab, David, Solomon, Jonah, Peter, and Paul?  The common factor is that they all made some bad choices during their life.  We all have disappointed God, others, or ourselves in some ways during our lifetimes.  We all can reflect and remember some time, some occasion, whereby we failed and were a disappointment. 

As we reflect and remember during this season of Lent, please reaffirm that which we also hold in common with various characters in the Bible and with everyone else in this room, is the precious reality that whatever we may have done, however we MAY have been a disappointment to another, God Almighty has given us a second chance.  The good Lord still gives us plenty of Second Chances to get life right.  We get lots of “Do Overs” and lots of grace. 

Scriptures point out that the gifts of the Holy Spirit include faith, hope, love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  I believe another great gift God bestows upon us willingly, freely, and repeatedly is second chances. 

Last week I shared with you a message on ‘forgiveness.’  Anytime we forgive we are giving a second chance.  Yet there is more.  

Our scriptures inform us that Jesus associated with sinners.  In Jesus days when he walked upon the face of this earth, non-religious people did not like associating with religious people.  They tended to feel as though they had to watch their language and pretend to be something they weren’t.  Failure to do so might lead to experiencing the judgment and scorn of the religious folks back then.  Some of that still happens. 

But when Jesus was around non-religious people, they didn’t feel small.  They did not feel like nobodies.  They were not made to feel like sinners.  They just felt like people who had come to learn about God in a way that made sense to them.  In turn, they wanted to know even more about this God Jesus talked about. 

Jesus knew himself quite well.  He knew what ‘made him tick!’  He was well aware of God’s hand, the Father’s presence, and long-term purpose for his life.  He could even ‘say it’ in words. Referring to himself as the Son of Man, Jesus declared, “The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.” ~ Luke 19:10.  This was Jesus’ mission statement. 

Is your ‘purpose in life’ quite as clear?  What we tend to ‘think’ is our purpose in life may change lots of times.  As we grow older and more faith-responsive, that ‘purpose’ becomes still clearer.  Along the way God has needed to give us plenty of second chances to live into God’s purpose for our ‘being here.’ 

The better you ‘know yourself’ and continue to be well acquainted with God, the more people will feel comfortable to be around you.  If people feel small and of little value around you, something’s amiss.  Jesus kept company with sinners, not just the elite. 

Can people easily converse with you?  Can they share what’s affecting their lives and find ‘hope’ from relating to you?  They did with Jesus.  He remains our example. 

Sometimes too, it feels like God has forgotten us.  Could be our fault.  Could be circumstances we are living in. I suggest we read again today’s scriptural lesson from Isaiah 49:14-16.  Hear and receive this spiritual medicine for the soul.  “But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”  “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” 

God has your name, and mine, engraved on the palms of His mighty hands. 

What would happen this Lenten season if every one of us who professes to be a Christian would reach out to those who are lost and show them love and compassion in Jesus’ name?  How would the world change, starting with us? 

Jesus had compassion and showed love, right up to the end. He gave people hope.  He gave two criminals crucified on crosses on either side of him a second chance. 

One of those criminals heard Jesus say from upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  That one criminal was angry when he heard Jesus pray for those who crucified them to be forgiven.  His heart was hard.  Even as he hung upon a cross, naked and dying, he still attempted to validate himself by joining the crowd in making Jesus feel small.  All he saw was a naïve man, even ludicrous, who called upon people to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, and refused to do what he felt was the defining work of a Messiah.  

But something was happening to the heart of the other criminal as he watched and listened to Jesus on the cross.  That man realized his life was over.  He began to think that maybe, just maybe, Jesus might be his hope.  Maybe there really is a God who loves us.  Maybe there are second chances with God.  So, it was he spoke to Jesus and said these words: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

When God is called upon to remember a soul and responds, we learn from the Bible that God delivers them.  May each of us ask God to remember us as we receive His Holy Meal called ‘Communion’ today.  

God gives second chances to get life right with him, with others, and with ourselves. 

As you and I journey through Lent and during our entire lives, there may be times when it truly feels as though the cross we are called to carry is just too heavy and we sincerely cannot go on. I advise us all to reflect and remember what happened to Jesus when He was carrying His cross, and it became too heavy.  Help was received.  Simon from Cyrene was there to help Jesus carry his cross.  Conscripted by soldiers and trembling at all that was happening, Simon probably did not view his helping to carry the cross a humble gift, honor, or blessing.  Seldom do we when we are called upon, perhaps even conscripted, to help carry another’s cross.  Yet we come to affirm such times of helping another soul becomes a second chance for us to do what’s right, good, holy, and loving. 

Folks, I’ve ‘been with’ people who made death bed confessions asking for forgiveness, admitting guilt, offering love, and accepting Jesus Christ into their hearts and souls as Lord and Savior.  Sometimes it’s as though I can feel God saying to them, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  

Who might have guessed this time just three years ago that 3,233 people in Allegheny County would die from Covid-19?  (43,600 in PA; 959,113 in the United States; and at least 5,999,113 globally.) 

Just six months ago did anyone consider that Ukraine would be invaded by Russia and gas prices in our area would resultantly exceed $4.00 per gallon? 

Have you ever wondered what happened to all those people who have died from Covid and from war?  Especially the ‘ones’ who had strong and sincere Christian faith?  How did God ‘remember’ them? 

I draw comfort in hearing Jesus’ words from upon the cross: “TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” 

I don’t know if the man dying on the cross beside Jesus that day knew much about faith and religion.  But he was saved by grace through faith. 

Both in Jesus’ life and in His dying He wanted to save - right up to the end He kept offering second chances. 

Lent is a time to reflect upon both the ‘here’ and the ‘hereafter.’  While there are second chances that can be given to us and perhaps flow through us for others, there is also the hope and the sure promise of paradise.  Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The thought of spending eternity with God, with people I love, without hate, violence, war or disease, stress or anxiety sounds like paradise to me. 

Please help others to feel and experience a second chance.  Jesus did.  That was a mainstay of His time and purpose here on earth.  Help Jesus to seek and to save those who are lost.  Perhaps even some soul you may think is hopelessly lost. 

May your heart be moved by the God of second chances.  Amen.

The Prayer of Forgiveness 3/6/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 5, 2022, & Sunday, March 6, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: (From Psalm 25:4-5) Show us now your ways, O Lord.  Teach us your paths.  Guide us in your truth and teach us, for you are our God, our Savior, and our hope is in you all day long.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Isaiah 1:18 (Page 680), Luke 23:34 (Page 1059), Romans 5:6-8 (Page 1130) 

Sermon Message: “The Prayer of Forgiveness” 

Jesus prayed a prayer of forgiveness.  Both the Old and New Testament portions of the Bible have lots to say about forgiveness.  Perhaps you have learned something lots of us have commonly learned; you can’t have love without forgiveness.  Nor can you have forgiveness without love. 

People hurt us sometimes.  Truth be told, sometimes we hurt others.  Any of us would like to think we’d never, ever do anything to hurt another soul.  Within this world no one is all good nor totally bad. 

Think of it, we all get ‘mad’ sometimes.  Any one of us can ‘lose our temper!’  Do you ever find yourself ‘cutting off’ another driver because they pulled in front of you or tried to get ahead of you?  Have you ever written a stinging letter telling someone what you thought of them?  Are any of us guilty, even just a little, of saying stupid things that hurt others?  I don’t think I’ve ever met the perfect parent, child, Christian, or friend.  We’ve all fallen short and stand in the need of both prayer and forgiveness at different times in our lives. 

I trust you have all said “I am sorry” or “Please forgive me,” and surely you have forgiven others.  Sometimes forgiveness is a little harder to accept or demonstrate than at other times. 

This season of Lent is a time to draw closer to Jesus, follow and study Him further all the while striving to be more like Him.  As I study His life, especially the near end of His human life, I see the extreme challenges associated with following Jesus. 

Some of Jesus’ teachings ‘make you think.’  Take for instance the “Beatitudes.’  These were in the form of a sermon Jesus preached known as “The Sermon on the Mount.”  They contain certain ‘blessings.’  Jesus said in his sermon, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)  “Mercy” implies forgiveness. In the 18th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus shares a memorable parable about a king who ‘settled accounts’ with his servants.  One of the king’s servants owed him ten thousand talents.  Similar today to owing someone ten million dollars.  The fellow wasn’t able to pay back the loan.  Back then the punishment for such a default could be having that fellow plus his family sold into slavery to pay the debt.  That fellow fell on his knees, begged for forgiveness, and surprisingly was granted it.  The debt, the loan, was wiped cleaned!  Yet that same servant went out into the street and met a fellow who owed him 20 dollars.  This fellow who had just been forgiven 10 million dollars grabbed the other guy by the neck, began choking him saying, “Pay what you owe!”  The guy also fell on his knees, begged for forgiveness but was instead thrown into jail.  Some folks saw what was going on and reported all of this to the king.  When the king heard about this, he sent for the servant he had blessed with extensive forgiveness.  He proceeded to hold the man accountable.  Jesus is saying, “How can you, who have been forgiven so very much, now refuse your brothers and sisters for their smaller sins against you?” 

Some of Jesus’ actions and examples are outright surprising!  Serving as a Christian pastor I’ve sure heard lots of stories associated with people who have hurt another or who have been hurt themselves. What happened to Jesus was hurting but also downright cruel. He had been physically tortured with stinging, lacerating whips.  Someone had wrapped deep gouging thorns around his head.  Soldiers forced him to carry the cross they were using to hang him on; that which would eventually lead to his long, drawn-out cruel death.  They used nails to stretch his arms and hands out on their cross.  They used more nails to make sure his feet were attached to the cross as well.  No escaping this, no turning back, just more and more pain and further suffering beyond all of this.  Their outright torture was cruel.  Mockingly, those soldiers gambled for his clothes. 

A crowd had gathered to ‘watch it all!’  They verbally assaulted him, shook their heads, and even their raised fists at him and also mocked him.  

Being a religious leader myself, I am ashamed to say the religious leaders back then, who from their own jealousy and spiritual blindness, conspired with the Romans to kill him.  You talk about hypocrites! 

I find it surprising how Jesus reacted, how he responded to all of this.  For all of those who hurt him and did such horrific things to him while he was dying, Jesus Christ prayed for God the Father to forgive them.  In the latter part of his prayer he also said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”  

In our world when people hurt us badly, it surely seems as though they know EXACTLY what they are doing.  That’s a precise part of what makes it so very hard to forgive them. 

Lent has been around for a very long time.  If you’ve ‘grown-up’ in the church, you probably recall one of the older traditional songs/hymns associated with the Lenten season.  It’s an old Gospel song entitled “Where you There?”  We still sing it each year out on the front lawn of our church when we gather with lots and lots of people and neighboring clergy for the setting up of the 3 crosses at the end of the Annual Cross Walk. Here are some of the words from that hymn: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Oh, oh, oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”  In a sense, we WERE there for Jesus’ death as an atonement for the sins of all, past, present, and future. 

Words did not come easily from anyone nailed to a cross.  Yet Jesus’ first words from his cross was a prayer for forgiveness.  Some say Christians and churches spend too much time dwelling on sin and making people feel guilty.  Some may, but the central focus of the gospel is grace and God’s mercy. 

The aim of Christianity is not to make us feel guilty but to help us discover the grace and healing mercy of God that we desperately need. 

I knew a fellow who ‘walked the walk’ of the Christian faith nearly all of his life.  But during one juncture of his life a series of cruel events had hurt him so deeply.  The people who caused him such hurt and pain couldn't care less.  Yet, he tells me each Lenten season Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness made him pause and reflect upon the great pain and hurt he still carried inside of himself.  He was angry for years with those who hurt him so much.  He grew to become resentful, even as he saw those who afflicted him ‘go on’ with their lives. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the old folk wisdom that says you can feed a puppy and starve a lion, and if you do it long enough, the puppy will finally whip the lion.  Some things we just need to starve to death.  We can starve our grudges and resentments until, by God’s grace, they disappear. The Christian faith helps us in this way; when we have been forgiven, we also accept Christ into our lives.  Christ inside of us does call us to be imitators of Him.  Jesus Christ has enough grace to not only cover our sins but also enables us to forgive the sins of people who wrong us. I hope we have all found that kind of grace, received and offered, can change your home, your life, and your world. 

Folks it’s a sin to hurt others and offend God.  It’s a sin to hurt others in thought, word, or deed.  It’s just wrong to go against God’s standards in this life.  It’s further wrong to hold a grudge, carry a resentment, and hate to an extreme. 

Forgiveness does not imply all is forgotten and there are no costs associated with the damage afflicted.  Even Jesus Christ exercised boundaries and shared teachings regarding dealing with offensive persons. Jesus prayed for forgiveness.  The Father speaks to us this first Sunday in Lent: “Come let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet they can become forgiven, as white as snow.” 

Throughout this Lenten season I inquire of you to visually focus each week on the cross here in the front of the church.  It’s a reminder to you and to me that someone so loved us that he prayed for us even while he was suffering and near death.  Jesus Christ died for us.  While WE were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

Forgiveness is a major theme in the Bible.  I do believe you can’t have love without forgiveness, nor can you have forgiveness without some form of love.  If you find your love isn’t working to pray for forgiveness for yourself or for someone who has done you wrong, then appeal to God’s love.  He so loved US, not just you nor only I, but “US” that He sent His Son to be the Savior for the world.

This Lenten season do follow the example of Jesus Christ as part of your Lenten disciplines and devotions.  Pray the prayer of forgiveness.  “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” 

IF they really knew what they were doing, Jesus seems to be saying, they would not do it.  

People who regularly forgive others find it easier to believe and trust in the grace of God because their hearts have been enlarged by grace, and they freely offer it to others. 

From the Cross, Jesus prayed the prayer of forgiveness. Amen. 

Lent; Prayer and Fasting 3/2/2022

Sermon Message for Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination:  (A time of silence.) 

Pastor’s Prayer: God our helper, by Your Holy Spirit open our minds, that as the scriptures are read and Your Word is proclaimed, we may be led into Your truth and be taught Your will for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson:  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (Page 970) 

Sermon Message:  “Lent; Prayer and Fasting” 

Lent has been around for a good long time.  Originally it was observed by Christians as a period of re-baptism participation.  Later it was seen as a time of public penitence regarding one’s sins.  Finally, it has become a forty-day devotional preparation for Easter traditionally based upon Jesus’ 40-day wilderness experience (Mark 1:13). 

Today (Ash Wednesday) marks the beginning of Lent for all Christians.  Lent remains 40 days in length, commemorating the time when Jesus was alone in the wilderness. 

Perhaps you have already noticed today, some other folks who have begun to observe the season of lent.  Our Catholic brothers and sisters attended “Mass” which is their worship service, earlier today, and their priest, (clergy) anointed their foreheads with ashes.  The mark the clergy placed upon their foreheads was in the shape of a cross.  As Presbyterian Christians, very few of our churches place ashes on their members’ foreheads.  What is familiar to many Presbyterian Christians is to receive ashes on the back of their hand while hearing these words from the Bible: “From dust you have come and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). 

Tonight, I invite anyone here who so desires, to step forward (after this message) and receive the ashes in this manner.  By the way, you may wipe them off if you like.  They are made from last year’s palm branches, associated with Palm Sunday and a slight mixture of charcoal.  Last year we needed to purchase some ashes from the Christian Book distributers. 

God deems it important that we recall our mortality, the brevity and fragileness of our lives here on earth.  Ashes remind us of the Biblical truth, “From dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.” 

As we journey through these 40 days of Lent, God would seek to remind us once again of our journey through this life.  As we live and breathe, as we go and do, let’s keep God right in the heart of our daily lives.  While much of our society’s beliefs teach us to be independent and self-seeking, God calls us to depend upon Him daily, pray often, love others, and share what we’ve got to improve another’s life.  Our greatest example of this is Jesus Christ.  I promise you we shall be studying and learning more about Jesus during this Lenten season. 

Tonight, we recall how the earlier life of Jesus changed as He answered God the Father’s ‘call’.  Jesus went down to the river Jordan and was baptized there by John, also known as ‘The Baptist.”  During that moment, God the Father spoke and said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.”  Immediately the Holy Spirit of God came upon Jesus and sent him out into the desert for 40 days and nights.  While in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan, yet God’s angels attended to caring for Jesus. 

Angels, you see, don’t just ‘show up” only around Christmas.  They are with us always, especially so as we face our temptations.  

For the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, the Bible declares he prayed, and he fasted. 

“Fasting” is something that’s been around, even before Jesus was born.  It simply means abstention from food accompanied by a time of prayer.  Originally, people would wear burlap when they fasted.  I still think that would be pretty ‘itchy!’ 

Most common ‘fasts’ are those that last for just one day.  Fasting occurs as a means of lament, as an act of penitence, for feeling genuinely sorrowful for one’s sins, on behalf of others who are dealing with sickness, as a further means of petitioned prayer, and furthermore when one is accused or scorned. 

Fasting isn’t for everyone.  It can take place in many forms.  Perhaps some of us will ‘fast’ from food for a day.  Others might ‘give up’ some particular food throughout the Lenten season.  One can also ‘fast’ from being on our phones or computers for a specific time each day.  We can also ‘fast’ from other bodily functions we take for granted.  There are many forms of fasting.  

Some ‘basics’ associated with fasting - it is something Jesus did at different times in his life.  Fasting is repeatedly mentioned throughout the Bible.  When we abstain from food, or something else, we soon become keenly aware that something is ‘different’ and in this ‘difference,’ we open ourselves to be used by the Lord, to hear God speak, and to find forgiveness and peace. 

Some years back one of the items I ‘gave up’ or ‘fasted’ from was chocolate in any form.  Especially so, the form known as candy.  We visited our grandchildren, and as they sat on my lap, they wished to share with me some of their candy bar (chocolate of course) and some chocolate ice cream and EVEN a chocolate donut!  I remember at that moment appreciating the hundreds and thousands of times I took for granted both the ‘fun foods’ I have so enjoyed but also such pleasant times spent sharing food and love with people I am privileged to be included in as ‘family.’ 

Right now, this year, we should ‘fast’ for the people of Ukraine who are in the midst of an unwarranted war in their land.  News reports indicate food supplies are getting thin even as people huddle in subways and hallways hoping to avoid the bombs, the soldiers, and the weapons of war. 

Jesus taught us that some things can only be accomplished through prayer and fasting.  I think this crisis in Ukraine is one such reality that requires both sincere prayer and purposeful fasting.  Increased gas prices and the inflated costs of food in our communities is a steady reminder too of those who cannot well access either gasoline or food due to war and devastation.  Fasting is a reminder of how others feel who don’t have food. 

Prayer and fasting can also lead us to renewal and repentance. In the Bible there’s a narrative regarding King David.  He was called by God and blessed by God.  Yet at one point he chose to become defiant with God’s standards.  King David committed adultery with another man’s wife, denied it, tried to cover it up, and people died as a result.  David sinned. Sin is spiritual rebellion.  This leads to immoral acts.  David later became known as a ‘man after God’s own heart.’  What singled out David as a man of God was his willingness to confront his wrongdoing.  He humbled his soul with fasting. 

David prayed and fasted for the sickly child he helped to conceive in adultery.  But the child died.  While God honors prayer and fasting and is genuinely moved by the humbleness of our hearts, our times of prayer and fasting are certainly NOT our human manipulation of the Lord.  

Prayer and fasting remain our striving to place ourselves before God in such a manner that we can be responsive to Him and better used by Him to accomplish His greater will.  Sometimes we cannot see nor even begin to know the will of God.  But prayer and fasting equips us for it. 

Prayer and fasting are quite appropriate in times of personal crisis.  For example, one of our members, Bill, shall undergo some extensive knee replacement surgery on Monday.  Yes, you have heard me ask for prayer for Bill in times past pertaining to knee replacement surgery.  Something strange, rare, and unusual has occurred whereby Bill’s last knee replacement became infected and now must be surgically removed.  Bill will then need to wait several months for the infection to clear up, then once again undergo further knee replacement surgery.  The outcome can eventually be quite successful.  However, ‘getting there’ shall require lots of prayer and fasting on our part for Bill, his wife Laurie, family, doctors, surgeons and care-givers. 

It is good to pray and fast seeking God’s answers for our greatest problems.  When answers do come, we should further practice prayer and fasting in order to have the kind of strength and support needed to grow, heal, and recover as we move into the direction God supplies for our lives. 

I believe many have been praying and fasting.  We have a better unity in our nation and our world.  This worldwide health crisis is diminishing.  There shall come a better balance of power and sustainable life for all in many areas worldwide.  These are not small matters.  Nor are these concerns well addressed only by casual prayers in the church, at home, or from those most victimized or affected.  Prayer and fasting should become a community event, a family event, and a church event whenever possible.

Our prayers may be ‘set aside’ or perhaps ‘placed on the back burner’ in our lives most days.  Oh, but when you ‘fast’ there soon appears a reminder of how our minds can be cleared of the clutter that blocks our direct access to God. 

It’s a ‘different’ experience if you’ve never intentionally ‘fasted.  Perhaps even a bit of a challenge to understand.  At first when you fast, all you can think about is food.  But after a few hours there comes a heightened awareness of spiritual and intellectual sensitivity. 

Jesus Christ both feasted and fasted.  There are many Biblical references to happy moments when Jesus ‘broke bread’ with a group of his friends.  He enjoyed a good meal, a sincere feast, yet he also took time to fast. 

Fasting is enormously helpful when faced with the wilderness in life.  Jesus found this to be true, and so shall we.  Jesus IS our Lord and Savior.  He remains our teacher and our greatest example to follow. 

While prayer and fasting are ‘different’ during these next 40 days, it’s good to have something ‘different’ take place in our lives.  Lent is a reminder that our minds, our souls, and even our bodies are to become more disciplined and intentional about our commitment to and our relationship with God. 

I’ve found that fasting makes you focus on stuff you might normally just pass by.  Fasting, in its many forms, reminds us to pray more, focus more on faith, read and study God’s Word, take better ‘care’ of self and others, and think more, reflect more on Jesus, His sacrifices for you, for me, and for the world we live in. 

Practice sincere prayer and fasting.  While it is ‘work’ it remains ‘good work.’  The kind that is good for the soul! 

Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you.  Amen.

Grace Notes 2/26/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 26, 2022 & Sunday, February 27, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: O Lord, on this Sunday of Transfiguration, we pray that your light would pour over these pages and illumine these old, old words — that they would dance with newness in our hearts and minds, that we would be radiant in reflecting your Word in our living and serving one another.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 23 (p. 548), Mark 9:1-13 (p. 1011), and Philippians 3:20, 21 (p. 1180) 

Sermon Message:  ‘Grace Notes’ 

The Church season of Lent begins this Wednesday and extends all the way through Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and right up to Easter.  Our early church Fathers esteemed this season as a time of reflection, penitence, sacrifice, and growth in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.  

It is common during Lent for Christians to reflect upon Jesus’ life, His ministry, His sacrifices, and the cross He had to bear.  This time that is before us helps us to not only draw near to Jesus, but further serves to help us handle the cross we are called to bear in this life. 

Today is termed “Transfiguration Sunday.”  As our Scriptural Lesson affirms, this is the day for Christians to reflect upon the meaning of Jesus’ Transfiguration.  It was a momentous and miraculous event.  So much so that many say it is hard to explain, perhaps harder still to believe in.  Rather than spend lots of time reflecting on ‘how’ Jesus’ Transfiguration occurred, or ‘why’ it occurred back then, let’s give some serious thought as to the benefits Jesus’ Transfiguration has for us present-day believers and followers. 

There are lots of special, sacred, and eternal aspects to the Transfiguration.  Think of it this way; Jesus Christ gives us a momentary glimpse of His eternal glory, and this does help us handle the cross we are called to bear in this life. 

The ‘timing’ of Jesus’ Transfiguration was perfect (as usual).  Also, please remember, from today’s scriptural lesson, The Transfiguration was not only ‘dazzling bright light’ and the audible voice of God the Father, but also firm spiritual insight from Jesus that He must ‘suffer much, be rejected,’ eventually killed, and ‘rise from the dead.’  The people’s concept of the Messiah was far different from all of that.  While His disciple, Peter, had proclaimed ‘out loud’ that he believed Jesus was the promised Messiah, the commonly held belief was that the Messiah was to be a powerful individual who would be sent from God to overthrow the current oppressive government.  You see, there was a ‘timeliness’ associated with Jesus’ Transfiguration.  It came at a time when the world needed most to see, to understand, and to learn that Jesus was not who they thought he would be.  Jesus came to bring change, for sure, but not through military or government overthrow.  In these present times people still strive to define Jesus according to their perceptions, needs, wants, and desires.  God’s timing is perfect but not necessarily according to our plans, prescriptions, or desires.

Some of Jesus’ strongest words, just prior to His Transfiguration are these: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” 

Again I say to you, the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, by giving us a momentary glimpse of His eternal glory, helps us to handle the cross we are called to bear in this life. 

Jesus’ clothing became dazzling white.  There appeared before them prophets long since deceased, Moses and Elijah.  They were talking with Jesus!  THEN, a cloud appeared, covering them, and the voice of God the Father was audibly heard to say, “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!” I wonder what that was like?  They were given a vision.  Something that changed them.  Something that would indeed ‘carry them’ as each one of them eventually needed to carry their cross.  A vision of the eternal. Something they’d never forget.  This came to them at ‘just the right time.’  Something which transformed them. 

Have you ever met a person who had a ‘near-death’ experience?  In a somewhat similar fashion, it becomes something that ‘gets them in touch’ with the eternal.  Most often such events change the lives of the folks experiencing them.  

I believe Jesus Christ gives us ‘grace-notes’ from God to help us bear our cross now.  Grace notes come in many forms.  During Jesus’ earthly walk among us He gave those disciples a glimpse of His glory through an encounter with Moses and Elijah.  Two ancient men of God.  Peter wanted to build three shelters.  His way of being ‘hospitable’ perhaps.  Sometimes we, too, do dramatic things when we feel overwhelmed by what’s happening. 

One of the ‘grace notes’ we still receive and benefit from are the Scriptures.  Ours is a living faith based on acts of God in history which are recorded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  That’s part of why it is important that we read the Bible and study it.  It continues to be the Word of God even when it sits closed and unread on an end table in your living room or bedroom.  Open it.  Read it.  Bathe your soul in it.  Familiarize yourself with the stories of men and women of God whose lives were marked by their own problems and struggles yet attested to the reality of the power of the Living God through good times, bad times, and in-between times.  

Another ‘grace note’ you have is your own personal experience with Jesus Christ.  Never minimize what you’ve experienced as perhaps a mountain-top experience, a sacred moment with Jesus, with the Father, or with the Holy Spirit.  Do you perhaps remember the time when you dedicated your life to Him?  I sincerely suggest you periodically return to that ‘grace note’ in your memory.  If God or His Son, Jesus, was especially real to you at some personal moment of crisis in the past, go back from time to time and reflect.  You will draw strength from doing so.  If possible, perhaps return to the precise geography of where you were.  Remind yourself what God has done for you.  That wasn’t some ‘chance’ event but was part of God’s divine providence.  Let that speak to you that God is still alive and cares for you in the present and has made provision for you in the future.

A further ‘grace note’ of God in your life can be seen in the movement and response to the Holy Spirit within you.  God has designed us to have divine energy.  This divine energy has enabled us to appropriate God’s forgiveness, healing, and wholeness when we stumble or fall.  This very same divine energy enables us to be stabilized and steady when all around us, and even those closest to us, have lost their stability and might even be questioning their faith.  The Holy Spirit within remains an on-going ‘grace-note’ from God reaffirming ours is a sovereign God who sees us from the beginning to the end.  Our entire lives, the ‘bigger picture,’ God sees and holds in His heart.  I’ve matured seeing and appreciating how God walks with US through our suffering and pain, compassionately redirecting our hurting souls to the ONE who has borne our sorrows and shares our grief. 

Jesus Christ had something on the Mount of Transfiguration that we also have to this very day; the ministry of Christian friends.  Aren’t we so blessed to have veterans in the faith to walk with us when we carry our cross? 

At each church I have served there have been such Christian friends who helped to carry me when my life was burdened with pain, suffering, heartache, and grief.  They were ‘there’ with me when my youngest brother passed, then one of my elder brothers, then my dear mother, and later my father.  They ‘drove the distance’ to visit me at the funeral homes up in Indiana, PA.  They held me, hugged me, fed me, prayed for me, and just simply extended the grace note of love just when I needed it the most.  

You see, I believe churches become ‘grace-notes’ in our lives as well.  

A further ‘grace-note’ happens in our lives when we come to realize some disaster was averted by God’s divine intervention.  Don’t minimize such times.  They certainly do happen. 

Last week I spoke to you regarding our enlightened conscience we have through God, with God, and along-side others.  I’ve lived long enough to well see the costs associated with maintaining our convictions to play by, work by, and live by Christian standards.  I think we’ve all grown to realize being a Christian is not always popular.  We are sometimes scorned, laughed at, and mocked because of our standards.  Jesus’ transfiguration gives us a glimpse of the eternal through His many means of grace. In our present, I think that helps us to carry on when our hearts are broken, our lives are confused, and things just aren’t going as we had hoped.  

You and I, plus scores of others, are given God’s ‘grace-notes’ that we should never forget in the dark days.  We have been privileged to see God’s actions in our lives. 

Jesus' ‘grace-note’ referenced as ‘the Transfiguration,’ occurred on the top of a mountain.  Most of our life is lived in the valley; thus our identification with Psalm 23. 

Sometimes our ‘grace-note’ becomes as a ‘footnote’ to our lives.  When we were kids out playing and got hurt, most often soon after the event we just wanted to ‘go home.’  In our adult years we still strive to ‘go home’ to where things are safe and secure; to be with people who understand us, care for us, and to that familiar environment where things ‘make sense’ for us. 

On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus Christ received from the Father His ‘grace-note.’ Up there on that mountain was something from the past, something unforgettable in the present, and something that transformed Jesus Christ into the future.  The Father shined light, brilliant dazzling light, on His Son.  The Father spoke with an authority of love and protection.  God the Father sent help in the form of friends, past and present, to ‘see Him through,’ to honor Him, and to further believe in Him. 

Our ‘grace-notes’ are far less ‘bright’ but remain quite illuminating in our lives. 

May this day and all of the past days of your life transform you by the ‘grace-notes’ that have and still do enable you to carry your cross. 

When the ‘going gets tough,’ you will draw upon ‘grace-notes.’  Keep in mind, our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.  Amen.

An Enlightened Conscience 2/20/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 19, 2022 & Sunday, February 20, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious and Loving God, through your Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds to your transforming word in scripture that we may experience anew the height and depth and breadth of your love and be inspired to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Numbers 32:23 (p. 169), Matthew 7:1 (p. 971), Hebrews 10:19-25 (p. 1211) 

Sermon Message:  "An Enlightened Conscience" 

We all have a conscience.  Some have a better or more advanced conscience than do others.  Our conscience is our inner sense of right and wrong and how we apply that sense of ‘right and wrong’ towards our actions. 

Idealistically we might all like to believe that everyone, the world over, wants to have a clear conscience.  But we know that simply isn’t true. 

I believe God has divinely implanted a tool for living our lives; our conscience.  While God continues to ‘plant the seed’ inside of us for knowing the difference between right and wrong, we remain responsible for sharpening this ‘tool,’ our conscience. 

The first reading from the Old Testament Book of Numbers seems to be saying, “Your sins will catch up with you.”  Our parents would sometimes say to us, “I’ll find out what you are doing wrong.  Trust me, I will know!”  Allow me to ‘enlighten you’ a bit regarding these scriptures. Today’s reading is NOT saying ‘your sin will be found out.’  Rather, it is declaring our sin will find us out.  There’s a difference. 

For instance, if you live believing no behavior or action is wrong unless you get caught, then your sin is going to find you out. 

Sin affects our conscience.  Perhaps you’ve noticed in life that some people get results while others get consequences.  Those who get results seem to have a good conscience.  They connect well with God, life, and the people around them.  A Christian conscience brings harmony, happiness, and effective living.  Yet there are ‘others’ who seem to constantly be swimming upstream, working against the grain, out of synch with people, family values, church, faith and what we may call ‘the system.’ 

Our mothers and our fathers and many spiritual guides have taught us that those who break God’s law, who go against God’s intentions, will suffer the consequences of life. 

For instance, the Bible teaches us, “Thou shall not steal.”  Many folks can ‘get away’ with stealing something small.  A single piece of paper, a pen, perhaps even a coin or two.  The trouble with that is it leads us to a false confidence that we ‘got away with it’ and believe we can steal something more.  Perhaps something larger or even more expensive.  Everybody ‘slips’ up at some point in their wrongful actions and ‘gets caught.’  Part of the trouble with ‘getting caught’ is becoming known as a person not to be trusted.  The trouble with believing you can do whatever you want and there’s nothing wrong with that unless you get caught is that it does lead to us suffering the consequences of life.  Your sin will find you out.  Is it really worth ‘getting away’ with something while costing you your integrity of ‘one not to be trusted?’  We are further required to answer to ‘the Law.’ Fines and punishments increase and become significant deterrents. 

The people who get results in life are the ones who try to find out the ‘right’ that life demands and then work to fulfill those demands. 

Living the Christian life and affirming a Christian conscience are long and humbling experiences.  Our mothers would sometimes need to say to us, “Stop fighting me and take your medicine, or go to sleep, do your homework, get a shower.  Take care of your brother/sister, go to church,” and so on. In time we all grow to become ‘enlightened’ as to ‘why’ they really were right, and furthermore, how good it was, then and now, that we listened. 

God wants us all to have an enlightened conscience.  By that I mean we are to know not only the difference between right and wrong, but furthermore, the enlightened awareness of ‘why’ this benefits us.  When I consider the Ten Commandments, for instance, I have grown to be enlightened in my conscience that they were given not so much for God to test our obedience but rather for our own good. 

There are some very enlightening reasons as to why we are not to steal, kill, commit adultery, and so on. 

Stealing will lead to mistrust and possibly arrests, among other things. 

Killing compromises the preciousness of life God has created and causes us to even ‘play God.’ 

Adultery compromises the integrity of love and sacredness.  It may further lead to brokenness, family breakdowns, and some forms of disease. 

The one part none of us seem to like about ‘having a conscience’ is the guilt associated with it when our sin finds us out. 

There’s lots of corruption in this world.  Lots of folks seem addicted to sex in various forms and fashions.  Increasingly it seems as though we’re all growing numb to violence, and many are so self-consumed it seems as though they feel little or nothing towards others.  Along with this comes a decreasing sensitivity to conscience. 

People are trained to ignore their guilt—and yet they are drowning in it.  In some ways it seems as though society encourages sin, but it will not tolerate the guilt sin produces nor the negative results.

God gave us all a conscience and invites us, encourages us, to become increasingly enlightened. 

There are some ‘basics’ associated with an ‘enlightened conscience.’ 

Confession is good for the soul.  It further leads to an enlightened conscience.  Confess and forsake known sin.  If you’re wrong, then admit it.  Don’t deny the wrong.  Don’t rationalize it nor explain it away.  The first step towards a useful, purposeful life is to be humble and remain teachable.  When you stop learning, you stop living.  Listen to God. Confession leads towards an enlightened conscience. 

Forgiveness leads towards an enlightened conscience.  Those who refuse to forgive are doomed towards experiencing inner turmoil, on-going anger, and revenge to name but a few.  Jesus Christ taught us to forgive others; then your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  From upon the Cross Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus Christ remains our greatest teacher, example, guide, and authority in heaven and on earth. 

Make restitution. If you’ve done something wrong, go and make it right.  Be the ‘bigger person!’  Be leery of the person that can never admit wrong nor say “I am sorry.”  No one is ‘always’ right.  Stop striving to be the center of the universe.  Don’t wait too long to ‘make restitution.’ 

Procrastination saddens the soul.  My mother used to say, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”  Don’t procrastinate.  Take care of things quickly.  Too often folks will delay addressing ‘what’s wrong’, what’s bothering their conscience; then after a while, things become confusing as to why a soul feels sad.  Please don’t become too busy to fail or forget to ‘do what’s right. ’  That’s neither fair nor good for you, for others, nor in one’s relationship to God. 

Educate yourself over and over again regarding how best to live, how to get along with others, how to respect and honor your mother and your father, how to be a better Christian, and what makes for a good conscience.  Remember this: you are a Christian wherever you are and whoever you are with, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Teach yourself and be an example unto others of the Christian faith. 

An important aspect of educating the conscience is teaching it to focus on the right object - divinely revealed truth.  If your conscience looks only to personal feelings, it can accuse you wrongfully. 

You are certainly not to order your life according to only your feelings.  A conscience fixed on feelings becomes unreliable.  If you are subject to depression and melancholy, you of all people should not allow your conscience to be informed mainly by your feelings.  Despondent feelings will provoke unnecessary doubts and fears in the soul when not kept in check by a well-advised conscience.  The conscience must be persuaded by God's Word, by tried and true teachings and life-styles, not simply by your feelings.

Furthermore, the conscience errs when the mind focuses wholly on your faltering in sin and ignores the triumphs of God's grace in you.  True Christians experience both realities.  Conscience must be allowed to weigh the fruit of the Spirit in your life as well as the remnants of your sinful flesh.  It must see your faith as well as your failings.  Otherwise, the conscience will become overly accusing, prone to unwholesome doubts about your standing before God. 

Learn to subject your conscience to the truth of God and the teaching of Scripture.  As you do that, your conscience will be more clearly focused and better able to give you reliable feedback.  With a trustworthy conscience, you have a powerful aid to spiritual growth and stability.  With a clear conscience, you live in an abundance of freedom and joy. 

Jesus speaks to our conscience today and declares straight-forward, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  We must not sit in the judgment seat, nor is everyone supposed to ‘listen’ to us.  We are in this world together.  The fact is some are more broken than others.  Some are hurting more than others.  Some are still growing and learning.  Don’t judge rashly.  Have more mercy inside of you than revenge.  Don’t ‘get a kick’ out of mischief; that is, doing something wrong to make others suffer, even a bit. Don’t be quick to judge the hearts of others, nor their intentions.  We all stand in judgment before God.  The more we tend to judge others, the harsher will be our judgment by God.  Strive to develop a Christian conscience.  Choosing NOT to judge leads towards an enlightened conscience. 

Do pay attention to your guilt.  It’s certainly not your enemy but will serve to become your remedy.  Do not follow nor imitate those who seem to have no conscience.  Their leadership in your life is questionable and compromised. 

Further become an enlightened Christian.  Follow today’s scriptural lessons:  “Draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another all the more as the Day of the Lord is approaching.” Amen.

A Loving Heart! 2/13/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 12, 2022 & Sunday, February 13, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: God of our hearts, heart of creation, we are blessed when we feast on your Word; that Word which embraces us; that Word which teaches us; that Word which transfigures us; that Word which grounds us.  Give us your Word. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 54:10 (Page 737), John 3:16 (Page 1065), 1 Corinthians 13 (Page 1152) 

Sermon Message: “A Loving Heart!” 

I believe there is nothing better than love. We are acquainted with love, immersed in love, and responsive to love throughout our lifetimes. 

When we are born, the loving hearts that brought us into this world cradle us and warmly affirm their first message to us:  “I love you.”  

When we come to the end of our days, as we ‘take our last breath,’ hopefully a final message spoken to us from a loving heart will be:  “I love you.” 

An honor and blessing I received was being with my earthly father near the end of his life.  I told him that I loved him.  Ever so briefly he strained and said to me three times: “I love you, I love you, I love you Son.”   

“Love” is mentioned throughout the Bible. Within our pew Bibles, the word “Love” is recorded 686 times. 

Do tell someone you love them every day. 

Is there a favorite ‘love song’ you enjoy with another?  For Patty and I we like the song, “I can’t help falling in love with you.”  Remember how it begins, “Wise men say only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.” I am a man of wisdom, but I have to admit when my dear ‘Wifey’ walks in the room, I can still get weak in my knees and succumb to some very foolish actions! 

There is another wisdom phrase that coaches us to be careful: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  Essentially this means the impulsive or inexperienced attempt things that wiser people avoid. 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so to speak.  This cultural holiday is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.  A somewhat similar ‘holiday season’ the Bible does reference is “The Year of Jubilee.”  This was a holy time once every fifty years for rest, forgiveness, and starting over.  Valentine’s Day this year will be marked not only by chocolate and candy hearts but more importantly by warmed expressions of love, and more broken hearts shall be mended by flowers and apologies than any other day of the year! Today, Communion welcomes us to bring our hearts to God, to trust in Jesus to feel forgiveness, to extend forgiveness, and to share in holy love with the Divine. 

Turn to God and reflect upon a loving heart. 

We know ‘about’ love.  We have seen and experienced all sorts of love across the years.  Little kids are sometimes in the midst of ‘puppy love.’  Adolescents may struggle with ‘raging hormones.’  Some old folks, set in their ways, seem to tolerate each other.  However, we ALL have that deep longing to share our heart.  At any age and station in life, giving our hearts to another or having our hearts broken by the person we thought cared for us, are all part of being human.  We all take the risk to love and immerse ourselves in the hope of being loved.  Through the years we strive to get good enough at being willing to place our deepest selves at the mercy of another, of daring to trust that we can reveal ourselves completely to another without being ridiculed or rejected.  Perhaps even God took a risk to have his divine heart broken when the Word took on flesh and became one of us (John 3:16). Clearly, the Bible affirms, there remains a deep longing within God for us to turn our hearts to Him.  God knows how difficult that is for us to do.  

Where the scriptures speak about the heart, the reference is NOT usually about sentiment or emotion or good feelings.  It’s more about understanding and wisdom, about seeking God and the Truth God has to offer us.  It’s about learning all that can be right and all that can go wrong in our lives.  It’s about being devoted, responsible, and responsive.  It’s about caring for others beyond just our ‘self.’  Scriptural references to love are talking about trust, covenant, patterns of growth, life, living in relationships, peace, seeking the betterment of another, providing for others, and closeness with God. 

Human life affects us all.  We all have a multitude of stories to share regarding what went wrong, who hurt us, where life was unfair, and of negative events that have shaped us. 

The God who created us continues to give us ways to have a loving heart. 

Learning again and again to trust God, call upon God, and follow God are sincere spiritual foundations for having a loving heart.  

We live in a world in which self-centeredness is almost worshiped, and following one's own path is almost mandatory.  But this neither creates nor sustains a loving heart. 

Within today’s scriptural lesson from 1 Corinthians 13, there’s a sort of rhythmic comparing of what leads to a loving heart. 

“Though I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  I’ve met lots of folks that can speak quite well.  I think we all know some folks who speak/talk too much.  We can ‘say all the right things’ and say them well, yet not have a loving heart.  A ‘resounding gong’ or a ‘clanging cymbal’ is a metaphor for such folks.  Even the most elegant of words, without the authenticity of love, are meaningless.  

We may be very well educated, possess years of experience that have provided us an abundance of wisdom, but without a loving heart we don’t convey what matters most.

The Bible speaks of having faith that can ‘move mountains.’  But without a loving heart, faith and astounding accomplishments are of small benefit.  I may give lots of money and do many things to help the poor, but whatever we give needs to be gifts from the heart.  For without a loving heart, I am nothing. 

I always find it quite refreshing to hear about the loving heart of God.  God’s loving heart is patient and kind.  Not envious, boastful, or proud.  He doesn’t keep a record of our wrongs nor does he smile or laugh at us when we do something wrong, mess up, and become overtaken by evil.  God teaches us that a loving heart protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. 

Love, more than anything else, matures us, grows us, challenges us, and eventually ‘becomes’ us.  

Have you ever tried, just as hard as you can, to follow the teachings of the Bible 100%? 

Today’s scriptural lesson from 1 Corinthians 13 sounds beautiful.  Admittedly it is a definition of ‘how’ and ‘what’ love should be. But none of us can live 1 Corinthians 13 fully, perfectly, nor 100%. 

However, on this Communion Sunday, I must warn us all that the less we live according to God’s plan and definition of what love should be, the further removed and more distant we become from God and others. 

Look for and compliment the loving heart you see and benefit from in others. 

The Bible teaches that Love is patient.  Sometimes I am not.  When people are patient with our imperfections, it becomes us to acknowledge their loving heart.  Patience is a characteristic of a heart that trusts more than just what is seen at the time. 

Love is kind.  Kindness is a choice.  Everyday examples of kindness are evidential of a loving heart.  Choose to be kind not because you must or you should, nor because I or anyone else said so.  You and I remain Christians.  Be kind because God is kind.  He’s inside of you.  Let His light shine through your heart. 

Pride and bragging are NOT evidence of a loving heart.  God so loved us that He sent, and sends still His Son, Jesus.  We so love God and Jesus that we love and do for others humbly, quietly, and sincerely without lots of notoriety nor fanfare.  

Far too many put others down in order to build themselves up.  A loving heart honors others.  Do you remember that bit of wisdom we learned along the way that states, “If you can’t say something good about another, don’t say anything at all.” 

A loving heart isn’t filled with lots of anger.  Don’t let your heart become easily angered.  Instead trust in something more, something greater than yourself and your ways, wants, needs, and fears.  Learn to trust in Jesus.  Learn to trust in God. 

One of my least favorite things to do is be around people who live in the past and bring things up from the past which occurred years and years ago, as though it happened recently. Don’t keep a record of wrongs.  Think about it, if God were to keep a record of your wrongs, where would you be? 

A further ‘dislike’ is seeing people ‘gloat’ over others' shortcomings, failures, or weaknesses.  A loving heart sees others as equals.  A loving heart realizes, “If not for the grace of God there go I.”  Do not delight in evil, but do rejoice when truth wins out. 

A loving heart protects.  I was watching a show on TV one evening.  It involved these folks who lived in quite poor and rural America.  The ‘man of the family’ went to work each day in denims and a straw hat.  He said, “Anytime my wife and little ones come to the dinner table and there ain’t nothing in the house to put before them, I’m gonna find me a job!”  Try looking beyond the folksy grammar of that statement and see the heroic manliness that responsibility generates.  Can you see commitment in that simple statement? The kind of commitment that mothers and fathers, family members, and citizens of communities that hold things together makes them work at every level of human society.  For those who love, responsibility is not a burden.  It really is a joyful commitment.  And living up to that commitment makes people grow into bigger persons even while they are making fullness of life possible for others. 

Jesus loved. He stood beside the grave of his friend; Lazarus, and he wept, because he loved.  Jesus Christ, when questioned, said the greatest commandments are to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love others as ourselves. 

Faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.  

Faith is important because it gives us a relationship with the One who created us, who redeemed us, and who gives us a whole new life with him. 

Hope is important because it gives a purpose to our lives.  Jesus has promised that he will be with us always, that we will be with him forever, and that he calls us to follow him. 

Love is important because it connects us, in a positive way, with those around us and with our Lord.  Love is the most important.  Because someday we will see our Lord, face to face, and we will no longer need to have faith that he exists and that he cares for us. 

And we will also no longer need to have hope, because we hope for that which we cannot see.  But someday we will see him. 

And so love is what goes on and on, throughout all eternity.  Love, Paul says, never ends. 

A loving heart is the greatest thing in the world.  Amen.

Great Faith 2/5/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 5, 2022 & Sunday, February 6, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: As we turn to your word, Spirit of God, do not let our desire for information dominate our need for transformation.  Let us hear the word and be moved to greater faith and obedience.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 15:21-28 (Page 982) and Galatians 5:22 (Page 1171) 

Sermon Message:  “Great Faith” 

Do you know anyone that has ‘great faith?’  Jesus said to this mother who was so very concerned about her daughter, “Woman, you have great faith!” 

Jesus Christ had ‘great faith’ in the Father.  Yet, even with ‘great faith’ we learn that Jesus and His disciples needed to ‘get away’ for a while.  Today’s scriptural account says they “withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”  These were seaside towns.  They decided to ‘go to the shore.’ 

Today’s narrative is found in the Gospel of Matthew.  The same narrative is also found within the Gospel of Mark 7:24-30.  According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus goes into a home to hide from the public, but his presence is soon found out.  An unnamed Greek woman from Phoenicia in Syria sought out Jesus and begged for the healing of her terribly afflicted daughter.  Her child was possessed by demons.  Dealing with demons requires great faith.  

