Pastor's Message

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 Matthew and Simon Peter. 

Some scholars affirm that Matthew became the unquestioned leader of the apostles.  As a leader, Matthew 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, Matthew 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 Matthew illustrates a good example of how we can help others who may be questioning what ‘I will follow Him’ means.  Matthew 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. 


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, “”  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.  


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. 



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 another soul feel close to God? 

Some years ago, a married woman in her 40’s was involved in a horrible car crash up near New Castle.  She had been broad-sided while on her way home from work.  What started out as a usual, normal kind of day was permanently interrupted.  A long time had passed when a friend of the family asked if I might extend a favor and go talk to Carol.  That friend said Carol just hasn’t been the same ever since that accident happened a few years back.  You can be sure I did a lot of praying prior to that visit.  Her husband made us a cup of coffee, sat with us a while, then excused himself to start some laundry.  You see, the accident had left Carol paralyzed from the waist down.  She terribly regretted how limited she was and was suffering from on-going and increasing depression.  We ‘chit-chatted’ for a while.  I could see she ‘accepted’ me.  Eventually she got around to asking me if I wanted to hear what happened to her?  I said yes.  Carol told me of her peaceful life, prior to the accident, her work, and her involvement with her husband and their children.  She even told me of how ‘normal’ it used to feel taking their dog outside when she got home from work so the little fellow could ‘do his business!’  Then she described the details of what happened to her, ‘out of the blue,’ in her car accident.  She summarized her thoughts saying, “I just haven’t been the same since then!’  So, I asked her to share with me the rest of the story. She looked at me as though I was the dumbest person you’d ever meet.  Slowly and somewhat carefully she mustered up the strength, and the patience, to share kind of a summary of what happened one more time.  Again, I asked her to share with me the rest of her story.  She said in no uncertain terms, “That’s it!  I was in a bad accident that left me paralyzed, and I haven’t been the same since.  What’s worse, it feels like this dark cloud or shadow is encompassing me, actually ALL of my life.  It feels as though something died inside of me that day!”  Carol started to become defensive, and I could see she was just about to summon her husband back in the room.  So, I inquired, ever so gently, what happened to you AFTER the wreck?  Who helped you?  How long were you in the hospital?  What kinds of therapy were you able to do?  Who helped you to establish your ‘new normal’ once you got home?  

Our conversation took a completely different and gentler route.  Carol decided something that day.  She determined she would ‘tell’ the rest of her story and begin associating with that instead of focusing on the event, the accident, itself.  She called this her ‘grace.’  Slowly but surely her depression lessened.  Carol even realized some positive change in her health.  Best of all, she felt God’s closeness to her.  Something that had ‘been there’ all along, but as she said, was unable to recognize for quite some time. 

God is getting close to us.  He sent His Son.  He sends Him still.  God is coming close to us.  Sometimes You are part of that process.  Sometimes so am I.  Admittedly for us all, there are times when WE need the closeness of God, whether we recognize it or not. 

God’s Easter has occurred. ,There is resurrection and new life. ,While Lent called us to focus on a closer walk with Jesus, practice spiritual disciplines, and repent of our sins, Easter has brought the world hope.  We can focus on death and all things associated with it, OR, we can focus on life and the closeness of God in our lives. 

The entire world and each one of us has seen life and death, blessings, and curses.  God’s instructions to us all: CHOOSE LIFE SO THAT YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN MAY LIVE. 

When God gets close, we begin to see things differently, perhaps ‘better!’  The Lord is walking with us.  He is among us, even now.  Perhaps something is keeping US from recognizing him. 

Like those disciples walking along the road to Emmaus, quite possibly our burdens limit us from sensing God in our midst.  Courtesy of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world’s nations have tasted defeat, although to varying degrees.  We have found a vaccine, but the end is not in sight just yet.  This health crisis has ripped open wounds caused by centuries-old transnational, economic inequalities, and ongoing racial injustices.  Further revealed is the structural violence in our societies whether in India or the United States.  We have not found a vaccine for these centuries’ old societal epidemics.  As God draws close, groups bond together affirming the basic human dignity of every disenfranchised individual. 

Further evidence of God’s closeness is perceived in stronger degrees of peace and gainful even spiritual insights.  Folks are comfortably sharing their awareness of how many things we had long ‘taken for granted.’  A large portion of our world, and even of ourselves, felt so ‘entitled’ for so long.  Yet this life has no guarantees.  Best of all, those who have not recognized God in their midst, Jesus among us right along, are beginning to do so in new, better, and more solemn ways. Religion now has a role in life that has matured perhaps just enough to recognize, accept, and respond to God’s closeness among us.  Amen.

Restoring The Lost 4/11/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, April 10, 2021 & Sunday, April 11, 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:  John 20:19-31 (page 1088) & 1 Timothy 2:1-6 (page 1193) 

Sermon Message: “Restoring the Lost” 

Thomas was a ‘lost soul’ for a while. 

When we come to church on Easter Sunday, typically we share in a litany that is an age-old and time-honored greeting…it goes like this: 

“The Lord has Risen,” and the people respond: “He has risen indeed!” 

When Thomas was told “The Lord has risen,” his response was, “No way!” 

Thomas had his reasons for doubting, for questioning, for feeling ‘lost.’ 

We need to remember when dealing with ‘lost souls,’ they, too, have their reasons.  We may not ‘agree’ with their reasons for feeling lost, yet they remain within the heart and soul of the individual experiencing ‘loss.’ 

Jesus helps to restore the lost.  As his disciples and faithful followers, we also are to help with restoring the lost. 

We use the word ‘lost’ in lots of different ways.  It can mean you’ve misplaced something that was in perfect working order; it’s just that you can’t find it.  We’ve heard of folks who ‘lost’ their life savings in the stock market crash.  That does not mean it was misplaced, and it will someday be found.  It means it’s gone…forever! 

Dreaded are the words in the Emergency Room when the doctor comes out to the waiting family and says, “We are so sorry, we did all we could, but we lost her!” 

In Massachusetts there is a list of names in an old whaling town under the title, “Lost at Sea.”  They aren’t misplaced.  They are gone forever. 

“Loss” can feel like forever, especially so if it’s you going through it.  Yet ‘loss’ is further experienced by those who are striving to restore some lost soul. 

A much-referenced story from the Bible regarding the ‘lost’ being restored is that of the Prodigal Son.  The son, that boy emphasized one portion of his life primarily so over the other equally important parts and for a time was ‘lost.’  It seems as though that prodigal child emphasized a blunt disregard for family ties, for spiritual integrity, and even for his own physical well being.  When he finally ‘comes to his senses’ and humbles himself to his father and his family, notice the dad’s response.  His words have depth of meaning for how we, too, may endeavor to restore the lost among us. The father of that Prodigal Son says, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” 

Folks, when the ‘lost’ find their way back home again to God, to church, to family, to us, even to their truest ‘self,’ it’s nothing short of a miracle! 

Easter was a miracle!  You just don’t think much about Good Friday when Easter comes. Typically it’s kind of like we are saying, “Ok, so Good Friday happened.  Yes, Jesus died upon the cross, but NOW He is alive.  He has risen from the dead.  So whatever fear and ‘loss’ you may have been feeling, ‘Get Over It!’ 

Loss remained ‘real’ to Thomas.  Loss, which many experience today, occurred for reasons.  While we would like to simply advise folks to ‘get over it,’ their ‘loss’ remains real to them. 

‘Loss’ is usually a pretty ‘heavy’ reality that effects people’s lives.  Sometimes briefly, at other times long term.  Jesus’ disciples were fearful.  So much so they locked the doors in the room where they met.  Seeing someone you love suffer so much and die a cruel death was overwhelming.  Going to an empty grave a few days later and being told by some of the women that He had risen was bewildering to them.  They just could not ‘wrap their heads’ around these events. 

Jesus Christ seeks to restore the lost. He is God’s Son.  He is our Savior. Jesus comes to them.  Locked doors do not shut him out.  Not their doors nor ours. Not the physical doors to a building, nor the doors to our hearts, nor the barriers from our minds, nor the obstinacy from our very souls!  No matter how difficult our pain and hurt may be, regardless of how ‘determined’ we remain to ‘hold on’ to what bothers us the most, Jesus comes, for He IS Lord and Savior to one and all.  He comes with this simple, serene, and abiding message if we will but choose to hear:  “Peace be with you.” 

To restore the ‘lost’ follow the example of Jesus Christ.  Be a presence.  Offer them peace.  Everyone needs something and someone strong, reliable, and trustworthy to believe in.  Especially so when they are ‘lost.’  For the Prodigal Son it was acceptance, forgiveness, embrace, and love.  A ‘restoration to integrity.’  Remember that Prodigal Son had some ‘work’ to do.  He had to come to the end of his rope, hit rock bottom, acknowledge his difficult state, humble himself, and reach out for help.  For those disciples they just sat there trembling in fear.  Thomas needed some substantial ‘proof.’ 

‘Loss’ takes many forms and may require a myriad of responses.  Some of the basic guidelines from Jesus include, ‘being present,’ ‘providing ‘peace,’ and offering some ‘proof’ that everything is alright or getting better.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, numerous times, people asked Jesus for ‘proof’ of his identity as the Messiah, Son of God, and regarding His spiritual authority.  Most often he refused to comply with their wishes or demands.  Jesus’ response to Thomas though is different. 

Thomas was skeptical.  Lost souls most often are.  As a matter of fact, Jesus had taught his early disciples to have a healthy sense of skepticism over and against those who would say they had seen the messiah here, there, or somewhere else.  Or of those who ‘laid claims’ to ‘special insight’ into Jesus or the Father.  So it is when the risen Jesus finally shows up in person to Thomas, Jesus does not scold him, but simply offers Thomas the proof he demands. 

In similar fashion when you or I strive to restore some lost soul, offer them patience and confirm the best ‘proofs’ you have and they may need. 

Some folks don’t move quickly nor ‘bounce back’ readily so from their Good Friday experience to Easter, resurrection, hope, and adjustment to new life.  Even if that new life is a better life.  Sometimes folks are ‘stuck’ in their past, in what causes them to feel and remain ‘lost.’ 

Notice too from Jesus’ example. He doesn’t just offer ‘proof’ nor answers and insights to Thomas who was lost.  Jesus doesn’t ‘sugar coat’ things.  The hurt, the wounds, the disgrace, and harshness of Jesus' anguish are still evidential.  He invites Thomas to ‘see and touch’ his wounds, his hands, his side.  “Here’s proof Thomas.”  “See for yourself!” 

Not everyone in life gets what Thomas got that day for restoring one’s self from loss.  Some folks believe from seeing.  Others ‘see’ from believing. 

Those ‘other’ disciples dealt with their loss ahead of Thomas.  After they made their report to Thomas of what they had experienced with Jesus, surely they would have assumed Thomas would join them in their happiness, peace, and restoration from such terrific loss.  But he doesn’t.  Emphatically so, he demands proof.  Those early disciples may have tried to be convincing, patient, and assuring to Thomas, but it wasn’t working.  Thomas wasn’t ‘getting it.’  I trust those disciples had to come to the reality, pretty quickly so, that they could not help Thomas and restore his lost soul.  So they chose to do what you and I and all believers need to do after we’ve tried everything we can.  They prayed.  They prayed for God’s strength, insight, solutions, and possible answers.  They prayed for divine help.  They prayed for something else, something we still sometimes ‘miss’ as we seek to help restore the lost.  They prayed what Paul wrote of in his spiritual guidance to young Timothy. Paul advises us to lift up to heaven petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving for all people. 

An ‘illustration’ may help at this point. There is the true story of a mother who prayed 17 long years for her son who was ‘lost’ from faith.  Her two other children were close to God and lead sincere Christian lives.  But not this one boy.  She prayed and prayed, many times to the point of tears.  She ‘turned him over to the Lord’ on many occasions.  Eventually that son did ‘come around.’  His name was Augustine.  You know him as St. Augustine.

Sometimes darkness invades our lives, and we become lost.  Sometimes we bring the darkness on ourselves.  Do your best to practice the patience of Christ and the wisdom that comes from God’s Holy Spirit as you share in this dimension of God’s work; restoring the lost.  There is not one simple formula that fits all.  Glean from the Bible, learn from experience, and pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire you and those suffering loss.  A very fair prayer becomes that of “Lord, open the minds, soften the hearts, send help to the one who is lost.”  Remember, there is no magic, nor instantaneous answer in most scenarios.  Be careful that you don’t become too ‘pushy’ in your endeavors to help restore the lost; I find that sometimes makes the lost soul all the more determined to prove you wrong and for them to persist on their dark endeavors. 

I’ve witnessed people coming back to church following many years of absence.  As a matter of fact, I’ve seen and experienced the resurrection in some pretty unique, yet sincere ways.  The resurrection of Christ in our lives surely does help in restoring the lost.  We are part and parcel of His creation.  Whatever, whoever, and whenever causes us to become ‘lost,’ Jesus Christ paid the price to buy us back. 

He did so for Thomas; he will certainly do so for us. His resurrection remains real. 

So much of the time the signs of resurrection are so slight as to be imperceptible.  But God's resurrecting activity is ongoing. Its timetable may vary, but God's intent does not. 

Show me a repaired relationship, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me a person with an attitude baptized in the fount of humility, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me a son or daughter who defiantly went off to the far country to waste and wander and is now on the way back, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me a community where people from distinctively different camps have found a common ground of promise, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me a self-righteous, pride-filled person who suddenly discovers her own shadow and weeps copiously, and I'll show you resurrection.  Show me someone who has wrestled with the black dog of depression and has lived to tell about it, and I will show you resurrection.  Every congregation is full of resurrection stories, if we will but take time to note them.  And just because your story seems to be a modest one, don't be fooled; modest stories are mighty in their own right. 

We weren't there for the first Easter -- only a handful was.  But like Thomas, we didn't have to be.  Easter is for Thomas -- the Thomas who lives in me and you, too.  We have had, and will continue to have, moments when the presence of the risen Christ is made known to us; and like Thomas, we will only be able to say:  "My Lord and my God!" 

Become a part of restoring the lost.  Pray, become aware, listen for God, respond, and pray some more.  Pray patiently. Amen.

Easter, Light Shining in Darkness 4/4/2021

Easter Sermon Message 2021 

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: John 20:1-18 (Page 1087) and Psalm 23 (Page 548) 

Sermon Message: “Easter, Light Shining in Darkness” 

The sun rose this morning around 6:30 a.m.  I was awake before then, and everything was still so dark.  After making myself a cup of coffee I sat in our living room and watched the sun come up on the horizon over Pittsburgh.  I am blessed to live in a home where I can see such beautiful sunrises, especially so on THIS Easter morning.  Through the years I’ve experienced Easter sunrises at different places where I’ve lived and churches where I have served.  Some of my most memorable are associated with Easter Sunrise services shared with the worshipping community on a church lawn, in a cemetery, at the foot of a huge cross, and even a few in my backyard. 

Lest we forget, Easter began in darkness.  The thing about darkness is it makes you welcome and appreciate light.  Today we welcome God’s light.  The light of Easter raises hope.  Today, throughout the world, there is hope from virus to health. 

As of March 29, 2021, 5,893,502 people have been fully vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus.  The last numbers: ‘2’ reflect my wife and myself.  The availability of vaccines has increased immensely, the distribution sites for vaccines has grown.  Testing is now ongoing for children to become vaccinated.  Whether you prefer the vaccine or not, leastwise the availability and choice is now before us.  Eventually light will further shine in this current world-wide darkness.  

Every Easter has the possibility of reminding us, informing us, of a second chance at life.  Clearly the Bible teaches us that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Today, we are reminded and reaffirmed in this blessed Christian faith, that Jesus Christ died for our sins upon that old, rugged cross.  Forgiveness is being offered.  While the wages of sin is death, because of the life and shed blood of Jesus Christ, there is a second chance at life, forgiveness, love, and salvation.  There is today a newness of life for our hopes, for our minds, for our hearts, and for our souls. 

Reflect on how that first Easter began. “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” Both the physical darkness and the spiritual darkness were quite heavy for Mary Magdalene.  Earlier, Jesus had forgiven her of much.  Jesus had cast seven demons out of her.  Mary’s gratitude and love for Jesus was immense for you see, He had given her a second chance at life.  In the midst of her grief, sorrow, and confusion that very first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been lain.  In both devotion and love she went there.

While God’s Word proclaims that ‘love’ is the strongest and greatest of God’s gifts, humanity affirms and fears that death is the strongest reality that besets us.  Mary’s love to Christ was strong as death, the death of the cross, for she stood by him in life and in death.  She went to the grave to weep, to wash the dead body of Jesus, and perhaps anoint him with proper burial ointment.  Hers was an extraordinary affection, so much so, that she was willing to endure the grave.  Love for Christ will take off the terror of death and the grave.  Be well assured this Easter morning with this light from God; even though we may walk through the darkest valley we shall fear no evil. 

Mary came early in the morning, while it was still dark. Do the same, come seeking Jesus while it is still dark in your life.  Don’t wait, don’t put off coming home to Christ.  Seeking God early, first, will bring light.  

The scriptures inform us that it was three women who came seeking Jesus early in the morning, while it was still dark.  Pay attention to that fact.  It remains important.  Jesus Christ reveals himself to women who seek to care for him.  

Has it ever happened to you as it did to Mary and those first women that when things are at their darkest, your thoughts can easily become that of fears, doubts, and even confusion?  Sometimes it’s quite hard to remember our faith and those spiritual insights we were taught when darkness prevails, and circumstances seem obviously hopeless and confusing.  When light shines in our darkness, we are amazed at our dullness and forgetfulness with things that later appear so obvious. 

I’m so glad we are here together in ‘church’ this Easter.  Last Easter we could not assemble together.  I remember how ‘odd’ it felt preaching to an empty church while being videotaped for the Easter message.  Sharing together, worshipping God together, is what Christians do. 

On that very first Easter morning Mary did something which helped the light of Easter shine in the darkness the world was experiencing back then. She went running to share her sorrows, her fears, her concerns, and her confusion.  The communication of sorrows is one good improvement of the communion of saints.  

Then there was Peter.  It was Peter who had denied knowing Jesus three times just hours previously.  Yet he does not desert the other disciples who were with him.  By this there appears the sincerity of his repentance.  The other disciples, in keeping up their closeness with him, teach us to restore those who have been faulty.  If God has received them upon their repentance, why not should we?  

When Peter and John were told, by Mary, what had happened, they immediately went to the tomb.  When WE are told of that which God is doing or has done, may we, too, go and see, right away, with our own eyes.  Be ready to share with others in our cares and our fears.  Today’s scriptures inform us that John ‘outran’ Peter. Do your best to get to God.  Do not envy those who can do better at that than you nor despise those who are a little slow, catching up, or catching on to faith and closeness to the Lord.

‘The disciple whom Jesus loved’ was John.  Sensing love, especially from Jesus, helps us also to excel in virtue and that which is good.  Love will do that. Peter, on the other hand, was cast behind for he had denied his Master and was in sorrow and shame for it. 

When you or I compromise our conscious, we lose ground.  John could not go into the tomb.  But Peter did.  The warmest of affections are not always accompanied by the greatest of resolutions.  Finally, John did get up enough courage to go inside the tomb.  While John could outrun Peter, Peter could out dare John! 

Today on this Easter Sunday may each and every one of us remember we need not be afraid of the grave since Christ has lain in it. Do not indulge in fear when you perceive death, nor when you walk through the cemetery.  It was through a grave, a cemetery, and death that Jesus Christ went to his glory.  So must we. 

Christ left his grave clothes there when he came out of the tomb because he arose to die no more.  Lazarus came out with his grave clothes on, for he was to use them again. 

When Jesus Christ gives us a second chance at life, we need to leave the old behind that hung on us and defined us.   Scriptures inform us that Jesus’ grave cloths were left in good order, which serves as evidence that his body was not stolen away while men slept.  Peter’s boldness encouraged John, so John ‘took heart’ and went in.  He saw and believed. 

Yet they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.  In fact, it may have been the furthest thing from their thoughts.  Those two were shy of believing at first.  They needed convincing proof.  They were honest men who would not deceive others, cautious to a large degree. 

They saw all this at the grave, the tomb, but then went back to where they were staying.  Some of it was fear.  Perhaps they feared being accused of taking the body or being charged with something.  In difficult and dangerous times its’ difficult for good men and women to go on in their work with resolution.  They were at a loss and did not know what to do next nor of what to make of what they had seen.  When our faith is weak, it’s just real hard to see things clearly. 

Peter and John came and went.  Mary came, sought the others, returned, and stayed. She continues in her love for Jesus even when what she most wants and needs is the comfort of his love. When we lose something, we most often return to the last place where we had left it.  Crying must not hinder our seeking.  Like Mary, make the effort to see even though you are hurting. 

An angel or two had come during the darkness and rolled the stone away from the entrance to the tomb.  After Peter and John’s brief visit, two angels come, and they comfort Mary. However God chooses to come to us, it is always light shining in our darkness. 

Two angels from heaven. One seated at the head of where Jesus’ body had lain.  The other seated at the foot.  They were sent to honor the Son.  These angels attended to Jesus Christ at his death just as they had at his birth.  Now they appear to Mary as they do to others; to comfort and give notice.  In this, for instance, they comfort Mary and give notice that the Lord has risen.  Be prepared to see him.  They have come to bear witness.  These angels are in white denoting their purity and holiness.  One day too, dear saints of God, we shall wear white as we walk with our Savior in the kingdom of God’s heaven.  Rest assured of this. The angels came to teach us not to be afraid.  Graves are only temporary. 

Angels serve to direct us to the way of life.  They compassionately inquire of her, “Why are you weeping?”  Angels are concerned at the griefs of the saints.  Christians should sympathize with one another.  Our sympathies should become occasions that inform us of that which shall turn mourning into rejoicing. 

Mary answers the angels by saying, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”  When the darkness is heavy, the faith seems weak.  It is then that we perplex ourselves needlessly with imaginary difficulties that faith would discover as real advantages.  Yet Mary persists.  She wants to ‘see’ Jesus. 

Jesus was ‘right there.’  Yet she did not realize it was him.  Mary wanted to see the dead body of Jesus.  But He was ALIVE! 

Remember this, dear friends, many times Jesus does more for answering our prayers than we first realize or even expect.  Christ is often nearer than we realize.  

What happens next between Mary and Jesus is the simplest thing in the world or in human relations.  Jesus speaks her name.  Mary does what any of us would do; she seeks to embrace him and hold on.  Oh, but then, Jesus steps back, pulls away just a bit, and presents her with a message for all: “Go and tell them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  

Jesus made it clear, this earth is not his home.  Nor is it ours, but for a while.  

Easter offers us a second chance at life.  God’s Easter does. Think of it also in this way: Why did our lives get ‘spared’ during Covid-19?  Why are we still here and others have ‘gone home?’  What might God’s timing and purpose be for us?  Not to simply return to the former ‘normal’ of entitlement, boredom, and indifference. Easter remains light shining in the darkness of our old lives and our former ways of living.  

God comforted Mary so she could go and comfort others.  Light has shined in your life so that you can shine light in others.  Where there is darkness, let there be light!  Amen.

Maundy Thursday: You Will Be Blessed 4/1/2021

Maundy Thursday Message: April 1, 2021

 Prayer For Illumination: Like Peter, we do not realize at the time what Jesus is doing or calling us to when he expresses the depths of his love.  O Lord, give us eyes of faith and increase our capacity to understand your ways and your presence here among us.  Perfect Teacher, make your word and actions clear to us, so that we may follow your example and learn from you.  Amen.

 SCRIPTURE LESSONS Gospel Lesson: John 13:1-17 (p. 1079)

                                     New Testament: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (p. 1151)


 Jesus knew the ‘hour had come’ for him to leave this world.  Those he loved, he loved until the end.  At the culmination of a very humbling foot washing ceremony and meager meal, he tells those with him, ‘You will be blessed.’

 A ‘blessing’ was no small thing back then.  It wasn’t a polite greeting following someone sneezing.  A “blessing’ carried weight.  ‘Blessings’ bestowed upon a soul were divinely inspired and likewise conveyed the goodness, help, and care of God.

 The ‘blessing’ we share tonight concerns a meal.  A remembered meal.  The meal did not take place in a palace or in one of the earth’s great houses.  Rather, it took place in the upper room of a house of which we know neither the name of the owner, nor the condition, nor the address.  There were thirteen people present at the meal, and only one of them had any public reputation at all, and even he was not known beyond a radius of 150 miles from his home town.  Moreover, he was killed the day after the meal as a disturber of the peace.  The other people who attended the meal were young, laboring men whom nobody had even heard of before or expected to see again.  So, it was not a banquet; this meal consisted of the bare necessities of life, bread, and wine.

 And yet, this meal, so hidden, so apart from the great stream of events, so obscure, so apparently local and transient, this meal is now being celebrated and remembered and participated in by people in practically every country in the world.  This is extraordinary!

 But let’s look again at the atmosphere of this last meal, this last meeting together.  Jesus knows the keen inner sharpness of forlornness and loneliness which always accompanies us in our most trying and decisive moments.  The disciples, no doubt, are cognizant of the fact that all is not going well and that something is about to happen.  Just prior to this occasion, Jesus has been saying strange things about the last days of judgment and the coming of death, and he has hinted that he himself is about to die.

 The meal Jesus hosted for his disciples on Maundy Thursday was a Passover Meal.  Maundy is from the Latin mandatum (which means commandment) based on the fact that Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34) and to continue the practice of the Lord’s Supper in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

 The Jews of Jesus’ day, peering into the future, knew that tough times were coming.  They looked for a Messiah who would act as a new Moses to deliver them from bondage to the Romans as the first Moses had delivered them, bewildered, bleeding, and despairing from bondage to the Egyptians across the Red Sea.

 As Christians, we affirm that Jesus, the Son of God, the host of this Maundy Thursday meal, delivers us from bondage to sin and death, bewilderment, hopelessness, and apathy.  We can be certain of his presence amid an uncertain future. 

 Tonight marks the last meal of Jesus’ earthly life before his trial and crucifixion.  And it marks the disciples’ last really good meal before the events that will ensue later tonight and tomorrow.  I wonder how clearly they’ll remember it as their leader is betrayed, abused, and strung up on a cross?  I’d love to seek out Simon Peter tomorrow, sit him down before he betrays Jesus, and ask him, “What do you remember about last night?  At what point, Peter, did it dawn on you that this wasn’t Passover as usual?  That Jesus, your server for the evening, was making substitutions in the menu?”

 The Passover script tells the host to break the unleavened bread in half and say “this is the bread of affliction our fathers ate in the wilderness.”  Instead, Jesus breaks it and says, “This is my body.”

 When it came time, over the blessing of the third cup of wine, he was supposed to say, “This is the cup of redemption from bondage in Egypt,” he makes another substitution and says, “This is my blood of the new covenant poured out so that you may be freed from your bondage to sin.”

 “Peter, at what point did it dawn on you that in Jesus’ last meal he was offering himself as the main course at a New Passover, proclaiming a new exodus, and a new covenant and entry into a new promised land?”

 Tonight, we motley crew of 21st century folks join 12 spiritually hungry disciples - reclined around a candlelit table in an Upper Room. We have gathered to join Jesus in his last meal before he is betrayed, beaten, and crucified.

 In 1787 at the age of 84, John Wesley wrote a tract called “The Duty of Constant Communion,” a reissuing of something he had written 55 years earlier and believed even more than ever.

 He gave several reasons why Christians should commune as often as possible:

1.    It is the plain command of Christ;

2.    It brings forgiveness of sins;

3.    The bread and wine strengthen the body, and these tokens, of the body and blood of Christ, strengthen the soul.

Why would we neglect to partake of this meal that brings forgiveness of sins and spiritual refreshment?  One night, as Thomas Jefferson was sitting at his desk at the White House, he took a straight razor and cut out all the portions of the New Testament that he didn’t like - the miracles, the Resurrection, anything that indicated Jesus’ divinity.  He didn’t have much use for the Eucharist.  He wrote to a friend, “I have made a wee little book from the gospels which I call the ‘Philosophy of Jesus.'  I made it by cutting the pages out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book.”

 To Jefferson, God was like a rich Aunt in Australia, benevolent but not very involved.  And Jesus was to him a moral example and no more.

 One of the passages he excised with his straight razor was from Luke 2 when Jesus was 6 weeks old, and his parents brought him to the Temple to dedicate him to God. A righteous old man named Simeon believed he would not see death until he had met the Messiah.  The Spirit guided the old man into the Temple that day, and when he saw the baby Jesus, he took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing me in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation!”

 Years later, on Tuesday, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, at age 83, Thomas Jefferson lay on his death bed at Monticello.  There would be no more earthly food for him.  He had had his last meal.  There are many accounts of Jefferson’s last words, but the most inspiring among them is that, near the end, those around him saw his eyes fix on a point at the foot of his bed and heard him repeating the prayer of Simeon to the Messiah:  “Master, now you are dismissing me in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

 With all due respect to Thomas Jefferson, my money is on John Wesley when it comes to the Eucharist we celebrate this Maundy Thursday!

 Let us fortify ourselves with this holy meal as we head into a challenging time.  May the bread and wine strengthen our bodies as these tokens of the body and blood of Christ strengthen our souls.  May we leave this place to stand by our savior in the challenges that face him in the next few days, as he has promised to stand by us in whatever lies ahead in our lives.

Holy Week Changes Everything 3/28/2021

Sermon Message for Palm Sunday

Saturday, March 27, 2021 & Sunday March 28, 2021

 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:  Mark 11:1-11 (Page 1015) & Philippians 2:5-11 (Page 1179)

 Sermon Message: “Holy Week Changes Everything”

 Can you imagine what it must have been like to be a part of that very first Palm Sunday?  We have shaped palm crosses and perhaps a few thin strips of palm.  But those first Palm Sunday crowds had large, full palm branches they waved in the air and laid on the ground to acknowledge Jesus Christ.  Everyone there was told that Jesus was coming down the street, arriving as their new King, their promised Messiah, who would deliver them from misery to joy.  ‘Life’ would become quite ‘different’ and ‘better’ under this new king, so they thought.

 This ‘Messiah’ coming into town wasn’t what anyone expected, but he was to be their ‘king’ nonetheless.

 Can you imagine waving a big palm branch as though you’d just never stop? A palm branch was thought of as a kind of symbol of their country.  Anyone who waved a palm branch was telling the world that their country was special, and that they were immensely proud to be Jewish.

 If you’ve ever been to a parade, you know there’s usually quite a bit of ‘clamor’ plus background noise as the procession occurs.  Surely the noise level must have been quite loud as people cheered and more and more shouted “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Yet there was still another sound.  Quite distinct, yet only heard if you paid attention beyond the crowd.  It was the clip pity-clop of a donkey coming down the cobblestoned roadway.  Not just any donkey, but one carrying a load, pushing through the crowd, and dealing with all the distractions of so many people, coats strewn all over the road, and even palm branches to be traversed.

 Choosing to really pay attention and focus beyond all of the cheers, branches, and royal symbolism of laying coats down on the road, revealed a sight to behold.  On the back of that donkey was NOT a man wearing robes of royalty nor weapons of military might.  Just a guy that looked like the rest of them donning an old, faded white one-piece robe.  His hair was long, but his smile was contagious and confident.  When he met your eyes, your world changed from the inside out.

 That crowd was immense.  Maybe the only way to break through the crowd was to press forward on the back of a donkey. There were so many people there waving palm branches to greet Jesus and acknowledge him as the one who would become their king.  That’s why this day is called Palm Sunday.

 Everyone was so happy to see Jesus.  They followed him down the hill all the way into the city of Jerusalem. Well, not everyone was happy. Some of the leaders in Jerusalem didn’t like Jesus and didn’t like things he was telling people.  Jesus told them that God loved everyone, and those leaders didn’t agree with that.  Jesus said that God loved poor people just as much as rich people, and those leaders did not agree because they were rich and thought they were better than everyone else.  Jesus said that God loved people no matter where they were from, and those leaders did not agree with that either.  The leaders were not only unhappy to see Jesus coming to town, but they were also trying to figure out a way to get rid of him.  They considered coming up with a way to arrest him, but they knew they couldn’t because the crowds of people would stop them.

 I think everyone got a little mixed up that day with ‘who’ Jesus was.

 Those leaders thought Jesus was some sort of ‘messiah king’ that just didn’t understand what leadership means.  For them it meant they were ‘better than’ the rest and that ‘they’ ruled people’s lives, telling them what to do.  They feared Jesus was jeopardizing all they had ever worked towards and achieved in life.  They believed Jesus didn’t ‘get it.’  They felt as though he refused to understand and was far too ‘lax’ and ‘easy going.’  In short, they viewed Jesus as some sort of ‘troublemaker.’

 The crowds that day were a lot mixed up. They really and truly believed Jesus was there to rally support to overthrow the Roman government that had been holding their entire Jewish nation in captivity for far too long.  They believed Jesus would set them free so they could practice their religion as they wished and pretty much keep to themselves while living in prosperity.

 The children who were there in that first Palm Sunday crowd were probably looking for something far more dramatic and perhaps regal such as swords and soldiers, large horses, and carefully sewn uniforms.  Instead, there’s only a small donkey and some guy that looks just like the rest of them in an old, faded one-piece robe.

Lest we forget, the twelve disciples were also ‘with’ Jesus as he ‘processed’ into Jerusalem, on the back of a donkey, to the sound of cheering crowds shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Plus, there was the sight, as well as the sounds of welcoming royalty, as the crowds spread their cloaks on the ground.  The masses of people waved large palm branches and further laid them on the ground.  Those disciples knew, they well understood, what the crowds were ‘up to!’  They were not only naming and proclaiming Jesus to be their king.  Their very words, “Hosanna” are translated, then and now to mean “rescue us!”

 The crowds believed what those disciples believed, and even the children believed, Jesus had come to rescue them from an oppressive foreign regime.  They believed Jesus had come to rally them into action to overthrow the soldiers who occupied their land.  They were all a lot ‘mixed up.’  One fellow, in particular, was more ‘mixed up’ and ‘messed up’ than others.  Jesus’s one disciple, the fellow who was the treasurer for the group, Judas, believed he needed to ‘push’ Jesus along to rally the people and become their nation’s new king. The way he thought he could do this was by informing the Jewish leaders (who didn’t like Jesus) how and where THEY could get ahold of Jesus and push the issue. Today is the beginning of Holy Week.  Today we remember Jesus coming to Jerusalem, and we also remember what Judas did when he got to town.  On Thursday of this week, we remember the night that Judas told the leaders where to find Jesus so they could arrest him.  On Friday, we remember how Jesus was taken away and killed upon a large wooden cross in front of everyone, including his family!

 Holy Week had its share of casualties, some of which we can relate to.  That initial Palm Sunday grouping was somewhat of a ‘carnival crowd.’  They were happy, joyous, and caught up in the moment of hope and expectation plus palm branches, cloaks, and shouts of “Hosanna.”  Soon they were dispersed as were their ideals and their perceived ‘hopes’ for what they deemed and defined their ‘messiah’ to be and become for THEM.

 Public gathering became one of the first casualties of Covid-19.  Crowds became prohibited.  Numbers of people who could meet were tightly regulated to lower the risk of viral spread.  The freedom to congregate and seek communion was suspended.

 Reading and reviewing today’s scriptures reminds us of the uncertainty of their times and ours.  Yet there remains for them and for us the certainty of Christ’s love through even our most uncertain of times.

 Those early crowds were made up of an uneasy mix of those with Messianic religious beliefs, political agitators, and those who had just come along for the ride.  Their joy is infectious.  They chant in boisterous waves: ‘Hosanna!’ (‘Save us!’)  Perhaps our chant is ‘vaccine!’

 In late 2019 we became aware of this Covid virus that soon became a world-wide pandemic.  The world has prayed, each person in their own way, for “hosanna,” for that which will rescue us.  The ‘politicizing’ of Covid-19 is both a sad and somewhat solemn awareness.  Yet it becomes political leaders from all parties who support us now with avenues of help.

 In uncertain times it’s so easy to become ‘mixed up’ with what to believe, ‘who’ to believe, and the directions that are best to be taken.

 On that very first Palm Sunday the authorities, political and religious, were right, and they were wrong.  Jesus had not come to overthrow their military might.  But he had come to do something far more subversive.  He had come to overthrow and conquer their hearts.  Jesus did this not with a show of force, but by initiating His reign of love from the timber throne of his Cross. In the uncertainty of their times, they had woefully misread the situation. Jesus had not entered Jerusalem in order to rouse a crowd to rebellion, but to rouse them for the new life of love.  He had come to clear a path to His Father’s heart.

Akin to those ancients, we too have exhibited our share of defenses regarding God’s provisions and Jesus’ coming into and through our world.  Especially so during the course of these past 15 months.

 Think about it, Jesus was ‘right there’ in the midst of them, riding in a parade on the back of a donkey.  He was in plain sight, yet they nearly missed him and his central message to us all because of their notions, their perceived ‘wants,’ and poorly discerned spiritual insights.

 The Bible teaches us that God does most often come in discreet and unexpected manners.  In ways that we could easily miss Him and misunderstand His meaning.  It was so at his birth.  Jesus, the Incarnate Word, born in a stable.  That was not the way popular opinion would have the Messiah come into our world.  Similarly, at his death when Pilate presented Jesus to the crowds with the words, “Behold the man!” the glaucoma of fear prevented us from seeing that Incarnate love was in our midst.  Because love is hard for us to recognize and accept; we find it too challenging.  When Love came into our world, we blamed life on Him and nailed Him down.  After all, uncertainties will do that, don’t we know?

 There’s something else we need to know about Palm Sunday and Holy Week. That festive cheering crowd waving palm branches seems to turn into a lynch mob later on.  Their chants of “Hosanna” mutates into the words, “Crucify him!”

 Our world talks of ‘herd immunity.’  That first Holy Week crowd had become immune to truth and love. ONLY an employee of the Roman state, a centurion, has stayed virus-free and humbly recognizes that ‘In truth this man was the son of God.’

 Three days later, a few grieving women would gather at the entrance to Christ’s tomb.  Hardly a crowd, but first witnesses to the fact that, on the other side of fear and violence, all that was dead was stirring to new life; and the first light of that Easter morning was changing everything.

We Wish To See Jesus 3/21/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 20, 2021 & Sunday, March 21, 2021 

Fifth Sunday in Lent 

Prayer For Illumination: O living Spirit of God, illumine our minds and hearts today so that, though we are often slow to understand, we may hear you speaking clearly, and may be willing and eager to obey.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:  Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Page 789) & John 12:20-33 (Page 1078) 

Sermon Message: “We Wish To See Jesus” 

Certain ‘words’ can become very meaningful in our lives.  They can ‘speak’ to us long after conversations and events take place.  Words of Holy Scripture can do that for any of us.  For God’s Words tend to get memorized by our minds, but also written upon our hearts.  Within today’s Gospel reading, John 12: 21, we hear these words: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 

A brief story I’d like to share with you regarding these words: In the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh there is a large urban church.  Emory Church has been there for years.  I was privileged to serve there as a young student minister for two years.  The senior pastor gave me opportunities occasionally to preach and lead in worship.  He shared with me some words written on a small metal plaque he had mounted on the pulpit.  Those words were these from Holy Scripture: “Sir we would see Jesus.”  He informed me there was perhaps no better verse to place before the preacher when facing the congregation.  Although those words were written on a small metal plaque, I well recall standing with that senior pastor one Sunday morning and realizing from that day forward they would be written upon my heart. 

These words remind me of the covenant the prophet, Jeremiah, wrote of in Holy Scripture. A covenant that is in our minds and written upon our hearts.  Surely, you and the Lord God Almighty share such covenants that remain ‘in your mind’ and ‘written upon your heart.’  Covenants such as the Ten Commandments.  Promises such as the Lord’s words, “I am with you always…” 

Our initial reading of today’s scriptures, from the Gospel of John regarding these Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, might get easily passed over.  Possibly seen as a request to see this dramatic preacher everyone’s talking about, by the name of Jesus.  But those Greeks who made their request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” were not doing so for entertainment reasons.  Not at all.  These Greeks had come to worship at a festival in Jerusalem.  They were non-Jews who likely ‘showed up’ at the Jewish Passover festival and perhaps other Jewish festivals because they intuitively felt that the God of Israel was the true God.  The Greeks were known for their own philosophies and religious systems.  Their systems were not satisfying to them.  They were searching for something more.  They knew there was more to be found.  So, it was they spoke to Philip, one of only two disciples with a Greek name.  Perhaps Philip would not dismiss their request just because of their cultural background.  It seems Philip did not know what to do with their request, so he consulted with Andrew.  Together, Philip and Andrew went and told Jesus of the Greek Gentiles’ request. 

Jesus did NOT say, “OK I’ll talk to them!”  Nor did Jesus say, “See them in.”  Jesus did not invite them to stay for supper, nor did he inquire of them to wait and see him later on during some portion of the Jewish Passover festival.  Instead, Jesus offers what may at first seem a bit ‘odd’ to us.  Jesus replies: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (vv. 23-32). 

Throughout the Gospel of John, at various critical points of Jesus' ministry, when the crowds are either very upset with his teachings and ready to kill him, or very impressed with his miraculous powers and ready to crown him king, he says repeatedly, "My hour has not yet come."  But here, in today's reading, after this apparently innocent request by Greek visitors, he announces that the hour has come, that the glory they've been longing for was to be revealed, not in wreaking vengeance on his enemies or in doing even greater miracles, but by his falling into the earth and dying as a grain of wheat, in his losing his life, by being lifted up on the cross. 

Perhaps we ponder what it was that made those Greek visitors so curious to see Jesus.  We are afforded the knowledge that they had come to worship during the Jewish Passover Festival.  At worship plenty of folks gain much-needed spiritual insight.  Those Greeks would have known that much of what they had heretofore learned was perhaps an illusion.  The kind of truth they were seeking was to be found in the Christian religion.  Particularly so in the person of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps they were seeking to find answers beyond Greek ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses.’  Much of Greek philosophy provided wisdom but not sufficient practicality.  Even the very Greek lifestyle had its share of illusions.  Here we perceive two Greeks desiring to ‘see’ Jesus.  They look for that which all of God’s people seek: the way, the truth, and the life.  

Jesus’ initial response to Philipp, Andrew, and those two Greeks is the long-awaited, spiritual awareness of what leads a soul into the way, the truth, and the life. 

“The long-awaited ‘hour’ has come.”  God the Father had a time, a purpose, and a plan for Jesus’ life.  If we wish to see Jesus, we need to affirm his time, purpose, and plan as the way that leads us to God. 

“Seeing” Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life is not some sort of cosmic or religious illusion.  Life is full of illusions.  Many illusions prevent us from “Seeing Jesus” in our everyday lives. 

Consider these ‘general’ illusions that negatively impact our abilities to ‘see Jesus’: 

1. Most of us see the present through the past.  We can and should learn from our past, but then we need to move on and not live there.  Jesus stands at the door and knocks.  Jesus forgives us of our past.  Fixing our eyes upon Jesus sure helps to make all things new.

2. We believe we can control things….all things.  Yet there shall always remain things beyond our control.  It is the tendency of all of us to look inwardly for our strength, our answers, and for some semblance of ‘control.’  This past year the world has come to realize how very much is beyond our control and our increasing need to see Jesus in the midst of life.  When life presents us with the illusion that we are comfortably in control only to realize we are vulnerable, seek Jesus.  Pray to the Lord.  Draw close to our Savior.  Come, and worship the Lord in His House.

3. Life is such that we tend to see only the bad in ourselves and others.  When we see Jesus in ourselves and others, we see the goodness of God.  Remember you are a child of God.  Jesus Christ has bought you with a price.  The words to the old hymn ring true today, especially so during Lent: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

4.  We tend to believe everything we feel and think.  It is an illusion to believe that’s all there is or all that matters.  Our feelings and our thoughts are challenged and sometimes transformed every day.  ‘Faith’ is not reducible to only feelings or just our thoughts.  Look to Jesus for guidance, for strength, and yes, even for our thoughts and feelings to be transformed.  Strive to ‘take on the mind of Christ.’  Our thoughts and feelings inform us but should not rule us.  Jesus Christ is Lord.

5. The commandments warn us not to have any ‘false gods,’ nor to worship any ‘idols.’  ‘Things’ can actually be quite fulfilling.  We tend to function under the illusion that IF we can just acquire or accumulate enough ‘things,’ then ‘who we are’ will be better defined.  Things are nice, but they can’t define us.  If we wish to ‘see’ Jesus, the Bible teaches us we need to ‘pick up our cross and follow Him.’  Strive to follow Jesus, and you shall find the greatest fulfillment in this world and in the world to come.  Be a good steward of all ‘things’ you’ve been given.

6. One’s sense of self-worth used to be defined by our title, position, education, place of residence, and relationships.  Even our ‘clothing made the man, or woman.’  These days many seek their self-worth through social media.  Depending on social media makes us feel relevant.  Increasingly the world is discovering this is a sad and destructive illusion.  Life is best defined and made most relevant through our relationship to God in Jesus Christ.  When we ‘see’ Jesus, we see love, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, patience, and abiding faith.  The presence of these qualities defines our sense of self-worth.

7. There is much to be said about ‘happiness.’  We are known to say to ourselves or others: “Whatever make you happy.”  It isn’t ‘whatever’ or ‘whoever’ that makes a soul happy.  Happiness begins within each person.  Spiritual happiness stems from one’s on-going humble, yet sincere, relationship to Jesus.

8. Far too many worship the ‘god’ of ‘me, myself and I.’  Such self-centeredness is one of the most destructive illusions.  There IS a higher power, a greater good than us.  Not everything goes our way.  But looking to Jesus we can see things going ‘God’s way.’  That enlightens the mind and fulfills the soul while bettering one’s life.

9. We tend to function under the illusion that we don’t need any help.  We’re good! The only rewards that idea gives us are frustration and exhaustion.  God made us to help each other.  “Beloved let us love one another,” the Bible points out.  We are designed by our Maker to need each other.  Strive to ‘see Jesus’ in others.

10. This spiritual season of Lent is about repentance and renewal.  It’s about walking close to Jesus.  Many just don’t ‘see’ the need for that because they don’t want to change, don’t see a need to change, or simply believe they can’t change.  The ability to grow, learn, and change is one of God’s greatest gifts to human beings.

11. God has His hand upon you.  Jesus Christ is leading your life.  What we do with our life is needed and important.  The success of our lives is not based solely upon ourselves and the work we’ve done.  That does count, yet, we need to look to Jesus and thank our heavenly Father for the life we have; the gifts and talents we appreciate and use.  We don’t ‘do it alone.’

