Tag Archives: faith

Faith Is Freedom

given on Sunday, July 2, 2017

Scripture connections:

 Opening: Psalm 68:19-20, NLT

19 Praise the Lord; praise God our savior!
For each day he carries us in his arms. Interlude
20 Our God is a God who saves!
The Sovereign Lord rescues us from death.

 

Sermon:

Romans 5:20-21, NLT

20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Romans 6:3-4, 10-12 & 14, NLT

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. . . .

 

10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. 12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. . . .   14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

 

Romans 7:4-6, NLT

So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God.  When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death.  But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

 

Closing: Ephesians 1:6-7, NLT

So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.

 

Reflection: Faith Is Freedom

 

I picked up the latest copy of Reader’s Digest the other day and began absent mindedly flipping through the pages starting at the back. The first thing that caught my attention was a series of pages with colorful maps on them. I slowed to figure out what was being shared—“Who Knew? You say tomato. . .” was the article title and each map simply showed the differences in terminology Americans use. For instance, the western 1/3 of the country uses ‘fireflies’ while the rest of the country, primarily the Midwest and South, uses ‘lightning bugs.”

Interesting, but what else was in the magazine?

In a world that the print media is struggling to survive, the Reader’s Digest holds a special place in my life. We grew up with it and it resided in the bathroom. By the end of the month, it was well dog-eared. I loved the humor sections, the drama in real life, and who knew what else would capture me. This month’s edition is a special issue, “Your America,” and is filled with features about all facets of our lives.

The brief story, “Sergeant Turner’s Ride Home,” caught my attention. A veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder committed suicide in California, but his family was in George and could not afford to claim his ashes. The Marines stepped in and tried to figure out the best way to get him home.

We live in a country that has struggled to understand how to live with God and country while not infringing on anybody’s individual freedoms. Yet, God works in mysterious ways and this holiday weekend we are graphically reminded how important freedom is. Sometimes we forget that freedom is not a political platform of any one party—Democrat, Republican, Independent, etc. Freedom is living in a manner that allows for free decisions about how we live.

All too often, the simplest solution to a problem is forgotten by all the legalistic hoops that humans have created in an effort to live in an orderly, independent, free society. The answer is so simple: love one another as you want to be loved. God’s Golden Rule solves all the complications that one might encounter in daily life, yet it is ignored as our elected officials try to find ways to spell out the specifics and include all the different exceptions to a rule it can.

Faith is freedom. God is. God loves. And we mess things up over and over because we are human. We have the ability to make decisions on our own. The gift of free will has caused the downfall of humanity over and over. Paul, himself, experienced the rigidity of the Jewish faith, the legal structure of the Roman government, and God’s attention-getting blindness. He knew free will, he knew the Jewish laws, and as a Roman citizen he experienced unique privileges. Yet he had to be blinded to see that true freedom comes from faith in God.

Do we have to be blinded in order to see, too? Paul wrote to the Romans in order to introduce himself, but also to outline what faith means in the lives of the new Christians whether they were Jews or Gentiles. He knew the complex Jewish rules. He was a Roman citizen, too, so he knew the civic laws under which he had to live. But when he was blinded and learned the extent of God’s forgiveness, he was freed of all the restrictive laws of the Pharisees and the Romans.

In his letter, he outlines the connection of the sinfulness of humanity to God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ:

21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

The life and teaching of Jesus was designed to free us from all the sins of our own choosing and from all the evil outside forces that could enslave us too. Choosing to accept God’s grace and the forgiveness provided through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provides us with freedom:

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?

 

Once we have accepted Jesus Christ as the means of salvation, we are choosing to live by the simplest laws possible. First, we chose to love God above all else; and then we chose to make daily decisions based on the Golden Rule. The freedom we experience from our faith provides unlimited joy. It guides our decisions, our relationships, and our perspective in life:

11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. 12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.

 

As Americans, we celebrate the birthday of this country this week; but sadly, we have failed to celebrate the fact that we are Christians first who are free from sin and all earthly constraints because God loved us so much that Jesus Christ was sent to demonstrate how to live the very freedom that faith in God provides.