Demons were thought to be evil forces wreaking havoc.  The prevailing idea was that demons could invade human bodies and personalities and cause mental illnesses, physical diseases, and other specific problems such as deafness or blindness.  Some even believed that demons could take control of nature and cause natural calamities and disasters. 

Most anything that could not be handled or explained became ascribed to demon possession.  Whatever it was that seemed to constitute ‘demon possession’ in the woman’s daughter was certainly overwhelming and beyond the scope of care available in that day. 

I wonder what things we might designate as ‘demon possession’ today?  

The daughter of the woman in today’s scripture had severe problems that were beyond the scope of redemptive treatment and care back then.  Today we are increasingly aware of forms of treatments, and we have become quite advanced in diagnosis.  However, even with modern medicines - afflictions such as addictions, severe personality disorders, long-term diseases, and some intense forms of malignancy - many are led to seek God’s help.  Lots of folks still need a miracle in their lives. 

This mother in today’s scripture lesson demonstrated great faith that lead to a miracle in her child’s life.  The world shall never run out of the need for miracles.  

Consider some ‘marks of a miracle’ in today's Gospel lesson. 

Prior to the miracle of healing the daughter, we can see other miracles occurring. 

First, there is the miracle of grace. According to the ‘rules’, the prescribed standards back in the day, that mother was not supposed to be helped.  Even Jesus said so, because she was a pagan, a gentile.  Such persons were sometimes referred to back then as ‘dogs.’ 

Great faith extends the miracle of grace to those needing help. 

Grace comes to us in many forms from God.  We can’t always ‘earn it,’ be ‘good enough’ for it, nor are we entitled to it because of ‘who we are,’ where we are from, our ancestry, or how ‘wealthy’ we may be.  Grace is God’s gift, free and clear. 

As we saw in today’s scriptures, the miracle of grace can come to anyone in spite of those things we prescribe as being requirements.  God is God, and we are not. 

As we choose to extend grace to others, I believe great faith is alive and working through us. 

There is the miracle of humility.  This woman, this mother referenced in the Bible, she humbles herself and asks Jesus for help.  Jesus, at first, did not say a word.  Like you, I too have been quite humbled at times when I ask for help and there’s no response.  Even the silence of God to our prayers and petitions can be very humbling.  The woman has her daughter to think about.  Her child’s needs are severe!  

The disciples urged Jesus to respond. He replies that he was sent to help the ‘sheep’ of Israel. 

The woman gets on her knees.  A true act of humility.  She ‘takes on’ a dialogue with Jesus and even begs him for the crumbs that fall from the table.  

Great faith is developed by asking for help.  We all need to do that more.  Humility helps build faith.  Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up! (James 4:10)  Great faith is in asking for even the crumbs under the table.  Especially so if that may help someone we love and whose burdens we carry.  The miracle of humility. 

There is also the miracle of prayer.  While our prayers can be formal and routine, perhaps even memorized and possibly quoted, humbling ourselves and asking for help are further marks of a miracle.  After all, the miracle of prayer sure goes a long way to move both heaven and earth while transforming much that is inside of us.  

“Help me.”  Surely you have ‘said’ that prayer when you’ve come to the ‘end of your rope.’  Hopefully you still say that prayer when you reach the end results of whatever your sin might be.  “Help me” marks the miracle of submission and is a basis for faith. 

The miracle of faith made all the difference in that woman gaining help and healing for her daughter.  It wasn’t just ‘ask and receive.’  That woman ‘heard’ about Jesus.  She had heard about his compassion and his care.  She had heard about his teachings and his wisdom that directed others to see God in a new light.  She had heard of his love for people whom others had despised and rejected.  She had heard of these and many such ‘miracles’ shared with folks just like herself and her daughter.  She had also ‘heard’ where he was hiding out to get away from it all.  So it was, in trusting faith, in hopeful faith, but mostly in persistent faith, she sought out Jesus and would not let up nor give up on him.  

Miracles require faith.  Whom do you love so much that you are willing to place your faith on the line for?  How persistent is your faith?  

The miracle of faith begins with faithfulness.  By that I mean you have to choose of your own free will to have faith.  Even faith that God seems to ‘nudge’ inside of you.  While we are only human, still we must use our human free will to believe, to begin having faith. 

Faithfulness to God, to God’s ways, and to Jesus Christ’s teachings are expected from us.  I think the opposite of entitlement is humility.  Choose to be humble.  It’s a far wiser way in the long run. 

Don’t forget to pray. I read this very touching story: 

One day a farmer found a little lost girl in his meadow.  He said to her, "Do not cry; I'll take you home."  She snuggled up to him and with a smile said, "I knew you would; I was waiting for you."  "Waiting for me?  What made you think I was coming?"  She replied, "I was praying you would." 

Is part of your ‘faithfulness’ believing in the prayer you said?  Do you know in your heart that God can and will answer your prayer?  

Clearly, Jesus points out that because of this woman’s great faith, her daughter was healed from demon possession.  There were ‘marks’ of miracles; grace, humility, prayer, and faithfulness.  The Bible references the ‘Fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, and faithfulness. 

“Fruit of the Spirit” is indicative of that which ‘grows’ out of you as a result of God’s Holy Spirit within you.  When we trust in Jesus, call upon God; choose to ask and seek to receive more of the Divine in our lives. There will be good outcomes.  Great faith is an indicator that the Holy Spirit is growing inside of you. 

While faithfulness is inspired by the Holy Spirit in our lives, great faith is cultivated, it is built, nurtured, tried, tested, and redeemed over a lifetime.  As you and I continue to grow, our faith does get challenged from time to time.  This can make a soul quietly reflective. 

In today’s scripture lesson we see where Jesus strives to ‘get away’ but soon finds you can’t hide.  Nor can we hide from Jesus.  Sooner or later something’s going to take place where you or I will need Jesus in our lives.  He will ‘cross our paths.’  Our faith will become enhanced.  For some folks that means the booze will wear off.  The party will be over.  The happy-go-lucky conversations will die out.  Sometimes it takes us experiencing the loneliness of quiet moments to run into Jesus in our lives.  In the silence, whatever one’s ideas about the divine might be, God is there waiting, listening, loving, and understanding. 

Some folks have traveled a journey whereby they tried, ever so hard, to ‘make it alone.’  I am aware of folks who have literally spent ‘years’ of their lives striving to somehow ‘prove’ there was no ‘God.’  Nor will they submit to Jesus in their lives.   

God has His hand upon us.  He does not leave us alone.  Jesus Christ is going to keep ‘showing up’ in your life.  No use sitting on the fence.  Commit your life to Him or renew that commitment that you made in the past.  Your faith will become all the ‘greater’ for it. 

Have you noticed how Jesus has a universal impact upon faith?  His impact continues.  Within today’s Biblical dialogue, Jesus reminds this Non-Jewish woman that although her request is sincere and her daughter’s needs are great, the fact remains within the culture of the day that Jewish people don’t help out Non-Jews, like her and her child.  I’m certain that poor woman was well aware of that fact. Yet she persisted in her faith. She had heard about Jesus.  She was well aware of what the local preachers/rabbis had taught.  She knew full well that strict churches would have nothing to do with her, nor her possessed daughter, nor her non-Jewish background.  

Do we turn away those who are not ‘like us?’  Or do we follow in the footsteps of Jesus and agree to help those in need?  

Food Pantries and Meals on Wheels programs exist and flourish in our respective communities.  Food is provided to believers and non-believers.  To both Christians and non-Christians.  Should we ‘turn away’ those who are not ‘like us?’  Or perhaps ‘one of us?’  In accordance with today’s scriptures, I think not. 

Perhaps, quite unexpectedly, that woman’s faith in today’s Scripture lesson was tested.  However, as we see in this needy mother, when anyone ‘grows to know’ ‘about’ Jesus and ‘who’ He is, our faith will become persistent. 

Do you have ‘great faith?’  We need to come to Jesus.  God may be silent.  Our faith may be tested; our deserving of God’s help questioned.  Be persistent. 

Your faith can help others who are in need to be represented to God.  

Great faith is something you and I have to work at.  We have to choose to ‘get through’ the trials, the tests, the discouragements, even the grave concerns we have for others that can be overwhelming to any of us.  In the end, I think we shall one day stand before God with Jesus and look back acknowledging great faith was surely the marks of miracles in our lives. 

Thoughts and Prayers 1/30/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 29, 2022 & Sunday, January 30, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Dear Lord, help us as we read these scriptures together.  Come bring your understanding and reveal your truth.  Come open our minds, hearts, and souls to all that these words of life offer us. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 5:1-3 (Page 537), Luke 11:9-10 (Page 1041), Philippians 4:4-7 (Page 1181) 

Sermon Message: “Thoughts and Prayers” 

Prayer should be the key of the morning…the lock of the evening… 

How is it that you begin your day in prayer?  Some folks get down on their knees just as soon as they awake and ‘say their prayers.’  Others need some time to ‘wake up’ and compose themselves before they pray.  Still others acknowledge God’s presence in their lives each morning by ‘making the sign of the Cross’ on themselves.  One might simply say “Good morning God!” 

On the other hand, if you were ‘up too late’ the night prior or worked too hard the day before, upon arising you might find yourself saying, “Dear God it’s morning already!” 

Myself, I seem to function best when I am awake for a while, consume a cup of coffee, and settle into my comfortable reclining chair. 

My dear mother, God rest her soul, was what some refer to as ‘an early riser!’  If she was awake early (as she most often times was) and if she ‘checked on me’ and I was breathing sort of ‘shallow,’ she’d shake me and ask, increasingly loud, “You OK Son?” Every once in a while, I’d mumble my response: “I was until you awakened me!”  She’d give me one of those “I’m your Mother” smiles.  Worse though were the times when she found me sitting somewhere in meditative prayer, with my eyes wide open.  I would not always ‘hear her’ so after a while she’d get really close to me - so very close that here eyeball was nearly touching my eyeballs, and she’d giggle her inquiry, “You in there, Tom?” 

The initial point being this: we meet God, each in our individual way, and God meets us, sometimes directly, at other times through people He has sent to care for us.  

We are in the thoughts and prayers of many.  We further hold others, sometimes lots of others, in our thoughts and prayers.  

I trust we are well acquainted with daily prayers.  Also with daily formats, postures, or habits we have when we pray.  But when do we hold others and ourselves MOST in our thoughts and our prayers?  Possibly when we are in our greatest hour of need; when pain, hurt, suffering, even death is near.  When nothing makes sense and all else seems to fail many a soul, even those that seldom pray turn to God.

May we all take comfort in knowing within the Bible and throughout all of human kind’s history, people have cried out to God, poured out their hurts, their pains, their deepest questions…we refer to this as ‘lament’.  ‘Lament’ has been and shall always remain part and parcel of our thoughts and prayers with God. In today’s scripture lesson from Psalm 5:1-3 David prays ‘out loud’ to God, “Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.  Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.  In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” 

There is an entire ‘Book” of the Bible devoted to those who need to ‘lament’ unto God.  Within the Old Testament Book of Lamentations 3:22,23 it is recorded, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.” 

God holds us in His thoughts and prayers.  He hears, receives, and responds to our prayers of lament.  When WE lament, we are holding those we ‘lament for’ in our thoughts and prayers. 

There are lots of scenarios that lead us to ‘lament.’  The realities of violence witnessed on TV and sometimes quite near to us.  Increasingly so, we realize some of those victimized may one day be a person we know.  The afflictions, fears, and sufferings associated with the Covid pandemic continue to cause many to lament.  Especially so when death takes place. 

There are a multitude of reasons to hold folks in our thoughts and our prayers.  Not only do we feel compassion for others, God desires for us to ‘feel’ for others.  Lots of ‘others.’  

God calls upon us to pray.  We are instructed by Jesus to pray.  He teaches the disciples, and us, ‘how’ to pray. The Holy Spirit sometimes nudges us, inspires something within us to pray. Folks we are to pray daily, often, routinely, in season and out of season.  If you or someone you know says, “But I don’t know ‘how’ to pray, share with them how you pray; teach them The Lord’s Prayer, refer them to Jesus' teaching on prayer (Luke 11:1-10).  

When Jesus walked the face of this earth with his 12 disciples, they saw first-hand how Jesus prayed, as he helped others, dealt with criticisms and threats, shared, loved others, and taught the ways of God.  They were blessed to be ‘right there’ with Jesus and experience His miracles in people’s lives.  Yet those same disciples, who were so very close to Jesus, had to ask, “Lord teach us ‘how’ to pray.”  So it was, He taught and teaches us still, “When you pray say:  “Father hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, Your will be done…” 

I strongly suggest you learn ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’  “SAY IT” daily.  Share it, teach it to others, and talk about its effectiveness often with others. This too is a further means of keeping others in your thoughts and your prayers. 

It’s ‘strange’ sometimes how prayer works.  God, our heavenly Father, has a way of requiring us to use our thoughts and our prayers before His answers come.  We’ve grown to mature in our appreciation of God’s teachings in the Bible.  Jesus teaches us you have to ask, and it will be given to you.  You have to knock, and the door will be opened to you.

Across the years of assisting folks in their faith development and their ‘walk with God,’ the question sometimes comes:  “IF God loves us.  IF the Father knows us so well, WHY do we need to ask, pray, even lament or cry out to God?”  Hear God’s response to our inquiry in the verse that follows today’s Gospel lesson: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Hear Jesus’ pointed reference to the examples of earthly fathers and mothers. Our parents, for years and years, held us in their thoughts and prayers.  Maybe they were not ‘perfect’ in how they did that.  Yet they did.  Each in their own way.  Those of us who have served the Lord, as parents, well understand ‘why’ you often times need to wait for the kids to ‘ask,’ to ‘come around.’  I well remember while raising my daughter that she ate far better when she came to me and said, “Dad, I’m hungry, can I please have something to eat?”  The response was different from those times when I prepared her food, placed it on a dish, brought it to where she was and served her.  ‘Asking’ indicates need, trust, love, and reliance.  God desires that from us and with us.  Both in our thoughts and our prayers.  

Easily enough we communicate with someone in need, “You are in my thoughts and my prayers.”  A common spiritual experience we have with God and one another is compassion.  The Bible declares in numerous places that God has compassion on us.  His ‘mercies’ are new every morning.  What makes you feel ‘compassion’ with God, for one another, towards folks experiencing trials, tests, challenges of a wide variety and sort?  

‘Compassion’ is what’s deep inside of you.  It is a ‘care for’ another or their circumstances that you begin to identify with.  The Bible references compassion as something that stirs the very bowels of people.  It’s their ‘seat of emotions.’  Compassion soon touches our thoughts.  From there we must exercise the effort, put forth the energy, to turn our thoughts into both prayers and action.  This is where Jesus Christ leads us and calls upon us to ‘ask, seek, and knock.’ 

Prayer is expected.  It is God’s will that you and I pray.  Numerous scriptures affirm God’s expectations for all to pray.  It IS the business of Christians to pray.  It’s part of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we do.’  Think of it this way too: prayer isn’t some ‘hoop’ we must ‘jump through’ in order to be spiritual.  Prayer is a gift of love, an invitation to help, an opportunity, and an honor. 

Prayer is learned.  At some point you learned how to talk.  Learn how to pray.  Begin informally, conversationally so with God.  Learn to ‘say’ prayers such as ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’  ‘Pray’ the 23rd Psalm with someone sometime.  God is glad to hear from you.  Some are awkward with prayer because they feel guilty that they aren’t praying ‘right,’ formally, or weaving lots of scriptures into their prayers.  Just ‘pray from your heart.’ Learn from the Bible various ways, times, and occasions for your thoughts and your prayers.  Some prayers begin with lament.  Others are moved by the greatness of God’s blessings, His presence, and His divine love.  Praying with others is a basic way to learn how to pray as well.

Prayer is adoration.  Do you ‘adore’ the grandeur of God’s creativeness in nature; in lives He’s given you to share your life with, in answers, hopes, promises, and His peace? 

Prayer is confession.  Confession is good for the soul.  Not only do we ‘confess our sins,’ we also should ‘confess our faith.’  We do that through some formal words such as the Apostle’s Creed.  We also confess our faith when we talk with others about our belief in God, our experiences with our Christian faith, plus God’s answers and provisions in our lives. 

Prayer is thanksgiving.  Thanking God is one of the most rewarding forms of prayer.  Easily enough any of us can build our own little list of complaints.  As totally consuming as our arguments with God might be regarding ‘what’s wrong’ in the world, in our lives, or on account of others, thanking God in prayer is a spiritual exercise in acknowledging blessings.  I don’t want to miss being grateful because I am preoccupied with the negative. 

Prayer is intercession.  This is prayer for others.  It’s so easy to be so concerned with myself that I can lose sensitivity to the needs of other people.  I must share with you something quite humbling that happens to me from time to time.  Someone will say to me, “I prayed for you today.” Makes me wonder, as it should you, are we that faithful in praying for others daily, or at least often, even members of our own family? 

Prayer is petition.  In addition to Jesus’ words, “Ask and you shall receive…” there are over 3,000 promises in the Bible we can petition heaven for.  Petition God specifically for personal help, insight, answers, health needs, financial struggles, and spiritual matters.  There is no item too small or too big for God to hear and respond to.  He does need to hear from you.  Remember - ask, seek, knock, and pray.  Petition God for your needs, the needs of others, pray for our church, and pray for our community.  Pray ‘against’ the violence in this world.  One of the main reasons for lack of godliness is prayerlessness. 

Prayer is answered.  I well affirm today’s scriptures that warm the spirit, strengthen the soul, guide the heart, and inform the mind.  Those words of the Apostle Paul, “Don’t worry, don’t be anxious about anything.  But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). 

Yes, there are answers to your thoughts and prayers.  Ask God for His help.  Grow to know God does not always give us the answer we want in the time in which you or I want it.  However, I can testify that looking back over 60 plus years of following Jesus, you and I certainly CAN rely upon His faithfulness. 

I’m so glad you have thoughts and prayers.  They are so needed.  Amen.

Faith Basics 1/23/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 22, 2022 and Sunday, January 23, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Our Lord and our God, we bless You for Your Word.  We ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would open our eyes to understand it, that You would grant us the faith to believe it, and by Your Spirit You would enable us to walk in that belief.  This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.  

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 19 (Page 545) & Luke 4:14-21 (Page 1030) 

Sermon Message: “Faith Basics” 

There are faith basics that we function with.  Perhaps early on in our lives we learned how to say our prayers with our family.  Basic prayers such as, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Love me lead me through the night and wake me by thy guiding light.  I still remember our grandchildren learning to ‘say grace’ before meals.  Their ‘prayer’ at mealtimes sounded like this: “God is good, God is great, Lord we thank you for our food.  Amen.” 

There are bedtime prayers we learn and special prayers for those occasions when something ‘special’ is happening such as Christmas, Easter, or someone’s birthday.  

‘Faith basics’ develop in lots of different ways.  I enjoyed learning that even Jesus quoted and memorized scriptures as part of his faith basics.  Such as today’s scriptures which he read while sharing worship at the temple where he grew up in the town of Nazareth. 

Each week I list some basic bible verses in the bulletin for reflection, review, and developing faith basics.  You could also view these scriptures as ‘memory verses.’  Consider two of the scriptures listed in the bulletin for review, reflection, and perhaps as memory verses. 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” ~ Hebrews 11:1 

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”                ~ Romans 12:13 

These scriptures applied to our daily lives will sincerely make a lot of difference. 

Do you recall some ‘sayings?’  Perhaps something you once learned and have gained some wisdom from. 

Let’s have a little fun.  Kind of a contest I can use your help with. Let's start with an oral exam.  I'll provide the quote, you tell me who said it.  We will start easy.  

"Two roads diverged in the woods and I -- I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference." (Robert Frost)

"The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." (Roosevelt)

"I have a Dream." MLK (Got it?)

"I never met a man I didn't like." (Will Rogers)

"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." (Thomas Edison)

"God helps those who help themselves." (Franklin)

"When you are angry, count to ten.  When you are very angry, swear." (Twain)

"You can observe a lot about people just by watching them." (Yogi Berra)

"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." (Lincoln)

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably why so few engage in it."

  (Henry Ford)

"God is dead." (Friedrich Nietzsche)

"Nietzsche is dead." (God) 

Within Psalm 19 some faith basics are mentioned:  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.”  This particular reading from the Bible guides us to consider the invisible things of God.  The glory of God shines transcendently bright in the visible heavens, the structure and beauty of them.  Day by day and night by night the glory of God is revealed to all humankind.  Yet the folly of atheists is seeing heavenly bodies and the touch of earth’s life yet say, “There is no God.”  

The further removed we are or choose to be from faith basics, the more vain and compromised is our existence.  Sometimes we ‘go back’ to our beginnings to get a better perspective on what’s basic.  Jesus went back to his hometown, to the place where he grew up; Nazareth.  I wonder what that might have been like for him?  Did you ever ‘go back’ to where you grew up?  In doing so did you recognize some familiar sights?  Perhaps even in the geography. I’ve done that at different times.  What also helps is to get out of the car and walk around some of the area where you grew up.  It’s not only the sights or even a person or two we might recognize.  Sometimes we recall familiar smells as well.  Back in my hometown there was a power plant not too far from town that sometimes gave a smoky eerie ‘sulfur’ (rotten egg) smell.  At other times there is the familiar smell of highway traffic passing by and the occasional train with its diesel emissions or the slow moving nearby river. I’ve often times envied those folks who grew up in a town that had an active bakery.  I could surely go for that! 

When Jesus went back to Nazareth, he may well have appreciated some quite familiar sights and smells.  After all, things didn’t change much back then. 

I wonder what Jesus smelled, or tasted, or touched, on this trip to his hometown.  Perhaps the pungent smell from neighbors’ stables, possibly fresh warm bread as it was baking, maybe even a fire burning as families prepared their meager meals.  Jesus is in his hometown of Nazareth, he doesn’t have any disciples yet.  He’s a good boy, he goes to church.  He is given the honor of reading from scripture.  He picks Isaiah 61:1-2 and does a little editing.  He does not mention binding up the brokenhearted as Isaiah did, but he adds the restoration of sight for the blind.  He makes a good impression. 

I hope you have been impressed by Jesus’ words for they ARE ‘faith basics.’ 

Jesus’ mission statement is:  “Anointed by God to share God’s good news with the poor, proclaim freedom to those imprisoned in various ways, to assist others to see clearly, to help others overcome oppression, and to proclaim the abundance of God’s forgiveness for many.”  

How do we incorporate Jesus in our lives?  Within our world?  

Typically we think of ‘the poor’ as those folks who just don’t have much. Imposing human judgment here, ‘the poor’ become those who are despised by affluent society.  Jesus called attention to those who took advantage of the poor, kept them oppressed or imprisoned in a variety of ways.  Then and now when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, we clearly know that in both our political and religious environment faith basics are gone, missing, or compromised.  

Faith basics remind us to return to the law of the Lord for it shall refresh our souls.  Trust in the statutes of the Lord.  They can make the wise simple.  Honor the precepts of the Lord for they are right and give joy to the heart.  Follow God’s commands for they give light to the eyes.  God’s decrees are firm. 

So much of faith basics are minimized by folks who feel entitled to their desired pleasure, their redefining of truth, their minimizing of facts.  

God sent Jesus to help the poor.  Especially so those who are ‘poor in spirit.’  God seeks to save those who don’t know God well and worse still respond to God poorly, even defiantly, or apathetically so.  Work with government officials and religious leaders to help the poor.  The Spirit of the Lord calls for us to work to bring good news to the poor.  

Remember, ‘the poor’ then and now may be those who are not well off financially but further includes those who are poor in spirit, who don’t know or respond much to God.  Jesus saw ‘the poor’ everywhere in all peoples.  Although born of a Jewish heritage, Jesus repeatedly reached out to the Gentiles, the Samaritans, the non-Jews, and assured them in so many ways that God was there for them, for all of us. 

One of Jesus’ ‘faith basics’ was sincerely helping people to feel welcomed, cared for, of value, and included in knowing God and being blessed by God.  A ‘Prison’ might be an actual jail cell or possibly a metaphor for that which limits us from being fully alive and connected with God, our society, and our world.  

How well are our leaders doing with proclaiming freedom to those ‘imprisoned’ in various ways?  We SHOULD be bothered by the on-going realities associated with gross injustice among entire groups of people and between individuals.  We should hang our heads, pray, and work towards helping those who live in slums and poverty to one day be released from whatever it is that’s imprisoning them.  We are all aware of someone effected by unemployment, unequal opportunities, the threat or reality of war, and by most anything under God’s heaven that constitutes mal-distribution of the means of life!  Part of faith basics remains that of recognizing and being accountable for sin.  It IS still a sin to do anything that disaffirms the infinite worth of persons. 

Some folks think ‘making the sign of the cross’ is reserved only for our Catholic brothers and sisters.  NOT TRUE!  When we make the ‘sign of the cross,’ we draw an invisible line from our heads to our hearts, and from shoulder to shoulder.  We ‘make’ the sign of the cross upon our very selves.  ‘Faith basics’ begin with each one of us and extends in a movement to transform the world. 

‘Faith basics’ help those who would be blind to see.  ‘Faith basics’ enjoin us to proclaim God’s favor, acceptance, guidance, and love. 

Embrace the faith.  Amen.

I Will Follow Him 1/16/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 15, 2022 & Sunday, January 16, 2022

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded.  Amen.

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Joshua 24:15 (Page 237) & Matthew 4:18-22 (Page 968)

Sermon Message: “I Will Follow Him”

Perhaps you recall some of the lyrics to the song, “I Will Follow Him.”  They became popular (again) in 2019 during the movie “Sister Act” starring actress, Whoopi Goldberg.  Within that movie she transforms a group of quiet Catholic Sisters (Nuns) into a rather vibrant choir.  One of their sensational songs was “I Will Follow Him.”  Recall with me some of those lyrics: I love him, I love him, and where he goes I’ll follow.  I will follow him wherever he may go.  There isn’t an ocean too deep or mountain so high it can keep, keep me away.  

The lyrics go on to say, I must follow him, ever since he touched my hand I knew that near him I must always be and nothing can keep me from him, He is my destiny.  He’ll always be my true love from now until forever. 

Initially that song was composed as a kind of love song for couples.  Within the movie it was adopted and transformed as a song illustrating a kind of “Faith” one has when following Jesus. 

So, I must ask, is ‘that’ how it happened when you came to ‘follow Jesus?’  Did He touch your hand and thus become your ‘destiny?’  ‘Following Him’ may be marked by a significant event, as seen in the calling of those first disciples.  Yet we also learn from the disciples ‘following him’ becomes a life-long process of faith, hope, love, and redemption. 

The four disciples mentioned in today’s scripture lesson were fishermen by trade.  The good Lord sees us where we are and further ‘calls’ us. Consider a bit further those first two disciples whom Jesus called to ‘follow him.’ 

Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee.  He saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and his brother, Andrew.  They were fishing, casting a net into the lake.  Jesus said to those two fishermen, “Come follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” 

Two other brothers, James, son of Zebedee, and his brother, John, were in a boat with their father, Zebedee, preparing their nets.  Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 

Seldom do I hear of folks today just dropping everything and immediately following Jesus. 

The initial decision to ‘follow him’ does sometimes occur quickly.  At other times it takes a while.  However it occurs, our decision to follow him changes things.  Can you recall the ‘timing’ or the process that settled inside of you and lead you to decide to follow him?

Even those early disciples whom Jesus called spent the rest of their lives demonstrating what ‘following Him’ means. 

Let’s reflect a bit more on Andrew and Simon Peter. 

Some scholars affirm that Andrew became the unquestioned leader of the apostles.  As a leader, Andrew was not known for addressing large crowds like his brother, Simon.  Instead, Andrew ‘followed Him’ by leading people to Christ one by one.  Andrew’s main concern never was inviting himself into Jesus’ inner circle and private quarters.  Andrew was probably the glue in the apostolic band, the nicest and most accessible person in the group.  The record of Andrew does not stand much of a chance against the dramatic record of his brother Simon, the original Rock, one of Jesus’ three closest disciples.  Andrew was a leader of another kind – in friendship and lifestyle evangelism. 

Simon was defined by his larger-than-life personality, but Andrew by his down-to-earth “personability.”  One thing that defined Andrew in the Bible was his personal affinity with unfamiliar people and lost souls.  He was not intimidating, unlike his brother.  People can go through him, talk to him, and be with him.  Just as in this situation, Andrew, along with others, followed Jesus.  There was always somebody with Andrew.  Andrew was not a finder’s keeper kind of guy. Andrew was a humble man, definitely not as eloquent as his free-spirited brother, Simon.  He did not claim he was the one who found the Messiah.  It is recorded in the Gospel of John 1:41 Andrew found his brother and said, “We” have found the Messiah; the Christ. He didn’t reference himself mainly.  He did not say “I” have found the Messiah.  Rather, Andrew sought to remain ‘inclusive of others’ and thus proclaimed, “We” have found the Messiah.  Sometimes too, it’s hard to explain or convey to others what we have found in following Jesus.  So this disciple Andrew did the next best thing; he brought him to Jesus.  Andrew was not pushy, threatening, condemning, feisty, and argumentative.  That is as good a definition of evangelism as any – to bring people to Jesus, not to himself or even to John the Baptist. 

Andrew will forever be known in the Bible as the one who brought others to Jesus:  brother or not, young or old, Jews or Gentiles.  The apostle John seemed to hold Andrew in the utmost respect, especially for his personal touch with people.  The book of John gives us more details about Andrew not recorded in other gospels, such as Andrew finding a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish to feed the five thousand (John 6:8-10) and the Greeks going through Andrew for the opportunity to see Jesus (John 12:20-21).  In that sense, he was like his mentor, John the Baptist, testifying and pointing to Jesus. 

‘Following Him’ shows up in activities and wholesome endeavors we also seek to do for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Church, His ministries, and His missions. 

God uses our personalities as well, our skills, our endeavors, our studies, and experiences in our efforts to follow Him. Today’s scriptures affirm our growing knowledge that following Jesus means that we are going to do some things differently in our life; that there will be some things we too will need to leave behind.

Those early disciples seemed to have ‘their’ lives planned around themselves.  They had their own business and families to attend to.  Following Jesus meant expanding their horizons, so to speak.  It further meant submitting to God’s leading and the Lord’s call within their lives.  Following Him still means making some decisions about ‘how’ we will live our lives and ‘where’ we might need to go and do things for the Lord. 

All people tend to find that ‘following him’ changes our lives.  Sometimes significantly at first but also through varying stages extended over our lifetime. 

Trust and belief are essential components for following Him. 

Perhaps ‘following Him’ began with someone pointing us towards Jesus, saying ‘prayers’ with us, or bringing us to church to better ‘meet’ Jesus. 

Affirming Jesus Christ as God’s Son and our Savior requires trust and belief coming from us.  We need to nurture these essential qualities over a lifetime.  Striving to obey God’s teachings and the Bible’s guidance, confessing our sins and devoting ourselves to become Christians, better Christians, are basic and essential requirements to ‘following Him.’  I will follow Him means changing our ways from self-oriented entitlement to humble listening and reflection upon how God might use us to share faith with others. 

In this early stage we may find ourselves saying, “I will follow Him” perhaps with hesitancy, fear of regret, and unwelcomed humbling of ourselves before the Lord. 

I believe Andrew illustrates a good example of how we can help others who may be questioning what ‘I will follow Him’ means.  Andrew did not go on and on with Simon or others as he tried to get others to know Jesus Christ and follow Him.  Andrew simply, serenely, and sincerely just brought others into the presence of the Lord.  When communicating knowledge doesn’t suffice, bring others home to church and to your family of faith. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought much about it or not, but those early disciples were not just ‘called’ initially; they decided to stay with Jesus and follow him over the next three years of their lives.  ‘I will follow Him’ you see, becomes a maturing response to the presence of the Lord in our lives and unto a growing, workable realization of the benefits we inherit from responding to the Christian faith. 

You’ve heard me share this example before. Early on we may view The Ten Commandments as a list of do’s and don’ts which we must submit to.  As we grow, we begin to see the benefits from following those commands.  They become not just ‘commandments’ but more so ‘covenants’ between God, others, and us. 

‘I will follow Him’ isn’t JUST believing in Jesus.  It is about changing some things in your life. 

The best ‘affirmations’ of love are just that unless we spend time with those whom we love.  ‘I will follow Him’ means spending time with Him.  Get to know Jesus.  Spend some quality time each and every day in prayer, reflection, studying the Word, and getting to worship often, routinely, and regularly.  I have personally found this to be most valuable. 

‘I will follow Him’ is both a reflection and a further commitment.  As I reflect, the better decisions and directions of my life have occurred from how I allow myself to ‘follow Him.’  The more you or I follow Him, the greater becomes our peace-filled awareness that we have grown to love Him and be loved by Him. 

Reflect as did many in the Bible, upon your relationship and experience with the sacred, the holy, the Savior, and the Creator.  To those who choose to change and seek to follow Him, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit.  There is an awareness within that comes from above touching our lives, filling our spirits with forgiveness, peace, love, and further inspiration associated with God’s guidance and direction for our lives. 

Those early disciples quickly learned ‘I will follow Him’ means I will become like Him.  That’s what Jesus is saying to us here.  He says:  “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  At the beginning of a New Year let’s take some time to evaluate ourselves.  How are we doing at ‘following him?’  Are you fishing for men, like Jesus said we would if we were following Him?  Are you reaching people?  Are you discipling people?  Are you caring for people?  Are you touching PEOPLE with your life?  Try bringing people to church.  Endeavor to pray for others.  Help others to follow Him.  Jesus said that’s what following Him is all about. 

How will it be in your walk with Jesus this year?  How might you and I better follow Him?

May we begin with this spiritual/Biblical affirmation: “As for me and my household, we will follow the Lord.”  Amen.

Covenants or Contracts? 1/8/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 8, 2022 & Sunday, January 9, 2022

Covenant Communion Service 

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, create in us a new openness to hearing, receiving and living Your Word, through Jesus Christ our Savior we ask and pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 46 (Page 563), Hebrews 8:10 (Page 1209), and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (Page 1028) 

Sermon Message: “Covenants or Contracts?” 

Did you ever make a promise that you just can’t keep?  Such was the case when I got my first ‘set of wheels.’  It was a 1966 Ford Mustang Fastback.  It had a high performance 289 V-8 engine.  Wide tires on the back, skinny tires on the front plus a custom hood scoop.  My mother made me promise that I would NEVER drive over the speed limit.  (With a car like that!)  I kind of wish I still had that very same car today.  But it rusted out, and I got older.  Truth be told I think my mother grew to be wiser when dealing with me back then. 

Promises are a good thing.  Actually they remain a very important thing.  They ‘bring things to mind’ when we need them most.  Promises take many forms.  Verbal, written, passed on, received, revealed, and simply ‘understood.’  I grew to ‘understand that when my Mother ‘made me promise’ to drive carefully, she was sincerely looking out for my own good.  When my Father said, “You better be careful with that car, Son,” I soon learned that he was right.  Speeding tickets were expensive back then as well! I purchased that car in 1972.  Back then, I recall simply ‘shaking hands’ with the guy who was selling it.  We had what was termed ‘a gentleman’s agreement.’  Because I was ‘underage’ my Mother had to sign the title for that car to become mine.  Looking back, it was kind of neat realizing my Mom, who never drove and never had a license, owned a fast car! 

After I turned 18 and graduated from high school, I traded that ‘rust bucket’ in on a ‘big ride.’  I started college and needed something reliable.  When I acquired that green Ford Torino, I was required to sign a contract at the dealership.  I had to sign another contract at the bank for the loan I assumed back then as well. 

‘Contracts’ are more formal than handshakes.  Through the years I’ve grown to appreciate and rely upon ‘contracts.’  There were those ‘times’ when less than honorable people broke their contract with me, and we ended up in some legal scenarios.  Perhaps you’ve benefitted from contracts across the years as well.  You may have also had ‘legal dealings’ when contracts were broken. 

I grew to appreciate as a young man that some contracts need to be learned and obeyed.  If I failed to do so, I paid the consequences - 55 miles per hour means just that - if you know what I mean. On the other hand contracts can be negotiated. When I started working in ‘the real world,’ I was required to follow a contract with my employer.  Every now and again we would re-negotiate the contract.  Most hope for those negotiations to go ‘in their favor.’  Sometimes though we are held to a contract that’s NOT comfortable.  The point being contracts can be changed.  They can hold binding obligations, yet those very same obligations can become renegotiated.  Contracts can be bargained.

Sometimes I hear persons talking about their relationship to God as though they are bargaining with him.  They are convinced that “if” they do certain things, they will be assured of God’s blessings in return.  There’s a difference between a contract and a covenant.  It’s not a ‘contract’ we have with God or God with us, it’s a covenant.  

Contracts are usually made between equals.  Covenants are made between unequals, and the initiative is with the greater.  In religious covenants it is God who initiates the covenant and sets the terms.  Today we gather here in God’s House to learn more about how we live within the responsibility of the covenant. 

A covenant is a solemn promise.  It involves complete trust between two or more parties and takes for granted that the covenant will be honored.  Currently the Soviet Union and the United States are ‘squaring off’ regarding an established ‘covenant’ declaring the Soviet nation will NOT invade Ukraine. 

God has initiated covenants with people throughout the centuries.  The Ten Commandments were covenants initiated by God.  While you and I can readily reference the Ten Commandments within the Bible, more importantly we know God has written them upon our hearts.  Not only are they in our minds, they are also within our hearts. 

God’s covenants are birthed from love; His love for us and for all mankind.  Consider one of our favorite ‘memory verses’:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but receive eternal life.” (John 3:16)  God says, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 32:38)  That’s you and that’s me!  

Baptism remains a firm covenant (in love) with God. A while back I was honored to share in baptizing an adult.  He had heard those scriptures we read, just today, regarding Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the bodily form of a dove.  A voice came from heaven declaring “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  The adult baptized here some years back sort of hoped for something dramatic to wash over him.  Something more than words and a few drops of water.  But it didn’t.  We’re not Jesus, yet we are God’s children, regardless of our age.  The Covenant of Baptism is between God, us, and our church family.  God sent Jesus, spoke to Him at His baptism, then commissioned Him to ‘go and do.’  Jesus did ‘go and do.’  Part of His ‘going and doing’ was to teach, train, and instruct his disciples, then and now, to go and baptize others, all others, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Our Baptismal Covenant is initiated by God and remains written upon our hearts.  This is a covenant of love affirming faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Affirming ‘trust’ in Him, declaring our heart-felt ‘intent’ to be His disciple, to obey His Word, and show his love.  Nor is this to remain a rather ‘private’ matter between the person and Jesus.  We also are called to ‘go and do’ some things. Within our Baptismal Covenant we promise to ‘uphold’ those whose baptisms we have witnessed, including our own with prayer, Christian fellowship, strengthening ties with the family of God, and sharing the Good News of the Gospel.  This remains a covenant about love, from God, to us and for others.  The Baptismal Covenant is a holiness of binding love with God and for others.  It’s a covenant, not a contract!

God sent us His Son.  Jesus was not only ‘sent to save’ but also to build, to guide, and to bring light and love.  Jesus Christ continues to call disciples.  Will you be His disciple?  Unto one of His early disciples, Peter, Jesus said: upon the faith I see in you I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.  We NEED, truly NEED the church, as the ‘Gates of Hell’ are made evident throughout our world.  While many seem to view the church as a simple ‘option,’ we can choose to belong to or dismiss; the spiritual truth remains that the church IS God’s covenant with us and through Jesus His Son our Lord and Savior.  What a blessing to become an outstanding member of the church of Jesus Christ, which IS His body.  Of all the things you or I can support throughout our lifetimes, the Church remains a covenant we have with God and God with us.  Give God your best.  Be a faithful member.  Support the church with prayers, giving of time, sharing your talents, contributing financially, being present and caring for the church, the people, and for what this all means to God.  The church IS a covenant, not a contract or a broken promise. 

Consider your marriage.  Is your marriage a contract or a covenant?  Some would say ‘both.’  If marriage is treated as a contract, then it shall continually be up for review and renegotiation.  ‘Contracts’ are hoped to be binding but can also be broken.  Covenants are so much more than legal documents and binding ‘words.’  Covenants are written upon the heart, initiated from the heart, and answerable to the heart.  While a marriage ‘contract’ might call for 50/50 shared responsibility, the marriage covenant most often requires ‘whatever it takes’ in the form and degrees of love shared, responsibilities assumed, and promises kept. 

God has a covenant with us.  It remains on-going. He covenants with us to be our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Though the earth gives way and the mountains fall to the sea, though earthquakes and all sorts of natural and man-induced disasters take place, there is a river of peace still flowing, a holy place where God IS.  Nations and kingdoms rise and fall.  Wars and viruses occur.  God breaks the bow and shatters the spear.  An overview of God’s covenant takes the form of this command: “Be still and know that I am God!” The Lord Almighty IS with us. 

Saints of old and saints we know make covenant to follow God, whatever it takes. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. 

Moses used the blood of sacrifices to seal the covenant between God and the children of Israel.  Christ shed his blood on the Cross to seal the new covenant between God and his children everywhere.  We partake of the Cup of the Eucharist in remembrance of that covenant. 

Come, let us worship Almighty God, creator and sustainer of the universe.  Amen.

New Year, New Light 1/2/2022

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 1, 2022 & Sunday, January 2, 2022 

Prayer For Illumination: Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson:  Matthew 2:1-12 (Page 966) 

Sermon Message: “New Year, New Light” 

There’s something refreshing about starting a new year.  I know it feels as though we just celebrated Christmas a few days ago. 

I like how God has things figured out. Christmas is celebrated near the shortest day of the year.  It is recognized with lots of lights and bright decorations at a time when there is the greatest darkness in our part of the world. 

Each day since December 21st,will have new light; an additional 2+ minutes of daylight all the way through June 21st. Two minutes of new light each day might not sound like much.  However, by June 21st that will actually become a few more hours of new light this year. 

Was it hard to say ‘good-bye’ to Christmas?  Recently, I read a narrative of a busy mother putting everything away just a few days after Christmas.  Her son came in their living room, saw his Mom putting things away and asked, “Mom!  What are you doing?”  She said, “I’m putting all of our Christmas stuff away.”  He immediately asked, “Why are you doing that?”  She answered, “So everything will be back to normal again.”  His response: “But Mom, I don’t want things to get back to normal again!” 

It does seem as though Christmas is over.  Next Saturday we hope to take down the outdoor Nativity shed and those three lit trees here at our beloved Church.  Next Saturday evening and next Sunday afternoon we’re planning on taking down all of the indoor decorations; the Christmas trees, garland, candles, wreaths, and most anything ‘Christmas.’ 

This past Christmas was well illustrated by lots and lots of lights.  They made us think of the stars, the angels, the musical selection "Gloria in Excelsis Deo," and of light shining in darkness to celebrate and welcome the birth of Jesus once again.  In the Old Testament, King David looked to the stars and wondered aloud, “O God, what is mere man that you are mindful of him?”  The many lights of Christmas can be cause for wonder. Keep the spirit of wonder far beyond the day and the celebrations of Christmas.  Be ever mindful of what God has done, what the Almighty is doing, and what lies ahead in our walk with our Lord. 

I do well recall how comfortable and meaningful it was for me to visit folks in their homes prior to Covid-19 concerns.  One Spring I was visiting with a senior couple in their home.  They invited me to come sit with them in their living room.  Just as soon as I sat down, I noticed a leftover, perhaps ‘forgotten’ Christmas ornament. The wife smiled at her husband and said, “See that!  Reverend Tom noticed!”  The two of them went on to explain that each Christmas they choose one certain ornament to leave out in their living room till next Christmas.  In their words, that one leftover Christmas ornament serves to remind them to reflect upon Christmas and what it means to their lives throughout the year, not just for a few specific days.  I liked that notion. 

There should be something ‘different’ about us since we have participated in God’s Christmas.  There was wonder, there were stars, and we heard and sang heavenly music.  We were well reminded of the baby born in the manger and the significance of birth in our lives and throughout our world.  We began to see “light shining in the darkness” that veiled much of our world during the past 20 months.  Our hearts were warmed because of God’s Christmas.  Leastwise, if we chose to participate in it. 

While Christmas reminds us that God comes close to earth and unto us, this New Year invites us to get ready for new light.  

Today’s narrative from the Bible reminds us of the visit of the Magi, the Three Kings, three Wise Men from the East.  They traveled far, further than most in those days to ‘behold’ the Holy Family.  They longed to see Jesus.  Their journey took them to the Holy City of Bethlehem. They were led by a star.  It was the shining of a new light that guided those Wise Men.  God’s light still guides us to this very day.  We need to be open to new light from heaven.  We need to work towards embracing God’s light shining in our darkness.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. 

The New Testament use of ‘light’ is both literal and symbolic.  Light is a symbol of God.  Darkness can be a symbol of sin.  The Word of God is described as a lamp to our feet and a light for our path.  (Psalm 119:105) 

In today’s Biblical narrative there is the darkness of suspicion in King Herod who was both jealous and fearful that this baby born in the manger would one day become the new king.  

Learn from the Bible.  Those three Wise Men traveled a long way to overcome the darkness of suspicion.  They did so with the light of devotion. 

This New Year let there be more light, perhaps new light, from your devotion to God, Jesus, church, and ministry.  Let that become your mission as well.  Those Wise Men were very wise.  They came to give their devotion to a new king in their lives and would not be turned aside. 

There is still a good bit of suspicion in our world today.  It can poison relationships, goals, noble endeavors, groups, and ideals.  In the darkness of suspicion let the light of devotion shine in you and through you. 

One year while putting the Christmas decorations away my mother said, “Well, Christmas is about over.”  At my young age, I recall saying, “Yes, but we still have the memories.”  Let the memory of that Holy Night and of those days long ago continue to live in your heart.  In your faith outlook, remember those special things about the visit of the three Wise Men and their devotion. 

Like the Wise Men of old, keep Christ as the object of your devotion.  New light for the New Year. 

Three Kings; three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Gold was a gift fit for a king.  It was costly, treasured, sought after, and given to a baby king.  Frankincense was an expensive fragrance, representing a personal treasure.  It was a fine perfume.  Myrrh was a precious ointment used in the preparation for death.  It was tinged with sadness.  All of these gifts were expensive treasures in their day and in that part of the world.  Each of these men brought to the one they worshipped, the best they had to offer him.  This was a sign of their dedication.  Just as their kneeling was a sign of their homage, it was a further statement about their priorities.  When was the last time you knelt before God?  Not necessarily to ask for something, nor even to pray regarding some ‘matter’, but just to ‘pay homage’ to Him as God, Lord, Creator, and Sustainer. 

Give God the best you have.  That doesn’t mean selling your home and cashing in your savings.  But it does begin with choosing to come to worship and giving Him your devoted attention during worship.  It may mean helping another or possibly contributing to the things of God, his church, ministries, and missions.  Remember devotion is light shining.  New Year, New Light. 

On a much lighter note, I can think of a story I once heard that sort of ‘typifies’ how some of us ‘church people’ give.  There was this group of church ladies who met Saint Peter together at the ‘pearly gates.’  Saint Peter questioned them and their ‘Christianity.’  The first lady said, “I’m a Baptist and here’s my Bible to prove it.”  The second lady said, “I’m a Catholic, and here’s my rosary to prove it.”  The third lady began rustling through her rather large purse.  Saint Peter asked her what she was doing.  She said, “Well I’m a Presbyterian and there’s a casserole in here someplace.”  

Actually, I think that is a pretty good story.  It IS important to study the Bible and live a life of prayer.  It is also vitally important to live a life of service.  Like the lady with the casserole, all of us can find some little thing we can do.  We can find a way to serve.  This will be our gift to Christ in the year ahead and some light, perhaps some new light we can shine.  Give him the best you have. 

Coming back to today’s scripture reading, there’s a verse within today’s text that reads, “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”  (Matthew 2:12) 

If Christ is the object of your devotion, and if you give him the best you have, then your life will take a new direction.  Sometimes we have to ‘go another way.’  Sometimes too, we have to ‘live’ another way. 