12. Sometimes we feel we’re alone.  God is with us always.  Jesus promises:  “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

God created us with a mind, a body, and a spirit.  Don’t forget or neglect the spiritual side.  Remember that story of the Prodigal Son.  He fed one part of his being and starved another.  That’s why we end up in the pigpen of life.  We are not just a mind and a body.  We are a spirit as well.  By choosing to take God's path, no matter what your age or station in life, you can begin to live again from the inside. 

Jesus teaches death of self, loss of one’s life, and being lifted up on a cross. 

As our Lenten disciplines and devotions reach their Easter goal, it is good for us, actually for each of us, to ‘see Jesus.’ 

To those seeking Jesus His message remains, “the hour has come.”  “Seeing Jesus” addresses many of life’s illusions.  The ‘way of the Lord’ IS in our minds and written upon our hearts.  If you, like those ancient Greeks, wish to see Jesus, follow their example; walk their path.  Seek Jesus in His church and call upon Him in prayer.  Study Him in the Bible and imitate His example.  “See” Jesus in the lives of others.  Sometimes within those you’d least expect. 

Lent is a time for change, transformation, and ‘seeing Jesus.’  Amen.

By the Grace of God 3/14/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 13, 2021 & Sunday, March 14, 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.

Scripture Lesson:  John 3:14-21 (Page 1065)

 Sermon: “By the Grace of God”

Some years ago, I taught our children during their moment in worship, an acronym using the word, ‘grace.’ G=God’s R= redeeming A= aide C=coming E=everyday.  That message still holds true. God’s grace comes to us each day, every day, new every morning.

God’s grace came to us in the ministry and personhood of Jesus Christ.  Yet God’s grace was flowing long before the birth of Jesus into this world.

 Perhaps you recall the narratives associated with God freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and their 40-year trek through the wilderness prior to reaching the Promised Land?  A lifetime of grace in that wilderness experience.  Along the way the people of God became disenchanted.  They spoke against God and against Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread!  There is no water!  And we detest this miserable food.” (Numbers 21:4,5)  Their complaint was directed at God.  Then to make matters worse they ran into venomous snakes! Some were bitten and died.  The people came to Moses seeking help.  Moses prayed and the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it on a pole.  Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole.  The people looked at it and lived. A form of grace was extended to the people who had sinned against God.

 Within today’s scripture reading we hear a similar prescription for grace offered in part by means of an analogy. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:14, 15.  Looking to Jesus Christ lifted up, we receive grace upon grace.

 Akin to those ancient Israelites we have to stop complaining about what we don’t have, appreciate what we do have, and more importantly we must stop focusing on ourselves and start looking up.  Grace isn’t forced upon us. Grace requires us to look heavenward towards God.

 Consider with me some of the more wholesome ways we live ‘by the grace of God.’

 Those ancient Israelites had grown tired of God’s provisions of manna from heaven.  When Moses spent time with God on Mt Sinai and the Almighty provided the Ten Commandments, the people grew tired of waiting for Moses to come back down the mountain and fashioned for themselves a golden calf to worship instead of the Lord God Almighty. God’s provisions were repudiated.  God’s timing was questioned.  In turn the people suffered from their own poison.  By the grace of God, a symbol of a bronze snake lifted up on a pole gave them hope, salvation, and healing.  All forms of God’s grace.

I don’t know if you much like snakes or not?  I’ve met people who do, yet lots of folks who do not.  Have you ever noticed that hospitals and doctors sometimes use the symbol of a snake wrapped around a pole, (also referred to as the caduceus)?  This remains a symbol associated with healing.  We believe healing occurs through varying means, all by the grace of God being extended.  Especially so when we grumble and grow weary with God’s provisions. 

It is by the grace of God that we are saved and healed.

The Bible affords multiple insights into how people act, interact, respond to grace, and affirm faith.  Numerous are the stories in the Bible associated with people growing weary with waiting on God’s grace to come.  Our world can certainly ‘identify’ as well.

Recently we learned of governors, anxious to please a Covid-weary population, rolling back restrictions on restaurants and facemasks, while health officials urge caution, believing that new variants of the virus could strike.  Meanwhile, those who are weary of waiting for vaccines are finding ways to jump line and game the system.  Political parties are growing to realize there is no golden ticket assuring their party’s legislation will automatically ‘go through.’  It seems we are perhaps within weeks, if not just a few months, from everything turning around and quite possibly getting better. Yet in our weariness and impatience we may perhaps be poisoning ourselves.

 God offers our world this season of Lent and Easter as a means of grace to stop and ponder, meditate, and pray.  Not only for our Lenten disciplines that just might better ourselves, but more importantly, for the grace of God to be seen, felt, experienced, and relied upon for the future of the world.  Not just the distant future either, but quite importantly our immediate future.  Too much too soon really could backfire on us.

 By the grace of God there is a cross and a Savior to look up to in the midst of any and all poisons in our lives.  Grace is freely offered, yet too often, not well received.  I advise and urge us all to keep wearing our masks and practicing social distancing as a sign and symbol of the grace of God still being offered in the midst of this pandemic.

 The greatest form of grace God Almighty has delivered is that of so loving us that He sent His Son Jesus into the world.  Remember, Jesus was sent to save, not condemn.

 Condemnation remains a form of judgment.  Belief is a form of grace.

 Today’s scriptures speak of light coming into the world.  Wherever God is, there is light.  Whenever God is ‘looked to’ there is light.  Some shut their eyes against the light and don’t much care about receiving God’s grace.  Their deeds are dark; therefore, they don’t want to be exposed.  Coming to church, reading and studying the Bible, and praying and fellowshipping with other Christians is seen more as a challenge then a hope.


In our daily lives and within this pandemic there is light at the end of the tunnel.  We are almost ‘there.’  By the grace of God, we can be saved, renewed, and experience true hope.

 Last year at this time we were not permitted to hold worship services inside this building.  Since May of last year, we have.  This past year made most folks feel fear and anticipate that everything is moving towards death, even our ‘allowed’ activities.  Businesses died, finances died, churches died, and over 500,000 people died.  Today’s scriptures direct us to look up to this image of Jesus on the Cross.  If you want life to get better, to be helped, to be healed, by the grace of God, you have to stand up, look up, and be counted as faithful and hopeful and believing beyond death.  God is saying no to the world’s logic that everything is moving towards death.  In the same weeks just prior to Easter we are now in, those early disciples were feeling as though everything around them, within them and all that was important to them, was dying.  It was when the disciples ‘remembered’ that things began to change, hope began to be felt, and light began to shine.  We are here now to share in communion with Jesus, to look up to him, to stand up for him and to be counted as belonging to him and believing in him.

 By the grace of God we have received and continue to receive Jesus Christ into our hearts, our souls, our lives, this church, our homes, and this world.  Even our ‘religion’ has grown to be more focused.  In the past, lots and lots of folks would pick and choose between religions and religious beliefs.  Religious leaders were followed here and there by folks.  It was kind of like a religious buffet of sorts whereby we would pick and choose what seemed to fit our thinking, our lifestyles then dismiss the rest.  That’s called syncretism.  Picking and choosing bits and pieces, and slices and selections of religion, but not being dedicated, devoted, or truly challenged by any one set of teachings or affirmations of faith is poor for the soul.

 By the grace of God, we shall live beyond this pandemic.  By the grace of God, we are blessed with mercy that grants us forgiveness, provides us with new beginnings, and calls us forward into a sweet communion with the Lord that sheds light in our darkness.  Easter is just around the corner.  The light of God is shining in our darkness.  Although we have despaired for quite some time, we are so close to the finish line.

 God has provided us a means of grace.  He has so loved us and loves us still.  Communion is a means of God’s grace in sacramental form.  Communion sustained the disciples of old.  Communion gave Jesus what he most needed with his friends and family.  Grace, amazing grace.  How sweet!  Amen.


Honor and Glory 3/7/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, March 6, 2021 & Sunday, March 7, 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: Exodus 20:1-17 (Page 75) and Hebrews 12:1-3 (Page 1213).

Sermon Message: 'HONOR & GLORY’

Lent is truly a time to reflect upon Jesus.  Today’s scriptures encourage us to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith.  The next part is just a bit perplexing at first. It reads: ‘For the joy set before him he endured the cross, according to its shame…’

Part of the ‘joy set before him’ was to bring honor and glory unto God the Father.  Jesus’ human nature had to be sacrificed in order for the Father’s divine will and plan to be fulfilled. There are times throughout our lives when we, to a far lesser extent than Jesus, must sacrifice some portion of our human nature in order for the Father’s divine will and plan to be fulfilled and for honor and glory to come to God.

Within our world both ‘honor and glory’ are sometimes thought of as rewards or even ceremonies associated with quality achievements.  For example, we ‘honor’ and bring ‘glory’ to persons who do well with significant sports achievements.  We ‘honor’ and bring ‘glory’ to those who serve selflessly as firefighters, police, doctors, nurses, and of course within the US military.

Right now both ‘honor and glory’ are being bestowed upon Dr. Fauci for his accomplishments, research, and leadership throughout this Covid-19 pandemic.

Lent remains a spiritual season to reflect upon the movement and presence of God, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and, quite importantly, our spiritual growth and involvement in this season of Lent.  Some of our further ways to bring ‘honor and glory’ to God during this wholesome spiritual season of Lent includes daily focused prayer and quiet time spent with God, reading, studying, and meditating upon scriptures, devotional studies, giving up something for Lent, and of course, what we are doing right now in worship; Christian fellowship, hearing, receiving, and reflecting upon the Word of God.

As today’s scriptures reference, we do have a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that have taught us, through their life examples, how to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.’  We all know someone who lives according to God’s Ten Commandments.  Hopefully, we all do as well.  The Ten Commandments teach us what some of those things are that we need to throw off so our lives are not hindered nor entangled by sin.  Following the Ten Commandments brings honor and glory to God but also peace and a good quality of life to others and ourselves.

Honor and Glory are two words we know something about.  These are two great words.  There are not many synonyms that can explain what honor and glory mean.  These two words carry a lot of meaning, even ‘sounding’ unique unto themselves.  What ‘comes to mind’ for when you think about glory?

A young girl came to Church and Sunday school routinely.  She heard some ‘church words’ over and over again that she struggled with.  When she heard all the stories about people and events in the Bible, in her mind, they seemed hard to believe.  When family and friends, even the preacher, talked of ‘glory,’ she tried to imagine what that meant.  Mostly, she’d look at a picture of the sun she often carried around with her.  She’d see the sun’s rays streaming down to earth, and for her, that was an illustration of ‘glory.’

Perhaps you associate the word ‘glory’ with the Patriotic selection, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on. Glory, glory!  Hallelujah!  Glory, glory!  Hallelujah! Glory, glory!  Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.’

There is ‘glory’ in nature, such as the young girl saw in the rays of the sun.  There remains patriotic ‘glory’ as ascribed in The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

There are other forms of ‘glory’ the Bible speaks of. The ancient Hebrew word for ‘glory’ is ‘kabad.’ It means ‘weight’ or ‘importance.’  Thus, to have glory is to be weighty or important to oneself or others.  In the Bible the word ‘glory’ is sometimes applied to humans, showing their significance in the world.  Frequently it is applied to God.  Some of God’s manifestations to humans reveal His glory.  For example, the giving of the Law, or the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  From upon the Cross, Jesus, the Son of God, brought honor and glory unto God the Father.  In fact, Jesus’s entire life was spent in bringing honor and glory unto God.

The Biblical theme of ‘glory’ may further reference God’s future intervention in this world.  Our appropriate human response to the presence and movement of God in our lives is to ascribe glory to Him.

Within the New Testament affirmations of ‘glory’ continue and expand in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and also in the spiritual words of wisdom from our diverse Biblical authors.

Christ is the Word of God incarnate.  Within the Gospel of John 1:14 it is recorded: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  ‘Glory’ is revealed through Christ’s miracles. Even Jesus’ death is associated with his ‘hour of glorification.’  The Gospels further refer to Christ’s Second Coming as His return to glory.

Glory unto God means worshipful praise, honor, and thanksgiving.  It means to recognize the importance of God, the ‘weight’ God carries in life, your life, my own, and throughout the entire world.  Glory further means to recognize the manifestation of God’s presence and reflect that glory as we “let our light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Anytime you become aware of God’s presence in life, inside of yourself or through others, give God the glory.  Ascribe to Him praise, honor, and thanksgiving.

On a personal note, when Patty and I received our first Covid-19 vaccination, afterwards we gave God the glory, praise, honor, and thanksgiving in prayer and simply out loud.  I even experienced a few tears of joy.  God inspired collective minds to research and develop this vaccine.  God moved inside of lots and lots of folks to distribute and administer the vaccine.  I firmly believe this vaccine gives life as well as hope and further well-being.  This vaccine inspires inside all of us the glory we feel towards God for the precious gift of life.

Glory and honor be unto God now and forever and ever.  Amen and Amen.  In today’s world, more than ever, we should feel honored to be a Christian.  An important part of our Christian faith foundation is the Ten Commandments.  Do you still recall learning the Ten Commandments in Sunday school?  I came from a family of four brothers, total.  Sometimes we got along.  Sometimes we fought pretty badly!  Our teacher asked us to memorize the Ten Commandments.  She asked what the Fourth Commandment stated?  (Honor your father and your mother.)  I knew it, got called on, and felt proud to offer the answer.  That is until my older brother gave me a shove that knocked me over into the little girl sitting next to me.  Just then our teacher asked if there was a commandment for ‘getting along with our brothers and sisters?”  I said yeah, “Thou shalt not kill!”

The Ten Commandments remain God’s Law that governs us.  I can’t imagine how Moses would have ‘done it,’ that is, lead those millions of people through the wilderness without those Ten Commandments.  The first four commandments speak to how humans are to live in right relationship to God.  How they were to honor God.  Still do.  The remaining six commandments speak to how humans are to live in right relationship with their parents, with their families, and with their neighbors.  These Ten Commandments were never intended to be burdens robbing us of our joy, but rather these are words of life; guideposts and guardrails aimed at helping us experience the goodness and beauty that God intended.  God longs for these commandments to be inscribed on our hearts, understood with our minds, and lived in our daily lives. All of the Ten Commandments lead us to bring honor and glory to God while making our lives better, more sacred, and precious.

The Fourth Commandment declares: “Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”  The word ‘honor’ has a number of shades of meaning.  Basically ‘honor’ means to esteem and treat another with respect because of who they are and what they have done.  Honor has the sense of value, worthiness, and quality.  The Biblical emphasis on honoring others has everything to do with the biblical command to honor God.  The commandment to ‘honor our mother and father’ is sometimes misconstrued with obeying our parents at all costs.  That is NOT what God’s design nor guidance was.  We remain aware that some ‘parents’ are neglectful, abusive, and guilty of many forms of maltreatment.  The command to honor our parents is not a requirement to continue to be abused by someone who acts in ways that are inconsistent with a legitimate and loving parent.

When we are young, we take and take from our parents for we are in fact ‘dependent’ upon them for life.  Early on their rules and restrictions, akin to the Ten Commandments, are for our own good, welfare, existence, and benefit.  The older we get the less our parents should demand obedience.

The fourth commandment about honoring parents is also about honoring family life.  Honoring can also mean NOT belittling our parents, not abusing them, not speaking ill of them, or harming them.  Don’t say something about your parents, or any other person when they are not present, that you wouldn’t say about them if they were present.  The fourth commandment informs us that we are to care for our parents.  To ‘honor’ our parents includes treating them as important and significant, considering their needs, their feelings, and what might bless them.  How well do you know your parents’ likes, interests, and desires?  Love them.

All Ten Commandments are God’s teaching for us to live from our heart.  Not just from our human heart, but more importantly, from our Christian heart.  Jesus Christ IS your Lord and Savior.  Honor the Lord, bring glory to Him in how you live think, act, and respond to God, to Jesus, and to others.

Today’s scriptures declare: “For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross.”  The joy set before Him, in part, was to bring honor and glory unto God.  I inquire of us all to draw near to Jesus this Lenten season, carry our cross, and set our eyes on the joy set before us. When God is worshipped, whisper a prayer thanking Him, honoring Him, and bringing glory unto Him.  Sometimes you just have to say it out loud: “Honor and glory unto you God,” for overcoming false ‘gods,’ for NOT taking God’s name in vain, nor diminishing that which is sacred in church, in the divine Trinity, in ourselves or others.  Glory and honor to God when Sabbath rest benefits a soul, when fathers, mothers, and families are kept sacred, cared for, and loved.  Glory and honor unto God when anger and vengeance that could lead to murder is better handled.  Glory and honor unto God when you, your spouse, and other couples choose NOT to commit adultery in thought, word, or deed.  Glory and honor to God when you or another chooses NOT to steal something you’ve not earned or have a right to.  Glory and honor unto God when you speak the truth, live the truth, and refrain from gossip or what the Bible terms ‘false testimony.’  Glory and honor be ascribed unto God when you choose to be satisfied with the life and blessings God has given, and perhaps you’ve earned, rather than coveting what someone else has.

Sometimes a person just NEEDS to feel it in their heart, live it in their lives, and be further led by their soul to pray out loud and deep within: “honor and glory to you God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

For the joy set before us we bring honor and glory unto God.  Great things He has done.  Amen.

God Trusts Us 2/28/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 27, 2021 & Sunday, February 28, 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: Psalm 25:1-5 (Page 549) and Matthew 25:14-28 (Page 994)

Sermon Message:  "God Trusts Us"

When my daughter was small, we had a swimming pool in our back yard.  Bonnie learned to swim there.  Yet every once in a while, we’d take her to someplace like Settler’s Ridge Wave pool and spend some time there.  Early on, when Bonnie still did not know how to swim, I’d tell her to “jump in and Daddy will catch you!”  Lots and lots of times my child would respond, “Are you sure Dad?”  I would always answer, “Of course, I am right here.”  Eventually she would jump into my arms, and I would catch her.

My child trusts me.  She knows she can.  Even to this day.

Do you know what I still find quite amazing?  God trusted me enough to give me a child.  That precious, innocent being came into this world totally dependent upon her mother and me. Across the years the ‘tables have turned’ a bit, and I’ve personally needed to trust my child to help me, carry me, and perhaps ‘catch me.’

God trusted me with a little girl.  I remained equally amazed across the years and hugely honored that God trusted me with churches to care for, people to serve, but mostly God trusted me with LOVE.

In the Bible we read of God trusting Mary.  God trusted Mary with bringing Jesus into the world.  God trusted Mary to carry him, nurture him, clothe and feed him, but most of all to love him.

There are lots of things God trusts us with.  Maybe He’s trusted you with your own business, authority, great influence, or with more money than most.  Why has God trusted you with so much?  Ever asked that?  It’s always to partner with God in His work.  Maybe He’s trusted you with a loving family, or the freedom of singleness, time, gifts, or experiences.  He trusts all of us, and He asks all of us to join Him in restoring a broken world.  What He asking you to do - will it cost you something?  Will you respond courageously like Mary:  “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word be fulfilled.”?

Folks can spend a lifetime trying to figure out if they can trust God.  For today, as we make our way through this spiritual season of Lent together, let’s try looking at things just a bit differently.  Instead of spending so much time trying to figure out if we can trust God, ask yourself this: Can God trust you?

Surely most, if not ALL of us, could answer YES, we can be trusted.  We don’t steal, cuss, or cheat.  We do strive to follow those Ten Commandments.  We think of ourselves as being good people.  Even Godly.  We ‘believe’ in God.

Trust is dependability – a deep confidence in someone. We tend to trust people who are reliable, who are consistent, and who don’t change with the season or the wind direction. Ever think that maybe God is looking for people He can trust?

Many Christians I know say their faith varies daily.  And mine has seasons too. But what if our faith was strong enough, and we became solid enough that God felt he could trust us?

Jesus’ parable is in part a message about being trusted with money.  God trusts us with money.  What we do with money reveals whether we are worthy of trust.  Some folks use money well.  It benefits not just themselves but others as well.  Some folks are wise when it comes to money.  God wants us to be good stewards of finances.  He inquires of us to help others and support His church.  God trusts you.  He trusts that you’ll handle money well, spend it wisely, use it to help others, care for His church, and not let it become too important.  God warns us, money can become the root of all evil.

Jesus’ parable provides further insights into that which God trusts in us.  God trusts you with your soul.  He trusts that you will tend to your soul, protect your soul, and not ‘sell your soul’ to the devil.  God has even placed the souls of others in your life to care for.  Caring for a soul and loving a life are among the highest and best of callings.

God trusts you with the body He has given you.  Remember, as the Bible points out, you are ‘wonderfully and fearfully made.’  There’s only one of you.  We only go through this life once.  Make the most of it.  He trusts you.  Take good care of your body.  Do not harm the body of another.  For God says our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

You’ve been given a good mind.  Develop it.  Use it wisely.  God trusts you to use your mind for good.  Praise God for minds that have stimulated research that benefits the world to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and its derivatives.  God loves when you use your mind for good.  God invites us to use our minds in relating to Him. In the Book of Isaiah 1:18, it is recorded: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Some folks are more talented than others.  God trusts us with talents and abilities.  God trusts that whatever our talents might be, and further become, they won’t become more important than God. The God-fearing folks and people of integrity I know use their talents and abilities, not just to make a living, but to make a life and provide a better quality of life to others, to God’s church, and to His extensive faith communities.

Haven’t you noticed that as these natural disasters destroy power lines, waterlines, and lifelines in the South, lots of talented people are coming forth to help others in need?  Use what God has blessed you with to help others.  God trusts that you know, well understand, and appreciate that you weren’t put here on this earth just to take care of yourself and those closest to you.  If we’ve learned anything amidst this year plus reality of Covid-19, it’s that we are in this life and this world together.  God trusts you.

Why is it that some people have more possessions than others?  Is it because God loves them more?  I think not.  In today’s Biblical account the spirituality associated with it indicates that God blesses those who are good stewards of what He trusts them with. In other words, as you’ve perhaps heard me share with you before, we are blessed to be a blessing.

God trusts you with lots of things.  God trusts you with love.  He trusts that you won’t hurt the people He’s invited you to love.  God trusts that you will love others in a similar fashion to how He loves you.  God also trusts that you won’t waste what He has put into your heart, your soul, and within your ‘reach.’  God trusts that you will not enable bad behavior.  He trusts you not to sin nor contribute to sin in that way.  God trusts you to set boundaries from time to time, and as the Bible cautions, not to ‘throw your pearls before swine.’

An important element of ‘trust’ is our ability to confide in someone.  We all may have lots of acquaintances but very few close friends in whom we can confide. The level of intimacy needed to reveal deep things of the heart goes far deeper than we usually find comfortable.  Trusting someone enough to be ‘open’ with him or her is unique and special.

Perhaps you have prayed to God in the past and revealed what’s in your heart and ‘on your mind.’  Isn’t it amazing that God wants to confide in you?  God wants to share with you the deep matters of His heart.  He confides only in those who fear Him, who honor Him enough to treat those intimate revelations as the treasures they are.  He may want to show you an insight into a portion of His Word, clarify some aspect of His plan for your life, or just expand your understanding of His love.

The primary issue involved in all of these “confidings” is trust.  The more trustworthy you prove to be in the small details He shares with you, the more He will open up to you.  When He finds those who genuinely revere Him, fear Him, and long to honor Him in all things, He delights to make His ways known to them.  What an honor to be trusted by God!  Just think about that today!

As mentioned earlier, ‘trust’ can ‘change with the direction of the wind,’ or be seasonal within any of us.  Some things can diminish, even ‘kill’ trust.  That which diminishes ‘trust’ includes things such as losing faith in God the minute circumstances don’t go our way.  Or, putting ourselves at the center of our relationship with God, rather than God at the center.  (What can I do for God, rather than what can God do for me?)  Another diminishing factor is keeping God at the periphery of our lives, not at the center.

God wants to build in us faithfulness.  But not just for this age.  Faithfulness is valuable here in this age, but its primary purpose is for the next age.  And the way in which God builds into us faithfulness is by giving us a few things over which to be faithful.

God trusts us.  This Lenten season do reflect upon ‘how’ God trusts you and strive to live into that trust.  Please don’t let anything come between you and God.  I want us all to live in such a trustworthy manner that one day our Lord will say unto us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant:  thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things:  enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

God Trusts You.


Give God Your Best 2/21/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 20, 2021 & Sunday, February 21, 2021

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: John 3:16, 17 (Page 1065) and Colossians 3:17 (Page 1184)

Sermon Message: “Give God Your Best”

What is the best thing God has ever done for you?  Perhaps our answer forms the question of, ‘Where to begin?’

There are two prominent answers to my initial inquiry. The best thing God has given us first and foremost is recorded in the scriptures of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The second answer to my inquiry is simple, sincere, and straightforward.  The best thing God has given you is LIFE.

Until there is a problem or a threat associated with our lives, we do tend to take life for granted.  Likewise, folks may seem to think of God as ‘far off’ or distantly removed from our everyday situations leastwise until trying circumstances arrive.

Lent is to be a time of introspection.  Lent may possibly be a time of transformation for any of us as well.  Lent remains our spiritual opportunity to grow in faith and in our appreciation of God in life, all of life.  This Lenten season, give God your best.

Within the earliest recordings of Holy Scripture, we learn of God striving to remain in relationship with us.  God doesn’t just create us, set us in the Garden of Eden, and leave us to ‘figure out’ the rest of our lifetime here on earth.  God continues to relate to us, then and now. Like any relationships there are times of disagreements and also of our reasoning together.  There are some painful times but also some very memorable, blessed times.  God, early on in the Garden of Eden, ‘had it out’ with us.  It seems we human beings were striving to be ‘smarter than God’ and do whatever we wanted when we wanted.  (A familiar theme still.)  Early on in the Bible we read of our getting ‘kicked out’ of the Garden of Eden, and later things became so severe and trying with us, humanity ended up getting flooded, perhaps to cleanse our outlooks as well as our souls.

When we give God our worst, there is still accountability.  Although God may see and deal with the worst part of us, He continues to send His best.

God sends not only forgiveness and redemption, He sends ‘love.’  Indicative of that love are promises from God and covenants with God.  Following that initial great flood, God gave us a symbol of His love and His promise: a rainbow.  To this very day when we see a rainbow, it makes us stop, perhaps smile, and feel the beauty of hope in the midst of life’s rains.

Remember today’s initial scripture, that memory verse we share, “For God so loved the world that He gave----."  God gives, God sends His love.  It takes many forms.  The form of His only begotten Son, the form of faith and forgiveness and of promises and covenants.

As part of your Lenten devotions and disciplines, ponder with me how God has loved you and loves you still. God, our heavenly Father, our Creator, forgives and forgets.  For us, forgiving is one thing, forgetting, well that’s another matter, or so it seems.  King David in the Bible sinned boldly at times.  He and God ‘had it out’ on numerous occasions.  Yet when David inquired of God NOT to remember the sins of his youth, God remained loving and faithful with David, even as He does with us.

Jesus teaches us that what we do for others it’s as though we are doing it for him.  Do your best to practice forgiveness.  It’s not ‘automatic’ for most of us to forgive.  Therefore, we have to be intentional about forgiving.  Spirituality influences our abilities and our degrees of forgiveness.  As David inquired of God NOT to remember the sins of his youth, give God your best by NOT hanging on to the sins in people’s past.  Be God-like.

Perhaps you are ‘giving up’ something for Lent.  Possibly you are ‘doing something more’ such as daily devotions, regular church attendance, Bible study, etc.  Think of those things as ‘covenants’ you make with God.  We’ve all learned that covenants are good for us; they benefit us so much more than we sometimes realize. Give God your best dedication, Lenten disciplines, and devotions.

Give God your love.  Tell God you love Him, each day, every day, during Lent.  Let nothing be assumed between you and the good Lord.  Make an effort, an honest and sustained effort, to live the Christian life.  Life with God, life through God, and life for God should be our greatest priority each and every day.  Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not.

Allow God ‘time’ in your day, each day, every day, during Lent and beyond.  Let God speak to you.  Remember you have to change some of your busy schedule in order for that to happen.  Recall the words of Psalm 46, “Come and see what the Lord has done.”  As you and I consider God’s hand in motion, God’s movements in life, hear your Maker’s words: “Be still and know that I am God.”  Reflect upon the First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”

The Ten Commandments can also be perceived as Ten Covenants.  These covenants are not simply ‘words’ to live by and rules to be obeyed.  Think of them as words, good words, and wholesome words for life, better life, and more joy-filled life.  These remain guideposts and guardrails aimed at helping us experience the goodness and beauty that God intended.  It remains God’s intent that these commandments be inscribed on our hearts, understood with our minds, and lived in our daily lives.  Words, good words for navigating life and giving God our best.

Watching the news these days and gleaning awareness from social media makes anyone unsure as to who or what is right or wrong.  What ‘acts’ constitute immorality or even illegal designation?  It seems so many ‘get away’ with so much.  What was previously firm, secure, and well-understood may now be questionable.  Trust the Ten Commandments.  They remain moral anchors for not only faith, but for life, fulfillment, truth, and living.  God gave these to us to help us live our lives towards God’s will in the midst of our deepest struggles.

Remember the first Commandment, “I AM the Lord your God.”  He is asserting not only that He is the God of all the Israelite people and beyond.  Hear God clearly assert I am YOUR God.  We are not ‘numbers’ unto God; each of us remains God’s accomplishment.  No matter ‘how’ you may ‘see’ yourself, God sees you as His accomplishment.  You may feel ‘not good enough, overweight, unattractive,’ the list might go on and on.  God still chooses you, sees you as beautiful and gifted, and loves you.  God sees not only what you’ve done and who you’ve been, but also what you can do and who you could be.  I’ve seen it happen before, plenty of times over; God decides to honor those whom others have rejected, those too, who believe they are worthless.

The Bible affirms God sees us as His children, His workmanship, and the sheep of His pasture, His beloved.  “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

This coronavirus pandemic has swept over the world.  Amid all the dangers, difficulties, and even fears, we need to hear this first Commandment afresh: “I AM your God.”

Give God your best.  Today, your ‘best’ just might be all the faith you can ‘muster up’ for yourself, for others, for this world.

Biblical authors often times use human relationships and emotions to describe God.  They sometimes compare the love God feels for His people to the relationship between a parent and children, between two lovers, or even between husbands and wives.  God is said to be a ‘jealous God,’ who is offended when His people give their love or devotion to another ‘god.’

‘Jealousy’ the Bible speaks of, is not always wrong but quite often deeply loving, protective, and caring.  I’ve seen and known parents who were rejected by their kids.  I’ve watched the horrific hurt associated with infidelity between a husband and a wife.  Relationships can bring pain and heartbreak.  This Lenten season, remember God’s heart can also be grieved by our infidelity to Him.

God knows when we worship other ‘things’- other ‘gods’ - in our lives, this will ultimately bring us pain.  Sometimes great pain.  The Bible refers to these as being ‘false gods.’

Anything and anyone that takes the place of God in our lives is considered a ‘false god.’  That which shapes our identity, our values, and actions while serving as our source of security and hope, can quickly and easily become our ‘false god’ that we worship, pledge our allegiance to, and strive to follow.

Within this book our church is studying, “Words of Life, Jesus and the Promise of the Ten Commandments Today,” author Adam Hamilton shares his insight of knowing people who believe in God but for whom physical fitness has become their true center.  He writes of knowing people whose workouts and nutrition plans are what they eat, sleep, drink, and breathe.  They devote more money to fitness than to God and spend most of their time focusing on physical gain than on the place of God in their lives (Page 33).

While physical exercise is not wrong, easily enough we can put too much trust in this, expecting it to do what it cannot.

Nor is our ‘god’ to be our belly.  Our mind is NOT designed to only be set on earthly things.

Author Adam Hamilton uses an acronym to benefit our understanding and application of the first Commandment: EGO (Edging God Out).  He writes, in the end, the false ‘god’ we are most likely to put before the true God is the self (Page 35).

Draw near to Jesus this Lenten season.  Give the Lord your best.  When questioned as to what was the greatest of the commandments, Jesus answered this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) These words of Jesus are key to any of us keeping the first Commandment AND to giving God our best!

Don’t be ‘bowing down’ to any false gods in your life.  Especially NOT to the ones you may have created.  Instead give God your best by looking to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the image of the invisible God.  Nor should you forget, you were created in the image of God as well.  When you love your neighbor as yourself, others can see God in you.

Giving God your best requires LOVE.  Dedicated love, covenantal love, and accountable love.

It’s one thing to ‘say’ we are a Christian.  It’s another thing altogether to prioritize God and that which God prefers we love.

Give God your best.  Amen.

Lent, A Blessing In Disguise 2/17/2021

Sermon Message For Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021

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 Lessons:  Joel 2: 12-17 (Page 910), and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (Page 970)

Sermon Message:  “Lent, a Blessing in Disguise”

May we ‘treasure’ these words of God and store them in our hearts as ‘blessings.’

The season of Lent carries with it reminders of repentance, on our part.  It also carries with it guides for prayer, fasting, giving to the needy, and what is to be treasured. This Biblical notion of ‘Treasures in heaven’ can seem far removed from any ‘blessings’ during these next 40 days of Lent.

Within the Christian church community, we tend to speak of these next 40 days as a journey.  I’ve been privileged to share in numerous people’s ‘spiritual journey’ across the years.  Often, it is difficult for us to see past our circumstances.  In doing so, we forget that God is always up to something good, if we will just put our faith in Him.  There are many blessings in life that don’t look like blessings at first.

I well recall, some time ago, when this one elderly lady shared with me her sincere and innocent inquiry for God to be a part of her Lenten journey.  She said when she woke up on Ash Wednesday, she asked God to be involved in every part of her day.  She was about to sit down for a nice lunch with her sisters when she got a call to rush a family member to the hospital.  She then had to remain in the hospital waiting area for the better part of the day.  For some reason, when we ask God to be a part of our lives, we assume that it’s going to make things nice and pleasant all the time.  The phrase ‘blessings in disguise’ goes deeper, far deeper than things just being pleasant or nice.  Sometimes the ‘blessings’ aren’t seen or felt initially so.  That’s why we sometimes say “blessings in disguise.”  The woman’s family member was helped.  Her presence brought prayer, peace, and sustaining hope to her family.  She realized that’s where God most needed her to be that day.

This Lenten season shall provide some blessings in disguise.  It will help us to build endurance, strengthen character, and restore or renew confidence.

Tonight’s service begins the Spiritual season of Lent with ashes.  When ashes are given, these words are offered:  “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Last year’s Ash Wednesday service was nearly the last time of ‘normal’ worship we experienced prior to this Covid-19 pandemic effecting the world.  It closed in upon us all rather quickly.  Recall how we were being told it might last a few weeks, then a few months, and now it’s been over a year. Across this past year we have endured the rather daunting declaration of our dust-borne origins and dustbin destiny over and over again and in so many ways.  While Lent is a Spiritual journey, this past year has been a long pilgrimage through the coronavirus wilderness.  This evening I shall ‘impose’ ashes upon the back of your hand as a spiritual reminder.  Throughout this past year the ashes of our frail, failing mortality have been imposed on us again and again - and some of these ashes and dust are of our own making.  500,000 – half a million – dead from the pandemic in this country alone, not to mention the millions of family members and friends from whom these loved ones have been bereaved.  Thousands more whose lives have been detoured and distorted by the virus and its collateral damage have lost jobs, lost time, lost futures, and dreams.

Ashes are death because that’s what ashes are, the death of palm branches in particular.  Yet not death as we commonly think of it.  Rather the ashes associated with Ash Wednesday are placed not only as a reminder of our physical limited time upon earth, but more importantly, to serve as a firm reminder that death gives way to life.  New life, changed life.  Saved life.  Our characters are challenged, strengthened, and renewed during the season of Lent.

Jesus teaches us that we are to give to the needy.  This is sometimes referred to as ‘alms.’  The Lord assumes that all of his disciples WILL give to the needy.  Our ‘challenge’ is not so much in our duty to give, as it remains in our motive behind our giving.  Our character is strengthened and renewed by helping others, giving to the needy, supporting the ‘cause’ not for recognition but rather quietly, privately, and mainly out of obedience to God.  The church, the Food Pantry, and scores of needy individuals ‘need’ what we can give.

Prayer is a teaching and example of Christ.  Pray daily, devotionally, purposefully, and intentionally during Lent.  In as much as humans breathe so too do Christians pray.  If prayerless then graceless.  There is more need for prayer in our world than ever before.  There is sincere need for prayer in our back yard, within our church, and community.  I advise you, and I, to pray unto God more fully and completely, more purposefully and intentionally, each and every day during Lent.  Yet, I must remind us all of Jesus’ admonishments to us all regarding prayer.  Don’t be guilty of vain glory and vain repetitions.  In other words, don’t make a ‘show’ of prayer.  Nor ‘repeat’ the same prayer over and over again as though you are trying to wear God down to get your own way.  God isn’t ‘hard of hearing!’  Nor is God impressed by how we bring attention to our prayers.  This Lenten season, pray daily, pray often, pray privately, yet specifically and intentionally so.  Your Father who sees you praying in private will reward you.  Don’t keep ‘babbling.’  Trust that God hears your prayers and sees the sincerity of your heart and soul.  In our relating to others, we sometimes go on and on, even repeating ourselves because we think others don’t understand the message nor the fervor behind it.  Not so with God.  May our spiritual characters become challenged, strengthened, and renewed in and through our prayer life this Lenten season.

Remember, repenting of our sinful nature does certainly build character in our souls.  Sometimes our ‘repentance’ is as basic as changing some of the ways we have been doing things in order to obey God and please God more.  Repentance further includes confessing our sins to God, asking to be forgiven, and then promising God to lead a better life, not repeating those same sins over and over again.

Fasting, giving up something for Lent, is the humbling of the soul.  For sure, it is humbling to challenge ourselves to ‘fast’ to ‘give up’ something for Lent.  The Bible teaches us that fasting remains important.  Fasting is to be done privately.  We must guard against pride associated with bragging or displaying what we have ‘given up’ or ‘fasted from.’

Our characters are strengthened when we fast out of obedience to God, closeness to Christ and desire for further sacredness/holiness, in our lives.  Fasting is a form of covenant we make with God.  Covenants renew our character as well.  From the Bible, and specifically from the teachings of Jesus Christ, we learn that fasting has always been a spiritual guidance for followers of God.  Fasting was always meant to spiritually prepare us to see and respond to other duties and further insights.  It was never intended for us to brag about nor make us think of how ‘good’ we are.  Giving up something that we eat or something that we do, or even something we know right along is a bad habit, remains an act of self-denial and humiliation under the hand of God.  Practice forms of fasting during Lent.  I am and I will be doing the same.

This season of Lent, and beyond, Jesus Christ invites us, calls us, prescribes for us, to store up treasures in heaven.  What does that mean?  In part, it means we human beings tend to repeat a fundamental error in our lives that we are guilty of.  That ‘error’ is this; we mostly choose the world and what’s in this world for our reward instead of heaven.  Jesus makes the point that everything of this world is subject to decay, theft, and vain glory.  It’s not necessarily wrong to have ‘treasures’ here on earth.  It’s what you do with those treasures and what those treasures do to you that can make them wrong, even a hindrance, to your salvation.

500,000 people in this country alone have left behind all of their earthly treasures.  In heaven we are to store up those treasures that matter most; souls we have rescued and helped to save, care that has been given, love that has been shared, lives that have been made better, and perhaps more holy.  “On the other side treasures there have I.  Treasures that this world and all its’ wealth can never buy.”

I inquire of us all to practice these and further Lenten devotions these next 40 days.  Do read, review, and digest the daily devotionals you are receiving from this, our church ‘home.’  Read your Bible daily during Lent.  Study the Ten Commandments.  They are not the ‘ten suggestions.’

These Lenten disciplines can become ‘blessings in disguise.  “Blessings” that shall build character, challenge us, strengthen us spiritually so, and further renew our relationship to God, Jesus, heaven, the church, and others.  May we become blessed then with renewed confidence of faith and Christ-shared love.  Amen.

Patient Love 2/14/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 13, 2021 & Sunday, February 14, 2021

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:  Matthew 17:1-13 (page 983) and 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (page 1152)

Sermon Message:  “Patient Love”

It is fitting that today’s sermon reflects a message regarding ‘love.’  After all, today IS Valentine’s Day!  Don’t forget your sweetheart!  Perhaps we all have some good memories associated with Valentine’s Day.  Hopefully we have even better memories associated with love.  Today’s sermon message begins with a story involving both Valentine’s Day and patient love.

In an elementary school the children had shared in a really fun Valentine’s Day celebration. At the end of the day a teacher was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his boots.  The little fellow asked for help, and his teacher could readily see, why. The teacher pulled, and the little fellow pushed, but those boots still wouldn’t go on.  Finally, there was ‘some’ success with the first boot.  The two of them worked up a sweat getting that second boot on.  The teacher nearly cried when the little fellow looked up at her and said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet!”

She looked and sure enough, he was right.  Taking them back off was not any easier than putting them on.  Being the good teacher she was, she managed to ‘keep her cool’ as they worked together to get them on the correct feet.

But then the little fellow announced, “These aren’t my boots.”  His teacher wanted to get right in his face and scream, “Then why didn’t you say so in the first place?”  But she didn’t.  Her patience prevailed.

Together they struggled to get those ill-fitting boots back off.  Then the little guy smiles at her and says, “They’re my brother’s boots.  My mom made me wear them.”

Well by now that teacher didn’t know if she should laugh or cry!  It took everything she had left inside of her to muster up the strength to work to get them back on his feet again.  After all of that the teacher asked the little boy, “Where are your mittens?”  He said, “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots….”

There are reasons why the very first word used in the Bible to describe ‘love’ is patience. Love is patient. . .Love is kind. . .

While ‘love’ is a wonderful thing, perhaps the very best of life this side of heaven, patience is seldom an easy thing.  Patient love requires some ‘doing.’

I love what I ‘do’ as a pastor.  I sincerely do love God and the people the Lord calls me to care for.  Even so, there have been ‘trying’ times across these years of ministry.  Take for instance, at my previous church this one Sunday, we had some visitors attending worship.  They sat in the back.  They got there a bit late, so I did not have an opportunity to meet or greet them.  Throughout the service they sat in the back of the church talking, even making some sort of hand motions. I was patient.  Inside of myself I just figured when it came time for the sermon, THEN they would pay attention.  Actually, quite the opposite was true.  The more I talked the more they talked and made their hand motions.  It was so distracting I finally had to stop and ask if they needed some assistance or something else???  It was then that the one guy stood up, apologized profusely, and explained that his friend was from Romania, and he was translating for him.  I welcomed them further, made my own apology and continued on.  Plenty of my ‘regulars’ smiled at me.

Patient love requires some thinking things through.  Sometimes things aren’t what they first appear to be, so I’ve learned.

One of the most difficult areas to show patience is in our relationships with others.  But that is exactly what God’s Word calls us to have in our relationships.  Because love is patient.

Some of you receiving this message might be thinking to yourselves, “Easy for you to say, Rev. Tom, but you don’t know what I am going through!”  Agreeably so, I don’t know what you are experiencing, but God does. Today, right now, we are here to meet with God, commune with Jesus, and present ourselves to the Lord in such a way that we are open to receive what God inspires within us.

The forty days of Lent begin this coming Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is a day to humble ourselves before the Lord and to be reminded ‘from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.’  We are given a lifetime to love and be loved.  We are being reminded TODAY that love is patient. Traditionally, the forty days of Lent are a time of self-sacrifice as we contemplate the sufferings of Jesus.  These days ahead are a reminder of our duty, and call as Christians, not to be complacent, but to be active and involved.  We know the sufferings of the world and within our relationships as well as our own trials and tribulations.  Lent is a spiritual time to benefit us all as we bring glory, honor, self-sacrifice, and worship to Jesus.  Our spiritual journey is not to be confined only to February and March for we shall experience sincere cares, concerns, trials, and tribulations throughout the year.  Actually, throughout our lifetimes.

Remember, today is Valentine’s Day.  Today is also Transfiguration Sunday.  We are to recall today how Jesus was ‘transfigured/transformed’ by God’s light shining upon him and God’s voice confirming him to be “His Son in whom He is well pleased.  Listen to Him!”  When Jesus’s Transfiguration occurred on top of the mountain, Peter was with him.  Jesus was transfigured by the light of God.  His physical appearance changed by the light of God, the Father upon him.  Peter was transformed by the experience.  Immediately Peter understood the presence of God was not about him, but about Jesus.  Peter knew he needed to wait.  Waiting, reminds us still, we need God, so much more than God needs us.  The human equation is not complete without the divine factor.  We are NOT at the center of the universe, nor is God at our beck and call.

Through the years our culture has taught us that we don’t need to be so very patient.  Much of modern technology precludes the need for patience.  We can easily enough ‘look up’ most anything on our phones, pay our bills, check on our homes, even order our groceries electronically.  Our need to interact, ‘relate’ to one another, is not as enormous as it once was.  Or so it seems.  Yet the drive to ‘get along’ remains for ‘love’ is still the greatest of all needs.

God says love is patient, for a reason; actually for a multitude of reasons.

Patient love shows up best in people who have been loved patiently.  It all begins, and ends, with our relationship to God.  We’ve all let God down and probably still do in some areas of our lives.  None of us are perfect.  How many times has God been patient with you when you’ve failed to acknowledge His will for your life?  Nice thing about God, He forgives.  Some of us don’t, can’t or won’t. We might extend grace once or twice, but after that, mister, you’re on your own!  No more ‘chances!’  Aren’t you glad God isn’t the same way with us as we are with others?

As we begin this journey, this season of Lent, join me in taking a look, a good hard look, at the attributes of God for life and living.  Begin with me today by taking a solid and sincere look at how God has sometimes been patient with you.  Then take a further look inside of yourself.  You can let your assessment be between you and Jesus.  I think if we are finding patient love hard to give, it may have something to do directly with how you have received or perceived God’s loving patience with you.  “Patience deeply received results in patience freely offered.”

I have a story to share with you of a woman who was transformed by patient love. Week after precious week she came to church filled with despair.  She prayed for her husband that God would bring a change into his life.  She prayed week after week for her husband.  Each week she went back home still feeling this despair.  Gradually she began to understand that she was bringing Jesus home with her.  The Lord wasn’t just ‘there’ in church.  Her husband worked constantly, drank heavily, and was emotionally hurting.  That woman wanted to run away and start over.  But she stayed, and of all things, she let God begin His work in changing her.  She stopped praying for God to fix her husband and started asking Him to change her.  She prayed for God to change her to be stronger or perhaps more understanding.  She asked the Lord to provide her with much needed insight and perhaps more loving patience.  She prayed for wisdom to see if she should stay, or if she should leave the situation.  God seemed to shelter her.  Even through the pain.  Eventually, God seemed to remove the desire for alcohol from her husband.  She says it did not happen overnight.  For her, she writes, she then needed to ‘get off the fence’ in every area of her life and turn things over to God that she had stubbornly held onto. She journeyed with God into a patient love that transformed her into a closer relationship with the Lord and eventually encompassed her husband as well. Through her patient love and encouragement, that husband accepted Christ as the guiding light of his life.  She later wrote of her feeling as though she was now married to what had become a brand-new man.