As Americans who are Christian first, the decisions we make are to fulfill the commandment to love one another as we want to be loved. Christian freedom is the foundation to live freely loving one another without fear that we are breaking any law that humanity can design

Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

 

Paul’s letter may have been written to the Romans back 2,000 years ago, but the words apply to us here in America right now, too. We are to live our faith freely to do all that we can in all the ways that we can for all that we can.

The Marines freely did what they were called to do. They could not allow Sergeant Turner’s ashes to be simply boxed up and sent via FedEx or any other delivery service to his family. The Patriot Guard Riders, American Legion motorcyclists who provide escort services to the veterans, organized the return, “. . . a caravan—or as they described it, a ‘pony express of iron horses’”:

“On August 5, 2015, dozens of Patriot Guard Riders, many veterans themselves, accompanied Turner from Ontario, California to a Love’s truck stop in Lake Havasu, Arizona, on the California border. A veteran wearing white gloves somberly handed off the wooden box containing Turner’s ashes to the PGR captain from Arizona. Then the Arizona chapter drove the ashes 388 miles to the New Mexico border. The handing-off ceremony was repeated, and then the New Mexico Patriot Guard Riders transported the ashes to Texas, and so on until the ashes reached Georgia five days and some 2,000 miles after leaving California.

“The great state of Georgia proudly accepts this man on the final leg of his return home,” the captain of the Georgia PGR told his Alabama counterpart. “Thank you, Alabama, for bringing him home.” (Simmons 2017)

 

Faith is freedom, but freedom does come with a responsibility and that is to live your life in relationship with God. Accepting Jesus Christ as your savior, being baptized, and participating in a faith community provides the means to live a Christ-centered life with others to assure that we continue to grow in faith, be accountable to God, and to serve one another in love.

Members of the Patriot Guard demonstrated the very principles that God asks of us to love one another as we want to be loved. The riders did not know Turner personally, but they demonstrated their love for a fellow patriot by escorting his ashes across the country. Do we live our lives demonstrating love of one another?

As we step to the table to share in the bread and the cup, we can celebrate our freedom from sin. Faith is freedom. God loves us so much he sent Jesus Christ to demonstrate how to live our faith freely. He assures us that we are saved from our sins by our faith. We accept that gift of salvation at our baptism, we remember it through communion, and we live it freely as we love one another in the same manner that Jesus Christ showed us.

Closing prayer

Dear almighty and loving God,

 

We celebrate the freedom

that you have designed for us.

Even when we stumble and stray,

You continue to love us:

Loving us so much

that you forgive us when we ask.

 

During the week ahead,

May the freedom of our country

Protect all those who seek

To live the freedom you provide.

 

Guide us to live responsibly

Protecting the freedom you provide.

Help our faith be beacons of hope

To those still seeking freedom from sin.

 

May our actions of love for one another

Provide evidence of your love

In your name

and of the Son

and of the Holy Ghost, amen.

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Stages of Faith: Impossible to Believe

given on Sunday, April 30, 2017:  Stage 1 of the 4 stages of faith 

Scripture connection: Luke 24:13-35 (NLT)

The Walk to Emmaus

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,[b] he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.[c]

35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.

Reflection:  Impossible to believe

Easter is over. Or is it?

The Story continues beyond one annual holiday celebration. The Story never ends. The Story is about life eternal and that is impossible to believe. Or is it?

Turn to John 20:1 and just think about the story:

Early on Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.

 

Jesus’ life ended on a cross. Everybody saw it with his or her own eyes; they could not deny that Jesus was dead. But on that Sunday morning, reality changed. The Story continued and continues yet today. Only one problem, the empty tomb simply seemed impossible to believe. Or is it?

Look at the calendar and you know that right now, right here The Story is well over 2,000 years old. Any study of history or even a geological or archeological study can methodically and scientifically explain the experiences     of humanity. Very little remains mysterious, yet The Story hinges on the empty tomb, and explaining that is a problem for those who need concrete evidence to believe.

Faith is believing what you cannot see. Faith is knowing The Story of Jesus Christ and believing it to be true. But what happens when the belief in the story is filled with uncertainty and questions?