The Wise Men had an ‘Epiphany!’  They had a remarkable understanding of a new light in their world and for the entire world.  This week the Christian Church celebrates the Season of Epiphany.  Thursday is the Day of Epiphany when we are to reflect and appreciate the meaningful visit of the Three Wise Men and apply it to our lives today. 

Those Wise Men returned by another way.  Maybe we can return to Christmas in 2022 by another way guided by a new light from God for us, for our family, and for our world. 

Have we found something which cannot be lost?  Something that will carry us into the future by another way, perhaps on new and different roads to a new place in our living?  

The Wise Men have shown us a better way.  It is the way of devotion.  In the darkness of suspicion let the light of devotion shine on you.  The lights of Bethlehem still shine on. 

Light makes us aware.  Light also beckons us to move on. Let’s move on into this New Year with new light.  Amen.

Glory to God and Peace for Humanity 12/24/2021

Christmas Eve Sermon Message 2021 

Prayer for Illumination: Almighty God, you have made this night holy by the gift of your son, born of the Holy Spirit and of Mary. Upon him rested all your grace, through him has come all your mercy. Let his light shine within our hearts tonight even more brightly than it shines from the candles in this place. Help us to hear your word and to celebrate your everlasting love through him. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 8:3,4 (p. 539), James 1:17,18 (p.1216), Luke 2:1-20 (p. 1026) 

Sermon Title:  “Glory to God and Peace for Humanity” 

One of the best-known stories in the world is this Biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus Christ.  For more than two thousand years it has been told and re-told, preached and sung about.  Think about it, no event in history has birthed more music than Christmas!  From “Away in a Manger” to “The Messiah”, from the simplest more child-like melody to the most majestic symphony, the world’s “night” has been filled with the festive music of Christmas. 

While we affirm that the world has ‘come up with’ plenty of songs concerning Christmas, tonight’s Biblical narrative further reminds us that angels also sang on the night when Christ was born.  The Bible references “a great company of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ ”  From that very first Christmas, through these present times, God has placed songs in our hearts that give glory to God and promote peace for humanity. 

I believe God foresaw the eventual world-wide celebration His Son’s birth would bring about. God created Christmas.  Through the centuries and within these present times, the world needs Christmas! 

Of course, we know humans can make the Christmas celebration about themselves.  Commercial celebrations can miss the point of what Christmas really is all about.  We know and acknowledge that.  BUT, do not let the ‘Scrooge spirit’ overthrow the Holy Spirit’s desire to awaken fresh expectancy and joy in your heart this precious season. 

From that very first Christmas and each year since, the central message remains; God comes to us.  The Word has become flesh.  Each day, every day is a new day with God and from God.  As we welcome God’s Christmas each year, there is fresh joy, hope, and love. 

Ponder with me tonight one of the more familiar songs of Christmas: ‘Away in a Manger.’  Surely you recall some of the ‘words’ - “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.”  What did Mary and Joseph ‘see’ in their child that very first Christmas?  Possibly they perceived some of what your parents saw the very first time they gazed into your eyes.  Imagine the hopes and dreams your parents held for you.  Imagine the joy, happiness, and good things they wished for you.  Imagine the potential and possibilities they saw in you.  Imagine the life they wanted you to have.  They saw all that and more.  They saw beauty that has nothing to do with physical appearance.  They saw holiness that has nothing to do with behavior or being good.  They saw a miracle, the fullness of God’s life, contained in your little body.

I believe ‘birth’ brings glory to God.  God’s Christmas reminds us to look back at what ‘birth’ means.  Go back and look at your baby pictures some time.  Look beyond what your life is right now.  Go back to the beginning.  Do you see it?  Do you see what your parents saw?  It’s all there:  the dreams, the hopes, the possibilities, the potential, the beauty, the love, and the innocence.  That’s you. If you’re unable or unwilling to see it in yourself, then go back to that day when you first looked into the face of your child or grandchild.  I know you saw it there.  Recall the last baby you witnessed being baptized.  It was there too.  Sometimes we even see it in the faces of children we don’t even know and have never met as we see them playing or walking hand in hand with their ‘grown-up.’ 

Remembering and reflecting on Jesus’ birth this Christmas reminds us that we, along with Mary, Joseph, angels, and yes, even cattle and other animals, are also in the presence of a revelation greater than the presence of a baby. 

Moments such as tonight serve to remind us all of what we have forgotten.  We are privileged to catch a glimpse of God become human. 

Along with the Psalmist of old, when we stand in the presence of innocence, holiness, and birth, we too pray and ask God this, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”  

Evidence of God moving in OUR world this last year humbles us to further inquire of God’s goodness that has come. 

This evening we shall sing the familiar Christmas selection, “Joy to the World.”  Pay attention to the words as you sing tonight. 

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come.  Let earth receive her King:  Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing.” 

As we worship God this Christmas, we sing with heaven’s angels.  We sing with all of nature, praising God and receiving Jesus as King. 

David, the Psalmist of old, looked to the stars, and tonight we look at all the lights of Christmas shining in our eyes with gratitude for such love.  

In another portion of Holy Scripture, we learn that Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem making their ‘Christmas visit.’  The Wise Men traveled the furthest, geographically speaking.  The account of their travel, in Holy Scripture, tells us something about how God values the efforts of people making a big thing out of Christmas. 

I believe you also are ‘wise’ to have come here to church this evening.  I’m so glad you have made a big thing out of coming to visit Jesus this Christmas. 

Let the Wise Men teach us wisdom.  God has visited us from out of eternity.  Like those Wise Men of old, you are here tonight to make a special visit yourself.  Call upon the Lord for a special Christmas work in your heart. 

People seem to travel a lot each Christmas.  Some say Christmas this year will reach record proportions.  Travel at Christmas time started long before now.  When God comes to earth, all earth is set in motion. 

The shepherds were living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks at night.  They received an awakening visit from angels.  The shepherds' encounter with God made it impossible for them to remain as they were or where they were.  In response to the angel’s visit, they planned a visit to the manger.  An awakening visit became a seeking visit. 

This Christmas allow the Holy Spirit into your heart.  Allow him to bring you, as the shepherds, to a new place where you meet God.  Think of ‘how it was’ with the shepherds.  They didn’t just ‘get through’ Christmas.  They went to their appointed Bethlehem.  God is waiting for you to come to Him also. 

I realize some ‘have their doubts.’  Doubt has the potential to annul the potential of a promise.  Leastwise in so far as how it might have applied to us.  For some, this Christmas might be a time to learn the power of silence to neutralize doubt and the power of praise to receive God’s works of grace. 

There still are ‘Scrooges’ among us. There was this fellow who made it his business to deride the practice of giving presents at Christmas.  The story is told of how he was angrily assailing another Christian for doing so.  The gift-giving Christian soon responded, “I can’t help it.  It was God’s idea before it was mine!” 

God sent us a ‘gift’ in the form of His Son, Jesus.  God’s gift giving was not just once and for all.  God continues to give.  To this very day and beyond, not just on this Holy Night, the Father ‘gives’ to each one of us a ‘measure of faith.’  This ‘measure of faith’ is a starting point for responding to God’s will.  I know each person realizes we have a distinct gift and some very special opportunities to serve others by acting upon what God places in our paths. 

This Christmas can be better than it was.  This Christmas, come before God with both gratitude and teachableness.  Gratitude first for what God has given.  Teachableness for God to show you more about how His gifts inside of you might glorify Him as you serve and care for others.  God has some creative purposes for your life.

Remember this:  Christmas didn’t just ‘exist’ through the centuries to our present gathering here tonight.  Christmas ‘thrives’ each year because people, just like you and me, embrace it, enjoy it, sacrifice for it, and respond to the innocence of what birth can do.  A tiny baby in a manger remains a very significant reminder that even the smallest of God’s actions are so much larger than the problems we face. 

When we honor God’s Christmas, we bring glory to God.  When our daily lives are transformed because God is within us, there is peace.  

Christmas is ‘full’ of stories about lives that have been transformed. 

Not everyone’s life can be summarized in the ‘likes’ of a Norman Rockwell painting depicting peace, serenity, tranquility, and normalcy.  Some time ago, around Christmas, a young boy from a broken home walked along a very cold, slushy, and dimly lit street.  As he walked, he prayed to God.  He didn’t really know ‘what’ to pray for.  He just prayed asking God’s help.  His prayer became a promise that he made and kept.  His prayer for deliverance from so much ‘aloneness,’ family strife, and poverty became a ‘promise’ that IF God somehow delivered him from his dreary, hurting life, he would remember to ‘give back’ to the Lord.  That ‘walk’ at Christmas, quite alone, was one of the worst days of his life.  That boy grew into a man who cares deeply for God’s church, helps others, and contributes much financially. 

Joseph, the earthly husband and earthly father of Jesus Christ, experienced a ‘worst day’ of his life too. He was greatly perplexed when his fiancé, Mary, shared with him that she was pregnant, but the child was not his.  Joseph could not understand her talk about God and angels coming to her.  Joseph’s worst day became the turning point for something tremendously good in his life. 

Since last Christmas there have been lots of ‘worst days’ in our world.  No one liked the ‘tune’ when heaven and nature seemed to sing of fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, climate change, and further extremes.  Shootings and associated killings in schools, malls, and residences still reflect the worst of days for many innocent souls.  Sickness, death, and impending illness, possibly out of control with the expansive pandemic, frightens our peace and alerts our spirits to be ‘on guard.’ 

This IS God’s night.  You, me, the world, in solemn stillness lay. There is good beyond the evidence of ‘the bad.’  There remains hope far exceeding the dimness of doom in our lives.  For we are loved. 

God so loved that He sent and continues to send. Ask and you shall receive, says Jesus. 

This Christmas thank God for the people He has sent you to bless, care for, help, and love.  Thank Him for the church you have helped to nurture, sustain, and shine as a light in many a soul’s darkness. 

Our lives tonight bring glory to God as we assemble together here in His House.  Our lives tomorrow, and for as many ‘tomorrows’ as God gives, shall provide us with innumerable opportunities to be ‘instruments of His peace.’ 

Christmas is a celebration.  It has always been a remarkable and welcomed transformation in the lives, the souls, and the hearts of many.  

God created Christmas to bring glory to God and peace for humanity.  Amen.

Christmas This Year 12/19/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 18, 2021 & Sunday, December 19, 2021 

Prayer for Illumination: Shine within our hearts, loving God, the pure light of your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds and hearts that we may understand and embrace the message of the Scripture.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 80:1-7 (Page 585) &  Luke 1:39-55 (Page 1025) 

Sermon Message: “Christmas This Year” 

Christmas this year will occur on December 25, just as it always has.  Just as it always shall.  Nothing new there. 

Our beloved church will offer a sacred and quite meaningful worship service on Christmas Eve this year.  Just as we always have.  Just as we always will. 

People will think of ‘the good old days’ this Christmas.  Just as we always have, and just as we always will.  

The ‘good old days’ this year are viewed and perhaps ‘defined’ differently than they were just 20 months ago.  Christmas this year we pray to perhaps ‘return’ to a time when the general health of our world was a ‘given.’ 

What will ‘Christmas this year’ be like at your house?  Or here in our beloved church? 

Twenty months ago, America shut down because of Covid-19, and no one thought it would still be shaping our lives 20 months later.  We thought we’d ‘hunker down’ for 4 or 5 weeks; then everything would get back to normal.  Now we know that even the phrase ‘new normal’ has lost its resonance. 

While observing the children attending our church’s Pre-School, I realize many of them have little or no experience of education that is not ‘warped’ by Covid-19. 

Like the Psalmist of old many pray:  “Restore us, O God.” 

Christmas this year, here at the church will be the same as it always has been for years, yet ‘different.’  Akin to years past there will be a presentation of sacred music starting at 7:30 p.m. followed by our traditional Christmas Eve Candlelight service at 8:00 p.m.  Yes, for sure, we shall sing ‘Silent Night, Holy Night” by candlelight.  Jesus Christ’s birth is further affirmed within another hymn of Christmas, “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear.”  This Christmas many will identify with the verse which declares “the world in solemn stillness lay.”  Things are ‘different’ now than they once were.  There IS a solemness as we consider lives lost, lifestyles, jobs, and social movements changing.

As your pastor, I recognize much of what has changed.  Faith, this Christmas, teaches me what faith has taught you as well; we can ask God to restore us.  We can pray for God to help us.  We shall further benefit from reading and studying our Bibles to discern how God has helped people in the past to ‘get through, move on, and find a new sense of peace.’ 

The story of Job is a narrative regarding a soul who lost everything; family, health, possessions, even his peace.  In the end the latter part of Job’s life is blessed in such a way that it becomes better than the former part. 

THAT is sound spiritual advice and guidance for Christmas this year.  Make things better than they were. 

For instance, here at our beloved church I as your pastor do readily affirm, we aren’t going back to the days when we did not videotape the sermons.  Placing sermons on our website has benefitted not only our shut-ins but countless numbers of people.  Videotaping a portion of this year’s Christmas Eve service certainly may help to make Christmas worship even better this year for many. 

Christmas presents this year will be different, yet better than before.  In years past my immediate family tended to feel awkward or even offended if they were presented a gift card.  Now we ask each other for gift cards.  We’ve grown to realize the benefits of not being around so many people when we shop.  In our family we’ve changed to further appreciate ordering things ‘on-line’ even from our local stores.  Myself, I do look forward to making use of gift cards when things are dark, cold, and gloomy in the remaining winter months. 

God does restore us.  God does sincerely appreciate that we bring Him glory, honor, and praise each Christmas.  Throughout the Bible seldom does God restore things to ‘just as they were.’  The Almighty, in His great love and divine providence, makes things better than they were. 

May we pray for Christmas this year to be better than it ever was.  More meaningful.  Better appreciated.  Reflect more than you have in the past.  Anticipate the movement of God now and into the future. 

You remember Mary, don’t you? She and Joseph were Jesus’ earthly parents.  Their lives, even the sacredness of pregnancy, was hugely interrupted.  Mary had ‘made plans’ to be at her residence when she gave birth.  She just ‘figured’ on her family being by her side and calling upon mid-wives whom she knew and trusted.  But that’s NOT what happened.  Mary and her beloved Joseph were required instead to make the long journey to Bethlehem. Perhaps that Holy Couple prayed repeatedly for God’s help.  Possibly they longed for their lives to be restored.  Instead, they were changed forever and were better than they ever imagined. 

When things do go ‘wrong,’ perhaps ‘massively wrong,’ folks will seek some understanding from what God is ‘up to.’  Mary and Joseph were no different in that respect.  They ‘had’ a good life.  They were so looking forward to married life.  Even with visits from God’s angels they questioned and pondered, “how can this be?”  Like Mary and Joseph, we, too, seek some sort of spiritual insight with ‘what’s wrong’ in our world.  This Christmas the world has lost some of our beloved population to this Covid pandemic. 

Many others remain in fear.  Perhaps you have one or more of those age-old problems involving family that refuses to ‘get along.’  Health concerns, economic concerns, and aging concerns all remain quite ‘real’ to us this Christmas.  It remains quite tempting to ‘throw in the towel’ so to speak, blame God, and withdraw from life, from love, and from faith. 

Christmas reminds us not only of what used to be but also of what has changed, and even now remains compromisingly challenging.  

Formerly we may have imagined Christmas to be overloads of decorations, family interacting positively so, an abundance of food, travel, visits, and gifts galore.  Even going to ‘church’ on Christmas Eve was an open-ended and safe choice to make. 

Are you feeling more comfortable this Christmas to interact?  How might you be imaging Christmas this year?  Sometimes God has something in mind that’s better than we can imagine, but maybe we can try. 

Pay special attention to Mary’s words.  She is amazed and filled with joy that the Lord has lifted up one as humble as she.  Mary also declares that the Lord brings down the mighty and powerful.  These reversals are important.  They foreshadow the Sermon on the Mount.  They echo the call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:10) “to pluck up and pull down…to build and to plant.”  The Lord’s coming into the world means that old things have to pass away, be brought down, and destroyed. 

What if our congregations have been dreaming dreams that are too small?  What if the return to life pre-Covid is not God’s plan for us?  Suppose the Lord’s plan for Christmas this year is to make things better than they were?  

The pandemic has showed us how complacent most of us have been and made us aware of things we took for granted.  The pandemic also exposed enormous chasms in our society between the haves and have-nots; between “essential” workers and well, is there a term for the opposite of an essential worker in God's eyes?  We have created labels such as unessential, superfluous, white-collar, overpaid, dividing between people of color and white people. We have been confronted with the underside of a system that most of us experienced as acceptable. 

Could we redirect our longing?  Not to status quo ante-pandemic, but to something better, fairer, less wasteful, and more contemplative?  Maybe God has been at work through the disruption of the pandemic, forcing us to live more intentionally, humanely, generously, and kindly.  Could it be — and I challenge you to imagine that it will be — that the home we long to return to is a place we’ve never been to before?  The Lord who lifts up the lowly and brings down the mighty is behind something better.  “Behold, I am doing a new thing — now it springs up.  Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19) 

I realize there is a lot of enthusiasm for sports teams.  Recently I read an article that declares sports teams sometimes go through a ‘building year.’  Sometimes this is just a nice way of saying they have been losing a lot.  Perhaps senior players have retired or others have gone on to another team.  When the mainstay of players entails rookies or freshmen, it takes a while to get the winning team coordinated.  This “building year” effort is an attempt to both restore and improve the team.  The coach/manager wants the current team to be as successful or more so than the former team.  They want the winning record restored to the team and the fans.  And they want the new team to be just as good as the old one - only better. 

The same number of players remains on each team.  Playing positions, for the most part, remain unchanged.  Strategies change only a bit.  The team is not going to be restored, for some of the older players have retired or moved on.  Yet sports enthusiasts know they shall see and experience the game differently - maybe even better.  

This kind of transformation is not limited to homes and sports.  Both the Psalm and the Gospel lessons for this day point to this transforming work of God through grace.  In Mary’s poem/song, which we have come to call “The Magnificat,” she praises God for God’s work that, even now, is underway to not just remodel or restore the covenant relationship with Israel, but to transform it, to make it as it was - only better. 

The Psalmist makes the same point.  The poet asks for God to “restore us,” but to what?  To what they were before the Babylonian exile - only better.  Closer to God, closer to each other, more thankful, more dependent, more nurturing, more loving, kinder, gentler - better. 

Now, as we approach the day of the arrival of the Anointed One, this is our constant prayer.  That God will prepare us for his arrival not by remodeling us or even restoring us, but by transforming us.  By making us anew - only better. 

May Christmas this year intentionally and spiritually be better than before.  Amen.

What Christmas Is All About 12/12/2021

A Communion Sermon Message and Narrative for Saturday, December 11, 2021 & Sunday, December 12, 2021 

3rd Sunday in Advent Communion 

Prayer For Illumination: Speak to us, Lord.  Speak to us in the waiting, the watching, the hoping, the longing, the sorrow, the sighing, the rejoicing. Speak to us by your Word in these Advent days and walk with us until the day of your coming.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: John 6:32-34 (Page 1069) &  Philippians 4:4-7 (Page 1181) 

Sermon Message: “Remembering What Christmas is All About” 

Do you remember what Christmas is all about?  I am sure there are any number of ‘things’ we associate with Christmas.  Presents and decorations, snow, and festivities.  Plus, lots and lots of memories. 

Many of us remember performing in a Christmas musicale at church or school.  You may even remember the part you played, or perhaps you remember that you forgot some of your lines.  Or maybe you remember the ‘charge’ you used to get on Christmas morning when ‘Santa Claus’ came! 

Christmas is a time when we can rediscover and reconnect with the innocence that is inside each one of us and allow ourselves to become more open.  When we do so, we start to see the innocence in everyone around us, and we become kinder and more compassionate. This innocence is the true spirit of Christmas.

At heart we are all innocent.  We recognize this innocence in children, but as we have grown up, many of us have struggled to hold on to this innocence and have hidden it under a hard and cynical attitude.  Life can be tough, and this can shatter our innocence in many ways; but it is so important, for our own happiness and for peace in the world, that we do not forget this innocence. 

Christmas is also about angels.  I believe each and every one of us has a guardian angel.  I know angels are around us, and some angels are even inside of us.  From time to time, I also know that God calls us to be an angel. 

‘Belief’ in angels is sometimes dismissed as being ‘innocent or delusional’ in a not so kind way. 

God’s angels came at that very first Christmas.  God’s angels still come to us today.  Perhaps not singing ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo,’ yet making their presence known when needed most.  Your guardian angel is sent by God and loves you unconditionally.  Your angel knows your innocence.  I further believe IF we all recognized the innocence in others, our world would be a much better place.  There would be far less killing and war.  Much less hunger and injustice.  We would have a much more peaceful world.  

The angels taught us that the symbol of Christmas - a newborn baby lying in a manger - is a reminder to us of the importance of reconnecting with our innocence. 

In a time when disease, death, war, violence, shootings, and extreme political division have affected us all, I’d say the world, at large, surely needs to become more ‘in-touch’ with a time of rebirth, a time of renewed innocence. 

This time of year, this Christmas is special. 

In the presence of young children, we often feel their innocence, their sense of wonder.  Then, at Christmas, we may be afforded a glimpse of something more, which can rekindle this innocence within us.  We all have this innocence inside us, even though it may be hidden for most of the year. 

I am not talking about naivety; rather, I am talking about a pure innocence that allows us to see the good in ourselves and in others.  I am not talking about immaturity, rather a maturity that is deepened by the awareness of the innocence of everyone.  The more we understand our own and one another's innocence, the more we grow, and better people we will become. 

When we look at the world through innocent eyes, we see the joy and the wonder in the simple everyday things. 

Give yourself the chance to reconnect with your innocence this Christmas. Some of this ‘reconnecting with what Christmas is all about’ involves your choice of outlook as well as remembrance. 

We all have a ‘past’ associated with Christmas.  What we ‘remember’ can cast a new light or even a certain ‘darkness’ upon both our innocence and on what Christmas is all about. 

A senior couple was talking about what Christmas was all about.  They were anticipating their grown children plus their grandchildren coming home for Christmas.  The elderly gentleman sighed so as to get his wife’s attention.  Sometimes we husbands will do just that! Finally, the wife asks if there is something the matter?  Perhaps you ‘remember’ how those conversations go: 

“What’s wrong, Honey?”

“Nothing in particular.  Sorry to bother you.”  After a while there’s another ‘sigh!’

“What’s up?" she asks. 

He answers, “I was just thinking about what I heard.”  

A few moments will pass; then the wife says, “About what?”  

He answers, “Well you know, gas prices are going up!  There’s a new variant with the Covid virus, and well, you know, groceries are getting more and more expensive!”

Feeling some concern the wife inquires, “Should we cancel the visit with the family?  If things are so bleak and darn expensive, perhaps we should rethink this Christmas get together.”

“No, no,” said the husband. But then he sighed again. 

“What’s really bothering you?” the wife asks. 

“How do you know something is bothering me?”

“I’ve been married to you all these years.  I can tell when something’s up!”

“Well, it’s just that the news is so bleak. 

“I thought you said things were getting better!”

“Well, I guess they were, but now there’s more fear with these new strains of the virus, and the weather is different now with climate change.  It’s getting increasingly harder to plan ahead!  There was such optimism just a few months ago.  People were back out and around, and things were looking up.  Truth is, life was getting back to normal and then. Well now it seems like we’re caught up in another period of worry and fear.  I thought Christmas was all about having something good to celebrate.”

The wife sort of reprimanded her husband.  “What are you talking about? We have money put aside for the holidays, don’t we?  So, ARE WE going to finish putting up decorations, go to church or any of the other things we do to celebrate the season?”

He answers, “Oh, of course we will.  It just feels as though some sort of shadow is over the world this year with all of these troubles and predictions of worse to come.”

She looked him in the eyes and said, “How long have we known each other?  How many of those years was the world calm and everything good at Christmas?”

He responded rather sheepishly, “None of them, I guess.”

She chimed in, “That’s my recollection too.  So why do we bother celebrating Christmas? We remember the birth of Jesus and what God does for us through the Savior which is something to celebrate no matter what is happening in the world.”  She then went on to say, “Actually it IS something to celebrate because of what is happening in the world.  We celebrate because God’s love is greater, God’s grace is stronger, and God’s mercy never ends.  When Jesus is born, we know, we believe, we trust that God will bring salvation and new life.  THAT is why we celebrate and share joy and hope at Christmas.”

The husband says, “I guess you are right!  Even though things are bad in the world, God’s promise in Jesus still shines through.”

“Absolutely!” she affirms. 

Folks, there is nothing wrong with listening to the news and being concerned about events.  We will certainly share memories and miss those we have loved who may have ‘gone home before us’ as well.  Christmas reminds us still that we indeed should do things to help others and make the world a better place.  

Jesus IS our bread from heaven.  We are here.  We have ‘come through’ many dangers, toils, and snares.  The bread of heaven is Jesus Christ.  We are here to commune with Him today, right now in His church. 

This Christmas and beyond please choose to allow your faith to become innocent enough to believe.  Don’t worry so much about anything.  Instead, pray about everything.  Tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers.  The peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds as you trust in Christ Jesus. 

Grow to know what Christmas IS all about.  Amen.

Preparing for Christmas 12/5/2021

Sermon Message for SECOND WEEK IN ADVENT 2021

Saturday, December 4, 2021 & Sunday, December 5, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Luke 3:1-6 (Page 1028) &  Philippians 1:3-11 (Page 1178) 

Sermon Message: “Preparing for Christmas” 

As we prepare for Christmas, please remember what’s at the heart of this season; God’s message: “Love came down (from heaven) at Christmas." This remains a comforting and consistent theme. God’s Christmas remains a significant reminder in the life of all humanity that we have been blessed; gifted with love.  

Some say ‘love’ is getting what you want for Christmas.  Sometimes there are problems stemming from how folks define ‘love’.  God spells it out rather clearly in His centuries-old message that Christmas remains a reminder and a blessing of how love should be. 

At our home we are getting prepared for Christmas.  I am no longer allowed up on the ladder, since my fall, so my beloved wife asked me to please hold the ladder for her as she strung our Christmas lights.  I was delighted to purchase a brand-new illuminated outdoor Nativity Set for our house this year.  Just after Thanksgiving we decided to set up our tree and decorate much of the inside of our house.  Our children are all grown, yet there are grandchildren to prepare for. 

Christmas is about family.  But considerably more, Christmas is about God, Jesus, angels, and shepherds.  Christmas serves as a firm yet gentle reminder to the world that God gave us gifts on that very first Christmas.  Our gifts are to be thoughtful reflections of God’s love and blessings. 

There’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding our preparations for Christmas here in the United States.  Some of our nostalgia is rooted in our fondness of Dickens's ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’  Typically, we all tend to look back to “the good old days” which we did not consider were “good” when we were going through them. The 1970’s singer, songwriter, and children’s author, Carly Simon, called attention to this ‘confusion’ when she sang, “And stay right here, 'cause these are the good old days.”  

The church season of Advent is a forward-looking season, yet we should also look back to those moments in the past that ground us in the kind of hope that we are challenged to live into as those who anticipate the coming of, and the claim to follow, the living Christ. 

Our attitude associated with the gratitude, genuineness, and grace behind our gifts are quite significant to our preparations for Christmas. 

John was sent by God to ‘prepare the way’ for Jesus’ birth and life.  John was a ‘character!’  Quite a ‘character’ in fact. His father was a priest, but John chose NOT to walk in his father’s footsteps.  His mother would plead with him regarding his work, his dress, his lifestyle; but John would not conform. John was not one to blend into the crowd.  He most often was a loner preferring even to live in the wilderness.  His clothes were made of itchy camel’s hair, and he is believed to have had a scraggly beard bearing remnants of locusts.  For these and various reasons John drew attention wherever he would go.  I doubt he would have made a good Presbyterian pastor, but a preacher he was, nonetheless!  John’s recurring preaching was a call for people to repent of their sins, get baptized, and prepare for Christ. 

John wasn’t interested in winning friends or impressing people.  Yet he had a sincere message that still rings true, solid and sincere for all peoples, especially so as we, too, prepare for Christmas. 

We appreciate the seasonal song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”  John sought to prepare people to come off of their sins and come home to God. 

Today’s scriptures confirm John’s message.  He remains “the voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord.  Make straight paths for him.  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth, and all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5,6) 

Advent is a time of waiting and also a time of preparing.  Can we see ourselves as participants in making straight the crooked places of our world?  John the Baptist’s invitation to us comes not from the center of power, but from the wilderness — a chaotic, disordered place.  Yet the wilderness is often the place where God draws near to God’s people.  Is it possible that the pandemic has placed us in a similar context?  In this wilderness, God offers us an invitation to begin smoothing out the bumpy paths where people are walking.  In this wilderness, we can begin leveling paths of corruption and straightening by-ways of injustice. 

John is the bearer of news, a herald of God’s impending arrival.  His words ripple across the wilderness, much like news of high-profile court verdicts break into our lives.  John comes announcing a verdict, and like the verdicts in the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, his words capture our attention and cause us to reconsider what’s involved in repaving the highways of God. 

John ‘cuts to the chase,’ helping people sense God’s pending arrival.  He announces God’s infrastructure plan and proclaims God’s intent to straighten crooked roads and smooth out bumpy highways.  We hear his voice as we light the second candle of Advent.  But we also hear it against the backdrop of verdicts that brought both relief to some and consternation to others.  John’s call to prepare ourselves bursts into public spaces where inequality waits God’s leveling justice.  Unlike the zombie apocalypse preppers who stockpile weapons, rope, and freeze-dried food, John calls us to be prepared by acts of humility and repentance.  His baptism offers a fresh start, a chance to clear pathways for God, an opportunity to freely travel over the highway of God. 

One of the strangest ‘gifts’ I ever saw involved a family in a small country church and several of the members there.  There was this contractor in their town who was notorious for ‘taking advantage’ of folks when he worked on their vehicles.  His was the only garage around for quite some distance, so folks tended to return to him.  The fellow and his family weren’t much of what you and I would call ‘church attenders.’  Through the years people had gradually ‘written them off.’  Eventually some of the nationally-known repair garages started providing repairs that were within driving distance.  A rather severe accident occurred within the contractor’s family.  Two family members were severely injured.  Their prognosis was long term and kind of ‘iffy’ recovery. This family that had remained estranged from their community and negative towards the local country church soon became aware of their fragileness. So, it was they got together and decided, or should I say, ‘realized,’ they needed to go to church.  The pastor spoke a message regarding salvation, and the father of that family responded.  In front of the entire congregation he repented of some gross sins he had committed against them and others through the years. 

Salvation came to some very troubled souls that day.  Leastwise, that was a part of the report.  The ‘strange part’ was how very doubtful all of the folks of that church were regarding the ‘sincerity’ of that family’s salvation experience. There’s more to the story, but let this much awareness of the narrative suffice for now. 

As you and I prepare for God’s Christmas this year, do invite folks to come here to church.  Let them even come ‘with you’ if they wish.  Your family and your friends, your enemies, and even those estranged from you.  In so doing; like John you help to give knowledge of salvation to people.  Inviting and welcoming people ‘home’ to God is a gift.  It is furthermore part of our preparation for God’s Christmas.  I believe there’s nothing better than love.  Helping another soul, regardless of who that is, to feel and know God’s love is huge.  While I know folks tend to ‘define’ love differently, leading a soul ‘to God’ will enable God to define them. Be like John; help to prepare the way. 

Some folks are not good people.  They have caused hurt, pain, and done some very wrong things.  The one whose birth we shall celebrate informs us still that he is ‘dying to forgive them.’ Forgiveness doesn’t mean approval of sin.  Nor does it imply there are to be no boundaries in the future with that person.  As you prepare for Christmas, speak to God first about forgiving.  Let your gifts come from your heart and soul being ‘right with God.’

 

I am blessed to be loved by God and called by God.  I continue to learn I am a sincere recipient of God’s mercy.  Throughout my life time a ‘mantra’ my father and spiritual elders taught me is: “If not for the grace of God, there go I.”  Strive to prepare for God’s Christmas by striving to become ‘grace’ in another person’s life.  You will not get equal measure in return from them.  More than likely you may not even receive appreciation.  Certainly, what you give to them will not be returned in like measure from them. 

Spiritually speaking, gifts are to be given as “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Praise God; I and perhaps several of you have also walked through that valley, passed through that shadow of darkness, and have been given the grace and blessing to have our feet guided in the way of peace. 

There are ungrateful souls in our world.  We do not give our gifts to them to get their gratitude or so that we can feel good about ourselves.  Grow to give because that presence of God inside warrants that you must.  Become a person who gives because giving is its own reward. 

Preparing for Christmas begins and flows through our Christian faith. 

Isn’t it good, so very good, to be a part, a very sincere part, of a Christian community that teaches us so much more about preparing for Christmas?  Within today’s second scripture lesson the Apostle Paul declares that he thanks God for his community of faith and remembers them in prayer with joy.  The Apostle Paul and I share a similar outlook, or should I say, ‘insight?’  I am “confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.”  

The ‘good work’ I see inside of you and myself as we prepare for Christmas is precisely within the areas of where our faith leads us beyond our customs, in spite of our human angers and anxieties, and straight-forward in our relating to others.  Some of those others are troublesome to our lives while still others are blessings.  When it comes right down to it, we have all received God’s grace, and we shall all need some measure of God’s grace for the future. 

So let it be our Biblical prayer as we prepare for Christmas that in our gifts, our giving, our care, and in our receiving, love may abound further and further in knowledge and in depth of insight.  When love abounds from God and through Jesus, we are better able to discern what is best and may be pure in our standing mutually so before God. 

There are lots of ways we prepare for Christmas. Lights, presents, visits, and decorating. As Christians in the community of faith, I invite and inquire of us all to consider some further preparations for Christmas.  Be a part of helping to make straight the crooked places of our world.  We can help God to make this a better world.  Share gifts this season, not because you must, but because you can; perhaps to respond to that movement of God inside you to love people, all sorts of people, beyond themselves. 

Further prepare for Christmas by trusting that “he who began a good work inside of you is carrying it on to completion.”  Amen.

Life Has Changed 11/28/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 27, 2021 & Sunday, November 28, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Open the heavens, O God.  Open our hearts.  Let Your Word fall on our ears and lead us home.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 126 (Page 617) & Luke 21:25-36 (Page 1056) 

Sermon Message: “Life Has Changed” 

So, how was Thanksgiving for you?  Hopefully you can say to yourself, in comparison to last year, Thanksgiving this past week was great! 

Among the many ‘memories’ and ‘realities’ last year were ‘social distancing’ and ‘isolation’ mixed with great ‘hope’ for returning to normal.  

Do you recall how we were praying to God for a vaccine to be developed to help combat the Covid-19 virus? About one year ago we were getting closer to that long-awaited breakthrough but weren’t quite ‘there’ yet.  

Since last Thanksgiving life has changed.  When we came together for worship one year ago, there were those paper signs spread out on the pew cushions of our church, indicating seating was only ‘allowed’ in every other pew.  Those signs disappeared some months ago as more and more of our congregation became vaccinated against Covid-19.  

Although the vaccines, plus the booster shots, have become available and received by many, occasionally there are still some ‘breakthrough’ cases.  The realities of continued Covid-19 concerns indicates we still have a way to go. 

A common hope among humanity last year was a return to normal.  We welcomed the thoughts of returning to things ‘as they were’ previous to the pandemic.  Yet we continue to realize that while lots of restrictions have diminished, we still do have some concerns, worries, and changed realities. 

Consider ‘us.’  We are not the same church nor will Christmas be the same as in years past.  Life has changed.  Good things as well as bad things have changed us.  

There are some things that cannot be undone regardless of medical advances and a return to whatever we call ‘normalcy.’ 

We live with the sad reality that not everyone made it through the pandemic.  Some of those who survived share with us that they have not returned to full health.  Further awareness reveals there has been damage done by civil discourse and sharp exchanges by those holding radically different views.  Some things cannot be easily undone. 

Life has taught us we ‘need’ to be a community together, citizens of a larger world.  While many a thoughtful Christian have wondered, pondered, and prayed as to ‘why’ life has changed so much, there are some common insights revealed throughout the pages of Holy Scripture. 

Our history of faith has abundantly taught humanity time after time that when we search for answers, for fresh insights, for new meaning, we petition God.  The consistent reminder we receive from God, in the Bible, is to turn to Him, turn away from our sins, confess, seek forgiveness, and change for the better.  For we know what generations before us have known; in returning to God we find rest, peace, and hope. 

With God we grow to realize better days, more secure times, are coming.  Clearly the Bible and more current events continue to teach us we ALL need to be ready for the day of the Lord whenever and however that may come in our lifetimes. 

Reading and reflecting upon the Book of Job, for instance, teaches us that God is capable of restoring our lives and reframing our losses.  True cause indeed for thanksgiving and praise. 

Our Biblical faith affirms that with God and through God our trials can actually serve to make us stronger and perhaps better.  The Bible further teaches us that recovery and renewal can also lead to ‘joy.’  God still reminds us that He shall pour out His spirit on all flesh, on our sons and our daughters, on young and old, on male and female.  Rest assured and remain aware that the Holy Spirit is moving powerfully among us. 

Slowly yet surely it is observable that God’s Holy Spirit is moving among us, even restoring some of that we all lost.  “Joy” is sometimes equated with laughter.  Psalm 126 speaks of 'mouths being filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy.' 

The letters, LOL, mean Laugh Out Loud.  We use those three letters for anything remotely funny in our texts, emails, or social posts.  Sometimes it’s a way of showing appreciation.  Sometimes it’s a way of just being polite.  

Psalm 126 is an account of one’s ‘Holy laughter.’  It was written to reflect some of the spiritual ‘feelings’ and ‘insights’ of those who had been in exile coming back ‘home’ to their community, to their church, to their ‘new normal.’  Akin to the distress we experienced amidst the worst of the pandemic, the psalmist speaks of a time when a return to anything remotely normal seemed like a vague promise in the distant future. Oh but now the evidence of God’s hand and redemption, restoration, and hope are right before them.  So their laughter reflects their joy.  It’s a holy laughter coming from acknowledgment and humble submission to the love of God still redeeming life and the world.  It is a reality of hope beyond the concerns, the worries, even the circumstances that had been ‘at hand’ for so very long. 

‘Faith’ is sometimes further ‘identified’ in nature.  Right now in our world the leaves are falling.  The world around us appears to be dying. Winter is approaching.  Possibly you have planted a few Fall bulbs in anticipation of Spring 2022.  We realize there shall be another Spring as well as another harvest to be thankful for.  Life is changing for the better. 

Yes, we certainly have been through some dry and even dark places.  We were weeping, but now we are singing. In the words of an old, beloved hymn now we are ‘bringing in the sheaves.’ 

Among the sadder of realities we saw were suffering, sickness, and death.  Worse still were the facts associated with isolation.  Some were alone in hospitals and of those, far too many died alone.  Some funerals were never held because we were not permitted to gather.  Relationships between old friends were sometimes strained because of differing political beliefs that in turn fostered harshly different viewpoints on the pandemic.  I hope and I pray that you are beginning to see what I am seeing; people are returning, healing is taking place, and lots of souls are once more filled with laughter.  

It was so very good to prepare for and participate in a Thanksgiving feast without so much fear! 

Numerous ‘messages’ from God through Jesus, angels, prophets, and disciples declare that we are not to ‘fear.’  We would all do well to strive to live by the teachings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  What we typically refer to as ‘The Beatitudes.” (Matthew 5)  Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful and the peacemakers.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was a message to people experiencing the insecurities and fears associated with hunger, thirst, persecution, sorrow, brutality, poverty, and martyrdom. 

As the world comes back together, learn from God’s hand in nature.  God continues to sustain this earth.  We are still called upon to do our part as well.  Nature continues to teach us all that we are part of something much greater than ourselves.  While life has changed, with God and through the Lord it can now become better.  God teaches us still to ‘turn the other cheek,’ serve others, and lift others up, yet recognize our self worth. 

Another part of ‘life’ that was so different was not being able to care for each other when life was so very fragile in our world.  God is concerned with all of creation.  We seek to be also.  Then and now. 

It’s time now to ‘move on’ in life and in faith.  Perhaps this is the next great change we all need to claim and proclaim.  Let’s ‘move on.’  Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of ‘signs and terrors’ we have seen.  Jesus informs us that life can become overwhelming.  Every generation has ‘stories to tell’ of life that has become overwhelming. His message remains, when you see such horrific things happening, stand up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing nigh. 

Yes, the Lord has a message for us beyond our concerns of the past.  Sometimes we ‘hold on’ too long and far too much to the past.

I’ve known people who review the past, even if that ‘past’ is distantly removed, as though it just happened moments ago.  

Back in the 90’s, a fellow joined his extended family for a meal at an Eat'n Park restaurant.  One of the items on the menu back then was hamburger made from soybeans.  It was a plant-based burger the guy had previously enjoyed.  So in conversation with his family he suggested they try one if they wish. The brother-in-law accepted the guy’s suggestion and ordered the burger.  Nothing much was said.  Families moved far apart so they had no reason or ability to meet together for another meal.  Fifteen years later they met for a family member's birthday celebration at a local restaurant.  That brother-in-law went on and on about how bad that plant-based burger was.  He spoke of his dissatisfaction as though it was 15 minutes ago instead of 15 years ago.  Why is it that we tend to hold onto things even though their relevance has long expired?  

People tend to have a hard time ‘moving on’ especially so, when life changes. 

The fact of the matter is life has changed.  Some things will not ‘go back’ to where they were.  Some of the people we have lost will not be coming back. Jesus reminds us to be careful or our hearts will become weighed down.  Do not turn inwardly to that which can weigh us down.  Jesus references carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life that can close in on any of us suddenly, like a trap.  Watch what it is that you or I might ‘turn to’ when life changes. 

The church season of Advent is a time of waiting, preparation, and change. 

The ‘ancients’ awaited the birth, the coming of the Messiah.  They prepared all of their lives for His coming.  Once again we are schooled by the Spirit of Christ to watch and pray even as life changes.  The changes ahead are not all bad.  There shall also be further times of great joy as well as great tribulation.  Await the coming of Christ into your heart and home.  Prepare for God’s Christmas.  Pray for a watchfulness that provides for and protects the integrity of your soul. 

Life has changed and will never be the same.  With God, it can be renewed and become better.  Amen.

From God -- To God 11/21/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 20, 2021 & Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: We are thankful for the Word of God.  We are thankful for Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.  Send now Your Holy Spirit upon us that we may be inspired by this Word of God we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Colossians 4:2 (Page 1185), Revelation 1:4b-8 (Page 1236) 

Sermon Message: “From God---To God” 

Those last scriptures, from the Book of Revelation are pretty ‘strong’ in their message.  The first selection of scriptures is quite sincere as well in their brief yet directive message. Be devoted to prayer, be watchful and thankful. 

The seasons just ahead of us, Thanksgiving and Christmas, help us to appreciate that we all come ‘from’ God and throughout our lifetimes need to return ‘to’ God. 

The inspired author of the Colossian Scripture lesson is the Apostle Paul.  Among Biblical characters, Paul is quite often identified with.  He reminds us still of our Christian duty to pray.  ‘Watch’ for opportunities, needs, cares, joys, and concerns to pray about.  Not just in your own life but especially so on behalf of others.  As often as you pray, remember to pray with thanksgiving.  Jesus Christ did when he prayed.  So should we. 

All lives come ‘from’ God.  Our devotion to prayer keeps bringing us, our problems, joys, concerns, family matters, and life back ‘to’ God. 

One of the best forms of evangelism is praying for the needs and concerns of others.  We all need prayer.  Myself included. 

This week be in prayer.  Especially so as you reflect upon that which you are ‘thankful’ for. 

On a personal note, I am thankful for potato candy.  Yep!  You heard right. Potato Candy consists of one large boiled whole potato, confectioners’ sugar, and a layer of peanut butter.  Once the potato is boiled to soft texture, I remove the skin, mash it, then I keep combining confectioners’ sugar until it reaches a solid dough consistency.  I then roll out the dough to about a quarter inch thickness and spread a generous coating of peanut butter across it.  I then roll it all up into what appears to be a white cylinder.  The last steps include slicing the roll into quarter inch sections, and it’s ready to serve or it can be refrigerated.  Another ‘old time’ recipe I hope to work on is Mince Meat Pie.  Unique but not for everyone.  Two of my family’s recipes. I am thankful for these recipes remind me of where I’ve come from, who has loved me and given me life.  Quite importantly I am reminded of who gave me faith and inspired me so in my faith journey. 

This week we are to remember where we’ve come from, where we are going to and be thankful.  I’ve got lots of my personal family ‘on the other side.’  Yet, I well remember them and remain thankful. 

God has given us families.  They are instrumental in identifying where we’ve come from.  Our families provide us with ‘recipes’ for nurture, growth, faith, and love. 

God desires for us to remember, be watchful and thankful.  The Book of Revelation informs us of the eternal nature of God.  Reference is made to him who was, who is, and who is to come.  The Book of Revelation is regarded by many as one of the most confusing books in the Bible.  Strange visions, eerie sounds, and jolting images.  Across the years I’ve heard some very curious interpretations of the future based upon varying interpretations of this unique book of the Bible.  Some Christians are afraid to read or study this book of the Bible. 

The Book of Revelation helps us understand we have come from God and will one day return to God.  Originally it was addressed as a letter to the church during uncertain and dangerous times.  The original name of the book is the “Apocalypse," which means a disclosure.  In the Bible, an apocalypse is a moment when God pulls back the curtain that hides heaven from earth.  The Revelation offers glimpses of a holy reality which is normally hid from our eyes. 

Today we hear a voice from heaven announcing, "I am the Alpha and the Omega."  That unusual expression appears three times in the final book of the Bible.  Each time the voice speaks, we learn something about God that is crucial to our faith and life.  Whenever God speaks, something happens.  

In the Book of Genesis God speaks saying, “Let there be light, and there was light.”  God spoke and there was light, dry land and oceans, animals, people, life, and ‘beginnings.’ 

We come from God and need to pray, remain watchful and thankful if we are to understand any portion of what God has spoken.  By God’s Word life begins.  As your pastor, I urge you to pray about the words of God applied to your life, families, unto the world.  

Soon our Christmas preparations shall begin.  A mainstay of our Christmas faith is the resounding joy that the Word has become flesh and dwells among us.  Jesus Christ. 

We come from God and return to God.  Pray, be watchful and thankful. 

Occasionally I am privileged to hear a heart to heart, matter of fact story, from another preacher.  A certain pastor tells his story of standing at the door after worship each Sunday waiting for compliments on his weekly sermon masterpiece!  He found out that as time went on, he did not get much response at all from his parishioners.  This one Sunday, in desperation, he turned to a wise friend from the congregation and asked, “How did I do this morning?”  The friend shrugged his shoulders and mumbled a few pleasantries.  These words also did not satisfy, so the preacher said, "No, really, I want to know what you thought of what I said in my sermon today."

"Sorry," said the friend, "I wasn't listening to you; I was too busy paying attention to Jesus." 

Now, that is good preaching.  Behind every preacher, prayer, or scripture passage, the wise person listens for the Word of God beyond all human words.  Jesus Christ is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.  When God reveals himself as the Alpha and the Omega, he tells us first and foremost that he draws near through words which point to Jesus Christ. 

I’ve wondered at times if the first word God speaks when any of us are born, when we come from God is “Alleluia?”  May the Word spoken when we return to God be “Amen.” 

The Alpha and the Omega saw darkness upon the face of the earth and said, “Let there be light.”  When we came from God in our mother’s womb, God said “Let there be Tom” and I came from God.  Just as you did. 

When we wake up to the reality that we have come from God, we seem to be given life again. 

Be thankful for what comes ‘from’ God and for what turns or returns ‘to’ God. 

Among your blessings you may thank God for this week are family and friends, salvation, and health.  But also thank God for the simplest of things, even the smallest of things.  Thank him for the air you breathe, the clothes on your back, the job you have, the people you know, AND also for those who know YOU, who love you and share faith, hope, and love.  

You’ve been a part of this church for a while now.  You’ve surely seen ‘a thing or two’ in your time among us.  Across our years of faith, we rejoice when even one soul finds faith, draws close to God, trusts a new way, follows the Lord, and seeks to have a new life, a Christian life.  