Patient love from God and through the Lord can change hearts and perhaps bring to life a dead relationship.  Their young son was overheard praying, “Thank you, Jesus, for coming into my daddy’s heart and making him nice to me and not mean.”

Not every relationship ends in ‘happily ever after.’  But we do know patient love sure goes a long way in making for God’s will to become a wholesome reality.

The approaching season of Lent is our spiritual opportunity for growth and regeneration.  Journeying with Jesus can transform us.  Something to consider during the season of Lent; not only should we show patience because God is patient with us, but we also should be patient because people never see Christ in your impatience.

The Apostle Paul tells us to be patient with everyone.  We all think that is impossible.  "To dwell above with those we love, that will be glory.  To dwell below with those we know, that is another story."

Sometimes being critical is a lot easier than being patient.  Patience isn’t an easy thing.  But God wants us to develop it, or it wouldn’t be a fruit of the Spirit.  God shows us His love and patience with us by His timing in our lives.  Don’t you think that God would love to give you your heart’s desire when you ask?  But God also knows that there are times when He must wait to answer your prayer, because if He answered it when you wanted, it would not be a good thing for you.  So, I believe, even God shows patience in answering our prayers.  In the same way, by doing that, God is developing patience in our life.  You see patience is about trust.  We must trust God that He does love us and desires what is best for us, so we must wait and be patient and wait on Him.  Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Do you think ‘having kids’ teaches you patient love?  The next time you look at your kids and wonder if they will ever grow up, remember God wonders the same thing about you.

May we commune together with our Lord reaffirming patient love.  Amen.

The Maturing Child of God 2/7/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, February 6 & Sunday, February 7, 2021

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION: Lord, help us to hear and receive your Word today. May your divine Word mature us we pray. Amen.

SCRIPTURE LESSONS:  Psalm 32:8 (page 553) and Luke 15:13-32 (page 1048)

SERMON MESSAGE: ‘The Maturing Child of God’

The familiar narrative of the Prodigal Son enlightens us with the reality of a child who finally seemed to ‘come to his senses.’ We’ve all been around at least a few folks who needed to ‘come to their senses.’

This familiar narrative of the Prodigal Son also enlightens us with the reality of an older child who felt injustice had been done to him, along with strong jealousy, sincere anger, plus deep hurt within. Perhaps you’ve been ‘wronged’ by another who just did not ‘do right’ by you.

This familiar narrative of the Prodigal Son impresses us with insight into a father who forgives, rather quickly. Not only does Dad forgive, he celebrates his son’s return.

In accordance with standards of the world and many contemporary ‘reality’ shows, things should have been handled quite differently. That wayward boy should not have been given his inheritance early, no matter what. Grow up Son! The older brother should have been dealt a different ‘deck of cards’, not expected to ‘swallow’ injustices thrown up in his face! The ‘father’ in this story, according to the standards of the world, should attend parenting classes. Who gives away such large sums of money to their kids?

The ‘ring’ should have gone on the finger of the child who stood by his father all those years. The other son should have been made to work to clear his name, if even that might have helped. Someone should have put their arm around that father and had a ‘man to man’ talk with him. Sounds like they ALL had some growing up to do... Some maturing to achieve! That’s ‘one way’ of looking at this familiar story of the Prodigal Son. When Jesus shared this parable, He was striving to make a point regarding God’s mercy, forgiveness and compassion extended to ALL of us.

Maturing is not an easy thing. Not for anyone. It is a process. Age should have something to do with it, but we’ve all seen where that’s not necessarily true. You’d think that educated people would mature in accordance with their growth of knowledge. One aspect does not necessarily equate with the other. Perhaps we all know someone who had to ‘grow up’ rather quickly. Some say that contributes to a person’s maturity level as well. 

Throughout our lifetimes we all have the power to make choices. Good choices and bad choices come to us all. We all have the power and the resources to choose how we shall live, react, and respond. Maturity is the art of being responsible for your actions, being sensitive and considerate towards others and having the ability to change and adapt to circumstances. An emotionally mature person is always adding value to himself and those around.

The Prodigal Son, in today’s scripture lesson chose to be different than his older brother. Maybe those two brothers ‘talked’ prior to the younger of the two taking off with his inheritance. Perhaps the older brother tried gallantly so to stop his younger brother from running off and wasting his life as well as his inheritance, not to mention their relationship and long held family ties. But the younger brother simply did not yield to his older brother, nor perhaps even to his father.

For some folks it’s kind of like life is a ‘dare!’ A dare, which seems to say, “Watch me! I’ll show you” I can do whatever I want whenever I want.” Their defiance often seems unfounded however its’ source is to be found in fundamental human darkness. Some seem to prefer embracing darkness instead of light. Their defiance is actually quite fulfilling, leastwise to themselves, if only for a while.

A sure sign of maturing is contemplating the costs and seeking to perceive what might be the latter results.

I believe we would all be blessed to grow in the Biblical understanding of maturity. While the Bible speaks of wisdom and references plenty of examples of people growing through their life experiences, the deeper meaning of maturity in the Bible is a direct reference to Spiritual maturity. The Bible references progressing towards perfection or a state of full development.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

The maturing child of God keeps growing, learning, listening, and quite importantly so, obeying. When we no longer have anyone above us, we begin to act as though everyone is beneath us.

Consistently I strive to point us all towards Jesus Christ as our greatest example to follow. In the Gospel of Luke 2, we learn of young Jesus spending time in the Temple listening to the learned rabbis, occasionally asking them questions. The maturing child of God realizes how much you don’t know. I continue to learn that some of the most basic lessons of life and the Bible are best repeated and reflected upon routinely. It’s troubling to hear those who proclaim, “I’ve heard that all before.” While I have attained both a Master’s and Doctorate degree in theological education I am the first to admit the Bible still surprises me. The mysteries of God remain immense. I NEED to remain a student for all of my ‘tomorrows.’

Whether we are speaking of spiritual knowledge or daily routine things don’t be a ‘know it all!’ Such souls are boring to be around. Their ‘immaturity’ reveals itself.

I come from a family that often times ‘talked over’ one another. It was hard, at times, to hear what was really being said. In school and in church I learned to listen more and NOT ‘talk over’ other’s conversations. When you and I imagine Jesus with his disciples, visiting at the homes of his friends and speaking with the crowds, we hopefully perceive a kind and patient spirit listening, loving, and providing focused attention. Some of the more favored aspects of integrity seen in people are their abilities to make each person, they are with, feel as though they’ve got the listener’s undivided attention. The maturing child of God continues to practice listening more and talking less. Looking back, has your faith and church influence helped you along in this process? Maturing is a process and a choice we make. Listen more and talk less…Perhaps a Lenten commitment for spiritual growth….

If you had a choice between being around people who are aware and considerate of others OR those who are self-absorbed, self-centered, and inconsiderate, which might you choose? Looking back, hasn’t your faith, your walk with Christ, taught you to become aware of people around you and choose to be considerate of them? Whether in a crowd or alone, whether with family, friends or strangers, the maturing child of God remains consistent in awareness and consideration of others

Here in church as well as ‘out there’ in the world we have to learn to deal with others and their sometimes rather ‘unique’ and possibly incompatible ways. Not everyone provides for us what we may be needing for the moment or for the long run. Yet we have to strive to get along. Spiritual maturity, grounded in Biblical insights, teaches us that. As a maturing child of God, I trust we’ve all learned and continue to learn not to take everything personally, not to become easily offended. We are ‘in Christ.’ That means we’ve prayed, evaluated, thought things through and aligned ourselves with faith that is confident, mature and proven. The maturing child of God does not take everything personally, does not get easily offended, nor feel a need to defend, prove or make excuses for one’s self.

Be grateful, be gracious, and don’t be complaining a lot. Marks of maturity for the child of God. Recall the Biblical account of the ten lepers who were healed. Only one returned to thank Jesus. Far too many people ‘assume’ what’s given to them. That ‘assumption’ is a mark of immaturity…Every day remains a gift. So too your life, your health, your family, and your standard of living. Yes, even this church is a gift from God.

A long time ago I was taught in church to see Christ in everyone. Sometimes in the stranger as well as my family members. In those who are offensive trust God to help deal with them. My job, and yours remains that of striving to be gracious. We shall only pass through this life once. Give it your best. Offending people don’t last. Neither do offenses. Give your problems to God. It’s the mature thing to do. God alone can make all things to work together for the good.

Easily enough any of us can quickly succumb to the temptation to complain about life, government, politics, our health, or our religion. Complaining doesn’t really ‘become’ us. God doesn’t seem to respond much to complaining Christians. He does respond to those who strive to love beyond what is called for or deserved.

A lot of maturing requires taking responsibility for your own life, health and happiness. We don’t need to overly rely upon others to ‘fix’ our circumstances. Nor should we blame others repeatedly. Move on. Let them move on also. You simply can’t ‘force’ anyone to love you.

Remember this; You ARE a child of God. According to God you have a ‘right’ to be here.

Here is a brief ‘test’ to consider if you are a maturing child of God.

Evaluate the evidence, daily, of God’s working in your life that has changed you and continues to make you a better person and a more caring soul.

Akin to Jesus’ parable regarding the Prodigal Son, I grew up in a family that really could have and sincerely should have functioned better. Let’s just say there was room for growth and more healthy realities. Just like you, I have made choices along the way to strive to be a maturing child of God. While realizing I am less than the Biblical mark of perfection, evidence stands that God has had and continues to have his hand upon me. For you see, just like you, God has worked to bring change to one soul’s life.

God has promised us this; “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you…” Psalm 32:8

Perhaps like the Prodigal we’ve all wondered off the path a time or two and perhaps have even wasted some resource, some love, we now know we should not have. Remember, like the father in today’s narrative, God still welcomes you home with open arms.

Possibly we’ve also needed to point out injustices from time to time, how life has been unfair, akin to that of the older son in today’s Biblical narrative. God will bring justice in due time. Answers shall come. The wrongs will grow to be righted. In the meantime, make room for the words and actions of love to assist and mend.

Being someone’s ‘dad’ or authority figure is no small task. Like the father in today’s story we must choose to become mature enough to reflect the care, love and forgiveness of God that reconciles, heals and brings peace to many.

As you reflect, I am sure you will see evidence, sincere evidence, of God growing you to be a maturing child of God. Amen.

Handling Discouragement 1/31/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 30, 2021 & Sunday, January 31, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: Calm us now, O Lord, into a quietness that heals and listens. Open wounded hearts to the balm of your Word. Speak to us in clear tones so that we might feel our spirits leap for joy and skip with hope as your resurrection witnesses. Amen.

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 40:28-31 (page 720) & Mark 1:21-28 (page 1002)

Sermon Message:  “Handling Discouragement”

The Bible bears witness to the fact that many souls dealt with discouragement. The fellow in today’s scripture lesson; the Gospel of Mark 1:21-28, a man possessed by an evil spirit, was so discouraged that he could not see that Jesus wanted to help him, even heal him, of his demons. Jesus told the man to be quiet and then ordered the evil spirit to come out of him. IF WE could just quiet the demons that bring discouragement to our lives that would be a marvelous way of handling things.

Sometimes ‘life’ is discouraging. At times we are discouraged with others. We’ve even experienced being discouraged with ourselves.

The month of January is nearly over. By now the best intents of New Year’s resolutions are far less thrilling and most likely a lot more challenging or possibly have become passive attempts on our parts.

Everyone deals with some form, some degree, of discouragement from time to time. Some, more than others. I think we all have found that nothing seems to take the life out of you more than discouragement. A discouraged spirit is a powerless spirit. It really is an awful feeling. It can feel as though the wind has been knocked out of your soul.

Our economy is changing. Suffering in some respects. Perhaps you also have met those poor souls who previously ‘had it made’, you know, a secure job, decent wage, and some good benefits. The business closed, or the lay offs came, possibly even compromised health was a contributing factor. Sometimes those souls will share their story of how well they ‘had’ been doing but now take on numerous jobs just to make ends meet. These same folks get so discouraged they sometimes cry themselves to sleep, wondering how much longer they can do it? There is discouragement.

A fellow approached me stating he and his wife were happily married for twenty years, or so he thought. He came home one day, and she was gone. There was a note on the kitchen table that read, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” It took his breath away. He can’t wrap his mind around it. The guy hasn’t slept in weeks. There is discouragement.

A little girl said she loved where they used to live. She had lots of friends and a great school. Daddy needed to find a job elsewhere. So they moved, far away. Different school, different neighborhood. Different culture. The kids made fun of her accent at school. She can’t find anyone to sit with her and eat lunch. So, she eats her lunch alone, hiding her tears as people walk by. There is discouragement.

Discouragement is an awful thing. It’s like someone or something pulls the rug right out from under you leaving you with nothing to hold onto. Confidence becomes shattered. That sense of well-being you once had is a distant memory. Motivation evaporates. Have you ever felt that way? Do you remember how you ‘got over it?’

Some just don’t.  A traumatizing event occurs, discouragement sets in and they’re never the same. Every day becomes a discouragement to them. They can’t get past it! Daily circumstances reaffirm they are a victim. Most relationships further remind them, they are a victim. Conflict affirms they are a victim. Do you know anybody like that? Discouragement is a strong force.

We’ve all been discouraged to some degree. We all know how debilitating it can become. I’ve always wondered why some folks seem to be able to ‘bounce back’ better than others? As a pastor, I know of some folks who have passed through unspeakable things several times in their lives and yet they just keep on going…never ‘missing a beat.’ I also know others who experience one small set back in life and end up living the rest of their lives in darkness.

What makes the difference in how we handle discouragement? Is it genetics? Upbringing? Culture? Mental attitude? Religion? Perhaps a ‘change’ in lifestyle? Maybe that’s it; change.

Isaiah was a prophet of God who not only saw change, he also had a spiritual wisdom to see who and what needed to change. I believe Isaiah can teach us something essential for handling discouragement. Reflect again on his words: 

 “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”

Now you’re talking! That’s what we need- to run and not become weary, to walk and not faint! To soar like an eagle. I’ve seen eagles fly. They’re magnificent sights! They spread their huge wings, exert very little effort and the wind just carries them along higher and higher as they go! Wouldn’t it be great to live life that way? Strength, insight, and confidence with very little required effort.

The eagle is known for its strength and elegance. Isaiah combines the power of the eagle with a key insight into the power for living. Isaiah shares an eternal truth with us. This eternal truth provides an assured awareness of ‘how to handle discouragement’.…Yet this spiritual wisdom and insight remains so simple and obvious most folks trip right over it. Our unwillingness to accept this truth causes so much suffering and inability to handle discouragement. That eternal truth is this; Anyone who seeks to live by their own power will eventually break down. Isaiah put it this way; “Even youths will grow tired and weary and young men will stumble and fall.” Consider and respond to this strong insight; no matter how young you are, how self-sufficient you may be, or how independent you may feel, at any age, if you try to live life on your own power, you WILL break down. You WILL fail. You Will eventually give out. Living life on your own and by means of your own power will lead a soul into discouragement over and over again.

Do you ‘get’ what the Bible is saying, God is proclaiming and Isaiah is teaching? While we may desire to fly like an eagle we are reminded of what happens when we try to live by our own power we will grow tired and become weary. I think we ‘get’ what the Bible is saying. I think we also ‘get’ that no one wants to be told they cannot stand ‘on their own two feet!’ We don’t like being told we can’t handle life on our own. We don’t want to affirm that we are vulnerable… In life lived so far, we have been vulnerable. It’s challenging to realize we are quite vulnerable with what we are needing to handle today. Most just don’t want to hear about handling discouragements into the future. Some say avoid the subject and perhaps it will go away. Say your prayers and possibly all future discouragements will be avoided. But don’t we know, ‘life’ doesn’t work that way. Not our life on our own nor even our life with God. We all recall times in our lives when we felt ‘like a rock!’ When nothing much ‘got to us.’ We didn’t NEED anyone. Leastwise, that’s what we thought. We want to think we shall be able to handle discouragement if we just ‘buckle up,’ ‘put our minds to it,’ and ‘go it alone.’  We want to be strong. Yet God’s eternal truth remains…Anyone who strives to live by their own power will eventually break down. The prophet Isaiah informs us; “Even youths will grow tired and weary and young men will stumble and fall.”  Isaiah, an insightful and wise prophet of God reflects upon that which God has shown him…Isaiah tells us that God gives power not to those who think they are strong, not to those who think they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get ‘through this alone,’ not to those who are proud of their fragile self-sufficiency. Isaiah says God gives power to those who are weak, the vulnerable, the open, the powerless, the willing, those who are yielding to him.        

Our worst problems and our greatest endeavors fail when we try to overcome by sheer will power. Recall all of those diet attempts. Remember the discouraging results of one’s strong-willed nature.

Isaiah directs us to hope in the Lord or ‘wait for the Lord.’ Some call this ‘faith.’ Please know, ‘faith’ is not a means to an end. It is a way of life. Faith is not crossing our fingers to God and hoping that things just turn out the way we want. Handling discouragement in its many forms occurs best when we stop rushing ahead of God and running from others who can help sustain us, guide us, rescue, and love us through it… Sometimes when we read and study verses in the Bible perhaps one key word sticks out! In verse 31 of today’s scripture lesson that key word is ‘renew.’ “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”  Within this portion of the Bible, written originally in Hebrew, the word ‘renew’ literally means ‘exchange.’ To exchange one thing for another. To hand God one thing and receive something else from him, to let go of one thing and receive something different, perhaps more helpful and insightful then we thought of on our won. According to Isaiah, God’s strength comes only when we do this ‘renewing’ this ‘exchanging’ of something from us, within us, a part of us, for something new, different, and special from God.….

When you or I are handling discouragement what in the world do you think we would have to give up in order to gain God’s strength? Can’t we just get God’s strength? Would you believe there are obstacles in our lives that hinder our ability to receive God’s strength? Would you believe there are things that clutter up our souls so much that there is no room for God’s strength? For some it is pride. For others it is control. Still, for some, it is a sinful habit which diminishes them but they can’t seem to let it go.

Some of the ‘basics’ for handling discouragement include ‘taking it to the Lord in prayer, “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything.” Let go and let God. Ask, seek, and find. Have faith but also reach out and receive others who can assist. Depend upon others. Depend upon God. Remember to become more like Isaiah and strive to ‘see’ the bigger picture. Remember there are ‘demons’ out there and ‘demons’ within. Commit your discouragements to the Lord through faith, abiding and trusting faith.

Remember this, you are not alone. God is the wind beneath your wings. Amen.

Pressing Perceptions 1/23/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 23, 2021 & Sunday, 24, 2021

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:  Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 (Page 926)

Sermon Message: ‘Pressing Perceptions’

Perceptions change over time. For instance, if you’ve ever gone back to your childhood home, things undoubtedly look ‘different!’ The physical world we remembered does not now seem quite so large and perhaps overbearing. Actually, lots of things change our perceptions during our lifetimes. Where we live, how we interact with one another, our health, our level of income even our degree of education. Quite importantly, our ‘beliefs’ change our perceptions.

Today we read of a prophet from God who believed that God had sent him to warn the Assyrian people of their need to change. There is more to be shared regarding Jonah. But first, let’s ponder some of the spiritual perceptions taking place back in the time Jonah lived, around the 8th century BC.

Prior to the prophet, Jonah, God had called Moses to lead the people of God; Israel, out of slavery, in Egypt, and into the Promised Land of Canaan. You may recall the Sinai covenant these rescued people had with God. This covenant is more commonly known as the Ten Commandments.

Time and time again the people of God would ‘drift away’ from their perceptions regarding the 10 Commandments. Perceptions of those 10 commandments would become watered down, minimalized, explained away, ignored and sometimes blatantly disobeyed. In turn this led to severe unrest and hurting behaviors among the people. Things would get ‘bad’ as they sometimes do. When things first ‘get bad’ there is unrest, rivalry and conflict that eventually grows over time. In the history of the Bible and in the history of the world, sometimes things become so ‘pressing’ that intervention is warranted.

During our lifetimes we have experienced the goodness associated with living our lives in accordance with the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ. We have also experienced times in our world’s history and in our own lives, when enmity has been so severe intervention has been required. Some of our ancestors survived the Great Depression or times of war. Our nation has a history of contentiousness, demonstrations, and quickness to ascertain that one group is superior or sees things ‘better’ than another.

Religion, in general, is supposed to help unite people’s beliefs in their higher power. The Christian religion has long been a full measure of secure beliefs and foundational truths. Don’t we know though, not all followers of God share the same perceptions?

Back in Jonah’s time varying perceptions became so oppositional that divine intervention was being called for.

The Book of Jonah is one of 66 books which compose the Bible. The Bible is full of indicatives, stories, and narratives. It is also a book of imperatives; commands to repent and to follow and change behaviors. The prophet, Jonah, was called by God to go to Nineveh and command the Assyrian nation to repent. Throughout spiritual history the ‘call’ to repent due to extreme hurt, sin and wrong in the world AND the petitioning for Divine intervention, came to be known as the “day of the Lord.”

Spiritually speaking, the “day of the Lord” is a day of reckoning. Prophets are sometimes sent by God to warn people of this impending “Day of the Lord.”

The prophet, Jonah, didn’t want to go where God called him to go. Perhaps you recall Jonah’s story. At first Jonah ran away from the Lord when he experienced God’s call and directive to go and preach to the people in the great city of Nineveh. He ran to a seaport where he bought a ticket for a ship going to a different port altogether. However, while at sea the Biblical account informs us that God sent a great wind and a violent storm culminating in Jonah being tossed overboard and being swallowed up by a whale. While Jonah was in the belly of the fish he prayed to the Lord. The Lord answered his prayers, the fish expelled Jonah from its’ mouth, and he landed on dry ground.

A second time the word of the Lord came to Jonah and this time his perceptions were different, perhaps more ‘pressing!’

Sometimes our perceptions also become more ‘pressing’ when we’ve been through something great and perhaps tragic. The ‘day of the Lord’ may come upon us at any time and during any season.

There are some further lessons to be learned from Jonah and some spiritual insights to be gained.

Jonah was by most accounts a good man. He was close to God. So close that God called him to go to the city of Nineveh and warn the Assyrian people that unless they change and repent of their wickedness, they would face destruction. God knew Jonah and Jonah knew God. Jonah was less than perfect, as are we in some respects. Truth is Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh and inquire of the Assyrian people to repent not because he feared their destruction. Nor was Jonah fearful of going. He knew and well understood how merciful God really was and Jonah did not want the Assyrian people to be blessed by God’s mercy. Jonah saw them all as being a ‘hopeless case’ and thought they should ‘get what’s coming to them!’ Jonah wanted to keep his closeness to God to himself. He simply did not want to share God with ‘those people!’

Sometimes our most ‘pressing perceptions’ need to be addressed by God. Jonah did not have a ‘corner on the market’ so to speak with God. Surely there are people in our lives, effecting our world, that we would much rather not deal with. Worst still would be our seeking to ‘hold back’ God’s care and message to them as Jonah first endeavored to do.

Our newly elected president has inquired of us to work towards unity. The theme of unity is not something new to this or any other president nor ruler. Unity is a Biblical calling and a spiritual reality.

The Bible is clear; “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” -Psalm 133:1

‘Unity’ is more, so much more than saying or affirming; “I like you. I will tolerate you, or I will at least TRY to get along with you.” Unity, from the Bible, starts with confronting our pressing perceptions that we somehow ‘know God best.” Or the perception that we may THINK God loves us more.

Turn towards the heart of God and perceive. It is not God’s desire to destroy the Assyrians in Jonah’s time nor any people nor groupings of people in our time. Rather, it remains God’s will and design to bring people, all people, and all nations of the world into a larger family of peoples who are returning to their Creator in worship and submission and the recovery of full human joy.

Yes, God still intervenes in life, our lives and in the life of the world. This Biblical theme of ‘the day of the Lord’ is hoped by some to be a time whereby ‘all Hell breaks loose’ and sets things straight…The “day of the Lord” is no less than re-creation itself. Sure, it might take direct intervention of God into human history to bring it about. But when it happens things will be set right. All things. Everything.  God may call upon any of us to help His ‘cause.’ We love the Lord, and the Lord loves us. Yet, we must remember, we do not hold a ‘corner on the market’ so to speak of knowing and loving the Lord. Along with God calling others into repentance, even entire nations, God shall gain our attention as well as He calls each of us into repentance.

Some of our pressing perceptions now need to change. Life, recent life has well taught us that. The world and each of us are still learning how our most pressing perceptions need to change. We have been stricken down by a virus that continues to scare us, overwhelm us, convict us, even humble us. Our previous perceptions regarding ‘who’ is our neighbor, around the world or around the corner are constantly changing, for the better. Our nation’s political environment has changed and today we are being afforded a further opportunity to change, to repent from our past and pray for Divine guidance into our future with our Creator is now before us.

Spirituality teaches us, from a Biblical perspective re-creation begins with repentance. When repentance comes it can be a devastating thing.

For many years a consumer mentality has gripped our society.  It’s kind of like we’ve been drugged into believing that we are okay on our own, that we have all the means and resources necessary to see us through any ‘jam’ in life’s river. However, in a culture guided by consumption we’re not really going anywhere. We have been led to instead believe we do not need to repent. Leastwise according to modern psychology, but only to obtain. We have been led to believe in our society that we do not need to change our ways, only our strategies. Our pressing perception had been that we do not need some outside power to help us, only to encourage us. For far too long we’ve allowed ourselves to believe in ourselves mainly and adhere to the pressing perception that we are okay on our own. Thank you!

It’s not that our faith has failed us but that we have somehow failed our faith. Our pressing perceptions had been to escape religion and anything at all that might require something more of ‘our’ precious time and further commitment.

As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu put it “the longest journey begins with the first step.” We’ve known for the better part of a year that we need to heal our world, not just our land, from the devastations associated with this COVID-19 pandemic. Deep inside we’ve always known that some of our most pressing perceptions, as incorrect as they may have been and possibly still are, needed addressed then changed.

Clearly the Bible affirms Jesus Christ came to the Jews and the Gentiles, meaning to ALL people. Jonah was guided, somewhat, by his pressing perceptions that he did not want God to be merciful to those Assyrians, just in case they did repent. Jonah was guilty of a do-it-yourself religion. Grace has no place in the self-satisfaction of a do-it-yourself religion. Jesus himself said he did not come to gather the so-called righteous. That is the ones who are satisfied with who they are and where they are at. Jesus did instead say he came to call sinners to repentance.

Repentance leads to re-creation of a soul, a life, a family, a nation, even a world. A re-created life is a healed life.

Maybe you are not guilty of the worst of sins. Jonah was called by God a second time. God’s making use of us is some of the best evidence of his being at peace with us.

May our most pressing perceptions become our prayer that God can and will use us, perhaps even address us, or at least change us, as needed to cause light, God’s light to shine in dark regions.

God perceives us and yet he understands. Amen.

The Rock of My Salvation 1/17/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 16, 2021 and Sunday, January 17, 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 71:1-8 (Page 577) & Romans 8:18, 22, 26-28 (Page 1133)

Sermon Message: The Rock of My Salvation”

  They tell me the older you get the more ‘reflective’ you become…Leastwise that’s how ‘they’ say it’s supposed to be. That way of thinking rings true throughout the Bible. David wrote psalm 71 in his ‘older’ years. Wisdom comes with age. Spiritual wisdom comes at any age. While we may not like to hear it, our struggles can serve to produce spiritual wisdom within.

  The Apostle Paul struggled greatly in his life. He struggled in his faith and he further struggled with how he could better relate to, even help, others. In his declining years Paul writes to the people of the church in Rome with what may be termed ‘summary insights.’ After years of struggle and multiple hardships plus persecutions abounding, Paul summarizes and shares his insightful spiritual wisdom. He inquires of his readers to “consider their sufferings, for they are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to us.” He shares with us his maturing awareness that all of creation has been groaning to understand, to relate and to adapt. Paul then directs us to know and reference the Holy Spirit in our lives, especially so, in our weakness.

  David and Paul share something in common. Both communicate a confident faith. In our world right now, ‘confident faith’ seems to be in short supply.

  Some fearful realities are taking place right now associated with this worldwide pandemic. Fear of contacting the virus. Fear of passing on the virus. Fear that far too many are not taking serious the virus. Fear of not only contagiousness but also of possible suffering, limited understanding and too many unprecedented deaths. Is the vaccine safe? Will it prove effective? Are there short term or long-term side effects? Will enough people receive it to promote ‘herd immunity?’ What might happen to us if we don’t take the vaccine? How long will we be required to wear masks and limit our activities? Can we count on a return to ‘normal? What might the ‘new normal’ look like? Do lots of folks get ‘better?’ What is the length of your immunity after experiencing Covid-19?

  Such questioning can erode away at confidence. Even one’s spiritual confidence. We need a ‘word from God.’ Surely we can benefit from sincere quality spiritual insight.

 I find it confusing, at times, to listen to both ‘sides’ of the political atmosphere in our land. For I can see good and bad in both ‘sides.’ Like so many I am saddened by such severe political unrest that has evolved into police and military intervention. Even today, God’s Sabbath, is threatened with demonstrations that could possibly lead to more deaths, further hurt and deeply felt divisions. Fear rules our land and crushes our spirit. Faith must answer problems we never felt would need addressed.

  Within Psalm 71 David makes no apology for taking refuge in God. He writes; “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.” Not only did David struggle inside of himself, spiritually so, he was further being challenged by family, close friends his dear constituents as well as his enemies. David is here declaring, “I am not ashamed of my faith. I am not ashamed of my reliance upon God. I make no argument and take no offence at those who challenge my sincere dependence upon God.”

  We may not be kings or rulers but we do have grave concerns that are affecting our families, friends, church, our nation, our world and us. Depend upon God. Do not be ashamed of your spirit crying out to God amidst all of the trials and grave concerns you feel. Don’t be ashamed of your faith nor of your dependence, your reliance upon God. Notice, take quality notice, in today’s scriptures of what David did when he was overwhelmed, confused and fearful; He prayed. His prayer begins with this affirmation of faith; “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame…”Then David shows us something else… He references the righteousness of God to rescue and deliver him. GOD is the standard for righteousness. The foundation for truth and divine help in the most challenging of times. David prays for God to be his Rock.

  Throughout human history ‘rocks’ have proven to be among the most lasting elements commonly perceived. In Israel there remains a huge rock formation known as Massada. Some of the ancient Israelites lived on the top of this rock formation within a strong fortress they had constructed. Here in the United States I learn of a large rock formation in Yosemite National Park known as El Capitan. This huge granite monolith is about 3000 feet from base to summit and remains a popular objective for rock climbers.

  Our forefathers and foremothers surely must have felt a kinship to the Rock of our Salvation when they constructed this huge stone faced church in the late 1920’s. On a personal note, I was honored to have driven a skid steer machine on the front sidewalk of our church, many years ago, carrying a large slab of granite that literally hundreds have sat on to ponder, pray, meditate and relax. Hopefully, that granite bench shall remain for many more years to come. On the Fifth Avenue entrance to our beloved church there rests a large triangular shaped piece of granite depicting Christ in prayer. On the corner of Fifth and Broadway, the bulletin board used to advertise our church activities is also constructed of hewn quarry stone that shall outlast our lifetimes.

  ‘Rocks’ symbolize things that are ‘lasting,’ ‘secure,’ and reliable. Thus, when the Bible speaks of God as being the “Rock of our Salvation” or the ‘Rock of our Refuge” this is a direct reference to ultimate security, reliability, and foundational truth.

  David ‘prays’ to the Rock of his refuge, his rock and fortress, the one to which he can always go…Hear his prayer; “Deliver me…” Concise words yet meaningful and heart felt words… “Deliver me.” I ask you to turn now to God, call upon our ‘Rock,” our fortress to deliver us not only from evil, in general, but specifically from the contentiousness and fears associated with these days we now live in. Pray, as did David to further be delivered from the hand of the wicked and the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

  Then combine this prayer with your history of trust in God. David affirms his faith; “For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.”

  Faith has a history. Count upon your history of faith with God, in God and through God. Therein you shall discover or perhaps rediscover the strength and reliability of God our Rock and Jesus Christ our Savior.

  David’s spiritual yet factual reminder; we have relied upon God since birth. It was God who brought us forth from our mother’s womb. Prior even to our awareness we have a strong and confident history of faith with God and through God.

  Further follow David’s example, his prayer and affirmation of faith…Praise God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him for His guidance, forgiveness, past provisions, and history of love.

 May your life with God, especially now, become a sign to many. An example that others can and will follow. It’s what you do when God is present in your life…

  You are a child of God through the best of times and throughout the worst of times. You remain a child of God all day long. Become a ‘rock’ for others in your life that well illustrates God.

  The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit writes; “In life and in death we belong to God.” –Romans 14:8. As an affirmation of faith Paul declares, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

  Better days ARE coming. We WILL get through this. Every part of life and even our ultimate earthly death we will get through. These are days of what the Bible references as “present sufferings.”

  Since the beginning of creation, since the time of our creation, there has been groaning, sometimes even as severely as in the pains of childbirth. As the Bible declares, “right up to this present time.”

  Have you ever felt so badly that you just didn’t know ‘what’ to pray, or ‘how’ to pray? Those times happen in every soul’s life. Some of those times are happening right now.

 When I preach and further teach you to turn to the Rock of your Salvation, this is not ONLY a call to faith and reliance upon God. This is also a turning to God in trust that you will be prayed for, not only through the prayers of others and your very own prayers. The Spirit is right now praying for, you and me, the Bible assures us. This is especially true when we are in the midst of our weakness.

 The Holy Spirit IS praying for us even when we don’t know ‘what’ to pray or ‘how’ to pray. The Lord searches our hearts, knows our souls and experiences with us our concerns, sufferings and even confusions. Trust these next scriptures; “The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

  There will be further infections, sufferings and in some cases deaths associated with Covid-19. This affliction in our world is not over yet. We need to do our parts with daily prayer, care, and following well spelled out guidelines for prevention, treatment and future addressing of this virus.

  This week will be long remembered in our nations’ history. Even today there may be rioting, protesting, but also affirmations and possibly blessings. Before this week is over in human history leadership in our nation will transition. Yet there may well be suffering, contention, confusion even further lives lost.

   Pray this scripture; “for we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:28

  When life hurts and fear or confusion abounds do as our ancestors did. Turn to the Rock of our Salvation.

  God is our refuge and strength a very present help in times of trouble. Amen.

Lasting Covenants 1/10/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 9, 2021 & Sunday, January 10, 2021

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:  Exodus 20: 1-17 (Page 75) & Matthew 19:16-26 (Page 986)

Sermon Message: “Lasting Covenants”

  Covenants are very important. They are the basis for creating integrity, truth, accountability, and faith in God, in us and with each other.

  Covenants may be of a spiritual nature and found within the Bible. Covenants are also something we understand intrinsically so.

  For instance we all intrinsically know that we have a covenant with someone else that we shall always be somebody’s child.

 You and I have parents. They may be living or dead. Close at heart or seemingly quite far away. Yet we shall always know someone helped God to co-create us. In essence, we belong.

  ‘Belonging’ is part of everyone’s covenant and communion with God and others…

  Another ‘intrinsic’ part of our covenants and us is our love. Each and every one of us chooses each and every day to love. Some are much better at love then others. The point is, we all love. Love is a covenant we make with another. We choose how we love, whom we love and quite importantly, what we expect from others in how they love us.

  Love is a part, an intrinsic and vital part of covenants and communion.

  Covenants remind a lot of us of promises. We all know how that goes! Promises made, promises broken. Far too many promises, like far too many covenants are made out of convenience or with temporary commitment behind them.

  I firmly believe the human soul longs for lasting covenants. The Bible declares, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” -Ecclesiastes 3:11.

 Just like the man in today’s scripture lesson we continue to ask; “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

   We long for what is lasting both in this world and beyond. ‘Belonging’ that is lasting is quite fulfilling. Love that is lasting is ultimate fulfillment.

  Most, if not many, reach a similar point to that of the ‘rich’ described in today’s scripture lesson. We estimate ourselves as being ‘good’ and ‘doing good’ because WE don’t murder anyone. WE are not committing adultery. WE don’t steal. WE don’t lie; give false testimony (gossip) about others. WE have honored our father and our mother and have done our level best to love our neighbor as ourselves.

  But then Jesus speaks to us too, challenging us, informing us, even instructing us, that there is more, perhaps lots more involved in both our covenants as well as our communion. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Who wants to hear that?

 Or Jesus’ further inquiry; “Come and follow me.” ‘Follow’ means more, so much more than simply saying ‘I believe in Jesus Christ.’

  For as long as people have existed and far longer than our existence, people compromise what they believe in, how they keep their commitments and covenants. Our common philosophy for living seems to be the phrase, “Nothing lasts forever.” Yet God affirms, some things do! It is recorded in God’s Word; “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” -2 Corinthians 6:16.

   Have you ever taken notice of ‘how’ the Ten Commandments start out in the Bible? In the Book of Exodus, Chapter 20 they begin with these words; “I am the Lord your God, who brought you OUT OF Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

  I’ve never been to Egypt. Came close once back in the mid 1980’s when I journeyed to Israel. So God hasn’t brought me out of Egypt. But it surely can be said of you and I that God has brought us out of slavery (to sin). Sin exiles us from God and the Promised Land God has created for us to live in. As God spoke to the ancients the Almighty continues to speak to us; “I am the Lord your God.”

   Yes indeed, we do belong to God. ‘Belonging’ is part of covenants and communion.

 Another strong covenant and communion God has with us, a very ‘lasting covenant’ is this; “God so LOVED us that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16.

  Love is quite fulfilling. Love is foundational to Covenants and Communion.

  Consider some of God’s further teachings on covenants and perhaps even ponder ‘why’ the Almighty has given us these covenants…

  “You shall have no other gods before me.” I was given an awareness of this ‘word of God’ at differing times in my life. When I was just a boy my parents would sometimes admonish me with the words; “I am your mother!” OR “I am your Father!” There was strength behind those words. Strength of ‘belonging’ and strength of love. Eventually we all grow and ‘leave the nest’ so to speak. Yet we never stop ‘belonging.’ We never stop being ‘loved.’ As I made my own way through life, or so I thought, I ‘fell in love.’ I well recall something from the Bible spoken at my wedding… “A three fold cord is not easily broken.” -Ecclesiastes 4:12, The ‘three-fold cord’ may be understood to mean my spouse, the Lord and myself. It can also be understood to mean; faith, hope and love. Either way, this is an expression of a lasting covenant and communion. 

 God reminds us He gave us life. From dust we have come and unto dust we shall return. Therefore, let’s be clear, we belong to God and as such He who created us can and does expect the integrity of obedience to Him and sincere response to His love.

  The first four commandments; “No other gods, no graven images, no misusing of God’s name, remember the Sabbath; keep it holy,…” These spell out our duty to God. The first four commandments are covenants for our communion with God. Covenants are very important. They are the basis for creating integrity, truth, accountability and faith in God, in us and with each other.

  Your money, your body, your intelligence, your looks, your home, where you live, nor even your standard of living is most important. Nothing is your God. You and I belong to God. We are loved by God. There is integrity in knowing this standard. This is unquestionable truth. This holds each and every one of us accountable. Faith is in God and shared, blessed in us and with each other. You belong to God…

  If we cannot ‘keep’ these four commandments as covenants, lasting covenants and live them out as communion between God and us then we surely cannot be expected that we can be true to others if we are false with God…

  God is God and we are not. God is to be worshipped as God, unfathomable, unmanaged by us, never completely understood, sometimes mysterious, always affirmed by faith. Do NOT strive to reduce God to ‘how’ we estimate or imagine Him to be. God remains beyond our imaginations. Our imaginations contribute to our understanding and awareness of God, but certainly do not limit nor dictate God for the world or ourselves.

 Those that keep God’s commandments, affirm their covenants and commune with the Lord will receive grace, blessing, peace and love.

  The commandments are given to us for a reason. Actually for multiple reasons. While we may ‘say’ we know the Ten Commandments and follow the teachings of God, truth is, we all compromise ourselves from time to time. It serves us well to be reminded, to renew our covenants and commune with the Lord. 

  We have a lasting covenant. God promises to bless His people and be their God if they obey. Covenants are the backbone of the storyline of the Bible. The Bible isn’t a random collection of laws, moral principles and stories. It is a story that goes somewhere. It is the story of redemption and God’s kingdom. God promises to forgive sin and give universal knowledge of the Lord.

  Please join me in the honor, the privilege and the integrity of renewing our covenants, lasting covenants with God in Holy Communion….Amen.

Time To Move On 1/3/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday; January 2, 2021 & Sunday; January 3, 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: John 8:1-11 Page 1072, Philippians 3:12-14 Page 1180

Sermon Title:                          ‘Time To Move On’

  The New Year typically signals a time for us to move on. We’ve all needed to ‘move on’ at one time or another in our lives. How do you know when it is time to move on? Is it after you’ve felt something pretty strongly, as in today’s first scripture lesson? OR, is ‘time to move on’ more of a self-determination as it seems to appear in the second scripture lesson where Paul speaks of ‘pressing on toward the goal to win the prize?

  Faith formulates our time to move on. Lots of folks, probably too many folks, equate faith with ‘feeling.’ That’s really not a healthy way to appreciate the working of faith in our lives. In today’s scriptures the woman caught in adultery ‘gave into’ her feelings. Those teachers of the law and Pharisees had their very strong ‘feelings’ about what was right, wrong and their prescribed punishment for sins. The Apostle Paul seems to want to ‘determine’ his feelings as part of his overall goal.

  2021 is a time available for us all to move on. Right now, I am sure there are lots of folks who firmly believe the calendar year changing from 2020 to 2021 will somehow constitute the world being reset. Yet we all know life is a continuum.

 2020 had an abundance of negativity associated with it. Presidential impeachment, a world-wide pandemic, contentious election process and results, severe unemployment, multiple business closures, food insecurities plus associated fears and restrictions for us all. Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today. It’s time to move in faith, to new beginnings. I am not at all saying the problems we lived through in 2020 have somehow gone away. God has a way of providing new beginnings from the past happenings.

  Today’s scriptural account within the Gospel of John points out some possible insights for moving on. A woman is caught in the act, the sin, of adultery. Her accusers are addressed, her actions are condemned then she is forgiven and told to move on from her life of sin. Some very authoritative and righteous people strive to hold her accountable and punish her for her sins. Jesus calls their prejudice and judgment into question when he inquires of them to go and throw the first stone IF they are without sin. Slowly they walk away. That is, they move on.

  ‘Yesterday’ reminds us of our sins and our sufferings. Yesterday calls to question our pride, our judgmentalism and persecution of others. It’s time to move on from these and other sins which consumes us.

  I am sorry there were so many negatives last year. But now it’s time for us to join Jesus in standing up, straightening our backs and looking life in the eyes. Forgive the sin, Jesus Christ does not want you nor I to live a compromised life. The Lord has a plan, you are part of His time and God’s purpose. It’s time to move on.

Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today…

  Sometimes God closes doors because it’s time to MOVE forward. He knows you sometimes won’t move unless your circumstances force you.

    That woman caught in adultery would not have moved on in her life nor would her faith become nurtured, blessed and inspiring unless she was forced to deal with it.

   The teachers of the law and those Pharisees would have simply gone on and on judging, condemning and punishing people unless God closed the door of their ill felt freedom to do so. Jesus Christ did come. He has confronted those who are harmful and hurting in our world too. The Apostle Paul was quite the persecutor of Christians and of Jesus Christ. The ‘door’ God used for closing so much that was wrong in Paul’s life was actually a blinding light and an inspirational voice of accountability mingled with great love.

  While God IS a God of new beginnings please remain keenly aware of this; you can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

  God has wisdom and provides insight for our lives in 2021. Consider a few key Biblical figures whose lives changed and blossomed as a result of moving on with God.

  Moses was called by God to lead His people; Israel, out of slavery and into the Promised land. Along the way the Lord God Almighty called Moses to the top of the Mountain and there gave to him the Ten Commandments which we reference and follow unto this very day. Yet when called, Moses hesitated moving on declaring that he was slow of speech. God spoke through Moses when it was time to move on.

  David was just a boy with a sling shot. While others made fun of him God called him and used him to bring down the mighty Giant; Goliath. David was just a shepherd boy yet when it was time to move on David submitted to the Lord in his life.

 Young Mary, whose life we recently applauded, was humble and inquired of God’s angel regarding her giving birth to God’s son; “How can this be?” Yet when confronted by her greatest fears and her society’s heaviest judgments, Mary realized it was time to move on.

  Even Jesus Christ spoke to those nearest to him at his resurrection appearance saying; “Do not touch me but go now to the others and tell them I must ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

  Moving on is not always easy nor is it usually convenient. Moving on, as Paul teaches us, is so much more than a feeling. It remains a goal. A spiritual goal we ascertain from abiding spiritual discernment.

    Five key elements of anyone’s spiritual discernment process; 1) Scripture, 2) Prayer, 3) Experience, 4) Tradition, and 5) Reason.

  Whatever the subject or scenario in one’s life consult the Scriptures for guidance. Pray about it. Consider what experience has shown you. Give heed to the traditions we affirm. Put all this together and seek to further reason it through. Following this spiritual discernment process has enabled generations of believers to move on.

  Let me apply this spiritual discernment process to a typical ‘church’ topic; attending worship.

   First, let’s look at the Scriptures. Hebrews 10:25; “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Matthew 18:20; “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”  Acts 2:42; “The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

   Pray about going to church. God is in the business of answering prayers.

   Consider your church experiences. Some are good. Some, perhaps not so good. Along the way I’ve met scores of people who will NOT come to church because of some person, some church or some clergy from the past. Scores of people tell me of a bad experience they once had with God, church or religion. I wish to say to each of those folks I am sorry that happened to you. God sends Jesus to wrap his arms around us, love us, forgive us, prompt us and even bless us. But we just can’t keep on playing that same old broken record over and over again inside of us. It’s time to move on.

  Traditions change. Even within families and entire societies. ‘Going to church’ WAS a former social tradition in our world. Not as much any more. Yet traditions existed for substantial reasons. The ‘tradition’ associated with coming to church remains an open ended invitation. Our beloved church offers two types of worship, a Saturday evening 30 minute casual worship experience plus our Sunday morning traditional worship. A ‘tradition’ becomes such through routine and repetition. I invite and encourage your church attendance to become a welcomed and stable tradition within. Pass it along to your family, neighbors and friends. Church attendance does not hurt but many say it does help.