Think about this statement:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like Mary and the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief. (1) At first, they may think the story is a fabrication, impossible to believe [John 20:2]. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened [John 20:6]. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally are they able to accept the fact of the Resurrection [John 20:16]. (4) Then as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them [John 20:28]. (19912346-2347)

 

Reading that study note answers some of my own questions, but not completely. This week the lectionary includes the reading from Luke 24 and I discovered an almost identical study note:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like the disciples, they may pass through four states of belief: (1) At first, they may think it is a fairy tale, impossible to believe. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally will they be able to accept the fact of the Resurrection. (4) Then as they commit themselves to Jesus and devote their lives to serving him, they will begin fully to understand the reality of his presence with them. (19912270)

 

The scriptures throughout the four gospels all include the story of Jesus’ walk to Emmaus, but the Mark version only covers two verses, Mark 16:12-13:

12 Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. 13 They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them.

 

The reference to the walk is not nearly as specific in Matthew 28:16-17:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

 

All four books mention Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road, but two accounts provide more details and that may be due to the audience that the writers were addressing. John was written to the newest Christians and those looking for answers, Luke was written to the Gentiles who did not know the prophecies. Mark was written for the Roman citizens who were now Christians while Matthew was written for the Jewish people who were familiar the prophecies and were anticipating the complete story of Jesus.

Who are you? Are you one of the faithful long waiting to have Jesus come and save your people? Are you one of the Roman citizens who is learning the story for the first time? Are you a Gentile, someone who knew nothing about the Jewish faith but were neighbors? Are you looking for answers and you have heard about Jesus and are curious, wanting to know more?

Sometimes placing one’s self into the story is difficult, so consider who you are in today’s culture:

  • Are you one of the many who was born into a Christian family and have always attended church in the traditional way—baptized as an infant or child, went to Sunday school, always attended church, got married in the church, and then raised your family in the same manner? You are reading Matthew with a historical understanding and are expecting Jesus to save you in this world.
  • Are you an American citizen who has learned that Christianity is a faith system that matches your understanding of how laws work to make a society that is productive and nurturing of freedoms? You are reading Mark and seeing how Jesus’ one commandment makes sense in today’s world.
  • Are you a non-believer who is just learning about this Christian faith and need to be convinced that it is a lifestyle that makes a difference and will ‘save’ you providing you eternal life? If so, then you are reading Luke to academically learn and understand what Christianity is and how it works in your life right now.
  • Are you a new Christian, born again, or someone who is seeking to find answers about how to live a happy, productive, even successful life in today’s world? Reading John makes sense to you. It is not overly wordy and it is to the point. No nonsense in telling this story of how Jesus was born and lived.

 

Yet, the story is impossible. Or is it?

What is the rest of the story? As a child of God and the rest of The Story is your story. You are writing The Story with your life, so learning what you believe and what you do is important as you keep Christ alive.

The concern is how to take a story that seems so impossible and follow the message today. How can one live and believe something so old in today’s world? How can something that sounds like a fairy tale make any sense today?

First, remember that literature has a timeless message for all of humanity. Good writing shares ideas that apply in any setting, among any peoples, and at any time in history. Themes in literature never become outdated. The theme of the Bible really boils down to Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees question in Matthew 22:36, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Remember, Matthew was written for the Jewish people who knew God’s prophecies and were historically prepared for Jesus’ coming. The question demonstrates the skepticism even the faithful had concerning the reality of Jesus. The Pharisees’ interrogation shows how they could not believe what they were witnessing in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ answer combined the Jewish faithful relation with God to a much simpler, inclusive commandment:

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[f] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

 

The Story continued in Matthew’s gospel. The answer seemingly addressed the Pharisees’ own disbelief, yet change for those people was difficult if not impossible. The threat to the Jewish way of life lead to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

But The Story did not end with a human death. The Story continues as Jesus left the tomb—resurrected from death. Impossible to believe? Even to those who were eyewitnesses to the three days the resurrection was not real.   If even the eyewitnesses struggled to believe, so do so many in today’s world struggle to believe.