We live in a world marred by division, entitlement, mistrust, and outright sin.  A growing awareness each day on the news is violence.  It may not be a ‘war’ as defined among nations.  But on the streets of our communities, we’ve seen gun violence, drug abuse, and intentional injury of others.  All done in the name of self-desire. Pray for the day, for current days to come, when each of us, then perhaps all of us, will join in beating our swords into plowshares.  We value life; others and our own when we remember or perhaps re-discover we all come from God and will all one day return to God.  

Sometimes it appears as though much of the world is God forsaken.  It just doesn’t appear at times as though things are ‘from God.’  Nor does it seem as though enough of life and our world is going ‘to’ God. 

God greets us today as in times of old with these his words, “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 1: 4b,5) 

“Grace and peace.”  The work of grace is not finished yet.  Sometimes our world seems enchanted with its own destruction.  Yet for a few moments this morning the curtain is drawn back, and we catch a glimpse of how God pursues us through the love of Jesus Christ.  Thanks to such grace, we belong to a God who has set us free and will never let us go. God says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," and promises to speak to us the ancient word that makes all things new.  He affirms, "I am the beginning and the end" (Revelation 22:13, 21:6).  Perhaps this is our greatest hope:  that God will be both our source and our destination.  Through the grace of Christ our King, we trust that the God who gave us birth will complete and finish our lives. 

Daily problems can blur our vision.  Sometimes things are so rough we find ourselves asking, "What's this world coming to?"  Listen:  every day is full of enough hassles and horrors to shake up the strongest soul.  Each one of us needs a place to stand and a promise to cling to. 

We come ‘from’ God.  Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come.  Tis grace has led me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home. 

We live "from God to God."  Our final destination is to arrive at the Source of our life.  The aim of every life is to return to the God from whom all things were made, and in whose purposes all creation shall be completed.  In between new creation and final consummation, we have a place to stand and a promise to claim.  We belong to God, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. 

Thanksgiving shall remind us of all that we are devoted to. Family, love, life, and faith.  Memories, hopes, and dreams.  Potato candy, turkey, mincemeat pie, and perhaps pumpkin pie.  

Today God reminds us He IS the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Be devoted to prayer, be watchful and thankful.  Amen.

Birth Pains - Humble Beginnings 11/14/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 13, 2021 & Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Our Lord and our God, we bless You for Your Word.  We ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would open our eyes to understand it; that You would grant us the faith to believe it, and by Your Spirit You would enable us to walk in that belief.  This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  1 Samuel 1:4-20 (Page 267) & Mark 13:1-8 (Page 1017) 

Sermon Message: Birth Pains - Humble Beginnings 

I had a humbling experience this past week.  My wife learned that the Target store in North Fayette and the CVS Pharmacy within was offering the Moderna Booster shots.  When she inquired if I was interested, I immediately responded, “Sign me up.”  When we arrived at the store, the clerk looked up our information on their computer.  They asked Patty for her birth date and said, “Patty Giles, we have your information.  You’re good to go.”  Patty kindly reminded them that I was her husband and was also wanting to receive the Moderna Booster shot.  They could not find either my name nor my information.  So it was I who humbly suggested looking under the last name “Petrosky.”  Still, I got a rather inquisitive look from the young lady waiting on us as though I was somehow misleading with my information.  I cleared up all of the awkward inquiry when I said, “It’s Petrosky.  I kept my maiden name!” 

If you have ever gone back to your hometown after being away for a while, some of the folks in first meeting you may ask, “Who was your mother?”  What they mean is, “What was your mother’s last name before she married?”  Folks sometimes want to know the connection between your father’s last name and your mother’s last name pertaining to the history of where you’ve come from. 

Lots of folks are sincerely interested in a person’s beginnings.  Think about it; there are lots of ways of asking people where they were before they were here.  People will sometimes inquire “Where are you from originally?”  Today we can do reference checks, clearances, credit checks, and so on.  We do all kinds of things to find out any particular person’s beginnings, humble or otherwise. 

Information regarding people’s beginnings can be helpful or possibly confusing.  There is no evidence that greatness has anything to do with where you come from.  Great people can come from insignificant places.  Regarding Jesus, folks inquired of his birthplace, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Did you know that Albert Einstein failed at math, yet that did not stop him from becoming a great scientist?  Ludwig van Beethoven came from an abusive family.  His father abused him to the point that it eventually led to his total deafness.  Yet that did not stop him from becoming one of the world’s great composers. 

In spite of all of the evidence to the contrary, we still often think that a person's beginnings determine where he or she is going to go or who he or she is going to be in one's life or employment. 

Samuel, the son of Elkanah and Hannah, was a giant of the Bible.  During his life, he carried the identity of the people of Israel through a time of transition, from pre-monarchy to monarchy, and defined their future.  He was known as a military and judicial judge.  He was known as a Nazarite, although we usually think of him as a prophet.  Yet Samuel came from humble beginnings that are best described as barren. 

Samuel's mother had to endure the pain of childlessness for many years.  She was shamed by Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah, who had been blessed to have many children.  Even though Elkanah gave Hannah double portions to affirm his love for her, she still suffered the pain of Peninnah's persistent provocations. 

There are birth pains associated with giving birth.  Still there remains another form of birth pain that emerges from waiting to see where one’s suffering will lead them. 

A strong theme that emerges in this vignette is one we human beings do not like:  waiting.  The problem we have with waiting is that we never know if it is hopeless waiting or fruitful waiting.  Until the waiting is over, we don't know which it is:  helpful or wasteful. 

Right now, our country is waiting to see if the long-discussed infrastructure bill becomes law, leading to road and bridge building around the nation.  A building boom is coming our way, even as we try to figure out what buildings we need.  Companies are pondering the usefulness of physical offices as people continue to work from their dining rooms, and office buildings stand empty. 

Post Covid, our physical spaces are changing, and Jesus brings us a timely word about assuming the permanence of the world around us.  Going to work in an office once seemed like the unchanging stones of the temple — something that would never vary.  

Birth pains often result in humble beginnings.  We have experienced birth pains in varying forms these last few years.  Hopefully so, prayerfully so, we resultantly see humble beginnings for what is new or different.  Lots of churches painfully switched to on-line worship as a weekly offering.  Do we lose something when we worship on-line?  Or is the holiness of God ‘good enough’ wherever we are and however we receive it?  Lots of employees see themselves differently since they work from home instead of going to the office.  

These and many ‘birth pains’ we experience are transitioning us both willingly and unwillingly so into new and humble beginnings.  While our nation considers this major infrastructure bill, lots of folks aren’t going back to work in office buildings.  Whole churches are affected by this post-pandemic transition as well.  Will there be less office spaces in the future?  Will church buildings decrease in size as well as in numbers of actual churches being continued?  When Jesus spoke of great changes forthcoming to his disciples, they were perplexed, even as they ‘communed’ in person with him daily. 

‘Birth pains’ come in many forms, so we have seen and experienced.  Birth pains do tend to humble us.  Associated with birth pains and being ‘humbled’ is our grief when we feel things end.  Even when God is already creating something new, we still experience sorrow.  The disciples must have felt as unsettled, listening to Jesus, as we do in our own time.  This time full of changes is also full of mourning. 

God is always in the birthing business, and yet it’s hard to let go of the former things so we can enter into the new things.  It’s unsettling, even with Jesus as our guide. 

Consider again today's first scripture lesson. We do know that Hannah's anguish at being childless overrides the lavish love that Elkanah has for her.  The sad truth remains that Elkanah, with his great and noble past, has a barren wife and no hope of an heir from her.  The family hopelessness mirrors the state of the nation which is confused and demoralized by the threat of the Philistines.  They need a great king -- and the great King David will eventually come and make right all that is wrong -- but at this moment, we find them stuck in a holding pattern of waiting.  Everything hinges on a barren womb that the text tells us God has closed.  Hannah is grief-stricken, depressed, and unable to eat. 

This impasse is broken by worship.  Hannah presents herself to God at Shiloh and the temple priest, Eli, witnesses her struggle.  Just as many of us bargain with God, Hannah vows that if God gives her a son, she will give the son back to the service of God. 

Hannah has to set the record straight with the priest Eli.  When he sees her praying, he thinks that she is drunk.  The priest does not recognize her desperation, grief, frustration, and her intense piety.  To this very day, those of us who are desperate look compromised to the ones who observe us from the comfort of viewing anguish from the outside. 

The priest, Eli, gives his benediction to her prayer:  "Go in peace; may the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him." (v. 17)  The passage speaks of a deep faith. Hannah is in need, the priest mediates, and God answers.  The waiting is over, hope has returned, and the sovereign God has responded.  There is no doubt. 

"And she said, 'Let your servant find favor in your sight.'  Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer." (v. 18)  Husband and wife rose early in the morning, they worshiped, they made love, "the Lord remembered her" and she bore a son and ". . . she named him Samuel, for she said, 'I have asked him of the Lord.' " (v. 20) 

There are times when things may look bleak and barren for us.  We can articulate how bad things are in great detail and with great conviction, but we must always remember and never forget, that even though Hannah was barren, she was still a creature of God's sovereign universe, and she was still an agent for God's future plans in the world. 

There are times of "barrenness" for each of us:  retirement leaves us with the feeling that we are no longer productive; the passion and vigor seems to have left our relationship; our hopes and dreams seem to be mistaken or unfulfilled; our child appears to be lost in an abyss of failure; our church seems to be going downhill; life seems to have lost its zest; a drug addict relapses yet again; the well has gone dry. 

Maybe you think that the predicament in which you find yourself is much too humble beginnings where God is unlikely to do anything creative and wonderful.  But that is exactly where we first found Hannah -- humble beginnings from which God produced the great Samuel.  Hannah was the personification of "humble beginnings." 

When we feel that we are in hopeless despair like Hannah, we need to remember her solution.  She took her problem to God:  "Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord." (v. 9) 

In a spirit of communion, she continued to have faith in God when her options had been exhausted.  She knew that Yahweh was more than she was and knew more than she did, therefore Hannah prayed sincerely.  She was not in isolation; she had her spiritual advisor in the priest, Eli.  She was not discouraged by others' misunderstanding of her and of her goal; she stood her ground (when Eli thought she was drunk).  She continued to love her husband and abide in her faith. 

You will notice that Hannah was not one of these phony, self-help motivators who pretend to be inexhaustible and have all of the answers.  Hannah's source of energy and hope was in something outside of her being, but directly connected to her being.  Her source of energy and hope was her faith in God. 

When you and I, and Hannah and Elkanah and Peninnah, and other people (like your spouse, your friends, your boss) think a situation is barren, Yahweh, the Creator, the Life-Giver, the One who knows and continues to see beyond our horizons, says:  "There is more!  My kingdom is going on.  I have more plans for your future, and they are good!"  With God, there are no barren wombs!  Amen.

Giving With Open Hands 11/7/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 6, 2021 & Sunday, November 7, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Living God, help us so to hear your holy Word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe, and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 127 (Page 617) & Mark 12:38-44 (Page 1017) 

Sermon Message: "Giving With Open Hands" 

‘Giving’ in our lives starts when we are children.  Mostly we are ‘given to’ for our nurture, survival, and sustenance.  One of our initial ‘gifts’ are our parents' hands.  None of us recall when they first swooped us up, cradling our tiny bodies in their open hands.  A more familiar and comforting memory we do perhaps share is placing one of our hands in their open hands as they played with us or perhaps guided us along. 

There’s something wonderful, even ‘remarkable’ about open hands.  They provide something good, wholesome, and special unto us. 

As pastor, one of the many things I do sincerely enjoy about ministry is officiating weddings.  During the course of a wedding there comes that time, that precious sacred time, when the couple takes each other's hands, looks into the eyes of their beloved, and they recite their vows.  Such times of declaration are heard in heaven and felt to the depths of one’s soul here on earth.  

I still recall my own wedding, opening my hands to Patty, looking into her eyes, then these words flowed:  “I Thomas, take you Patty to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for richer for poorer, for better for worse, in sickness and in health.”  You are then supposed to say:  “Till death do us part.”  I instead chose to say: “Into eternity.” Precious memories associated with ‘open hands.’ 

We use our hands, on a lesser scale, each and every day to ‘give’ and to ‘receive.’ 

There are some negative connotations with our hands as well.  One ‘horrifying’ memory I have with my father was his disciplining us with the back of his hand.  In fact, that’s what he would sometimes announce just as he was about to commence disciplining us.  We’d cringe when we heard him say, “That’s enough.  Stop it right now, or I’ll give you a back-hand!”  Certainly NOT the kind of ‘open hand’ anyone would welcome receiving. 

On the other hand (no pun intended), I remember some very meaningful examples of people’s open hands. In a large church where I once served as a student minister, I remember a very stately usher who helped ‘take up’ the offering each week.  After passing the offering plates throughout the congregation, the music would play, folks would all stand, and then it would be time for the ushers to bring the offering down the aisle for the Pastor’s blessing and dedication prayer.  Each week I saw it. That one particular stately usher would reach into his vest watch pocket and pull out a single, thin dime, hold it for a moment over the offering plate, then drop it in.  We all knew he was a ‘man of substance.’  It appeared as though he was giving with the back of his hand instead of giving with his open hand.  The senior pastor one day informed me that this particular man was known to give generously by check each month.  The dime was not a back of the hand gift but a symbolic act of not returning the plate without some gift of his in it. 

Soon we shall be approaching Christmas.  Within our weekly Bible study, the author, Adam Hamilton, whose book we are studying, declares that Halloween has now become the official start of the Christmas season.  ‘Gifts’ are associated with Christmas.  Perhaps you’ve noticed or been involved in some ‘unique’ approaches to gift giving. 

There was this boss who sat behind his big desk.  Just before Christmas he has envelopes spread out across his desk with employees' names on them.  One by one the employees come in to receive their envelope.  The boss hesitantly looks up as he acknowledges each employee.  “You’re Joe aren’t you?”  “Yes sir, I am.”  The boss shoves the envelope towards Joe with the back of his hand and grunts.  “Murr Cs-mas.”  Gifts given from the back of one’s hand tend to carry hurt.  They tend to contain more power to demean than the money has power to buy. 

Some parents work so hard to provide their children with everything money can buy while withholding what really matters: time and attention.  

Giving with the back of the hand implies there is little care or affection given with the gift.  After a while even the associated gifts fade into insignificance.  Some even feel insulted rather than recognized. 

Sometimes our hands are either closed or manipulating our actions, specifically so our giving.  A group of brothers and sisters all wanted tickets for an upcoming concert.  Their aunt and uncle were given two tickets from their work.  They were not all that interested in going to the concert, so they decided to give their two tickets to their nieces and nephews.  There were four nieces and nephews, so that meant two of the four would not be able to attend the concert.  The one brother said to his sister, “Here, take the ticket and you go.”  They ‘did the dance’ so to speak, back and forth until the sister just accepted and went.  Her brother was moping and angry.  His parents ‘picked up’ on the problem.  Finally, when it ‘came out in the open’ as to why this one son was feeling so miserable, his Mom said to him, “Make sure you WANT to give something away when you do.  Don’t expect anything in return!” Sometimes we do give expecting something in return when we really shouldn’t. 

When we give with open hands, we neither put someone down nor expect to manipulate how we might gain something in return.  It doesn’t take much to provide a gift with even a small amount of personal recognition.  Something as simple and sincere as an affirmation of a job done well, recognizing someone’s effort, a good attitude, or just your simple desire to make another person happy. Marriage requires open hands.  Parenting requires open hands.

The greatest people we have ever known or even ‘heard about’ all gave with open hands.  Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr, St. Francis, Gandhi, and of course, Jesus Christ. 

Consider this story in today’s scriptures of the widow.  That widow had nothing to win or lose.  She just gave of herself.  Her giving was simply to show honor and glory unto God. Jesus saw inside this woman her own honor and glory. She gave trusting God would supply her needs.  She had this ‘faith confidence’ and trusting relationship with the Lord. 

During these times we live in we say it's hard to give.  Many say, “we just don’t have it to give.”  Recently I met a fellow who grew up in this church, Robert Gill.  He is now retired.  When ‘growing up’ here in Coraopolis, they lived in smaller housing than does Robert and his family today.  They drove one car, had one tv set, and one phone wired to the wall for their entire household.  Others recall ‘how it was’ ‘back in the day!’  These days we have oh so many creature comforts.  Numerous phones, several TV’s, multiple cars at many of our homes, plus, we still manage to ‘pay the bills’ for all of these things.  

Back handed giving or close handed giving proclaims we just don’t have it to give.  After all we ‘need’ all these pleasures that are a very real part of our daily lives.  Love and faith affect our giving.  It affects ‘how’ we give and ‘what we give.’ 

In our relationships to other people, even our own family, we’ve grown to learn we need to give with open hands.  In our relationship to our church, we further learn that open handed giving works best.  Jesus said, “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)  I’ve also identified with some of St. Francis’ words.  Especially so where he says, “it is in giving that we receive.”

It's not always financial rewards that we get in return.  Making someone happy, seeing God’s church continue on, and benefitting the ministries and missions of Jesus Christ are far more rewarding. 

The widow in this story; who could blame her if she said she could give nothing?  After all, don’t we still say ‘charity’ begins at home?  Although many would not ‘blame’ this widow, we probably cannot expect that there are many who would imitate her. Yet our Savior commends her. 

Giving remains a good thing.  Discretion is still called for lest we ‘throw our pearls before swine,’ as the Bible decrees. (Matthew 7:6)  Give from what you’ve got.  But still give something.  So teaches the widow in today’s scripture from Jesus Christ. 

Jesus said the greatest command is to love God.  Jesus said the second is like it - love your neighbor as yourself.  In loving our neighbors as ourselves, we ought to give a little or a lot.  It can be our time, our prayers, our actions, and of course our finances.  

Public charities, such as the church, all require some form of giving in order to survive and contribute what they are designed to give in the form of worship, counseling, care, fellowship, spiritual growth, and a wide variety of services. 

This story from Jesus regarding the widow teaches us to give according to what you have, not according to what you have not. Two pennies illustrate how even a small portion of sacrificial giving can make a huge difference both in the heart of the giver and the life of they who receive.  Our giving is to become ‘thank-worthy.’ 

Psalm 127 teaches us to depend upon God’s ability to bless and far less on our ability to contrive.  For instance, “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”  If God is not acknowledged and recognized in the building of our families, our church, and our homes, then we have no reason to expect his blessing.  To not acknowledge God is to ‘build in vain.’ 

Those who love God and are beloved of him have their minds at ease and live very comfortably with His blessing.  Our comfort is not necessarily so in our material wealth or possessions but more often in our peace and in the grace to sleep well.  It is well with our souls when our hands are open to the Lord; to love and to how we choose to give of ourselves.  There is a quietness and contentment of mind, a comfortable enjoyment of what is present, and a comfortable expectation of what is to come. 

Our children, too, must learn to give with open hands.  They are to become our heritage from the Lord, a reward from him.  Yet they also must learn to give with open hands. 

Give from the heart.  Give with open hands.  Amen.

God's Commandments for Daily Living 10/31/2021

 Sermon Message for Saturday, October 30, 2021 & Sunday, October 31, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Guide us, O God, by your Word, and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Exodus 20: 1-17 (Page 75) & Matthew 22:34-40 (Page 990) 

Sermon Message:  “God’s Commandments For Daily Living” 

We’ve been listing ‘faith basics’ in the bulletin each week. These ‘faith basics’ are given a prominent place each week as a bulletin insert.  They include such basics as ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ the 23rd Psalm, and today the Ten Commandments.  Hopefully you are sharing these ‘faith basic’ publications with lots of others, especially so, with children. 

Many of us learned the Ten Commandments when we were children.  It is unlikely that most of us recite those Ten Commandments every day.  Akin to other memorized references in the Bible, you know where to find them and do call upon them from time to time or especially so when needed.  The goal, set by those who taught us the Ten Commandments, was not just memorization of these ten commands, but more importantly, living by God’s commandments daily. 

In our youth we may have learned the Ten Commandments as basic morality lessons.  We probably thought of them as a kind of ‘list’ of ‘do’s and don'ts. The ‘preacher’ in me reminds us all they are NOT the ‘ten suggestions,’ although ‘some’ do attempt to minimize them as being such. 

The ‘story’ behind the Ten Commandments involves God, also known as ‘Yahweh,’ his servant Moses, plus the ancient Israelite people.  Those ancient Israelites had been held captive and forced into slavery under the Egyptian King, Pharaoh.  They were held captive for hundreds of years.  Throughout their captivity the Egyptian slave masters treated the Israelite people ruthlessly.  They were subject daily to hard labor and cruel punishment.  Something NO human being should endure over the course of his or her lifetime. 

God (Yahweh) saw the suffering of His people, Israel, and sent his servant, Moses, to rescue them from the grips of King Pharaoh and His offensive military rule.  Moses did follow God’s leading.  He did listen to God’s call and began leading millions of oppressed people out of Egypt and into God’s Promised Land.  

The journey, this ‘Exodus’ from Egypt and onward towards the Promised Land, required them to pass through the Sinai desert and around the Sinai mountain.  God’s hand of protection, care, redemption, reform, and guidance lead them.  This was ‘blessing’ both day and night for the Israelite people.  God sought to continue and expand his blessings.  Under their Egyptian slave rule they had lost so much and had also learned some rather cruel ways of living.  So it was, God called His servant, Moses, as he was leading the people towards the Promised Land.  He called Moses to come up the huge Sinai Mountain for quite a special meeting.  The effects of that meeting are still being experienced today.  Moses and his co-leaders responded.  They climbed that huge mountain, and God met with them and they met with God. 

It was God’s intent to further rescue those souls He had graciously redeemed and consecrated them to be his ‘blessed,’ ‘chosen,’ and ‘holy’ people.  

It is recorded in the Bible that God gave to Moses two large tablets of stone upon which the very hand of God inscribed the Ten Commandments.  Like you, I have seen lots of good people set aside the Ten Commandments because they perceive them to be strict laws that must be obeyed at all costs.  

Initially, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses and passed on to the Israelite people for their own good, for their betterment and protection; not simply because God was testing them to see if they would be obedient or not. 

Part of God’s process of reform often times involves helping folks to not only be ‘better off,’ than they were, but also to become ‘better people’ than those who hurt them and were oppressing their very souls.  God’s desire has always been for daily living to become better for every single one of His children. 

Initially the Ten Commandments were to ‘make better’ the daily living of Moses and those millions of people set free from ruthless, oppressive, and cruel circumstances. 

So it was, God instructs them;

First:  “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Second: “You shall not worship idols or make graven images.”

Third:  “You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.”

Fourth: You shall keep the Sabbath Holy.’ 

Jesus expanded the list of commandments when he said, “the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.”  These words of Jesus summarize the first four commandments found on the first tablet of stone God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. 

Jesus summarizes the remaining six commandments when he further declares the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.  Commandments six through ten have to do with how we treat other people. 

The Ten Commandments help us from becoming like the Egyptian slave masters.  Part of the Almighty’s further intent was rescuing the Hebrew people from slavery so they could become an example of right living.  God would not have any of this treating others the way their cruel and ruthless masters had treated them.  God’s intent has been for the liberation of people not their subjugation to tyrants.  To this day the Ten Commandments serve as essential rules to keep people from becoming dictators, tyrants, brutes, and bullies. 

The first Four Commandments are for ‘getting along with God.’  The other six commandments are for getting along with others. 

“Honor your father and your mother.”  Commandment # 5.  “So that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.  This commandment, perhaps more than others, gets misconstrued to read, “Obey your parents.”  That IS part of what God is saying.  It assumes loving, nurturing, and non-abusive parents who care for their children as God cares for us all. 

It’s worth noting the commandment says ‘honor,’ not ‘obey.’  To ‘honor’ is a weighty term.  It means to validate another’s importance.  It is to trust someone as a person of substance; deserving respect.  It is not about blind obedience.  To ‘honor’ means to listen, to learn from them, to respect and respond to their wisdom, further learning from their experience.  

Let’s face it. Our parents aren’t always right. IF you’ve been blessed, called upon to raise children, then I’m sure, like me, you are aware of times when you needed to say to one of your children, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.  Please forgive me.” 

This commandment to honor our mothers and fathers can be expanded to include learning from our elders, especially so, our spiritual mothers and fathers, from people who have journeyed on the path of faith.  One of the best ‘honors’ is to imitate and incorporate into daily living the good characteristics we see in others.  We all need ‘faith mentors’ in our lives.  Some are biologically related to us.  Some are not, yet are sent by God. 

Today’s scam artists do nothing to ‘honor’ others.  Preying upon the vulnerability of the elderly is a grave sin.  We may have been victimized by less than honorable people.  Doesn’t mean we have to be like them.  Honor. 

Commandment Six:  "You shall not kill.”  Some versions translate this verse as ‘you shall not murder.”  Either way, this commandment from God is a direct reference to the sacredness of life.  Jesus expands on this command when he teaches a way of life that forgives instead of retaliates.  Anger, getting mad, and getting even are stepping-stones to killing with words or actions.  Strive to overcome emotional violence in your daily lives.  Don’t contribute to or give approval to gossip.  Don’t bury your head in the sand when other people are afflicted. Work in your daily life to ‘give life,’ not ‘take life’ in any of its forms. 

Commandment Seven:  “You shall not commit adultery.”  Pretty straightforward.  God gave sexuality as a sacred gift.  While it is beautiful and wondrous, it is not to be used in such a way that could cause emotional or physical damage to someone else.  This command from God is about fidelity to commitment.  Do not betray sacred trust.  Help others to be their best too. 

Commandment Eight:  “You shall not steal.”  Do you trust that God will provide and will continue to provide what you need?  Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you.  Don’t take it out-rightly so or manipulatively so.  Don’t ‘steal’ someone’s dignity by insulting him or her, putting him or her down.  Don’t steal time from God and yourself and those who love you by spending the more precious and prominent part of your daily life working, being overly productive, and seeking instead the good life that costs others plenty. Don’t steal office supplies nor tools from your job.  Don’t be ‘goofing off’ when you should be working.  Don’t steal from God by forgetting to give something back as a sign of your appreciation for the grace you have received.  Trust that God provides. 

Commandment Nine:  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  Don’t lie, don’t gossip.  Don’t misconstrue things.  Don’t bring others down to make yourself look good.  There are lies of omission as well as lies of commission.  Outright lies and false impressions.  

We all look for exceptions to the rule, but do remember, God IS the rule. Truth telling and truth living requires an inner strength that needs to be developed over time and sometimes revisited from time to time.  Being a Christian, a God follower, in our daily lives is an on-going journey we are all on.  Spirituality reminds us we ARE loved beyond measure, just the way you are.  How we choose to improve becomes our gift back to God, to others, and to our best selves. 

Commandment Ten:  “Do not covet.”  This isn’t just about ‘wanting’ what someone else has.  It’s kind of like this; don’t fondle other people’s things in your mind or spend time thinking about what you don’t have.  Spend more time empathizing with ten neighbors in need than coveting the one who has something you want.  Envy can make you miserable.  No matter how smooth and perfect someone else’s life may seem, there is in all of us an unseen bag of problems. 

Sometimes people don’t realize what they DO have until its gone, lost, or compromised. 

The Ten Commandments aren’t there to make us feel guilty.  They are there to give us a meaningful, daily life that loves God and your neighbor.  Try looking at them through adult eyes instead of as a list of restrictions.  Then further consider how you can be more intentional in your love of God and neighbor.  Amen.

Adversity - The Way of the World 10/24/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 23, 2021 & Sunday, October 24, 2021 

Scripture Lessons:  Lamentations 3:22-26 (page 823)  &  Matthew 11:28-30 (page 977) 

Sermon Message: “Adversity – The Way of the World”

Guest Speaker: Laurie Zickgraf, Elder

 Adversity =  difficulties or misfortune. Some call it bad luck or trouble.  If you look at a list of synonyms, you’ll find everything from, a mishap to a catastrophe; quite a range.  Two of the words in the list caught my attention:  woe and tribulation.

 A woe is a judgement on others, and it’s not used too much nowadays, but it is used a lot in the Bible. In Lamentations we read: ‘Woe to us, for we have sinned!’ 

In Revelation (12:12) the word woe is used in a pretty terrifying way:  “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!  He is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short.” 

Tribulation is another scary word.  It means great trouble or suffering.  Christians believe in the Great Tribulation.  These events, mentioned in Revelation, will happen before Christ returns. Revelation 6:8 “And I looked, and behold a pale horse:  and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” 

This is really scary stuff. 

No matter what word you use, adversity is bad.  There are 6 different types of adversity, but no matter what type of adversity we talk about, it has a way of affecting so much more than just one person or one group.  It’s a good example of the trickledown theory. 

Let’s take a few minutes and look at the types of adversity – the first 5 include: 

Physical Adversity:  an accident or an illness.  Maybe a physical handicap you were born with.  When you are limited physically, this affects not only you but everyone in your household.

Mental Adversity:  loneliness, depression, and anxiety, all of which have increased greatly during the pandemic.  I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t experienced some type of mental difficulty during the last 2 years.

Emotional Adversity:  anxiety, fear, excitement, or anger.  Fear tops my list.  Fear has the ability to derail the most stable person if you let it go.  Sometimes, my fears start to run in little circles in my head which causes my anxiety to skyrocket.  When this happens, I turn off the TV news, I get a bowl of ice cream, and I start watching The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. I know I’m feeling better when the movies get boring.

There’s also Social Adversity:  crime, poverty, or peer pressure.  Social difficulties increased last year when kids couldn’t go to school.  Isolation created many problems for many people.  I have a patient right now that is in a nursing home, and they are on lock down again because of the pandemic.  His wife comes to the clinic to sit with him so they can see each other.

And number 5 is Financial Adversity:  losing a job, physical injury, or quitting your job so you can stay home with the kids are some of the events that can trigger a financial hardship.  A more subtle event is inflation.  Your paycheck doesn’t go as far as it did a year ago, and now you struggle every month with your budget.  

These 5 types of adversity are so interwoven with each other. One problem causes another problem which trickles down into more problems. Is there anyone here today that can look at their life and say – I have NO adversity in my life? ----- Let me warn you -  IF anyone can say that – I want to come live with you! 

The Bible and our world are full of adversity.  Look at the Old Testament.  There are battles and wars all the time.  Someone was always invading someone else.  Now, fast forward and look at the encyclopedia Britannica – they list over 125 wars in the last 721 years.  (1300 AD).  According to the New York Times, of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them!  That’s only 8 percent of the time.  Old Testament times or now, we’re not really any different thousands of years later.  

War or being in the military is a good example of how adversity affects us all.  War creates repercussions around the world.  The financial markets are affected.  The supply lines of materials might be slowed down or stopped completely. During World War II we had shortages in the United States because they couldn’t ship things to us from overseas.  We also sent food and supplies to the troops to keep our military going so the people here at home went without.  Gasoline, butter, and sugar were in short supply, so they were actually rationed. 

But war, like other types of adversity, does more than this.  Adversity trickles down and creates a hardship for everyone else.  If someone is in the military, they are afraid of being killed or injured.  They worry about their families at home.  They miss them and want to get back to those they love. The families at home also face problems.  They worry that their loved one will be hurt or won’t come home.  And while missing your loved one is always in the back of your mind, other family members also have to pick up the load and care for each other in their absence.  

These types of problems can also happen when someone gets hurt or sick.  Maybe someone suffers from severe depression or has problems with work or school.  Other family members or friends may struggle to help the person in trouble.  Grocery shopping, paying the bills, and making sure the checks don’t bounce, yard work, and a myriad of other things that must be taken care of in our daily lives don’t wait for us to feel better.  

Adversity is a way of life.  It was a way of life for Adam and Abraham and Moses.  Certainly Jonah and Jeremiah had some problems.  

There’s David who was chosen by God to be king, but he had to run for his life when King Saul tried to kill him. 

What about Job? And there’s Joseph whose brothers sold him as a slave.  Everywhere you look in the Bible there are problems, difficulties, and adversity. 

It doesn’t get any better in the New Testament. Peter, who betrayed Jesus on the night of his arrest, had to deal with the fact that he walked away from the Son of God.  All of the disciples hid after Jesus was killed.  They were in fear for their lives until the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost.  

Paul was always having problems. Read 2 Corinthians (2 Cor.11:24-27):  

"24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.“  

There is adversity everywhere.  Hardship and problems abound.  There is no getting away from it.  But there is one type of adversity that is the most dangerous. It’s the one that can cost you your life, your eternal life.  I am talking about Spiritual adversity.  Spiritual questions may start slow.  

You experience one of the other types of problems; physical, mental, emotional, social, or financial problems.  Doubts creep in and begin to take root in a mind that is preoccupied with other things.  Feelings of depression and hopelessness start to grow.  You can’t understand why you have to suffer, and you begin to question everything. If you start to question God’s love for you, you are in a bad place.  You may begin to believe that you’re worthless, and then you stop talking to God.  

If you stop praying to God and you stop looking for God, then you are in more trouble than you may realize.  This is not just a bad place, but a very bad place.  This is the time to ask others for help.  This is the time to call Reverend Tom and set up a meeting to talk to him.  This is a time to call out to God and tell Him you are lost, and you need Him back in your life. Forget the questions. Blind faith is needed here.  Turn to God and ask for help even if you don’t believe He is there. You know why? Because there is good news.  It’s called the Gospel! 

God is there, and He is waiting for you to come to Him with all of your problems.  Not just the major issues, but everything.  He wants to hear from you when you have questions.  Remember when Jesus comforts us by saying: 

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  

Jesus knows that we face adversity every day in our lives.  He’s there with love so amazing and He’s there with outstretched arms waiting for us.  Jesus was sent to save us.  Not just from death but from fear, from depression, from loneliness, and from the thoughts that Satan puts in our heads as he tries to make us question and forget about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus also knows that some adversity in our lives is a way for us to grow and mature in our faith.  You are who you are today because of your experiences, good and bad.  Romans 5:3 says that we ‘glory in our sufferings”! I don’t know about that, but I do know you should read the rest of that verse: 

“…suffering produces perseverance; perseverance – character; and character – hope.” 

Hope – that is what God gave us in the body of Christ Jesus.  Hope – given to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit!  

The Holy Spirit – wow, what a gift!  The Holy Spirit that filled the hearts, minds, and souls of the disciples so many years ago is still with us every day.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is really the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.  

When you allow the Holy Spirit into your life, you will see the fruits of the spirit take root and grow.  You will see yourself change – for the better as you begin to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Just as adversity trickles down to others so does the fruit of the spirit.  It fills us with love and acceptance.  The Holy Spirit has a way of changing us and allowing that change to be seen by others.  

Let the Holy Spirit become a part of you.  Let God touch your life every day.  Let Jesus give you words of love and kindness.  Accept the adversity in your life and choose to let God help you through it all.  He is there, waiting to help you. 

Amen.

Those Who Love 10/16/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 16, 2021 & Sunday, October 17, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed, we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew 18:1-5 (Page 984) & 1 John 4:7-12 (Page 1230) 

Sermon Message: “Those Who Love” 

There’s nothing better than love! Those who love are among the happiest people you and I will ever know. 

The ‘Love Chapter” in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) declares that faith, hope, and love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love. 

Those who love can appreciate ‘innocence’ in its many forms. 

At our home we have two dogs; a large one and a small one.  The larger of the two chases her tail in circles and makes us laugh.  She also like us to take her on ‘flower walks’ so she can smell the flowers growing around our yard.  Her love for us is innocent and pure. 

Our other dog, the smaller one, has this habit that he has built with me.  Each day when I come into our house, Bam Bam jumps up on my lap, puts his two paws around me, and licks my face until I can’t take it anymore.  His love is also innocent and pure. 

Jesus came down from heaven, innocent and pure, born as a child in a stable in Bethlehem.  He is God’s gift of love to us. 

Those who loved Jesus strove to become close to him.  So close, some of them wanted special ‘privileges’ or ‘places of honor’ with him.  Those who love important people do sometimes strive for ‘special privileges.’ 

Notice how Jesus loved. He set them an example, he taught them a lesson by placing a child in their midst.  That child wasn’t placed there for their entertainment or pleasure.  That child wasn’t there to be seen but not heard.  Rather, Jesus placed a child in their midst to teach and remind them of some very important character traits of those who love. 

One unspoken lesson was this: Grown men and great men and grown women and great women should not disdain the company of little children. While we know we are here to teach children, Jesus reminds us still, we should also learn from them. 

Those who love must learn, from time to time, the necessity of humility. 

‘Change’ is not always easy.  Sometimes it's downright uncomfortable for folks.  Change that becomes ‘conversion’ can be even more humiliating.  Jesus instructs his disciples, then and now, to change and become like little children IF we want to enter the kingdom of heaven.  There is a kind of grace God gives us for forgiving our sins.  There’s another form of grace that calls upon us to convert from who we are to whom God would have us to be. 

Those who love are to convert to childlike graces as we relate to God and others.  Sometimes it is ‘tempting’ to be ‘all grown up’ in our views, and we fail to see the blessings of love, especially innocent love around us. 

The Bible teaches us that Jesus and his parents would often times go to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray and to worship.  Part of the magnificent worship may have involved sacred music from harps, lyres, and mature, cultured voices.  The ‘singing of the Psalms probably never sounded better than in the magnificent temple. 

At Christmas time we recall a child’s musical selection and his worship of Jesus, the Babe in the manger.  Our current rendition of ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ converts us to a spirit of genuine humbleness as we, too, identify ‘what’s in our hearts’ as we bring the basics of ourselves to worship Christ in the cradle and embrace Christmas again. 

Sometimes late at night as I lay in bed, I scroll down my electronic tablet for Christian music to listen to.  There’s a young blind and autistic boy who strives to sing the contemporary Christian song, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.”  It’s moving for lots of reasons.  The words and meaning behind the song are moving.  This small, innocent boy, Christopher Duffey, who sings from his heart while working through some disabilities, inspires a form of love for God, for life, and for those who love with such pure innocence.  

IF we only have time for the best of the best in music and other areas of our lives, we shall never appreciate the purity of love even when it is ‘right there’ in front of us. 

The older we become the harder it seems to be for us to ‘remember’ when we were a child.  Something we surely can identify with though is this; childhood is the learning age.  When you are too old to learn, you are too old. 

Those who love choose to remain humble enough to learn, while further learning to become humble. 

It’s good to be ambitious, but do remember Christ’s lesson that this can easily enough be coupled with pride.  It was pride that threw the angels out of heaven, and it remains pride that can compromise how we love and who we love. 

The better honor and advancement stems from humility.  The humblest Christians are the best Christians.  Childlike faith is better than superior faith. 

Love comes down from heaven.  Those who love know God.  A very ‘humbling’ truth about God’s love is this; God loved us first. 

Those who love should strive to become more ‘God-like’ in how they love.  These are ‘nice words’ but sometimes quite hard to put into practice. 

Jesus knew there’s nothing better than love.  He lived it, spoke about it, preached it, shared with us the commandments that affirm love as being the best, the greatest, and the most important aspects of life here on earth and in God’s heaven.  Jesus knew the lessons on love well.  He welcomed children, ate with sinners, healed the hopeless, and suffered immensely in his heart, his body, his mind, and even his soul.  Jesus Christ once said, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  Jesus did just that.  He laid down his life for us. 

My life and yours are better, more meaningful, and far more peaceful due to love, God’s kind of love inside of us. 

Those who love are a reflection of God.  

Recall Jesus’ instructions regarding childlike faith and love.  Children need to be held.  This too is a form of love.  One of the things I like about being a big guy is that I am able to hold people and help them feel loved.  Those who love understand that love can be something as simple and sweet as a smile, a firm arm placed around the shoulder of another, a handshake, or possibly an embrace.  

Though I am a big man, I shall never forget the time I once needed to hold a guy nearly twice my size because his heart was broken, and his life felt crushed.  

When is the last time someone picked you up and carried you?  Not too many can carry big guys like us.  Yet everyone experiences those times when we’d sure like to feel the arms of Jesus and sit at his feet for a while. 

Those who love provide others with a listening ear and an understanding heart.  Jesus was slow to judge but seemingly quick to forgive, make whole, and provide hope. 

Children will sometimes say, “Life isn’t fair.”  As we mature, we grow to realize they are sometimes right.  Life isn’t always fair, but life still remains life. 

Those who love with the love of God inside of them and flowing through them make choices to love somebody each and every day, even though that love is not fairly reciprocated.  Those who love know they love not because it is ‘fair,’ but because they can, and also because God knows they are choosing to love. 

Surely we have watched marriages and friendships whereby ‘love’ is not balanced and far from the 50-50 contributions and receptions one might expect.

Possibly we have seen whereby love has needed to be ‘tough’ because the other person was swimming in addictions or some form of self-destruction.  There are also those times when people must have boundaries imposed upon them, else wise they will bring harm. 

Along the road of life, like you, I have met souls who choose not to love, for they fear rejection or the possibility of pain should the relationship end.  

Jesus Christ and the Christian faith continues to teach us all that love is a risk.  We risk getting involved in another person’s life or letting them in ours.  We risk extending ourselves, opening our hearts, or expressing our vulnerabilities.  In short, the summary of Jesus’ life and teachings has well informed us that suffering goes with choosing to love. 

Jesus hurt for those disciples who saw their relationship with him as a means to achieving greater prosperity or position.  Instead of figuring out how they could better help him with his hurt, they continued to vie for who’s the most important.  Jesus Christ hurt when he met the woman at the well who had a multitude of sins she was bearing.  He hurt for the woman who was just about to be stoned to death because others judged her as being an adulteress.  Jesus hurt for those were born blind and for those who were so blinded by their thoughts and beliefs that they could not see God’s love in their midst.  Jesus hurt for those who crucified him and took his life.  He asked the Father to forgive them.  

Those who love have learned the art of forgiveness, the blessing associated with loving others in spite of themselves and moving on. 

Yet we have also learned from our faith that following the path of love is the greatest fulfillment known to human kind.  

No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us. Amen.

The 23rd Psalm Warms My Heart 10/9/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 9, 2021 & Sunday, October 10, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Shine within our hearts, loving God, the pure light of your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds and hearts that we may understand and embrace the message of Holy Scripture.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 (Page 662) & Psalm 23 (Page 548) 

Sermon Message: “The 23rd Psalm Warms My Heart” 

When you read this first chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes, how does it make you feel?  Personally I find it rather depressing, even cold. It declares that life is meaningless.  Everything is meaningless.  Utterly meaningless. There’s nothing new under the sun.  Bad history has a way of repeating itself.  All things are wearisome and, in the end, even after all of our labors, no one will be remembered for what they have done. 

What kind of mind ‘thinks’ this way?  What sort of soul believes such heavy decrees?  Perhaps the author of these words was just sort of ‘reviewing’ some thoughts?  Maybe he was ‘evaluating’ during this particular ‘time’ or ‘season’ in his life?  

The writer of this portion of the Book of Ecclesiastes seems to have a very cold heart. 

Allow me to share some brief insight into ‘who’ this writer was. The accredited author of the book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon.  A king of Israel.  He is the son of King David.  His teacher; Nathan, referred to young Solomon as ‘Jedidiah’ which means ‘beloved of the Lord.’  Solomon reigned some 40 years. During his reign Solomon was blessed to erect a Temple for the Lord.  Quite a massive structure with extensive spiritual meaning.  In addition to erecting many buildings Solomon was accredited with completing numerous waterways to supply his people with much needed daily supplies of water.  Solomon went on to construct commercial depots and various military outposts. 

There was abundant prosperity in the land during Solomon’s reign, as well as remarkable intellectual activity.  In those early years Solomon spoke and had recorded over three thousand proverbs.  The Book of Proverbs is still being referred to for great wisdom and insight. 

Those bright days of Solomon’s glory ended in clouds and darkness.  It is a rather sad record.  God did not ‘abandon’ Solomon.  Rather, Solomon succumbed to the effects of polygamy and his great wealth.  Gradually Solomon began to believe more in his pleasure than in the God of Israel.  He referred to God, but his heart just wasn’t in the right place.  Even his worship of God became a ‘formality.’  His soul was left empty. 

So it was, Solomon wrote from a place of feeling forsaken having brought upon himself divine displeasure.  He was penitent, that’s for certain.  Solomon refers to himself as ‘The Teacher.’  This designation may be translated as ‘Koheleth’ or ‘the penitent soul.’  Solomon had become a lost sheep. 

Sometimes that has to happen in a soul’s life. Sometimes a penitent soul stirs from a broken heart or spirit, not merely from a head that is bowed down like tall grass if only for a short time. 

God has a way of using even our broken spirits and our sinful acts to impart insight, provide wisdom, and thereby help to gather souls together in order that many others may hear, benefit, and respond to God prior to their own forsakenness. 

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to NOT feel God in your life, consider some of these words found in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Meaningless, meaningless, meaningless.  Everything is meaningless. THAT’S how a soul feels that is far from God.  That ‘coldness’ impacts a person’s heart and soul like nothing else. 

Psalm 23 shall be referenced soon.  But for just a moment please further recall the very first verse of the previous psalm, Psalm 22:1:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  That particular verse of scripture was penned by Solomon’s father; King David.  Job, in his huge and numerous sufferings felt it.  Jesus Christ, upon the Cross, repeated those same words as He cried out to the Father.  Perhaps we have all experienced spiritual desertions.  There are times when we cry out, “God, why am I so sick?”  Or “Why am I so poor?” 

What we have in common with David, Job, Solomon, and others is this:  When we want the faith of assurance, we must live by a faith of adherence.  

When life is the most complicated and the heart feels quite cold, can you ‘posit’ enough faith to still declare, “The Lord is my shepherd?” 

David, who penned these familiar words in Psalm 23, was speaking not so much as a shepherd but as a sheep; one of the flock.  He spoke with a sense of spiritual pride, devotion, and admiration.  It was as though he was literally boasting aloud, “Look at who my shepherd is. I belong to Him.  I follow the Lord, come what may.  I trust Him.  I know he shall lead me, my heart, my soul, my very life.” 

‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a human being and his Maker. 

I belong to God, not only because I choose to.  More importantly I belong to Him because He deliberately chose to create me as the object of his own affection.  The Lord IS my shepherd because He has bought me at the incredible price of His own laid down life and shed blood. 

The Lord IS my Shepherd because I am and do remain a ‘sheep.’  Did you know that ‘sheep’ do not just ‘take care of themselves’ as some might suppose?  They require more than most creatures, endless attention and meticulous care.

Jesus wasn’t ‘just’ the Shepherd from the past.  Jesus Christ remains our Good Shepherd who continues to intercede for us with God the Father, guides us still (daily) by His gracious Spirit, and is ever working on our behalf to ensure that we will benefit from His care. 

Read and study Psalm 23 in its entirety.  The entire psalm recounts the manner in which the Good Shepherd spares no pains for the welfare of His sheep. 

There is a coldness in my heart when I consider people the world over who have not known what it is to belong to the Good Shepherd—who suffer instead under sin, Satan, and forsaken feelings. 

Consider further the character of Jesus Christ.  Oh I know there have been lots of false representations of Christ.  But, if even just briefly you can look without bias at His life, you shall see a person, an individual of enormous compassion and incredible integrity.  Jesus Christ was the most balanced and perhaps the most beloved being ever to grace this earth.  He was born is disgusting surroundings a member of a modest working family.  He always exuberated great dignity and assurance.  Here was a person who had no special privileges as a child, either in education or employment, yet His entire philosophy and outlook on life were the highest standards of human conduct ever set by human kind.  He had no vast economic assets, political power, or military might; yet, Jesus made such an enormous impact upon the world’s history.  Because of Him millions of people across twenty plus centuries of time have come into a life of decency, honor, and even noble conduct. 

Jesus the Good Shepherd was gentle and tender yet stern as steel and terribly tough on phony people. 

I for one sincerely admire His magnificent and generous spirit for forgiving fallen folks all the while remaining a terror to those who indulge in double talk or false pretenses. 

Jesus Christ, this living Good Shepherd, continues to set people free from their own sins, their own selves, and their own fears.  Those liberated by Him love Him with fierce loyalty! 