  God blessed you with the ability to reason. Blend reasoning with your spiritual discernment process. Faith is not reduced to reason but faith with no component of reason is amiss.

 Scripture, prayer, experience, tradition and reason helps us to move on in our relating to God and others beyond just our feelings.

  Living your life as a Christian in 2021 will have its share of blessings but also it’s components of trials and sufferings. A Christian I admire and respect said; “I don’t know why I keep trying. It would be so much easier to give up and live like my neighbors. But I know one bright and shinning morning, I am going to wake up on the other side of eternity and God is going to tell me, “good and faithful servant you have finished the race” and that will mean everything to me.”

  Whether it’s moving on from a past relationship, past disappointments, or past sin, remember God has a plan for you. His plan for you is not in the past it’s in the future. Christians are a new creation through Christ. Your old life is gone. Now it’s time to move forward. Imagine if Noah, Moses, David, Paul, and more never moved on from their past. They would not have gone on to do great things for the Lord.

  Hear again these words of Jesus; “Go now.” Recall the commitment of the Apostle Paul to move on; “One thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Amen.  

Growing Godly 12/27/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020 & Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020

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 Lesson: Luke 2:22-40 (Page 1027)

Sermon Message: “Growing Godly”

  Senior citizens; those two! Simeon and Anna are both senior citizens who grew Godly through the years the Lord gave them.

  There is no known record of Simeon’s exact age. All we really have are today’s scriptures that affirm he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

  Anna, the scriptures inform us, was 84 years old.

  Clearly God has a sincere need for seniors in affirming the life of Jesus Christ.

  Simeon and Anna are among the most intriguing and perhaps least mentioned, figures in Luke’s nativity story. They are the only two persons in the Christmas stories who receive Jesus without divine intervention. No angels come to them, they are already in the temple, worshipping God, and alert to the ways God may appear.

  Simeon and Anna remind me a lot of you and of people just like you who are faithful about coming to church. I have the greatest respect for those who come to church on a regular basis. I believe Simeon and Anna found what you and scores of others have found, being in the temple, coming to church regularly helps a soul to grow Godly.

  I do so enjoy our growing Godly together. Simeon and Anna’s lives well illustrate to us that one of the ways we grow Godly together is through regular participation in worship within the temple, God’s beloved church.

  Just a few days ago we shared in divine worship reflecting God’s Christmas. It’s still all right to celebrate, to coast on the glow of the Holy Day. And you’ll be in good company, all of creation, all kinds of people, all kinds of animals, even the weather and the mountains and hills praise the Lord.

  The birth of Jesus Christ was such good news. We received good news, of another sort this month. In the fight against COVID 19 two companies have produced and begun distribution of a vaccine to halt this pandemic virus.

  Prior to the introduction of this COVID 19 virus in our world, traditionally these days following Christmas are anything but energetic and far less enthusiastic. We’ve referred to this last week in December as a sort of ‘let-down.’   Pastors have generally referred to the Sunday following Christmas and Easter as ‘Low Sunday.’

  After nine months of public health measures to help slow the spread of the virus, many Americans are suffering from COVID fatigue. While the number of cases is higher than it was during the first wave of infections, many people are ignoring the urging of public health professionals to continue physical distancing, mask wearing and frequent hand sanitizing. Contrary to the consensus of public health officials, many families gathered over Thanksgiving, giving rise to a “spike on top of a surge” in COVID cases. The story may become even bleaker in the wake of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

  As the vaccines roll out there is heated discussion about who should be vaccinated first. “Front line” workers, especially those who work in health care, are to be the first in line per CDC guidance, followed by residents in skilled nursing and long term care facilities. The death rate from COVID-19 in homes for the elderly has been staggering. It is estimated that while only 1% of the US population lives in long term care, the residents and the staff who work there, account for 6% of COVID-19 cases and 40% of the deaths.” 

  At long last our predominantly youth-oriented culture has transitioned to honoring and caring for the elderly, first, who are so easily victimized by COVID 19. Godly wisdom is not to be associated only with the elderly.

  Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said his greatest fear is that people will not get vaccinated. His words afford a certain wisdom to us all.

  Vice-President Mike Pence led by example when he was vaccinated Friday, December 18. The President meanwhile has been out of the public eye since the electors in the 50 states and the District of Columbia cast their ballots in the presidential election.

  Old people don’t usually get much attention at Christmas time, especially compared to children. In today’s Gospel lesson it is the old people who are at center stage. There is a special joy that seniors express when they recognize that the world can and will continue without them. When I have walked through the congregation with a newly baptized infant, it’s most often the older people who glow the brightest and reach to the little one’s toes with the greatest enthusiasm. Studies indicate that grandparents tend to worry more about their grandchildren’s spiritual lives than their children’s. This may be for the mundane reason that grandparents may not get to take part in the day-to-day activities of raising their grandchildren. There is likely another reason — grandparents have lived long enough to know what is truly important and significant in living a meaningful, fulfilling life. However, our own children may have benefitted from our helping them to grow in Godly wisdom, our beloved grandchildren give us another ‘shot’ at nurturing faith in those we love.

  Simeon and Anna demonstrate a patient faith and wisdom that we hear in Luke’s story they have been amassing for decades, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s plans. Other people of similar age have their own forms of wisdom.

 Seniors teach us with their words, their examples and lifestyle the truest meaning of growing godly.

  Today’s scriptures begin with some directives for growing godly as well.

  Mary and Joseph took their 40-day-old son to the temple for customary purification rites. This was further a prescribed time to consecrate their child to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with the religious customs of the time. In somewhat similar methods for helping our children to grow Godly we bring them to church for worship, we establish, with the pastor, a time for baptism to occur. Later there are opportunities for further Christian education, confirmation, membership and growing to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

  Every generation needs to help the children in our midst to grow Godly. Pastors continue to ask for your help with this spiritual endeavor.

  Scriptures declare; “Train up, start out a child in the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). Quite possibly that’s why you and I are here in church today. Someone started us out in growing Godly and we remain dedicated to the ‘faith.’

  There are some fundamentals we all should know, understand and practice as we endeavor to grow Godly.

  The Ten Commandments. Know where to find them in the Bible; Exodus Chapter 20. Memorize and ‘say’ the Lord’s Prayer daily. A common memory verse for us all is John 3:16; “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

 Grow to know the difference between the Old and New Testament portions of the Bible. Study some portion of scripture daily. Don’t just read scriptures, hear me again as I say, “STUDY” scriptures. Grown to know where to find scriptures for most any subject and occasion.

  Pray daily. Pray WITH and FOR others too…

  Follow the example of Simeon and Anna; be in the church routinely. Be a part. Serve the Lord, experience Jesus Christ. Share the faith.

  Growing Godly is certainly not reserved only to memory verses, rituals and worship attendance. God has a way of growing us that actually transforms us.

  Sometimes folks grow to be quite ‘rigid’ even in the attitude and lifestyle associated with their faith.

  I recall a woman who experienced a sincere transformation in her process of growing Godly. She was a very ‘literal’ soul. A place for everything and everything in its’ place. Life’s experiences and her job as a journalist had hardened her heart. Leastwise, until she grew a bit older. Previously, she had lived her life selfishly. Oh, there were ‘hit and miss’ examples of kindness and good deeds, but certainly not her lifestyle. Perhaps like Simeon and Anna of old we too eventually reach an age of change perhaps because we wake up to the fact that our years on the planet are numbered. We begin to ‘mellow.’ They say God moves in mysterious ways. This woman came upon a colony of stray cats near her home. They were starving, neglected and sick. She had long favored cats so she could not turn away and started to help. That act of caring for God’s neglected animals began to soften her heart. Something inside of her began to ‘see’ things differently. Then, of all things, her granddaughter was born and the transformation was complete. Every movement of that grandchild’s little hand, every verbal utterance, seemed sacred. Growing Godly for her became a spiritual process and direction reminding her that the iron doors of her heart could never again be closed.

  We shall gain Godly Wisdom from this worldwide pandemic. In general, all of us have been humbled to realize we are NOT quite as entitled as we once believed we had a ‘right’ to be.

  Simeon reminds us all of another far-reaching Godly wisdom. Those and those only, can with courage see death, and look it in the face without terror, that have had by faith a sight of Christ.

  Simeon took Christ in his arms and embraced him. Anna spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.

  Within this portion of Luke’s Nativity story, we have Godly wisdom from the examples of two who nurtured faith all of their lives.

  Simeon embraced the Christ. Anna never stopped talking about this child, this Messiah.

  Where has Godly wisdom lead you? The New Year is now before us. May we approach it in Godly wisdom even as we seek to embrace Jesus and share with others, our most precious faith. Amen.

Making Our Way Home 12/24/2020

Sermon Message for Christmas Eve 2020

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: Isaiah 9:2-7 (page 687) &  Luke 2:1-7 (page 1026)

Sermon Message: “Making Our Way Home”

  Our traditional Christmas Eve scriptures point out that Jesus’ first ‘home’ was a manger in a stable reserved for the animals. The scriptures declare that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. His parents returned to their ‘home’ in Nazareth so Jesus grew to be known as “Jesus of Nazareth.’ I’ve wondered through my years of researching and preaching on this portion of Holy Scripture IF someone were to ask Jesus; “Where you from?” he’d most likely have answered; “From Nazareth.”  That’s where Jesus grew up. “Home’, initially so for Jesus, was a stable, a manger in Bethlehem of Judea. “Home’ was not the physical place of his birth. It was where his family was.

   Some say there is a ‘homing instinct’ inside of us all. Within the natural world around us we see that ‘homing’ instinct in birds, in migrating salmon and certain other species. Somehow, Christmas seems to trigger the ‘homing instinct’ more vigorously inside of us. Of all the times and seasons of the year, the Christmas season seems to be the most important time for people to be “home.” Perhaps you recall with me that musical selection of this season; “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

  The world likes to move “home” at Christmas time. Yet, Jesus wasn’t “home” for that very first Christmas. Isn’t it ironic that a holiday which draws us home had its start with the story of a family far from home? Joseph and Mary were away from their home in Nazareth, on a restless trip to the far south of Palestine. The little Lord Jesus was born in a stable that he would probably never see again in his life. The shepherds left their hillside shacks to make a midnight trek to Bethlehem. The Wise men traveled far from home to bring Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Bethlehem’s boy found “home” to mean being with the people you love.

  “Home” is where we find hope, peace, joy and love. “Home” helps us to feel “in-touch” included, accepted, and appreciated for who we are. Home is a place of safety and security. Our “Home’ is our sanctuary. Like you I’ve known times of feeling ‘alone’ or away from home even in the midst of a crowd. Perhaps a sadness comes over us, a feeling of loneliness, a sense of distance from what’s ‘going on,’ in the world near us.

  In the year 2020 many a soul has experienced a need and desire to make our way “home.” Some media declarations affirm 2020 as the year we decided to stay home. Christmas, this year is widely anticipated by many. For those who cannot get together with family, with friends, and attend social events due to the COVID-19 19 virus, for those afflicted by illness, even death due to COVID-19 19, 2020 has been a disaster. Yet for those who cannot wait for Christmas to come because it affirms the end of 2020 and for hope associated with a vaccine to stop COVID-19 19, Christmas remains a blessing. We need Christmas this year. More importantly we need ‘God’s Christmas!’

  God has a way of helping us to see things differently, better, more hopeful and with a full measure of peace. His kind of peace…

  Long will the world remember 2020. I must tell you one ‘unique’ Christmas gift I am getting. While I sincerely appreciate this Christmas gift, I hope and pray I never ever get another one like it. I am receiving an ornament for my Christmas tree at home. Yes indeed, tomorrow morning I will open this gift and have full disclosure, well in advance of what it is. My new, one and only Christmas tree ornament is made of ceramic. There are two Santa faces on this ornament resting upon the letters 2020. What’s so ‘unique about this particular ornament for this ‘special’ year is this; those two Santa Claus faces have my name and my beloved’s name written on them. Those two Santa Claus’s have a red tassel cap and white beards. Those two Santa Claus faces are covered by….a mask! Those numbers I mentioned underneath the Santa Claus face; 2020; the first number ‘2’ is red, the ‘0’ is green, the second number ‘2’ is red, the second ‘0’ is not really a ‘O’. Rather it is a roll of toilet paper, partially unraveled. At the end of the unravel is a small bottle of ‘push lever’ hand sanitizer…Never seen anything like it. Hoping I never see one again.

  Some say 2020 was a disaster we need to eventually ‘come home’ from. Others see blessings.

  This time last year our Christmas Eve service was well attended. This year, we had to open up our adjoining Chapel to make room for; “Social Distancing.” It’s a blessing to see our Chapel opened once again on Christmas Eve. Last year we had both a chancel choir and a bell choir. There has been no chancel choir in this church since last March or early April due to our need for proper social distancing. Tonight, we appreciate the ringing of the bells and musical selections from a deeper set of values inside us all.

  Last year we came to church, sang Silent Night by Candlelight, and put everything away for another year. When we dug out the candles for tonight’s Christmas Eve service we did so with hope, anticipation, and thanksgiving unto God. Last year I was fully honored to preach the Christmas Eve message, publish a few copies of my manuscript and rest assured I had done my best. Since early April, each and every week, including tonight’s Christmas Eve worship service, the weekly sermon is preached, video-taped, sent out by US mail, via email, through You Tube and hand delivered, allowing God’s message to reach more people than ever before. I for one am so very grateful for that.

  I like ‘coming home’ to God. They say, “Home is where the heart is.” Our faith ‘home’ has well carried us through the dire challenges of 2020. Tonight, it just feels ‘right’ to make our way ‘home’ to God’s church, to the Holy Family, to the trust we invest in God’s provisions and future answers to our most enormous questions, fears, and doubts.

  2020 has been described by some as a year of darkness. Hear afresh tonight’s scriptures; “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. God has enlarged the nation and increased our joy.” (Isaiah 9:2,3)

  The Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke could be viewed from one angle as a disaster but from another angle it seems to be a blessing. Imagine with me tonight, what it might have been like for Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary starting out on an eighty-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. What a difficult trip it must have been. Every step was another movement AWAY from ‘home’ in Nazareth. Once they arrive in Bethlehem there is seemingly no place to call ‘home’ at the local inns. So, they do their best to make ‘home’ a stall with the animals out back. Surely, Mary must have yearned to be back ‘home’ with her family for the delivery. Even her surroundings were now quite unfamiliar. There they were, Mary and Joseph far from home, alone, not knowing a single person and their precious little son, this child whom the angel Gabriel assured Mary would rule his kingdom in such a manner that it would never ever end, her precious longed-for child was born in less than hygienic and comfortable surroundings….Oh, by the way, they did have some ‘visitors’. Cattle, oxen, and a few rough looking smelly shepherds came down from the hillside. No dignitaries. No parents, relatives, or dear family friends. No mid wife nor familiar physician.

  Consider more deeply some ‘good news’ associated with this far away from home birth…To this day it symbolizes and speaks to us that God shares His good news, ‘speaks’ His good news, ‘calls’ His good news in a special way to the poor, despised, and outcasts of society, even to lowly shepherds tending their sheep on lonely hilltops.

  You were not alone either during 2020 when the familiar, the normal, all that we had previously known as ‘home’ was called into question, compromised, and sometimes even feared.

  Now we are making our way home. Part of our job, our Christian responsibility in doing so, is to learn from Joseph and Mary’s example, trust those prophetic words of Holy Scripture from the Book of Isaiah and allow God Almighty to lead us.

  The world was humbled when Jesus Christ was born. I do declare, this COVID-19___0 19 disaster, this world-wide pandemic has further humbled us all. For many, if not most ‘home’ just might be considered a return to normal… leastwise what we felt ‘normal’ was.

  Like Mary and Joseph of old, even when we return to some semblance of ‘home’ it shall be different. We are now forever changed.

  Viewing people from masks has made a mark on us. Those of us who wear glasses have grown in that lousy awareness that they ‘steam up’ when you breathe through your mask. Oh, but now we no longer just ‘assume’ who we see each day. Not our families, friends, health care workers nor even strangers among us. We have grown to be aware in a more appreciative way.

  Out of necessity we value life more and appreciate ‘getting through’ ill health, especially that attributable to COVID-19.

  God has well shown us through the years that ‘appreciation’ is an attribute, a necessity for making our way home. There is now a new and fresher ‘light’ shining in the world’s darkness. Even beyond our own darkness.

  At first it felt like such a disaster when we could no longer do ‘what we wanted to’ nor ‘when we wanted to’ nor ‘with who we wanted to,’ for COVID-19 19 required shutdowns, restrictions and scores of protective measures. Now we live in a world that is far less ‘entitled’ and far more humbling.

  This Christmas:  God’s Christmas is about making our way home. Go home tonight and be close to those you love. Sleep in humble, heavenly peace. Trust now, with hope, that God will see us through. Know that your life will never be the same, but it can become better, more Godly, far more loving.

   God alone has a way of making disasters blessings. Joseph and Mary did not understand that at first, but they grew into it as they made their way back home. So, will you. So, shall I.

  God’s Holy Word teaches us on this Holy Night that our true home is with Him in heaven. Many a good soul we have known and loved are right now with God experiencing the best Christmas ever. Sometimes you sort of get a ‘feel’ for that home of ours in heaven when you pause, light a candle, and sing Silent Night. God comes to us tonight asking for the gift of our hearts. Guiding us by His Holy light to be, to further become a ‘home’ for those others who are making their way home.

  With the angels let us sing…Amen

Heaven Is Calling 12/20/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 19, 2020 & Sunday, December 20, 2020

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:  Luke 1:26-38 (Page 1025) & 1 John 4:7-12 (Page 1230)

Sermon Message: “Heaven is Calling”

It’s nearly Christmas!  Don’t you just love this time of year?  Songs of angels and stories about heaven coming down to earth.  Children, grandchildren, and lots of adults gaining in excitement and wondrous anticipation of Christmas.  Our gifts reflect our love and our welcoming of Jesus Christ in our lives, our homes, and His church.

Love comes down from heaven.  God sent his angel, Gabriel, from heaven, to call upon a young Jewish girl by the name of Mary.  I’m not sure if you are interested in the meaning of people’s names or not.  The ancients placed importance upon the naming of their children knowing their ‘name’ represented their dreams, hopes, and perhaps inspired awareness for their children’s lives.

The name ‘Mary’ signifies exalted. Recall from our religious education that Mary was a humble young woman. ‘Life’, back then, caused folks to remain humble.  People were keenly aware that life was brief, all sorts of illnesses and horrific diseases, such as leprosy, could easily afflict anybody.  Death was a common visitor.  Mary was also likely aware of folks who exalt themselves; filled with pride and self-centeredness.  Religion was strongly about appearances instead of an indication of sincere faith and heart-felt actions.  Many looked at their ‘lot in life’ and appealed to their government, their religion, their leaders for more provision as well as further protection. Far too few looked beyond ‘self’ to the ‘greater picture’ the larger ‘view’ and ‘calling from heaven’ to see, hear, listen for the wisdom, the greater vision and awareness of the will of God and the Almighty’s guidance for life and love benefitting generations to come.

Mary did not ‘see’ herself as some ‘pure and righteous’ soul.  In her humble nature Mary wondered and sometimes pondered how strange it is that God should love impure dust and ashes.  We too should affirm and humble our spirits to heaven’s call that we are also to remember ‘from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.’

Mary knew something special in her ‘expanding faith’ that we would do well to affirm and incorporate within our hearts and souls.  It was this basic knowledge, this spiritual revelation, heaven’s call upon our spirits: God loved us FIRST.

I’ve listened to people speak of love for one another and to one another.  I hear husbands and wives, and parents and children sometimes say, “I love you!”  Quickly the other responds, “I love you more!” Another ‘love statement’ is, “I love you to the Moon and back!”  Folks, that’s awesome and meaningful love!  Hear again God’s good news.  Receive it into your heart.  Perhaps it shall even ‘humble’ your soul into such a ‘state’ as was Mary. God’s declaration to us all, right here, right now, and for all of our ‘tomorrows’ and that of our children and our children’s children is this message from the Almighty, “I loved you first.”  The psalmist declares, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.” -Psalm 139:13,14.

Heaven is calling to remind us of not only where we hope to be going, but also quite importantly, where we have come from.  God gave us life.  God gave life to this world in a new and special way when He sent the angel Gabriel from heaven to announce unto Mary that she was being called from heaven to carry life, a LIFE that would change the world.  Heaven is still calling us to God’s design, plan, and purpose for our lives.

Angels, unlike pizza delivery drivers, don’t ring doorbells or knock before entering.  That seems to be the general policy throughout scripture, and it is probably for the best.

Think about it. . . if Mary had one of those fancy video doorbells, do you think she would have opened the door?  Imagine waking up late at night and spotting an angel at your front door.  The angel would not even have the chance to utter his famous opening line: “Do not be afraid.”  If Gabriel had knocked, he may have received the same treatment any of us might give to the sales rep pedaling vinyl windows.

But Gabriel is not God’s direct marketing agent.  He does not appear to be offering an investment opportunity or selling cleaning products or vinyl windows.  In fact, Gabriel is not selling anything.  Confused and bewildered, Mary’s only question is about logistics.  “How can this be?” she asks.  Mary had good reason to ‘ponder.’

There are questions we may be ‘pondering’ as well.  Far reaching questions. Just this week we see on the news and hear further reports that people are rolling up their sleeves and being injected with a vaccine against a disease no one even knew existed last December.  Millions do not trust in the vaccine, which has received emergency approval from the FDA.  There are good reasons why trust has not been earned among some groups.  Like Mary, many are pondering.

Luke’s story reminds us that Gabriel is not sent to recruit Mary.  Instead, she is summoned to believe in the impossible, and called to trust a message far more complex than anything we can imagine.  Her trust must go beyond trusting that the coronavirus vaccine is safe.  It must go beyond trusting that the government’s intentions are honorable.  This isn’t about accepting election results; it is about accepting her election by God.  Mary’s consent must go beyond our innate illusions of invulnerability.

Mary is called to trust in the old, old story of God’s steadfast covenant.  She is called to trust in the inscrutable way God works in the world.  It is the way that God worked through her soon to be husband’s ancestor David.  Closer to home, it is the same way her cousin Elizabeth was called to trust.

This Advent, angels will not be knocking on our doors.  But when they show up, they will bring God’s message.  Like Mary, we too might be pondering today: how can this be?

Mostly when we consider Mary’s response, we might equate her inquiry with being a form of doubt, disbelief, and at minimum, some form of confusion.  Mary was a soul that pondered.  I inquire of you to ponder in your soul today Mary’s response “How can this be?” perhaps NOT the language of distrust but of a desire to be further instructed?  Friends, it’s OK to wonder.  It’s solid that we too should ponder our faith as well as our faith responses to heaven’s call.

 ‘Trust’ is huge!  An endeavor for every generation of people with God, one another and sometimes even with those whom we love the most. Trust becomes a part of every ‘love.’  Trust is foundational for love to come, to exist and to continue.  Yet trust is not easily earned.  Even during a global pandemic.

Millions of doses of the corona virus vaccine are making their way across our country and into the arms of many fellow citizens.  I believe the government refers to this as “Project Warp Speed.” Eventually, distribution efforts associated with the vaccine may become more complex than Santa Claus’ annual trek across the globe.  Already we are learning of reports regarding the mixed trust from the public regarding these vaccines.

Like Mary of old, many are pondering and wondering.  Some are even doubting and skeptical.

Angels may not be knocking at our doors this Advent.  But they may show up as healthcare workers prepared to inject us with hope.  When it is ‘our turn’ the message may seem startling to us as well.  We also may be pondering and inquiring “How can this be?” 

Is our response to any of heaven’s calling the language of distrust or our desire to be further instructed?

Do remember that just a year ago, way before stay at home orders, face masks and social distancing were on our radars, Dr. Anthony Fauci made it clear that effective vaccines are imperative to public health. In December of 2019 Fauci wrote, “Misinformation is threatening to erode the public’s trust in vaccines.”

Admittedly trust issues remain a grave concern in a time of despairing bipartisan politics, increasing negative Corona virus afflictions plus deaths, generations of racial injustice issues and a fearful changing economy.  Increasing numbers suffer from ‘Food insecurity.”  These concerns need to continually be addressed.  A new administration and a hopeful vaccine will not ‘clear up’ everything.  Nor did the angel Gabriel’s visit set everything right for now or forever.

Mary came to realize that which we too realize; heaven is calling but we must believe.

Beyond statistics and beyond fears and ponderings we must choose anew to invest in love.  For love came down from heaven in the form of a baby, tiny, innocent, and wrapped in hope for one, for all, forever.

Is God ‘so loving us’ now that He is sending us hope? 

God loved us FIRST, and God loves us STILL.  Love is natural and essential to the divine Majesty.  For GOD IS LOVE.

Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, and we are born of God and know God.

Heaven is calling us to love in deeper and more meaningful ways then perhaps we previously needed to.  Others need the love of our help and the help from our love.

Pray to the God who loves you.  Speak with the people who share God’s love with you.  Seek discernment for trust regarding vaccines, care of others, praying for our government, supporting our beloved church, and perhaps being an angel as well as an agent of trust.



Joy In Your Soul 12/13/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 12, 2020 & Sunday, December 13, 2020

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:  Luke 1: 46-55 (Page 1025) & 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (Page 1189)

Sermon Message: ‘Joy in Your Soul’

  Last week I shared with you in the sermon message some scriptures I have memorized. I affirm they are written on my heart.  Those scriptures were the Apostle Paul’s inspired words to the Philippians. Chapter 4, verses 4-7. “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Don’t worry about anything, but instead pray about everything. And the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”

  “Rejoice in the Lord always,” sounds quite similar to today’s scriptural reference to “Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

  When I woke up this morning, placed my feet on the floor, and looked outside, I WAS able to say, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!” (Exclamation point at the end of my sentence). However, just a few days ago I awoke, and my leg was giving me pain, the day looked cold, dull, and dreary.  There was ice forming and freezing rain turning to snow, coming down.  That day I found myself saying “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it?” (Question mark at the end of my sentence.)

  I don't know that I've ever met anyone who was genuinely able to be joyful always; to pray continually; and to give thanks in all circumstances. It just doesn't sound human, although it does sound saintly. Perhaps those who are so close to God that the Almighty fills their inner being, really are able to be joyful always; to pray continually; and to give thanks in all circumstances. The rest of us are bound to have ‘off days’ once in a while. And according to our personalities, some of us will be "off" more often than others.

  In the Bible, Mary ‘sings’ of a joy felt in the depths of her being “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

  Perhaps if we find ourselves to be in a more ‘humble state’ we shall experience some degree of this ‘joy’ which Mary and the Apostle Paul testify to. Those two, I must say, had ‘joy in their souls!’ I’d like you to have that too. I certainly wouldn’t mind receiving more joy as a nurturing spiritual present this Advent season. Let’s try considering some degrees of joy, some sincere elements of joy we have or may still experience.

  Young Mary found herself to be pregnant, but not in the usual way. She was conceived by the Holy Spirit while engaged to be married to Joseph. Becoming pregnant to anyone but your beloved spouse back then was unacceptable. Social standards disapproved. Spiritual laws condemned. Women who became pregnant beyond the acceptable means could be stoned to death.

  Our standards today are extremely ‘relaxed’ in comparison to those effecting Mary in her world. Upon initial awareness and review Mary surely must have felt extremely challenged to ‘rejoice.’

  This past week 16 Pastoral letters were sent out to various families of our church. I compose such ‘Blue Christmas’ letters and mail them to families who have lost loved ones over the course of the past year. I offer, care, prayer, support and some practical guidance as well as spiritual care and comfort. Upon our first awareness of sad and perhaps dire circumstances, it’s extremely challenging to rejoice when it’s your first Christmas without a special loved one.

  Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and shown, that God was with her. Gabriel informed Mary that she would be blessed, remembered and give birth to the Son of God.

  While it is a ‘Blue Christmas’ for more than 16 families acquainted with our church there remains divine intervention to bring hope, to extend God’s peace, and to afford Christian joy. God the Father in heaven sent us His Son on Christmas day in the form of a baby in a manger. Pure innocent love came down from heaven to us. Trust that our loved ones in heaven are now with Jesus experiencing pure innocent love, perfect health and peace like none other. Further pray for those you may know who are ‘blue’ this time of year. Covid-19 has caused anxiety and promoted depression in many a good souls.  Many have felt the effects of this ongoing pandemic.  When Jesus Christ was born the political environment was self serving instead of people oriented.  This ongoing pandemic, political unrest, and loss, calls to question the spiritual directive placed upon our souls to “Rejoice always.”

  A visit from God, divine intervention in Mary’s life, did bring hope, extended peace and promoted a resounding joy. Mary couldn’t contain herself. She went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. They did not set down together for a cup of coffee or tea…Nor did they share a small glass of wine as might be customary in the day. Mary could only SING! Today’s words of Holy Scripture located in Luke 1:46-55 are known as the “Magnificat.”  They were a song of joy from the heart of Mary!

  Have YOU ever experienced something sacred that caused you to sing? Some scholars affirm that Mary could hear music and the words just blended.

  Every now and then in a believer’s life we can hear music sent from above and perhaps felt within. Those moments and occasions are special.  Some more notable than others.  One week ago Friday, just prior to folks arriving for our Living Nativity a few of us paused and pondered. The respectful knowledge of fifty years that our church has been sharing in the Living Nativity was moving within, to say the least. More importantly though, I found myself and others just quietly respecting, some even swaying a bit as we too felt cradled by God’s presence. I cannot suggest that others ‘heard music’ or not during those quiet pre-carillon moments but I sure did. It’s a common music that floods my soul and brings deep felt joy to my being during other sacred times as well.  Softly and gently I felt it. My soul heard it, reverberating within; “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

  Sometimes I ‘hear’ that music when I look out at this worshipping congregation, when I bow at the funeral home or cemetery to commit a loved one’s soul back to heaven.  Oh there have been those precious moments when I held my sleeping child and now my grandchildren. Even when I witness my beloved wife breathing in peaceful deep sleep. Countless are the times when music floods my soul following a time of counseling with a troubled soul. Blessed do I feel when I hear God’s music as I step down from this pulpit or stand behind our sacred communion table to administer the Sacrament. When I place the waters of baptism on the head of a child or even an adult, desiring to be known, loved, protected and saved by Christ, something inside of me sings. I pray you keep your spirit open and receptive to the presence of the sacred even during the most challenging of times.

  We continue to learn a lot from Mary, from the joy in her soul. Review again and study Mary’s song found in today’s Holy Scripture lesson. Like Mary, when God visits us in His myriad of ways, we too tend to have low thoughts of our merits and high thoughts of God’s favours.

  Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.  She went to have her faith confirmed. That’s something we do by coming together for ‘church,’ for worship each week. God nurtures us during worship, we confirm faith with one another. This weekly gathering brings joy to the soul.

  Advent means coming. Jesus is coming still. God’s Christmas is now just a few weeks away. Christmas is not complete without Easter nor is Easter complete without Christmas. Each year I encourage us all to decorate our trees with at least one cross, reminding us of the fact, that deep spiritual knowledge, Jesus Christ was born, He lived, He died, He rose again from the dead. The grave did not hold him. Nor does the darkest and most trying challenges quench our salvation nor extinguish the joy in our soul altogether.

  Mary affirmed in song; “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

  Soon my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, soon, there shall come further joy in our soul. Soon there shall come music that many will hear from heaven. God has been mindful of the humble state of our world, our nation, this church, community and our spirits regarding all that has challenged and restricted us this past year. If anything will bring change to this world-wide pandemic and contentious political environment it shall be a true state of humility. God calls upon the world to be humble. Readily any soul might contribute their thoughts regarding how humbling it has been to wear masks, practice social distancing and bear with this pandemic for nearly a year. The Lord seeks to hear from us, not so much what we may feel entitled to but more so what we shall reverently call upon Him to complete in this His world. We must pray for God’s guidance upon our government and our leaders. God historically has dealt with kings, rogue rulers and dictators. As found within Mary’s song; “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. We have also felt joy in our souls when leaders have served the people instead of mainly themselves.

  What is it that your soul hungers and thirsts for? Peace? Justice? Salvation? Hope? Goodness.  Hear again Mary’s song; “He has filled the hungry with good things. He has helped His servant, remembering to be merciful, just as he promised our ancestors.”

  If we ‘present’ ourselves to God rest assured God will send ‘presents’ much needed ‘presents’ into our world that shall bring joy to our soul.

  Mary ‘pondered’ things in her heart. In closing I wish to share with you something I’ve pondered in my heart for over 30 years. I shall also share with you the related joy in my soul.  My kid is in her mid thirties.  When she was growing up her babysitter; Alice, attended a fundamentalist church. Each summer Alice inquired if it would be OK for Bonnie to go to their Vacation Bible School. Initially this was a lot of fun for Bonnie. I remember the first time my little girl came home and told me “Daddy I was saved tonight. I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart and soul!” The second night Bonnie came home and said the same thing. Every night that week she came home and was ‘re-saved.’ The following year Bonnie was invited to attend the same Vacation Bible School and she again came home being ‘saved’ each night. At one point she said to me, “Dad, you are a minister. Do I have to get ‘saved’ every night? Am I really that bad of a soul?” We had a nice long talk and Bonnie ‘progressed’ away from that Vacation Bible School. HOWEVER, there did come a time a while later, maybe a year or two later when Bonnie approached me about her salvation and knowing Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. This was neither a coerced nor youthful process on her part. My child changed forever. Now here is the joy in my soul; I know to this very moment that this beautiful person, whom I perceived with amazement when she was born, knows Jesus Christ and always shall. Should I die tomorrow my child’s soul shall live faithfully now and into eternity. There is no greater joy in one’s soul than the joy of salvation.

  Mary and the Apostle Paul teach us well how to have ‘joy in our soul.’ Strive to rejoice always and do pray continually. Give thanks to God for in all circumstances we can rest assured God is working together for the good of our soul. Amen.

Communion & Peace 12/5/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, December 5, 2020 & Sunday, December 6, 2020

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:  Isaiah 40:1-11 (Page 718) and Mark 1:1-8 (Page 1001)

Sermon Message: “Communion & Peace”

  The first scripture lesson from Isaiah 40 begins with the words; “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Within our approaching and unveiling Christmas season one might draw comparison to a song of the season; “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Specifically, to the chorus; “O Tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.”

  The second scripture lesson from Mark 1 reaffirms that God will send a messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way AND prepare the way for the Lord. The word “messenger” in the Bible could mean a prophet, a specific person or group of people, OR it could also mean an angel. Messengers sent from God might remind us of some familiar Christmas music such as “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

  Comfort and angels are appreciated. Both call us towards closer communion with God. Both enjoin us to know peace.

   Throughout history God has sent messengers to communicate His wisdom, His will, His comfort, joy, peace and protection, as well as His love.

   While I am no angel, I do remain one of God’s messengers. Perhaps the good Lord has also called upon you to ‘message’ another with something from God…

  This reminds me of a story I once read regarding a fellow who was sent by God to ‘message’ another. The one he was sent to ‘message’ was a very belligerent fellow. I don’t know if the good Lord has ever enlisted your help or not to deal with someone who is belligerent but listen briefly to this story and see if it just might make you ‘think!’ Gaylord Kambarami, the general secretary of the Bible Society in Zimbabwe, tried to give a New Testament to a very belligerent man. The man insisted he would roll the pages and use them to make cigarettes. Mr. Kambarami said, “I understand that, but at least promise to read the page of the New Testament before you smoke it.” The man agreed, and the two went their separate ways.

Fifteen years later, the two men met at a convention in Zimbabwe. The Scripture-smoking pagan had been saved and was now a full-time evangelist. He told the audience, “I smoked Matthew, and I smoked Mark, and I smoked Luke. But when I got to John 3:16, I couldn’t smoke anymore. My life was changed from that moment.”

God’s book is more than just words on paper. Its truth will stand forever.

  There is communion, comfort, and peace to be found in God’s Word, the Bible.

  One of the many things I encourage and ‘message’ folks to do is memorize scriptures. Easily enough these days we can ‘call up’ a daily devotion on our phones and computers. When seeking an appropriate scripture verse for whatever subject might be needing our attention and response we can simply “google” the subject and corresponding scripture verse.  I’ve even seen some folks have scriptural references tattooed on their bodies.

  But it wasn’t always that way. Long before the technology of today, prior to mass production of texts, well before the advent of paper, people wrote on papyrus. It was a pithy water plant used for making rope, sandals, boats and also for either painting on or writing upon. The ancients often wore a strip of folded papyrus that had a prayer or a scripture written on it. These were meant to protect or to heal the individual wearing them. Kind of like a charm to protect from evil and injury. Also known as ‘amulets.’ 

  Somewhere in the late third or early fourth century an amulet recorded these words; “Read ‘The beginning of the Good News’ and See!” This was followed by the words of the first two verses of the Gospel of Mark. “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,” as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.,”—a voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

 During the time of Jesus’ birth and life here on earth he wore swaddling clothes and a white robe. At the same time, his cousin; John the Baptist wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. Folks of the third and fourth century often wore folded strips of papyrus with guiding words of scripture imprinted. These ‘amulets’ were believed to be worn around a person’s wrist and palm of their hand. You and I wear Christian jewelry such as Cross necklaces, Cross earrings and some even bear Christian tattoos. All of these items symbolize the spiritual call and communion with Christ to ‘prepare the way.’

  Today, as never before, we need our way prepared for us. Tomorrow, more than ever, we need to prepare the way of the Lord. We need communion and we need peace.

  ‘Communion’ may be thought of as the bread and wine combined with spirituality we share through Jesus Christ. “Communion’ further means spiritual fellowship, sharing faith and Christian bonds.

  “Peace” may be thought of as the absence of war, an agreement to end hostilities, freedom from fighting and disagreeing, but also calm, serenity and what we term ‘peace of mind.’ The Bible speaks of Peace With God and the Peace OF God. ‘Peace’ in the Bible refers, in part, to a mental attitude of tranquility based on a relationship with God in the Christian way of life. There is a personal peace with God which comes when a person accepts Jesus Christ as Savior. There is the peace OF God which is available on a daily basis as the believer participates in the Christian way of life according to the plan of God.

  In the Christian Way of life, peace comes through fellowship with God and daily growth, advancement in spiritual things which brings stability, a relaxed mental attitude, orientation to the plan of God, occupation with Christ, and the ability to employ faith-rest principles in all areas of life.

 Consider one aspect of God’s ‘faith-rest principles’ we all can apply to our lives for communion, comfort and peace. Holy Scripture. The apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious (do not worry) 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7) Personally speaking, I have these very words imprinted on my heart, committed to memory and etched on my soul.

  The blessed apostle goes on to say; “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. “Philippians 4: 8-9)

  Have you perceived in your communion with the Lord, God sends blessings and God also sends peace? More often we seek the blessings which we believe will lead us towards peace. In the spiritual way of communion God most often leads a heart, a mind, a soul towards peace first. That takes place so the believer can appreciate the blessings, the communion which follows.

  Lack of peace or loss of peace requires an adjustment to the plan of God. As the Bible points out foundationally that includes repentance for the forgiveness of sins and baptism into a new and changed life. Peace begins with confession of our sins and also confession of Jesus Christ as being our Lord and Savior. When we commune with Jesus in these ways and in sacramental ways we shall experience faith-rest, a relaxed mental attitude, and spiritual peace in the new situation.

   Love was not placed in your heart to stay but to be given away, to be shared. Peace stems from spiritual communion. We all know, communion was always meant to be reproduced and shared with many.

  Today’s sacrament of Communion prepares the way for the believer to be drawn closer to Jesus Christ. It begins, per usual, with an invitation to prepare for peace to be found, restored and experienced. We are invited to repent of our sins and become further baptized into a new way of life with God through Jesus and Christian teachings.

  Isaiah cried out, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. Speak tenderly….” This reminds me of still another Christian hymn; “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.” Come home now to communion. Come home this Advent/Christmas season to peace.  Amen.

What Are We Hoping For? 11/29/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 28, 2020 & Sunday, November 29, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: Guiding God, without the presence of your Holy Spirit, we are hopelessly lost on this Advent journey.  Come to us in this place as we gather to hear your Word.  Open our hearts to receive your Word and our minds to understand it. Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Mark 13:24-37, Page 1018; Hebrews 10:23-25, Page 1211

Sermon Message: “What Are We Hoping For?”

  God wants us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” God further inspires us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.”

  Are you ‘hoping’ for a white Christmas? I am hoping for Covid-19 vaccines to start becoming available in the next few weeks. I am hoping that the numbers of cases and the numbers of deaths will go down sooner then that. I am hoping for the hand of God to move in this current Presidential transition occurring in our land. I am hoping, and praying, that God will use even the most challenging of people and circumstances to bring about His kind of reform inside of our world, our nation and within each of us.

  I am hoping that you, and me, will perceive the reign of God in 2021. I am hoping for our anchors to come, to strengthen, to guide us, to save us from further hurt, pain and suffering.

  A prevailing attribute of the reign of God, an anchor for our soul is the characteristic of humility. If 2020 has taught us anything then we should be hoping for a true and sincere spirit of humility to come. Jesus Christ is the most humble person we know. May we pray to be more like Him but also to learn to depend upon Him, perhaps more then ever in our lifetimes. Scriptures remain clear; “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10). Easily enough as the answers come for Covid-19, for Presidential elections and as we anticipate Christmas gifts, any of us can begin slipping backwards into feelings and attitudes of pride and entitlement. Thanksgiving Day may be over but the season of giving thanks remains year round. God expects gratitude, humble gratitude, coupled with humble and sincere actions on our part. Let’s hope to remain humble and where needed to become humble. This is both a faith anchor and a life anchor.

  I am hoping that people will be more kind. The reign of God in this world, inside of each of us, ‘shows up’ in humility, kindness, healing, feeding, tending, visiting and justice.

  The Bible teaches us how to live not only good lives and moral lives but also spiritual lives in close association with God Almighty. “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (I John 4:7).

  It’s not wrong to hope for more love to be ushered in through more kindness. Be kind for sometimes, the Good Book declares, we are “entertaining angels unaware.” (Hebrews 13: 2)

  Lots of pain and suffering occurred in diverse forms during 2020. We who are Christians have an on-going responsibility to bring hope into people’s lives. Another way we can do that is to bring healing. Denial, apathy and anger heals no one and nothing. You say a prayer asking God to show you how you might do your part to help others, even our nation and oh so many Covid-19 victims, and I promise you God will answer your prayers.

  There remains a lot of hungry people in the world who are hoping to be fed, someway, somehow. Their quest for nourishment is not just for food and water, clothing and shelter, but also for peace and trust following a year of fear. You who are spiritual feed others with the hope that stems from faith. God knows you can do it if you try.

  Jesus is known as the Good Shepherd. He once said; “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17) “Feeding God’s sheep, those who need God the most but seem to lack an ability to come close and relate to God, need some ‘tending.’ Recall when you were needing and benefitted from being ‘tended to.’ ‘Tending’ is a spiritual quality that brings hope.

  In these days of social distancing and government guidelines plus advisories to limit our gatherings, there has been a steady and sadly hurtful rise in loneliness and just simply missing others. Visit one another. Neither by breaking the rules nor by ignoring the guidelines, but again I say, you pray about God providing creative ways for you to visit someone who just might benefit or even truly need a visit and God will certainly answer your prayers.

  What ARE we hoping for? God’s Word teaches us “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Holy Spirit intercedes with God on our behalf.” (Romans 8:26,27). Prayer leads to hope and hope calls us to prayer.

  Sometimes in a believer’s life you just ‘feel’ as though something is wrong. Something is just not right. Perhaps you cannot exactly ‘put your finger on it’ yet you know, something or someone needs to be prayed for, prayed about. We need the anchor of prayer when and where justice isn’t being conducted. It is good to hope for justice. Our ‘hope’ can begin with prayer, should begin with prayer, then conversing with others, seeking the Lord’s wisdom, turning to our shared faith, reading, reviewing and reflecting on God’s Word and taking a well discerned course of action.

  What is it that we are hoping for? Though we speak of His Second Coming and anticipate celebrating His birth once again this year at Christmas, we are currently living within the reign of the Risen Christ. The reign of God remains an anchor for our greatest and even for our gravest of hopes.

  Today is the first week in the church season of Advent. Some of the themes or topics we will be reflecting upon these next four weeks include hope, peace, love and joy. Each week, as worship begins, we will light another candle in the Advent wreath. The candle of hope, the candle of peace, the candle of love, the candle of joy and on Christmas Eve, the center Christ candle. This is a familiar tradition we tend to follow. Lots of folks are ‘hoping’ for traditions to take place once again this year. However, with Covid-19 advisories and restrictions our coveted traditions are somewhat compromised. Let’s be a bit more ‘real’ here; the season of Advent is rather strange in the year 2020.

  Last year at this time we were not so concerned with wearing masks, social distancing and frequent washing of our hands. This year I think you and I can confidently expect a spike in Covid-19 infections starting about ten days from now. Allegheny County is currently experiencing a spike however; the ‘news’ reports there are still hospital beds available in Intensive Care Units.

  Here in our church we shall continue practicing social distancing, wearing of masks and frequent washing/disinfecting of hands. Did you know we even have to be careful with the proper use of the “candle lighter thingies?”

  Society seems to be hoping for our President to accept reality and for Covid-19 vaccines to become widely available.

  God informs us, in His Word, to be hoping for Jesus to come and to hold on to the ‘hope’ we profess in our shared Christian faith.

  The world had been ‘hoping’ for a Messiah to come, to help them, to make things better and perhaps ‘right’ years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ.

  We share a somewhat similar ‘hope’ for our Messiah to come, for Jesus Christ to help us, to make things better and perhaps right.

  This season of Advent is a countdown to Christmas. But have you noticed that even our countdown of shopping days until Christmas is compromised this year? Traditionally the malls would be occupied to overflowing. On-line purchasing prevails this Christmas season.

  Advent and what makes Christmas ‘Christmas’ will be different this year. We are indeed hoping and longing for something, anything that can lead us to “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Our typical insights and epiphanies of “The Reason for the Season” may be in short supply.

  In this long season of Covid-19 we are indeed hoping for successful vaccines to become available right up to the time of God’s Christmas and beyond. The 2020 Presidential election turned out to be quite a long deliberation. Many are now becoming ‘hopeful’ for a smooth transition between all those who govern. While we need this kind of hope more importantly we need that kind of hope that comes into our world as an infant. Hope that grows and spreads and feeds us even in our despair and confusion. We need the hope of Christ’s coming in the here and now.