Stage 1 in faith is to hear the story, want to believe, and then accept the story as real. Beginning to believe has to hear the message of the gospel and then start practicing the commandments to love God and to love one another. As Christians, disbelief in The Story is just part of developing one’s faith. What sounds impossible to believe yet appealing, too, opens the door to discipleship.

Discipleship calls us to follow Jesus’ commandments. As we shift our lives into a Christian lifestyle, the impossible becomes believable. When we test God’s lifestyle against those lifestyles existing around us, we discover the reality of God’s grace not only for ourselves but also for others. The impossible to believe story leads to answers in living the challenging lives we live today. Discipleship includes study of the scriptures as well as application of the lessons shared in those words. The Story that seems impossible to believe comes alive as the words turn into actions. Now the impossible is possible.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Forgive us for our disbelief in The Story.

Help us hear you speak to us

In the words shared by your earliest disciples.

 

Forgive us for our uncertainty of The Story.

Help us to practice the simple law

Jesus taught and the disciples preserved.

 

Forgive us for our skepticism about The Story.

Help us test the commandments daily

As The Story becomes real even today.

 

Guide us in our discipleship,

So we may discover the truth

And find the joy of living

In the ‘Sonshine’ of Easter morning

When the impossible became real.

 

In the name of God,

Creator, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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Believe as if we were are children

This sermon was given on Sunday, September 4, 2016, after closing two days of the local fair concession which is an annual event for the church.  Whew!  I barely was able to get it done, but I always try to return to the mindset of the church during the hey day of the community which was nearly 50 years ago.  I appreciate your understanding as you read through this quickly written sermon.

 

Deuteronomy 4:9, NLT

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.

 

Matthew 18:1-6, NLT

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf[a] is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

 

Matthew 19:13-15, NLT

13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” 15 And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

 

Mark 18:13-16, NLT

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

 

Reflection: Believe as if we were children!

 

What can we learn from God’s words about raising children?

  1. What does the scripture tell us about raising children?
  2. Why does Jesus tell the disciples to let the children come to him?
  3. How can we learn to be child-like in our faith?

 

What a weekend! The community is exhausted after all the hours of work to prepare for the annual event. Whether it was just making sure the yards are picked up and mowed or whether it was the hours in a kitchen preparing goodies for the concession or whether it was all the hours of planning, fund raising, setting up or manning an activity, the annual fair is an event worth the effort.

How does all this fit into our lives as Christians? Well, stop and consider the faces of those who attended the fair—not necessarily those working behind counters or on stage—and you can see the joy radiating in the faces. Certainly the smiles and the sparkling eyes of adults of all ages is evidence of the event. There is no lack of smiles and friendly greetings during the fair.

But, as much enjoyment witnessed in the faces of the adults, think about the faces of the kids. Total joy! Eyes sparkling and with out of control energy is proof of the fair’s success. Kids seem to have the purest form of joy and that is the very quality that God wants each of us to experience.

Why, then do adults have trouble finding that absolute sense of joy in their lives? The cynic might say life gets in the way, but God certainly did not create this glorious world for kids to grow up into the embittered adults. No, God created humans to enjoy all that he created. And what happened? Humans failed to follow the rules. Maybe we adults need to remember how to be children, especially children of God.

The answer is available in scripture. The concordance lists almost two full columns of verses using the term ’children’ and these verses include instructions on how to raise children as well as stories about children. Old Testament scriptures demonstrate how simple living a Christ-like, faith-based life whether in the words of instruction to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden or in the ten simple commandments Moses delivered.

Yet, the simple rules became complicated. This is the perfect weekend to stop and think about how we have allowed life to clutter up the simple commandment God gave us. As adults, we have failed to follow the Old Testament message in Deuteronomy 4:9:

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.

 

Everything we do is learned. Our children are learning from everything we adults are doing. Stop for just a minute and think about what our young people learned this weekend. Did they learn Christ-like behaviors or did they learn the very behaviors that God does not want to see? Did the kids demonstrate Christ-like behaviors that we have passed on to them?

If we are honest, we know that our children are mirrors of us. If we stop and review our behaviors, we must realize we have not been teaching God’s law as successfully as we should. Kids learn more from watching how adults live than what adults say.