Jesus Christ is the good Shepherd, the concerned Shepherd, the shepherd who still cares enough to seek out and save and restore lost men and women. 

Things are different, better, and more peaceful when the Lord IS your Shepherd. 

Perhaps you’ve heard of cattle being ‘branded’ with a mark identifying them as part of a certain ‘herd?’  Sheep are sometimes ‘marked’ by a particular ‘cut’ on their ear as belonging to a certain shepherd. 

What ‘marks’ your allegiance to Jesus Christ as your Good Shepherd?  What is it that people see in you that makes them identify you as a Christian? 

Jesus said we are known by our ability and evidence of picking up our own cross and following Him. 

So how is it in your life when things get ‘tossed over’ and perhaps ‘reviewed deeply?’ 

This church of Jesus Christ and our relationship to the Good Shepherd is not a club we belong to nor a book of ideas we can randomly pick up or set aside.  Christianity is a way of life.  24/7. 

Admitting that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, affirming that He IS the Son of God, even ‘believing’ that Jesus is divine is well and good, yet not sufficient.  Even Satan believes those things to be true. 

Following the Good Shepherd, giving Him leadership over your life is another thing altogether. 

Do you REALLY belong to Him?  Do you Really recognize His presence and leadership in your life?  May it warm your heart to know, affirm, and live belonging to the Good Shepherd. 

Faith is self-evident.  Maybe not at first, otherwise it wouldn’t be ‘faith.’  But faith ‘shows up’ in some pretty sincere ways.  Psalm 23 affirms, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  This doesn’t mean you will be blessed beyond measure and never ‘want’ for anything at all in this world.  Being a Christian, a ‘sheep’ of His pasture and care, does not mean we will never experience lack or need. 

We all need to keep a balanced view of our Christian life and way of living.  Surely, we know that Jesus himself and many well-known Christians even in our time, experienced adversity. Jesus said, “In this world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer-I have overcome the world.” 

Far too many preach what’s called the ‘prosperity Gospel.’  By this it is meant IF you believe, pray, act, and live in certain prescribed ways, you will reap the blessings from God of pain free life and abundant prosperity with no trials, adversities, or afflictions.  That just isn’t true. 

“I shall not want” applies to peace, help, guidance, comfort, forgiveness, and love from God.  Not specifically to material wealth or gain.  Contentment may come from putting our affairs in the hands of God. 

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.”  Jesus is nearby. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  (II Timothy 1:7)  Tonight may your prayer be “Now I lay me down to sleep.  I lay me down in peace to sleep.”  No need for foreboding fear for the future.  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  The Apostle Paul stated, “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content.”  Green pastures imply a state of contentment and needed provisions.  I have long-felt the 23rd Psalm provides us with some much needed ‘imagery’ of what God’s heaven is like; a place of green pastures and a table prepared before me. 

“He leads me beside still waters.”  There is peace and refreshment in still waters.  They are a picture and a place for meditation and renewal.  God alone knows the place where you find contentment for your heart, your mind, and your soul.  He leads you there. 

Perhaps we all long for ‘mountaintop’ experiences with God.  However, we must always remember, every mountain has its valley.  Recall and reaffirm, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”  Because there is a shadow, we can surely believe there is a light.  The light of God, the light of Jesus, the presence of the good Shepherd warms the heart while illuminating the path. 

I’ve grown to know I cannot face life’s valleys alone.  Some have been darker than others.  Some are yet to come as I pass though this life.  Strive to become an example of trusting in the Lord’s provision. 

“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”  The shepherd’s rod or staff was a tool, a weapon of power, authority, and defense.  It remains a continuous comfort to the sheep.  The ‘rod’ is also a reference to the spoken ‘word’ - the expressed intent and extended activity of God’s mind and will in dealing with people/us. 

May it warm your heart to know, even in the presence of your enemies, God, the Good Shepherd, prepares a table for you, anoints your head with oil, and extends His goodness and love to you all the days of your life. 

For some, Christianity becomes adherence to certain doctrines or believing certain facts. 

Within Psalm 23 feel the touch of His presence, of His Spirit upon your spirit. 

“All the days of my life.”  That really does mean ‘always.’  Turn things over to him daily, minute by minute, if you need to or just desire to.  A Shepherd cares for His sheep 24/7. 

Our life with God is far from meaningless.  The 23rd Psalm truly does warm our hearts.  Amen.

Grace Not Perfection 10/2/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 2, 2021 & Sunday, October 3, 2021 

Worldwide Communion Sunday 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth.  Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Ephesians 2:8-10 (pg. 1174), Mark 12:28-34 (pg. 1017), Colossians 3:23,24 (pg. 1184) 

Sermon Message: ‘Grace Not Perfection’ 

Grace, not perfection, is what God desires for us.  We receive ‘grace’ from God and are expected to extend ‘grace’ to others. 

In my ‘growing up’ years ‘grace’ was something we ‘said’ before meals.  Not every meal, but the important ones like Sunday dinner, birthdays, and a few other times during the week. 

The type of ‘grace’ being referenced in today’s scripture lesson may be thought of simply and sincerely as the goodness of God coming to us.  The goodness of God, the Lord’s ‘grace’, is not something we can well-earn lest we boast or strive to manipulate our Maker.  Rather, ‘grace’ comes to imperfect souls leading imperfect lives.  Consider a human example for analogy here. 

I’ve heard numerous people report that dining room tables and chairs plus elegant ‘place settings’ are slowly fading away.  Less and less are folks gathering for ‘proper’ or ‘formal’ meals.  However, many can well recall how it was when participating in such ‘dining’ experiences.  I recall being told ‘how’ to properly set the table.  I learned where each plate was to be set, how each napkin was to be folded, precisely where each knife, fork, and spoon were to be placed.  Plus the ‘proper’ seating arrangement for each meal participant.  These were but a few of the important details required for things to be made ‘perfect.’  This is an area whereby we learned, ‘there’s a place for everything and everything in its place!’ ‘Sacredness’ is often times associated with perfection or at least striving towards perfection. 

I hope you have noticed in a variety of churches, including our own, we strive to honor the Lord each time we ‘share’ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion by ‘setting up’ communion precisely, in good order and format.  However, this on-going reality with Covid-19 restrictions has required us to ‘adjust’ a few things.  We can no longer receive ‘precise’ portions of communion bread hand-made by our own folks.  Nor can we use those precise little communion cups.  Instead, we have to learn to balance the opening of two different flaps on those small ‘k-cups’ to receive the bread of communion and the ‘wine’ of communion. 

In our personal lives, within our church lives, and even where we work or attend school the former ‘perfect life’ remains challenged and somewhat compromised out of necessity. 

Part of the ‘grace’ that we receive is knowing and experiencing ‘communion’ still with our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Personal ‘grace’ I receive from you is your consistent ‘understanding’ that while this is NOT how it used to be, you are accepting of the same. 

Grace, not perfection, is called for in our personal lives AND in our lives with God. 

Striving for perfection can be our attempts to honor God.  While we should strive to always ‘give God our best,’ even the Bible confirms that none of us ARE perfect nor will we ever be in this life.  We are saved by grace and THAT remains a gift of God. 

Sometimes it’s not very ‘easy’ to accept a free gift.  Especially this ‘free’ gift from God.  Most of us were taught to ‘produce’ and ‘earn’ what we have received or might seek to gain.  But God’s grace is different than all of that.  His grace is a part of his love for us. 

Along with our having been taught to ‘be perfect’ sometimes we strive for perfection as a means of gaining some semblance of ‘control.’  After all, if we ‘dot’ every ‘i’ and ‘Cross’ every ‘t’, who can criticize us?  If we strive to follow even some semblance of ‘the letter of the law’, we may feel more ‘in control’ of things.  Striving to make others follow OUR definition of ‘the letter of the law’ may seem to make us feel as though we are exerting control over others. 

“Grace” not perfection is what’s called for in our lives of following God.  Jesus taught us that ‘love’ is the greatest commandment.  Clearly the Bible teaches us that fear, pride, or even arrogance can get in the way of grace.  Strive to ‘commune’ this day and forever with this teaching from the Bible:  “Beloved, let us love one another for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  1 John 4:7 

God expects of us what He gives unto us; grace and love. 

Sometimes we strive to ‘push’ against God and to ‘push’ against others.  Especially so if we tend to feel we are being negatively controlled or unfairly cared for. 

Folks, we make a mistake when we demand too much ‘perfection’ before extending even a small measure of love.  Institutions, even churches, can be guilty of the same.  

Whatever you do and whoever you care about, strive to follow God’s guidance: “work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” 

Our labor for God is not in vain.  Our labor for human overseers can sometimes be in vain.  The Bible further teaches if we do our work, any and all work, with all of our heart as though we are working for the Lord, this shall help us to overcome the negativity imposed upon us by human masters.  Some deeply reflecting Christians known as ‘the desert fathers’ learned and well-communicated this vital spiritual insight.  They wrote of ‘mopping the floors as though doing so was for the Lord Jesus himself.’  They further wrote of their maturing decision to mop those floors better than they had ever been mopped, for they were striving to honor the Lord far beyond human masters.  They had well learned a form of grace, not perfection. 

My friends, there is another verse of scripture I am sure many would like to receive as a blessing in their lives.  It is located in the Book of Jeremiah 29:11; “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

This Biblical affirmation sounds like a prescription for ‘the good life!’  The trouble with ‘the good life’ is far too many people equate that with ‘perfection.’  Easily enough any of us can feel trapped by our own desire to live the ‘perfect life.’ 

We are called to strive towards perfection all the while bearing in mind that such a state shall only occur in eternity.  This is NOT a perfect world we live in. 

In this world God calls us to live a life of grace, not perfection. 

But I think you all can identify with what we’ve been told concerning living the perfect life or at least striving for perfection.  Those lessons have repeatedly been ingrained inside of us.  

Somewhere along the way someone told us we were not good enough.  Or standards were set high for us.  Thanks to social media, blogs, and magazines, we mash together everyone else’s highlights and best moments in life and call it perfection. 

Each Fall season my wife and I consider a trip to the Amish country.  Patty sometimes reads books about the Amish country.  Inside many of us there remains this ‘longing’ for simplicity and joy.  It remains tempting to complicate our lives with comparison and the ‘not good enough’ principle.  Busyness seems to be the norm for lots of folks these days.  Some have grown to learn that running so fast makes it easier for the world to tell us its version of what the ‘good life’ looks like.  Much of the world’s version involves perfection and comparison. 

The grace that comes from God is free for imperfect and unworthy people, like us.  Our lives with God don’t have to be perfect.  We are to know that regardless of our imperfections, each of us is worthy of happiness and joy, silly moments, and rich memories. 

It’s good to identify with some of the folks from the Bible.  For instance, the Apostle Paul.  Here is a guy who worked hard to get everything right in his life with God.  

Paul was a very distinguished apostle yet one who suffered severe trials in his service of the Lord.  Paul questioned God about this one consistent ‘trial’ that bothered him, slowed him down, and irritated him.  For all of the ‘good’ Paul was doing for the Lord, this one particular physical ailment kept slowing him down.  Paul referenced this as being a ‘thorn in his flesh.’  Perhaps you have a ‘thorn in your flesh’ as well.  Some physical thing that slows you down, compromises your life, and makes things far less than perfect in your world. Some Biblical scholars ascertain that Paul’s ‘thorn in his flesh’ was actually a recurring eye infection that would end up matting his eyes shut from time to time.  

Admittedly I’ve gone to God as well and asked Him about a thing or two in my own body that just isn’t quite right and also slows me down.  Take my left leg for instance.  Ever since my accident two years ago, I have some sort of pain every day.  Some days more than others.  The medications help, but nothing takes it away altogether. It’s not that my physical life was perfect prior to my accident.  It was just a lot better, so it seems to me. 

God’s message to Paul, I further identify as God’s message to me.  The Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 

The good Lord can and does use our ailments and afflictions to accomplish his will, keep us humble, and remind us of far greater need for grace than for perfection. 

Sometimes we would do good to make a list of our imperfections; then see how God has helped us or perhaps called upon us to help or encourage others who also have ‘imperfections.’ 

In your faith walk with God do remember this, Love is the greatest commandment.  NOT perfection.  Come now; let us commune with God who loves us as we are.  Amen.

A Caring Church 9/25/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 25 & Sunday, September 26, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Ever-loving God, whose Word is life, and whose touch brings healing and salvation, make your Word real to us now.  Speak your presence in our hearts and lives, that we may know the reality of your grace, and bear it to others in your name.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Mark 9:38-50 (Page 1012) and James 5:13-20 (Page 1219) 

Sermon Message: “A Caring Church” 

Churches are associated with several things: worship, love, mission, fellowship, prayers, and lots of forms of caring. 

A caring church may or may not have large numbers in attendance and may also have rather humble and even small facilities in which they worship and share God’s love. 

A vital aspect of any caring church is considered in today’s second scripture lesson. James, the brother of Jesus, references ‘prayers of faith.’  One such prayer of faith is The Lord’s Prayer.  While there are other ‘prayers of faith’ found within the Bible and expressed from our hearts, this particular prayer, commonly known by most as The Lord’s Prayer, was taught to us all by Jesus. 

Did you know there are many variations of The Lord's Prayer?  Many of us learned The Lord's Prayer as children, simply from hearing it, then saying it every Sunday in church.  I was one of those children.  By the time I was eight or nine years old, I could recite The Lord's Prayer by rote, along with The Apostle's Creed, the Doxology, the alphabet, and the multiplication tables.  This is good, but it can also be bad.  By that I mean that when we can recite something without even thinking about it, the meaning is often lost for us.  That is what happened for me in my ‘growing up’ years.  Today, I actually listen to the words and consider their meanings.  For example, when we say, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done," we are actually saying that we want the Kingdom of God to come, and that we want God's will, not our own, to be done here on Earth, just as it is in heaven. 

As we ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer, we sometimes declare forgive us our debts, OR forgive us our trespasses, OR forgive us our sins.  Actually, according to the Bible, all three of those versions are correct.  

Wrong doing puts us in debt to those we have harmed or offended and unto Christ who died for the forgiveness of our debts. 

Wrong doing is a ‘trespassing’ of the Laws of God, the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the breaking of civil or religious laws.  For instance, ‘breaking the Ten Commandments’ is a form of trespassing against God or others, even against our own better self. 

When you or I attend “Mass” at a Catholic Church and we ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer, we employ the word ‘trespass.’  “Forgive us our ‘trespasses,’ even as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

Here at the Presbyterian Church we say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  

In any Christian Church or gathering, using the word ‘sins’ is also appropriate.  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” 

As a Pastor, I’ve had people from every ‘school of thought’ and diverse religious affiliation ‘report’ how others ‘say’ The Lord’s Prayer OR how Holy Communion occurs in ‘their’ church versus ours.  This reminds me of Jesus’ dealing with his disciples who observed ‘others’ driving out demons and performing miracles.  Jesus reminded them, even as he reminds us, NOT to stop others who are doing good in his name, for whoever is not against Jesus is for us.  

One thing I have never been able to understand is why some pastors, churches, and denominations imply that they are the only true church.  Both major and minor church bodies have done this down through the years, and some still continue to. 

The Bible makes it clear that there is only one true church -- the church of Jesus Christ (and I'm not referring to the Mormons!).  This is the church universal; consisting of believers in Christ from various Christian denominations around the globe.  Why are we at odds with each other when we are about the same mission: proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to a spiritually lost world?  Granted, I'm fully aware that there are both major and minor differences in doctrines and practice, but if the gospel is at the heart of what we profess and the main purpose of our ministry, then I believe Jesus would say to all of us:  Do not stop [them]; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Whoever is not against us is for us. 

What many pastors and churches are doing is putting each other down to try to make themselves look better.  So maybe you think your doctrine is better than someone else's; good for you!  You should, or how else can you keep teaching and preaching it with confidence?  But the truth is, any church with a set of doctrines that is Christ centered, believes in the Trinity, holds to Christ's words that he is the only way to the Father, and sees the primary purpose of the church as carrying out Christ's Great Commission, is on the right track.  They are for Christ and not against him.  So how can any of us presume to be so much smarter than Christ, and be against them when he isn't? 

What this separatist mentality and isolation is doing is confusing young and immature believers and creating a stumbling block for unbelievers.  Time and again I have tried to share the gospel with skeptics who raise this one question over and over again:  "Why can't Christians get along?"  Good point!  Why can't we?  Either it's Jesus' fault for instituting a shabby organization such as the Christian church, or else it the church's fault for doing such a shabby job of running this pure and holy body which he instituted.  I hope you will humbly agree with me that it is, without a doubt, the latter of the two.  In part, due to differing interpretations of scripture and deep convictions, and in large part due to arrogance and pride, we have continued this same attitude of the disciples where we tried to stop [them], because [they were] not following us. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm not proposing one big Christian church, for that would be ridiculous.  I'm urging us to follow Christ's advice.  Let's quit bad-mouthing one another and back-stabbing each other.  Let's pray for, and with, one another now and then.  Let's do a better job of educating our children on our differences and similarities and let them decide where they want to go to church.  Intimidating them with non-biblical fear and consequences if they leave the fellowship of our church is only keeping the conscientious ones; it drives the others away, not only from the church but from God. 

Some parts of the Christian church have become a stumbling block.  Jesus Christ speaks strongly against whoever and whatever becomes a stumbling block.  Especially so if we hamper young believers from following ‘Him’ instead of ‘us’ and our ways. 

In the words of the Nicene Creed we affirm ‘one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’  Thus when folks come to be married or to join this church, I inquire of them if they have been baptized.  Neither our Session nor myself requires that their baptism was within a Presbyterian Church, for we do affirm ‘one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’ 

The caring church recognizes and affirms that we are all ‘in this together.’  These communities where we reside have realized for years that the missions and ministries of Jesus Christ are better served when we share in them together.  I, for one, believe and affirm the sharing of various community ministries provides a wholesome example of the caring church.  Some examples include our community food pantries, Meals on Wheels programs, Helping hands ministries, and Faith in Action to name but a few. 

To employ ‘church language’ the caring church occurs best when we are ‘ecumenical’ in our actions.  Perhaps this too is part of the ‘saltiness’ that Jesus references?  “Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” 

While many church participants tend to measure the success and effectiveness of a church by its numbers, its programs, and its finances, the Bible indicates a far greater ‘listing’ of what constitutes a caring church.  Let’s ponder and evaluate: 

Much of Jesus’ ministry and guidance calls for His followers to care for one another.  An essential element of a successful and effective caring church. 

We are to care for those who are suffering.  By ‘we’ I do not mean ‘me’ alone.  But all of us.  Together, we are the church.  We all can and should care for those who are suffering.  Strive to become aware of the needs of others.  Pray with them and for them.  Visit, call, send cards, share the music of the church, and touch them with your hearts.  Ministries from the heart make for a very caring church.  I know and understand this personally.  We are further inquired to care for the elderly.  James, the brother of Jesus, encourages us to anoint others with oil as we pray for them.  A wholesome opportunity for pastors and elders.  

A strength of our church is communicating quickly when one of us becomes aware of the needs and the suffering of another.  A caring church is not only aware, but also quick to respond with compassion.  

This care requires some things that are seriously lacking in today's culture: selflessness, time, and good health.  If we want to do this well, we will think less of ourselves and more of others.  If, while caring for others, we are constantly thinking about all the things we should be doing or want to do, it will show in our attitude, lack of concern, and attention.  To be an effective caregiver, we will want to make time for those who are suffering.  We can't be holding their hand and looking at the clock at the same time (unless we're checking their pulse!). 

Caring people also take good care of themselves.  This not only applies to the obvious, of taking good care of ourselves physically (for the sick cannot care for the sick), but also taking care of ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Are we in a good state of mind?  Are we thinking rightly about those who need our care?  If we are too tired, for example, we will probably be less patient with those we are caring for than if we are well rested. 

And how are you doing spiritually?  A major aspect to caring for those who are suffering is spiritual care.  When it comes to this, we cannot give what we do not possess.  James urged that the confession of sin be associated with prayer and anointing with oil.  However, if we are living in sin and operating in a spiritual vacuum, we lose our nerve to confront sin, and our prayers are hindered.  On the other hand, the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.  That is exciting, for if we are in a right relationship with God, he is going to use us in powerful ways to accomplish his eternal purposes! 

The main purpose in care giving is not to make people laugh or feel good, but to bring them to the truth.  Notice what James wrote about this:  You should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.  That, my friends, is what spiritual care giving is all about and should be the primary goal of every pastor and congregation.  

Care can, and must, begin with us.  Amen.

Wisdom Works 9/18/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 18, 2021 & Sunday, September 19, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 1 (Page 536) & James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a (Page 1218 ) 

Sermon Message:  “Wisdom Works” 

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  Good wisdom to live by.  Sounds ‘sensible’ to most of us I am sure.  This is a bit of Biblical wisdom that we know ‘works.’ 

Walking with God, sharing and embracing the Christian faith makes us ‘sort out’ wisdom.  

There’s a type of wisdom that comes from experience, living life, reading, and studying. 

There is another form of wisdom that is born from the elements of human envy.  Jealousy, pride, and strife. 

The Bible counsels of a firmer form of wisdom known to us as ‘godly wisdom.’ 

At differing points in the Bible wisdom is ‘personified’ as a female character or sometimes as the wind, or perhaps the ‘still small voice of God.’  Wisdom is portrayed as a giftedness of God and a further display of God-like qualities in a person’s life. 

If you walk the Christian walk.  If you have children, are married, seek to get along with others, or interface with people in any capacity, you’ve grown to see, learn, and appreciate differing forms of wisdom.   

Not all wisdom works, but Godly wisdom surely does. 

Take a look at the world around us and strive to perceive varying ‘forms’ of wisdom. 

Covid-19 isn’t ‘over.’  It remains front and center in the news.  Out West, the United States is still on fire.  There are many people in Louisiana who still do not have power following Hurricane Ida.  The remnants of Hurricane Ida caused dramatic, deadly flash floods many miles north of its landfall.  City planners are calling attention to the inadequacy of our existing infrastructure.  Climate change means warmer air, which can hold more water vapor, so sewers built even a few decades ago are not adequate when sudden, dramatic storms appear.  Western Europe was hit by flash floods of a similar magnitude earlier this summer — as was Tennessee. 

It seems we’ve gotten so used to “pandemic,” that we’ve forgotten to recognize and respond to those smaller catastrophes called ‘epidemics.’ Pandemics are worldwide, crossing national borders, reaching every time zone in a matter of months.  They contrast with epidemics that are localized and easier to contain quickly.  When there are outbreaks of measles or mumps in the United States because vaccinations against those diseases have failed to reach herd immunity in some communities, they rarely spread.  Not so with the Covid-19 pandemic and its variants. 

President Biden took dramatic action September 9, instructing the Department of Labor to put in place a requirement that businesses employing more than 100 people vaccinate their staffs against Covid-19.  The mandate extends to federal employees and contractors, the staffs of facilities that serve Medicare and Medicaid patients, the staffs of Head Starts, Department of Defense schools, schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other entities. 

President Biden’s patience with those who have refused to be vaccinated is gone:  “What more is there to wait for?  What more do you need to see?" he asked.  “We've made vaccinations free, safe, and convenient.  The vaccine has FDA approval.  Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot.  We've been patient.  But our patience is wearing thin.  And your refusal has cost all of us.  So please, do the right thing.” 

Pushback was immediate and predictable.  “Government has no business telling me what to do with my body!”. 

Many communities (including faith communities) have made changes recently in their masking and physical distancing standards.  Some require masks, others request masks, some say it’s your choice.  Who’s wisdom works? 

‘Godly wisdom’ as referenced in the Bible, appears to begin with individuals.  

My dear wife and I will be married 20 years next month.  To celebrate the event, this past week I called the funeral home. No, we are not making pre-arrangements!  There’s a story behind my remarks: 

About 18 years ago we moved into our current home.  The previous owner passed away, and his son left many of the ‘belongings’ with the house.  There were several very heavy vinyl upholstered ‘sitting chairs.’ We decided we had no need for those heavy chairs.  Back then, I inquired if our church could use them and learned we were overwhelmed here with furniture.  So we gave those chairs to a funeral home in Imperial, PA.  The funeral director said, “I owe you a favor!”  Eighteen years later I thought I might ‘collect’ on that favor.  Perhaps you have seen where funeral homes will sometimes put together a DVD of pictures honoring the person’s life who has passed?  I talked it over with Patty, and we agreed to seek out this particular funeral director to put together a DVD for us representing our 20 years of marriage with some music in the background.  Patty wants Andrea Bocelli’s song, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love.”  She just giggled when I mentioned the Beach Boys! 

There is ‘some’ wisdom that works in songs we hear.  Particularly some Country songs. 

Back in 1988 a Country music artist, Tanya Tucker, composed a # 1 hit, “Strong Enough to Bend.” Here are some of the words to that particular song: 

“There's a tree out in the back yard, That never has been broken by the wind.  And the reason it's still standin'  - It was strong enough to bend.” 

One thing we all might agree upon: wisdom teaches you ‘how’ to bend and the need to bend. 

My father taught me what your father perhaps taught you:  “Work hard son, and you’ll get ahead.”  He also tried to teach me some sort of moral value when he’d say, “whatever you do, remember to keep your nose clean!” 

Psalm 1 is all about happiness and prosperity — for those wise enough to meditate on the Lord’s instruction.  While this is no advertisement for the prosperity gospel, Psalm 1 points us in the direction of sustainable, godly wisdom for one’s life. 

The scriptures from the Book of James point out two kinds of wisdom.  There is the wisdom from ‘above.’  There is also the wisdom from ‘beneath.’ 

I suggest we all choose the wisdom from ‘above.’  Godly wisdom works.  It is peaceable, gentle, and willing to yield.  Much of human wisdom is rooted in bitter envy and selfish ambition. 

I’ve long favored the godly wisdom referred to in Psalm 1.  These scriptures imagine the wise one as being a soul who understands and continually seeks to grow in understanding.  Such wisdom from ‘above’ makes a person sturdy, well-rooted, like a tree near a reliable source of water. 

Perhaps better still is James' advice to the early church.  He writes of wisdom that ‘shows up’ in people’s good lives and in deeds done in humility. 

There’s a difference between those who ‘pretend’ to be wise, or strive to ‘convince’ others they are wise, and those who really are wise.  There remains a distinct difference between wisdom that is from beneath and that which is from above. 

A wise person does not value him/herself merely upon knowing things.  True wisdom is not only knowledge but application of that knowledge. 

Perhaps you have met people who strive to ‘impress’ you with their knowledge, their title, their position, or even with their authority.  Those are usually ‘rough’ conversations.  True wisdom is better known by its works. 

‘Talking well’ and ‘thinking well’ are only part of wisdom.  One must further live and act well for wisdom to work. 

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.” (Matthew 5:5)  True wisdom may be known by the meekness of the spirit and meekness of one’s temper.  Wisdom teaches us still to prudently bridle our own anger and strive to patiently bear the anger of others.  When we are mild and calm, we are best able to hear reason, form reason, and speak reason.  Wisdom produces meekness, and meekness increases wisdom.  Such wisdom works. 

Today’s scriptures declare: good life and deeds done in humility come from wisdom. 

The Bible further warns us that if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitions in your heart, the ‘wisdom’ produced does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 

Wisdom from above, the kind of wisdom that ‘works,’ is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. 

Unless we submit to God our prayers seem to go unanswered.  Praying from wrong motives results in emptiness. 

Throughout the Bible we are repeatedly taught that we must submit ourselves unto God and resist the devil.  

Wisdom works.  Wisdom from above teaches us to bend.  Employing Biblical imagery here, we may be like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season and prospers.  Yet we are to remember that only trees that are willing to bend will survive the storms and trials.  

Some of the ‘bending’ we have to do is letting go of ego and selfishness, becoming willing to admit we have been wrong, and be forgiving. 

There are numerous situations and scenarios in our nation and inside of us that need to bend in order to yield good life.  God desires for us to have life.  God has never desired for any of us to become God.  Simply put, we are not God nor do we have all the answers. 

The world does not understand nor well relate to our godly wisdom that teaches us to pray for our enemies, bless those who persecute you, go the extra mile, pray for your enemies, and forgive. 

The wisdom that works is born of God and from God.  Such wisdom knows Jesus and responds, positively, affirmatively so, to Jesus. 

Come near to God, and he will come near to you.  Amen.

Remember Your Faith 9/11/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 11, 2021 & Sunday, September 12, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: O God who is wisdom and life:  Grant us the grace to still the noise that is all around us so that we might hear you speak the words of life to us; through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 18:1-5 (Page 984) 

Sermon Message: ‘Remember Your Faith’ 

When leaving our house the other day, my wife said to me, “Thomas, remember your umbrella.”  With so much rain being forecast these days, that was sure sound advice. 

Since we both have to take our ‘share’ of medicines, one or the other of us will sometimes say, “Did you remember to take your medicine?” 

Parents need to sometimes communicate to their children when they are leaving for school; “Did you remember your Back Pack?” 

‘Remembering’ is much needed and often times appreciated. 

This particular weekend our nation pauses to remember the sadness and sorrow associated with the 20th anniversary of 9/11 here in the United States. 

We learned a lot from that time in our nation’s history. Any time there is an accident somewhere, or some act of violence, we tend to pay attention more.  Also, we immediately assess and inquire if anyone we ‘know’ may have been involved. 

Today, when we share in Holy Communion, these words of Jesus will be shared:  “Eat this bread, drink this cup, in ‘remembrance’ of me. 

Our scripture lesson for this Sabbath affords us another guidance, a further set of instructions for faith development, and spiritual maturity even as we share in this Sacrament of Holy Communion. 

Jesus Christ ‘communes’ with us still as he reminds us, instructs us actually, to change and become like little children.  Otherwise, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Across the years of serving God as a minister, I have well observed that children have an uncanny ability to remember their faith.  Sometimes it is with the simplicity of ‘trust’ we see in their eyes.  It may be something as pure as a ‘look’ or possibly their sincere words.  I well recall one little girl saying, “I feel God.’  She was struggling in the hospital at the time. 

Jesus’ further instructions are meant to direct our faith and our actions to become ‘as a child’ in how we position ourselves. 

During Jesus’ earthly walk among us many sought to be recognized by the position they held around the table, or perhaps in the temple; the church.  The clothing they wore, where they were from, their ethnic background, who they knew and were associated with, held power, esteem, and authority. 

Have you ever noticed though when we most need help, seldom does our power, esteem, or authority provide what’s needed immediately? 

For instance, when an accident occurs, those who come to our ‘rescue’ seldom inquire of our title, position, or authority.  They are just ‘there’ to help. 

The Christian faith isn’t only for responsiveness to dire scenarios.  One of the more beautiful and mature aspects of the Christian faith remains its appeal to us at all times and in all seasons.  In times of joy, praise, and thanksgiving, as well as when we experience trials and great sorrows, worries, and fears. 

Scriptures afford us seemingly countless words of advice for life guided by faith.  Repeatedly I have preached the message inquiring of us to remember Jesus.  Do remember how Jesus interacted with this world as he lived among us.  One of his spiritual strengths that he drew upon was remembering and recalling scripture. 

As our world changes, as religion, in general changes, and even as our beloved church changes, we need even more to ‘remember our faith.’ 

Akin to many of you, I grew up attending not only weekly worship services but also Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and later seasonal Bible studies.  It was there that you and I studied, learned, and memorized important aspects of our faith. 

We were taught in our Christian Education experiences to know Christian doctrines pertaining to salvation, heaven, hell, sin, forgiveness, even love, praise, and thanksgiving.  

Less and less do children ‘grow up’ knowing, reciting, and understanding the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the 23rd Psalm, the Beatitudes, and deeply gratifying knowledge of the kingdom of heaven.  It remains our opportunity and responsibility to change this sad truth. 

Jesus’ words, his abiding instructions, ring true for us all this day and for our lifetimes; “Change and become like children.”  

Surely, we have all noticed children readily absorb what they are taught, what’s presented to them, and how it applies to their ‘becoming’ lives. 

Take time, as children of God, to review just how meaningful your inner awareness of faith knowledge has applied to your lives. 

In times of trouble and for daily devotions you remember to ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer.  It ‘fits your soul’ well.  You are comfortable with this prayer for you’ve known it ‘forever’ or so it seems. 

Readily you can help another troubled soul experiencing deep troubles, for you are acquainted with the words, the flow, and the spiritual meaning of the 23rd Psalm. 

Life isn’t quite as troubling for those of us who ‘grew up’ with applying those Ten Commandments to our lives. 

When asked ‘what it is’ that you believe easily enough, the Apostle’s Creed comes to mind. 

These and various forms of church doctrine have been applied to our faith development.  Throughout our time here on earth we are ‘better off,’ for these ‘faith awarenesses’ have been developed in us and are consistently applied at various times and seasons. 

God forbid that something such as 9/11 should happen again.  However, if it does, we have faith to draw upon.  

The faith found in scriptures reminds us all still; in life and in death we belong to God.  From dust we have come and unto dust we shall return. 

I wish to share with you some very good news.  Two people recently got some great news regarding awareness of cancer in their bodies. 

Sue M. was quite burdened that initial test results showed a possible cancerous mass inside her stomach.  The good news associated with further testing revealed it was a mass of infection but NOT cancer. 

Patty and I have requested prayer for a nephew on my side of the family, Kelly A. Just in his 50’s, Kelly and his wife, Tracy, have two children.  Kelly’s prognosis looked gloomier each time I talked with my brother.  Last week the hospital requested a video conference with Kelly to discuss his ‘options.’  Kelly and Tracy thought the worst.  Last Wednesday my brother tells me on the phone that while Kelly has some very real skin cancer, his internal cancer is all clear.  None detected. 

Remember your faith when you gain good news.  When happiness assails you like the winds, remember your faith.  Return to the Lord and give thanks.  One of the more blessed ways to do that is to look up and simply say, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  Remember the Biblical narrative of the 10 lepers who were healed and only one returned to give thanks.  Be that one-in-ten.  Remember your faith.  Attending worship is a sincere and abiding means of praising and thanking the Lord. 

Fall on your knees, humble your heart, praise your savior.  Good news still comes.   

God guides us all to remember our faith but also to share our faith.  Development of faith is needed.  Strange thing about faith.  It might be inside of us.  We may have been taught many scriptures, examples, and teachings concerning faith.  Our long lives may even exuberate faith.  Yet, when challenged, our faith is made stronger by someone sharing the abiding anchor of faith ‘with us’ and ‘for us.’ Go back to the basics.  Follow Jesus’ teaching to become like children in trust, in faith, in dependency, and even for hope. 

Soon we shall share in the Lord’s Supper.  Holy Communion.  The Eucharist as some refer to it.  This sacrament has aided scores of Christians to remember their faith.  I know, for I have repeatedly seen this to be true. 

Communion is our closeness, in a special way, to God, to Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit.  Communion calls us to ‘share faith’ and ‘remember faith’ with one another in Christian fellowship.  The Bible reminds us that the disciples were devoted to the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup of communion.  So should we be devoted to receiving and sharing Holy Communion whenever and wherever possible. 

As pastor, I have a few suggestions that require your help.  In the few months remaining in 2021 please invite someone else to come with you to church for worship, for prayer, for singing the hymns, for hearing the Word of God, and for sharing in Holy Communion.  By doing so you shall help another to ‘remember their faith.’ 

I plan on publishing some basics to be printed in the church bulletin and newsletter.  Some of which I have referred to, perhaps a page dedicated to The Lord’s Prayer.  You might be surprised to learn of folks who don’t know this important prayer that Jesus taught his early disciples and now teaches us. 

I hope to have printed a list of the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, even the Beatitudes. 

One of the strange parts of remembering our faith is our genuine need, repeatedly so, to go back to the basics, become like a child, reflecting and re-learning God’s message to our hearts, our souls, and our minds, when we need it most. 

Jesus wants for us all to experience the kingdom of heaven.  Today’s scriptures provide quality insights into ‘how’ that should happen.  Jesus will be present ‘right here’ among us as we share in His Sacrament of Holy Communion. 

As you eat the bread and drink the cup, remember your faith, children of God.  Amen!

The Evidence of Faith 9/4/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 & Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out on us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that our hearts and minds may be opened. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 (Page 650), Psalm 125 (Page 617), James 2:14-17 (Page 1217) 

Sermon Message: “The Evidence of Faith” 

Reading the Bible can be challenging at times.  Today’s Scripture Lessons carry ‘challenges’ as well.  

James, one of the brothers of Jesus Christ, challenges us in his message that faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 

The Psalmist seems to challenge us by inquiring if we have the kind of faith that trusts in the Lord and cannot be shaken. 

The scripture lessons from the Book of Proverbs seem to have a bit easier ‘challenge’ at first review, for they ‘come across’ as so many ‘wisdom sayings.’ 

The world, at large, has been challenged and remains challenged by Covid-19.  Also on the world scene is the recent evacuation of America’s presence in Afghanistan.  Here, in our own country, we seek to rebound from Hurricane Ida and its effects upon thousands. 

The rain we received here in Western Pennsylvania was perhaps bothersome as we dealt with both heat and humidity.  Yet our concerns were minor in comparison to the ongoing devastation in Louisiana.  When we traverse a storm, our electricity is out for a few hours, and for maybe a day or so, we are quite bothered.  Current predictions for power and phone service to be restored in parts of Louisiana are open ended.

Some ‘wisdom sayings’ such as those found in the Book of Proverbs provide an initial evidence of faith.  Across the years perhaps you have communicated the following ‘saying’:  “Into every life a little rain must fall.”  Our country has experienced more than ‘a little rain.’  

Natural disasters, wherever they may occur, inform us that rich and poor are victimized.  We grow to learn, we are ‘in this together.’  ‘Faith’ informs us, (Proverbs 22:2), “Rich and poor have this in common:  The Lord is the Maker of them all.” 

One of the poor faith responses we can have is to begin thinking in ‘we/them’ terms.  To think that ‘we’ are somehow ‘better’, more ‘loved’ or ‘protected’ by God from disasters, than are others, makes for poor faith and even poorer evidence of faith.  The Lord is the Maker of us all.  Just as we are ‘all’ in this together, so too we ‘all’ must respond together.  Our response begins with prayer and, as James declares, will show up best in our actions and our deeds.  

Several occurrences have literally ‘shaken our faith!’  Too much rain, too long of a war, extensive death, illness, and affliction from this historical pandemic.  

On this Labor Day weekend God strives to remind us ours is a labor of love and a required response of faith.  I remind us all that there are even now scores of people who are not strong enough to have faith alone nor within themselves.  Such has been the horror and devastation that remains far reaching. 

Trusting in the Lord is something that many need our help with.  For those who are so challenged, ours remains the opportunity to pray for, talk to, and share our help and support with. 

Spiritual strength and spiritual ‘food for the task’ shall help us all to evidence faith. 

Jesus memorized scriptures and drew strength from them. So should we. 

The wisdom of Proverbs is often times well received by folks for they remind us of some of our own ‘wisdom sayings.’  We ‘say’ things such as ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’  Or ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’  The wisdom of Proverbs is a summary of wisdom gathered from an intense observation of life.  It is a very familiar form of wisdom treasured in most cultures.  It is the golden nugget mined from the flowing stream of life.  It is not meant to be a truth imposed on life like a commandment but rather a truth deduced by serving life.  We can also think on these maxims as evidences of faith. 

Proverbs 22:1 declares: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches and favor is better than silver or gold.”  Perhaps you have seen the evidence of faith, or lacking thereof, associated with this Proverb. 

Consider two contrasting examples.  Albert set out to become a rich man, and he was not concerned about who he stepped on to get there.  He described himself as a bottom-line guy.  He forgot that "a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches."  He did not have many close friends since he assumed that other people were a lot like him and were basically after his money.  He was a rich, lonely, unhappy man.  Mary was always able to find time for other people.  People intuitively trusted her.  She did not have much money.  She cleaned other people's houses for a living and put two children through school.  When she fell ill, people from all over offered to help her with expenses.  At such times, she knew that "favor was better than silver or gold."  Of course, one can think of exceptions to the truth of such proverbs, but they represent a truth that has stood the test of time. 

Psalm 125 challenges our trust in the Lord and our faith in God’s providence. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.” -- Psalm 125:1

We are to trust in the Lord and pray that God will surround us with protection.  Evidence of faith remains clear; God does afford protection, love, and care.  Sometimes our very faith IS shaken when pandemics, closures of 20-year wars, and devastating hurricanes touch our lives and hurt our world.  

Faith can provide us a shield, but we cannot assume that no natural disaster will never befall us.  It was not ‘lack of faith’ that caused the pandemic nor the hurricane.  Nor was it lack of faith that caused the 20-year war in Afghanistan.  Some would choose to argue otherwise. 

When much of life is ‘out of control’ and severe circumstances are left ‘unexplainable,’ we seek to ‘blame,’ ‘convict,’ or challenge whatever ‘higher power’ might be approached. History reveals there have been continual attacks on our faith.  Sometimes ‘occupying forces’ of doubt and fear are also our enemies from within. It is precisely then that our only protection is the Lord.  Eventually, it becomes our humble prayer and contrite response, “Lord, do good to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.” -- Psalm 125:4 

Evidence of faith sometimes becomes recognizing and affirming that the Lord God remains our one and only hope. 

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers for these great catastrophes which sincerely do shake the faith of many.  

What you and I do share is the evidence of faith reflected in one of the verses of the familiar hymn, ‘Amazing Grace.’  “'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” 

“Evidence of faith” is sometimes best seen in how it leads us home to God, to our abiding relationship with the Lord. 

James challenges our faith perspective reminding us that faith and deeds are co-requirements.  

Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.  Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”  -- Matthew 7:16-17 

The evidence of faith is not just in our devotion and faithful worship.  Some of the best evidence of faith is in how it translates into behavior.

• Do you pray for patience?

• Do you give generously to others?

• Do you treat the less fortunate with the same deference as you would the wealthy?

• Do you seek to understand, not just to be understood?

• Do you stop yourself from responding rudely to others? 

Faith without action is dead.  A vibrant, living faith produces healthy fruit.  Our spiritual maturity begins with the realization that we are all imperfect.  Hollywood teaches us to admire and reward beautiful faces and physiques.  Scripture instructs us to beware of the pride and conceit that accompanies riches or adoration of the body.  Faith opens our eyes to see beauty in our differences.  Much of prejudice is based on the inability to accept that which is different from oneself.  Subconsciously we are thinking, unless you have the same political and religious views, unless you are the same skin color, unless you are on the same socioeconomic level, you will be unacceptable.

This is sad, because there is so much we can learn from our differences.  There is a broadening enrichment that can come to us when we learn to tolerate, to question, to learn from those who see the world from a different perspective. 

Yes, today’s scripture lessons do carry ‘challenges.’  Yet this, too, is the working of faith in our lives.  Faith changes not only our situation or circumstances, but quite importantly ‘us.’  

Often times the evidence of faith is illustrated in the transformation of the heart. 

Faith is evidenced when we help another who is in need instead of simply saying kind words of blessing and sending them on their way.  Faith is evidenced when we cease blaming God and commence depending upon God.  Faith is evidenced when we choose to be generous and share with the poor, even as evidenced by the examples of Jesus.  The ‘poor’ are not to be taken advantage of.  Nor are we to ‘crush’ others with our strength of mind, body, intellect, or spirit. 

Faith reminds us the Lord will take up the case of the poor, the meek, the defenseless, even the ignorant. 

Faith is evidenced by trust.  Best by the kind of trust that cannot be shaken but endures forever.  Remember and reflect upon the spiritual truth ‘the Lord surrounds his people.’  The scepter of the wicked will not remain.  The Lord DOES do good to those who are good but deals with those who are not upright in heart, choosing instead to be crooked in their ways. 

Faith reminds us that God will bring peace in His time.  Faith is evidenced by the kind of peace that passes human understanding. 

Go into this peace.  This IS our calling and labor of love.  Amen.

Acceptable Religion 8/29/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 28, 2021 & Sunday, August 29, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination

Pastor:   Come and hear the word of God.

All:       We long for the words of life from our God.

Pastor:   God does not speak just so we can hear the word.

All:       God speaks so that we may hear and act.

Pastor:   The word of God is life to those who follow it.

All:       We will listen and follow God’s holy Word. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 45:1,2 (page 562), Mark 7:1-8 (page 1009), James 1:17-27 (page 1216) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Acceptable Religion” 

‘Religion’ isn’t acceptable to all.  Some just don’t ‘believe’ that way.  However, ‘acceptable religion’ does involve some essential elements worth considering.  Today’s scripture lessons provide some awareness, some quality insights, into acceptable religion.  

For instance, lots of acceptable religion carries elements of tradition with it. In today’s first scripture lesson the Psalmist writes in poetic form.  His words are set to song and may even be considered a wedding song.  He writes, “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” 

Acceptable religion embraces the familiar, the memorable, even the poetic and song-worthy aspects of knowing and worshipping God.  As a ‘for instance,’ who could ever disagree with seeing the children stand before us in worship, assembled together to recite and sing memory verses of scripture and songs we may have long ago learned, such as ‘Jesus Loves Me.’  ‘This Little Light of Mine’ and so on?  It’s been so long since we’ve heard the children sing, I trust we would all rejoice to hear them again making music to God, the kind of music that also floods our souls and touches our hearts. 

Acceptable religion appeals to us, in part, from the truth of innocence and the Word of God that has endured for centuries.  

Jesus calls into question religion; knowing and worshipping of God that is based upon what He refers to as being merely human teachings, traditions, and rules.  I ran into a situation involving that ‘calling into question’ when I was first out of seminary and serving a small church near Elizabeth, PA. Soon after I arrived, we shared in a communion service.  I thought it went well.  Early on I learned several members of that church were disappointed.  I reviewed some of what I had been taught in seminary, and sure enough, everything in our communion service was ‘by the book!’ 

The folks in that particular church liked to come forward to receive communion.  That had been their tradition, and I honored it.  A month later, we shared in communion, and once more, I got the distinct feeling folks were not pleased with how I administered communion.  So, I asked one of the longer established church members what I might do to improve things?  He told me it would ‘be alright.’  He went on to say the folks were just quite familiar with the way the former pastor ‘administered’ communion.  After the third communion service revealed similar results, I took it upon myself to contact the former pastor and discuss my dilemma.  He laughed, then said to me, “You’re not walking over to the radiator and touching your preaching stole to it just prior to communion.  Do that, and all will be well!”  I was inquisitive and asked, why this ‘ritual’, this tradition?’  He said, “I was always concerned static electricity would come off of my stole or robe when I shared communion with individual people.  I just did not want to ‘shock’ anyone!”  His way, that ritual and tradition, worked.  I later shared this bit of information with my seminary professor who taught Pastoral Care.  He in turn passed it along to prospective preachers as a teaching mechanism and a warning regarding human traditions that may tend to be viewed as more sacred than communion itself. 

Some ‘traditions’ are born of necessity.  Some are merely evolved human behaviors.  

I’d like to invite you all to have a little fun on your computers today.  Don’t be doing this now on your phones during worship! Go to the site, “DumbLaws.com.”  Type in the name of our state or any other state and see some of the human traditions that became ‘laws’ which really are ‘dumb.’  I learned of a state law that declares you may not sleep on a refrigerator that is outside.  It is also illegal to catch a fish with your bare hands.  And (get this) you may not sing in a bathtub. Hopefully these laws have been rewritten and abolished.  It was just fun and a bit humorous to review what were once laws based upon humans' needs or perceptions. 

The Book of James shares a wholesome point in guiding us to listen more, be slow to speak, and even slower to become angry.  This does make for more ‘acceptable religion.’ 

In a very real way, the book of James reminds us Christians of what we already know how to do but do not do.  Knowing what to do is not as important as doing what we already know to do.  What we profess and what we hear are never as important as what we do. 

Many Christians come to worship to have a moment of calm in the midst of an overwhelming world.  Nothing wrong with that.  Other Christians come to worship to have their spirits lifted and their enthusiasm renewed by hearing the music, listening to the prayers, and reflecting on the sermon.  Nothing wrong with that, either.  We all need to come home to God.  We all need filling stations where we can get a dose of high octane preaching.  We sometimes feel refreshed, if not enlightened, when the service is about to conclude, and the benediction has occurred. 