  May our hopes become our prayers this Advent season. Pray that our Congress will pass some further sort of economic relief package. Many folk’s unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out right after Christmas.

  Jesus Christ was born a baby in a manger. Innocent love has always brought hope to anyone’s soul. Search for that love in the midst of this Advent/Christmas season. Seek the Lord’s presence in every area of your life through prayer. Pray daily. Pray sincerely. Pray specifically. Then listen. Listen well. Listen attentively. God will come.

  Since Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, we have been waiting for His Second Coming. Today’s scripture lessons are a pointed reminder and directive to hope for the Lord’s return. In accordance with the first recording of those scriptural affirmations people back then really believed Jesus Christ would return to earth again within their life times. Generations have come and gone and still Christ has not returned in a glorious Second coming. Gradually we have needed to accept that His Second Coming may not occur within our life times either. Each generation of people, similar to us, sees catastrophic events, experiences dire circumstances and issues forth declarations that ‘now’ would be a good time for Jesus Christ to return to earth. Those who suffer the most perhaps pray the hardest for that event to occur.

  Advent is a season of hoping, waiting and anticipating. Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year. The word ‘Advent’ means, “coming;” but what is it exactly that we are hoping and waiting for?

  Many are simply hoping for 2020 to be over. I don’t think anyone could count the numbers of Facebook posts and ironic observations about the year 2020. Remember, we experienced the first worldwide pandemic in more than 100 years. We’ve had a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, unprecedented wildfires in the American West, a rough recession, stock market upheavals and quite awkward elections.

  The comfort and joy many are hoping for may be in imagining that when we turn the calendar from 2020 some kind of ‘reset’ will occur within the universe. I am kind of hoping for a time when we will no longer need to speak of terms like “lock down,” “quarantine,” “social distancing” and the news of the day being a blur.

  Throughout human kind’s history with God we’ve seen and well appreciated the hand of God upon us, the Spirit of the Lord among us and the love and faith of the Savior inside of us. God has been good about sending signs, messages and answers to provide us with much needed hope. That hope showed up in Biblical accounts of prophets sent to communicate God’s answers and guidance to our heaviest situations. The presence of prophets is still among us. Leastwise we see, through the eyes of our hearts, God’s wisdom for living, trusting and hoping. Praise God for “HOPE!” Amen.

ThanksGiving/ThanksLiving 11/22/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 21, 2020 & Sunday, November 22, 2020

Thanksgiving & Christ the King Emphasis

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 to know your truth and your way.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons: Matthew 25:31-46, page 994 and Ephesians 1:15-23, page 1173.

Sermon Message: “ThanksGiving/ThanksLiving”

 The apostle Paul writes; “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” “Seeing” with and through the ‘eyes of our heart’ will give us the best Thanksgiving ever. For through faith, ‘thanksgiving is thanks living.’

  Thanksgiving is something all of the world can see and experience. Thanks Living comes from faith affirmed and put into action…

   Today is Christ the King Sunday, in the Christian Church. Today is the Sunday just prior to Thanksgiving throughout the land. Common to us all is the heritage, the history, the memories we associate with our National holiday.

  I remember in my growing up years doing some similar things that I see our Day Care children doing here in our church. Perhaps you recall drawing an outline around your spread-out fingers to form the shape of a turkey on colored paper…Those paper turkeys would be colored with crayons, eyes and beaks added to them, and perhaps even our names written on them.

  Possibly you also recall learning of those early Pilgrims having a thanksgiving meal with the Native American Indians they befriended. Thank God for helpers then and now. President Abraham Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving as a national holiday when our country was going through its greatest adversity with the Civil War. Speaking of wars, the hymn; ‘Now Thank We All Our God’ was written by Martin Rinkhart while he was serving as pastor in Germany during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), in a city that was besieged a couple of times, struck by plague, etc. At times that pastor had to perform up to 50 funerals a day!

  Jesus’ parable concerning the sheep and the goats has often times been used as a proverbial ‘club’ over people’s souls to condemn them while reminding them of their guilt associated with NOT doing as they should. Yet a further understanding and awareness of this teaching parable of Jesus Christ is the insight from the Lord that to whom much is given, much is required.

  The Church season of Advent starts next week. The word, ‘Advent’ means ‘coming.’ Throughout this approaching Advent season, we shall spiritually reflect upon the ‘advent’ the ‘coming’ of Christ as the Incarnation. Today’s scriptural reading from the Gospel of Matthew may well be perceived as an admonishment. I inquire of us to further ‘perceive’ these scriptures through the eyes of your heart.  Hopefully you will become spiritually aware of simple love the Lord is inviting you to participate in. ‘Seeing’ where there is a need, a ‘hunger’ and giving what’s helpful and essential to fulfill, to strengthen, and to complete.  Quenching the thirst of those who crave the basics.  Helping beyond ourselves and our own, aiding the strangers with the simple gifts of food, clothing, and shelter. During this time our world is at an all-time ‘height’ of awareness concerning sick, possibly sick, and dying, the Lord calls upon us to be praying for others, helping others, providing for others, walking with others, sharing with others. Jesus’ parable reminds us that HE is in others and as you help, as you provide simple love in these ways, you are not only ‘thanking’ Him but your faith efforts become real life examples of thankful living. Jesus Christ is ‘incarnate’ within you.

  The approaching season of Advent shall re-inform us of the incarnation of God in life. Our lives... Yes, the United States of America IS a blessed nation. We are right on the edge of at least two vaccines being readied to treat the Corona Virus. Our nation may be in the midst of political instability but soon, very soon, we shall transcend our greatest differences even as our greatest ‘causes’ prevail. God Almighty has always used the worst of circumstances and the more challenging persons to transform not only themselves but also their world around them. I guide us all to be thankful for this spiritual process of God. Trust God this Thanksgiving season and beyond. REMEMBER you; I, our culture and our nation did not become excelling overnight. While many still affirm rugged individualism, the truth is we are all ‘products’ of benefitting from one another, needing one another and our LONG history of seeing God’s providence at work.

  When I think of Thanksgiving and thanks living, I recall an American hero of sorts. One who overcame great ‘odds’ yet through it all gained superior ‘sight.’

  Today’s scriptures coupled with this American hero’s ‘sight’ from the ‘eyes of her heart’ re-informs us that we really aren’t ‘rugged individualists’ triumphing over every obstacle on our own.

  Helen Keller was born both deaf and blind. She writes, "I had once believed that we were all masters of our fate -- that we could mold our lives into any form we pleased. I had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life's struggle.  But as I went more and more about the country, I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about. I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone."

  Jesus Christ has been ‘incarnate’ in us throughout our lifetimes. As the Lord proclaimed, ‘I was hungry, I was thirsty, a stranger, in need of clothing, sick and restrained.’ Surely, we have all experienced these things. Some, more than others. May I remind us all as we set around our tables to ‘give thanks’ there are still those experiencing these things. Jesus’ parable calls us to account for the blessings we have. To whom much is given, much is required. Because Jesus Christ is ‘incarnate’ within us, we grow to know the blessings we have received are not to be used simply for ourselves but for others.

  The ‘eyes of my heart’ have well lead me to see, we are blessed to be a blessing.

   Another word for thanksgiving is gratitude. The ancient Greek philosopher, Cicero, affirmed that gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but is the parent of all others.

   Jesus’ words, his parable regarding the sheep and the goats helps us to ‘see’ with the eyes of our hearts, the Lord’s expressions of gratitude for feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, comfort to the stranger, help for the sick and kindness to the imprisoned and restrained. Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father Almighty, King of kings and Lord of lords expressed gratitude for those who cared for Him.

  This same Jesus reminds us that we who are His followers should not think it enough to simply have warm affections. Jesus prays for us to be enlightened, to have clear understanding of ‘why’ we are thankful, to ‘whom’ we are thankful, and the actions, the ‘thanks living’ of our faith.

  This Thanksgiving will be more challenging than most.  We are restricted in both our travels and our gatherings. Even families must remain separated to some extent.  It’s a huge challenge to feel, let alone express ‘gratitude’ for this Corona Virus pandemic as we set around our thanksgiving tables. There remains a great challenge to accept the huge differences resulting from our more recent presidential elections.

  We who affirm and trust in the providence of God can rest assured this Thursday that we remain ‘in His hands.’ We need to focus not only on sickness and elections but also on life, love, memories, and happy insights.

  I have something ‘light and lively’ I wish to teach you and offer you to share with those you will be eating turkey with.  It’s regarding our president….Not our current president nor even our president elect, but something regarding one of our former presidents. If you decide to eat a turkey leg this week perhaps my little illustration will come to mind.

  In George Washington's day, there were no cameras. One's image was either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted but by how many limbs were to be painted, as these were more difficult to put on canvas than faces. Arms and legs are "limbs," therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression, "Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg."

   Our salvation has cost Jesus more, so much more than an arm and a leg. Thanks Living can also be quite costly. As we gather around our tables, we may have just a bit more insight into this Covid-19 pandemic and hopeful outcomes with promising vaccines. At our table gatherings we may also share in some further insights regarding our nation’s presidential elections. In addition to these subjects may we further recall our loved ones and our health. Smile at some precious memories you share and perhaps ponder in your heart of hearts.

  ‘See’ Thanksgiving this year, as the Bible declares, through the eyes of your heart.

  The world may be full of drudgery and fear right now yet I ask you to trust in God, come home to Jesus, invite the Lord to be at your table, with your family and in your meal. In addition to this week being Thanksgiving’ today is Christ the King Sunday.

  When things aren’t going ‘our way,’ and life is unsure it’s so good to have an anchor.  Consider some markers of the reign of God we see with the eyes of our hearts….Humility, kindness, feeding, tending, visiting and justice.

   Thanksgiving is about ‘giving thanks’ family gatherings and eating way too much food. Thanksgiving beyond the meal and the day is about thanks living all year long.

  We display harvest items here in church as part of our Thanksgiving. Pumpkins and Fall leaves, sometimes corn stalks and ears of corn. All these things symbolic of the harvest God has provided. God continues to fill us with good things. We shall see an end to this pandemic. Vaccines are coming. Presidential election results will soon be firmed up. The Almighty is still in the process of transforming us as a nation and ‘we’ as a people.

  Typically at Thanksgiving time, we take complacent pride in thinking the harvest is for us; but in God's view, we are the harvest. That certainly changes our perspective, doesn't it?

  Jesus Christ died for us in order that we might live…Perhaps the two greatest blessings of thanksgiving; love and life.  Amen.

A Call To Prayer - by Elder Laurie Zickgraf 11/15/2020


Several months ago, when it was really hot, I was watching some old movies. One of my favorites is Yankee Doodle Dandy, a movie that was released in 1942 with Jimmy Cagney as the song and dance man George M. Cohan. If you’ve ever seen Jimmy Cagney as a gangster, you should watch this movie - even if you just watch James Cagney floating down the stairs in the White House – it’s amazing. The man can dance.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a not completely accurate story but it’s a great movie to watch if you like the old patriotic songs. We celebrated Veterans Day this past week and I started thinking about what was happening while they were making this movie. It was 1941/1942 and Germany was working toward their ‘final solution’ by taking over the world one country at a time. America was trying to stay out of the war but when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday December 7th,1941, that all changed.

I enjoy reading and watching movies about WWII. One reason is because I am in awe of what the Allied Forces did during that time.  It was a time of horrific tragedy and incredible heroism. It was also a time that many people and countries came together to fight for a common cause.  It was a time when Americans were proud of our country.

It was also a time when faith in God was celebrated. Church was somewhere many people went every Sunday. I remember growing up and going to church – we then stopped at the local store to buy Islay’s Chipped Chopped Ham for lunch. We had to go straight to the store from church because they were only opened for a few hours – it was Sunday and almost everything was closed. Back then stores were closed because of the “Blue Laws”. These laws started in Pennsylvania in 1682 when a prohibition was passed that prevented people from working or having fun on “The LORDS Day”.

At some point Pennsylvania even allowed churches to put chains across highways so traffic would not be near the church on Sunday. I wonder what would happen if we got some chains and blocked off 5th Ave next Sunday. We might make the evening news.

Sunday was a day for church, family, quiet relaxation and prayer. In the 70s the Blue Laws were found to be unconstitutional and a way of life changed forever.

But back in the early 40s this is how people thought and lived. They respected God and church and believed in Judeo – Christian ethics. We were a country that “was endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” These were not just words but deeply felt beliefs that were shared by many.

When men and women went to war, they went to protect this country and to protect our way of life.  Their faith was born in them and strengthened throughout their lives. Without this foundation the outcome of WWII would have been very different.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. A good example of this might be the Miracle of Dunkirk.

In May and early June of 1940, the German army was advancing on the Allied troops in Dunkirk, France. The troops were stuck on the beach with the sea at their back. I bet every soldier on that beach was praying for divine intervention. The Germans were marching toward victory against the allied troops when miraculously they suddenly halted their advance. For three days the Germans consolidated their troops and supplies. They spent three days getting organized. This gave the Allies time to organize an evacuation. Hundreds of naval and civilian ships and boats crossed the English Channel and rescued many soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk. They were able to save more than 330,000 Allied troops. Without this miracle England would have not been able to continue to fight and hold out against the Germans. Is this an example of Answered Prayers? You bet it is.

But now, all that has changed. No longer is it clear who is the bad guys. We are no longer facing a common enemy. We don’t even know who the enemy is sometimes.  Our lives in this country changed when China announced a new virus. Many of us didn’t think much about it at first but then the Coronavirus spread around the globe with amazing speed. Countries like Italy went on lock down to limit their exposure. Too many people lost loved ones and hospitals in many areas around the world were overwhelmed by the number of sick and dying. Many people have been unable to be with sick relatives because the hospitals won’t allow visitors for fear of spreading the disease, nursing homes went into lock down to protect their patients. People have lost their jobs due to stay in place orders and the closing of ‘non-essential’ workplaces. These events have led to fear, anger, isolation, unstable home situations, money worries and depression.

On top of all this, a tragedy happened on May 25, 2020 when a gentleman by the name of Mr. George Floyd was killed by policemen. This horrific event started protests and riots that haven’t been seen in this country since the 60’s and 70’s. I listen to the talking heads as they all try to tell their side of what is happening in this country and why. Everyone blames the other side and the violence, the destruction, and the killing go on. Too many people have been hurt.

Maybe this is the time when we should look at our world; really look at the changes in this country in the last 60 or 70 years. Fear has caused people to say we are in the ‘end times’ as predicted in the book of Revelation. I remember reading that many people thought WWI and WWII were the beginning of the ‘end times’. At some point they’ll be right but are they right this time? Is this the beginning of the end? I don’t think it is.

Throughout history - tragedies, both natural disasters and man-made events have made us think of the end times and wonder. When you read Revelation, you can name almost any point in history and say – it fits, we are in the end times.

I wonder if there’s not a simpler explanation. As a country we have forgotten many things. We don’t pray in public anymore and many don’t know how to talk to God on a daily basis. As Christians we’re different. We know that God has given us instructions on how to live. He has given us a book to read, to study, and to use every day. God has asked us to pray, to talk to Him every day and lean on Him for guidance and support.

There is a spiritual war going on around us as well as a physical battle for morality and basic human rights.  Make no mistake, this battle has already been won by God. God won the war when Jesus died on the cross for us. When we are in heaven with our Father, we will see that God is in charge. But for now, we must wait for God’s plan to come to fruition. Until that day, we must remember to pray and listen to God through His Holy Word.

Think about what is going on in this country and then read Ephesians 4: 31-32. 

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  

Watch the news and re-read these verses. Then do it again.

This is a wakeup call to all of us. Now is the time to put on the Armor of God, not to be wrapped up in fear. Now is the time for hope, not depression and despair. Now is the time to remember that we are Christians. Now is the time to pray. Pray for our country, our leaders, our families, our neighbors, our church, and ourselves. Pray for strength and perhaps most importantly say the  Lord’s Prayer that reminds us that we should ask for “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Don’t try to figure out God’s plan. Trust that there is a plan, and everything is in God’s hands.

In 1941, on the evening of ‘D-Day’, President Roosevelt wrote a special message for the American people. This message was distributed ahead of time so that people could read along with the president when he read the message on the radio.

What is so amazing is that the President of the United States wrote a message in which the second paragraph reads: “And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer”:

I would like to read to you the last paragraph of this prayer.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

It is amazing how well this prayer fits what is happening in our world today. As we go about our business this week let’s not listen to those who tell us faith and God are old ideas. Let’s not listen to those who spread fear and hatred. Let’s listen to our Father in heaven who loves us enough to send His Son to us so that we might be saved. Let’s listen to Jesus as He teaches us to love one another. Let’s build up a strong foundation of faith and love for God that no man can tear down.

Thank You.


Ephesians 4:17-32 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Psalm 145:18

18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

Ephesians 6:10-18  

The Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

The D-Day speech by FDR can be heard at:

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944

We Belong To God 11/8/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, November 7, 2020 & Sunday, November 8, 2020

Holy Communion

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:  Joshua 24: 15 Page 237, Matthew 25: 1-13 Page 993

Sermon Message: “We Belong to God”

In life and in death we belong to God. We belong to God in the joys of wedding celebrations but also in those disappointing times when we ‘lost out.’ Kind of like the wise and foolish virgins. We belong to God when we make good decisions to follow Him, but we also belong to God when we make poor decisions regarding our following Him. We still belong to God even when we make NO decision whatsoever.

In a somewhat similar analogy, right now, you and I remain American citizens. We belonged to America when we voted. You remain American citizens regardless of how you may have voted. We still are American citizens even if we decided NOT to vote at all.

Assuredly some folks may feel like the bridegroom who celebrates his good news and abundant joy. Those who perceive this presidential election as a victory may well be feeling as though they deserve to be invited into the banquet, the victory celebrations. Yet we recall, there were those who were shut out, not allowed in. Those whose preparations, or lack thereof, just weren’t sufficient to ‘win the day.’

God has always called forth and set aside people, to communicate the Word of God and the worthy relationships we must have with God during all times and throughout every season of life.

Regardless of your overview of this past election, in truth and in reality, you, I and candidates from both ‘sides’ still belong to God. Today the Lord Jesus Christ invites us into further ‘communion’ with him.

Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins is perhaps familiar to many. This parable may be seen, in part, as a metaphor for being prepared to receive Jesus into our lives when he comes. We need to be ready for the Lord’s movement, presence, call, or return at any time. This same parable teaches a fundamental lesson that lack of preparation, for whatever might come, can result in severe disappointment. ‘Lessons’ come to us all from the Lord throughout our lifetimes to teach us and prepare us how to relate to God, self, others, and things… God’s lessons further teach us how to deal with things that are ‘challenging’ to say the least.

Today, Jesus Christ offers us his presence in a holy and sacred manner we describe as ‘Communion.’ Within communion, sacredness is present. Oh of course you can minimize communion by saying it’s just a little wafer of bread and a tiny sip of grape juice found in what looks like a K-cup. You can say it doesn’t really matter much rather you ‘have communion’ or not. Similar to the parable Jesus employed in the Gospel of Matthew; know that you have been invited to the banquet. The Lord’s Table has been set and is prepared. Are you prepared to participate in this sacred event? Have you confessed your sins and humbled your heart? Or is your mind somewhere else altogether, still focusing on what bothers you the most?

Consider with me a bit of the spiritual significance associated with Jesus’ parable today. It was at a wedding in Cana of Galilee where Jesus shared his first miracle, changing water into wine. Miracles still occur. What might the Lord Jesus ‘change’ within you today? Perhaps as you attend his banquet called ‘Holy Communion.’ The wedding Jesus drew analogy to was an acknowledgement of the kingdom of heaven in their midst. Some could see it because they were prepared. Still others could not for they had failed to prepare. Yet they felt entitled to the same benefits as those who had worked to earn blessings bestowed. The wedding banquet can further be seen as a metaphor for spiritual peace and tranquility even in the midst of great trial and disappointment.

Long before the time of Christ walking the face of this earth God set aside a man by the name of Joshua to communicate the Word of God and the worthy relationships we must have with God throughout all times and every season of life. Joshua realized something you and I well realize from living our lives. We still have to choose whom we relate to and ‘how’ we relate to one another. Especially, ‘how’ we relate to God.

Joshua made it easy. He ‘spelled it out’ directly….You might choose to relate to this, that, something else or even another ‘god’ of some sort, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

‘Serving the Lord’ is required of us whether we are in the banquet hall celebrating or feeling left outside in the cold perhaps because we just don’t understand what happened. Whether we are experiencing great joy or huge disappointment God still must be served.

Serving God is not some terrible burdensome chore Christians must bear. Serving God is simply fundamental to understanding the banquets and the disappointments and everything in between.

Through it all, we belong to God.

Not all ‘wedding banquets’ end up in happily ever after situations. Some would say once the party is over the hard work of relating to one another begins. Marriage takes work. All meaningful relationships require work. We do belong to God. We are not mere ‘possessions’ but children of the Almighty. Not only did our Creator ‘make us’ but also the good Lord loves us.

God loves us so much that He helps us to ‘see’ beyond the best and the worst this life has to offer.

Speaking of weddings and wedding banquets, I knew a man and his wife who had a successful and fulfilling marriage. They loved each other to the end…I was ‘there’ for their 25th wedding anniversary and again for their 50th wedding anniversary. Oh don’t get me wrong, sometimes they’d fight like cats and dogs but they didn’t just ‘survive’ they actually thrived! When I’d visit with them typically, they would interrupt each other and both would end up speaking to me at the same time. A few minutes into ‘refereeing’ them things would calm down and the conversations would increasingly become not only peaceful but meaningful, reflective and most times ‘teaching moments’ for the three of us. I drank it in. Those two taught me to be prepared for things, especially for whatever might come in a relationship. More importantly though they taught me to see the meaning of God in something as simple and sincere as how they related to one another even in the midst of some very real challenges. They had their share of marital bliss but also an abundance of strong-willed head-butting stubborn scenarios. Thinking back, I now know and understand, as a seasoned pastor, that no amount of pre-marital counseling could have prepared those two for all the ‘stuff’ I saw them go through. Heart attacks and heartaches. Kids, grandchildren, deaths, divorces, lay-offs, but also trips abroad together, marvelous vacations, family gatherings blessed by memorable times shared with loved ones who in turn helped them create very fulfilling memories. Their main ingredient, the ‘glue’ that got them through was their deep seeded belief that they belonged to God. Each one grew to know no matter how the next ‘challenge’ might turn out somehow it was just going to be ok because they belonged to God. They trusted that God would hear their particular need, hear their particular disappointments, perhaps with the other, yet God would ‘sort it all out’ and not only bring them together but keep them together.

The more important ‘lesson’ I learned from watching and interacting with that couple as well as with all of you is this; because we belong to God, like Joshua of old, we choose to love and serve the Lord. Our highest celebrations and our gravest disappointments just don’t hold a candle to the communion we have with choosing to serve God. Because we belong to God we work hard, strongly and intentionally at getting our relationships and understandings of those relationships ‘right.’

In life we ‘grow to know’ God will sort things out in the end. We simply don’t need to be ‘in control’ of everything nor everybody. Even when our sincerest relationships push us into grave challenges and deep disappointments, we rely upon the Lord to see us through, establish his justice and change us, perhaps even reform us to become better people for his presence, leading and guidance.

Joshua’s call to choose whom we will serve makes us humble before God while opening us afresh to listen and hear that still small voice of God genuinely guiding our lives.

We who belong to God are not prideful owners of distinction and entitlement. Rather, we are people who choose to humble ourselves before the Lord. We have come, honorably so, to commune with Him and others. First and foremost, we are dedicated to God and strive, in our daily lives to serve Him.

Because we belong to God, we adhere to God’s teachings that we really are to love one another and must sincerely choose to strive to ‘get along’ with others, perhaps even when the ‘other’ rubs us the wrong way. We are God’s people. His children. Now and forever.

We belong to God not our possessions. That’s why Christians find it not just OK to share and contribute to God’s ministries and Christ’s missions, but as we mature in our faith we simply and sincerely find such giving of our time, talents, prayers, work and finances, to be actually enjoyable, freeing and rewarding in ways not well understood by our non-Christian friends and family.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Be glad for we still belong to God. Amen.

Pandemic Reflections 10/25/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 24, 2020 & Sunday, October 25, 2020

Reformation Sunday and Covid-19 Pandemic Reflections

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 91 (Page 593), 2 Timothy 4:7 (Page 1199), I Corinthians 15:50-58 (Page 1155)

Sermon Message: “Pandemic Reflections”

   Covid-19 is not the first pandemic in the history of our world. While plagues and pandemics are mentioned throughout portions of the Bible there are more ‘current’ pandemics. Back in 1918 the world experienced the Spanish flu pandemic. It lasted from February 1918-April 1920. The Spanish flu infected 500 million people, about a third of the world’s population at the time. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. Mainly, it was a non-pharmaceutical pandemic, meaning there were no ‘medicines’ readily available for treating the Spanish flu. Some scholars reflect that it was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. 

 Today, I wish to share with you, on this Reformation Sunday, portions of a sermon message from a pastor who lived through that pandemic. I believe his sermon discourse may help to ‘reform’ us spiritually as we deal with our on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

  Presbyterian Pastor; Francis J Grimke, was born in 1850 and lived on this earth until 1937. He lived to be 87 years old. A ripe old age back then. His sermon message was delivered in the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, Washington D.C.; Sunday, November 3, 1918.

  As I share with you significant portions of this 1918 sermon, simply substitute references to the Spanish flu with the words; Covid-19.

  Pastor Grimke began his sermon in this way; “We know now, perhaps, as we have never known before the meaning of the terms pestilence, plague, epidemic, since we have been passing through this terrible scourge of Spanish Flu with its’ enormous death rate and its’ consequent wretchedness and misery. Every part of the land has felt its’ deadly touch—North, South, East and West—in the Army, the Navy, among civilians, among all classes and conditions, rich and poor, white and black. Over the whole land it has thrown a gloom, and has stricken down such large numbers it has been difficult to care for them properly. Our own beautiful city of Washington D.C. has suffered terribly from it. As a precautionary measure it became necessary to close schools, theaters, churches and to forbid all public gatherings. At last the scourge has been stayed and we are permitted again to resume the public worship of God.

  I have been thinking and asking myself some questions…What is the meaning of it all? What ought it mean to us? Is it to come and go and we be no wiser or none better for it? Surely, God had a purpose in it, and it is our duty to find out, as far as we may, what that purpose is, and try to profit by it.

 Pastor Grimke goes on to say he was severely moved by the ease with which large portions of the population might be afflicted, even wiped out despite all the resources of science. Although every available nurse and physician have been at work day and night thousands have died. The death toll continued. How easy it would be, writes Pastor Grimke, for God to wipe out the whole human race if so desired.

 Pastors strive to get folks to think about their faith and discernment of God’s ways. He further observed and inquired why it was that some who were afflicted by the disease recovered and others did not. Pastor Grimke, in his sermon then referenced Psalm 91. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He is my refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust. He will deliver me…He will cover me….Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night nor the arrow that flies by day., nor the pestilence that walks in darkness….”

 Pastor Grimke was honest in his preaching. An admirable quality. He readily affirmed he did not know nor understand why these verses of Psalm 91 seemed to imply immunity yet, they failed to…Faith is never ‘all-knowing’ yet remains recommitting one’s self to trusting our Higher Power…

  Within his 1918 sermon message this pastor well observed that extraordinary exercises of power were resorted to for the public’s interest…

The power was granted and submitted to for closing up theaters, schools, churches, in forbidding gatherings of any large size in private and public places, effecting even the numbers who could attend funerals. But then Pastor Grimke affirmed something strong and deeply faith related in his sermon message. He preached the message that good is coming. God will help in the end. All the churches, as well as the community at large are going to be stronger and better for this season of distress through which we have been passing.

  The pastor noted the foolishness of even considering there being any difference between the white person and the black person. There was no advantage during the pandemic of 1918-1919 of one’s color of skin. If anything, Pastor Grimke affirmed, perhaps God was striving to beat some sense into the white man’s head regarding racial equality among all! The greater lesson he felt God was teaching was this; the inspired word of God where Jesus declares; “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows after me will not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” Pastor Grimke referenced the folly of stupid color prejudice. He went on to say in his sermon message this colorphobia has brought so much evil, so much sufferings and so much heart burnings to those who are victimized by it… That pastor preached the firm Biblical truth that ‘love’ according to Jesus Christ, is the first and greatest commandment of God. And the second is like it; ‘Love thy neighbor as yourself!’  It will be better for us here and it will be better for us in the hereafter to learn this lesson and learn it well.

  Pastor Grimke noted in his 1918 sermon how moved he was to see the high estimation of the Christian church by the people. Large numbers of people regretted the closing of the churches. Everyone in the community ought to have a church home, and ought to be found in their church home Sabbath after Sabbath.

 The pastor addressed the very real and present topic of death. He noted that while the pandemic lasted people’s thoughts of death and eternity were constantly before them. Day after day the newspapers reported the numbers afflicted as well as the latest numbers of deaths that had occurred. Remember, it is through death that the gates of eternity swing open. We don’t in general think much about either death or eternity. But now we are forced to. Death and eternity remain subjects of vital importance, involving the most momentous of consequences. After death comes judgment. The books will be opened. God shall summon us and we must render up our account. God has been reminding us of this account which we must render. He is prompting us to think about eternity.

 We are accountable for our sins. God gives each soul free will. Our fate is in our own hands. Repent of your sins. The wages of sin is death. Choose life over death. Choose faith and Christian living. Choose love, God’s kind of love for all…

   Remember, you have come out of this pandemic alive while thousands have perished. Are you going to spend the rest of your life in service to sin and Satan or in the service of God? You know what you ought to do. Therefore, do the right thing!

  Pastor Grimke concluded with his other thought that came to him in connection with this epidemic. That being the blessedness of religion! There remains a prevailing sense of security with a true, living working faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—in the midst of life’s perils. There comes a secure sense of being anchored in God and in His precious promises. While the plague was raging, while thousands were dying, what a comfort it was to feel that we were in the hands of a loving Father who was looking out for us, who had given us the assurance that all things shall work together for our good. We knew that come what may whether we be smitten or not by the pandemic we knew it was going to be alright... Even if death came, we knew it would be alright. Faith affirmed in the Apostle’ Paul’s writings; “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 the righteous judge will award me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”      –II Timothy 4:7,8.

  It is a good time for those of us who are Christians to examine our hearts and see the extent to which our religion has been helping us to spiritually see our lives. We now need to see whether our faith is resting upon Christ, the solid rock, or not.

  Our spiritual review will reveal our spiritual condition. We may ‘run down’ but we need not, should not, ‘run out.’

 We ought to come out of this pandemic more determined then ever to run with patience the race that is set before us, more determined then ever to make heaven our home. I trust this purpose. Let us all draw near to God in simple faith. Let us reconsecrate ourselves, all of us, to Him, let us all make up our minds to be better Christians. –

Pastor Francis J. Grimke

Washington D.C.

November 3, 1918.

God and Country 10/18/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, Oct. 17 & Sunday, October 18, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: Send the light of your Spirit upon us that we may see clearly who we are called to be, who we say we are, and who we truly are. Open our eyes that we may see how to make these one. Amen. 

Scripture Lessons:

Psalm 99:1-3, 9                                             page 596

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10                              page 1186

Matthew 22:15-22                                       page 990

Sermon Message: “God and Country”

It seems as though Jesus was being forced to make a choice between God and country. Leastwise he was being ‘pushed’, confrontationally so, to speak his thoughts on the subject. When asked about whether or not it was right to pay taxes Jesus found himself trapped right in the midst of one of those ‘religion and politics’ discussions. Lots of folks want to avoid the subjects of religion and politics altogether. After all, these two subjects do tend to ‘polarize’ people.

Currently, our nation IS polarized in responding to this Covid-19 pandemic and getting ready for an election. Where do we ‘draw the line’ between Caesar and God, Church and State?

Many of us have lived long enough to know some American Christians who have fought in wars and others who have been conscientious objectors. Some American Christians demonstrate against police violence, others faithfully assert the duty of faithful Christians to support all police officers.      

Different people have different opinions regarding what is appropriate behavior and beliefs for Christians and for Americans. The story is an old one even though the pandemic and the election are relatively new.

Challenging discussions regarding God and Country and Christian’s ‘appropriateness’ is as old as the faith.

Protesting is not something new. I recall the protests of the 60’s and the 70’s. Protests against the Vietnam War. Protests for civil rights, equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal voting privileges for all Americans.

Seminaries teach and train their students for the ‘field of ministry’ in local churches and beyond. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary taught myself and scores of others to become, as the Bible declares, similar to the disciple John; a “voice crying out in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord!” (Mark 1:1-8). The ‘way of the Lord’ is not a national way nor an ethnic way, nor even a regional ‘way’ they taught us. We were thus taught there is to be a distinction between God and Country. Religion and politics are not the same. Nor is faith and patriotism. Some of my fellow seminarians took this teaching a bit farther. Within the local churches where they were called to serve they removed the American Flag. Some giggled as they reminisced that many in their congregation never even missed the American flag when it was gone. While ‘they’ thought they were making a statement that God, faith, and the Christian religion, is distinctly separate from the nation, politics and patriotism, what they mostly discovered was apathy…

Somebody from this church told me when I first started here that this church building was constructed from building plans of another church exactly like this, but much older, in Germany. I never researched the authenticity of this. When I was told that, I thought, wouldn’t it be something to conduct a pulpit exchange between a church built exactly like this one somewhere in Germany and this church, here in the United States of America? I further realized that IF I were to participate in a pulpit exchange in Germany they might be proudly displaying a German Flag where our American flag is displayed.

 As pastor, my only ‘disappointment’ with both the American Flag and the Christian Flags in our church is their hiddenness. Draped on stands, as they are, we don’t get the full benefits of the Stars and Stripes nor the Christian Cross and related symbolism on our Christian Flag. I choose to remain patriotic and seek to blend God and Country into my mind, my heart and soul.

Jesus did NOT instruct his followers nor his enemies to turn their backs on Caesar but instead to give God that which is God’s and give Caesar, that which is Caesar’s.

There’s a part of me that will certainly be glad when the election has arrived. Finally, we will have an outcome and all of the contentiousness will reach some conclusion for our country. There is a sincere part of me, and I am sure, of you as well, that will be glad, rejoice and praise God Almighty when this Covid-19 pandemic finally ends.

I believe we are setting our clocks ‘back’ on November 1st. I think we’d do well to set them forward. Six months seems about right for me…                    

Surely Jesus experienced a sense of despair as people tried their best to ‘test him’ regarding his sense of ‘God and Country.’ Perhaps we who are followers of Jesus Christ are also being ‘tested.’ Yet, this is NOT a time for Christians to despair. While many may feel as though Christianity doesn’t matter much to most, I remind you the world is watching how Christians act and react to God and Country these days. People are keenly observing how our faith helps us deal with Covid-19 and associated fears we may be experiencing. Are we sincere examples of Christianity? Our faith further teaches us that we are not to impose our views. Instead God reminds us to set an example of what faith can do, what faith looks like, how faith feels.

As the Apostle Paul long ago wrote to the Thessalonian Church, may we in the Coraopolis Presbyterian church, and beyond, hear, learn, digest and demonstrate as well the role of faith in our lives and in our participation, even now, with God and country…Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit inquires us to remember your work produced by faith. Your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus was being judged when questioned, in a despairing way, regarding his awareness and response to God and country. They were watching Jesus.

We, as Christians, are being judged by how we handle Covid-19, the election and scores of subjects. Become a model of faith. You have it in you. I know this to be true. Live your life, as did Jesus, respecting God and country. Giving to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and giving to God your heart and soul your life and faith.

 Faith is first. Whether we are in Germany or Coraopolis, faith is foremost. Heaven is neither German nor American. In heaven all will see Christ, know Christ and dwell peacefully together. The Bible remains clear; we are citizens of heaven…(Philippians 3:20).

May it be said of us as it was of those who belonged to the Thessalonian Church; “Your faith in God has become known everywhere.”

God and country may complement each other and co-exist. Yet there shall always remain a clear distinction between the two. Through the years I’ve seen whereby churches and individual Christians have been tempted, seductive even, to force one’s faith on others. But it really is un-American, and un-Presbyterian, and un-Christian to do so. Jesus makes it clear that we live in two realms. Faithfulness requires a clear faith identity and self-understanding. Pay your taxes, so they don’t distract you from living the faith we know in Jesus Christ. Vote for whoever our next leaders will be.

Soon we will ‘receive the offering.’ The offering reminds us all that we have so much to be grateful to God for. God gave us life, time, talent and abilities to earn a living and wisdom to not just survive but to thrive…It is not only right but good that we ‘give back to God’ through our tithes, gifts and offerings each week. Our faith life and our standing with God become more balanced and peace filled when we do. Likewise, Jesus teaches us we should also pay our taxes. ‘Paying taxes’ reveals that we have been a part of a great nation, established ‘under God.’ In this great land we have been afforded multiple opportunities to earn money. While paying taxes is not the most comfortable thing we do it remains a validation that we have not only survived but also thrived as Americans…

God and country was a test for Jesus and so it is for us as well. Shall we overcome fears with faith? The pandemic hovers over us…Will we continue to trust God for eventual answers and refrain from judging who caused this, why it continues and who is being victimized and why?... Will you get out and vote, thus participating in patriotism? Will your faith effect your voting? Soon, we will need to know if our faith is sufficient to accept the outcome of this election regardless of who wins or loses.

  Our country is not our ‘God’ but God does reign over our country. No one is our ‘God’ even though some may act like it at times. God is God. Jesus is Christ, Messiah and Savior. Follow the words, the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Give to God that which is God’s and unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

Know the difference between God and country. Amen.


The Church Anybody Can Attend 10/11/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday; October 10, 2020 and Sunday; October 11, 2020.  Communion weekend.

Prayer For Illumination- God of light, may the brightness of heaven shine through the scriptures today, and shine in us as we listen. May your Spirit speak to us and teach us to be citizens of your realm that is coming into being among us. Prepare us to come with joy to the feast you have prepared, through our Lord Jesus. Amen.

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Matthew 22:1-14 Page 989 & Ephesians 4: 1-6  Page 1175

SERMON MESSAGE: “The Church Anybody Can Attend’

  The wedding banquet has very ‘special’ meaning in the Bible. Weddings provided sacred occurrences for sealing nuptial covenants, affirming vows and receiving the blessings of the wedding couple’s parents. Ancient Jewish weddings were sometimes accompanied by readings of poetry as well as sundrous scriptures. The wedding banquet was a celebrative continuance of the sacred occurrence. Consider too, our Biblical teaching that Jesus’ first miracle occurred at a wedding in Cana of Galilee where he changed water into wine, following his dear mother’s request. Today, we read of a parable, a story with a deeper meaning, Jesus told, comparing a wedding banquet to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus speaks of a king who ‘threw a wedding banquet’ but none of those he invited would come. So he opened it up to others, all others. Eventually the banquet hall was filled. When guests attended a wedding, back then, especially a royal wedding, they were given specific ‘wedding clothes’ to wear when they arrived. The king noticed that one ‘guest’ refused to put on the offered wedding clothes, possibly a robe. This angered the king so he instructed his attendants to throw the guy out!

   Here was a wedding anyone could attend yet many refused to attend and at least one guy couldn’t be bothered with whatever might be ‘expected’ of him.

  The ‘wedding banquet’ Jesus spoke of in his parable is a further teaching regarding Jesus’ envisioning of the church. The wedding banquet, in Jesus’ teaching parable, was a place where anybody can attend. The church, that Jesus envisioned, is also a place where anyone can attend. But not everyone does.

  This mentioning of being required to wear wedding clothes may seem a bit strange to us. Tradition was when guests arrived at a royal wedding they were expected to wear wedding clothes the host provided. This was possibly a robe of some sort. The ‘symbolism’ of the ‘wedding clothes’ in Jesus’ parable signifies changed/transformed lives. Such transformation is still something that happens to a soul that becomes part of God’s kingdom, His ‘church.’ We do become more loving, kind, understanding, even more forgiving. Church people are to be more spiritual.

   I’ve been blessed to meet some genuinely spiritual people across the years. People who love the church and are so eager to invite others to ‘the banquet.’

  Many years ago I accepted a call, an offer, to work 15 hours per week as a student assistant minister at the Emory Church in the Highland Park area of Pittsburgh. Mary, a kind and gentle soul, was a member there along with her dear husband; Bob. Poor Mary struggled with weight issues. Her life was focused mainly on caring for her beloved husband during his final years. Even in the midst of her busyness Mary always made time to come by the church and ‘see what she could do.’ She was always there for worship and often times for fellowship, some meetings, and of course always for work projects at the church. Mary was such a good soul. She had not only a ‘zest’ for life but also an eagerness to tell others about her church…I remember Mary enlisted lots of folks to come to that church. Some of which I am certain neither the senior pastor nor myself could have reached. People she met at the grocery store, on the bus, nurses who ‘came by’ to care for her husband, her doctor, neighbors and of course several of the homeless from the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh. They came often times bearing some little ‘token’ that Mary had given them…An old bulletin, a prayer card, a previously used Bible, an artificial flower, even some tiny, perhaps insignificant object Mary ‘came up with’ from a flea market or the local ‘junk store.’ Point is, she made it all count and she made each invitation count. Most Sundays Mary would catch either the senior pastor or myself and introduce us to her newest friend(s). Over the years that church blossomed. It wasn’t so much the numerical growth that was interesting to the senior pastor, others or myself. It was the open arms policy and caring love Mary shared with everyone she could regarding ‘her faith and her church.’

  Mary was like some sort of angel among us for a time that opened the doors to that large magnificent church through her ‘ways.’

  Emory Church was a good experience for me. I was only there for two years but certainly learned a lot. Located in the Highland Park area of the city Emory was a ‘melting pot’ of diverse peoples. Racially and economically mixed. People from all sorts of ‘lifestyles’ and backgrounds. Through the years I’ve always been impressed in my head and blessed in my heart to see this parable of Jesus lived out in the ‘Mary’s’ and the churches I’ve served.

  Think about it. You and I come to this church with people of differing age groups, various racial and economic backgrounds and we commune together as brothers and sisters in the Lord. That’s what faith communities do.

  There’s something else ‘faith communities,’ (churches) do…Similar to Jesus’ parable where he references the need for wedding clothes to be worn, God seeks to transform our outward appearance into something more meaningful for His banquet, His church.

  When God ‘clothes a soul,’ transforms a heart, He does so by invitation and by our responses. The Lord ‘calls us’ into a new life, a greater life, a more meaningful loving and spiritual life. The Christian life is a life of communion with God and others through spiritual development and maturity…

  Spiritual maturity, the Bible teaches, is evidenced in a banquet, a church, the kingdom of God where many are invited to come. Spiritual maturity further recognizes that while many are invited, not all come and not all are chosen.

  Failures to respond to God’s leading in life have sometimes resulted in what Jesus refers to as ‘darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Perhaps we’ve all lived through some challenging church experiences as well.

   God desires for His church to be a place where anybody can attend. Most churches seem to end up being a place where only those ‘like us’ can attend.

  It’s what’s ‘in the heart’ that matters most.

 The Apostle Paul recognized that being a part of Jesus Christ’s church is a ‘calling’ not a social affirmation. Thankfully, we’ve all grown to realize and understand that our church membership is also a ‘calling’ not a social status.

 The Apostle Paul declares we are to therefore live a life worthy of the calling you have received. It is a sacred blessing to be a part, a member of a Christian church.

  In order for you to feel comfortable attending here, in order for any others to feel comfortable attending here, God calls us to be ‘completely humble and gentle.’ Pride does not fit in a Christian church. Nor does assertive, controlling or manipulative behavior. This is further true in our homes as we seek to ‘commune’ with our families.

  Churches where anybody can attend have a lot of patience. It’s needed to get along and to come along side those who need what ‘church’ has to offer. Patience is a valued virtue with our families, our co-workers and strangely so, even with ourselves.

  Jesus well taught us that the greatest thing we can do, by far, the greatest command from God Almighty is to love. Today’s scripture lesson further points out that love is characterized by making every effort to keep unity through the bond of peace.

 Last week was World Communion Sunday, a time for Christians to affirm that Holy Communion is the fundamental unity we have with Jesus Christ and one another. Communion always affirms that we transform ourselves into a humble bond of peace with God and with others.

  Holy Communion reminds us that WE are to be a church where anybody can attend. We may not be exactly like one another. We may even think, feel, dress and act a bit differently than others. God designed us that way. God further designed us to answer and affirm His communion call to love one another even in the midst of our diversity.

  Come now and share in Open Communion in this church of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our Prayer Life 10/4/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, October 3, 2020 & Sunday, October 4, 2020

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 Lesson:  Colossians 4:2-6

Sermon Message:  Our Prayer Life”

     There are very few days in our lives whereby we do not pray. It’s common among us and within us all to pray… Perhaps you are a person who ‘prays’ the Lord’s Prayer each day. I know, I certainly do. Our ‘prayer life’ is a sincere part of who we are. Lots of people pray. Some, pray ‘out loud.’ Some quietly, even silently. Some recite specific prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer. Others recite certain scriptures as a form of prayer, such as the 23rd Psalm. We can pray together or alone. The Bible teaches us that where two or more are gathered together He is present. (Matthew 18:20)

   The Apostle Paul inspired by God’s Holy Spirit authored several ‘Books’ of the Bible. Paul is well known as somebody who understood prayer and its power. Paul had an abundant ‘prayer life.’

  I don’t think you; I or anyone else for that matter can be a good Christian and NOT pray. Jesus sometimes made use of metaphors or analogies when he preached, spoke to his followers and shared His messages regarding the Kingdom of Heaven. Allow me to share with you a simple, yet sincere analogy today regarding our prayer life…You cannot have a good marriage if you don’t talk to your wife/husband. In the same way, you cannot be a good Christian and NOT pray. Prayer is a fundamental line of communication between God and His people, between God and those who love Him.

  Some folks just won’t pray because they fear God will not answer them. Leastwise, not THEIR way. Among the saddest realities associated with our prayer life is not unanswered prayer but unoffered prayer.

  The greatest example and teaching we all have to follow is Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus told us ‘to’ pray and ‘how’ we should pray. Jesus’ primary teaching and example being ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

  Within today’s scripture lesson from the Book of Colossians 4:2-6, the Apostle Paul instructs us to ‘devote yourselves to prayer.’ That means to pray often, daily, routinely, at many times, in all seasons. Continue earnestly in prayer. Be ‘steadfast.’ PERSISTENCE is something Jesus spoke of and instructed others to do in prayer. “Ask and it shall be given unto you…seek and you shall find…” Jesus Christ instructs us to ‘not lose heart.’