The absolute joy we witnessed in the faces of the kids—of all ages—should be the standard for our lives, not the exception of our lives. Drawing the kids to us this weekend has been easy. The carnival and all the fun shows how much fun the kids had during these few days in our community. If we draw the kids to God like Jesus did during his ministry, then Christ-like, Christ-centered kids can grow up to be the same as adults.

The New Testament scripture shares that Jesus welcomed the kids during his sermons and teaching moments. He even had to remind his own hand-picked disciples to let the children come as we read in Matthew:

13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” 15 And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

 

Jesus demonstrated the very methods we must use today. Call the children to us. Teach them the simple rule of treating others, as you want to be treated. Teaching them such a simple rule only works, though, if we model the same behavior because the earliest learning is by seeing rather than by listening or reading.

We must do our job as adults in order to assure that the joy in our children’s faces becomes the same joy in the faces of the adults who will replace us on this earth. With God’s grace and love, even we adults can experience that child-like joy in our own lives.

How do we adults who have experienced the difficulties and challenges of life return to the sense of joy we witness in our children’s faces during a fair weekend? The answer really is very simple—believe in God who called the children to him and blessed them. No one promises that returning to a child-like faith in God is easy, but the outcome is worth every effort.

We may see life as experienced adults right now, but we also have witnessed the joy of God’s love in our lives. This weekend we have welcomed home former community members, family members, and even strangers and newcomers to our community; and the fun has filled us up for another year of life challenges.

Life is a gift and the joy in living that life is centered in following Jesus. We are children of God, each and every last one of us, and as adults it is our job to teach the value of living a Christ-centered life out loud here in our own community. But remember, our children learn by watching and modeling the adults.

Christians have the responsibility to stay centered on God, so stay in fellowship with other Christians and remember Jesus’ words to the disciples and the adults trying to learn from the Master:

Matthew 19:13-15

13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” 15 And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

 

Take the joy of the fair weekend, forget the challenges to making sure the weekend celebration of community and remember the joy you have witnessed in the faces of the children. Living a Christ-centered life will take some work, but the joy will be evident in your own face as you find God’s grace and love for yourself. That joy will then be modeled for others and God’s power will transform our world.

Closing prayer:

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for creating this glorious world for us.

Thank you for loving us so much

that you sent Jesus to change our lives.

Thank you, too, for equipping us

with the Holy Spirit so we can change lives, too.

Fill us up with love.

Fill us up with grace.

Fill us up with action.

As we try to transform our world,

Calling the children to you

Studying your word,

And feeding our community with you grace.

May we follow Jesus’ words from the gospel of Mark:

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

Amen, Father. Amen, Jesus Christ. Amen, Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

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What a Difference Faith makes!

given on Sunday, August 7, 2016

Scripture connection: Hebrews 11:1-16, NLT

11 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.

It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.”[a] For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[b] that God would keep his promise. 12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.

13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Key questions: Why difference does faith in God make in my life?

  • What does faith look like?
  • How do I develop faith?
  • How does faith change my life?

 

Reflection: What a difference faith makes!

             Surely you have noticed that it is August and there is something decidedly different about this August—it is as green and colorful as though it were still May, right after the April showers when everything looks bright green with an array of rainbow colors glowing in the sunlight.

August in the Midwest typically looks quite different—brown, brittle grass. Tired, worn out gardens usually struggle with little color left from the annuals planted around the walks or in flowerpots. The only thing that seems to do well is the spindly okra soaking up the sun and thriving on very little water. But not this year. This year our late summer world is green and colorful.

What a difference God’s rain and sunshine make in our world today. Farmers and gardeners know that planting seeds is an exercise in faith. The conditions that surround the seed and seedling are critical to the entire growing process. During the growing season, conditions vary dramatically, but somehow the majority of seeds does germinate, grow, and mature. The yield varies depending on the quality of the growing conditions that nurtured those crops to fruition.

Faith is much like the seed we place in the ground. Faith begins as a tiny little idea that dropped into our lives at any time. Sometimes the seed is planted by accident and sometimes it is carefully, lovingly placed by parents who know the difference faith makes in one’s life.