Illumination, right thinking, and lofty praise are sought-after elements in worship.  I pray your spiritual ‘gas tank’ IS filled up today as you return to the parking lot. 

Don’t just ‘hear’ the Word of God.  Be doers of the Word whenever you ‘go to church.’  Wherever you ‘go to church,’ receive the Word, do the Word, and reflect genuine religion so you will recognize even yourself as a Christian.

This is where James’ writings further apply.  He writes, “Don’t be like someone who looks at his face in a mirror, then goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”  Remember WHO you are, WHOSE you are, and WHAT you believe.  You are a Christian at ALL times, not just when you ‘come to church’ or ‘think about’ being a Christian. 

Jesus reminds us to honor him not only with our lips but mainly so from our hearts. Acceptable religion stems from the heart.  It ‘shows up’ in how we live and in how we love.  

Within the Gospel of Mark we learned that the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law, who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is unwashed.  There were certain ceremonies and traditions the Pharisees and teachers of the law kept regarding ceremonially washing your hands before eating.  So, when they saw Jesus’ disciples eating without ceremonially washing their hands, they ‘called him on it!’  

Sometimes when we have been bothered by some form or degree of unacceptable religion, we too will point out some details and call attention to them.  It’s just human nature for us to do that.  Acceptable religion isn’t a reflection of perfection.  It IS an affirmation of honoring God with words, actions, and thoughts from our hearts.  

While there are some elements of tradition within religion, the goal of religion, the goal of ‘church,’ is not the worshipping of the traditions as much as it is in the responsiveness from the Christian faith. 

Coming back to James’ teachings - He writes, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight reign on their tongue deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” 

As long as religion, some sort of ‘belief in and response to’ God has occurred, there have been and always shall be those whose actions make a bad name for God, Church, and Religion. When I was younger and heard such ‘war stories,’ I used to do my best to apologize for the bad experiences someone had with church, religion, church people, and even clergy.  Through the years I grew to realize I was not the cause of those misdoings.  So, while I could listen, counsel, and care, I could not apologize for bad things others had done or caused in the name of religion.  Nor can you. 

What we can do and should do is become the examples of what is ‘acceptable religion.’  Oh, I could go on and on quoting countless examples of statistics pertaining to where religion is, where it was, and where it seems to be going.  But God teaches us that true religion begins inside the heart, the mind, and the soul of each of us.  We must practice what we believe, affirm what we have been shown, and allow our lives to be led by the Spirit of the Lord. 

Nor is religion reducible to what “I” simply choose to believe. Acceptable religion is combined with the lives, the beliefs, and the good works of others.

Draw some analogy here to what is now happening with our response to Covid-19.  For many it’s fast becoming a matter of individual choice.  Do I wear a mask or don’t I?  Do I get vaccinated or don’t I?  To some degree it remains healthy to make our individual choices.  However, in the world of humanity and in the world of religion, the greatest health will come from the greatest relating to the overall good.  

God sets the standard.  He reminds us to ‘do for others as we would have others do for us.’  Care for others.  Be mindful of others.  You and I may be individuals, but together we make up the human family and the church we call home. What you and I do individually does affect others, lots of others.  

Today we are reminded that religion which God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. 

If we ‘come to church’ only to make ourselves feel good or even ‘right’ with God, then we’ve probably missed an important point behind what is acceptable religion.  Our experiencing ‘religion’ should give birth to a heart response to love, forgive, and care. 

The scriptures remain clear; “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He gave us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” 

Acceptable religion has become a part of our lives.  Otherwise none of us would be here ‘in church.’  We have tasted and seen various elements of the goodness of God and some of his perfect gifts such as innocent love, pure compassion, children and spiritual gifts of forgiveness, peace, and salvation. 

When nothing else and no one else can be trusted, recall these trustworthy words of Holy Scripture: “The Father of heavenly lights does not change like the shifting shadows.” 

God Almighty created you, made you and sustains you still.  You and I were made through the word of truth, His truth.  

Acceptable religion further means we are to be a kind of first fruits of all he created. 

“For they’ll KNOW we are Christians, by our love.”  Amen.


God Is Faithful Even When We Are Not 8/21/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 21, 2021 & Sunday, August 22, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed, we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 91:4 (page 593), 1 Corinthians 10:12,13 (page 1149), Hebrews 10:23 (page 1211) 

Sermon Message: “God Is Faithful Even When We Are Not” 

God protects, God Loves, God cares, God keeps His covenant, His promises with us even when we are not faithful unto Him. 

One of the first ‘promises’ of God we see in today’s scripture lessons reminds us that God will save you ‘from the fowler’s snare’. 

The ‘fowler’s snare was a kind of ‘trap’ set to both tempt and catch birds.  In analogy, the ‘fowler’s snare’ represents anything that might tempt and possibly trap us.  Perhaps you may recall how the ‘teachers of the law,’ repeatedly sought to set a trap for Jesus, catch him in his own teachings, and thereby capture him as a fake or imposter compared to themselves. 

God is faithful in protecting us even when we ‘fall into temptation.’  I love the further portion of these scriptures from Psalm 91 that declare, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” 

‘Life’ is a gift, a very precious gift that God has given to each of us. Yet we have seen far too many folks treat their life as though it is an unlimited resource.  We have long witnessed far too many succumb to addictions and self-destructive behaviors.  We have observed the lives of those who choose to disregard their potential for living a quality life choosing instead to compromise in exchange for what feels good now. 

It IS tempting to get ‘caught up’ in the fowler’s snare of anything at all that becomes excessive, compromising, and tempting. 

When I was growing up, the prevalent ‘fowler’s snare’ I saw happening was alcoholism and gossip.  In the small town I grew up in there were four bars.  My father and lots of others frequented those establishments, and we’d often times find their vehicles off the side of the road somewhere.  It was tempting for my father and others to meet at one or more of those bars and drink until they could not drive their vehicle home safely.  Yet time and time again folks would say, “God surely has grace for drunks!”  It was and still remains true.  God has His ways of sheltering and protecting us when we abuse or misuse our lives.  Gossiping was also prevalent back then.  Many were judged, condemned, and persecuted by nasty and fowl conversations. Yet God had a way of re-establishing integrity where there was compromise.  Repeatedly He did that even for His own Son who was persecuted for the good things he was doing. 

A ‘sin’ I believe we are all guilty of to some degree is misusing our bodies; compromising our health.  None of us are perfect at eating just what we should.  Perhaps we all could stand to use a little bit more exercise and learn how to rest our bodies so as to maintain good health. The term ‘workaholic’ is a familiar term.  It connotes an excess of time and energy devoted to work, work, and more work.  Whether we eat too much or work too hard, it’s tempting to push ourselves.  When confronted with excess, it is so comforting to still know that our God “covers us with his feathers.”  

I sincerely like that image of a mother hen covering us with her feathers.  Think back to a time when you’ve been hurt and then cared for, and you shall further identify with this image from the Bible.  

God restores our health and remains our shepherd even when we have ‘pushed the envelope’ so to speak.  

The love of God still reminds us to take good care of ourselves, take our medicine, get our exercise, sleep well, rest as we should, and be a part of the ‘answer’ - not the ‘problem.’ 

There is this story in the Bible about a man who was close ‘in faith’ to God.  The hand of God was upon him from the fellow’s youth. He became known as “a man after God’s own heart.”  God blessed David with health, with family, with prosperity, with victory in numerous battles, and with faith.  All that he could want, God bestowed upon David.  Yet this man “after God’s own heart” was tempted by what he saw and desired.  David had a household of love and devotion yet wanted more.  So it was, he manipulated to get more, taking another man’s wife for his fulfillment and pleasure.  To make matters worse he strove to ‘cover up’ what he did by arranging for the woman’s husband to be killed in battle.  David was unfaithful to God and to His family, to his kingdom, and to his household.  He suffered greatly for his sin yet God was faithful in forgiving and eventually restoring David.  Know this, although forgiven and restored, the consequences for his actions lived on. 

God is faithful unto us even when we are not faithful unto Him. 

Has there ever been ‘excess’ in your life that became tempting or even compromising?  

A few additional examples to share with you - two different fellows coming from similar situations: 

The first fellow didn’t have much time nor thought about God, church, or religion.  He was sort of a ‘free agent’ doing what he wanted, when he wanted.  His garage was full of the latest tools even though he could not possibly use them all.  A new ‘brand’ of recreation vehicle had ‘come out,’ so he just had to have one.  His wife and kids suffered because there wasn’t enough money left over for school clothes, weekly groceries, braces, computers, and so on.  His ‘fowler’s snare’ was attaining whatever it was he wanted and desired even if it was at the expense of others.

The second fellow was church oriented.  He did pray often concerning his daily walk with God and others and even concerning his finances.  Sometimes he’d become frustrated because he just didn’t have the kind of tool he needed for the job he was performing around the house.  He too liked what he saw in the newer version of recreational vehicles that had come out. Yet, try as he may, he just could not ‘swing’ the money he needed to acquire certain tools nor even that ‘special’ recreational vehicle that was so popular.  

The first fellow ‘fell into temptation.’  He compromised his finances, his family and his own integrity. 

The second fellow also ‘fell into temptation. He knew about being a good steward of finances, caring and providing for his family, even contributing to his church.  He thought he was ‘standing firm’ as the Bible communicates, yet the temptation was both real and strong.  But let me tell you how God was faithful unto Him even when he had little or no desire to be faithful to God, to family, or even unto himself. Repeatedly, when he tried to arrange to ‘come up’ with the money to secure the ‘special tools’ or acquire the latest recreational vehicle, the funds just weren’t there.  Something would ‘come up.’  Something ‘spoke’ to his heart.  Some ‘inspiration’ reminded him of ‘whose’ he is and what should remain more important in his finances.  

That ‘something’ was God in his life.  God helping him to be a better steward of life, family, finances, faith, and priorities.  

The scriptures are true; “God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 

Have you ever been in a tempting situation and realized how God showed you a way out?  

When our faith is faithless, God can and God does ‘step in’ to show us a way out, and how we can endure. 

God ‘calls us to faith’ in the Ten Commandments.  No false gods.  No lying, stealing, gossiping, cheating, killing, or committing adultery.  Honor your mother and your father.  Mostly we do these things.  Sometimes we don’t.  Perhaps we’ve all lived long enough to both see and understand when we forsake following these Ten Commandments. We end up hurting ourselves and others.  God gets hurt too, yet God is God.  God is faithful, and God is just, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  At times others may forgive us.  We might even be led to believe that perhaps God forgives us, yet we tend to find it hard, really difficult at times, to forgive ourselves.  It’s precisely then that we need to reflect upon this message: “God is faithful, even when we are not.” 

God calls us to prayer.  Perhaps we do pray routinely.  Perhaps we just don’t pray as often as we should nor when life’s circumstances and situations could really benefit from prayer.  If you are ever hurting so bad that you just can’t pray, if your life is so messed up that you can’t even form a prayer, remember this: God remains faithful.  God sends the Holy Spirit into your life precisely during such times to pray ‘for’ you. 

God is faithful in restoring us when we’ve broken the Ten Commandments, disobeyed the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures, even when we have failed, miserably so, at life and at love. God so loves us that he restores us, over and over again.  Some refer to this as ‘love.’  Others refer to this as God’s mercy.  

Soon we shall sing a hymn that I hope and pray you shall reflect upon and keep singing in your soul from time to time: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” 

“Great is thy faithfulness!  Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed thy hand hath provided; Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.” 

God’s faithfulness is not based upon our worthiness.  If that were so, no one would be saved.  For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon our works, lest any man should boast.  Nor is God’s faithfulness dependent upon our asking or inviting Him to be faithful unto us or others.  He is Lord, and we are ALL His children, the sheep of His pasture. 

Our views may be extremely different, even polarized opposites.  Yet God remains the single bearer of truth.  God is faithful to ‘truth’ even when we compromise it, redefine it, or deny it altogether.  

We may even go so far as to turn our backs on God, but God never turns away from us.  He remains “Our Father, Maker, Creator, and Sustainer.” 

You may be worn out.  You may be beaten down.  You may be discouraged.  You may feel like nothing is going right in your life.  You may feel like a failure.  But I am here to tell you today, whether you are on the mountain top or in the valley, you can trust God. He is faithful. 

Here is a quote:  “People with good intentions make promises, but people with good character keep them.” 

God doesn’t decide to be faithful on a whim.  The faithfulness of God is part of who He is.  Amen.

Praise Is Beautiful 8/14/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 14, 2021 & Sunday, August 15, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: We praise You, O God, for the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ.  We further praise You for the written Word of God revealed to us in Holy Scriptures.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Psalm 100 (Page 597), Isaiah 61:1-3a (Page 744), Matthew 21:12-16 (Page 988) 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Praise Is Beautiful”

 Praise is beautiful!  Most folks like to be praised.  Sometimes when we express ‘praise’ to another person we are complimenting them or perhaps affirming something good we perceive in them.  Spiritual praise may be complimentary or affirming, yet it is so much more than that.  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him all creatures here below.  Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts!  Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” 

‘Praise’ carries with it an affirmation of respect and gratitude. 

Reflect with me upon a wondrous example of praise. When God sent the angels to announce the birth of Jesus, they sang praises unto the heavens.  God sent angels for the shepherds and all to hear the beautiful praise regarding the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. 

Consider some forms of praise and associated words.  

During the Advent/Christmas season we sing the familiar hymn, “O Holy Night.”  Remember a portion of that hymn, “Fall on your knees, O hear the angel’s voices, O night, O night divine when Christ was born.”  Have you ever fallen to your knees as an act of praise for God’s presence?  Possibly you’ve ‘touched your chest’ in praise.  I know I’ve shed lots and lots of happy tears as I praise God.  Some can’t help but lift up their hands in praise to God.  Our worship time is also a beautiful reality of praise. 

There are some familiar words associated with praise.  Words such as ‘Hosanna,’ ‘Glory Be to God!’ ‘Behold,’ ‘Amen,’ and ‘Hallelujah!’ 

God desires for us to share praise with one another.  Praise that is beautiful comes from the heart. If your parents are still living, offer them praise for having raised you, nurtured you, and loved you.  Let your spouse know from time to time you appreciate them, how they have provided for you, cared for you, and stayed with you through the years. 

Psalm 100 is an affirmation of praise that is beautiful.  In Psalm 100, it is recorded, “Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth.” Remember portions of another hymn of Christmas, “And heaven and nature sing!”  You can see that and feel this praise that is beautiful today when you stop and behold the flowers growing around our beloved church, in people’s yards as you drive home, and perhaps in your own yard.

Praise that is beautiful partially comes from beauty we behold and the presence of God we enjoy.  The foundation of praise stems from knowing and affirming that the Lord is God.  It is He who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 

During these beautiful days of summer and sunshine take some time to lie flat on your back in the grass.  Feel God’s sunshine; see the blue sky and the white clouds.  From time to time stop and smell the roses, keep looking up to the heavens.  Recognize and enjoy plenty of sunrises and sunsets.  I believe in flowers and trees, sunshine and rain, changing seasons, and abiding wildlife; the earth still ‘shouts for joy’ praise that is beautiful. 

Today’s psalm inquires of us to worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Each week we share in songs of worship that are affirmations of joy and of praise.  Don’t be afraid to sing a song of praise as you enjoy your home, your family, and your life. 

Praise is beautiful when you KNOW the ONE you are praising. 

On the other hand, I have found within myself and among others, it remains hard to praise God when you think or feel as though you are the center of everything. KNOW that the Lord is God, and we are NOT!  There was only one Savior.  I am not him, nor are you.  It is beautiful to praise God for being ‘God!’  It is beautiful to know Jesus as the Son of God.  ‘Faith’ is both an affirmation and a surrendering of the ‘me, myself, and I’ persona. 

When you come to church, “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;  his faithfulness continues through all generations.” 

Consider some further reasons for praising God. When you see ‘good news’ coming to the poor, praise God.  When you perceive somebody with a broken heart be healed and made whole again, praise God.  When you learn of captives being freed and those in darkness being released, praise God.  When comfort comes to those who mourn, praise God.  God shall take care of vengeance.  We need not.  Instead, put on what the Bible calls ‘a garment of praise.’ 

Praise that is beautiful can cover you, like a garment.  Especially so when you feel as though your entire being is being held in God’s hands.  Praise, instead of despair, is a good thing.  It’s actually a very beautiful thing! 

Throughout human history the world has experienced times of despair.  As we choose to praise God, we are affirming that He is in charge, He is bigger than any or all of our problems, and we are saying we love Him and trust Him even as we choose to believe more and more in Him. 

Did you know there are more than 225 references in the Bible to ‘praise?’  An example we have from Jesus is this; Jesus praised the Father for revealing important and vital things to children. ~ Matthew 11:25 

Praise is kind of ‘automatic’ when it flows from a grateful soul.  We are further taught that praise is often times a ‘sacrifice’ we need to make.  Recall and reflect upon today’s scriptures; Jesus ‘cleared out the temple’ from the moneychangers.  He was admonishing them for mocking God.  You and I realize when God admonishes or disciplines any of us, it usually doesn’t feel very good.  Yet we are reminded that we can ‘get right’ with God again.  Sometimes we do compromise the things of God, we may break the rules, disobey the commandments, fail to worship, or just don’t care enough to love where we could and perhaps should.  Communion remains a time, an opportunity, an occasion to ‘pick up the pieces,’ change for the better, confess, seek forgiveness, and ‘get right’ with God again. 

The word ‘sacrifice’ comes from the Greek word “THUO,” a verb meaning to kill or slaughter for a purpose.  Praise often requires that we ‘kill’ our pride, our overwhelming fears, lazy attitudes, abundant self-centeredness, entitlement, or anything within us that interferes with worship and praise of the Lord. The ‘sacrifice’ associated with praise is hard at times.  Those early disciples did praise God yet found it difficult, and sometimes quite challenging, when they were incarcerated, persecuted, exiled, or being put to death. 

Today may we remember with the disciples of old we too remain God’s children, the sheep of his pasture and KNOW His hand IS upon us. 

Jesus inquires of us to become like children in our praise, our faith, and our trust of God.  Then we shall see the kingdom of heaven. 

Rest now and reflect upon those scriptures we shared; they tell us of a time when Jesus was being heavily persecuted for the wonderful things he did.  AND the children were SHOUTING in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  Jesus ‘communed’ something beautiful that day.  He said, “From the lips of children and infants, you Lord have called forth your perfect praise.”  There is nothing quite like innocent love reflecting beautiful praise. 

It’s not easy to have child-like faith.  Harder still it remains to praise God with a child-like attitude when life’s most serious and severe problems are taking place all around us. 

Perhaps the only single word of praise you can utter during such times is “AMEN.”  In communion today, let the ‘Amen’ sound from His people again.

The Loving Truth 8/8/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 7, 2021 & Sunday, August 8, 2021 

Prayer for Illumination:  Leader:  Jesus said, "Those who have ears, let them hear."

                                     People:  Lord, give us ears.

                                     Leader:  Allow us to hear the truth this morning.

                                     People:  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: John 3:1-3,19-21 (Page 1064) and Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (Page 1176) 

Sermon Message: ‘The Loving Truth’ 

Throughout the history of the world ‘truth’ is very important.  People have always sought to know ‘truth’ and thereby gain wisdom.  ‘Truth’ ‘comes across’ differently these days.  

For years professional athletes seemed to have been taught to disguise their ‘truth’ regarding how they were feeling and push on to achieve the goal, the trophy, the medal, or the reward. Recently, some Olympians are instead declaring their ‘truth’ regarding stress, physical and mental limitations, even choosing to withdraw from some world class events. 

Admission or affirmation of one’s limitations is actually a healthier communication of truth. 

Our Country’s political environment for these past few years has been ‘contentious’ to say the least.  Increasingly so, we are becoming acquainted with some rather harsh awareness of ‘truth.’  Much of the ambiguity is due to the varied and assertive definitions of truth. 

In both the political and our personal environment, we have surely seen where ‘truth’ is ‘prescribed’ for us sometimes by who asserts the loudest or the longest.  

So, it remains for us to wonder what is ‘fake news’ and what might be the ‘real truth?’ 

Perhaps you became aware this weekend, if you journeyed to Giant Eagle or Get Go, that you are once again requested to wear a mask to protect against spreading or getting the Covid virus and its variants.  The medical world strives to teach us their version of ‘scientific truth.’ Yet there are those who resist such definition of ‘truth.’ 

Within the world of religion, the greatest scholars strive to reach what they call ‘discernible truth.’ This ‘truth is based upon a discerning process that comes from scripture, experience, tradition, reason, and prayer. 

Today’s scriptural reading from the Book of Ephesians starts with telling the truth, and it ends with living in love.  

There is a harsh, even abusive, truth to be found in much of the world today.  The sadder reality remains that far too many believe and assert their version of ‘truth.’  When road rage ends in gunshots, woundedness, and death, someone’s version of ‘truth’ is harsh and abusive.  We receive numerous reports of this locally on the Pittsburgh news channels. 

When gun violence is reported as the second major cause of death in our country, someone’s version of ‘truth’ is harsh and abusive.  

I stopped for gas the other day in Canonsburg.  While pumping gas into my vehicle, a few pump stations away I overheard two guys ‘getting into it’ as they expressed opposing views regarding our government, immigration, leaders, and elections.  All within the time of simply pumping gas into our vehicles.  The scene lent itself to explosive tempers. 

People throughout history have sought to know truth and thus gain wisdom.  We all need a working knowledge of wisdom for living our lives, making decisions, and getting along.  

There simply isn’t much wisdom to be gained from the kind of ‘truth’ that becomes defined by who yells the loudest, speaks more aggressively, or asserts their opinion the strongest.  You and I probably know of a few folks who establish a thought or notion within their mind and therefore confirm that thought to be truth. 

Human history has taught us all to measure truth by standards that have prevailed and are based upon reliable sources. 

Perhaps the longest and most reliable source of truth throughout history has been divine revelation.  

The most loving truth the world has ever received is this; God so loved the world that He sent us His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him might be saved and inherit eternal life.  

The presence of the divine in our lives is the most loving truth we shall gain or receive. 

Today’s scriptures provide us a prescription for truth; put away falsehood.  Speak truthfully to your neighbor.  Back in Biblical times the heathen were quite guilty of lying.  They believed a profitable lie was better than a hurtful truth.  

I was visiting my daughter, husband, and our grandchildren just a few weeks ago.  I had been wearing a hat outside as I helped them to do some work around their house.  When it came time for supper, I went inside, took my hat off, and was blissfully unaware of how ‘messed up’ my hair was.  My daughter smiled and said, “Oh don’t worry dad, it’s not all that bad.”  She was lying to make me feel better.  My grandchildren giggled, laughed, and said “Ewwww Grandy, your hair is gross!”  They had no problem sharing the hurtful truth.  We do tend to be careful how we communicate some ‘truth’ with one another since it can be hurtful.  Mine was but a small example. 

Perhaps you recall the childhood jingle, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  The hurtful truth is, we all can still be hurt, not just kids.  Mean and hurtful words can be crippling, for a while or even for a lifetime.  Children tend to believe their parents who tell them, “You were a mistake!”  Or, “you are so stupid!”  Far too many are the words that hurt and harm.  Worse still are the negative effects that can cripple a heart, a mind, or a soul.  Some of those negative effects follow people well into adulthood, even throughout their lifetimes. Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”- Luke 17:1,2 

‘Loving truth’ is a debt we owe to one another.  The opposite of ‘loving truth’ is deceitful, hateful lying.  Today’s scripture lesson remains clear.  Put away falsehood.  Speak the truth.  Not merely our personal version of what is the ‘truth’ but sound, Biblically-based, discernible truth. 

Deceitful, self-gaining lying is a sin.  If we love one another, we shall not deceive one another.  While much of the world minimizes and excuses lying, divine wisdom still teaches that lying is a very great sin. 

Arguing is not necessarily the best way to discern, affirm, or establish truth.  Proverbs 23:9 cautions us “not to speak to those who will scorn our prudent words.” 

God gets angry sometimes.  Failure to revere God’s holiness is wrong.  Breaking any of those Ten Commandments is wrong.  They are loving truth coming from God.  Living the Ten Commandments leads to a better life.  Sin, injustice, and crime anger God. 

You and I sometimes ‘get angry.’  God knows we are apt to get angry.  God has a restriction he puts on all of us; “In your anger, do not sin.”  Perhaps we’d all like to ‘hold on’ to our anger.  The one thing to be angry about is sin.  A common sin associated with anger is letting it burn inside of us.  The Bible advises us, before night, calm and quiet your spirit.  Do your best to be reconciled to the offender.  “Let not the sun go down on your anger.”  

I was reading a true story regarding a black female pastor who had this abiding anger due to some black members of her church being killed during racial violence and gun rage.  She was actually being coerced into forgiving the offenders, yet she took a bold stand, different than most.  While she strove to adhere to the scriptures which I just shared with you that strongly advise each of us to not let the sun go down on our anger, she replied that she was not yet able to forgive due to the anger she felt for years associated with racial violence and gun rage.  Hate the sin. 

Sometimes the loving truth is what we need to forgive and move on.  At other times the anger associated with long-term sin can lead towards further prayer and working at long-term reform. 

Don’t give place to the devil in your anger nor your resolve.  Loving truth is to be just that; loving.  Remember there are two sides to every story.  Don’t jump to conclusions in any situation, but do your best to discern what God wants you to see and how to respond. 

Our vocabulary is an indication of our intellect.  Our words provide a window to our character.  Our grammar reveals the degree of our refinement.  Our speech is a reflection of our spirit. 

Today’s scripture lesson from the Book of Ephesians starts with telling the truth, and it ends with living in love.  Throughout the history of the world ‘truth’ is very important.  People have always sought to know ‘truth’ and thereby gain wisdom.  

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him. 

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 

Jesus went on to say the Light of God has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly. 

‘Truth’ ‘comes across’ differently these days. 

Jesus Christ is the loving truth sent down from heaven by God.  Today we have received some prescriptions, some spiritual guidance, and divine insights for speaking, sharing, and living the loving truth.  Amen.

Church Gratitude 8/1/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 31, 2021 & Sunday, August 1, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 122:1 (p. 616), Colossians 3:15-17 (p. 1184), Ephesians 4:2-6 (p. 1175) 

Sermon Message:  “Church Gratitude” 

Every once in a while, I have the honor to speak at another church.  Mostly I cannot because I am here at this church each week.  However, I well recall going to a humble, little white-framed church in a small town near Blairsville, PA, to share a Sunday message.  It was a warm Sunday morning, kind of like today.  As I pulled up and started to get out of my car, another family had pulled up near me.  Their ‘kid’ had jumped out of the car and did this sort of ‘dance’ as he began waving to folks, “Hey, I’m here!  We made it!  We’re all here for church this morning!”  I smiled at that little fellow and his joyous enthusiasm for ‘coming to church.’ 

Kids are pretty neat. When my daughter was little and we went somewhere, she would often times ask, “Are we there yet?”  I’ve met some folks who answer their kids by saying, “Five more minutes. Just five more minutes.”  Half an hour or an hour later, the kids ask the same question, “Are we there yet?” and get the same answer, “Five more minutes. Just five more minutes.”  I tried something ‘different’ with my daughter.  I used this same response with our grandchildren, leastwise until they all became able to ‘tell time!’  What I would say to them is this: “You know how long it takes us to get to the store?”  “Yes.”  It will take that long to get where we are going.  OR if we were traveling far, I’d say something like, “We have to get hungry and stop for lunch and then again for supper before we get there.”  This helped them, in another way, to ‘tell time’ and remain somewhat more patient and understanding until we arrived. 

Psalm 122 can be considered a ‘song’ from the Bible.  Many of the psalms were sung.  Some still are. Psalm 122 is a song of arrival.  It’s a song of someone who has been looking forward to that arrival for some time.  It’s also a psalm about going to church and about gathering with God’s people for worship each week.  It’s about ‘being glad to go to the house of the Lord.’ 

Ever ask someone why they don’t go to church?  They’ll give you all sorts of reasons.  “It’s boring.  I have better things to do.  I am busy.  It’s my day to sleep in.  We have sports on Sundays.  We like to keep Sundays for family time.”  People give lots of reasons for not going to church, but there is this one real reason, actually it’s quite a huge reason, why we should all go to church, and that is God. 

Psalm 122 is the song of a person who decides to go to church and worship God. 

Some statistics are not well known and even far less publicized.  MANY people have discovered the joy of Christian worship.  Going to church is one of their highest priorities and one of the high points of their week.  Listen and hear the following ‘quiet’ yet remarkable statistics:  There are more people in church on Sunday morning than people at all the football stadiums combined in the afternoon. 

There is a common denominator among church-going Christians.  The common denominator is this: ‘Church is viewed as a gift.’ 

Lots of folks have gratitude for the church.  My research indicates that as many as 9,000-11,000 people travel through Coraopolis each day.  Regardless of the statistics, there are lots and lots of folks who drive past our church each and every day.  There remains a gratitude for this beautiful church building, how it is ‘kept up’ but also for the significance and symbolism of this Christian Church.  Every now and then some parent will tell me their child gets ‘all excited’ about coming to church here.  I am certain you have special and sacred memories associated with this church and furthermore with the ministries we’ve shared. 

Many are aware that you cannot be a growing Christian without also being an active part of Christ’s church.  

Today’s scripture lessons begin with Psalm 122.  David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote this Psalm.  David further remembered what it felt like to be around people who just didn’t care about God or God’s ways. Back in Psalm 120 David reflects upon his distress from being around people who having ‘lying lips and deceitful tongues.’  “Too long” he writes, he has lived among those who hate peace.  When he is invited to go to church with others, he is therefore glad to go to the House of the Lord. 

Surely you have lots of reasons to look forward to gathering for worship each week.  It’s good to be with people who have learned to trust in God’s providence and care.  It’s so good to worship God with his people.  Here we meet God, and God meets with us, together. 

If there is a spirit of ‘church gratitude’ inside of you, then don’t be shy about inviting someone to church.  Perhaps even a member who you have not seen here in a while.  Do not be condescending, condemning, critical, or judgmental when you invite someone to church.  I ask you to instead reflect upon this: many a church invitation has resulted in salvation and a life changed for all eternity.  Perhaps the person you invite will someday say, “I am so glad someone said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” 

This Word of God from Psalm 122 is not just about inviting someone else to come to church.  It’s about mutual encouragement, encouraging each other to gather for worship, whether you do that in person, by a phone call, a conversation, an email, a text, or posting on Facebook.  It’s about looking forward to worshipping with God’s people. 

Gratitude is sometimes forgotten or forsaken.  Folks drive by this church and assume this building has always been here and always will be.  Members remember this church across their lifetimes and may simply project it will always be here, long after they are gone.  A precious few recall when there were hundreds attending worship here each week.  Some are growing in their abiding ‘concern’ with the limited number in attendance each week. 

God has preserved this church and ministry for reasons.  While it is a symbol to the community, to those who drive by and a significance to all who have benefitted from our shared ministries and missions, that gratitude is important, yet not sufficient. 

God has called upon you and several other ‘donors’ to ‘keep up,’ improve, ‘fix up’ and maintain this church; the ‘main-stay’ for this church continuing on is divine worship.  Each week.  Every week.  When folks fail to worship, this will fail to be a church. 

What’s your motivation for going to church?  There’s an old joke about the mother getting her son up on a Sunday morning.  “Time for church,” she says.  “But I don’t want to go to church,” her son replies.  “No one likes me there, and the people are all mean to me.  Give me one good reason why I should go.”  The mother replies, “I’ll give you two good reasons.  Number one, you’re 54 years old.  And number two, you’re the pastor!” 

Last Saturday I officiated a funeral for a lady who lived in Winchester, Virginia.  Her name was Virginia Dickson.  104 years old.  Years and years ago Virginia Dickson played the organ and piano in this church occasionally.  Her children, some who are now in their 70’s and 80’s, asked me if it would be ‘alright’ to come into this church sanctuary and just ‘see’ where Mom used to play the organ and the piano all those decades ago.  Friends, there was a sense of wonder and delight as Virginia’s family stood in our sanctuary with humble gratitude.  They rejoiced. 

Look forward to coming to church.  Pause as you enter here.  People do not climb a mountain only to immediately turn around and go back down.  They pause and take in the moment as well as the view.  Pause when you come here.  We come here to anticipate worshipping God together with his people.  Some call this ‘church gratitude.’ 

Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”  How you enter worship matters.  It shows your attitude towards God and his people.  When you’ve been looking forward to worship all week long, you will enter worship with anticipation and joy.  

Remember, the church is not the building.  It’s the people.  And one of the benefits you reap from weekly-gathered worship is enjoying the closeness of Christian fellowship.  As we read in Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” I remain humbly amazed and spiritually grateful that the church welcomes and invites so many people from such different backgrounds for worship.  We worship together as different age groups, social and economic backgrounds.  Some sinners and some saints.  Jesus Christ and divine worship are the ties that bind us plus the gratitude that forms us into a church.  We all come from different backgrounds, places, and situations, but we have a unity because we are all members of the one body of Christ.  We are not merely members of a church; we belong to God!  As Romans 12:4-5 says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  

At church we all learn to get along with each other despite our differences.  As long as we keep the main thing the main thing, we will get along just fine.  And what’s the main thing?  Worship.  Praise.  Christ.  God.  

Across the years some have inquired of me, “Rev. Tom, where do you get the inspiration for sermons you share with us week after week?”  I am glad to share with you at least a partial response to that inquiry: I feel your prayers and the Holy Spirit’s inspiration as we worship each week.  THIS is vital to me.  During worship there remains a flow of inspiration.  This contributes to weekly sermon planning.  There are lots and lots of reasons why I feel glad to come to the house of the Lord. 

Church gratitude has provided us with quality memories, sustaining grace, prayer, fellowship, and love.  Yet there is something more, actually quite meaningful, associated with our coming together each week. We receive direction from God’s Word. 

Church gratitude involves enjoying the closeness of Christian fellowship, experiencing the unity that comes from praising God together, AND receiving direction from God’s Word. 

Weekly worship is full of God’s word.  It is in our Bibles; it is in our songs; it is in our prayers; it is in our preaching and teaching.  Colossians 3:16 gives the following instruction to churches gathering for weekly worship:  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  

God gave us the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.  In turn, Jesus has given us the gift of the church.  ‘Gifts’ were never meant to be placed on a shelf or set aside, but to be used, shared, and enjoyed.  Do you love the church?   

Cherish the gift of this church and your church family.  Cherish and give thanks for Jesus Christ who owns and heads up this and every Christian church community.  The church is presented to you not as an obligation but instead as an invitation.  Here we receive God’s gift, this building, this faith, our church family, compassion, kindness, communion, faith fellowship, and love. Many have and many shall come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the giftedness of this church and you, the people of God.  Church gratitude between heaven and earth.  Amen.

Our Church Home 7/25/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 24, 2021 & Sunday, July 25, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God of light, may the brightness of heaven shine through the scriptures today, and shine in us as we listen. This we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Matthew 16:13-18 (page 983), Hebrews 10:19-25 (page 1211), 2 Corinthians 5:1 (page 1159)

 SERMON MESSAGE:  “Our Church Home” 

Do you enjoy ‘going to church?’  Obviously so or you probably would not be here right now. 

Have you ever noticed in your growing awareness of Jesus that he sometimes used the smallest example to make the biggest point? 

In addition to today’s scripture lessons, consider this one as well: Mark 12:41-44, “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” 

Sometimes it doesn’t require much for great things and good lessons to occur. 

Jesus and those disciples spent some quality time in the temple.  We are here today in this ‘house of the Lord.’  We aren’t just ‘here’; we are members of the household of faith.  This is our church home. 

There are 3 homes that we all have need of: A Family Home, a Church Home, and a Future, Heavenly Home. 

Our Family Home may include a particular house we call ‘home.’  More importantly though, our ‘Family Home’ is when and where we are with the people we love and who love us.  Whenever and wherever you are with the people you love and who love you, then you are home.  Your Family Home. 

This is where our security and nurturing begins and expands.  Our Family Home includes consistent familiarity, even certain ‘traditions,’ we look forward to.  Such as ‘going to Grandmas’ for Thanksgiving, or whose house we go to for Christmas.  

Some of the marriages I admire most include spouses who comfortably and confidently say to one another, “Wherever we go, as long as I am with you, then I am ‘home.’

‘Home’ is a good place to be.  Our ‘home’ was our safe place throughout the pandemic.  To this day when you don’t feel good or safe and secure, you just want to ‘be home.’ 

Happy is the home when God is there.  If there is no mention of God, no religious depictions such as a cross or picture of Jesus, no Bible to be seen or accessed, a ‘home’ may contain a family but little faith within its walls.  

In a home where prayer is ‘said’ before meals and during other occasions, where God is freely mentioned, referred to, and honored, there are sacred memories and even further sacred realities for this life and the next.  Our Family Home is to be our safe haven while serving as our spiritual foundation.  Always strive to make your house a home.

 In my childhood ‘home’ we played, ate, rested, reflected, studied, learned, sometimes fought, and grew together.  Each of us had a clothes closet where we kept our ‘good clothes’ as well as our ‘everyday clothes.’ We’d ‘put on our ‘good clothes’ each week to ‘go to church.’ 

As you have surely perceived, our ‘Church Home’ remains quite important to me.  Admittedly, there have been times when my beloved has needed to say to me, “Don’t forget you have a home, a house as well!”  It’s easy to invest myself in our beloved Church Home.  Yet a balance needs to remain.  

Early on in my ‘walk with the Lord’ these following scriptures appealed to me and actually became written upon my heart; Psalm 122:1 “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.”  Do you ever feel that way?  You know, glad to go to the house of the Lord? 

Entering a church is one thing.  Being a member of a church is another thing all together.  Membership is a commitment.  God seems to consistently require solid commitments with us and from us.  Kind of like marriage as compared to dating. Some years back a meaningful and insightful book was published.  The title of that infatuating book is “Stop Dating the Church.’ 

Lots of folks say, “I am a part of the ‘invisible church.’”  Or, “I have no time for organized religion.”  Sadly enough the ‘invisible church’ does not accomplish very much that is visible in their spiritual lives. 

When you grow to be a part of a church home, treat your church experience like a marriage, knowing it won’t be perfect, because it’s filled with imperfect people.  

One of the best ‘ministers’ I ever knew wasn’t really an ordained minister at all.  Bob was just a faithful Christian who felt strongly about staying involved in his Church Home through the years.  Not only did Bob feel this way by himself, he taught his children to be ‘church oriented’ and quite often ‘took some poor soul under his wings.’  Bob had seen what happens in lots of churches.  He saw a pattern where people would come to church, perhaps out of curiosity, need, or even tradition.  Then after a while Bob saw where these same folks would get a little more involved in the church.  Some would grow and become increasingly involved.  Yet a few would become discouraged when they met up with some ‘imperfect Christians.’  I watched Bob’s pattern.  He’d be watching ‘newbies’ as he called them.  Mostly they never knew he was watching them.  When Bob saw members taking that step toward getting more involved, he’d pay attention to ‘how things were going.’  As an example, I’ve witnessed newly involved church members who sometimes innocently ask, “Why do you do things this way?”  It can be a report, setting a table, arranging tables and chairs, even flowers.  When the usual response comes, “because we’ve always done it this way,” newly involved souls benefit from the “Bobs” in the church who help them to be heard, who share with them further insightful explanations and aid in the blending together of members becoming a ‘Church Home’ together.  Bob also realized sometimes things did need to change to accommodate new ideas and new members.  Be a Bob. Help others to get involved, stay involved, and love the church. 

As today’s scriptures affirm, it takes “a sincere heart with the full assurance that faith brings” to draw near to God and become His Church. 

Through the years we may have all seen some of the ‘ups and downs’ associated with church commitment, involvement, and membership.  Yet we are to know and affirm “we hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” 

Part of God’s further message to us all today is this, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” 

Do you encourage others to come to church?  Today’s scripture lesson actually inquires of us to “spur one another on.”  That means to ‘prompt.’ 

‘Prompting’ and ‘encouraging’ takes place, in part, by the examples any of us set.  By our ‘coming to church’ others see that, and some will follow.  But that is only a small part of ‘prompting.’ 

Actually inviting another to come to church sure helps as well.  Many a soul started coming to church because somebody invited them, came with them, and sat with them. 

Today, please further consider the spiritual foundation of any church home. Reflect again upon the teaching of Jesus Christ.  He once had a conversation with the Apostle Peter.  Jesus noticed that Peter confessed and declared, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  WHO is Jesus Christ to you?  Jesus in essence was saying to Peter, “Your faith in WHO I am is the foundation upon which I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!”  Those words of Jesus Christ have spoken to my heart time and time again through the years, reminding me that strong faith in Jesus, sincere affirmation of WHO he is, awareness of His example and presence, are perhaps the best prompting and encouragement for assembling together, for coming to Church. 

IF Jesus Christ is important to your life, then coming to church shall be also.

The Church is our Faith Home. 

We find God in ‘church.’  More importantly, God finds us and walks with us in our Church Home.  Walk with God to be happy.  Those who would be spiritual must be in regular contact and fellowship with the Spirit.  Great, also, are the benefits of being around and with spiritual people. 

I’ve always enjoyed associating with ‘church people.’  Those who associate with evil will want evil.  Ask your family to attend church.  When you talk with them, don’t be afraid to explain why church is so important.  If you ‘make excuses’ for others who do not attend church, they will surely miss a lot of spiritual opportunities for growth, faith, fellowship, and love.  Church people tend to be peace-filled people.  Spiritual wisdom connected with church attendance is a huge benefit while working our way through this life. 

We have need of our Family Home.  We have need of our Church Home.  Each of us prays for and ‘longs’ for our Heavenly Home. 

Today’s scriptures mightily affirm, “Together we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house, not built by human hands.” 

There are lots of reasons to pray for and ‘long’ for our heavenly home.  Knowing we have a home in heaven with God provides a far different perspective to ‘how’ we see things in this life and respond. 

Many a good soul has affirmed, “If this is all there is to life, it’s rather shallow, even meaningless.”  We feel that way, especially so, when we go through some sort of trial, face death, and encounter old age.  Consider ‘some’ of that which awaits us in our heavenly home.  The Bible affirms it is a place where death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.  Within our heavenly home every tear shall be wiped away from our eyes.  There we shall meet God, see Jesus, find answers to our deepest questions, and enjoy a peace like nothing we can imagine and meet family and friends who have missed us for years. 

Life might not be fair nor even ‘right’ while we are here.  But in heaven we will see things clearly.  Our home in heaven remains our reward for life well lived and love sincerely demonstrated here on earth.  In our heavenly home there is balance, peace, righteousness, and love like none other.  We will be given a new body unlike our human, limited, and sometimes hurting body we now dwell within. 

Jesus is preparing a place for us.  Be a firm, loving, and contributing member of this church.  It remains your faith home.  Prompt others to attend here with you.  Long for the day when your membership is transferred from the Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis to the Church Triumphant, Immortal, and Eternal.  Our Church Home. Amen.

Prayer-Sustaining Grace 7/18/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 17, 2021 & Sunday, July 18, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: O God of wisdom and knowledge, illumine us by your Spirit and by your Word.  From the Scriptures may we learn your instructions, and by your Holy Spirit may we be inclined to follow these instructions to live a good and holy life.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson: Romans 12:3-13 (Page 1137) 

Sermon Title:  “Prayer-Sustaining Grace” 

Today’s scriptures remind us we are to be “faithful in prayer.”  That means we are to ‘stay at it.”  Be consistent, not sporadic.  Pray daily and often. Each week our church receives additional prayer requests. Prayer is a sustaining grace in our lives.  

Church people pray.  That’s what we do.  That’s not ALL we do, but prayer is foundational.  I know you pray for lots of folks, your family, your friends, those victimized by disasters such as those in Miami, Florida, and for a wide array of ‘needs’ many have. 

Jesus taught us to pray.  He taught us to pray to the Father, pray for others, and pray for ourselves.  Pray for your church.  That’s what members are also supposed to do. 

There is one soul in this church that needs, actually ‘requires’ daily prayer. Your pastor.  Pastors are responsible for guiding and enhancing the spiritual well being of others.  LOTS of others. A pastor’s life is seldom routine but often times overwhelming.  Please, pray for your pastor.  Pray also for all of your church leaders.  The members of Session, our Board of Deacons, our Child Care, and others who lead us ‘home’ to God. 

‘Prayer’ is a grace that sustains us. I can tell when you are praying for me.  I can feel those prayers.  Church members are responsible to pray, knowing their prayers are a sustaining grace. 

I KNOW you are praying that God would give me wisdom, insight, and words to preach.  Friends, it remains an incredible task to speak and preach the Word of God every week again and again.  While you may be listening to the preacher, remember there are those who need to hear from God.  Pray for your pastor’s preaching. 

When you comment, “Good Sermon!” OR, “I needed to hear that!”, prayer has inspired the message, the messenger, and the receiver. 

Pride gets in the way of prayer. When you or I think more highly of ourselves than we ought, there is far less humility in our prayers.  Pray to be protected from pride.  May we follow Paul’s discourse to instead “think of ourselves with sober judgment.” 

Slow down when you ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer.  The spiritual message within this prayer Jesus taught us consistently leads to a more ‘humble’ attitude.  There is praise, petition, hope, sacredness, and request for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer.  God guides us when we pray.  Our souls are refreshed.  Prayer becomes grace that sustains us. 

Remember ‘faith’ is a two-way street.  We have ‘faith’ in God.  Realize, too, God has faith in you. The Good Lord has blessed you with faith.  Church members pray for folks to ‘come to faith,’ ‘respond’ to faith, and to be ‘protected’ by faith. 

Pray for protection.  Prayers for protection become a grace that sustains us.  I ask you to pray for protection of my family, and I shall pray for protection of yours.  There’s an old ‘saying,’ “If not for the grace of God, there go I.”  More than any of us can possibly realize, God’s grace has sustained us hundreds of times throughout our life. 

Prayer is a form of grace.  I trust we have all learned that prayer is our way through darkness.  Prayer is our way into the light.  Prayer is what leads us home to grace.  Prayer is our way to God. 

You can always pray. Formally, here in church.  Informally at home.  You can pray even when you can’t get out of bed.  Anybody can pray.  Everyone should pray.  Many of you have said to me, “Rev. Tom, I just don’t know how people get through life without faith and prayer.”  I think we all know that praying on a regular basis brings a certain power and support into our lives.  FURTHERMORE, there are SO many joys and benefits that we receive daily from God that would have far less impact on us if we were not able to give our thanks and praise to God through spontaneous prayer. 

Your prayer might simply be a single word or just a smile as you gaze heavenward. 

This past Monday evening as I drove home from Lawn Rangers, I had to steer my truck carefully for God had lit up the sky with a beautiful double rainbow.  Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites centuries ago, that double rainbow preceded me on my trip from Coraopolis to my home in Robinson.  My prayer was this:  “Alleluia, Amen, Thank you” over and over again. 

Do you remember how you first learned to pray?  Probably by rote. We learn the Lord’s Prayer, grace at mealtimes, the night prayers for sleep, and the morning prayers for a blessing on a new day.  These prayers bring us into the habit of praying to God and gradually bring us into an ongoing conversation and relationship with God throughout the day. 

Teach yourself and teach others to cultivate an attitude of prayer as we go through each day beginning with daily ‘rote’ prayers. Daily routine (rote) prayers bring us even deeper into a loving relationship with God that sustains us.  This sustaining grace brings us through dark times into the light.  Many have found they lead us to praise God at all times and in all circumstances.  

Prayer is our way to God.  Prayer is a grace that sustains us.  Prayer must be accompanied by some sort of action.  Prayer AND compassion.  Prayer AND discipleship.  Prayer AND care.  Prayer AND work.  Prayer AND forgiveness.  Prayer AND love.  Prayer AND laughing.  Prayer AND crying. Not prayer alone. Not compassion or planning or loving, forgiving or serving alone. 

Pray WITH God and TO God.  Pray FOR others and pray WITH others.  Prayer is a vital aspect of our spiritual foundation.  It remains the grace that sustains us. 