  There’s a difference between persistent prayer and a long prayer. You don’t have to pray on and on in order to be persistent. Don’t ‘give up’ when you pray…Some folks ‘give up praying’ because they say they just don’t ‘feel’ much like praying. They say there’s no ‘joy’ in it….

  ‘Life’ isn’t based only on our ‘feelings.’ Nor is our Prayer Life based merely on how we may ‘feel.’

  A major breakdown in religion has been the common desire for everything faith related, including worship and prayer, to be appealing, good feeling, convenient and entertaining. It’s kind of like we are asking God to ‘hold our attention’ instead of us sincerely praying to gain, humbly so, God’s attention for our lives, our family and our world.

  Satan, has been known throughout history and currently, to entice people to ‘give up’ when something presents itself inconveniently so. Prayer, like reading and studying the Bible, must be practiced ‘religiously’ so.

  God teaches us that prayer is our relating to God. A relationship requires time effort, energy, devotion and persistence. Many have found the less we read the Bible, the Word of God, the less we desire to read it. The less we pray, the less we desire to pray.

  Abraham Lincoln once declared; “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

   Prayer isn’t just ‘something we do’ when things go wrong. It’s to be a part of the ‘passion’ of our lives. Jesus wasn’t lazy about prayer. It’s something He was always doing. Read the Bible and learn that Jesus seemed to pray about everything. Prayer brought Jesus unmeasured power and unexplainable peace. Jesus Christ ‘prayed from the heart.’ You understand the difference between praying from the head and praying from the heart. Prayers from the ‘head’ are those kind that we just ‘say’ in repetition. You know, over and over again, sometimes not even ‘thinking’ about what we are saying or praying about…  Prayer is not a ‘magic mantra’ we keep saying to gain God’s attention or to ‘get our way.’ Our prayer life is our conversation, our ‘relating’ to God. We don’t repeat to our spouses over and over again that we love them all the while reminding them to do for us what we want and need. In analogy, employing the use of metaphor, our prayer life is also a relationship of conversive love and making our joys, needs, wants and even confessions known…

  It’s just so natural in a relationship to be thankful. Don’t you just ‘love it’ when things do work out? When solutions come? When fulfillment happens and enjoyment is such you not only smile, but also feel this huge genuine peace inside…

  My favorite scriptures are also found in the Apostle Paul’s writings. In the Book of Philippians chapter 4, the apostle Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything. Instead pray about everything. Tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”

  Expressing thankfulness in both our marriages and our prayer life does some basic things…It affirms dependence, demonstrates relationship, and generates humility. Pray and be thankful.

  In our prayer life we don’t just pray ‘to’ God, ‘through’ Jesus and ‘for’ ourselves. Jesus teaches us to pray ‘for’ others. This may be referred to as ‘intercessory prayer.’ The Apostle Paul asked the Colossian believers to pray for him. He wanted them to pray for him with purpose. He did not ask them to pray for his legal situation nor that he might be released from prison. Paul wanted them to pray that God could open a door, provide a way, for him to speak the gospel. Paul wanted God’s kingdom to expand. Like Jesus, he was concerned about others, their souls, their salvation their transformed life with God… I’ve found situations with people I’ve cared about whereby I felt lost for words regarding ‘how’ I should pray for them. Follow the Apostle Paul’s guidance; pray for their salvation, their soul and God’s transforming power in them. Pray that life for you, for I, for others might be lived in accordance with God’s will… Jesus Christ, at His worst, prayed for God’s will, not his own, to be done. So should we…

 Our prayer life should contain prayers not only for our families, our well-being and ourselves. When you pray do NOT forget to pray for those who are lost and possibly heading to hell. You may be the only ‘prayer’ they’ve got!…

 When we pray for others and not just ourselves, we become more like Jesus. ‘Intercessory prayer’ enables God to grow us more, show us more, and use us more. We really must pray for others…

  Some things happen when we pray. Whoever and whatever we pray for deepens our relationship with God and our partnership with the Lord. When you pray you start to become aware of how God might use you to help answer the prayer, maybe in ways we haven’t thought much about. You understand and relate to ‘how it is’ when we pray. Most often we have to wait for God to respond. Recall what we were taught in Sunday School…When we pray God has three answers; Yes, no and wait. The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ part are no-brainers. ‘Waiting’ can be tough. Remember, God is NOT on out timetable. Prayer forces us to be on God’s timetable. Many have matured through prayer to gradually see things God is doing. Prayer opens our eyes to see things we are blinded to without prayer. Remember, prayer is communication. We speak to God. God answers us, speaking to us, showing us.

  Faithful prayer has a way of aligning our heart with God’s heart. Prayer changes us…Prayer helps us to move forward. Prayer engages God, enables God’s people and enlarges His kingdom. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” Once we have prayed we are ready to do anything.

 Our prayer life. It’s what we do, who we are and what we are about in our relationship to God, self and others. Amen.


Search Me, O God and Know My Heart 9/27/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 26, 2020 & Sunday, September 27, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: O God, source of all wisdom, we thank you for your word come to life in Jesus, and for your word shared aloud with us, and with generations of people of faith. Open our hearts and spirits, our minds and our lives, to your guiding wisdom today and always. Amen.

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 139:1-14, 23-24 p. 621, Matthew 5:1-12 p. 968

Sermon Message: “Search Me, O God and Know My Heart”

  Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder how things are going in our relationship to God. David, the inspired author of the Psalms wondered about that. So, it was, he inquired of God to “search him, and know his heart.”

  Today’s scriptural lesson from the Gospel of Mathew is known as “The Beatitudes.” These ‘Beatitudes’ are teachings of Jesus Christ. Actually, they are from a sermon he once preached when he walked the face of this earth. The “Beatitudes” are referenced in the Bible as a series of ‘blessings.’ ‘Blessed’ are the poor, the people who mourn, the meek, the people who are seeking integrity, those who show mercy to others, those who have a good heart, a kind and pure heart, the peacemakers AND those who are insulted or persecuted!

  Perhaps many a soul appreciates reflecting upon these ‘Beatitudes’ because we can identify with them.

  Jesus said; “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be ‘poor in spirit’ means to be humble. It further means to acknowledge that we need God in our heart. Ask God to search you and know what’s in your heart. Sometimes our heart hurts from some pain we feel or possibly due to some sin we are involved in. At other times we just know from having tried for so long to live life ‘our way’ that we need God in our heart to better live life His way.

  ‘Poor in spirit’ begins with acknowledging God created our inmost being; He knit us together in our mother’s womb. We are, as Psalm 139 affirms, fearfully and wonderfully made and know that full well. When God searches our heart, we know we belong.

  As God searches our hearts are we ‘poor enough in spirit’ to be seen as depending upon God while helping others to feel loved, respected and equal to each of us?

  Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder; “Why do I experience such ‘poorness’ in spirit?” Search me, O God and know my heart…

 Jesus said those who mourn are blessed and will be comforted. Of course, death is the more common loss we mourn. There are lots of other realities, which cause mourning inside of a soul. Loss of love, compromise of faith, sin, pain, suffering, significant change, needless change, hurt, harm, loneliness or loss of innocence. Even the everyday realities which cause a soul to feel significant disappointment promote mourning for what was better, right, alive, healthy and hopeful.

  Jesus declares we are blessed to mourn for we will be comforted. Ask the Lord to search your heart. As the psalm declares, “Even the darkness will not be dark to you.” Sometimes a heart will wonder why do I mourn so?...Jesus promises, you and I, will be comforted…

  Sometimes its best to just quietly submit one’s self to God and keep choosing to be gentle with others, all others. Jesus calls this being ‘meek.’ Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. I’d settle for possessing more patience, faith and a forgiving spirit. God speaks of the promise of life. When we are meek we have a tendency towards promoting health, wealth, comfort and safety in this world. To ‘inherit the earth’ further implies blessings of heaven above and blessings of the earth beneath.

 Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder why is it best that I remain quiet and gentle? If I am not meek then perhaps, I further need to ask God to search my heart and know my soul.

 This life does have its’ share of hardships. It’s best that we learn, early on, how to handle them. Jesus says we can suffer hardships if we have a good conscience. Place your hope in God. When dealing with hardship plead your case with God. Ask and you will receive. Come, says Jesus, all who are weary and heavy laden. There is rest for your soul as you pursue the blessings associated with hungering and thirsting for righteousness. In due time your soul will be satisfied. In wisdom and in kindness Christ shall appear.

  Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder why it takes so long to ‘get through’ things? Why do so many of our hardships endure for what seems like forever? Its good to read and re-read Psalm 139 for it teaches us much about God searching us and knowing us. This we can trust…Little is much when God is in it. It’s good to strive for health. Especially so to strive for spiritual health and well-being.

  As God searches my heart, I’ve come to realize I have received blessings I don’t deserve. God’s kindness shown to any of us is a divine mercy. The Lord’s Prayer speaks to our souls; forgive us our debts/sins/trespasses just as we forgive others. Treat us mercifully God just as we mercifully treat others. Work at having a heart for others. Do sympathize with others. You are not in this world alone. You are not the center of the universe. Nor am I. Others have needs. Many have challenges, hardships, heartaches, and sins to be forgiven and need; great need, for the grace of faith, godly faith in their lives. Pity others. Feel their pain. Help the ignorant and the careless. Jesus teaches it’s more blessed to give than receive.

  My dear friends, we do not know how soon we may stand in need of kindness and therefore should be kind.  

  Sometimes we all question and need to examine how ‘good’ is our heart? There is a physical heart, inside of us. There is also that ‘heart’ which exemplifies one’s innermost being. One’s ‘heart’ includes our emotions, intellect and quite importantly, our conscience. When we pray we are opening our heart unto God. Meanness, self-centeredness and hurt directed at others darken the heart. So do sins of the flesh. It’s good to ask God to help us think things through. It’s healthy to ask God to help us ‘clean up our act!’ Confession remains good for the soul and for the heart. Pray; ‘Create in me a clean, a pure heart, O God.’ Jesus was right, blessed are the pure in heart for they see beyond sin, self and others. The pure of heart see God…

  I wish to share with you an early Christmas message; Peace on earth, good will towards all. Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder why peace seems so pervasive. Some of our happiest times occur when there is peace. Jesus reminds us that we are blessed when we have a peaceful disposition. The blessed ones are pure towards God and peaceable towards others. Peace requires work. It entails love that is intentional. The kind of love that doesn’t measure the lack of fairness nor the inequality one might experience even amidst our most significant relationships. A requirement for peace is keeping one’s eye on the bigger picture, sometimes ‘holding one’s tongue, refraining from anger and revenge. Being a peacemaker starts with trusting God to make things right now and in the hereafter. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God,” he was informing us that peace is basic. Peace is foundational. Peace restores hope and even lost innocence. Ask God to search your heart and know YOU initiate peace. You don’t wait for life and others to first become ‘fair.’ You don’t wait until justice is served. Peace is a decision each of us must make to move on, forgive, love, assimilate, welcome and trust God. Blessed are the peacemakers. Woe upon the peace breakers!

  Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder why we end up getting persecuted, insulted and even lied about. It takes some very real ‘soul work’ and ‘faith investment’ to comprehend Jesus’ teaching that we are blessed when persecuted, insulted and lied about.

 Persecution can take the form of nasty nicknames, discrediting declarations, insults even physical afflictions. I’ve long wondered why some folks will ‘put others down’ in order to ‘build themselves up?’ Words can be so cruel. People can use words that have such a negative and hurtful impact upon others. Even mocking can be a form of persecution. Far too many cause others to feel ‘small,’ ‘less than,’ insignificant and dumb. Haven’t we all seen that folks will go to any and all extremes to persecute others?

  I ask you, are the current political ‘ads’ just pointing out the differences between our candidates or are they stooping to persecute others in order to win political office?

 Ask God to search your heart, to know you, what your motives are and how you should best handle persecution. When you or I are persecuted, Jesus says we shall be blessed if we choose to not seek vengeance, nor return injury for injury or persecution for persecution. Instead if we concentrate on how we might love with the love of the Lord, we can be blessed by God. Remember Jesus also was persecuted, insulted, mocked and abused because of his lifestyle, his love, and his care for the ‘little guy’ and his abiding belief in the kingdom of God.

  Look around and learn from the people you admire most as Christians. Follow their lead, copy their example, and promote their kind of faith whenever and wherever you can.

  Jesus says great is your reward in heaven…

  Remember; God knows you. He knows when you rise and when you lay your head down to sleep. He knows when you sit and when you stand. God is quite familiar with all your ways. Before you speak, he knows what you’re about to say. God protects you from all sides. He ‘hems’ you in. This, my dear friends is wonderful knowledge. No matter how close or far we may be to God, He is ALWAYS with us. You ARE fearfully and wonderfully made. God doesn’t make junk. You are certainly NOT a mistake! God has a plan for you and the Almighty has ordained your time, your purpose and your days here on earth. Don’t choose to live wildly, sinfully or carelessly lest you shorten those days and compromise God’s ordained plan for you. Free will remains our choice to follow God or fall away from God.

 Sometimes a heart can’t help but wonder how things are going in our relationship to God. Pray the prayer written in the Bible; Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Amen.

Complaining or Concentrating? 9/20/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 19, 2020& Sunday, September 20, 2020

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 16:2-15 Page 71,  Matthew 20:1-16 Page 987

Sermon Message:                       ‘Complaining or Concentrating?’

    “Complaining’ is just human nature. These two differing texts from the Bible confirm that for thousands of years people have complained and complained and complained some more. Current research indicates that the average person complains nearly 15-20 times per day. God knows whiners whine, always have and always will. That doesn’t make this ‘attribute’ of ours ‘right.’ Quite the contrary… God continues teaching us to concentrate rather than complain.

  I am as guilty as the next person for complaining. Just the other day, on the way to go shopping with Patty, I was in a hurry to ‘get where we were going.’ I complained to my beloved; “Why is it that when you’re in a hurry all of the traffic lights are red and you have to set and wait?” When you stop and concentrate, even briefly, on what’s happening, you realize most things aren’t as bad as you complain they are. I gradually became thankful for the time we had spent together.

  Complaining, in general, does make things look worse than they are. When people complain they focus mainly on what’s wrong. Things might be fine in many parts of the family, the job, the church, even in the world, but complainers only talk about the problems, annoyances and ‘pet peeves’ they perceive.

  So, when we ‘point out’ what’s wrong, what could be different, better, or done my way, are we complaining or concentrating?

 Psychology advises us that ‘complaining’ is just a simple, yet sincere part of human nature. Concentrating, requires some effort. It requires focus. The ‘job’ of spirituality is to get people to concentrate on what matters most in God’s universe and within the Christian believer’s life…Far too many of our complaints stem from our assumption and belief that we are the center of the universe. Me, myself and I are what matters most. Yet today’s teachings from both the Old and the New Testament reconfirm that ‘relationships’ are more important than our definitions of ‘what’s fair’ or what’s most important. The Bible affirms what’s most important IS our relationship to God and God’s relationship to people, to all people, even to people we don’t think deserve a relationship, even a hearing with God. The Almighty always has, always will establish that these relationships are most worthy of our concentration.

  Within the first text from the Bible; Exodus 16:2-15 we perceive that God wasn’t happy when those Israelites complained so much as He led them from slavery, through the desert, provided for them each day and night and into their promised land. They repeatedly bellyached to Moses. I am stunned every time I read the story of the exodus. How can the people of Israel complain like they do? How could they be so ignorant, so stupid, and so forgetful?

  The God of the universe had just tossed around the most powerful man on the face of the earth like a toddler with a rag doll. God didn’t just humble Pharaoh; he broke his spirit and revealed Pharaoh’s impotence. A slave people and their God left him and his nation in shambles. This display of power sent vibrations throughout the world, inspiring fear and awe. Yet Israel’s response to this spectacular deliverance from Egypt is not mainly praise, worship, and wholehearted trust. Instead, Israel responds with grumbling — complaining, murmuring, quarreling. “No water, Moses! Where’s the beef, Moses? I have blisters on my feet, Moses. Who died and made you, boss? Are we there yet, Moses?” Spiritual amnesia set in quickly and covered the eyes of Israel’s hearts. So soon had they forgotten God’s gracious and miraculous deliverance?

  Like them, how quickly we too forget what God has done good in our lives, how the Lord has provided, what all we should be thankful for and trust. Some do refer to this as ‘spiritual amnesia.’ It can be a deadly disease…God delivered those ancient Israelites ‘from’ what had enslaved them ‘into’ God’s promised land of provisions, love and care. The people of Israel, on the heels of unthinkable miracles, with their pockets full of Egyptian jewelry, grumble at their less-than-five-star accommodations in the desert. This wasn’t just headache-induced grumbling or low-blood-sugar complaining. This was faithlessness. It is the heart that says, “I know better than God. If only he would listen to me and follow my plan!”

    Sometimes complaining is just a bad habit we’ve gotten ourselves into. One could say those ancient Israelites, as they journeyed through the wilderness were just ‘concentrating’ on having their needs met. Truth is whatever they may have initially been feeling they had transformed into habitual complaining. Breaking habits, even the habit of habitual complaining takes concentration.

  A few spiritual ‘antidotes’ for our tendencies to complain include; remembering, realizing, and appreciating.

  Moses was strongly disappointed that the people whom he had freed from slavery just did not seem to remember, nor care to remember, what God had done for them. They complained, even suggested they would have been ‘better off’ had they remained slaves in Egypt. Like them we too often long for the ‘good old days’ the ‘glory days’ of old. We too tend to easily or even conveniently forget what God has done in our lives, for our world.

  Moses strongly encouraged the people to remember God in their lives. Remembering the hand of God, the presence of Christ, the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit is a sincere antidote to complaining and spiritual amnesia in its many forms.

  Those ancient Israelites complained about ‘not having enough.’ They wanted meat, not manna. They wanted ‘more’ not just ‘enough to get by on.’ God consistently met their needs, but seldom met all of their established ‘wants.’ Upon faithful and sincere reflection, you and I have the very same reality occurring. God has met our most sincere needs but not always our ‘wants.’ This sustainable truth helps us realize where we should most concentrate…

  Once remembering occurs, after reality sets in, then we are better able to appreciate what God has done, what God is doing, and what God shall be doing into the future.

  Covid 19 has surely caused many a soul to complain…This pandemic can be identified as another ‘wilderness’ of sorts. While any and perhaps all of us can easily recall how things were prior to Covid 19 all the complaining in the world isn’t going to change the reality of Covid 19’s presence and effect upon all of our lives. Concentrate on remembering God’s helping presence. Realize we have gotten through so much with God’s provisions of strength, help and insight. Our faith has necessarily become stronger. The less we choose to complain and the more we concentrate the better has become our outlook and sustainable values.

  The focus of many complaints today are with our President; Donald Trump and with his opponent; Joe Biden. I attempted to ‘Google’ the president’s approval rating. It changes often. Then I remembered that President Barrack Obama’s approval rating was highly questioned and also changed daily. Complaining about ‘who’ our leaders are and ‘how’ they are leading has been our pastime for decades, actually for centuries. We want to remember campaign promises and seek to complain when we do not see them fulfilled or even with ‘how’ they may or may not be fulfilled. Yet for each complaint we have there is also a corresponding reality of some good each president has done or is still accomplishing. Concentrate on the greater realities, the larger perspective and this maturing will serve as an antidote against complaining so much and our developing spiritual amnesia.

  I am aware that any of us tend to complain when we think or feel as though life is unfair. Today’s scripture reading from the Gospel of Matthew serves as a vivid illustration of this. Jesus tells the story of a landowner who hired workers at different times throughout the day. Yet at the end of the day that same landowner paid everyone the same wage. Those who worked the longest and the hardest complained that ‘it wasn’t fair!’ The landowner challenged their thinking and complaining. He asked them to remember what they had agreed to. He made them realize they were not the boss, he was, and thirdly he helped them to appreciate they all worked that day. Many were cared for.

  Remember, realize and appreciate. Sustainable values that serve as wholesome and healthy antidotes for anyone’s spiritual amnesia.

  Sometimes we even complain when we pray. Like those workers Jesus spoke of we ‘tell God’ what’s not right and who’s not fair. When we pray, as we access God in His heaven with our complaints instead of with praise and thanks giving we hinder spiritual progress in Kingdom Living. This becomes ‘distorted prayer.’

 I think we’ve all been around people who complain too much and seldom seem to concentrate on what matters most.

 My parents were wise with us four boys. We’d complain and seek to point out what wasn’t fair. One of their wholesome responses was assigning us four boys a task to be done. When any one of us dared to complain that one of our brothers wasn’t doing their fair share my parents would speak to us all and say; “The work has to be done. Get it done. It doesn’t matter who does the most or the least amount of work. Just get it done and stop complaining.”

 Our elders and ancestors have well taught us to appreciate more and complain less. Their ‘tool’ for appreciation seemed to be a greater presence of humility and a far less sense of entitlement. They had a way of ‘making do’ of ‘getting by’ and not feeling entitled but appreciative for what they DID have…Looking back many of them just didn’t seem to need as much as we believe we need. They just didn’t feel entitled to so much. They did ‘make do.’

  God has been with us, just as He was with those ancient Israelites. Jesus is teaching us still, just as he did those early crowds of believers and his disciples. Let’s take a moment and look back on God’s fingerprints all over your life:

Remember how God has protected you from making shipwreck of your life.          Remember how God graciously let you grow up in a godly family.                            Remember how God awakened you to the ugliness of your sin.                                    Remember how you walked away from that terrible car crash.                                   Remember how your wife, sister, or mom survived breast cancer.                               Remember how you had mentors and key friends guide you in your faith.                           Remember how God sustained you during that season of unemployment.                Remember how God miraculously healed you.                                                                Remember that impossible prayer request that God answered.                                      Remember how you had no money and an envelope just showed up in the mail with exactly the amount you needed.                                                                                        Remember how the gospel came alive, as it never had before.

  The ‘credit’ in life’s relationships with God and others belongs neither to the critic nor the complainer but to the person who tried, who loved, who lived valiantly and faithfully! Amen.

Truth or Consequences 9/13/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020 and Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020

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: Ephesians 6:1-3. P. 1177, Psalm 68:5 P. 575, Romans 6:23 P. 1131

Sermon Message: “Truth or Consequences”

  Truth is there are consequences associated with our actions or lack thereof. Early on we learned that IF we were defiant of our parents we’d end up ‘paying the consequences.’ God’s Word informs us of a deeper spiritual truth; honoring our parents is not only the right thing to do, it will also benefit us with enjoying a long life here on earth. The Bible teaches us to care for others. Being a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows is a spiritual truth. If we do choose to care for others there will be positive, even healthy consequences. Choosing NOT to care for others will result in loneliness, neglect and further sinfulness. Clearly, the Bible teaches us that whatever our sins may be, they end up leading us towards death instead of into life.

   Perhaps some of my listeners can recall a wild and wacky TV game show known as ‘Truth or Consequences?’ Contestants on that TV show were selected from the audience. They could either tell the truth (answer a question) OR be forced to pay the consequences (perform a stunt). The TV show; ‘Truth or Consequences’ had a ‘run’ from 1956-1988. I still recall Bob Barker hosting that show.

  Some of life’s most important lessons regarding consequences, have been learned in church. I, for one, remain so grateful for that. You may recall some important lessons you learned in ‘church.’ A Sunday School teacher, of years gone by, wanted to teach her children about sin, forgiveness and consequences. She gave each child a beautiful and highly polished piece of wood with the instructions to take it home and whenever they did some act or spoke some word that they felt was hurtful and bad, they were to drive a nail in the board. Weeks rolled by and finally came the Sunday when the boards were to be brought back for examination. Of course, all of them had a generous supply of nails and they did talk about the things that brought them about. Now, said the teacher, let's talk of forgiveness. When she was through, each child was to take a hammer and pull the nails out one by one. Then the lesson was clear. God did forgive, but the consequences could be seen in the nail holes that marred the board.

  There are many who imagine that when they repent, forgiveness then means that God will step in and make all things right and they will escape the consequences. God’s mercy and love are extensive. However, the hurt we may have caused, the damaged done will take some ‘doing’ to be ‘made right!’

 We do suffer consequences, self-chosen and self-generated. No doubt God grieves when he watches what we do to ourselves. He is there in both love and judgment seeking to turn us around before we make a mess of things.

  The Bible teaches us much about God. Some folks feel as though the Bible is quite hard to read and somewhat confusing. There are parts of it that are challenging. There are more understandable parts to the Bible then there is confusion. Several parts of the Bible are so crystal clear with their rational disclosures. For instance, today’s initial scripture lesson found in the Book of Ephesians 6:1-3. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Here we find a crystal-clear directive from God…These words describe what is ‘right.’ Today’s scripture lesson continues with these words; “Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise----SO THAT it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

  Good choices will result in good and beneficial consequences. Bad choices will result in more dire consequences.

  A simple lesson with a great spiritual reward. Follow God and you will be blessed. Choose NOT to honor and obey and your consequences will be compromises to the well- being of your life…

  Sometimes the ‘truth’ associated with God’s teachings are a bit hard to follow. My parents were not always agreeable with ‘how’ I chose to ‘honor and obey’ them. Perhaps you faced a few ‘challenges’ of your own with your parents at some time. My parents did not want me to move away from the locale we were from up in the Indiana, Latrobe, Derry area of Western PA. God had other plans. I chose to ‘honor’ my parents by at least remaining within the Western PA area and continuing to care for them through their declining years. I chose to ‘obey’ God, my heavenly Father as well.

  Hopefully a ‘truth’ associated with God has produced favorable ‘consequences’ in your life as someone’s child…Many do love and favor the wisdom found in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. Within Proverbs 22:6 we receive this ‘truth.’… “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” Would your parents be ‘proud’ of the ‘way’ you have chosen to follow in the Christian faith? Truth is early childhood Christian education is essential. There are positive outcomes for faith training. There are negative consequences for failing to provide Christian education early on.

  As earlier referenced within this message some ‘truths’ from the Bible are easier to follow than others. Our nation has been challenged for some time with political scenarios. For numerous years our Congress evidenced strong bi-partisan stalemates in their governing. These past few years bi-partisan emphasis has been fiercely evident between the Democratic and Republican parties. Now we enter election times and daily perceive attack ads on our prominent candidates vying for President and Vice President of the United States of America. Some of the ‘truth’ we have seen across the years has produced ‘consequences’ few are proud of. Legal proceedings, rulings and benefits for the citizenry are stalemated or lost altogether when parties consistently stalemate against each other and refuse to take action that could well benefit those they have been called upon to govern. Blaming one another has enflamed constituents throughout our great nation. Yet God has a message for us all. God declares His ‘truth’ that is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.

  Submission to governing authorities remains a truth of God’s Holy Word. Within Romans 13; 1, 2 we are called upon to be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

 God remains the ULTIMATE authority in heaven and here on earth. Today’s second scripture lesson found with Psalm 65:8 affirms, “The Lord is “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” In clearer terms; God cares for the marginally related, for the weak, the powerless, those having little or no hope. ‘Truth’ throughout history reveals that when governing authorities and those who would become governing authorities prioritize and represent the cares, the on-going needs of the poor, the needy, the disenchanted, the consequences are beneficial to the people, the constituents are most blessed. May we pray and vote for those candidates who shine with God like qualities and care for even the least of God’s children. Remember God sent Jesus to the poor, the needy, the outcasts, the sick and the sinners. Truth is when those, such as these, are cared for and well governed the consequences are spiritual blessings to all.

  God governs with authority, but also with love. God has always had a way of caring for and protecting His children. Thus, the world goes on, ever evolving always growing. 

  Within the words of one of our patriotic hymns; “God’s truth is marching on!” (Battle hymn of the Republic). There is truth and there are consequences…  

  God says “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” This is God’s truth. Consequences for worshipping other ‘gods’ entails punishment. When our money and our possessions, even other people become more important than God, negative and hurtful consequences are sure to follow.

  God says “Do not misuse the name of God.” God’s middle name is NOT ‘Dam.’ Truth remains God will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name. God calls you his son and daughter, his child. He calls you by name. (Isaiah 43:1). God has numbered the very hairs on your head. (Luke 12:7). He speaks of and seeks your worth. Truth is when we, and governing authorities, care for others the consequences are beneficial for all. Misusing of names is wrong.

  God says “Keep the Sabbath holy.” Rest, even as God did on the seventh day. Follow this truth or reap the consequences of exhaustion, fatigue and dullness of spirit…

  Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t be jealous of what others have. These are but a few of God’s teachings, God’s truth from the Bible illustrating to us what constitutes ‘sin’ inside any of us.

 There’s a very strong ‘truth’ regarding sin in life…Our third scripture lesson for today reveals this spiritual truth; “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

  ‘Death’ isn’t only one’s physical passing from this life to the next. There is spiritual death, psychological death, relationship death, even emotional death.

  Truth is if we sin something will die or at least lead us towards death. The consequences of sin are some form of death.

  We’ve possibly met parents and their children who have not spoken nor visited one another for months even years. We know of politicians who govern with little concern for the ‘little guy.’ There are those folks who love their money and their possessions above all others, even God…Far too many folks feel as though there’s nothing wrong with adultery and other human designs so long as you ‘get away with it.’ Marriages continue to be broken. Children become hurt. Many scarred…

    Some of the worst ‘hurt’ God feels and perhaps you and I have also experienced is when others who should care, just don’t. Not only do they choose not to care or love. They are just passive, apathetic. In the Book of Revelations God decries against those who are lukewarm. (Revelation 3:16). He declares because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

 The truth is sin, in its’ many forms, leads to death in its’ various forms.

 There is a healthy ‘truth’ that produces wondrous consequences I wish to share with you…. God sends His love. He cares for you even when you are among the least of his children. The truth and consequences of our God among us now is peace, hope, guidance, love and forgiveness. God affirms in His Word; “So it is with great confidence and boldness that we can proclaim that His truth is surely ‘marching on.’ And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)

    Truth and consequences…

Fill My Cup, Lord 9/6/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, September 5, 2020 and Sunday, September 6, 2020.

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:  Matthew 5:6, Page 968,  Psalm 23,  Page 548.

SERMON MESSAGE: “Fill My Cup, Lord”

   Today’s scripture lessons are familiar to many. From the Gospel of Matthew, we learn of one of these ‘blessings’ from Jesus. This series of ‘blessings’ known as the ‘Beatitudes’, Jesus preached as part of his famed and familiar ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ The 23rd Psalm, affectionately known as ‘The Shepherd’s Psalm,’ has been memorized by many, well received by most, and has comforted many a soul.

  The Psalmist declares; “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint me head with oil; my cup overflows…” These are words, powerful words, meaningful words, regarding God’s abundant provisions. I am not merely referring here to material goods and possessions but rather to ‘provisions’ that are spiritual, meaningful, life sustaining and lasting. Life with God is such a blessing, meaningful and fulfilling.

  I inquire of you to consider what life without God might be like for a moment or two. Listen and consider a totally ‘different’ rendition of the 23rd Psalm (God missing/forsaken rendition)…

 “I have no Shepherd, I constantly want. In discontent, I graze in parched fields; I can find no water to quench my thirst. My soul is weary; I wander in the paths of sinfulness, seeking pleasure. When I walk in the darkness of danger and death, I am afraid; I am all alone. No power or principle gives me comfort. There is no nourishment to strengthen me against my enemies. There is no ointment for my head. My life is empty. Even though God's goodness and mercy have been available all the days of my life, I shall be banished from the house of the Lord forever."

   David, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, didn’t think that way. He said, “The Lord is my shepherd… You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

  A ‘cup overflowing’ had special significance back in Bible times. Some commentators suggest that the Psalmist; David, was also drawing insight and familiarity from the Arab Nomadic tribes of Bedouins. According to these desert dweller’s ‘law’ certain rules of hospitality were to be applied. If a traveler were received into the Bedouin Shepherd’s tent and especially once his host has spread food before him, he was guaranteed immunity from his enemies. To sit as a guest at the table of such a host was to be assured of food, housing, fellowship and protection. A table that had been prepared was a public announcement that no one was to molest THIS guest. The greater the influence/prestige/power of the host the greater the security. When a guest’s head was anointed with oil - it showed he was highly honored. And when a cup was offered to a special visitor it wasn’t half-full… it would be running over showing the prestige of the guest.

  “Fill my cup Lord!” That’s what David was boldly saying God would do for him. David had come into the TENT of this great shepherd, and David knew that, once he was there, he’d be provided for and protected.

  This is a repeated theme in David’s songs. In Psalm 27:5 David wrote “For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.”

  Within Psalm 61:4 he wrote: “Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!”

   Now what’s interesting, is that not everybody thinks about God that way. David’s God CARED for him, and LOVED him, and PROTECTED him.

  But it’s obviously not the way a lot of people think about God. Why is it that folks do NOT feel nor believe that God Cares for them? Loves them? Protects them? Well… because folks usually don’t live their lives the way they should. They believe God is easily angered with them… Many believe they’ve given God plenty of reasons for Him to be angry. Far too many don’t think He’d care to help out in their lives… because they KNOW they DON’T deserve that! More than enough folks these days, just don’t think much about God nor even believe there IS a God. Folks rest mainly in themselves, their accomplishments and fought for entitlements…

  I trust that you and I are people who desire for God to ‘Fill our Cup!” Our ‘cup’ is filled with goodness and mercy, all the days of our lives. Our ‘cup’ is filled with loving kindness, blessings and forgiveness. Our ‘cup’ is filled by God with meaning and fulfillment.

 I must tell you of a cup I have owned for years and years now but have never used. I must tell you of a song in my heart that I sing to the Lord privately from time to time.

  While attending Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1979 there was a smaller ‘store’ which offered us our text books for purchase, Bibles, of course, and several ‘religious items’ pertaining to aspiring preachers. At this Cokesbury store I bought my first preaching robe. It was black with some red tubing down the front. Still have it. Just don’t use it much since attaining my Doctorate degree and accompanying ‘new robe.’ Also, back then, at the urging of my family, friends and support group, I purchased this cup. It is silver on the outside and gold lined on the inside. Folks back then, informed me over and over again that this would be my main ‘cup’ during my years of serving God and the people as a minister. I remember wrapping it in this old cloth I had ‘washed up’ back then. I then placed my ‘cup’, this Communion Chalice, inside of this brown cloth bag. Across the years I would anticipate using my ‘cup’ for communion services but pretty much every church I’ve ever served or preached at had it’s very own communion set which was their preferred ‘cup.’ So it was, I kept my communion cup packed carefully away for years now… Someday I shall retire. When I do I plan on drinking from my ‘cup’ in a private communion service with God from time to time, where I shall give thanks all the days of my life for how He has filled my ‘put away cup’ to overflowing with countless blessings and numerous good things across these blessed years of sacred and holy ministry.

  This sacrament of Holy Communion is among the more awesome honors and blessings we can experience. I have been touched by God in these services of communion beyond what my words could ever convey…

 We affirm a ‘shared faith.’ We share God’s love, care, protection and forgiveness among other things. We grow, in part, by learning from one another and how ‘others’ have listened to God, learned from God, been guided and inspired by God. I learned from another minister some years ago, a song he had written. This is a song I personally ‘sing to the Lord’ from time to time. Allow me to share with you the setting for his ‘inspiration.’

  Pastor Richard Blanchard served as a United Methodist minister for forty years. Due to a sever lung condition he was left with only one third of his normal lung capacity. Pastor Blanchard was waiting for the arrival of a couple for marriage counseling. They were late for the appointment. Not just a little irritated, the pastor sat down at the piano to kill some time while the minutes ticked away. He wasn’t in the best ‘frame of mind.’ But it was precisely then that the idea for a gospel song came to him. Pastor Blanchard later wrote; “When I was not in the mood to be used by God, God was in the mood to use me.” The song he was inspired to write is entitled; “Fill My Cup.” It is based upon the Lord’s encounter with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in a place called Sychar. (John 4:5-42). The woman at the well was indeed searching for something. Searching for happiness, for meaning, for contentment. But so far she had been looking in all the wrong places. She had been married five times and was currently living with a sixth man. (vs, 17-18). Jesus offered her an answer to her life long quest. “I will quench your thirst with ‘living water.’

  The Spirit of God is sometimes symbolized or pictured by water numerous times in the Bible.. Jesus Christ proclaimed, “He who believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38-39).

  Reflecting on the Word of God Pastor Blanchard penned these following words, the song I sing from time to time. A spiritual message and blessing for us all on this communion Sabbath.

  Our ‘cup of communion’ reminds us, like the woman at the well, we are sometimes seeking for things that can not satisfy. Millions in this world are looking for satisfaction in the pleasures earthly things cannot afford. NOTHING can match the soul satisfaction found in Jesus Christ…

  The Lord IS our Shepherd. He prepares a table before us. He anoints our heads with oil. Our ‘cup’ overflows. Today’s communion cups are certainly not overflowing with wine nor grape juice. They are however, overflowing with love, forgiveness, provision and protection. Our cup overflows because it is filled with the presence of God. This, above all people, places and things, satisfies our souls. Today as you commune with me and together we commune with God pray this prayer, “Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up Lord, come quench this thirsting of my soul. Amen. …

Saints and Sinners 8/30/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 29, 2020 & Sunday, August 30, 2020.

Scripture Lessons: Luke 18:9-14, Page 1051 & James 4:6-8a, Page 1218

Sermon Message: “Saints and Sinners”

  Just when you think you have things ‘all figured out’ life throws you a curve and you have to start over again, reevaluate and adapt to a new way of looking at things. Today’s scriptures present that type of scenario to us. Jesus’ famed parable about the High and mighty Pharisee versus the low-down tax collector make us stop and think about who the saints are and whom the sinners might really be.

  Jesus’ parable might fit any of us. A ‘parable’ is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels. One of Jesus’ most famous parables is The Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14. In this parable, Jesus addressed those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (v. 9). To illustrate the folly of trusting in one’s self, Jesus contrasted two men who went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee (the religious elites of the day) and the other a tax collector (the supposed great sinners of the day).

 The Pharisee trusted in himself, thinking that he was righteous because of what he did for God, all the while looking down on the tax collector (vv. 11-12). On the other hand, the tax collector was justified before God because he relied, not on himself, but on the merciful, righteousness of God (v. 13). Jesus concluded by stating that the tax collector “went to his house justified, rather than the other” (v. 14a) The reason for this is because, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14b).

  To help us see how we can so easily express the same attitude as the Pharisee, I wish to share with you a few retellings of the ‘The Pharisee and the Tax Collector’ set in modern terms and situations. It is my hope, that these will challenge you to examine your heart as they have my own.

  The Fit, Athletic Woman and the Slightly, Overweight Woman…

Two women go to the grocery store to do their weekly shopping, one is a fit, athletic type with a normal BMI and the other was slightly overweight. As the two women waited in line to check-out, the fit, athletic woman prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other women, lazy, unhealthy, poor homemakers, or even like this heavy-set woman in front of me. I work out three times a week; I take care of Your temple by carefully watching what I eat; and I only feed my family good healthy foods.”

  But the woman who was slightly overweight, humbly prayed, “God, thank You for all that You provide for me and my family. We don’t deserve it.”

  I tell you the slightly overweight woman went to her house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts herself will be humbled, but the one who humbles herself will be exalted.

The Man with the Older Truck and the Man with the Newer Truck

  Two men stop at a red-light, one in an older model, high-mileage Chevrolet truck, the other in a brand-new, Ford F-250 Super Duty, Crew Cab truck. As the two men waited for the light to turn green, the man in the older model, high-mileage truck prayed to himself, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other men, materialistic, covetous showoffs, or even like this man in the lane beside me. I’ve worked hard to earn what I’ve got; I’ve never wanted to be rich; and I don’t act like I’m better than anybody else.”

  But the man in the new truck, humbly prayed, “God, thank You for all that You have richly blessed me with. I don’t deserve it.”

  I tell you, this man who humbly prayed and thanked God went on his way justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

The Home-School Mom and the Public-School Mom

  Two moms take their children to the park to play, one a home-schooling mom, the other, a public-school mom. As the two women watched their children play together, the home-schooling mom prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other women, selfish, unfit mothers, poor homemakers or even like this woman who ships her kids off to public school. I raise my own kids; I protect them from worldly influences; and I ensure that my kids have a godly, Bible-based education.”

  But the public-school mom, humbly prayed, “God thank you for my children. Please help me be a godly mother.”

  I tell you, this mom who humbly prayed went home justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts herself will be humbled, but the one who humbles herself will be exalted.

The Professed Christian and the Effeminate Looking Man

  Two men go to a fast-food restaurant for lunch, one a professed Christian, the other an effeminate looking man. As the two men ate their lunch, the Christian prayed, “God I thank you that I’m not like other men, irreligious, sexually immoral, or even like that gay-looking guy over there. I’m a born-again Christian; I go to church 3 times a week; and I publicly uphold marriage to be between one man and one woman.”

  But the effeminate looking man quietly prayed to himself, “God, have mercy on me a sinner. Please lead me in Your ways.”

  I tell you, this man who prayed to be forgiven went home justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

The Dressed-Down Christian and the Dressed-Up Christian

  Two Christian men go to church and sat on same pew, one a younger, dressed-downed Christian, the other an older, dressed-up Christian. As the two men sat on the same pew, the younger, dressed-down Christian prayed, “God I thank you that I’m not like other Christ followers, ritualistic, traditionalist, or even like this guy sitting on the other end. I’m authentic; I’m sold out for You; and I don’t put on a facade by dressing-up to worship You.”

  But the older, dressed-up Christian quietly prayed to himself, “God, I’m not perfect. I have failed Thee often. In Your steadfast love, have mercy on me a sinner.”

  I tell you, this man who confessed to God he was not perfect left the church service justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

  Sometimes we are saints. Sometimes we are sinners. Jesus points out our ‘sin’ can be something as real and sincere as our attitude, our outlook towards another soul. Worse still is when we estimate ourselves to be saints who are ‘better than’ those sinners.

  Jesus makes a sincere point that we are ALL in need of God’s grace and mercy. Jesus inquiries of us to think about our relationship to Him and unto the Father in more humble ways.

 Spiritual Pride is a sin. From today’s Gospel message, Jesus teaches us two characteristics of spiritual pride…1) Passing judgment on the tax collector and everyone else. 2) when prayer is all about us; our good works and righteousness.

  Biblical scholars through the centuries have written their comments regarding the self-righteous Pharisee. He presents himself as a person God should be glad to hear from instead of humbly approaching God.

  On the other hand, the tax collector was considered a low-down scoundrel in his culture back then. They ‘earned’ that reputation because they often times ‘cheated’ on people’s taxes and worse still they worked for the foreign government; the Romans who were occupying forces back then. Jesus though, points out the tax collector’s humble attitude as he prays unto God and seeks forgiveness.

  Sometimes it’s not ‘who’ we are, but ‘how’ we approach God and see ourselves that matters most.

  Easily enough we can estimate ourselves to be saints when we are really being sinners.

  Ask yourself, do you really live in the ‘fear of God?’ Or is that something you perhaps ‘explained away’ some time ago?

   Something spiritual you and I both know is this; God’s presence is like a mirror that reflects the state of our soul.

  Jesus further teaching is clear; don’t brag or judge others. ‘Judging’ can show up in things such as tale bearing, gossip, criticism, backbiting, condemnation, allegations etc.

  Today’s teachings from the Bible remind us that we can be saints or sinners. Sometimes we are one, sometimes the other, hopefully not both at the same time. 

  Scriptures from the Book of James provide us with our much needed and well appreciated spiritual reality that “God gives us more grace. God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” May we submit ourselves then to God. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Amen.

I Am A Christian? 8/23/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 22, 2020 & Sunday, August 23, 2020

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:  Colossians 2:6-9 Page 983, Matthew 16:13-20 Page 983

Sermon Message: “I Am a Christian?

  Easily enough any soul receiving this sermon message might affirm; “I am a Christian.”

  I sometimes ‘smile’ at what some folks believe ‘makes them a Christian.’ Our beloved church is located on a main road going through Coraopolis. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of vehicles that pass by this church each and every day. I’ve met more than one person who has seriously said, “I am a Christian because I drove past the Presbyterian Church in Coraopolis.” I’m sure their ‘intent’ runs a bit deeper than that, but you get the ‘gist’ of their identifying themselves as being a Christian.

 Some folks believe ‘being a Christian’ means you ‘go to church.’ Not everyone who attends church is a Christian. People come to church for various reasons. Many come to worship God and to be renewed for the week ahead; some come because they are facing a difficult decision and are hoping for some insights. Others come because it is the thing to do, it is a good place to make friends and business contacts, or they come to keep a spouse happy. Still others come because they want their children to learn Christian values. And if you are a young person, perhaps you come because your parents make you. By making you come, they are fulfilling the promise they made the day you were baptized. There is a good chance that we all have mixed motives for coming to worship, and that is fine. We are glad that you are here, whatever your reason, and we pray that the Holy Spirit will touch your heart this day.

 Many will say, “I AM a Christian.” There are some basics associated with ‘being a Christian.’

1. Do you pray daily?

2. Do you live by the Golden Rule?

3. Do you try to keep the Ten Commandments?

4. Do you attend worship every week?

5. Do you tithe ten percent of your income?

6. Do you serve on a committee or sing in the choir?

7. Do you do volunteer work in the community?

 The most important question is this; “Who is Jesus to you?” Being a good person, living a moral life and helping others helps to identify your Christianity are strong ‘characteristics’ associated with being a Christian. The spiritual foundation for being a Christian is KNOWING ‘WHO’ Jesus Christ is then living that belief, and understanding, at all costs. To say “I AM a Christian’ is to affirm how the reality, presence and belief in Jesus Christ affects not only our personal life; how we spend our time and money, how we get along with others, but also how we view ourselves and our future life.

  There lived a man born to an unwed mother in a stable and placed in a manger whose earthly father was a carpenter. History records that he healed the sick, sought out sinners, preached about the kingdom of heaven and proclaimed Good News to the poor.

 When this Jesus walked the face of this earth some of his peers said they never heard anyone speak like him. (John 7:46). He spoke with authority, not pride, nor control, but with an authority that came from outside and beyond himself. (Matthew 7:29). Jesus was able to do things that no one else ever could. He did all things well…(Mark 7:37).

  You may well recall from your Christian education background that even in Jesus’ ‘day’ many who saw what he did, and heard what he said, did not believe him to be anything more than a ‘good man!’ Back then some thought he was the reincarnation of one of their more famous people who had died such as John the Baptist or one of the prophets; Elijah or Jeremiah. Folks tended to sometimes believe that way, back then…In other words people, back then, were not real sure who Jesus was but they did know, for sure, that he was a great man…

  Jesus WAS a great man. Historical evidence supports that he was a remarkable healer, a charismatic leader, a great teacher, a martyr, a model and a friend. He IS all of these things but so much more. Think about it, other great men are not remembered so long nor have they inspired so much art, music and literature.