Yes, faith makes a difference in our lives; what type of difference depends so much on the circumstances, the challenges, the failures and the successes. Faith becomes a powerful force yielding the greatest reward imaginable—salvation and the life eternal alongside Jesus Christ and a host of faithful souls including those who have made a difference in our earthly journey.

In Hebrews, the definition of faith is given: Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. The verse is used so repeatedly that it has become a cliché and possibly has lost its value as a life-changing principle. Still, faith makes such a difference in the quality of one’s life.

Unfortunately, many cannot identify faith in their own lives and struggle to figure out what makes life journey fruitful. The Old Testament stories that are included in Hebrews 11 provide evidence of how faith supports even the most faithful during the most difficult trials. The stories begin with Cain and Able and continue through even the books of the prophets.

Still understanding faith today is difficult. Because faith is not a product that one goes to a store or gets on line to purchase, faith sometimes fails to be planted in our lives. Maybe our parents did not plant faith’s seed because they were not equipped to plant and nurture that seedling. Perhaps the parents did plant the seed, but then the environment or circumstances interfered and the seed of faith sat fallow, not germinating but remaining as a faint promise.

Today faith is evident around us even though many argue that is not. Evidence of faith may not sound like the Old Testament or even the New Testament stories, but they are listed there, too. Consider the stories of the woman who had such strong faith in Jesus’ healing power that all she wanted was to touch his robe in order to heal. And her faith did heal her. Lazarus’s family believed and Jesus raised him from the dead.

Even the circumstances of the Last Supper paint a picture of how the brutal ending of Jesus’ life fueled the earliest Christians to band together and carry God’s message forward. Those disciples who shared the bread and the cup with Jesus certainly had their faith challenged, but despite the negative growing conditions, the church did grow.

Faith is essential to the quality of our lives. Faith is a seed sitting there just waiting to grow. We need to know that we are equipped to nurture that faith and encourage it to grow to fruition so God can harvest it when the growing season ends.

How does faith grow? The directions are sprinkled throughout the Bible. We must read and study the Bible in order to fertilize our faith. John Wesley was educated and still he struggled to understand how faith operated. His own brother served as an agent of change for Wesley. John and Charles were both raised in the church, and it took Charles’s recommendation to continue in reading the Bible and praying. And John did. He placed himself into a disciplined environment and continued his ministry right up until his personal moment of enlightenment referred to as his Aldersgate Moment when he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed.’

Life is going to challenge each and every one of us in ways that we cannot predict. Watching the Olympics opening ceremonies, I was reminded how unifying the games can be. The inclusion of a team of refugees is a testimony in faith. The discipline of Olympian athletes is often a quality reflected in their lives whether on or off the competition. The discipline carries them to the finish line and the refugees maintained that discipline even when they had no country, no alliance.

We have the tools to grow faith, we just must be disciplined enough to do it. Wesley explained that we are to practices the acts of piety and the acts of mercy to develop the fruitfulness of faith. We are to join in fellowship with other Christians to worship, to pray, and to serve together.

Faith is knowing that God is with us throughout the challenges in our lives and trusting that we will receive the ultimate reward. Faith is knowing that we can manage the ups and downs in life because God is with us always.   Faith takes work but it is easier to do when working together with others who believe.

Today we join together at the table to renew our connection to God through the bread and the cup. We are practicing the very same methods God taught the first disciples to strengthen our faith. May the ancient words from scripture, from the liturgy, from the hymns, and from those around us so we may find the peace, the joy, and the contentment that enriches our faith-filled lives.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for the words of encouragement shared in the Bible.

Thank you for the guidance of the faithful surrounding us.

Thank you for your patience as we struggle to understand faith.

Fill us with the Holy Spirit as we share in the bread and the cup.

Fill us with the joy of knowing your grace and your love.

Fill us with the courage to battle the challenges to our faith.

May we take our faith and use it to share your grace with others.

May we demonstrate our faith so others may see it in action.