Remember Jesus.  Recall that Jesus called and appointed disciples for reasons.  Jesus demonstrated that which he taught; we need one another.  We belong to Jesus Christ.  We are his body.  We thus belong to one another.  Together we make up the body of Christ.  Nor do we all have the same function. 

Look around anytime you attend church.  In worship there are a variety of persons each with their own needs, each, also, with their unique gifts, strengths, and abilities.  Common to us all is prayer, this grace that sustains us. Jesus prayed and so should we. Jesus has helped us all to see that without this dynamic of prayer and work, our faith will lack vitality.  We will not bear much ‘fruit.’ 

Across the years lots of well-meaning folks define ‘success’ in ministry or within a church by numbers in attendance and financial strength.  Jesus kept no record of ‘how many’ he reached when he preached, healed, or ministered to folks in their homes, on the mountain, or even in God’s temple.  I have learned from Jesus that the more valued spiritual measure of ‘success’ is transformation. 

When an individual, a family, a church, even an entire community, changes/transforms from conflict to working together, from entitlement to humble appreciation, from mistrust to trust, from bitterness and hatred to love and kindness, from personal agendas to Spirit-inspired group agendas, the grace of God, the blessings are immeasurable. How can any of us even begin to measure love, peace, acceptance, and mutual forbearance?  When the people of God respond to the movements of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there comes a most peace-filled change.  God is then worshiped and adored.  

I ask you to pray for this transformation that becomes a sustaining grace.  

Clearly, God’s Word points out that we all have different gifts according to the grace given us.  Pray about your gift.  If you’re just not sure what your gift is, pray about it, and God will show you.  He may send another to guide or even inspire you as well.  

When you pray, you won’t always get the answer you are seeking.  Yet it remains true; prayer changes things.  The main thing it changes is YOU.  Some things fail because they are a reflection of a personality instead of the results of prayer. 

Church members have a ‘calling’ from God.  There remains a ‘calling’ inside each of us to ‘say’ our prayers and to become our prayers.

‘Revival’ was a popular ‘church word’ for quite some time.  A more familiar ‘term’ today is ‘renewal.’  If you want to see ‘renewal’ in yourself, your family, then pray daily, fervently, humbly, and sincerely.  If you want to see change in our church, pray daily, fervently, humbly, and sincerely.  Should you desire to see more people attend worship, then pray, specifically for souls you know, to come home to be here with the Lord and God’s people.  Clearly, we all need worship.  

Whatever the need may be, pray for renewal.  Renewal begins with a renewal of ourselves.  I am not talking of a technique to manipulate God in order to get what we want.  When we pray, it’s often that God changes us.  When we pray, we sometimes get an answer we don’t want to hear.  

Without prayer, we will never see renewal in our church.  Without thoughtful, humble, and sincere prayer, any of us may have the tendency to put ourselves in the place of God rather than in the arms of God. 

The ‘best’ and most ‘successful’ churches have prayer as an on-going 'essential' for new beginnings and life, survival, and thriving. 

Some things to pray for - some grace that will sustain us: 

When you come to church and see others gather here with us, pray that they may be encouraged, fed, and have their spirits lifted into God’s presence. 

Pray for your preacher that he may be kept humble and aligned with God’s will and Word.  Pray for the children who come to this church for worship, for Child Care, that they would feel encouraged. 

Pray for people who bear heavy loads.  Pray for those who are battling loneliness. 

Pray for those who are grieving, whose lives are experiencing dark moments.  Just ask God to be with them. 

Pray for others, lots of others, to come to know Jesus Christ personally as Lord and savior. 

Pray for those dealing with addiction, bad habits, and ill health. 

In a miraculous way God holds the whole world in His hands.  May in our prayers, we hold others.  Help to become the grace that sustains another soul.  Amen.

A Servant's Heart 7/11/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 10 & Sunday, July 11, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.  Amen. 

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 20:25-28 (page 987) and Philippians 2:5-11 (page 1179) 

Sermon Message: “A Servant’s Heart” 

Today, as we share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we want to see Jesus.  We need to identify with Jesus.  We seek to commune with Jesus and one another, here in His church. 

Something I think we’ve all noticed about Jesus, even as shared in Communion, he was not about status but rather servanthood. 

When Jesus met with His disciples inside that Upper Room, he served them bread and wine.  He washed their feet.  He shared his words and acts of kindness and of love.  THIS is part of what we recall today and each day we share in Communion. 

Today’s scriptures remind us, in sincere detailed reflection, that Jesus was a servant, and we are supposed to be also. 

Sometimes we think ‘servants’ are just supposed to be humble people who are at the ‘beck and call’ of others, having little or no needs of their own.  That’s NOT what Jesus was teaching in his repeated messages and guidance to be servant.  We are not supposed to be a ‘doormat’ for others to use and step on.  Rather, there is dignity, honor, respect, and even integrity within a servant’s heart. 

Consider some of the examples we have of Jesus’ servant heart. Not only did he wash the feet of his disciples, he saw to it that they understood many things.  Jesus showed compassion to blind people, sick little girls, to those who were hungry, and to people’s needs that sometimes ‘showed up’ spontaneously.  Part of ‘being a servant of God’ means being ready, in an instant, to serve. 

I think you and I have some pretty ‘common’ examples of ‘servants' hearts’ in our daily world as well as within this church.  Yet, we need to take into account the principle of love before doing all things. 

Let’s examine our hearts. . .are you a servant? 

Availability.  Are you a soul who makes yourself available to serve?  Soldiers are trained to serve whenever called.  A servant of God must always be standing by, ready for duty.  In our hearts we must be willing for our “schedules” to be interrupted.  Real servants do what’s needed, even when it’s inconvenient.  Are you available to God anytime?  Can He mess up your plans without you becoming resentful?  

Pay attention.  Do you pay attention to the needs of others?  Are you on the lookout for ways to help others?  Galatians 6:10 records, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good, to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  Sometimes we miss opportunities to serve because we lack sensitivity and spontaneity.  Have your heart teach your mind that you have to be willing to be interrupted.  Be kind and be generous to those who belong to the family of believers, even in your business dealings. 

Do your best.  Do you do the best you can with what you have?  I’ve seen too many good folks make excuses, procrastinate, or wait for when the time is right.  One reason you might not serve is because you fear you are not good enough.  With Jesus it’s NEVER about being ‘good enough.’  If God shows you someone to help, he’ll show you the way and the means to help.  But it starts in the free will portion of your heart and your mind.  Use what you’ve got to serve others.  Little is much with God in it. 

Work. Being a servant means we’ll need to work.  It’s true you know, ‘work is good for the soul.’  Not only for your soul but quite importantly for the souls of others.  ‘Work’ in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is not punishment for sin.  Work is the mark of the conscientious human.  We do not live to outgrow work.  We live to work well, with purpose, to work with honesty and quality and artistry.  If we believe God is to be found in everyone and everything, to some degree, then we need to commit our work to doing the best we can with what we’ve got as often as we possibly can.  May the floors be mopped for yourself and for others as though doing so is for Jesus himself.  After all, Jesus gave his best for you.  Not just when it was comfortable nor convenient for him.  There is much to think about ‘the work of the Lord’ inside a servant’s heart and through a servant’s actions. Colossians 3:23 records, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” 

I continue to learn that working alongside others develops a rapport, a bond, and even a trust not easily gained otherwise. 

Jesus specialized in menial tasks; washing feet, fixing breakfast, serving lepers.  Nothing was beneath him.  He came to serve.  Small tasks often show a big heart.  Your servant’s heart is sometimes revealed in the smallest of acts that others don’t think of doing.  Great opportunities often disguise themselves in small tasks. 

IF you have a servant’s heart, then you are faithful to the ministry God has called you to serve.  Every now and then someone will bring me a bulletin from another church they have visited.  In one of those bulletins, I noticed on the front page the listing indicating the clergy person’s name followed by the title, Pastor.  Directly underneath those words were these: Ministers:  All Members. 

We ARE all in God’s ministry together.  Not just by title or position but by means of the Holy Spirit touching our hearts to be servants of Jesus Christ.  God has called each and every one of us to serve.  Are you faithful to the ministry God has called you, however small or large that might be?  Are you still fulfilling your responsibilities and keeping your promises?  Are you known as a ‘follow through’ kind of person?  Can you, do you, ‘hang in there’ when things get tough?  Do people trust you?  Do folks know you to be dependable?  Can we ‘count on you?’ 

Genuine humbleness.  Folks with a servant’s heart tend NOT to call attention to themselves.  They just don’t do things to impress others.  Instead, as the Bible says, they “clothe themselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5. 

Do you serve for the applause and approval of others, or do you live for the audience of The One? 

Jesus Christ teaches us, too, that we serve God by serving others.  He informs us that even if we give just a cup of cold water to one of the least of people, God will surely reward us in His own time and way.  Matthew 10:42. Get involved. 

Today’s words and God’s message to us all can be quite challenging. They are supposed to be such.  Remember the image of Christ that is most familiar to you.  Think on that when you feel challenged in your servant’s heart.  Should you struggle with humility or self-denial as you strive to serve those who are hard to love? Recall that image of Jesus you have in your heart and mind, perhaps even hanging on a wall somewhere in your house. 

Scriptures affirm we are to ‘NOT look to our own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:4.  This is what Jesus did when he came to die in your place.  This is also another way of Jesus saying “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39 

Find your joy in making others joyful.  If you are watching television and your child/ grandchild says, “Can you play with me?” don’t just think about how tired you are.  Employ your servant’s heart to put the child’s interests before the pleasures of your relaxation. 

As you commune with God and He with you, pray to have a servant’s heart further nurtured within your life, your personality, and your daily walk.  Self-centeredness can be such a bondage. 

Hear now this prayer:  “Lord, may you ‘work’ on me.  Work in my heart so that I am freed from the bondage of self-centeredness and will instead be given the disposition to look not only at my own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Amen.

Unity in Diversity 7/4/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 3, 2021 & Sunday, July 4, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: In his own hometown Jesus could do no miracle because they did not believe in him.  Lord, protect us from the familiarity that turns the scriptures into nothing more than words.  Amen. 

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Psalm 84 (Page 588), 1 Peter 4:8-11 

SERMON MESSAGE: “Unity in Diversity” 

Which ‘saying’ do you think is more ‘true’?  “No two persons are exactly alike.” OR  “Great minds think alike?” 

Perhaps there is truth and insight to be gained from both ‘sayings.’ 

Recently, I saw on a commercial another ‘saying’ that pertains to today’s message.  Within the commercial two ladies on two separate sides of a wall, are talking about how to ‘pronounce’ a certain word.  I believe the word was ‘malware.’  Finally, the elder of the two speaks through the wall, her message: “Agree to disagree!” Kind of cute, yet meaningful. 

For years (prior to Covid-19) I would attend group meetings of Pittsburgh Presbytery.  Those meetings could become quite challenging as debates continued at length regarding controversial subjects.  The moderator of our Presbytery meetings often reminds us of our call to respect one another, hear one another, and consider one another’s points of view with the phrase, “Unity in Diversity.” 

We do not live in a world where everyone thinks alike.  Within our families each member has different thoughts.  Even within the church there is diversity. 

In am sure most of us can think of a Thanksgiving dinner or two that may as well have been one of the more recent presidential debates.  It is easy to let disagreements and differences get in the way of healthy relationships and unity, even within the church.  So, why did God create diversity?  

If you think about it, God is diverse, being made of three persons, yet the same being.  God has gifted us to be diverse, yet united through the presence of the same Spirit. 

Growth is stunted without some diversity.  The gospel is fully exposed in the midst of diversity. 

There really can be unity in diversity.  We seldom find two persons exactly alike.  Among human beings, as well as among the things of the natural world, there is diversity. 

The greatest person that ever lived was Jesus Christ.  

Jesus shows us, by His life, that when the human partakes of the divine nature, there is the greatest unity in diversity.  

Our unity with Jesus Christ establishes a bond of unity with one another.  

The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives completes us. 

Jesus Christ, His disciples, and every disciple since the time of Christ, grow to realize the powers of darkness stand a poor chance against believers who love one another as Christ has loved them.  Our bond, our very union with Christ, ‘shows up’ in our refusal to create alienation and strife.  ‘Shows up’ further in how we stand together, in our choosing to be kind, instead of mean, courteous and tender-hearted, cherishing the faith that works by love and purifies the soul. 

The closer our union with Christ, the closer will be our union with one another.  

In unity there is strength; in division there is weakness. 

The world tends to teach us variance, disaffection, selfishness, and conceit as being supreme.  But these are the fruits of a divided heart and thus open to the suggestions of the enemy of our souls.  Satan exults when dissension is sown.   

In unity, there is life. The world has learned repeatedly that a life that is choosing to function in unity produces a power that can be obtained in no other way. 

‘Yearn’ for unity.  Let that become your daily prayer, your on-going supreme passion, and the evidence of your actions.  The Psalmist declares that his soul ‘yearns’, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.  He further declares that his heart and his flesh cry out for the living God.  The ‘courts of the Lord’ are the religious places, the churches, the temples, the sanctuaries.  

I have witnessed something special and spiritual across my faithful years of ministry: “Blessed are those who dwell in God’s house,” the ‘courts of the Lord.’  People who commit time, devotion, labor, and work to the house of the Lord, as well as worship, do receive blessings. 

When the church pulls together and the members work together, there is a strength that is nothing short of a miracle as well as a blessing.  Walking the walk with God.  Faithfully living the Christian life enables us to live life going, as the Bible states, “from strength to strength.” 

Ask God to “hear your prayer.”  Right now, this 4th of July weekend, while you are here in church, call upon God to “look on our shield,” our nation, our country, our home.  Ask the Lord to “look on our shield” of military service personnel, past, present, and yet to come.  Pray to the Lord to “Look on our shield” of first responders but more importantly upon ‘prayer warriors’ that help to spiritually sustain those who work to unite us with God and one another. 

There are lots of references to unity found in the Bible and quite a few ‘directives’ for achieving it.  One certain ‘directive’ for nurturing unity is our call and response to humility. 

Ponder verse 10 of today’s Psalm 84, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” 

Think about that today as you leave church and perhaps ‘hold the door open’ for another.  Reflect on that as you choose to ask and act in a way that opens the door to this or any of God’s churches to another. 

As we know, lots of ‘different’ people have walked through the doors of this church across the years.  At one point in time someone held the door open and welcomed you here, time after time. 

The Psalmist informs us that in God’s house, being there, working there, inviting and welcoming others there, encouraging the faith will be like both sun and shield as the Lord in turn bestows favor and honor. 

Wholesome unity stems from the blessing of trusting in the Lord. 

Take a look at our world today.  Take a good hard look. I think we can readily see and wearily know the lack of trust has caused such disunity and further diversity throughout our world.  It seems as though the more we seek the truth these days the more questions we have. 

Some researchers ascertain that the Covid-19 virus was actually man-made.  Other researchers speak strongly against that theory declaring it could not have been man-made. 

What is ‘truth?’  Jesus affirmed himself as being ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’  Pilate, his crucifier, ascertained truth to be that which he or another affirmed or defined ‘Truth’ to be. 

Our world certainly would embrace more unity if there was far less diversity in understanding of what truth is.  Who can we trust?  What shall we trust?  Our questions run deep.  The mysteries associated with the pandemic further added to our inquiries about ‘truth.’ 

By far the easiest ‘truth’ to understand is ‘love.’  We tend to believe in love, over and over again in our lives.  Even though we’ve been hurt and broken, don’t we all know some way, somehow, ‘love’ seems to put us back together and allows us, even encourages us, to move on.  

The Bible declares unequivocally, “ABOVE ALL, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 

Has it ever happened to you?  Have you lived through, participated in, or seen “Love covering over a multitude of sins?”

A young 14-year-old boy once purchased a vase for his mother.  It was a very nice vase.  Soft colors, a few floral imprints on the side, even a tall neck.  The vase appeared to be very heavy.  The kind of vase that makes an impression that it will be used for years. 

That boy’s Mom was so pleased to receive the vase as a gift.  Without hesitation she cut some flowers outside their house, trimmed them ‘just right,’ placed them in the vase, and gave them a drink!  All was well until a few minutes later everything under the vase was getting wet.  The well-chosen vase was not so well made nor well repaired.  It seems her son had ‘gotten it on the cheap’ because the previous owner had done such a poor job repairing the crack on the bottom. 

It was hard to be humble that day for the 14-year-old boy, but he chose to be.  With his head down, his eyes lowered and his voice quite contrite, he told her his story, and said he was sorry.  That Mom recognized the goodness still in her boy, so they talked, then hugged, then grew closer from that day forward.  Not only had love covered over a multitude of sins, it furthered opened a door for trust and maturity into their future. 

Love will lead to unity, even in the midst of diversity.  Not the run-of-the-mill ‘fake’ kind of love, but the real deal; humble kind of love that is genuine and comes from one’s heart. 

Today’s scripture lesson includes a verse that declares we should “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”  If you have to ‘grumble’ about being kind, extending hospitality or ‘welcome’ to another, that’s meaningless.  ‘Grumbling’ can lead to dissension, mistrust, and the kind of diversity that divides souls one from another. 

You’ve got some stuff inside of you that comes from God.  The Bible remains clear, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  Our ‘diverse’ gifts contribute to the best kind of unity.  Spiritual faith, Holy living.  Sacred truth.  Trust we can believe in. 

Our world and our country needs, actually craves, unity in the midst of so much diversity. 

Unity starts among us.  One soul at a time.  You be a good soul, and you shall become a contagious Christian. 

The closer our union with Christ, the closer will be our union with one another.  In unity there is strength; in division there is weakness.

The Big Picture 6/27/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 26, 2021 & Sunday, June 27, 2021 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 100 (Page 597) and 1 Corinthians 12:12-20 (Page 1151) 

Sermon Title: "The Big Picture" 

As you can see, there are lots of ‘analogies’ found in the Bible.  Within today’s scriptures the Apostle Paul draws ‘analogy’ between the human body and members of the Church.  Sometimes these analogies or stories do help us to grow and see the ‘bigger picture.’  Perceiving the bigger picture helps us in life.  

Consider with me, briefly, how any of us might ‘see’ things.  Take for instance this story about three stone cutters, each chiseling away at their block of stone.  One day, a traveler walking along a lane came across these three stonecutters working in a nearby quarry.  Each was busy with their particular block of stone.  So the traveler asked the first stonecutter what he was doing.  The stonecutter replied, “I am cutting a stone.” 

The traveler turned to the second stone cutter, also working on a similar block of stone and asked him what he was doing.  “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that it’s square, and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall." 

A bit closer to finding out what the stonecutters were working on but still unclear, the traveler turned to the third stonecutter.  He seemed to be the happiest of the three and when asked what he was doing replied:  “I am building a cathedral.” 

There IS joy to be found in ‘the bigger picture.’  

I believe God wants us to have ‘the bigger picture’ not only within life in general, but specifically in our church life. 

Kind of like those three different stone cutters we might all be working on the same thing yet have very different perspectives.  Consider some of our ‘church perspectives’ and how they apply to our church membership. 

Sometimes folks ‘perceive’ being a part of a church in a similar fashion to belonging to a country club.  Within that perspective the church is viewed as providing perks and privileges. 

Across the years I’ve heard folks say, “This is my church, so you have to play the music just the way I want it.”  A few have even said to me, “Look pastor, you need to remember who pays your salary.”  Still others have declared, “If you don’t do this program, I will withhold my check to the church.”  More than I’d like to recognize have said, “I’ve been a member of this church for decades, so I have a right to get what I want.” 

I think you are seeing the smaller picture associated with church membership.  In accordance with today’s scriptural analogy that’s kind of like the foot saying, ‘because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.’ 

Thankfully, we are NOT a country club in this church and ‘status’ is not the motivation for any of us to be members here nor of the Body of Christ, in general. 

I believe God has sent and still sends His Holy Spirit to awaken us to the bigger picture. 

The Holy Spirit does speak to us, even ‘awakens’ us, through Holy Scriptures.  

Are you aware of something we all have in common with every other Christian in every church throughout the world?  As today’s scriptures points out, “though we have many parts, we form one body.  We are all baptized by one Spirit.”  Friends, whenever and wherever we may have been baptized, this remains our common bond with Jesus and ALL Christians. 

Christians the world over form the church.  Together, even in our diversity, we make up the Body of Christ.  Again, as today’s scriptures teach us, we are not made of one part but of many. Each of us has our part to do.  Every person has something from God they can contribute to the bigger picture; His Church. 

Just as we work together so too, we suffer together. That’s part of the reason we come together each week to pray, share our concerns, and build each other up in the Body of Christ.  In similar fashion, when one member is honored, all the members rejoice with the good news, the achievement.  

Sometimes we need an ‘awakening’ of sorts to help see and embrace the bigger picture in any portion of life and specifically in our spiritual life. 

As students of the Bible, I trust we have all gained insights and perspectives from specific scriptures such as those found in 1 Corinthians 12. Easily enough we perceive that the Apostle Paul is writing a message to the early church in Corinth regarding spiritual gifts and what it means to be members of the Body of Christ, His Church. 

1 Corinthians 12 is often times used as a point of reference for pastors, committees, and members in general.  The Apostle Paul then writes within 1 Corinthians 13 a perspective on love.  Many, if not most Christians, remain pleasantly familiar with 1 Corinthians 13; the ‘love chapter.’  Recall some of those scriptures: “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  

Like you, for years I would read those same scriptures, reflect upon them, smile, and even share them repeatedly at weddings.  Here is the spiritual ‘awakening’ associated with the ‘love chapter.’  It was originally written by the Apostle Paul, even as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, to the troubled church of Corinth, to demonstrate how church members relate to one another. 

If applied, still today, abiding by these principles of the love chapter will give us healthy churches. 

Further consider what this spiritual insight means and ‘awakens’ any of us unto. Church members are patient.  Church members are kind.  Church members do not envy one another, are not conceited, selfish, nor easily provoked.  Nor do church members keep a record of wrongs.  

You see, within the bigger picture of the Biblical perspective church membership is founded on love.  Authentic, biblical, abiding love. 

Our membership is not about ‘me, myself and I.’  Rather it remains being about ‘Jesus, others, and then, ‘you.’ Paul's’ analogy to the human body as a reference for what church membership looks like and how we are to function with one another reminds us that we do in fact need and depend upon each other.  

We function best when we contribute to the whole, when love is the guiding principle and we each ‘do our part.’ 

God has created and nurtured the church, in all its varied forms and denominations down through the centuries.  Post-pandemic lots of churches are changing. 

This church, the Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis, is a part of Pittsburgh Presbytery.  Within Pittsburgh Presbytery there are 132 churches.  I recently learned that during the course of the pandemic, 46 of our churches experienced significant ministerial transition.  Some churches closed, a few are currently struggling to reopen, some pastors needed to move on.  Several remain healthy, such as ours.  

When blessed, always stop to pray, be thankful, and remain humble.  This applies to all areas of life and living.  Especially so to church life. 

The Bible offers further perspective on the bigger picture of faith, life, and being a part of the church.  In Psalm 100 the Psalmist writes we should “shout to the Lord, worship with gladness, remember we are His sheep and he cares for us." Furthermore, we should weekly “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise, giving thanks to him and praise to his name.  The Lord is good.  His faithfulness continues through all generations.” 

In the bigger picture of things we belong to God and this church.  Care for the church even as you care for your human body.  Do good things, for the church.  Feed her well, choose to function in ways that lead to health, happiness, joy, and eternity. 

Recall those three perspectives of the stonecutters. One sought to simply cut a stone.  A second stonecutter sought to make his stone ‘fit in.’  The third stone cutter, working on a similar block of stone, saw his work as part of a bigger picture and said with joy, “I am building a cathedral!” 

While this particular building has been standing for quite a long time folks, we ARE still building a church.  Enter His gates with gladness.  Come before Him with joyful songs. 

I spend a lot of time and give in many ways to this church.  Mine remains an attitude of gratitude.  I remain committed, as do most members, to giving cheerfully and abundantly, to ministering and to serving.  To doing my part of being the Body of Christ.  

While Jesus once walked the face of this earth and had a human body much as we do, now we are to be His body and pledge to continue His work, achieve His goals, share His love, and become the church. 

There are many parts but one body.  

God designed the church, and God continues to design us to be part of it.  Churches are stepping stones to heaven while remaining anchors for all here on earth.

 

It's good, really good, to be a functioning member of the church. It's also quite good to live into the bigger picture of what faith, hope, and love can do. Amen.

Members of the Faith Family 6/20/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 19, 2021 & Sunday, June 20, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God of our Fathers and Mothers, God of us all, send now your Holy Spirit upon us to quiet our hearts, care for our souls, and open our minds to the Word of God and thy Divine message, we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 103:13-18 (Page 599), Ephesians 6:1-4 (Page 1177), and Matthew 5:16 (Page969) 

Sermon Message:  “Members of the Faith Family” 

Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are times within the Church to celebrate and reflect upon the Christian faith and family. 

Being a ‘parent’ is an honor.  Our children remain gifts from God.  Ours remains the privilege and responsibility to nurture, care, and provide for those we love and those who love us. 

As parents, we grow to learn our participation in family is a cycle.  We start out in life dependent upon our family.  Gradually we grow and acquire family of our own.  Eventually we are called upon to care for those who once cared for us. 

God teaches us to acquire wisdom for life, for living, for family, and for faith.

Common-sense wisdom teaches us that while we may strive towards independence, self-sufficiency, and self-fulfillment, in reality we remain designed by our Maker to love one another, enjoy each other, and depend upon others.  In short, we need to be ‘part’ of something that is bigger than ourselves.  No man is an island.  

My father used to flex his muscles before us boys and say, “Look at that!  Rocks!”  Then he’d smile. When I was in my teens and my own muscles were forming, I too would flex my muscles before my father and say, “Look at that!  Weapons!”  Then we’d both smile. 

What my father, my mother, and my brothers and I grew to further realize is our need for others. 

My father and mother sure had their share of ‘problems.’  Thus, my three brothers and I were raised on welfare.  No shame in that, just some trials that were quite challenging. 

There was a list of people that helped us through our trials.  The welfare agency had a social worker visit us to be sure we still ‘qualified’ for government assistance.  Local doctors, dentists, and the community police were a part of our evolving family.  Teachers had compassion on us, slipping us a few freebies now and then.  Of course, our local church family was essential to our ‘making it’ through those years.

We all have our ‘stories to tell’ regarding family and faith.  God shows us that we must all learn to function in both our families and our faith.  There’s a difference between ‘functioning’ and ‘surviving.’  

For any of us, when our trials are at their worst, it feels as though we are barely surviving.  God, our Heavenly Father, sends help, love, and others.  FAITH makes a difference, often times, all the difference in the world.  There is an analogy for this to be found in today’s scriptures.  Within Psalm 103:13-18, it is recorded that “as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” 

God consistently sends help.  God, our heavenly Father has also given each of us free will.  Even His Son, Jesus Christ, had free will to endure the cross or not.  It remains our free will choice to respond to God’s help.  Within our daily lives, sometimes our free will gets us into trouble.  At other times it can lead us to make wise choices in our faith and for our families. 

Sometimes dysfunctional attributes are present in ourselves, our family, where we work, even within the church and our faith formations. Whatever dysfunctional things we may have seen in our faith or our families, let’s choose to be functional instead.  This will require some intentional effort, work, and insight on our part.  Coupled with prayer and ongoing spiritual guidance.  May our compassion and our participation in church and families reflect our precepts. 

Jesus Christ has taught us, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)  God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.  Look further to the example of Jesus; His life, time, and purpose.  Jesus was sent by God to unite us.  Jesus chose to obey His Father. We, too, are taught to obey and honor our parents and our God. Today’s scripture lesson warns us fathers “not to exasperate our children instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” 

Let’s choose to be unifying in our families and in our church membership.  

Across the years, I’ve shared lots of personal insights with you.  One particular ‘insight’ I do not think I’ve ever shared entails a peculiar behavior I sometimes share with my personal family on days such as “Father’s Day”, my birthday, and so on.  It’s something I learned from my father. When I was growing up, we were rather poor.  So, purchasing special or significant presents was sometimes difficult to do.  My brothers and I went to church and heard the Biblical teaching to ‘honor our fathers and our mothers.’  We learned much about ‘honor’ in church and how that relates to our parents. Another common way we chose to interpret that spiritual teaching was by procuring a present for our father on ‘Father’s Day.’  This one year, try as I might, I could not come up with much.  So, I looked around outside and in my room for something, anything, that could become an appropriate ‘Father’s Day’ present.  I think I ended up picking a few wild flowers and placing them in an old Coca Cola bottle that I had washed out and cleaned up to the best of my abilities.  I think I even tied a piece of ribbon around the neck of that bottle.  My Dad smiled, gave me a rub across the top of my hair and said, “Thanks Son!” Then he reached under the table and said, “I got a present for you. It’s something I made.”  Turns out Dad had found an appropriately sized tree branch, cut out the part where the branch formed a ‘Y’ and hand scraped all of the bark off of it.  He then used two pieces of bicycle inner tube.  Each piece was first tied to a leather tongue from one of our old shoes.  He then tied each end of those two rubber inner tubes to the Y-shaped tree branch.  “Here you go son.  I made you a slingshot.  Just be careful.  I don’t want you putting anyone’s eye out or breaking any windows!” 

I’ve always remembered what it’s like to ‘not have enough.’  Especially so when your own daughter has used her pennies and borrowed from her ‘allowance’ to get you a proper “Father’s Day” present. So every now and then, when it’s really supposed to be about me, I tend to get a present for someone else, extend a favor, give them some money, and just ‘be a Dad!’  

Family at home and family in the church are not supposed to be just about our preferences and desires.  Just as we are to honor God and our parents, we also are to honor and not exasperate those we are privileged by God to care for. The Scriptural directive to ‘not exasperate’ also means to not annoy, agitate, anger, disturb, ‘drive up the wall,’ ‘get under one’s skin,’ inflame, infuriate, or irk.  I think you ‘get the gist.’  

We honor our earthly fathers.  We are also to honor “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Honor God in our families.  Honor God in His church. 

An example Jesus sets is to pray. Jesus prayed for guidance and for strength.  Jesus prayed for his disciples and for his family.  Jesus Christ even prayed for his enemies.  

Honor God, our Father, by praying routinely, sincerely, and with devotion.  Pray for those who lead us to become better fathers, good families, functional members of church, home, and society.  Pray for me, please, as your pastor. 

Fathers, pray for your children and continue to teach them the ways of the Lord.  Even when they are all ‘grown up.’  I firmly believe we never quit parenting. 

God inquires of us all to live in such manner that others will see who we are, how we live, and what we believe in and thus be drawn home to God, to faith, to love, and to Jesus.  May our words and our actions bring honor to the Lord and life to our children as we lead them in His ways.   

Let your light shine, the Bible declares. Fathers, parents, children, and church members, ask yourself: are our children learning to live in the stress of the world or the joy of the Lord? May your actions and my own reflect our prayers.  

A further question: “What good are you?”  By that, I mean to inquire what benefits are God, family, church, children, and faith gaining from ‘who’ you are and from the good deeds you do?  Perhaps you were or still are part of a dysfunctional family.  You may desire to change all of that.  History does not have to repeat itself.  Not in families nor in church.  God remains the God of new beginnings.  Hear afresh His assuring words, “Behold, I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5) 

Choose, by your own free will, to change things for the better.  Lead your family to be healthy and functional.  You can do it.  Not alone but with God’s help and the care, support, and help of other believers.  Be a healthy father.  Help your family to be healthy.  Be a healthy church member.  The processes involved in health require some extensive effort, growing, learning, praying, listening, and free will choices on our parts. Jesus inquires of us to “let our light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  One of the greater ‘good deeds’ you or I can perform is to treasure our families and our faith. 

Today we affirm that we are members of the faith family.  Amen.

The Grace of Life 6/13/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 12, 2021 & Sunday, June 13, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us.  Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, and in our living.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 90 (Page 592) and 1 Peter 3:1-7 (Page 1222) 

Sermon Message: “The Grace of Life” 

Some years back, when I read those scriptures referencing ‘wives submitting to their husbands,’ one woman in the congregation abruptly folded her arms, crossed her legs, and turned her head away! 

At first glance, some verses of scripture can seem ‘challenging’ perhaps even abrasive.  

I further recall sharing these scriptures from Psalm 90 which speak of living to be 70 years old, perhaps 80, if our strength endures.  When I was in my forties, that time seemed pretty far away.  Not so much anymore.  May we all remember the Psalms were written long before the birth of Jesus Christ.  Our human life spans have changed, granting us longer length of years accompanied by better health.  

Today’s scriptures, specifically from the Book of 1 Peter 3:1-7, opens with a command for wives to live their lives in such a Christ-like manner that their unbelieving husbands will be irresistibly drawn to Christ.  It concludes by encouraging husbands to understand and honor their wives.  

Peter goes on to say that when we do not live in understanding and honor, our relationship with God can be hampered, and our prayers go unanswered. 

When our lives reflect Jesus’ actions and attitudes, then the pathway to God is opened wide.  Our spiritual health and growth are assured, and we become heirs of ‘the grace of life.’ 

‘Grace’ can be understood as an acronym…G…R…A…C..E… God’s Redeeming Aide Coming Everyday. 

‘Life’ can be understood as existence. 

The ‘grace of life’ can be best understood as the miracle of life that only God can give. 

Upon first reading of today’s scriptures in the Book of 1 Peter 3:1-7, the Apostle Paul’s words can seem quaint and challenging by today’s standards.  Always look a bit further, dig a bit deeper, and pray further as you study and seek to learn from Scriptures.  

The Apostle Paul informs us that wives have an opportunity to help their husbands draw closer to God, become believers, and thus better husbands.  Wives extend the grace of life by means of their inner self; their unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.  I readily affirm that the purity and reverence of a holy woman is of great worth in God’s sight and of sincere benefit to a weak or small-faith husband. 

Husbands and wives are a team.  Always have been.  Always will be.  God created marriage in order that the two shall become as one.  The essence of the two becoming one is in itself a full evidence of the grace of life.  Two are better than one.  Each ‘completes’ the other. 

Husbands and wives become families.  But have you noticed that family meals are ‘not so much’ anymore in lots of homes?  Yet, they still do occur in some.  At one such family gathering the expanded family was present.  They had met for the little girl’s birthday.  She was maybe 5 or 6.  After singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and blowing out the candles, she indulged in opening her presents.  At one point a large red bow fell off of one of her presents.  She picked it up, placed it on her head and said, “Look everyone, I am a present!” 

How wise and true her words were beyond even her immediate comprehension.  Children become God’s opinion that the world should go on.  

That same little girl waited until everything had settled down and folks were enjoying their cake and ice cream then asked, "Mommy and Daddy, if you guys never got married, who’s child would I be?"  Those parents did their best to answer their little girl all the while realizing, by the grace of God they were, in fact, married AND by the further grace of God, they did have this little girl, in all her sweetness, inquisitiveness, and innocence to enjoy, love, and nurture. 

Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. In our youth we tend to believe we shall live forever.  As we age, we pray that won’t be the case due to infringing infirmities that compromise life. 

The grace of life calls us, even commands us, to live in a way that draws ourselves and others ‘home’ to Christ, to God, and eventually to heaven.  The grace of life makes love better and appreciation more ‘real’ and ‘sincere.’ 

Living ‘through’ and ‘beyond’ this pandemic also reflects the grace of life. 

I officiated a funeral last month and met a fellow I have not seen since the beginning of the pandemic.  I hardly recognized the guy.  Not because of his mask.  But because of his hair!  He had always kept his hair cut short and even with his head.  He had this ‘bush’ on top of his head that fell down the sides of his face.  He giggled as he shared with me ‘who’ he was.  He went on to say he has not had a hair cut since the pandemic began.  

The pandemic affected us all.  We are more aware of God, one another, and the world community than before.  Isolation tends to be devastating for human beings.

Clearly the Bible communicates, “by the grace of God we have been saved.”  While we generally attribute those scriptures as pertaining to being ‘saved’ for eternal life, one can’t help but believe God’s grace ‘saved’ us from the entire world being overcome by Covid-19. 

The grace of life has indeed come to us in many forms.  His grace has brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.  The grace of life, my friends, leads us home to a love that is significant on earth and in heaven.  The grace of life affirmed in the Book of Psalms is a directive to not only appreciative living but also quality and meaningful living.  “O Lord teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Establish thou the work of our hands.” 

The grace of life affirmed in today’s reading from 1 Peter provides women and men with ways to live, in such a manner, that even our example will draw others ‘home’ to God, to Christ, to faith, and to the church. 

What is it that ‘attracts’ you to Jesus Christ, to this church, to the Christian faith?  

What is it about YOU that attracts others to Jesus Christ, to this church, to the Christian faith?  The Apostle Paul’s words are clear; live your life in such a way, that others will be attracted to Jesus Christ because of your actions, the purity and reverence of your life.  Give people something godly to see, believe in, and trust.  Share the grace of life with others, all others. Amen.

Do Not Lose Heart 6/6/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 5, 2021 & Sunday, June 6, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Send, O God, the light of your presence on our hearts so that as your truth is proclaimed, we may trust in you with all our hearts.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Mark 3:20-34 (Page 1004) and 2 Corinthians 4:13 - 5:1 (Page 1159) 

Sermon Message: “Do Not Lose Heart” 

“Do not lose heart.”  We have all been ‘disheartened’ from time to time. Jesus’ mother and brothers came looking for Jesus when he was nearly at the ‘height’ of his ministry.  He and his disciples were so busy, at one point, that they didn’t even have time to eat.  His family went to ‘take charge’ over him because they were ‘disheartened’ with him.  Jesus refused to ‘listen’ and leave the meeting he was having with the teachers of the law.  He did not feel as though he needed rescuing from his work or busyness.  So, Jesus goes on to redefine ‘who’ is family. 

Have you ever ‘lost heart’ with someone?  

Within my personal life, what I consider to be a ‘greater miracle’ was my transformation as a quiet, keep-to-myself, shy kind of child, to an extroverted public speaker. Because I was shy and quiet, my mother especially, would sometimes try to ‘arrange’ friendships for me.  She’d call some neighbor lady who had a son somewhere around my age and ask that mother if her child would be my friend. At the pre-school age that was ‘fine and dandy.’  But in elementary school and later, that was a bit too much.  Even embarrassing.  

Families most often ‘mean well’ but don’t always end up ‘doing well’ for one another.  

As a pastor, I’ve met more than my share of families who have ‘lost heart’ with one or more members. 

‘Families’ continue to change.  Jesus reminds us that family can be more than the people we’re related to by birth, genetics, or blood.  Some family is chosen.  Have you noticed the trend among some young folks and some of us seniors, to choose our family members from what used to be an unusual place?  Some research indicates that younger people are not getting married until in their thirties, and they see their pets as family members, even ‘starter children!’  Some statistics affirm that as high as three-fourths of Americans in their 30’s own a dog, and better than one half own a cat.  Marketers say they’ve noticed the perception of pets has changed with this generation.  Pets teach the qualities many young folks feel they’ll need as parents, and they make lifestyle choices based on their pets’ needs.  They want to take their pets out with them, and so public spaces need to be pet-friendly.  One woman says she “considers her dog to be her baby” and thinks this experience has prepared her for the ‘real deal’ down the line, thanks to the specific routines, checkups, and preferences she now takes into consideration.”  She adds, “Obviously there will be bigger challenges as a parent to a human baby, but for now, my fur baby keeps my hands full.”  People can be vexing, so some people are choosing to claim their pets as family members. 

Friends fill the place of family for many people. Especially as we age, our friends can become a kind of chosen family who have a protective and caring effect.  Having supportive friendships in old age is sometimes found to be a strong predictor of wellbeing.  Both family and friend relationships are generally associated with better health and happiness overall.  When family cannot be around, strong friendships sincerely can make a huge difference, especially so for seniors. 

Jesus’ family was ‘disheartened’ with him.  They were also quite ‘concerned’ with his well-being.  They saw where Jesus had become so ‘busy’ that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. His own family went so far as to say, “He is out of his mind.” 

At the same time the teachers of the law came down from Jerusalem and accused Jesus of being possessed by demons.  Jesus was ‘getting it’ from both sides!  Surely Jesus must have been disheartened by both the lack of support and hurtful accusations. 

Jesus defended himself.  He addressed the teachers of the law, speaking to them in parables.  A parable is a story containing a message within.  Jesus inquires, “How can Satan drive out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  If Satan opposes himself, he cannot stand, his end has come.” 

President Abraham Lincoln referenced these precise scriptures as he sought to unite a land, this land, our nation, when divided over the issues of slavery and freedom for all. 

Pastors and counselors, for years, have referenced this parable teaching of Jesus Christ when addressing marital concerns amidst couples.  A house divided is indeed sad and disheartening. 

Within the same conversation Jesus went on to say, “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up.  Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.” 

At first glance this seems to be a bit of a ‘strange’ teaching from the Lord Jesus.  Yet we must remember Jesus was speaking to us in the form of a parable.  That is, a kind of story or teaching within a story.  Consider briefly how this particular teaching of Jesus Christ might apply to our lives today. 

‘A strong man’s house’ might become a reference to long-held beliefs, even traditions. Such ‘beliefs and traditions’ might range from long-held ‘outlooks’ regarding race, religion, gender, and political views to over-protective measures that end up hurting or dismissing someone.  Churches can become quite embedded with beliefs and traditions that can make a person ‘lose heart.’  I have a brief example to share with you. 

Ralph and Jimmy were both members of a suburban church I once served in another town.  I well recall those two; strong-willed in nature and even stronger in their ‘church outlooks!’  Jimmy harbored some very ‘strong’ feelings against Ralph.  After all, his thoughts regarding the neighborhood youth playing ball in the church yard were for the good, for the betterment of the church, to welcome ‘young blood’ as he called the youth in that neighborhood.  Ralph, on the other hand, opposed anyone setting foot on the well-manicured lawn.  He believed it was to be ‘sacred ground’ reserved as a thing of beauty.  Besides, hitting balls around could only lead to disaster, broken windows, and possible lawsuits!  So he thought.  Both fellows had very ‘strong’ opinions concerning ‘their’ church.  Jimmy harbored bitter feelings towards Ralph.  Eventually those strong feelings became disheartening to him, even as he sat through sermons proclaiming love, unity, forgiveness, and tolerance.  I’ll never forget the day I saw Jimmy sitting on the front steps of that church, burning with strong feelings just prior to worship beginning.  I could tell Jimmy didn’t really want to come inside that Sunday for he was SO disheartened with Ralph.  Something peculiar happened that day.  From my vantage point, I saw Ralph walking up the steps to enter church, and instead of passing by Jimmy, who was there on the steps, Ralph sat down beside Jimmy.  I feared the worst.  So, I got a bit closer to them both.  Ralph spoke to Jimmy from his heart.  He acknowledged that Jimmy and his family had become such a sincere part of that church nearly 15 years ago.  Ralph shared a bit of his history associated with that church: weddings, funerals, special church services, times for much-needed community outreach following natural disasters, and so on. Ralph went on to say he was sorry to have become so protective of this church he loved. Ralph realized he just wanted to be sure that the next generation, which included Jimmy and his family, would be as protective and loving of that church as he had become.  I needed to go inside to lead in worship, so I was not ‘privy’ to the rest of their conversing.  Finally they made it inside just as I was about to start the sermon.  That day I saw them smile and touch each other’s shoulders as they sat in the pews.  As pastor, I knew the ‘strong man’s house’ had become trusted and shared with the next generation. 

Sometimes the strength of our views can become disheartening to others.  We are the Lord’s.  He is Lord and God.  We are not.  Don’t lose heart; God shall come and make all things new!  

Jesus went on to say people can be forgiven of many things; all of their sins and every slander they utter.  ‘Sin’ can make any soul lose heart. Jesus Christ taught us that sin can be forgiven.  He then warns us that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Many have wondered what is ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?”  It can mean continued and obstinate rejection of God, the gospels, and Jesus; hence, it is an unpardonable sin simply because as a sinner remains in unbelief, he voluntarily excludes himself from pardon.  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can also be regarded as attributing to the power of Satan those miracles, which Christ performed, or those works, which are the result of the Holy Spirit’s movement.  Either meaning leads to disheartening. 

Jesus instructs us to reconsider our priorities.  Who is it that we love?  Who do we choose to love and ‘who’ loves us?  It’s easy to lose heart with those we think ‘should’ love us but do not. The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reminds us all that we have the same spirit of faith.  For we know that the one who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us to God. 

Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, we do not lose heart for we are being renewed day by day.”  Perhaps you are aware of some ‘renewal stories’ that have helped you or another NOT to lose heart. 

In the daily devotional, The Upper Room, a woman who would only identify herself as Claudia, submitted a thoughtful article.  Claudia identified herself as the wife of the president of a major corporation.  She explained that her husband was near retirement, and their children were grown and living away from home, before she accepted Jesus as her personal savior.  With remorse she looked back over those years and realized how different they would have been with Jesus in her life.  She would have had a much closer relationship with her daughters, and she would have used her wealth and status in the community for the betterment of people.  Claudia continued to be sad and troubled by this loss until one day during her devotions she read this passage:  “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.” (Joel 2:25)  Claudia wrote, “I just rested upon this promise.”  She began a new life for herself, no longer-guilt ridden over the “lost years.” 

Do not lose heart for God still has a way of ‘making all things new!’  Even the past.  Hear again Paul’s promising words of Holy Scripture: “We do not lose heart though outwardly we are wasting away.  Inwardly, we are being renewed day by day.  Our troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  Together we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” 

Therefore, we do not lose heart, come what may here on this side of heaven.  Amen. 


Three Ways God Comes To Us 5/30/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 29 & Sunday, May 30, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Guide us, O God by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  John 3:1-17 (Page 1064) & Matthew 28:16-20 (Page 1000) 

Sermon Message: “Three Ways God Comes To Us” 

I am one of a very few persons who can remember when I took my very first steps. Not from when I was an infant.  Rather, I remember my first steps following extensive surgery on my broken left leg. 

‘Memories’ are most often a good thing.  ‘Memories’ are special moments that tell our story.  On this Memorial Day weekend, we recall ‘stories’ associated with people, places, and events.  Memories imply some degree of ‘history’ as well. 

As ‘memory’ serves me, when I broke my leg, initially I thought, “Oh they’ll fix me right up, and I’ll be back to church next week!”  Instead, I was 4 days in Sewickley Hospital followed up by ten days at Encompass Health Center for rehab.  Once home I had another ‘wait’ of a few more weeks before I was allowed to come back to church. 

At the rehab facility they asked me if I could walk?  I thought about it in my mind and said, “Yes, of course I can.”  My mind said ‘yes’ but my body said ‘no’. 

You know something, after a while of struggling with the pain and inability to walk, my ‘spirit’ started to go down.  One week prior to my accident, I had been down here at the church on a Monday evening running a weed whacker, walking all over the block, with very little exertion. 

Throughout recovery, my mind kept saying yes.  My body was slow to respond, and my spirit was starting to hurt.  After a while your body teaches you what your mind doesn’t want to accept. My spirit was grateful for care and hope whenever and wherever it came from. 

Like you, my memories tell my story. 

There are numerous ways God effects the stories associated with each of our lives. 

Along with today marking Memorial Day weekend, this is also recognized in the Christian church as being Trinity Sunday.  Today we affirm the three parts of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Employing a metaphor here for illustration; God the Father is kind of like the Mind of God.  Jesus Christ, God the Son, is kind of like the body of God.  The Holy Spirit is kind of like the spirit, the soul aspect of God. Today is Trinity Sunday – it is called Trinity Sunday because it is the first Sunday after Pentecost.  The three persons of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three ways God comes to us. 

Summer time is upon us, and things are starting to ‘open up’ once again in our world.  Slowly we are starting to hear that several public gatherings are going to become available.  Perhaps you remember going places where caricature artists set up their easels and draw pictures of people who are willing to pay a modest price for a humorous image of themselves.  Those drawings can be quite amusing because they exaggerate one or more of our physical features in a way that is recognizable but funny. 

Caricatures of God, on the other hand, are not funny.  Exaggerating one of His attributes presents a distorted view that people easily dismiss.  Like a caricature, a distorted view of God is not taken seriously. 