  We have all sorts of knowledge regarding who Jesus WAS. But who IS Jesus now? Who is Jesus in today’s world, in your world, in your heart, soul and life???

  Today’s scriptures from the Book of Colossians issues a warning NOT to be ‘taken in’ by ‘hollow and deceptive philosophies which depend upon human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world.’

  A few examples of what that means…

1)     Some say Jesus was just a good man who lived a long time ago. This might be referred to as ‘the historical Jesus.’

2)     Some affirm Jesus to be God’s Son but ‘out of touch’ with today’s realities. This might be referred to as the ‘irrelevant Jesus.’

3)     Lots of folks turn to knowledge, academics, the marvels of technology and modern medicine in lieu of their belief, trust and affirmation of Jesus’ living presence within their lives.

4)     Sadder still, way too many folks trust their own thoughts, philosophies, beliefs, traditions and even conversations with others so much more than they do this spiritual ‘entity’ called Jesus Christ.

    Check yourself to see IF you are a Christian according to sincere spiritual guidelines.

  As the Bible inquires today have you received Jesus as Lord in your life?...

  Do you ask Jesus to live inside of you and through you? Do you ‘base your life’ on Jesus? Are you rooted in him and built up in him? (Colossians 2:6,7).

  Is your faith strengthened in Him and overflowing with thankfulness? (Colossians 2:7)

  “I AM a Christian?”…That can be a strong affirmation of faith. Yet, at the same time it is a solemn question we must ask ourselves throughout our lives. Please spend some quiet time collecting your thoughts today, tomorrow and for the rest of your tomorrows.

  Ponder your faith relationship with Jesus. Is your faith something that was ‘once important’ perhaps when you were small or a bit younger? Kind of like how some folks believe Jesus was ‘once’ an important figure in history…

  Do you turn to Jesus daily/often or perhaps feel such ways are for the young and naïve or for the elderly and those nearing life’s end? Jesus IS ‘relevant’ to ALL…

  When things ‘go wrong’ in your body, your life or this world do you depend first and foremost on the news? The academics? Modern technology and modern medicines?

  HOW you choose each day to live your life and relate to God and others is a very big disclosure of whether you are what you believe you are or not; a Christian…

 “I AM a Christian?” Good question for all of us…

  I believe Jesus was at times ‘curious.’ One day he was with his disciples and began asking them “Who do people say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13). As noted earlier, some folks back then thought Jesus was a reincarnation of good folks who had passed away such as John the Baptist, the Prophets; Elijah or Jeremiah or perhaps another. Pretty soon Jesus’ curiosity turned into His straightforward inquiry; “What about you? Who do you say that I am?”

  I shall always revere the apostle Peter’s response…“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” IS JESUS THAT TO YOU? Not just ‘historically.’ Not only academically.’ Not just according to tradition nor only because of one’s going to church even for years. WHO is Jesus in your heart, in your soul in your daily life?

 There remains many ‘types’ of Christians. I sincerely believe we shall benefit from considering ‘healthy Christians.’

 Here a but a few ‘healthy affirmations’ when we inquire of ourselves; ‘I am a Christian?’...

  I affirm and choose to believe Jesus was not only a ‘good man’ he was the ‘best man’ that ever lived; both in history and present day. This remains a healthy affirmation for all of us.

  The question arises; “I am a Christian?” Healthy faith responds “Yes Lord!” meaning Jesus is Christ IS Lord in our each of our present day lives and within this world. Even in the midst of this strong virus; Covid 19.

 “I AM a Christian?” Healthy Christians combine faith with knowledge, academics, the marvels of technology and modern medicine. We tend to believe that God sent all of these things, works through all of these things yet calls upon each and every one of us to trust Him above and beyond only these things.

 When trials and tests come, healthy Christians turn to the Lord, call upon Him, submit to Him, love and trust Him. Then, when answers come, they return to the Lord Jesus Christ to give glory, praise and honor…

 Central to our faith is our deep-felt affirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is the Son of God. Our Father loves us.

  Now consider this question; in the eyes of God, the things you do, how you treat others, can you say without a doubt; I Am a Christian???

  IF we ARE a Christian then our lives are being transformed, changed for the better continuously. Others like to be around us because of what they see in us. Our ‘light’ shines. The light of Jesus Christ. Our lives are not supposed to cast a darkness on anyone. Rather we should be good to be around. Folks should trust us. Like us and love us.

  Christians are a blessing not a curse nor a detriment to others. Christians believe in such a way that others see and they too want to believe.

  When Peter affirmed Jesus Christ as the Messiah the Lord spoke to him saying, “Blessed are you Simon Peter, this was revealed to you by God. Jesus went on to say directly, upon this kind of faith, this ‘rock’ I will build my church.

 May your Christianity, the evidence of your faith plus your actions answer the question; Am I a Christian. Amen.

The Light of Humility 8/16/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 15, 2020 and Sunday, August 16, 2020

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:  Hebrews 13:1-8 P. 1214,  Luke 14:1, 7-14 P. 1046.

Sermon Message: “The Light of Humility”

  Some humility brings light to our lives. You may not initially agree with me but do ponder today’s message and see what God reveals…

  Consider these scriptures from the Gospel of Luke we just shared. Jesus was at a wedding feast. What we might refer to as ‘the reception.’ Guests are coming in and choosing to seat themselves in places of honor perhaps near the bride and groom, the parents, and immediate family. Many desired to be recognized as ‘honored guests!’ Jesus makes use of the occasion to give a little ‘speech’ of his own, reminding folks about being more humble and advising them to begin by setting at the lowest places of honor instead of the highest. Just imagine if you were setting there on that occasion and find yourself being sort of reprimanded and challenged by the outstanding clergy of the day…It must have been humiliating…

 However, if you were a guest, back then, or are simply reviewing this teaching from the Bible today, on second thought, it all makes perfect sense! Jesus was a teacher, among other things. This ‘lesson’ that he taught all those centuries ago still rings true for us.

  Humility is not usually a welcomed ‘blessing’ in any of our lives. Quite often humility is associated with one’s being humiliated at the expense of others. Such humility is kind of a ‘darkness’ in any of our lives. Yet God has a way of turning darkness into light.

 The Bible affirms that people tend to love/embrace darkness instead of light. Today’s scriptures concerning guests seeking positions of honor speaks of prideful desires and humiliating results. Jesus sheds ‘light’ on the subject instructing folks to not assume the higher position but instead choose a more humble approach. You may be honored instead of humiliated if you do so.

  Has it ever happened to you? Have you ever been asked to ‘please move’ because you were in the wrong seat? It is a bit humiliating but, after it occurs, it does start to ‘make sense.’ God encourages us today, along with his Son; Jesus, to ‘spiritualize’ some things in our lives which may at first seem humiliating, but later make perfect sense in our faith and even provide ‘light.’

  Maybe there is some ‘light’ associated with humility. Consider some other ‘humiliating’ teachings that bring ‘light.’

 When someone insults you do you ever ‘come back at them’ with a nasty insult of your own? Insults are humiliating. Jesus teaches us to ‘turn the other cheek.’ (Luke 6:29). That’s hard to do. It gets worse when they give you a shove or put down somebody you love or something you really care about. Jesus does instruct us to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to pray for our enemies, we’re even supposed to ‘bless those who persecute you!’

  Jesus, is not teaching passiveness nor acceptance of wrongs inflicted. He IS teaching us a better way of handling such times, persons and occasions. His way brings ‘light.’

 I’ve always admired folks who figure out how to spiritualize those times and occasions which can be downright humiliating. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to be spiritual.

 Folks sometimes share with me their awkward work experiences. This fellow told me of a woman who kept ‘putting him down.’ Eventually, he’d had enough! He said he could have ‘come back’ at her with similar insults and injuries but he chose not to. He said his faith ‘kicked in.’ Her words and actions were increasingly humiliating. At long last he spoke to her with firm resolve. Never threatened her in any way, just met her eyes with resolve. She knew he ‘meant business’ when he said; “That’s enough! I will pray for you.” Then he walked away. He recalled Jesus’ instructions and sought to ‘spiritualize’ his response and resolve. It did bring light into a dark situation. The woman did some changing inside herself as well.

  Sometimes the light of humility entails living out what the Bible teaches; that we do not seek revenge, that we may not carry out punishment assertively so, against another, but meet them with firm resolve.

 The ‘light of humility’ is a more ‘spiritual’ way of looking at things and for handling all sorts of people and scenarios in our lives…

 Because God knew there would be humiliation, He gave us guidance for handling the same. Not only did the Lord give us guidance, He also shows us where there can be ‘light’ coming from humility. Sometimes this ‘light’ exemplifies itself in wisdom or perhaps in patience, mostly in better and more appropriate ways of dealing with humiliation.

  Some folks are easier to love than others. The Bible commands us to love others as ourselves. I’ve heard folks say to me, “Well, I’ll do my best to love them with the love of the Lord but I don’t have to like it!” It’s true, you can ‘love’ somebody but not ‘like’ them.

  Today the Word of the Lord instructs us to “keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 13:1) Endeavoring to love someone you just don’t like is humbling and sometimes humiliating. Even husbands and wives understand there are certain ‘imperfections’ in others that can make them ‘hard to love.’ Whether we are in our homes, here in this church, at work, school, shopping or wherever we may be ‘love’ remains a choice and an effort. A blessed effort at best. A humiliating even hurting effort at its’ worst.

  Love is messy. Always was always will be. Love is the greatest blessing and at the same time it can become the most humiliating reality.

  ‘Love’ was never designed to be perfect all of the time. Leastwise, not this side of God’s heaven. Love requires work, lots of energy and effort. Sometimes, even in the best of relationships the messiness of humiliation will occur between folks. So, in general, God decrees, “Keep on loving one another.” Love as family...Yes, there are those times when boundaries must be drawn but most often God’s command to keep on loving others provides a soul with a sense of His light in the midst of the darkness associated with humiliation…

 I trust we have a sincere spiritual maturity to further understand the more we grow in our devotion to God and our love for God, the more we will grow in ‘how’ we love others.

  Many parents raised their children to ‘beware of strangers.’ Yet today’s scriptures speak to us to ‘show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.’ We can’t be too ‘careful’ in these days and times. Policies, procedures, guards and guidance are all ‘in place’ for reasons. God has always bestowed honors upon his hospitable servants. Sometimes beyond all of their thoughts, unawares. Sometimes there is ‘light’ in the humility of caring for strange souls…

 There are some ‘duties’ associated with being a Christian. For instance, caring about, feeling sad ‘with,’ sympathizing ‘for’ those who are in bonds of all sorts and facing adversity can be humiliating as well. May I remind us all, WE are the body of Christ. As such the light that shines in darkness is our love, our sympathy our paths of care and reform in other’s lives. We DO bear each other’s burdens. I fully realize and appreciate that you have certainly helped to carry mine. Light shines even when burdens are shared by others who care with the love of God.

  God requires marriage to be kept pure. That is a ray of God’s light shining in the darkness of a world that far too often compromises sacred norms, vows and values. A further light being this, clearly the Bible decrees God will judge those who defy the marriage bed.

  Sometimes it becomes humiliating to be around folks who have more than we do. God reminds us, God encourages and instructs us in His Holy Word to be content with what we do have. Furthermore, we are to be content in all environments and situations because we KNOW God is with us and will never leave nor forsake us.

  Humility need not always be thought of as a bad thing. There is sometimes light found in and through humility. I am convinced that true humility can be seen in both the great and the small. There is no command in the Bible, of which I am aware, that requires us to be poor, powerless, and hopeless in order to be humble. I have had my fill of those who put on "airs" that are meant to convince all of us just how pious and humble they are.

   I’ve met some humble people. You and I enjoy being around ‘humble souls.’

  Jesus Christ is the greatest example of a humble person. This same Jesus was often times faced with humiliation in his life. Perhaps his awareness of being humble and facing humiliation were inspirational to the Beatitudes, His famed Sermon on the Mount. It was there that Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:9-11

  Humiliation is hurtful, degrading and dehumanizing. It can make a soul feel unloved, rejected, sad and even confused. I pray each of us will spend some time reviewing inside of ourselves when we have humiliated someone else. Too often we affirm God’s directives apply to others but perhaps not unto us. Confess your sins to the lord, Change for the better so that not only your soul can grow but equally important so that other souls feel loved and affirmed.

 Humiliation IS a form of darkness. The Bible does not speak favorably of humiliation. However, I believe God does enable us to perceive light even in the midst of humility.

That light comes from God. It comes from remembering how God has spoken to us, trained our hearts and directed our minds to deal with humility and humiliating circumstances. During humiliating times, it helps to remember a few things.

#1 You are a child of God. You have a right to be here. You are no less nor any better than others.

#2 People may put you down, humiliate you and do all sorts of things to you. But they cannot take away your spirit for that comes from God, belongs to God, is sustained by God and will someday return to God.

#3 Quote scriptures to yourself when dealing with humility and humiliating circumstances and people. In addition to today’s scripture lessons I have listed several scripture quotes towards the end of the bulletin to help you with that. Jesus quoted the Psalms and other scriptures when humiliated. So, should we.

# 4 Spiritualize to the very best of your ability what God would have you to think do and say when dealing with humility.

 I sincerely believe light; God’s light can shine and will shine through even the roughest and most trying times of humility. Amen.

Patient Endurance 8/9/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 8, 2020 & Sunday, August 9, 2020

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:  Psalm 27: 13, 14 Page 550,  Hebrews 10:36 Page 1212

Sermon Message: “Patient Endurance”

   The Bible is referred to as ‘the Good Book’ for reasons…There is much ‘good news’ and ‘good advice’ and ‘good sayings’ and ‘good teachings’ to be found within the pages of Holy Scripture. The Bible is one of those books that you can read, put down for a while, come back to it and still learn something new, fresh and meaningful. Today I’d like to talk to you of a further meaningful insight into God’s Word; the Bible…There are times, in any of our lives, when some portion of the Bible ‘comes to mind’ or, as we are actively reading it, we find some word or verses of scripture seem to ‘stand out’ or even ‘jump out’ at us. Today’s scriptures ‘stand out’ proclaiming our need to wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart and also persevere.

  In essence the clear spiritual message is God’s call to patient endurance. I’ve found in my life repeatedly, that God will sometimes call something to mind as a kind of spiritual preparation for what’s coming. Perhaps this spiritual process occurs in you from time to time as well.  

  In all of our lives there is an ongoing need right now for patient endurance. Lots of folks are disheartened by all of the social restrictions associated with Covid 19. Alongside of that are the ongoing realities associated with people’s lives, their families, their work and their goals.

  Today’s scriptures may be seen as Life Verses for us to follow.

“I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take courage and wait for the Lord…Persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”  Strive to remember and record these words of scripture in your heart and within your mind…

 Patient Endurance is understood to mean; being capable of bearing or enduring pain, difficulty, annoyance, provocation, misfortune, delay, hardship, etc., with fortitude and calmness and without complaint, anger, or the like. It further means the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina: lasting quality; Continuing existence; duration. Capable of calmly awaiting an outcome or result; not hasty or impulsive.                                                                                                                                  

  Prior to all of the Social Restrictions associated with Covid 19, when we had to be confined to our homes due to inclement weather, we’d sometimes say we get ‘cabin fever!’  THIS Summer, seems to have a ‘fever’ of its’ own as well. It’s been hot and humid for weeks now…This warm stretch seems to be going on and on. After a while you start to feel as though you’re ‘going through’ the motions to patiently endure what’s taking place…

  Parts of the lawn need cut while other parts are just plain dead, cracked and dry. You still have to get up, get moving, get groceries, go to work and so on. Even in the midst of this ongoing heat and humidity meals still need cooked… Sometimes I think I’d just like to throw my hands up, shrug my shoulders, order some ‘no contact’ pizza and watch mindless TV…

  I used to ‘get that way’ more often, but then I chose instead to ‘get through’ these and other struggles with God’s Word. When I read the Bible, I learn of other folks and their need for practicing patient endurance. The cousin of Jesus; John, sent ‘word’ asking ‘how long must we wait for the Messiah to come? Jesus, enduring His pre-crucifixion trial asked the Father to please take away his ‘cup of suffering.’ Job, lost his family, his cattle, his belongings and his health and needed to ‘patiently endure.’ Those ancient Israelites returning from slavery in Egypt were required to ‘patiently endure’ their wilderness experience. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit who penned the psalms patiently endured his trials even as he called upon the Lord repeatedly. Today’s scripture lesson from the Book of Hebrews issues the spiritual call and guidance to “persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” The list goes on and on of folks from the Bible who needed to enlist ‘patient endurance.’

  People then and now sometimes enlist in a ‘pity party’ as an alternative to patient endurance. Those ‘parties’ are short lived at best and not all that beneficial.

  I trust that God has ‘patient endurance’ with us. I further trust that we are called upon, by God, to have patient endurance with others. Sometimes that’s quite challenging to do.

  Years back, while raising my daughter; Bonnie, I would sometimes have to practice ‘patient endurance’ with her, as I am sure any of you have done with your children. A small but memorable example…One day I was baking a cake in the oven. Bonnie had helped me to combine the ingredients and ‘scoop’ the batter into the pan. Then I warned her, as I routinely did, NOT to come near or ‘touch’ the oven door to look at the cake because the oven was ‘really hot’ and she’d get burned and cry…Mostly, Bonnie would ‘listen,’ but every once in a while she’d become defiant and do things I just knew would hurt her.

  She went to ‘check on the cake.’ I yelled “NO BONNIE!” She looked at me defiantly. Again, I said, “No Bonnie!” I soon realized she’d need to ‘find out for herself’ and I needed to patiently endure. She soon cried when her little fingers got some minor ‘boo-boo’s.’

  Patient endurance is sometimes similar to what our world refers to as ‘outcome-based education.’ The ‘lesson’ relates all the way back to the Garden of Eden. God said to Adam and Eve; enjoy my garden, just don’t eat the fruit from this one particular tree…It seems folks choose, of their own free will, to be defiant. Adam and Eve were defiant and ended up suffering for their defiance.

  Struggles with defiant people are recorded throughout the Bible. Struggles with defiant people are recorded in our hearts and minds, even felt within our souls.

  Learning to patiently endure trials in our lives or even in others, is one thing. Patiently enduring defiant behaviors in others is another thing altogether.

  It seems God became upset when Adam and Eve defied Him and His specific instructions in the Garden of Eden. He confronts them, holds them accountable, decrees what their punishment shall be then He moves in compassion to care for them, making them clothing and guiding them towards their new future. In other words, God redeemed them. It wasn’t free and it certainly wasn’t pretty. Innocence was lost. A new reality with increased responsibility and solemnness came to be.

  When we ‘defy’ a similar process takes place… A ‘confronting’ of the problem does occur even when we try to ‘sweep it under the rug’ so to speak. Accountability comes, sooner or later, and punishment is sure to follow. Punishment may or may not be from us. Punishment does occur either in the short term or in the long run or both. I’ve seen where some of the worst punishment is what we bring upon ourselves…

 Our world continues to learn if we ‘defy’ social distancing, wearing our masks and washing our hands, the numbers of Covid 19 cases will increase. If we disregard and disrespect God’s commandments and further teachings our sinfulness will produce punishment.

   My child got a ‘boo-boo’ from the hot oven door…. God proclaimed to Eve pains in childbearing will be severe. Labor to give birth will be painful. God proclaimed to Adam he will work hard by the sweat of his brow and garnering his food will be challenging. God reminds us, from dust we have come and unto dust we shall return.

  Both Biblical scholars and psychology instructors tend to associate our ‘defiance’ with our ‘God complex.’ ‘Defiance’ has something to do with self-centeredness, entitlement, feeling superior, smarter than God, and rationalizing our behaviors. My folks taught me to beware of those individuals who think they are the only person in the world and don’t much consider the outcome their actions, their words, may have upon others.

  “God’ is not something to be ‘explained away,’ rejected or ignored. God is real. This IS His world. We ARE His creation.

 Patient endurance calls all of us to stop and think about what we are saying, doing or even thinking…

 Yes, even God hurts when His children are defiant…Yet there remains accountability. God knows some folks will not listen to either reason or instructions. Such were His children; Adam and Eve.

  Parents understand this process too. We know our children will sometimes have to experience ‘boo-boo’s’ in life in order to learn what NOT to repeat. Don’t we all know, some ‘boo ‘boo’s’ are far longer lasting than others.

 Patiently we continue to learn to endure the results, the accountability, the restrictions, the outcomes from that which any of us choose to do wrong. Our defiance may not be well thought out but our ultimate responsibility for our actions certainly will occur. The perceivable result of defiance is ‘distancing’ between one’s self, God and others.

  Adam and Eve felt estranged from God. My child looked at me strangely every time I’d raise an eyebrow when she was about to do something defiant or hurtful. Surely, we all have experienced the ‘gap’ that occurs from defiance.

  God still offers and teaches patient endurance. When we realize our nakedness, He clothes us still. When we finally become cognizant of our wrong doing He sets us straight then forgives and guides us in a new and better direction.

  Practicing patient endurance means, we need to become more God like and forgive, guide and redeem. These spiritual outcomes we simply label as being ‘love.’

  Love one another with the love of the Lord. Choose to do so…Eventually your spirit and my own will grow confident through patient endurance, that we shall see the goodness of the Lord. Remember this you are a child of God. You ARE a Christian, first and foremost. Act like it, Live like it. Turn to God and trust in God for all things to work together for the Lord. When trials come and trying people seem to prevail wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

 Patient endurance occurs best when we turn to the Lord, trust Him and place our faith in Him. Strive to live all of your life doing the will of God, trust the Bible’s promise that eventually you will receive what he has promised. Amen.


Communion Miracle 8/1/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, August 1, 2020 & Sunday, August 2, 2020

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:  Matthew 14:13-21, Page 980

Sermon Message: ‘Communion Miracle’

 Our calendars have just turned over to August, 2020. I recall about a year ago, I believe it was late August or early September, we held our annual picnic outside on the church lawn. Perhaps some of you remember it. Tables were set up, all in a row. Paper plates and plastic utensils are at the ‘beginning side of the first table. This is followed by lots and lots of home-made ‘dishes’ prepared by various members of our church family. Towards the last table were the salads followed by the desserts. We’ve grown to ‘perfect’ the process of how to host a church picnic or a ‘pot-luck’ meal. We had to learn NOT to have all beans and no meats. Nor should we mainly have desserts and little or no ‘main course.’

 With careful planning and preparation those picnics and pot-luck dinners were ‘pulled off’ with great success. Makes me hungry just thinking about them. Even in the midst of Covid-19 we are still hoping to provide another church picnic in early September.

  What if I were to suggest that we meet right after this service and share some food and fellowship? That might be a pretty tall order since we did not really PLAN anything nor have we prepared anything…Even if we ‘sent out’ to McDonald’s or Anthony Juniors this would still be a pretty tall order and take some time to set up, order, pick-up, distribute, eat, enjoy, pick-up and clean-up. Yet that IS what seems to have been happening in today’s scripture lesson. The Feeding of the Five Thousand appears to be an impromptu meal, ordered by Jesus. SO much more than a church picnic…

  Consider just a bit of what was happening at the time…Jesus had become quite the controversial figure. He was teaching, preaching and sharing numerous miracles with the common people. King Herod became aware and was feeling terribly threatened by this ‘Jesus’ who because of his growing popularity was quickly becoming a threat to Herod’s reign. Herod heard more and more of who Jesus was and ‘what’ Jesus was doing…So in Herod’s way of thinking he estimated that Jesus was actually John the Baptist whom Herod had killed, but was now somehow reincarnated in this person; Jesus. When Jesus ‘got word’ of all this he became concerned thinking that ‘he’s next!’ Herod wanted NO competition! So it was Jesus withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Crowds of people learned of this and kept following Jesus till they ‘caught up’ with him.

  Sometimes prudence calls us away to a remote or solitary place as well. Yet, I inquire of us to notice what happens next…Jesus sees this immense crowd and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

  There’s some sort of miracle happening here, even in this early portion of today’s narrative from the Bible. Jesus, upon seeing the large crowd, has compassion on them and then he helps them! It’s one thing for anyone to have pity on another or even on large numbers of people. It’s another thing all together to not only have pity/compassion but to also actually help others.

  The disciples were more often quick to show their discretion than to exhibit any zeal. SO it is in today’s Gospel lesson we learn that Jesus heals their sick then provides a miracle to feed five thousand plus people…

 Healing is a miracle. I’ve received some such miracles in my life. Perhaps you have also. Maybe not ‘all at once,’ but gradually, with patience and with further help.

 Tenderness, such as Christ expressed for the large numbers of hurting, needy and hungry people was a further miracle. Jesus, all along, expressed more tenderness toward the people than his disciples did. Sometimes we all need reminded of this spiritual lesson and truth that we are to become more like Jesus and less like all of the others…

  I need to further remind us that Jesus was a man. He had flesh and bones, feelings and needs just like any of us. At the end of the day Jesus too was hungry. Not only the disciples and the large crowd. Remember when whipped, when nailed to the cross, Jesus bleed and he hurt…He was Son of God, but also in human form…Jesus had a body and Jesus’ example reminds us too that we need to depend upon him for the supply of our bodily wants. Jesus teaches us still to ‘seek first the kingdom of God.’ If we do this, if serving God and seeking first his kingdom is our chief care than we may depend upon God to add other things to us as he sees fit.

 Those early disciples and that large crowd of people numbering five thousand, plus women and children, were surely seeking the kingdom of God and the ministry of Christ. It was a good sign to see so many coming to Him…It was a miracle that so many came to Jesus, followed Him and sought to hear and receive what he had to offer.

  I’ve observed lots of souls across the years seeking to follow Jesus. Some are asking, even pleading with the Lord to give, help, provide and guide. I have further observed the truly ‘neat’ miracle that God sometimes uses ‘us’, the little we have, and creates something ‘good’ something ‘special,’ something even ‘great’ from it…

 I like ‘remembering’ things from the Bible. It nurtures my faith and strengthens my soul. I recall reading in the Bible where God provided manna, from heaven, for the people wondering in the desert to eat. They were escaping from slavery in Egypt. I recall reading whereby Jesus, in an upper room, sat at a table, not too different from the one in every church, and says to his people, then, and to us now, even in the midst of our greatest accomplishments along with our brokenness, fears and sinfulness, “Take, eat.” God then and God now is concerned about us. He seeks to feed us sometimes in mysterious and perhaps unusual ways. The Bible is real. Christ does have compassion on our predicament.

  My problem, and perhaps at times, your problem as well, is knowing the compassionate thing to do is not always the practical thing to do. In today’s Gospel lesson the practical thing to do, even as Jesus’ chosen disciples recommended to him, was to send people away. I admire and respect that the disciples came to Jesus, spoke with Him and reported to Him.

  Sometimes the Lord’s instructions are a bit hard to follow. In essence Jesus responded to his disciple’s ‘practicality’ by instructing them to ‘work with what you’ve got!’ Jesus meets them where they are and directly inquires, “What have you got?” The disciples respond five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus instructs; “Bring them to me.”

 It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn and re-learn at times that Jesus is not interested in the boundaries associated with our budgets. He seems to remain all the more interested in people growing in faith and trusting in His power. Budgets are but a barometer of how people are growing in the faith and trusting in his power.

I sometimes wonder about that when I consider this church’s Day Care ministry, or the Coraopolis Meals on Wheels program or even our West Hills Community Food pantry spanning years of helping to feed bodies and souls…

 Perhaps today during communion the Lord is asking you how much faith do you have? “Not much” some might reply. Jesus says to you and to me, “More than you think!”

Jesus is still saying to us, “You provide the bread and I’ll provide the miracle.”

Perhaps the focus on today’s scripture lesson does not need to be so much on the loaves and the fishes, but on the hearts and the souls of the people gathered. Perhaps there’s ‘more to this story’ then just the miraculous multiplication of loaves. Possibly selfish people became generous people. Some say the crowd may have had ‘some’ food’ carried, wrapped up, under their cloaks and in the presence of Christ they opened up and began to share. We may never know for sure. Myself I shall always seek to trust that God can provide and sometimes He will call upon me to use what little I have to make something more for others to benefit from.

Today, following communion you can do some little thing…share a word of hope. Lend a helping hand. Although this may seem quite small in the midst of the overwhelming vastness of problems our world now endures, whatever the deed, God will bless it and spread it. Scientists, right now, are bringing even their smallest bit of information, insight and testing results to further develop a vaccine to combat the Covid 19 virus. May we ask God to bless the little and bless the world with a miracle. Right now in some part of the world somebody may be writing a note, structuring a poem that shall become a song we can all sing in our hearts. It begins with the smallest of efforts and becomes blessed into something more. Perhaps something great.

  Come to God, humbly, and He will lift you up miraculously in His time and His way.

Communion Miracle….a small piece of bread. A tiny cup of juice. And so much more to consider…Amen.

Do All Things Work Together For The Good? 7/26/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 25, 2020 & Sunday, July 26, 2020

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: Romans 8:26-39  Page 1133,  Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Page 979

Sermon Message: “Do All Things Work Together For The Good?”

These readings are the Word of God! Thanks Be to God!

Today’s scripture lessons seek to teach us that all things work together for the good and furthermore that God’s kingdom is among us…

Years back, in the mid 1980’s there was a couple I grew to know. We shared a common babysitter for our children back then. The couple was so enthused to share with me the ‘news’ they were ‘expecting’ again. At long last their second child was born, but there were ‘complications.’ Their second child passed. I officiated the funeral. At the time it certainly did not ‘feel’ as though things were working together for the good nor that the kingdom of God was near.

Another true story; a two year old little boy was left alone frequently to care for his one year old sister. This went on for quite a long time. Eventually they were removed from that environment by the authorities and later placed in Foster Care. The negative effects from their trauma lasted for years. I doubt they felt as though things were working together for the good. They had very little understanding of the kingdom of heaven among them.

One additional true story; a young woman married her high school sweet heart. They had a child together. Both had full time jobs and pursued further education. Years went by and the woman felt all along that they had a good marriage. As it turns out her beloved husband had been ‘stepping out’ on her for several years and on numerous occasions. The ‘problems’ that ensued required years of ‘fixing’ for that woman and her child to ‘make sense’ of things and adjust. Initially when this awareness happened it surely did not feel as though things were working together for the good nor did the kingdom of heaven feel remotely near.

A ‘common thread’ among these scenarios was the numerous ‘platitudes’ offered by people and sometimes by the ‘church.’ “Oh don’t worry, everything will be alright!”

“If God brings you TO it He’ll certainly bring you ‘through it.’” These and several other ‘responses’ were supplied.

Our first scripture lesson for today; Romans 8:26-39 contains a specific verse of scripture I wish to call to your attention …It is perhaps one of the most misinterpreted verses of scripture. The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit writes;  “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NRSV). Often, we think of this as only good things happen to those who are called according to God’s purpose — and no bad things happen to us if we are faithful. We only need to look at scripture and the individuals in scripture to know this is not true. In my own life, illness, death, pain has regularly been present. That doesn’t mean that I am not faithful, or that God is punishing me somehow. Rather, I look back and with a little hindsight see the presence of God in each of those times — not causing them but carrying me, accompanying, and loving me through those times. God can use everything in our lives for good — to help us turn to God, to help us love God and our neighbors in new and more compassionate ways. The clouds do sometimes have silver linings — and even when they don’t, the rain — and the reign of God, can nourish us.

Do you believe the kingdom of God is among us? How have you experienced it? Our second scripture lesson presents several ‘metaphors’ regarding ‘what’ the kingdom of heaven is like. Let me share with you now one example that ‘comes to mind.’

There was a businessman who’d made a lot of money working in the city. For a decade, he was fulfilling his dream of success and fortune. His family had a nice place to live. His kids went to great schools. He seemed to have it all. However, his wife, who’d been born in a small town, didn’t like the city. She endured ten years there but longed for her dream house in the country. The kids liked the idea of living in the country, too. None of them complained, but he knew what was in their hearts. One day, out of the blue, he came home early and called a family meeting. He told them he’d given his notice. He was giving up all the city offered, and the family was moving to the country. “Why?” he was asked. The answer was simple. “Nothing is more important than the ones you love.”

We are Christians. As such, we remain aware of missions and missionaries. Some missions, such as Meals on Wheels and the Food Pantry remain ‘just around the corner’ so to speak. Other missions and missionaries are located throughout the world spanning a very lengthy and sometimes quite costly history…I read of a missionary; Jim Elliot; who died in Ecuador in 1956. He gave his life trying to reach the Auca Indians who’d never heard the gospel of Jesus. His journal was discovered later where, on October 28th he had this entry, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” Elliot and four others gave their lives because they loved Jesus and the Auca people.

That’s the nature of the kingdom of heaven. The value of the kingdom is seen in these parables and how people would give up everything to get it. Is anything more important to you than the kingdom of heaven?

Serving the Lord as a pastor I am of course interested in the stories as well as the histories of other pastors. Thomas Rinkart was a German pastor and musician who served the Church in 1637 in Eilenburg, Germany. In that year, 8,000 people died in that city of disease, including Rinkart’s wife. He preached at 200 burial services in one week. Rinkart wrote a hymn text during this plague, which is familiar to us. “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices. Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.”

Today’s scriptures inquire; Who will separate us from the love of Christ? The Apostle Paul responds; no one and nothing. If God is for us, who can be against us? Such sentiments are reassuring during our time of much uncertainty and pain. And yet, these scriptures tend to ‘sting’ a bit in this season of suffering and upheaval. Nothing separates us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord, but COVID-19 keeps us apart from those we most long to embrace. No calamity can prevent us from knowing and receiving the love and grace of God, and yet racism and its centuries long impact festers and hurts, divides and persists. The coronavirus kills people. The economic realities injure many. Are these verses from Romans only nice words that help alleviate our stress for a moment or two? Or are they true?

Does Jesus' descriptions of the kingdom of heaven help us in the midst of trials and suffering…? Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed." Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast." Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field." Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea."

These are NOT spiritual ‘platitudes’ NOR cute ‘sayings’ from the Bible. Rather these are rich and complex teachings from Jesus Christ. Spiritual metaphors…These contain themes such as the smallest of things coming to have huge impact, hidden realities that end up making a big difference, surprising outcomes, exponential growth and persistent effort emerge from these images. Mustard seeds get planted and tended. Yeast gets added to other ingredients; there is kneading and also waiting. Treasure must get dug up, unearthed and recognized as something of worth. Nets must be cast, repeatedly, hauled up over and over again, their contents made ready for consumption. The good, life-giving end does not come without energy, patience and days of no or very mixed results. All things work together for good and this is God's ultimate doing, but we are gifted with the responsibility to participate in that good's emergence…

The young couple that lost a child did grow beyond that hurting traumatic time. Their one remaining child was ‘all the more’ appreciated. Their marriage ‘grew up’ in ways no one would have expected. Furthermore, they attended a grief ministry support group and later lead similar groups themselves.

 The two year old and his year old sister did go to foster care, were later adopted and became blessed to receive years of follow up care regarding their earlier trauma. They are doing quite well today.

The woman who had married her high school sweetheart became blessed later in life to marry a fellow who is not only ‘true’ to her but stands by her and as she says, ‘brings out the very best in her!’

Life isn’t always fair. Sometimes its’ actually quite messy. I’ve learned, walking with Jesus, living, teaching and preaching the ‘way’ of the Christian life people just don’t benefit much from slogans and cute sayings nor ‘platitudes,’ that are mostly false assurances at best.

‘Church’ should help us think through and live in the midst of that which overwhelms us. ‘Faith’ must become ‘sight’ that aligns with real hope. So I say to you, as Christians speak and act in ways that demonstrates the truth, the deep spiritual truth that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord…

Be the ‘church.’ Sow the smallest of seeds; a call, a note, a conversation, a commitment, a donation, a prayer, a stand. We, the ‘church’ are to scatter these seeds widely, generously, over and over again individually and as a church. There remains mystery; wholesome and sincere mystery of the ways God blesses, reforms and can use things to work together for the good.

These ‘metaphors’ of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ enables us to envision what a good society looks like, at least what it ought to be. We are both invited and called by God to keep adding ingredients into the mix, work these ingredients into the dough, let them rise then knead them some more until the bread of life emerges from formerly disparate parts and all are fed.

Keep digging until you find the hidden treasure underneath what looked like desolate land and depleted soil. Like archeologists of the holy we excavate the landscape for things of worth that reveal what is truly valuable: people, relationships, creation, beauty, mercy, truth, kindness, joy, love.

We are the people called to keep casting the nets and fishing for people - all kinds of people whom God will sort out, people who need to know that Christ is for them and we are, too.

Do all things work together for good to those who love God? We trust and believe the answer is yes, a resounding ‘yes’ embodied in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Yes, all things will work for good because God is working all things out. Yes, and we know what the kingdom of heaven is like. We know God's will for this earth is like that of the heavenly kingdom. We know that the smallest of God's seeds result in large, sheltering, life-giving trees for all nations and every creature. We know that God's power is often unseen, embedded in all that feeds and nourishes us. We know that we must get our hands dirty if we are to discover the beautiful, priceless treasure that lies underneath the world's grit. We know that fishing requires effort, repetition, patience.

We who follow Jesus Christ are not to be about control or slogans. We are about daily cultivating a society that reflects the goodness of our God - sowing, kneading, searching and fishing until everyone knows that nothing can separate them from the love of God.


COVID-19, God In The Wilderness 7/19/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 18, 2020 & Sunday, July 19, 2020

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:  Isaiah 40:3-5  Page 718, Mark 1:9-13  Page 1001

Sermon Message: “Covid 19, God In The Wilderness”

    Do you all remember how Covid 19 began? I don’t refer only to its inception in China and spread throughout the world. Rather, how do you and I recall the beginning phases of ‘frustration’ associated with our introduction to the realities of Covid-19?  

   Our frustrations with Covid 19 started with toilet paper disappearing off shelves…Now, several months later we are still trying to decipher what this virus is, how to deal with it, where it may end up going and even the Spiritual meaning behind it. I’m certain you’ve received an over abundance of news reports and have possibly sorted through tons of information on your computer, in the newspaper and even in conversations among friends.

  Some spirituality might suggest we are living in the ‘End Times’ just prior to Jesus returning back to earth and the world as we’ve know it coming to an end. Our spiritual review of pandemics and catastrophes through the centuries informs us that times such as these are more often used by God to bring about strong, sincere and lasting reform to the world. While we are still quite in the midst of this Covid-19 worldwide pandemic perhaps we can benefit from pondering some spiritual insights.

  Perhaps you have never seen our calendars so cleared of planned events, even historical/traditional happenings. We are now reduced to emails, phone calls, social distancing and careful encounters wearing required masks. We feel our mortality. Anxiety comes creeping in or overwhelms us like a hidden wave. Many folks have shared with me they feel stripped bare, frustrated and at times disoriented wishing they could escape to somewhere else or perhaps push a button making everything STOP or at least be placed ON HOLD!

  A sure Biblical insight we can all gain is this; the COVID-19 pandemic is a wilderness moment for the world. “Wilderness” is described as a desolate place. Analogous to a barren desert, where life is challenging. A Biblical example you may recall; when God sought to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Moses lead them through the wilderness, the desert. Those wilderness years for the ancient Israelites were learning years, times of reform and callings towards new and firmer covenants with Yahweh. God did eventually lead them into their Promised Land.

  Wilderness moments can look and feel like death. Yet they can also be where God meets us. During these current times it’s easy to feel disoriented, abandoned, alone and forgotten by God. Furthermore, what we are seeing, hearing and experiencing is causing us to lament the situations of people experiencing job losses, poverty, business closures and hard to attain health care. Lots of folks, for lots of reasons, feel ‘displaced.’ One cannot help but wonder, will our world, all of us affected by Covid 19, ever arrive in a ‘promised land’ of our own? We should be feeling pain and frustration dealing with Covid 19. We should be questioning how, why and when? We are Christians and as such our ‘job’ our ‘calling’ the very presence of God inside of us, should be causing us to question why is there this suffering, injustice, sin and death? Hear again God’s Word in today’s first Scripture Lesson; Isaiah 40:3-5 “A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. “Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

   The wilderness becomes a time to ‘clear the way’ for the Lord…

   In the Bible, the wilderness is also the place where salvation dawns. The place that gives way to a land rich in water and life, a place of submission and of reform. Throughout the Biblical accounts people who travel through the wilderness do arrive in the Promised Land but only in God’s time and on God’s terms.

  The primary purpose of a ‘wilderness experience’ is to increase one’s ability to trust God. A further purpose of the wilderness experience is to strip away confidence in self and replace it with confidence in God.

  The Hebrew word for wilderness is Midar. A very quiet place… The word ‘wilderness’ is mentioned nearly 300 times in the Bible. So you see, it IS quite important. Even Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was called out into the wilderness for some forty days. Recall also, God provided for the Israelites when they journeyed through their wilderness, the desert, prior to coming to their Promised Land. God the Father provided for His Son Jesus even as the Savior journeyed through his wilderness. You can trust and be assured God will help you, and me, to journey through this current wilderness...

  God has historically well used desert/wilderness times to offer people a chance to get to know God better or perhaps for their first time. In seasons such as the one we are in right now we find ourselves stripped of many comforts, from a false sense of control and from any other delusions we may have of being ‘independent’ from God and all things relating to God. Biblical history reveals God often used the wilderness as a time and place for people to be tested and reoriented towards God. While the wilderness is known to be a place of desolation it has been further known by the people of God as a place of divine presence and provisions.

  While God did not necessarily ‘cause’ Covid-19, I praise Him for the spiritual insight that He is well using this pandemic as a time, a chance, a break, an opportunity for all sorts of people to further get to know God.    

  Our lives may be stripped of many comforts but God IS meeting us in the wilderness even when the wilderness looks and feels like death.

  There are certain ‘themes’ associated with one’s journeying through the wilderness. ‘Orientation, to Disorientation, to Reorientation.

  We initially became ‘oriented’ to restrictions, oh those increasing and changing restrictions. We became oriented also to fear and loss of so much control in our everyday lives. That led to us feeling ‘disoriented’ to our desired sense of normalcy, security, hope and routine. Now, it seems, we are entering the ‘reorientation’ phase of this wilderness experience, slowly returning to church, restaurants and other public ‘outings.’ We are also seeing where people are getting tired of this wilderness experience we are living through and are now trying to ‘distract themselves,’ by beginning attempts to embrace more and more entertainment, striving to frequent bars, and minimizing the needed restrictions associated with wearing masks and social distancing. We don’t all do real well with waiting for things to return to ‘normal’ as we recall it. We are not real ‘good’ at moving through loss, dealing with lament and grief. Our best ‘attempts’ to distract ourselves away from the pain, suffering, restrictions and fears associated with Covid 19 are short lived at best. We must also consider Jesus, who after being baptized and blessed by God the Father, was prompted to go out into the wilderness. Jesus too became somewhat ‘disoriented’ to all that was happening to him. Jesus was brought to the top of a high mountain and told to worship Satan. It was a ploy, a test aspect of the wilderness experience, to possibly bypass suffering, to get back to the good life without pain.

  As we  further reflect upon the life, teachings and example of Jesus Christ we of the Christian faith may benefit from thinking about a few questions; 1) Do you think ‘some’ pain helps us to grow? 2) Does God sometimes uses ‘loss’ to reorient us to become more like His Son; Jesus? 3) Most important; is it possible this pandemic might reorient one’s trust in the power of a good and loving God? The way you or I answer these and similar questions, has everything to do with how this troubled season, this current wilderness experience will shape you or me now and in times to come, with whatever the wilderness may bring.

  When folks, in the Bible, found themselves in similar circumstances to what we are now experiencing, they did wonder if God abandoned them. They would further wonder at times if perhaps God brought them out into the wilderness to abandon and kill them.

  God then and now, has consistently intended the desert, our wildernesses, as becoming a place to save us. For it is in our wilderness experiences that we come to see God’s power and receive God’s comfort in many forms. While journeying through the desert that which is not ‘of him’ diminishes and dies away.

 Admittedly, it’s hard for us finite human beings to even begin to understand how the providence and goodness of God interacts with the evil of this Covid 19 virus. Yet we know and affirm this trust, posit this faith, that with God all things come to work together for the good. Make no mistake this IS a trial. God is making use of this trial to sanctify and lead us closer to Him. The word ‘sanctify’ means to purify or to make holy. This wilderness experience known as Covid-19 will either draw us deeper into the story of a good God who saves or cause us to turn our backs on faith, religion and God in favor of our own kingdoms of control. Satan offered to Jesus when the Lord was in the wilderness, a chance, and a means of bypassing suffering to get to the good life without pain. Satan tempted Jesus. God teaches us, even now, that we simply must journey through the wilderness if we are to ever see what’s ahead, for things to become better, to achieve some semblance of ‘The Promised land’ and one day again experience some aspect of heaven here on earth.

   Part of this wilderness experience we are in right now is wearing masks and social distancing. We cannot shake hands nor hug like we used to do so freely.

   This current wilderness experience has taught us a newer and deeper meaning of words such as ‘essential.’ Beyond food, clothing shelter and even toilet paper God desires for us to see faith as being essential, now more than ever. God in the wilderness associated with Covid 19, well reminds us of the essential aspect of His presence being sought, received and reorienting us towards a more meaningful, basic and secure life. Church will never be taken for granted as it had been for so long. In the wilderness we realize not only our limitations but we also feel our mortality. Covid 19 is real. Deaths have occurred along with millions who have suffered from this pandemic disease.

   God reminds us still, you and I must journey through the wilderness to reach the Promised Land.

  This wilderness is the place you must go through to get to the place God is calling you to. This is a life lesson that you and I will appreciate and reflect upon for a lifetime. This spiritual wisdom and insight is good not only for our souls, for life and living but also for salvation and whatever God makes new in this old world, the nations, the people, our families and our friends. Fellowship with the Almighty IS occurring perhaps more then any one of us realizes. Things ARE different.

   What I am about to say may sound strange but ponder these words and see if they eventually ‘ring true’ within your heart and soul…This wilderness is also a part of the Promised Land. In your life you will have wilderness, times of hardship, losses, challenges, tears as well as times of waiting, or of simply not being in the place you want to be. Remember then this truth: In God even the wilderness can be part of the Promised Land.

  Like it or not we are in the midst of a worldwide wilderness experience. Look around, look inside and see where God remains present in some familiar and even in some non-familiar ways. Within the wilderness we experience people, places, our food and of course our fellowship differently.

  I believe you and I are ‘smart enough,’ spiritually in tune enough to see Covid 19 is not ending just yet. Nor will it end until more and more people have more and more opportunities to rest reflect and reconnect with what matters most; God, people and faith.