May we lead others to identify the power of faith in their lives, too.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen

 

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Remembering and Trusting in God’s Promise

 

 given on Sunday, May 29, 2016

Scripture connection: Revelation 21:3-7, NLT

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

 

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Reflection:

Memorial Day Weekend: our culture has decided this opens summer. The kids are out of school, vacations are planned, family reunions begin, and for a few days work is not a priority. The enormous rains from this week even have the farmers stepping away from the fields.

Yet, Memorial Day was created to remember those who served our country. Our country’s history developed due to the sacrifices of its citizens. War birthed the nation, and the battles that have preserved its declaration of independence and its constitution have filled cemeteries from coast to coast. The red in the flag reminds us of all the blood shed through this country’s history.

The historical significance of Memorial Day is dwindling, though, and it is important for us to remember that the veterans who have died and those still with us answered a call to serve at the risk of their own lives in order that we may live safely as Americans.

Sadly, the Church’s significance is dwindling, too. This Memorial Day Weekend can also serve to remind us of the saints who have also remained faithful to God’s call to love one another. Cemeteries around this world are filled with the bodies of those who died for their faith. Some are martyrs whose death was violent, vicious, unprovoked, or silent while sitting in prisons.

There is absolutely no way to prove to the skeptics the promises shared in the Bible. There is no way to guarantee that certain statements of faith or even lifestyles assure us that life is eternal. Yet, the words captured in the Bible, first shared orally and now translated and printed in every language found in our world, continue to tell us that God does offer us life everlasting even though our bodies do not.

John’s book, Revelation, challenges today’s readers’ perception of God’s promise. The imagery teases us with the beauty promised, but the surrealistic images also cause us to question the truth of the words because they do not match our understanding of reality. Yet we are drawn to read and understand what John is telling us.

Understanding the words depends on our willingness to trust that God speaks to us through these words, but also through our experiences and even those of others. Memorial Day can be one more time that we remember God’s promises while remembering those in our lives who have done all they could for others in all kinds of ways.

In John’s words shared in Revelation 21:3, we hear a promise:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.

 

These words provide hope for the living. This weekend we hear those words and know that God is with us as we travel the highways, as we work the fields, as we clean our homes, and battle the tiresome routines of living. Our faith in God provides us hope in managing all that we do.

As we remember all those who have lived and died in our lives, we can see example after example of those whose faith made it possible to manage all the trials and tribulations of living. We can take courage in knowing that they lived with God, and even now are still living with God.

Today, celebrate the living by living with God in your lives. Celebrate those who you loved and even those in the generations before you who lived with God in their lives. Celebrate Jesus, too. God did whatever he could to make our faith real. He even stepped down beside us in the flesh as Jesus to demonstrate how easy it really can be to live a Christ-like life, a God-driven life.

We have witnessed faith in others, and we know we can live with faith, too. The trials and tribulations, even the battlefield’s trials and tribulations, can be managed with our faith and the hope that God’s promise of eternal life will erase all the negatives of the here and now.

The words from Revelation 21 continue:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

 

Tears may well be part of this Memorial Day Weekend as we feel the loss of family and friends, but the promise that God provides and has provided throughout history wipes away the tears and the sorrow.

In the study notes from the Life Application Bible, we hear hope in words that share an understanding of John’s revelation:

Have you ever wondered what eternity will be like? The “Holy City, the New Jerusalem” is described as the place where God will “wipe every tear from their eyes.” Forevermore, there will be no death, pain, sorrow, or crying. What a wonderful truth. No matter what you are going through, it’s not the last word—God has written the final chapter, and it is about true fulfillment and eternal joy for those who love him. We do not know as much as we would like, but it is enough to know that eternity with God will be more wonderful than we could ever imagine.

 

We do not know the reality of life eternal, but we have faith in those who have learned the reality. This Memorial Day Weekend is the perfect time to remember that God loved us so much that he gave his only son Jesus Christ so that we might have life eternal, too.

I have had family and friends who wanted me to believe, and I only hope that those in my life know I want them to believe, too. How I share that news may not be as open and honest as it should, but John did not hesitate to share what God shared with him in his revelation:

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

 

The promise is shared. The promise gives life purpose. The promise is the reason for living and for remembering all those saints who now know that God is the Alpha and the Omega. The saints we honor this weekend are those who now share the cup and the bread with God, the father, the son and the Holy Spirit along with the multitude of saints already there.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, the Alpha and the Omega,

 

Wipe away the tears of those who suffer,

Who feel the pain of loss and loneliness.