Those who see God portrayed only as an angry and demanding judge are easily lured away by someone who emphasizes mercy. 

Those who see God as a kind-hearted grandfather will reject that image when they need justice. 

Those who see God as an intellectual idea rather than a living, loving being eventually find other ideas more appealing. 

Those who see God as a best friend often leave Him behind when they find human friends who are more to their liking. 

God declares Himself to be merciful and gracious, but also just in punishing the guilty. 

As we put our faith into action, we need to avoid portraying God as having only our favorite attributes. 

We must worship all of God, not just what we like.  Because we believe in a Trinitarian God, we cannot believe in a God that is distant or aloof – apart from us.  We have a God that created us – that came as one of us – knows what it means to be human.  We have a God that is with us, always, to the end of the age.  Our God is not merely some master engineer that has only set His creation in motion, like some master watch maker, and now observes us from a distance. 

God came to us as Creator, Maker, and Sustainer.  As affirmed in the creeds, we believe one of the ways God has come is the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.  In the beginning, God walked with us in the cool of the evening. 

Jesus comforted the disciples and us by saying, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

One of the ways God came to us was to be born among us as a human being in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. God was born of a woman and was raised from infancy. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)  God lived among us as a human being.  God’s Son died for each and every one that chooses to believe.  We have a God that is intimate.  God comes to each of us intimately and to all of us collectively.  God relates to us.  We are part of God’s family. 

Everybody needs somebody sometime.  We all need someone to love and someone to love us.  This life and this world are NOT heaven. The best is yet to come. In the meantime we are designed to need God and one another.  We have received what the Bible calls a spirit of adoption.  Jesus sometimes referred to God the Father as ‘Abba-Father’ which translates “Daddy-Father.”  When we, like Jesus, call out intimately and sincerely to the Father, the Bible affirms that very Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15b-17) 

Suffering is not evidence of the absence of God as some might suggest, BUT of God living in the conflict zone right alongside us. 

Jesus instructed and declared:  “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18) 

God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the manifestation of God’s love.  Strive to understand these three ways God comes to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In the process we meet God. 

Understanding and learning things happen in a lot of different ways these days.  Some say you can ‘look up’ anything on the computer, and there is probably a video or YouTube presentation for it somewhere.  

For example, have you ever wanted to learn fly-fishing?  An online video may be all right, but the mentoring of a seasoned angler would be better.  If you wish to be fluent in a new language, an immersion program is a good idea.  Generally, the closer you get to the source of knowledge, the more wisdom you receive. 

Within today’s scriptures, there comes a point in the visit from Nicodemus that we had read today, when Jesus turns to us.  He has "insider information" for the entire world to hear:  If you want to know God, watch the Son.  You can't get any closer to the source.  

God comes to us in at least three ways: He comes as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. Nicodemus refers to Jesus as ‘Rabbi.’  He further references Jesus as a teacher who has come from God.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee and also a member of the Jewish ruling council.  Nicodemus makes reference to God as Father and converses with Jesus as ‘coming from the Father.’  Nicodemus wants to see and know God mainly through the mind. Nicodemus admires Jesus.  In a somewhat similar fashion Nicodemus admires himself as being born a Pharisee and having become a member of the Jewish ruling council. 

While knowledge, title, and position are both relevant and important, Jesus challenges all of that, informing us, that knowing God requires relating at a deep level.  Actually, through a life changing means.  You must be born again.  We have to do more than ‘admire’ God or His Son, Jesus.  We need to relate.  Consider how the Father ‘relates’ to others.  He loves us.  He sends His Son, and He sends the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit comes as the breath of God to comfort, to care, to inspire. 

You and I have a limited yet functional understanding of the Trinity of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We draw analogy to having a mind, a body, and a spirit.  All three are required.  We grow to learn that by paying attention only to one’s mind, body, or spirit will cause neglect and suffering to the other dimensions of ‘who’ we are. 

Don’t just gather knowledge about God; know Jesus, His Son, personally.  Call upon the Holy Spirit for prayer, inspiration, guidance, and care.  Not only for your life but also for how you relate to others in this life. 

Jesus was ‘sent to save.’  Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. 

On this Memorial Day weekend, may we ‘remember’ to do the same.  One soul at a time.  

Amen.

Pentecost; God Breathes Hope 5/23/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 22, 2021 &  Sunday, May 23, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: God, send your Holy Spirit upon us today that we may grow to hear, understand, and apply the Word of God to our lives. In the precious name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Romans 8:22-27 (Page 1133) & Galatians 5:22 (Page 1171) 

Sermon Title:  “Pentecost; God Breathes Hope” 

Today’s initial scripture lesson begins with a thought-provoking message that 'the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.'  ‘Groaning’ seems to be a theme associated with the Holy Spirit as well.  Today’s scripture lesson further discloses that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans. 

Today is Pentecost.  This is a time to recognize that God breathes hope. 

Perhaps like me, you have things that make you ‘groan.’  When Jesus Christ walked the face of the earth, there were things that may have caused folks to ‘groan’ back then.  There was division among many.  Different languages being spoken only seemed to add to the confusion.  On Pentecost, we recall that when the Holy Spirit came, the people were able to hear and understand the messages of God, each in their own language.  This brought unity. 

Music is accredited as being the universal language.  Perhaps you also have recognized where folks sometimes ‘hear’ music’s message ‘differently.’ 

Do you recall what a transistor radio is?  It was a small radio that a person could carry around with them or set beside them to listen to music.  I once owned a transistor radio that had this neat ‘option’ of a silver metal clip that allowed me to fasten it to my belt.  Let me tell you, walking around with that transistor radio on my belt was super cool!  Back then we used to listen to the “Top Forty” popular songs on the radio.  I well recall those radios often times lacked clarity and sounded pretty scratchy.  Back then when you heard songs the station chose to play, it was entirely possible to get the lyrics wrong. 

The musical group, Credence Clearwater Revival, sang “There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise.”  I and many others heard:  “There’s a bathroom on the right.”  Another musical group, “Iron Butterfly,” sang:  “In-a-gadda-da-vida, honey,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Some folks instead heard:  “In a glob of Velveeta, honey.”  

Perhaps you are ‘groaning’ as you hear these awkward ways we sometimes get the same message wrong.

‘Groaning’ remains an identifiable characteristic of the Holy Spirit.  This ‘groaning’ is not negative nor immature in nature.  As the Bible points out, this becomes a form of prayer from the Holy Spirit on our behalf.  

The entire world has become quite familiar with groaning during the course of this Covid-19 pandemic.  We have groaned with pain, frustration, and fear.  Suffering and death made us groan.  Early on there was no vaccine; then there wasn’t enough to go around. Now many ‘groan’ that while it’s readily available, many are refraining from receiving. 

The Bible points out that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Especially so, ‘we’ who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly. 

The ‘first fruits of the Spirit’ are love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

The ‘fruits of the flesh’ include hatred, sorrow, conflict, impatience, meanness, viciousness, infidelity, harshness, and lack of control. 

Since the beginning of creation, the spiritual side of people has been groaning against the ‘first fruits of the flesh.’

Straight-forward, God is speaking to Christians today concerning how our spirits ‘groan’ with desire, with conviction, with spiritual hope for things to change, and to become better.  

‘Spiritual hope’ within us should make us ‘long/groan’ for things to change and become better according to God.  Even Jesus Christ prayed, “Not my will but thine be done.’ 

I believe, as I’m sure you do, that ‘hope’ is built into the Christian experience right from the start and remains a central part of who we are all of our lives.  After all, isn’t all of Christian living a straining forward for what is yet to come, for what is unseen?  

I really like this part of the Bible whereby God affirms that the Holy Spirit prays for us with groans or sighs too deep for words.  The Holy Spirit of God helps us in our weakness.  I think in every believer’s life there have been times, and there shall still come those times, when life’s circumstances hurt us so much, we just can’t seem to form the words to pray.  It is both comforting and assuring to know that during those precise times, God’s Holy Spirit is praying for us. 

Today we honor members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who have ‘gone home in faith’ before us.  I feel certain that any member of Keith-Holmes Post 402 could share with us memories of times when they or fellow comrades faced such circumstances that it was hard for them to pray.  Permit me to share one such personal ‘memory.’

It’s been a while now, yet my dear wife and I vividly recall the call that came to us regarding our son being injured in Afghanistan.  Justin called and spoke to me from a temporary battlefield hospital.  He had stepped on a land mine and wanted me to ‘run interference’ with his mother. As things progressed and Justin finally arrived ‘stateside,’ we eventually were able to see him.  Several years have since passed.  His ‘spirit’ groaned with a strong desire for ‘hope’ to be restored or to perhaps start to embrace a new sense of normalcy. 

Several of us ‘groaned’ during that time of injury and on-going recovery. 

Groaning is a deep, inward response to suffering.  It is both personal and intense; an agony so deep it cannot be put into words.  Groaning is a universal language.  Groaning will be swallowed up by the glory of the sons of God that is yet to come.  For the Christian, groaning directs our hope heavenward to that which is not yet seen. 

In part, groaning stems from suffering; from experiencing or seeing things that just aren’t ‘right.’  It further stems from having ‘hope’ that things should be better, can get better, and will get better. 

On that very first Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to breathe upon those remaining disciples who were suffering immensely and feeling extensively ‘hope-less.’  Has God ever breathed ‘hope’ upon you?  Through you?  Or from others?  Again, I reference a personal example and memory. When Justin arrived at Fort Lewis in the State of Washington, we went to see him.  You can’t imagine the pain, leastwise, we couldn’t. For days on end he was bed bound, not even able to sit up on the edge of his bed without extensive pain. This one day the medical people helped him into a wheelchair and into the bathroom.  As silly as it may sound to some, this act brought him a lot of hope. 

Trust this, when you or I suffer in any form or fashion, from whatever the cause may be, we are being ‘prayed for’ by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit ‘groans’ to God the Father on our behalf. 

In part, that is why it will sometimes seem as though 'out of the blue' something peaceful, warm, or calming washes over you, perhaps even flooding your soul. 

The Bible declares the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to this present time.  Most mothers will tell you that childbirth is a pretty intense pain.  Many have said, while it’s one of the worst pains in the world, it’s also one of the easiest pains to ‘get over!’ 

God’s Word goes on to say, “we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly, as we eagerly await for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” 

The first fruits of the Spirit are as the breath of God coming upon us still.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  The first-fruits of the Spirit are more than a ‘breath of fresh air;’ they are as the very breath of God itself. 

To be ‘loved with the love of the Lord’ is a breathing of ‘hope’ for those needing to give love or receive love. Because we ‘love with the love of the Lord,’ we are better able to forgive those that harm or hurt us so.  We are able to love the ‘unlovable’ and generate a hope that in our greatest sin, God shall love us still. 

‘Joy’ for the believer is immeasurable!  There is ‘joy’ in knowing our faithfully departed are at ‘home’ with God in heaven.  There is ‘joy’ in understanding, however sad and bad our lives may be, Jesus loves us, this we know.  Our salvation becomes our greater ‘joy.’  

When God’s Spirit breathes ‘joy’ upon us, it finds a home deep within us and continues to flow through us.  We exuberate ‘hope.’  We grow to appreciate in a uniquely different way that which makes us happy.  Happiness is not just what we feel in our hearts and experience in our daily lives.  Happiness is when we just KNOW we are right with God. 

Peace is still longed for by many.  Needed by most.  Peace is NOT just the absence of conflict.  Spiritual peace involves rightness with God and right living with others.  We sometimes ‘groan’ for peace.  There is a certain sense of ‘peace’ associated with rest, getting along with others, and knowing things are turning out alright.  There is also the ‘peace of God that passes human understanding’ which the Apostle Paul wrote of in the Bible. 

There is hope in this latter form of peace.  Jesus Christ stated, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give.”  Pray for the breath of God to give you this peace. 

There remains much wisdom to be found in the Bible.  Sources of wisdom are sometimes found in other remote areas as well.  I came across a piece of ‘graffiti’ a while back.  It read something like this:  “Patience is a virtue, possessed by very few.  Seldom found in women, never found in men.”  A bit ‘slanted’ we might agree, yet those words make us ponder the spiritual fruit of ‘patience.’  We sometimes ‘groan’ for patience.  Especially so when trials come.  Are you known for your patience?  Does your Christian faith help produce patience within you?  God wants you to be patient in all areas of your life.  He breathes His hope upon you today. 

Some of the other ‘first-fruits’ of the Holy Spirit include kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  

When the first fruits of the Spirit are missing, set aside, or cast off, there is suffering.  

On that very first Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit upon those troubled disciples.  Imagine, what appeared to be ‘tongues of fire’ resting upon the heads of each one of those disciples.  I cannot well imagine what that looked like but have benefitted from some artists' renditions.  Fire that ‘rests but does not consume’ is associated with God appearing to Moses, centuries earlier, in the burning bush.  There, God called upon Moses while reminding him that he was standing on Holy ground. 

“Holy Ground” is wherever and whenever God’s Holy Spirit has touched, inspired, or used us to accomplish His greater tasks, affirm His calling, and provide for His people. 

Some of those we honor today are people who have stood on Holy ground.  

Remember, groaning is a deep, inward response to suffering.  It is both personal and intense, an agony so deep it cannot be put into words.  Groaning is a universal language.  Groaning will be swallowed up by the glory of the sons of God that is yet to come.  For the Christian, groaning directs our hope heavenward to that which is not yet seen. 

Remember Pentecost as the time when God’s Spirit came breathing hope upon troubled disciples living through very troubled times. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Renew your strength in and through faith. 

Today, God breathes hope.  Amen.


The Wisdom Of Love 5/16/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 15, 2021 & Sunday, May 16, 2021 

Prayer for Illumination: Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Open our eyes that we may see the wonders of your Word; and give us grace that we may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  James 3:13-18 (Page 1218) and Romans 12:9-21 (Page 1137) 

Sermon Message: “The Wisdom of Love” 

Friends, I wish to begin today’s sermon message with a true story that reflects the wisdom of love. 

This story took place in a previous congregation I once served.  A married couple was having some ‘problems.’  Usually, it’s the wife who comes to me initially wanting to share and gain some help.  Not in this case.  It was the husband who first approached me.  This couple had two sons, innocent in their own right, yet victims of their parents' wrath and on-going fighting.  Within the husband and wife there were some ‘trust issues.’  ‘He’ mistrusted ‘her.’  Some months later I discovered he had good reason to mistrust.  She had ‘stepped out’ on him. I met with each of them a few times, then with both of them together.  We were able to successfully ‘patch things up.’  Their marriage actually blossomed, leastwise for a while.  But then a peculiar thing happened just a few years later.  ‘She’ came to talk with me regarding her concerns, her suspicions and fears, her on-going ‘trust issues’ with ‘him.’  We sorted things out for a while, did some serious praying, then I began meeting with ‘him.’  While she did NOT have good reason to mistrust ‘him,’ he was not entirely innocent.  It seems he had been harboring an anger inside for quite a while towards her.  At long last, he had a scenario whereby he could make her feel insecure, fearful, and mistrustful.  Although he had done nothing wrong, his plans to ‘get even with her’ and ‘make her suffer were also wrong. 

 ‘He’ agreed to meet with me.  We talked and shared in submissive prayer.  A ‘different’ plan was devised.  A plan based upon the wisdom of love.  Here is what happened: 

 ‘He’ went home and calmly asked his wife to come sit with him in their living room.  He met her eyes and said he had something to share with her.  He then proceeded to tell her what he thought, how he felt, and where they were headed. He removed his shoes, and then sat comfortably on the floor in front of her.  As he gently took her hands, he said, “I’m not like you.  Once in our lives you hurt me, and now it's my turn to make you feel as you once made me feel.  But I’m not going to, because I am not like you once were.  I assure you in the eyes of God of my love and my faithfulness to you and to our children, to our families and our community, even to our church.  The only thing I really want and need to say to you right now at this time and place is that I love you with the love of the Lord.”  He tells me he then held her. 

The wisdom of love ‘shows up’ in good life and in deeds done in humility.  Earthly wisdom shows up in harboring bitterness, envy, and selfish ambitions of the heart.  Such wisdom does not come down from heaven.  As today’s scriptures further declare, “wherever you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and various forms of evil practice.” (James 3:16). 

The wisdom of love has guided many a soul, healed many broken scenarios, and has brought forth light in darkness.  I trust you will find, as you look back upon your life, that the moments when you have truly lived, are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.  

Another ‘wisdom of love’ many of us have been taught and put into practice is this: ‘Hate the sin and love the sinner.’ 

The wisdom of God ‘shows up’ in love.  Out of love, God created the heavens, the earth, you, and me.  For God so loved the world that He sent us His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but receive everlasting life. 

This wisdom of love shows up in families.  We see it in families who live in harmony; who are able to express their love for each other, and who are able to disagree with each other in healthy ways.  Families and relationships that can survive through difficulties, and not just survive, but they thrive.  We see co-workers who can sort out their differences.  We see people who have a gift of bringing harmony and unity in a tense and possibly explosive situation.  We see God’s grace lived out in their lives and in their interactions.  We see this because these people are following a wisdom that is pure, considerate, and full of mercy, instead of a wisdom that is full of envy, bitterness, and selfish ambition. 

The wisdom that comes from heaven is pure, peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest. 

The wisdom of love is far more than an accumulation of knowledge, wit, or even just ‘insights.’  This is a more spiritual way that God has inspired inside of us all who follow the living God.  The wisdom of love is sincere, devoted, and honoring of others. You know when this wisdom of love is within, for you have a certain sense of encouragement and enthusiasm much different from the norm.  

The wisdom of love guides us to put others first, not being eager to get our needs, nor even our wants, ahead of others.  There remains a spiritual fervor within us.  We find ‘joy’ in hope.  We may surprise even ourselves in how patient we are even in the midst of affliction.  To gain the wisdom of love, a soul must be faithful in prayer.  These ways of living and perceiving may not always be automatic and sometimes need to be practiced to be made perfect.  Practice sharing with others, especially so with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality. 

Some of the hardest lessons to be learned in the wisdom of love requires of us to bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Remember, the world doesn’t revolve around you.  The more selfish and self-centered you are, the less wisdom of love you will have or possibly receive.  

Sometimes there is more peace in silence than in confrontational communications. 

The wisdom of love spoke to the heart of the man I told you of earlier on in today’s message, as he spoke with his wife.  He found it was far better to be on good terms without surrendering himself totally in the process.  He also found with the wisdom of love that its far better NOT to repay anyone evil for evil. 

God puts the wisdom of love inside of us.  He then further requires of us to put it into practice.  ‘Feel’ for others.  Be happy for others. Mourn with others.  Teach yourself first and foremost to get along with others, then proceed to teach others to get along.  Clearly the Bible declares we are NOT to be proud.  Pride, in its many forms, comes before the fall. Remain willing to associate with people of low position.  Even the dull and the ignorant have their life stories to tell.  Listen and learn.  Don’t be conceited.  Nor should we spend much time comparing ourselves to others.  Be yourself.  Be that person God has created YOU to be.  

The wisdom of love gradually transforms us to be more humble in our outlooks, as well as, in our self-evaluations.  There shall always be those who are greater or lesser than us.  Learn to be content with who you are and what you’ve got. Too much comparing and contrasting is not good for the heart, the mind, nor the soul. 

On the other hand, the wisdom of love teaches us to remain cautious, for we surely do see in our world of scams, computer hacking, and compromises of various forms. There is surely a lot of ‘trickery’ in our world. 

God continues to inspire the wisdom of love inside of us.  Such wisdom from heaven greatly reduces one’s cynicism while prescribing a kinder and gentler nature within.  

The wisdom of love begins and ends with God.  Today may you further know peace in your very soul.  Amen.

Passing the Torch 5/9/2021

Sermon Message for Mother’s Day

Saturday, May 8, 2021 & Sunday, May 9, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth.  Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Psalm 139:13-14 (pg. 622), Psalm 23 (pg. 548), Galatians 6:9 (pg. 1171) 

Sermon Message: ‘Passing the Torch’ 

Today we celebrate ‘Mother’s Day.’  Perhaps being a man and a father in some ways ‘disqualifies me’ from speaking a message regarding ‘mothers.’  Yet I shall endeavor to share some spiritual and personal insights reflecting on ‘mothers.’  Both men and women are called and appointed by God to be caring parents.  It was God Almighty’s calling and wisdom to bless young Mary to become the mother of Jesus Christ. 

Parents, in general, share some common insights and traits regarding the on-going nurturing process of our children. 

My own mother was often times ‘there’ in the nurturing of my daughter, Bonnie.  ‘Mom’ went with me to my daughter’s kindergarten graduation.  I was in my thirties at the time.  We sat on these tiny little chairs in a classroom and together learned of how ‘my child’ talked incessantly at times, disrupted the class and was probably headed for a career making license plates! Not ‘all’ of Bonnie’s teachers were so dramatic!  In fact, one of the teachers said, “Don’t worry, they all go through this stage; then you can sit back, relax, and enjoy them.”  My mother just smiled a bit but said nothing. 

I bought my daughter her first car when I was in my forties.  What I didn’t count on was all of the times I had to spend waiting for her to call or even text me, for the garage door to open up, and her to walk in.  The fellow next door said, “Aww, don’t worry, in a few years you can stop worrying.  She will be an adult.”  My mother just smiled a bit but said nothing. 

When I was in my fifties, I began to get sick and tired of being so vulnerable.  I was still worrying over my child, but now there was this new wrinkle; there was nothing I could do about it!  My mother just smiled a bit but said nothing. Still, I remained quite concerned over her failures and was still feeling tormented by my child’s disappointments. 

After a while friends my age would say when my kid gets married, I can stop worrying.  “She will be on her own!”  I could then lead my own life.  You know I wanted to believe them, but I remained haunted by my mother’s smile and her occasional inquiring of me: “You look pale, son.  Are you alright?  Everything OK?  Promise you’ll call me the minute you get home.  Are you depressed about something?”

So, I ask you, can it be that parents are sentenced to a lifetime of worry?  Is concern for one another handed down like a torch to blaze the trail of human frailties and the fears of the unknown?  Is concern a curse, or is it a virtue that elevates us to the highest form of life?  

My daughter became pretty upset with me a while back.  She called me saying, “Where were you Dad?  I’ve been calling and texting you for three days and no answer!  I was worried about you.”  This warm smile came across my face as I realized, “The torch has been passed!” 

Some things we are to ‘know full well’ just as the Bible proclaims.  Know full well that God created you.  God created your inmost being.  Today is a day to honor both God and our mothers with the grateful knowledge and acceptable praise that we were knit together in our mother’s womb.  Praise God, along with your mother, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  There may be times when you just don’t feel as though you are much ‘fearfully wonderful’ or even made in God’s gracious image.  Be assured, God made no mistake in designing you.  Your mother carried you for some nine months.  Your life, and my own, is a gift. 

Along the way we need to learn how to live.  Not only how to survive, but more importantly, how to thrive. 

The Bible teaches that among God’s best gifts for surviving and for thriving are faith, hope, and love.  Gifts that I hope are modeled, encouraged, and taught by not only our mothers but by all who are in the position to help, to care, to love, to encourage, even a little or a lot. 

An important lesson we further learn in parenting is this: we continue to grow in learning how to be a parent as our children grow.  We may have had the very best of parents or possibly some of the worst, yet common to us all are the possibilities for growing in faith, hope, and love.  Regardless of how very functional or dysfunctional our nurturers may have been, ‘ours’ becomes the possibility of transforming into sincere Christians who nurture and share that which matters most; faith, hope, and love. 

A further learned lesson is this: faith becomes most important when it is most needed.  Nothing makes you call upon God quite like the responsibility of bringing a soul into this world and nurturing that child’s life. Ask any parent if they’ve ever needed to pray for their child, and they will reflect deeply while smiling sincerely. 

Many mothers and caregivers of children have relied upon the Lord to be their shepherd through everything; from ‘boo-boos’, incessant crying, boyfriends, girlfriends, broken hearts, further education, marriages, sickness, and life and death transitions.  Faith informs us, with God we lack nothing. Mothers sometimes need a break.  Green pastures become a metaphor for much needed rest and respite at times. 

The Lord IS our shepherd.  He leads you, sometimes, beside still waters and into green pastures.  Sometimes, too, that ‘shepherding torch’ is passed on to you, and I, too, lead others in safe places and more quiet times in life and in love.

Christians have the ability to help others ‘refresh their souls.’  Living or dead, tell your mother today that you love her.  Don’t spend lots of time ‘qualifying’ that love.  Just simply and sincerely tell her that you love her.  This will refresh her soul. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced the ‘silent treatment’ from your mother!  I certainly have.  It wasn’t always bad.  Yes, there were those times when her anger just simmered inside of her yet remained unexpressed.  Anticipating what Mother might ‘say’ or ‘do’ was always a bit unnerving!  Yet there was another form of ‘silence’ that gave a clue about what was further inside of your mother or my own. 

We have often times experienced that calming silence as Mother walked with us through those dark valleys in our lifetimes.  There was a certain ‘strength’ to be found in those quiet, ‘down in the valley’ times. 

Jesus is referenced as being the Good Shepherd.  The Psalmist writes of the Good Shepherds’ rod and staff comforting. 

The rod and the staff provided boundaries and prodding, discipline, and even love.  Sometimes it’s not only a ‘torch’ that gets passed down to the next generation, but furthermore, a rod and a staff to guard and protect, establish boundaries, and provide goalposts for comfort, for addressing fear, and for further forming faith. 

On this Mother’s Day when I re-read the 23rd Psalm and review the verse which states, “You prepare a table before me,” I think back, affectionately so, on lots and lots of family meals prepared before me on our kitchen or dining room table. 

Please continue to do that; share meals together, prepare ‘food’ for one another.  ‘Food’ that nourishes our bodies; ‘food’ that refreshes our souls; ‘food’ love that forgives, renews, and transforms something inside each of us. 

The Psalmist writes of ‘food’ that is prepared and served in the presence of our enemies. 

Being raised with three brothers, sometimes my siblings were my enemies. Being raised poor, sometimes poverty itself was our year-round enemy.  If mother and father were fighting, it seemed as though they were the ‘enemies’ attacking each other.  When my father was ‘drinking’ the bottle on the table and ensuing stench, the bottle was an enemy.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemies as well. 

There remains still another portion of life’s ‘torch’ we should pass on. Our parents and our God have passed on the torch of forgiving anyways, moving on always, loving beyond full measure of what’s fair or balanced. 

Jesus, when leaving his family and those he loved, provided this blessing: “Peace, I leave with you.  MY peace, I give you, not as the world gives do I give.  Let not your hearts be troubled.  Neither let them be afraid.”  “My peace” he said.  “Not as the world gives do I give.” 

There is a certain kind of peace we get when we lay our head down on our pillows to sleep.  There’s another kind of peace when the torch of Christianity is passed on. 

Families are a lot of work.  Parents are a lot of work.  Children can be a lot of work.  Do good for your parents; honor them as God inquires of us to do.  Do good for your children. Children do good for your parents and for all persons, God, your heavenly Father, places across your path and within your heart to care about.  Faith, hope, love, boundaries and provisions, faith and forgiveness, do good for those we love AND for those who make even our souls weary. 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

Pass the torch, don’t give up.  Amen.

The Sin No One Admits 5/2/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, May 1, 2021 & Sunday, May 2, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Exodus 20:17 (Page 76) & Luke 12:13-21 (Page 1043) 

Sermon Message:  “The Sin No One Admits” 

In all my years as a pastor, you’d think I would have ‘heard it all!’  Yet this is only partially true.  People have come to me to confess something or even numerous things they’ve done wrong.  I’ve had people confess the sin of lying, cheating, stealing, vanity, pride, bitterness, hatred, and adultery, even murder.  But the one sin that no one seems to confess, even within one’s self, is ‘avarice.’  This is quite simply another word for ‘covetousness.’  No one says, “I have a covetous spirit, can you help me?” 

Coveting is not always a negative term.  The Hebrew word for ‘covet’ is used in both positive and negative senses.  In its positive sense, the word simply means “a strong desire.”  (I covet having a strong faith like that person has.)  It can also mean, “delight, dear, precious and desirable.”  Used in the negative sense, the word means, “A strong desire for something I have no right to have.” 

God says you and I have no right to our neighbor’s spouse, or to their house, not even to your neighbor’s animals.  Yet God knows what happens when you tell someone they can’t have something. They begin wanting it all the more. In the Garden of Eden God told Adam and Eve they could not have the fruit from this one particular tree.  That made them want that fruit all the more.  A conversation with a serpent ensued, and soon enough, they were eating forbidden fruit.  We may have learned in Sunday School that ‘disobedience’ was the original sin committed by Adam and Eve.  I can’t help but also wonder if it was ‘coveting?’ 

The ‘sin’ associated with coveting is having such a strong desire for something or someone that you are willing to steal, harm, hurt, lie, cheat, manipulate, or further compromise the integrity of yourself, of God, or of another in order to get what’s not yours. 

Typically this is where a lot of folks ‘tune out and turn off’ preaching and teaching about God, the Bible, and living the Christian life.  We don’t so much like being told ‘no’ or shown where we are wrong and especially not having our secret sins exposed. 

As your pastor, I suggest something a bit more healthy and beneficial to today’s scriptures and reference to the sin of coveting. Think of what’s being communicated in today’s message and the Ten Commandments as guardrails to protect us and guideposts to help us experience the good and beautiful life God intends. 

We have a pretty successful Day Care program here at our church.  It offers various forms of childcare five days per week.  I can tell you, first-hand, most days it’s just such a joy to hear the children saying their ABC’s, reciting their prayers before eating, and singing some precious ‘Jesus’ songs and other familiar tunes of repetition and tradition. The other day, while working on this sermon message, a ‘not so happy’ child let out this chilling scream!  All I could hear was “Mine, I want it!”  The people who work here surely do earn their money! 

After pulling my office door shut for some quiet and peace, I smiled and recognized that ‘coveting’ starts at a very young age.  “Mine, I want it,” was a prime example. 

Have you ever coveted or craved something that belonged to someone else?  Or, when you desired it so much you tried to take it? 

In the Bible there is the story of a king who coveted another man’s wife and took her.  King David saw from his back porch a beautiful woman down below his castle.  David coveted Bathsheba and made arrangements to take her.  Regardless of how powerful one may be their sin catches up with them.  God and others ended up dealing harshly with David because of his coveting nature and actions. 

When you are driving on I-79 and the sign says 55 miles per hour, does it make you want to go 65 miles per hour instead?  At least that fast?  Sometimes we even let others ‘egg us on’ as we say. Those ‘others’ may give us the most rational explanations in the world as to why we should have that which we covet.  The first biblical reference to this is back in the Garden of Eden.  Adam, Eve, and the serpent sort of ‘tempt’ or ‘egg on’ each other.  Finally, the forbidden fruit is plucked from the tree and eaten by the man and the woman.  Coveting is often times the sin before the sin of eating the forbidden fruit. 

Initially we look at the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at face value and say it’s meant to tell us of ancient history or tell us about whether it was a man or a woman who brought sin into the world.  As our faith matures and our spiritual openness increases, we realize this story is meant to teach us about ourselves. We, like Adam and Eve, know there are things that are off limits! Things God says we should NOT have.  But the very fact that we know better seems to make us want them more! Truth is, we’ve all had conversations with the serpent. 

Most sins are easy to spot.  You either murder someone or you don’t.  You steal or you don’t.  You lie or you don’t.  You commit adultery or you don’t.  At least on the outward level, most of the other sins have some kind of visible manifestation. 

Coveting is invisible.  A person may be quite wealthy and not covet at all.  You may drive a BMW and have a Rolex watch on your wrist and not have a covetous bone in your body.  The Bible does not teach that all wealth is evil or that all wealthy people are covetous.  Not at all! 

Coveting is hard to control or even to patrol within us, much less others.  Compare this commandment to the other nine commandments.  You can make a person take a day off.  You can penalize the murderer.  You can prosecute the thief.  You can pretty quickly identify the liar.  But covetousness goes beneath public conduct.  It touches at the motivational level, which society cannot patrol.  It takes God to probe deeply into our inner motivations in a way that roots out those attitudes that can produce outward antisocial behavior, even sin.  That’s the tricky part of coveting.  Since it is invisible, we tend not to take it seriously. 

The Tenth Commandment is not forbidding strong desire in general.  It’s the object of the strong desire that crosses the line into coveting.  That’s why specific objects are named in the verse:  I have no right to possess my neighbor’s spouse, nor their house, nor their servants, not even their animals. Take notice, the word ‘neighbor’ is used 3 times within this Tenth commandment to ‘not covet!’  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or anything that belongs to your neighbor. We rarely covet things far away from us.  It’s often the things we see every day that bother us.  We want what our neighbor has. 

Coveting destroys quality life, negatively impacts spiritual life, and diminishes happiness. 

Within today’s scriptural lesson, Jesus told a story about a farmer whose crops brought in a good harvest.  In fact, the harvest was so good that he didn’t know how to handle it all.  So he decided to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones.  “And I’ll say to myself, ‘you have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.’ ” (Luke 12:19)  But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be required of you.  Then who will own the things you have prepared for yourself?”  Jesus references this rich man as being ‘a fool!’  Two insightful reasons Jesus calls him a ‘fool.’  1) He acted selfishly with no concern for anyone else.  2) He acted with no regard for his long-term future. 

This “rich fool” is the classic example of a covetous man.  He wanted more barns to give him more space to hold his ever-increasing harvests.  He truly felt that he was a self-sufficient man.  He didn’t need anyone else; he did it on his own.  Most importantly, he didn’t need God! 

Coveting makes sense, as long as you are going to live forever!  But if you plan to die someday, coveting is the most foolish thing you can do. 

Here are three possible antidotes to coveting in any of our lives: gratitude, generosity, and love. 

The most basic form of prayer and worship are these two words: ‘thank you.’  Scriptures instruct us to “Give thanks to God for he is good” (Psalm107:1) and to “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18). Here’s the ‘common sense’ associated with God’s Word: the more I give thanks for what I have, the less I want what I don’t have.  This is true for everything; our mates, possessions, lifestyles, etc.  Unhappy with your spouse?  Thank God for your spouse, over and over and over again.  Gratitude in marriages strengthens marriages.  Gratitude expressed to employees makes for happier employees.  Grateful kids are happier kids.  Teach gratitude while practicing it yourself.  The more grateful I am for what I have, the less I feel the need for more.

The second key antidote to coveting is ‘generosity.’  I’ve seen it happen again and again in families, workplaces, and even in the churches that I serve.  The act of giving shakes us loose from craving’s grasp.  It’s hard to focus on what you desperately want when you are busy giving to others.  Admittedly we have found there is more joy in giving than there is in receiving.  Consider Christmas as one prime example of this.  “It IS more blessed to give than it is to receive.”  (Acts 20:35)  I so enjoy the wisdom sayings found in the book of Proverbs.  Consider this one: “Generous persons will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25). 

Money can’t buy happiness.  So we are told.  Current research does indicate, on the other hand, that those who spend money on OTHER people had significantly greater happiness than those who spent money on themselves. 

Some of the most generous and happy people I have ever met are those who have the smallest amount to give but share anyways. 

Giving actually quiets my desire for more while increasing my sense of satisfaction and happiness.  My friends, it really is more blessed to give than it is to receive.  

The simplest antidote to craving, covetousness, or extreme desire remains love.  So simple yet so very true.  Jesus emphasized the greatest commandments to be two great loves; our love for God and love for one’s neighbor (Matthew 22:40).  Jesus describes ‘love’ not so much as a feeling but as a way of living, acting, and being.  It happens when we seek the good of the other.  Strive to be ‘happy’ for another when they acquire, achieve, or succeed in some way.  This takes some training and renewing of our minds, hearts, and souls. 

Think about it; we cannot love our parents and dishonor them.  We cannot love our neighbor and seek to take what’s theirs.  We cannot love our neighbor and sleep with their spouse.  We cannot love our neighbor and steal from them.  We cannot love our neighbor and falsely accuse, gossip about, or slander them.  And we cannot love our neighbor while fostering a craving for what is theirs and plotting to take it from them. 

Coveting is a hunger, a craving to have more, a narcistic approach to life focused on self-fulfillment that is ultimately insatiable.  However, being grateful, generous, and kind leads to contentment, satisfaction, and joy.  

Coveting isn’t what ‘keeps you going.’  We were meant to spread love.  Our hearts are designed by our Maker for goodness to fill them, not covetousness.  We were made to help others where they need help.  That’s what keeps us going.  Amen.


Anger Affects 4/25/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 24, 2021 & Sunday, April 25, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Dear Lord, help us as we read these scriptures together.  Come bring your understanding and reveal your truth.  Come open our minds, hearts, and souls to all that these words of life offer us.  We long to be continually challenged, transformed, and renewed by your word.  May we hear your voice of life as we read and draw close to you.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Matthew 5:43-45 (Page 970) & James 1:19-27 (Page 1216) 

Sermon Message: “Anger Affects” 

Anger affects us all.  Even God gets angry. On more than one occasion Jesus became angry and deeply distressed at people’s stubborn hearts.  Especially, those of the leaders.  He became angry when the honor of God was abused.  Seeing God’s Temple courts being used as a marketplace where outrageous prices were charged for exchanging currency and for clean animals to be used in sacrifice, Jesus overturned tables and drove out the people who were buying and selling (Mark 11:15-17). Yes, Jesus Christ did become angry.  His was a righteous type of anger. 

Surely you understand how righteous anger affects any of us.  What parent among us would not easily and quickly become angry with anyone seeking to harm our children, our grandchildren, or any other ‘innocent one’ for that matter? Within today’s scripture lessons James provides some very straightforward advice for how Christians should deal with anger.  Jesus provides some spiritual truths that surely do help to alleviate anger. 

Sometimes I get so angry when I am leaving this church!  I would like to tell you ‘WHY!’  I drive a very large, white pick-up truck.  It’s pretty easy to see.  I don’t pull out of the parking lot fast.  My truck has a back-up camera that I always use.  When exiting the church, I look (both ways) as I enter Fifth Avenue, and ALWAYS look across the street, just in case some individual is pulling out from Suburban Nursery.  Inevitably, regardless of how careful I may be, how large and visible my truck is, some driver will ‘step on it’ as they leave Suburban Nursery, and I end up slamming on my brakes!  Well let me tell you that happened just the other day.  This guy pulls out right in front of me. I want to tell you what I did. I gently hit my brakes, saw the guy looking at me defiantly, and I raised my right hand, smiled, and motioned him on. Admittedly, I’ve not always been that calm with my responses to negligent drivers.  We all continue to grow, to learn, and relearn as Christians, that we must transform how anger affects us and our response to others.  

Irritation is a mild form of anger. Anger affects us as it grows.  It further affects those around us.  Like anything else, anger can quite easily become a habit, a very damaging habit.  Anger contributes to brokenness in relationships, can be the root of marital issues, can lead to poor performance at work, depression, isolation, and as we have learned, to outbursts of gun violence.

I doubt this is the first sermon or refection you have been acquainted with regarding anger's affects.  There is an older illustration relating to this subject that I think warrants repeating. This illustration is appropriately titled, ‘The Fence.’ 

There was a little boy with a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence.  The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.  Then it gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. 

Finally, the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it, and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.  Most days he got to pull a nail, but some days he had to pound a nail in. 

The days passed, and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.  The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a mark just like the nails left a mark in the fence.  It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there."  

The ‘wounds’ of anger can be far reaching.  Uncontrolled anger is one of the most destructive forces around.  Anger channeled in the wrong way leads to so much hurt, damage, pain, and agony – both for the person with the anger and for those they visit their anger upon.  We can assume that people will be murdered today because of someone's anger.  Some gun-toting person with destructive anger will open fire on innocent individuals, even children. Others will die from physical ailments resulting from or aggravated by their angry feelings.  We’ve grown in our awareness of people who die in anger-related auto accidents and of others who carry out one of the angriest acts of all; suicide.  Countless relationships die, little by little, as resentment gnaws away at the foundations of love and trust.  Anger is a devastating force, and its consequences should sicken us. 

Unresolved anger tends to ‘fester’ inside a person.  Anger affects can spring up in a moment or be the results of something long ago in a person’s life.  Whether short or long term, God’s Word to us today is directing us all to 'be serious and do something about it.'  ‘Don’t just listen to what the Bible says or to what God is disclosing. Do what it says.’ When anger replaces peace within, do some checking, some serious checking, to see what’s caused it. 

Jesus Christ prompts our thinking. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45).

‘Hate’ is a very strong word.  It’s also a very devastating feeling in a person’s life.  There’s a difference between setting boundaries with someone and hating them. Hurtful, unrighteous people and situations may require boundaries.  Even Jesus imposed boundaries.  “Hate” can be made up of revenge, strong negative passion, death wishes, and even directed violence.  There’s no turning back from the serious affects of hatred.  This becomes a form of strong and severe judgment sometimes accompanied by jealousy.  Hating can lead to bitterness or depression. God's word instructs us to deal with anger immediately rather than letting it fester, or lead to a loss of control where it can become destructive.  “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  Don’t give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26) 

If hatred is the most negative force in the world, the most destructive, then love must be the greatest answer for transforming one’s heart and soul.  Perhaps this too is why Jesus instructs us, straight forward, to “love our enemies and bless those who persecute you.”  

Not everyone who claims to belong to Christ actually has a saving relationship with the Savior.  Too many people are characterized by a pattern of sinning, repenting, then sinning and repenting over and over again.  Saying “I am sorry,” or actually feeling sorry is good and much needed, but a saving relationship to Jesus Christ shows up in transformation.  It’s wrong to ‘blow off steam’ and hurt others.  It’s wrong to have a lasting, suppressed anger.  Jesus Christ IS our Lord and Savior.  We are not slaves to sin.  Transformation is possible, the Bible points out, by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-2).  We must train ourselves, even in the midst of our anger, to 'set our minds on things above,' especially on God and Christ.  When we seek first and foremost to honor and please God, kindness and love will prevail inside.  Our hearts will find an inner calm and harmony during trying times.  Patience will be practiced, consciously so. 

Transformation leads to reacting differently.  Even to ‘seeing things’ differently.  I recall a lesson learned in seminary.  This one day the seminary class just knew they were in for a fun day.  On the wall was a big target, and on a nearby table were many darts.  The professor’s instructions were to draw a picture of someone that they disliked or someone who had made them angry, and he would allow them to throw darts at the person's picture.  

This one girl drew a picture of a person who had stolen her boyfriend.  Another student drew a picture of his little brother.  Still another drew a picture of a former friend, putting a great deal of detail into her drawing, even drawing pimples on the face.  She was so pleased with the overall effect she had achieved.  

The class lined up and began throwing darts.  Some of the students threw their darts with such force that their targets were ripping apart.  The girl who drew with great detail looked forward to her turn and was filled with disappointment when the professor, because of time limits, asked the students to return to their seats.  As she sat thinking about how angry she was because she didn't have a chance to throw any darts at her target, the professor began removing the target from the wall. 

Underneath the target was a picture of Jesus.  A hush fell over the room as each student viewed the mangled picture of Jesus; holes and jagged marks covered His face, and His eyes were pierced.  The professor said only these words, "In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me" (Matthew 25:40).  No other words were necessary; the tears filled eyes of the students focused only on the picture of Christ. 

We don't usually think about it this way, do we?  We don't realize that anger expressed wrongly ends up hurting Jesus.  In fact I am sure there are lots of times when, in our anger, we’d rather NOT think about either the image of Jesus Christ NOR His teachings. 

We all have problems with anger.  So what do we do about it?  James, the brother of Jesus, tells us a technique for anger management.  He says, "be quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19).  There is a Chinese proverb that says the same thing:  "Never write a letter while you are angry."  Thomas Jefferson said, "When angry, count to 10; when very angry count to 100."  Mark Twain changed it and said, "When angry, count to 4; when very angry, swear."  [We can't agree with the second part of his advice.] 

Think before you act or react.  Control that temper!  Manage what’s inside of you, what ‘eats away’ at you.  Sometimes we are angry with others.  Sometimes we are angry at life or God, even at ourselves.  “Taking it out’ on others is of no value.  We end up distancing ourselves from God and others, especially from those we love and need love from.  Jesus Christ encourages us to love, to forgive, and to move on. 

Amen.                                          

 


God Is Getting Close To Us 4/18/2021

Sermon Message for April 18, 2021 

Prayer For Illumination: Living God, help us so to hear your holy Word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe, and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Scripture Lessons: Luke 24:13-35 (Page 1060) &  Deuteronomy 30:19,20 (Page 206) 

Sermon Message:  “God Is Getting Close To Us” 

Have you ever had the experience when you can’t see something, and it’s right in front of you?  This past week I was looking in our refrigerator for a slice of cake someone had given us, but I couldn’t find it.  When I opened the fridge, it wasn’t there, and when I moved some of the food and other items, it wasn’t there either.  Patty was at the store, so I called her and asked if she had put the cake in the fridge, and she said she had, and I told her I couldn’t find it.  I looked again but nothing.  When she came home, she found it in less than 5 seconds. 

I think what happened is that when I looked in one part of the fridge, the cake ran to a different part of the fridge.  It’s frustrating when you can’t see something, but you’re told it’s there.  Now a good slice of cake matters for our family, but in the overall scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.  Does this ever happen to us with the big things in life?  Where we’re looking for something important but just can’t see it? 

How about when you look for God but can’t sense his presence?  We look for him, and we’re told by our pastors and more spiritually attuned friends that “he’s right there!”  But we just can’t see him for ourselves.  Instead of sensing God, you feel like he’s gone or like he’ll talk to anyone but you.  When you can’t see God or sense Christ’s presence, what should you do?  That’s a dark place to be at, but it’s similar to where some of Jesus’ followers found themselves after his crucifixion.  

The last time they saw Jesus he was dead.  He was gone.  They thought he was never coming back.  They’d made it through the last couple days, yet they are sad and depressed.  But now they’ve heard word from several women who followed Jesus that his body wasn’t in the tomb, and that angels had appeared to them telling them Jesus is alive.  They don’t believe and just feel more confusion and darkness.  They’d come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, and now it’s time for them to go home. 

Luke 24:13-16 – “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.” 

Those two walking to Emmaus had erected a wall of hopelessness around them, and they were trapped in their misery.  “We had hoped.”  What they were saying is, “We don’t expect it now, but once we did.  We had it, this thing called ‘hope,’ but now it’s gone.”  I wonder if this is something that we can identify with?  Has something or someone come between us and our relationship with God?  If so, listen to the Emmaus story, because the heart-breaking experience is only its beginning! 

Today’s gospel lesson is like an old friend to us – the walk to Emmaus:  Two men are on their way home from Jerusalem following the crucifixion.  Jesus comes up beside them.  They tell him all that has happened.  He tells them what it means.  They invite him to dinner, and in the breaking of bread, their eyes are opened, and they recognize him as the risen Christ. 

This story from the Bible, as well as numerous prominent stories in our lives, reveal God is getting close to us. 

When I drove from my home in Robinson to our church last Tuesday morning, there was a terrible ‘fog’ covering the entire area.  It’s hard to see when the fog is heavy.  Harder still to anticipate what’s coming ahead.  In analogy there are times in everyone’s life when it just feels like some sort of ‘fog’ is over us. 

For three years, 12 faithful disciples had followed Jesus wherever he went.  They looked forward to things getting better and better in their lives.  No doubt they were of the belief and harbored the ‘hope’ that Jesus was sent by God to become their next king.  For them they saw a clear path of ‘how things should be, could be, and would be.’  But none of that turns out the way they had seen it. Jesus is captured, crucified, and their hopes, prayers, insights, and beliefs died with him on the cross that day.  An immense ‘fog’ came over them.  So, they did what our world is now doing; they began working towards returning to what had been ‘normal’ for them prior to all of this.  When you can’t make sense of things, you try to get back to what was normal, familiar, stable, and secure. 

So it was, Cleopas and one other disciple ‘took a walk.’  Jerusalem, the traditional Passover holiday, and all of these mysterious, yet intriguing events associated with Jesus Christ for the past three years, was over.  It was now time to ‘go home.’  It was strange how God came close to them that very day.  Jesus himself came and walked along with them, but they were kept from recognizing him.  Has God ever sent you or used you to help