 Those ancient Israelites wandering through the desert coming out of slavery in Egypt and moving increasingly closer to their Promised Land wondered time and time again ‘how long will this last? How much further will this wilderness extend?’

  Things never will be the same because of Covid 19. But with God, eventually they can become better.

  God is in the wilderness. Rest in His arms. Trust in His provisions. Seek His presence and provide yourselves and others with the manna from heaven called faith, hope and love. May God bless and be heart centered with you. Amen.

Faith Outcomes 7/12/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 11, 2020 & Sunday, July 12, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: Draw us close, Holy Spirit, as the Scriptures are read and the Word is proclaimed.  Let the word of faith be on our lips and in our hearts, and let all other words slip away.  May there be one voice we hear today — the voice of truth and grace. Amen.

Scripture Lessons:  Matthew:14: 22—36 Page 981, Hebrews 12:1-3, Page 1213.

Sermon Message:  “Faith Outcomes”

  We’ve ‘had faith’ all of our lives. Leastwise, to some degree. Because of ‘faith’ we learned ‘how’ to walk, ride a bike, drive a car and so on. More importantly our ‘faith’ associated with God, taught us long ago that Jesus loves me, yes, I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong!

  There are good outcomes that come to a soul from ‘having faith.’ Our scripture lessons reveal some remarkable ‘faith outcomes.’ Peter got to walk on water, towards Jesus, because of his faith. Shallow or frozen water is about all any of us have experienced regarding OUR walking on water.

  It certainly must have taken a lot of ‘faith’ to get out of that boat and walk on the water towards Jesus. Peter was a pretty ‘courageous’ person so his faith must have been ‘right up there.’

 Faith is about believing and trusting and then doing. ‘Faith’ HAS been with us, all of our lives. Spiritual Faith IS with us even now. This type of faith is what holds the future. Spiritual faith must be developed across years of living and relating to God and one another. Growth and strength of the mind, the body and one’s soul remains a sincere ‘faith outcome.’

 Let’s consider a little of where our faith ‘comes from.’ We learn ‘faith’ at home, here at church, through prayer, study and reflection of the Bible and we have need, honest sincere, real need for faith in our everyday lives. Within today’s initial scripture lesson, it seems as though faith came from a miracle. Jesus was walking on the stormy water. He spoke to those disciples in the boat not to be afraid. He then invites Peter to come to him. Pretty soon he rescues Peter from drowning as he strives to walk on the water towards Jesus…Miracles all around! Jesus walking on the water, Peter walking on the water. The audible voice of God through Jesus. The Lord’s rescuing a drowning man.

 Is that what ‘makes faith? Miracles…If so, I think we could all readily agree we need to see more miracles in this world. Especially so during these days of Covid-19 and racial protesting. 

  OR might it be that ‘faith’ comes prior to miracles? Is it faith that helps to make miracles? We have all ‘lived by faith’ to certain degrees throughout our life. I find that in everyone’s life, in each and every soul’s ‘walk’ with God, there is a story to be told and an outcome realized by faith…

  Looking back there are at least two versions to the faith story, as told in today’s first reading from the Bible regarding Jesus walking on the water.

 Consider with me now the disciples’ version of this story regarding Jesus walking on the water and Peter coming to meet him, on the water…

   It was the next night. They had gathered together as usual. Peter, of course, was running late. A crowd of friends had joined the group for dinner. Then Matthew brought up the story. “Last night Peter made a fool of himself again.” A voice rang out, “What did Peter do this time?” The crowd started laughing. Phillip spoke up, “Well we were all out in the boat when a fierce storm arose. It was about 3:00 o’clock in the morning and we saw what appeared to be a ghost. Then a voice spoke and we realized it was Jesus. He was actually walking on water. It was amazing!” James interrupted and said, “Then Peter opened his big mouth and asked if he could join the Master. He’s always trying to be the Lord’s favorite.” John added, “Yeah, but remember what happened next. Peter got out of the boat and almost immediately started to sink. Of course, Jesus rescued him by reaching out, grabbing his arm and pulling him up. But then he rebuked Peter for his lack of faith.” The other disciples and the group of friends roared with laughter. “Peter messed up again,” one said. Another replied, “He’s always finding a way to fail Jesus.” Then Andrew concluded, “My brother was lucky that Jesus was able to rescue him in the middle of that terrible storm last night. Hopefully he learned his lesson. Maybe next time he’ll stay in the boat with the rest of us.”

  For some folks their ‘faith outcome’ becomes rational thinking coupled with critical insights hoping to ‘teach’ a wondering soul.

…Listen now to Peter’s version or the ‘rest of the story.…’

  “I was on my way to dinner with the other disciples when I ran into an old fishing buddy. I was so excited about what had happened that I had to tell somebody. I started telling him the story: “You’ll never believe what happened last night. I was in a boat with the rest of the guys at about 3:00am. The winds and the waves started to rock the boat back and forth. We were caught in the middle of a terrible storm. Then out of nowhere we saw what appeared to be a ghost. The figure was walking on the water. Then we heard his voice. It was the voice of Jesus. He told us not to be afraid. So, I said, “Master, if it is you, then tell me to come to you on the water.” He told me to get out of the boat and come. So that’s exactly what I did. Before I knew what was happening, I was actually walking on water. It was amazing! Then all of a sudden, I realized I was in the middle of a huge storm. I started watching the waves instead of Jesus. Then it happened. I started sinking under the water. Immediately I cried out to the Lord and begged him to rescue me. He reached out his hand and pulled me back up. He asked me why I ever doubted Him and encouraged me to have more faith next time. The other disciples just watched from the boat. I can’t believe they didn’t join me. Sure, I started to sink because of doubt, but at least I can say I’ve walked on water! Maybe they’ll learn from my experience and get out of the boat next time.”

  Given similar circumstances, what might your faith outcome have been? Would you have gotten out of the boat or chosen to remain in the encompassing vessel?

  Akin to each of those disciples (including Peter), what story about ‘faith outcomes’ do you have to tell?

  Jesus often told stories in ‘metaphor’ as a means of getting his listeners to ‘think.’ I believe the Bible still addresses us in a similar fashion.

  A common ‘faith outcome’ for us all is the challenge to ‘get out of the boat’ so to speak… This is a spiritual metaphor challenging you and myself to listen to Jesus, ‘get out of the boat’ and ‘walk’ where you never thought you could go…Sometimes, it requires taking a ‘step in faith’ to follow the example of Jesus.

 So, let’s ponder some ‘faith outcomes’ from around 3:00 am in the morning when Jesus walked across the water to meet his disciples and Peter got out of that boat to also walk on water. Once again, I proclaim, there were ‘miracles all around’ that early morning; Jesus walking on water, Peter walking on water, the audible voice of God; through Jesus, a man being rescued from drowning. Was it those miracles that brought about faith OR was it faith that brought about those miracles?

 Think about it; Jesus walking on water and Peter walking on water were both miracles. However, without faith neither of those miracles might have occurred.

  I believe faith has always been required for miracles to take place. I think miracles, in and of themselves, are ‘faith outcomes’ realized.

 For instance, the world in which we live, this planet we affirm God created in the midst of such a vast universe, requires faith for us to acknowledge and even begin to understand where this all came from initially. Spiritual faith still teaches us that what is seen was not made out of what is visible. An initial ‘faith outcome’ is trusting in what God has made out of nothing… This vast universe right down to our tiny part of the world is a now realized miracle. Faith enables the realization of the miracle. Faith reminds me, I really don’t have to have all of the answers for all of the questions in order to believe in God and follow Jesus.

  Faith enables us to realize things that make little or no rational sense. For instance, if I am given $100.00 and then choose to give Ten of those dollars back to God through His church, rational thinking teaches me I no longer have $100.00 but only $90.00. Spiritual faith has taught you and I that we are blessed by what we give away more than by what we keep unto ourselves. One of my personal ‘faith outcomes’ is seeing God’s blessings come to me, often times in ways I never thought of, as a result of giving some portion of what I have; my time, my money, my love to God, His church and his people.

  Faith outcomes stem from putting one’s faith into practice. Spiritual faith has provided us all with not only financial blessings but more importantly with the greater gifts of all; faith, hope, love and peace.…A very special peace, what the Bible references as ‘a peace that passes human understanding.’

  Faith gives us the miracle of our families, our homes and our lives. Faith affirms we shall not be alone but shall instead be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.

  Some of the ‘miracles’ the ‘faith outcomes’ associated with our families include safety, love, care and concern. Companionship and love, reminds us to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.’ Self-centeredness hinders. Sin compromises covenant, dedication and devotion. Faith calls forth dedication and devotion to those you love. It also calls forth protection and providing ‘for’ one another. That which hinders us and sin that entangles us distances us from God and one another. A precious outcome of faith is seeing and doing what’s right with God and for others.

  Growing up on welfare when times were tough and life was so trying my parents would sometimes say this life is such a ‘rat-race.’ At times it certainly felt as though the ‘rats’ were winning! Christianity isn’t just a ‘belief’ system. It is a faith-outcome that guides ALL of our lives giving us hope even in the midst of dismal circumstances.

  Our faith in Jesus Christ has enabled us all to persevere in this life and run the race that God has set before us.

  A wondrous faith outcome is to not grow weary and lose heart. Our faith, my dear friends will show us not only the way the truth and the life. Our faith will lead us home.


Love, With the Love of the Lord 7/5/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, July 4, 2020, and Sunday, July 5, 2020

Prayer for Illumination: Holy God, Word made flesh, let us come to this word open to being surprised. Silence our agendas; banish our assumptions; cast out our casual detachment. Confound our expectations; clear the cobwebs from our ears; penetrate the corners of our hearts with this word. We know that you can, we pray that you will, and we wait with great anticipation. Amen.

Scripture Lessons: Ephesians 5:1   Page 1176,     John 15:9-12   Page 1082

Sermon Message: “Love, With the Love of the Lord”

  On this 4th of July weekend, we should be reviewing our freedoms in their diverse forms. There is freedom from tyranny (cruel or oppressive government rule), freedom of religion, freedom to be equal in the eyes of God and another specific ‘freedom’ that stems from God; the freedom to love…

 Recently a poem was shared with me that I believe warrants mentioning. It could have been appropriate for Father’s Day but I believe this spiritually inspired poem is a wholesome message for all times and all seasons as we consider ‘love.’ The author is Antoinette Doyle. Her poem:

From the Father’s Heart

Do you know what love looks like? It looks like scarred hands and feet, a lanced side. It looks like a thousand lashes that were not yours to bear. It looks like silence in the face of ridicule and acceptance of humiliation. It looks like hanging on a cross, nailed there by the very people you love. It looks like forgiveness with your dying breath for the very people that killed you. It looks like the risen and glorified Christ. It looks like a heart turning to Me (God) in awe and joy. It looks like the adoption of a deprived orphan. Love looks like My (God’s) face, unveiled. Love is a high call, a moment by moment choice through all the highs and lows, for beloved family, for friends, for the outcast, for enemies. Come and follow Me, My people. Follow the path of love…A beautiful poem…

 Perhaps you recall some significant times of ‘love’ in your life. More specifically I challenge you on this 4th of July weekend to recall that kind of love that has led you towards a greater freedom in your heart, within your soul, throughout this life and well into eternity.

  Mine is the privilege and high honor to touch people’s souls and in turn, effect their lives. I wish to convey to you a story I seldom share concerning a soul I was privileged to assist in saving…Delores and I worked at Torrance State hospital, for the mentally challenged, back in the 70’s. She was a nurse. I was a psychiatric aide. Fancy title I had for a meager position. The State hospital was ‘unionized’ so of course we had our routine coffee breaks and meal times. Delores’s nick-name was ‘Chickie.’ I guess there was some further story behind that nick-name but I just don’t well recall. Chickie was an attractive young black lady. We shared the ‘break-room with all of the other staff at the hospital where we worked. Every now and then we ended up setting, just the two of us, drinking coffee and discussing religion. That was our common bond. God and religion. One day she surprised me and said that although she went to church regularly, she never felt the ‘call’ to become ‘saved.’ So, she inquired what that meant and then asked if she could think about it for a few days…. So, we talked about acknowledging you are a sinner. Affirming you need forgiveness. Accepting Jesus Christ into your heart as your Lord and Savior. Living your life in a loving fashion for God and towards others. After a few days went by Delores and I were working ‘2nd shift at the hospital and found some quality talk time to once again discuss ‘being saved.’ She boldly affirmed; “I want to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Let’s pray together.” I lead, she followed. Sorry to say there were no bells, no parting of the water, no shouts, wind movements nor foundations shaking. Just a simple, serene and quiet smile as she gently squeezed my hand following prayer. She didn’t speak much about her ‘salvation’ experience after that so I just wasn’t sure what she was further feeling. One day she invited me to her black church for worship. I was not Reverend Tom back then. Just simply Tom Petrosky, an employee at Torrance State Hospital. Delores introduced me to folks at the beginning of that service. Though I was the only white person in that congregation I felt so welcomed, loved and affirmed. But then it happened. She nodded to her pastor, he nodded back then Delores stood up in front of that church to give her testimony. She openly affirmed that I had been a significant part of her coming to know Christ as her Lord and Savior. She further affirmed that she was ‘saved’ in part through my efforts. She then sang a song she had dedicated to me. I have not heard it since and cannot well find the same rendition of it on my computer today. The words to that tune are these; “I love you with the love of the Lord, yes I love you with the love of the Lord. I can see in you the glory of my King and I love you with the love of the Lord.” I was humbled then and I remain humbled now. Not so much the occasion nor those circumstances but the words to that song have challenged my life and guided my personal soul through these years of life, love and ministry….

 I inquire of you, what does it mean to ‘love another with the love of the Lord? How do you and how do I see the ‘glory of our King’ in another? Easily enough we could respond with the simple affirmation; “Well we just need to love people.” I agree with that yet I think we all know some folks are a lot harder to love than others. Jesus speaks about love, the Bible teaches about love, God commands love because loving others is NOT always easy. But it gets easier when you choose to learn how to love people with the love of the Lord…

   To ‘love people with the love of the Lord requires following God’s example…The Bible teaches us to ‘Follow God’s example, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a sacrifice.” Many scholars agree the ‘world’ has grown in its’ feeling ‘entitled’ to so many things, so much lifestyle and our on-going quest for happiness and fulfillment. Small wonder that the word ‘sacrifice’ is not much appealing these days. Doing ‘without’ so that others might ‘do better’ is an example of love Christ set for us. Sometimes we have to ‘sacrifice’ some measure of ourselves in order for others to feel loved and accepted. Jesus sacrificed himself not just for those who deserved what he had to offer. Jesus sacrificed especially so, for those who do not deserve.

  Since the beginning of time people have made ‘bad choices’ in their lives. We say and do things we know we really should not. Things that hurt us and others. When you love someone with the love of the Lord you help them by ‘being there’ for them as much as you can. You assist them with helping them to know what’s good, healthy and best. We know we must set boundaries over and against their inappropriate behavior so as not to foster entitlement nor sin. Then, we pray…We pray for them to be protected. We pray for them to make good choices. We pray they will turn to God and respond to God in their lives. When we find ourselves being the ‘one’ doing the hurting, we apologize, confess and strive to make things better and right.

 Not everyone is receptive and appreciative. Like Jesus, we strive to love others not just because they deserve it but more importantly because Jesus inside of us encourages it. I know it is hard but sometimes we strive to love another soul even in spite of themselves.

  People are sometimes defiant! They may ‘know better’ yet continue in a strong-willed path over and against God, others and sometimes themselves. Look around and easily see lots of folks practicing behaviors that we both know will ‘catch up’ with them eventually and perhaps even now. Remember these teachings from God; “Love each other as I have loved you.”

  Consider how God has loved you…He has sacrificed some portion of Himself for you. God has been abundantly patient with you. Especially when you have made bad choices or chosen to be defiant. God loved you when you didn’t deserve it. God doesn’t just ‘give’ you another ‘chance.’ He offers to you throughout your lifetime multiple opportunities to get right with God, respond to God, and enables you to help yourself become a better person and a saved soul.

 Theologians throughout the centuries have discussed ‘why it is’ that people don’t do so well ‘loving with the love of the Lord.’ What they have summarized repeatedly is the truth that we humans most often put ourselves first. We place God and others sometimes far below us. Christianity teaches us that our greater freedom is in loving God, others and then ourselves. Culture decrees love is me, myself and I.

 IF you desire to ‘love others with the love of the Lord’ then become insightful. Desire wisdom and strive for knowledge. Ask Jesus Christ into your heart and soul so that it is the Lord who governs and guides your thoughts, your actions, your love…

 Grow to know the Bible. Don’t just read it, study it. Become familiar with it. Look up things in the Bible. Attend Bible studies. Become involved in friends, family and groups of people who challenge your awareness of the Bible and expand your horizons. Biblical knowledge will touch your soul, expand your mind and establish your morals. Our attitude changes inside when the Word becomes flesh within.

  Study the ways of faith. Christianity has been around for a very long time. It will be here long after we have left planet earth. Faith teaches us how to live as well as how best to believe and to love. Lead another to Christ. God in a person’s life is the better source of accountability for long life, good life and for eternal life. How we love matters not only now while we are here on earth. How we love opens the door to eternity.

  Sometimes it’s so hard to love, even with the love of the Lord, simply because we just don’t understand why people do the things that they do. Instead of becoming crippling and judgmental strive to become aware, even psychologically so, of why people do the things they do. Psychology provides us insight. Such insight may not ‘fix’ every single person but it will help the person inside of you to love better while understanding more.

  Jesus Christ IS our best example to follow. He changed water into wine and he can therefore change sin, inside any of us, into salvation. Jesus Christ still changes lives. Practice spirituality, faith living, in your life. Follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. It remains Jesus who teaches us much about forgiveness. Even challenges us to forgive as we wish to be forgiven. Jesus knew lots of situations will require forgiving the wrong doer over and over again. So, it was he instructed us we need to forgive people not only seven times but seventy times seven! When you or I strive to love another with the love of the Lord it may require lots of forgiveness lots of times. Not just one time.

  When Jesus had neared the end of His earthly ministry among us, as the Bible declares; “He set His face towards Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51). In other words, He became resolved and moved on. Some folks want to ‘hold onto things’ and keep going over them again and again. While that may be good for initial insight, explanation and forgiveness holding on too long, living too much in the past, hinders growth, reconciliation and love. As the Apostle Paul counsels; “Choose the better way of love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)

  Seek to see ‘the glory of our King’ inside others. Sometimes that’s pretty self-evident. At other times you really have to ‘look really hard’ to see it. I saw ‘the glory of my King’ in the changed life and saved soul of my friend Delores all those years ago. Her faith as well as her life became Godly directed ever since. I saw ‘the glory of my King’ when my father’s bottles of beer and excessive glasses of wine transformed from an abusive alcoholic to wholesome care for his family and taking much better care of himself while sincerely affirming Christian faith living. We readily see ‘the glory of our king’ in our children and in others whose lives are humbled by faith realities.

  Striving to love others with the love of the Lord remains a free will choice as we answer this calling from God inside of us all.

 Come now and commune with the love of the Lord. Amen.

Faith That Makes a Difference 6/28/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 27, 2020 & Sunday, June 28, 2020

Prayer For Illumination: Draw us close, Holy Spirit, as the Scriptures are read and the Word is proclaimed.  Let the word of faith be on our lips and in our hearts, and let all other words slip away.  May there be one voice we hear today — the voice of truth and grace.  Amen.

Scripture Lessons:

Hebrews 11:1 (Page 1212); James 1:2-18 (Page 1216); Romans 12:2 (Page 1137)

Sermon Message: “Faith That Makes a Difference” 

  The ancient philosopher, theologian, and priest, Thomas Acquinas, declared:

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.  To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

  Many of us have said, in no uncertain terms; “Faith makes all the difference in the world!” We have further inquired of one another even in our Christian fellowship; “Where would I be without faith?”

  The Bible declares; “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” -Hebrews 11:1

   I’d ‘love’ to have that spiritual confidence and hope in my life, consistently. I trust you would too. However, when things sometimes don’t go according to plan, we lose faith, not only in ourselves but also in any potential outcome in our lives. We may not say we have ‘lost our faith altogether,’ yet some forms of compromise certainly can happen to anyone’s faith. When we experience life’s monumental failures, it’s easy to lose hope, and even faith.

  But faith is never lost totally. For the Christian believer, it can only be compromised partially and temporarily. Faith will always ‘make a difference!’  

   Faith, is deep-rooted in its’ essential expectation of good things to come. Faith is more than just being hopeful. Hope stems from our mind. Faith comes from the heart, the spirit, from one’s very soul. It is not easily explained away by reason or logic, nor can it always be understood through a single dimension.

  Living in this midst of Covid-19, social protesting and our own everyday realities we see that while life can be hard at the best of times, faith is the knowledge, deep down inside, that things will get better. It’s kind of like taking the next step when you can’t see the entire staircase. I believe life would fail to have reason if we didn’t have faith.

  Faith reminds us that we really can expect that things will turn out all right for us no matter what the situation might be. Faith, is just as important as the air we breathe. While the oxygen in the air nourishes the body, faith nourishes the heart and the soul. It’s the energy that courses through every single fiber and cell within our beings. It’s part of our bodies, our minds, our thought processes even our very souls. Faith is fundamental to our existence.

  Jesus Christ teaches us that faith can move mountains. Not any ordinary form of faith but faith that comes from God, with God and through God.

  Unfortunately, some folks don’t believe in things they cannot see. Some folks choose instead to explain things away mainly through a cause and effect rational thought process.

 Faith enables us to ‘see’ things differently. Through different ‘lenses.’

  I have truly and sincerely found that there is an enormous level of importance and evidence for one’s ‘having faith’ and for the ‘difference’ it makes…Faith isn’t just a notion that some people hold onto in tough times. While life is precious it can also be remarkably difficult at times.

  The human mind is an incredibly powerful entity. We can use our minds for good or evil. When ‘troubled’ the human mind can move away from positivity and health. Lots of situations and schools of thought will inform us, abundantly so, of what’s wrong. When called upon and employed by us, faith helps us replenish and believe in what’s healthy, possible and right. Faith makes the difference in helping us to ‘see’ where and perhaps ‘how’ things can get better. At least where things can be or should be. Faith makes a genuine difference in assisting us to posit what’s healthy instead of consistently reminding us of what’s wrong. Christian faith is the true, utter, deep down belief in your heart and your soul that things will improve, and that you deserve the very best in life.

  Perhaps we have all heard the ‘saying’ whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Some folks have somewhat sarcastically responded; “Well just how ‘strong’ am I supposed to become?” There’s a powerful story in the Bible called the Book of Job. It’s a story about a man named Job who was as good of a soul as one could be. Job believed strongly and sincerely in God and held his faith high. As the story goes one day the devil paid God a visit. Their topic of discussion became Job and his faith. The devil reasoned that Job was faithful because he had been blessed with so much in life. Family, money, land and respect. The devil proposed that should God take away any number of these things from Job, he would no longer be the faithful man that God held him up to be. The devil claimed that Job would then curse God.

  Sometimes we are the devil’s advocate and affirm that others might have ‘faith’ only because they have so much ‘blessing’ in their lives. As the story unfolds Job does experience trials, one right after another and each one seemingly more severe than the previous. Job lost everything he had worked so hard to create over the years. His livestock, all his money, his family, his friends and yes, even his health. However, even when Job’s wife told him he should curse God, Job didn’t. He remained faithful. After all those trials and perhaps tests, God restored all of Job’s worldly possessions, family, and health. Not only were things ‘restored’ God multiplies what Job once had many times over.

  Faith still does make the difference when it seems life’s circumstances are striving to kill us or at least what’s most important to us. Times might be bad, and you just may want to ‘throw in the towel.’ But never lose faith. Faith is a choice we must make to believe in God above, God within and God’s presence through the end. Many of us have found a person without faith is likened to a stream without water-they would simply cease to exist.

  Christian faith does make the difference in that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

  Going through life and all of its ups and downs can take a toll on us. It’s gotten so bad at times that folks will even question their very existence. But through all the trials and tribulations we might face, it’s faith that gives us that helping hand. There is much to be learned and wholesome spirituality to be affirmed in the Book of James. This servant of God; James, knew what it meant to ‘meet various trials!’ But James had also learned that difficulties could produce steadfastness or patience, though the natural reaction is annoyance or bitterness. He never tells us to pretend that a trial is nonexistent. Instead this spiritual author; James, instructs us to recognize and ‘rejoice’ that any problem can be the occasion for God to work in us and through us in a way that He otherwise would not. Faith that makes a difference sees tests as perhaps a call to believe in the goodness of God, and to trust that God is not only willing, but also able to accomplish His purposes, no matter what befalls us. Faith that makes a difference helps us to discover our purpose in life.

  In today’s scripture lesson from the Book of James, chapter one verse 2 declares these words; “Because you know…” Friends we ‘DO KNOW’ something more in this life then do non-believers. We know there’s a greater purpose as well as an ultimate meaning to our lives. Faith makes that difference. Christians aren’t nearly as surprised as non-Christians regarding trials and tribulations ‘because we know’ THIS is precisely where our understanding about God grows even more. The more understanding we have of God the greater our awareness, understanding and endurance of trials and tribulations in our lives and the lives of others in this world.

  The Apostle’s Creed, affirming faith in Jesus Christ through the ages, declares in one portion; “He (Jesus) descended into hell, but on the third day he rose again from the dead.

  We further recall from our study of Holy Scripture that Moses had a mountaintop experience with God causing his face to shine, to glow with the holiness of the occasion. Yet Moses’ life was not free of trials or tribulations. The point being, trials and testing we may experience always have a purpose, eventually. We further mature in our faith to realize and accept that before God brings you to the peak you must first go to the pit. Faith that makes a difference matures the soul…It has endurance as well as a certain ‘firmness’ in the miles of trials. Everything in life is far easier to get through when we have faith. Faith that makes a difference is a guiding light.

  Even when we have no reason to believe that things will get better, it’s through faith that our situations do improve. 

  Faith makes a difference in how we allow stress, anxiety, and fear to run our lives. There’s a clear and documented connection between stress and the increased likelihood of disease and illness. Faith that makes a difference grows to know and trust that whatever your situation is, deep down in your heart and soul you aren’t ignoring your problems, you simply and humbly affirm it will improve.

   Faith that makes a difference has well taught many a soul, humans weren’t made just to survive but to thrive. Faith will get you through. Faith will inspire you to search for, see and embrace health in all of its God manifested forms.

  Much of the pattern of this world calls us away from faith. Especially so from faith that makes a difference.

 God declares in His Holy Word; “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and prefect will.”

 Faith that makes a difference…All the difference in the world! Amen.

The Best Father 6/21/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 20, 2021 & Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father’s Day

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 103:13-17, page 599 Ephesians 6:1-4, page 1177 Matthew 12:48-50, page 978

Sermon Message: “The Best Father”

  WHO is the “BEST FATHER” you may know? Our assessment of the ‘best Father’ changes over time…

  When we are around 4 years of age we believe “My Daddy can do anything!” At 5 years of age, “My Daddy knows a whole lot!” At age 6, “My Dad is smarter than your Dad!”

At age 8, “My Dad doesn’t know exactly everything.”

At age 10, “In the olden days when my dad grew up, things were sure different!”

At 12 years old, “Oh well, naturally Dad doesn’t know anything about that. He is too old to remember his childhood.”

At 14 years old, “Don’t pay any attention to my Dad. He is so old fashioned!”

At 20 years old, “Him? My Lord he’s hopelessly out of date.”

At 25 years old, “Dad knows a little about it, but then he should because he’s been around so long.”

At 30 years old, “Maybe we should ask Dad what he thinks. He’s had a lot of experience.”

At 35 years old, “I’m not doing a single thing until I talk to Dad.”

At 40 years old, “I wonder how Dad would have handled it? He was so wise and had a world of experience.”

At 50 years old, “I’d give anything if Dad were here now so I could talk this over with him. Too bad I didn’t appreciate how smart he was. I sure could have learned a lot from him.”

  As a Father, there’s nothing I want more than to love my children in such a way that they still benefit from me, from my love, long after I’m gone…

  I have done my best and continue to do my best to love our children and our grandchildren in ways that shall have an impact on them for not only years, but also for generations to come.

  God reminds me, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…His righteousness is extended to his children’s children.”

  My friends, IF, by our examples, our teachings, our advice, our love, and our sincere actions, we help our children to respect and love God THEY shall receive God’s mercy. The mercy of God is protection, divine love, provision, and forgiveness and care…Surely you and I, want for our children to have these benefits and blessings of God. That which is ‘of’ God and comes ‘from’ God is even better than life itself for these blessings, these mercies outlast life…

  Mine has been the blessing of watching my children teach their children about God. On a bit of a humorous note, my daughter will sometimes smile, perhaps a bit nervously so, when my grandchildren ‘by-pass’ her to talk to ‘Grandy’ about things pertaining to God.

  I trust you well recall from your Christian background that children are to obey their parents and furthermore, as the Bible directs, “Honor your father and your mother so that you may enjoy long life on earth.” This is a direct teaching for children. Admittedly there have been times when I struggled with this directive from God. Especially so when I observed my parents doing some very wrong and hurtful things. Obedience in the Bible is not prescribed as ‘blind obedience.’ To bring one ‘honor’ does not mean approving wrongful behavior, sinful actions even within our parents. ‘Honor’ is more a reflection of living out the ‘good’ you’ve seen in your parents, imitating their good example, and giving them a little glory and praise from time to time.

  A second portion of God’s teaching for children and parents is this; “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).

  The word ‘exasperate’ means to irritate intensely or to infuriate. I have seen fathers, and mothers, do this with their children…I become ‘exasperated’ when I see a father, in front of his children, ‘make fun’ of another because of their size, how they think, the color of their skin, ethnic background etc. During my early adulthood I still recall ‘standing up’ to my parents when they exasperated me due to their prejudicial, sarcastic even ‘caustic’ remarks.

  Spiritual wisdom has taught us that we need to grow with our children. Times are changing and we need to do some changing with the times as well. We have a lot to learn from our children in many areas. When our children were young, they spent lots of time listening, observing, and growing…from us. When they are ‘raised’ we need to spend lots of time listening, observing, and growing…from them…

 A diminishing remark parents will sometimes say to their adult children is “Well if I were you!” This is oftentimes followed by unwarranted and perhaps unwanted advice being given. Perhaps, a less ‘exasperating’ way might include listening more, abiding patience, asking ‘What do YOU think?” then saying something like; “Well here’s another option you might consider…”

  “Fathers, do NOT ‘exasperate’ your children,” is a direct teaching from God to parents.

  As parents, we can expect and sincerely hope our children will continue to “obey” us in where we have taught them good manners, what’s good for health and spiritual living.

  Notice too, God’s Word has its’ temporal promises as well as its’ spiritual. Give your children a good education. Remember to treat your children well for they are ‘pieces of yourself.’ Bring them up as men and women, as good people, as Christians. Please let them have a religious education. This is SO very needed and highly beneficial yet missing in far too many families today. Honor your parents and do not exasperate your children so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.

  Today is Father’s Day. I realize some folks feel awkward on Father’s Day and on Mother’s Day. Awkwardness may occur if you’ve ‘lost’ your mother or your father. It may also occur if you had bad things happen to you because of your parents. It can further occur if you did not have one or both parents in your life. GOD IS our heavenly FATHER, MOTHER and CREATOR and SUSTAINER. GOD…so LOVED the world that He sent His Son Jesus. God declares, whoever believes in His Son and follows HIM shall be saved and inherit eternal life in God’s heaven …

  Haven’t you noticed in reading and studying the Bible, Jesus didn’t so much ‘preach at’ people? He just talked to them…Most of what He had to say was plain, easy, and familiar, well suited to the people’s capacity and care. I’d like to be that kind of father. That kind of preacher and friend. Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart, in my heart…

  Jesus loved his family. He respected his mother; Mary, and his earthly father; Joseph. Yet Jesus continually responded to that ‘higher calling’ he followed throughout his life. At one point he ‘stood up to them’ letting them know he had to be about his (heavenly) Father’s business…

  My friends, today IS Father’s Day.  A day set aside to honor our fathers. The Bible teaches us we can honor our father by obeying the good, solid, and sincere things we have seen inside of them and learned from them. We can honor our fathers by living out our faith, putting our Christian education into daily practice.

  On this Father’s Day and beyond, remember too Jesus’ inquiry and further teaching…

“WHO is my mother and WHO are my brothers?” Jesus Christ said, “WHOEVER does the will of my Father in heaven are my brothers, sisters, and mother.”

  Perhaps you had ‘the best’ parents in the world. Perhaps YOU are thought of as being the best parent that ever was!

  Perhaps you are the worst parent in the world... Perhaps you aren’t thought of as being much of a parent at all.

  Perhaps you are close to your parents.

  Perhaps you are estranged from them.

  God reminds us today, informs us still, that when we are close to God the Father and Jesus the Son, then we are near to a human and divine bond that becomes greater than the best love or the worst behaviors we may have felt from others, even with our parents.

  The Greatest Opportunity, the ‘Best Father’ is the one who knows God, does God’s will and seeks to live God’s love for His children bringing peace, brining hope, bringing health and security, joy, happiness and forgiveness. Bringing life…

  I have learned as a ‘spiritual father’ to many, there are lots of opportunities where we work, in our lives, here at our beloved church, to be near to God.

  Jesus was close to his family but perhaps at times taken for granted. In analogy, sometimes the nearer the church the further people are from God…

  Like you, I learned a long time ago, to be the Best Father, I had to first become the Best Son. If we honor our parents, we tend NOT to exasperate our children and then things do go well plus long life on earth is enjoyed more. There really is a sincere spiritual connection in all of this.

    Appreciate God the Father.  He’s the BEST! Be a good Father, Become the BEST. Remain a good Son or Daughter. The Christian life is THE BEST way to live. Amen.

Because I Am a Christian 6/14/2020

Sermon Message for Saturday, June 13, 2020 & Sunday, June 14, 2020

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 Lesson:  Ephesians 4: 1-6, Page 1175

Sermon Message: ‘Because I Am a Christian’

Does being a Christian make any difference in your life? It really should be making a difference in how we relate to God, to self and to others. The ‘difference’ should be happening 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In other words; all of the time!

  A ‘Christian’ is a person who believes in Jesus and follows the religion that is based on Jesus’ teachings.

  Some folks feel as though ‘being a Christian’ means we were born in a ‘Christian’ nation or that we come from a ‘Christian family.’ Still others believe being a ‘Christian’ means you have a deep personal relationship with Jesus. The word ‘Christian’ is mentioned at least 3 times in the Bible.

  Followers of Christ are called ‘Christians’ because their behavior, activity and speech are like that of Jesus Christ.

  Being a Christian is like ‘being in love.’ It’s a work in progress, never stagnant, always being improved sometimes tried and tested.

   Most folks affirm, ‘because I am a Christian’ I know the difference between right and wrong. Not only do you and I know the difference we ‘do what’s right!

  ‘Because I am a Christian’ I do believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit… Christians know the difference between ‘God’ and other realities that strive to be our main focus and greatest importance in our lives.

 You and I can readily say; ‘Because I am a Christian’ we do not let money or pleasure or relationships or material goods or status be more important than God and Jesus in our lives. We are followers of Jesus Christ and we believe fundamentally so in God who made us, sustains us and who will one day call us home to His heaven.

  False teachings about God, concerning Jesus, the importance of power, prestige and pleasure of all sorts do not easily sway a Christian. God’s Word, the Bible, the presence and the teachings of Jesus Christ continue to teach us to recognize falsehood.

  You and I know people who believe ‘getting ahead’ at any and all costs is their presumptuous philosophy for living. Or perhaps stepping on the backs of others to ‘climb the ladder’ so to speak is their ‘way of life… Because I am a Christian I believe and live my life striving NOT to be an ‘opportunist’ who simply uses others for my personal gain. For example; A coin collector had been looking for some rare coins. A recent widow asked the coin collector to ‘take a look’ at her late husband’s coin collection and make her an offer. The collector did evaluate and realized the collection was worth several thousand dollars. He knew he could have easily made the woman an offer for a few hundred dollars and she would have gladly accepted. The collector later shared his thoughts. He said, “Because I am a Christian I could not ‘rip off,” that is, ‘take advantage’ of another person even though the opportunity had presented itself to him.

  I’ve always believed that God is ‘there’ even if no one else knows or sees my actions.

  Assuredly our respect, our fear of God, influences our Christian faith, our actions and responses. More importantly the ‘presence’ of God inside of us motivates us more than anything else to ‘be’ a Christian. God, Jesus, the Bible and the inward flow of the Holy Spirit. That ‘presence’ of God is sometimes simply described as ‘love.’

 I’ve found, as I trust you have found, that God’s love inside of us has enabled me to love people I never thought I could love. I’ve been able to tolerate, communicate with and forgive folks I would not consider doing if I were not affirming that I AM a Christian.

  Do you still recall the narrative from the Bible regarding the Good Samaritan? Jesus tells the story of a man walking from one town to another. Along the way he is attacked by robbers. They strip the man of his clothes, beat him and leave him half dead. A priest happened along but chose to pass by on the other side of the road. A Levite passed by and also stayed on the other side of the road. A Samaritan saw the man, took pity on him and helped the victimized man.

 Think about the characters in Jesus’ story. The man who was walking between towns represents you, me or any other innocent soul for that matter. The robbers represent people who believe; “What’s yours is mine and I’ll take it if I can.” The ‘opportunists’ of this world… The priest and the Levite represent so-called ‘Christians’ but are actually people who think and believe, “What’s mine is mine and I won’t be sharing any of me with you.”

 The Good Samaritan is a mature Christian. He loves with the love of the Lord. He chooses to help, to put himself out, even pay some of the victim’s expenses for care BECAUSE the Good Samaritan personifies what it means to be a Christian.

  Because I am a Christian we care, we help, we support, we put out the effort to help sinking and damaged souls.

  A lot of ‘Good Samaritans’ were called upon during Covid-19.

 For years I have observed church signage which reads “All are welcome!” I do sometimes wonder though if that is really true inside ALL of our churches? Or does that signage mean, “If you are ‘like us’ then you are welcome.”?

  Because I am a Christian, I must mature to realize that while others are ‘different’ from us that does not simply mean ‘they’ are all wrong and ‘we’ are all right. Our world is currently in the midst of crying out for equality, recognition and understanding of our ‘differences’ as never before.

 Our words and our actions flow from love for our fellow believers. We ‘say’ we are a Christian. We prove that we are by our love and our actions…

   Jesus Christ did not design His church to be ‘high and mighty!’ Rather, He establishes His Church to be humble and holy.

  Hear again these teachings of God from the Bible regarding being a Christian… “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received from God. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit. You and I are called to one hope, one Lord and Savior; Jesus Christ.” Do these scriptural characteristics describe your life as a Christian? Can you live your life saying to God the Father and Jesus, ‘Because I am a Christian, I choose to live a better life? Because I am a Christian I choose to live a life worthy of the calling I’ve received from God? I choose to be humble so I can listen, learn, and appreciate God, others, what I eat, how I live and how others may be trying to care about me, even in their own way…

  Being gentle is a choice you make…because you are a Christian.

  ‘Patience’ isn’t just a value and a virtue in heaven and especially so here on earth. Patience too is a choice you must make each day of your life because, as you and I affirm, “I am a Christian.” …

  The Bible references ‘bearing with one another.’ It isn’t easy to ‘put up with’ people you disagree with. Some whom you just ‘can’t stand.’ But here in God’s House. Here in Jesus’ Church we seek to save the lost and welcome the sinner all the while knowing none of us are 100% saints 100% of the time. Because I am a Christian I must choose to bear with one another in love.

  Remember this; because I am a Christian physical violence is frowned upon….

  In the eyes of God we are ALL His children. As the old Sunday School song affirms; ‘red and yellow, black and white we are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.’

  The ‘one hope’ God has given to ALL people, throughout the world, is belief in His Son Jesus Christ, following His Son’s teachings and living the love His Son has taught us. 

   There’s a difference between ‘saying’ I am a Christian and living the life of a true and sincere Christian. Mature Christians remain involved in the church. Theirs is a vital connection to the local church. We come to realize we cannot grow to our full potential apart from that vital connection to the body of believers. Each of us MUST find our place of mutual service and encouragement.

  Because I Am a Christian I live my life with an eternal perspective. That changes things. That changes me…We must purposefully strive to attain continual spiritual growth because we KNOW this life is temporary.

 Have you also noticed that Christians control their tongues? Good control of speech is the mark of a soul on the path to maturity!

  The world is watching us. They are ‘checking to see’ if your life and your actions as well as your love is better, different and good because you are a Christian. How you live your life, because you are a Christian, paints a picture of how others may or may not live their lives AS a Christian.

  Generally speaking, there is a wisdom poem accredited to both Maya Angelou and Carol Wimmer. It appears that Carol Wimmer (1988) was the original author.  Perhaps you’re acquainted with this meaningful poem, simply entitled, “When I Say I Am a Christian,” on the next page.

When I Say 'I Am a Christian'

When I say... "I am a Christian"

I'm not shouting "I am saved"

I'm whispering "I was lost!"

That is why I chose this way.

When I say... "I am a Christian"

I don't speak of this with pride.

I'm confessing that I stumble

and need someone to be my guide.

When I say... "I am a Christian"

I'm not trying to be strong.

I'm professing that I'm weak

and pray for strength to carry on.

When I say... "I am a Christian"

I'm not bragging of success.

I'm admitting I have failed

and cannot ever pay the debt.

When I say... "I am a Christian"

I'm not claiming to be perfect,

my flaws are too visible

but God believes I'm worth it.

When I say... "I am a Christian"

I still feel the sting of pain

I have my share of heartaches

which is why I seek His name.

When I say... "I am a Christian"

I do not wish to judge.

I have no authority.

I only know I'm loved.

I AM The Way, The Truth, and The Life 4/5/2020

Where is God in the midst of this Corona Virus? Is Jesus in Jerusalem or perhaps among us right now? This is Palm Sunday. Undoubtedly this Palm Sunday is ‘different’ from any other Palm Sunday you or I have ever participated in. ‘Life’ since the Corona Virus pandemic has changed, as never before.

Yet God would have us to remember His Palm Sunday, that very first one, and today’s Palm Sunday, are still about a festival of life! Maybe it does not seem that way nor even feel much that way with all of our Social Restrictions and actual cases of illnesses and even death. 

Remember, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to celebrate life God the Father had given Him up to that point; to celebrate life soon to come, that although quite challenging, would become more redemptive than anything the world had ever known; and thirdly, Palm Sunday symbolizes then and now, life with God in His heaven that is yet to come. 

Since the season of Lent began I have felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to share messages from the Bible pertaining to the ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus Christ. “I Am the Bread of Life.” “I Am the Light of the World.” “I am the Door of the Sheep.” “I Am the Good Shepherd.” “I Am the True Vine, and you are the branches.” Today’s message is also a reflection on the words of Jesus: “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

During Jesus’ earthly ministry he once asked Peter this important question: “Who do YOU say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20).

During these days perhaps we should be asking ourselves a similar question. Who do WE say Jesus is in the midst of the Corona Virus Pandemic?

In the past we were granted the privilege and blessings of even our holiest of days being routine, traditional, and honestly, quite comfortable.

Since 1979 I have comfortably stood inside a church, written a full-fledged sermon and delivered the same from God’s pulpit. Even more blessed was I across those years to have scores of people sitting inside of the church I was serving as I delivered the Palm Sunday message.

Today, for the first time, that comfortable reality has become so different. I’ve found myself saying in these past few weeks over and over again, “Well if the people cannot come to church, then let’s take the church to the people.”

I am so very grateful that a ‘way’ has been found to get God’s Word and message ‘out’ to you all. Please, I ask, if possible, share this message with others in order that they, too, might be blessed and feel closer to God.

That first Palm Sunday crowd may have been a bit similar to us. Within their past they had grown comfortable with the on-going presence of Jesus Christ living among them, teaching within their temple, walking among their streets, and helping their families. Jesus was even able to challenge long-standing, awkward traditions and help to make things better for people. Those ‘ancients’ had grown to know Jesus and to love him. So much so they ‘lauded’ his arrival into Jerusalem.

They were people much like us. Not ‘made of money’ nor well known among the elite. But they were the ‘salt of the earth.’ Jesus’ presence among them had transformed them to further become ‘the light of the world.’ You’ve seen that change inside of yourself as well from all of

I Am The True Vine 3/29/2020

Scripture Lesson:

John 11:33-37

Do you remember the last time that you cried?  Do you remember why you were crying?  Perhaps you cried when those reports came across the TV screen of the impending worldwide Corona Virus pandemic.  Or possibly when you learned that doctors in Italy finally were forced to decide who to treat and whom they would have to allow to die.   There are lots of reasons to cry in recent days.  Truth is there may be more crying before this is all over.

A further question for you to ponder:  when was the last time you felt God crying with you or for you?  Perhaps, like myself, you had a particular time in your life where God seemed to be absent because you hurt so badly.  This season of Lent reminds us of Jesus’ final words from upon the cross.  Hear again some of his heart-wrenching words:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  I say this to you today, when Jesus Christ, God’s dear Son was hurting and dying, when I felt so alone and was hurting so badly from my accident, when you and I have wondered greatly and pondered much with seemingly small or no answers, it is then that today’s words of scripture should touch our hearts, speak to our souls, and remind us of our faith.  Jesus wept.  That means God cries.  When terrible hurt, pain, and suffering is occurring the world over because of this Corona Virus outbreak, God still FEELS our pain, suffers with us, and sometimes just plain cries.

When you cry, it’s sure nice to have someone comfort you, maybe give you a hug and some tissue.  THAT is the church’s job today amidst this Corona Virus pandemic.  Be a comforter in whatever way you can.  Akin to Jesus Christ, our greatest example to follow, memorize scriptures and draw comfort, strength, guidance, and direction from them.  This measure will help you to feel better after a while.  Share some scriptures with others; help them also to feel God’s loving presence, care, and closeness.  Please, during these concerning times, let another soul know you are praying specifically for them.

All human beings have the ability to cry.  It just doesn’t matter how old, how young, or how “in-between” you are.  There are lots of reasons why one might cry:  sadness, physical pain, fears, happiness, joy, and even being overwhelmed with gratitude.  Sometimes when we, like Jesus, cry, it isn’t just because we are sad for ourselves; sometimes we are also sad for other people.

It’s okay to cry some, these days.  We read in the Bible the many stories of wonderful miracles that Jesus performed in his lifetime.  Today’s scriptures further reveal a spiritual lesson we all need to identify with today; Jesus wept.  He was a human being too.  He experienced everythi