Wipe away the tears of those struggling

To understand the promise of life eternal.

 

Use us today to share your love

To provide hope to the hopeless.

Use us today to share your love

To ease the pain and suffering.

 

Give us the words to assure the questioning

That living Christ-like lives gives purpose

To our daily lives and all its ups and downs

And will lead to the ultimate life eternal.

 

Thank you for all of creation.

Thank you for the gift of unfailing love.

Thank you for the saints in our lives.

Thank you for the blessing of life eternal.

 

In your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen.

 

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Graduating in Faith

sermon given on Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016

Scripture Connection: Romans 5: 1-5, NLT

12 “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

Reflection

Certainly you have noticed that it is graduation time around our communities. The stores remind us with the displays of graduation gifts, decorations, and cards. Snippets from graduation speakers are shared in the news. And school is out, so kids are sleeping in before heading out to enjoy summer vacation.

Graduation signals transitions from one level of education to the next. For some, graduation closes the door of school but opens the door to the work world. In truth, though, graduation does not signal the end of learning, just a change in settings.

The book of Proverbs is filled with advice. In the eighth chapter, Solomon introduces wisdom much like one introduces a guest speaker at graduation. Graduation speakers are selected because of their experiences, contributions, or relationships with the goal of providing the graduates insights into life’s continuing journey:

12 “I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment.
I know where to discover knowledge and discernment.
13 All who fear the Lord will hate evil.
Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance,
corruption and perverse speech.
14 Common sense and success belong to me.
Insight and strength are mine.
15 Because of me, kings reign,
and rulers make just decrees.
16 Rulers lead with my help,
and nobles make righteous judgments.[a]

These words were written almost a thousand years before Jesus was even born. This year’s graduates will hear words of wisdom that often reflect Biblical truths shared over the millenniums.

Do we acknowledge that developing our Christian beliefs is much like developing academic knowledge? Do we acknowledge that our faith education is a developmental process? Do we ever graduate in our faith?

Solomon’s introduction of wisdom along with the words of Paul in Romans and Jesus’ words in the gospel of John creates a graduation speech for Christians who are developing wisdom in faith. Christians develop a lifetime relationship with God without any formal, published, or prescribed curriculum.

Christian knowledge develops in a very-customized curriculum based on formal and informal learning experiences. Graduating in faith cannot be packaged and prescribed. Faith education is God-driven and no one can predict when graduation will occur.

Even if one graduates in faith, learning does not stop because life’s journey does not stop. And consider this, once the Christian students accepts Jesus in their lives, they accept the gift of life-everlasting even when death ends earthly life. Graduating in faith leads to eternal life.

Education begins at birth and continues throughout our life. I cannot imagine living without faith in God. I see faith as a developmental process that never ends. I was fortunate to be born into a Christian home in which my education began with the love of parents who wanted me to develop the faith that would sustain me throughout life’s journey.

The beginning of faith often depends on the examples of those in our lives. Faith that there is a God, that God is with us despite what life delivers us, and that God experiences the same pains and joys we must experience provides another critical component in our Christian education: Hope.

Hope in necessary. With hope we wake up each morning to begin a new day. What happened yesterday is over, and a new day means new opportunities. Hope is key to continuing our Christian education. Hope becomes a fuel that pushes us to do more and to do it better and to share what we believe with others. Hope is phase two in our Christian education.

Each Christian discovers that even on the worst of days, faith in God provides us hope that even in death there is life. Hope keeps us alive in the moment and pushes us to share the excitement of living with others. Graduating in faith means we continue growing with hope.

Jesus provides hope. Historically, Christian education teaches us that when hope fails, life fails. God saw that the evil in the world was destroying his creation and when no other means was available, he stepped in personally in the form of his son, Jesus Christ. Faith alone needed a tangible example to follow.

Jesus exemplifies hope. The knowledge base provided in the historical teaching and the literature of the Jewish people needed a real-life example of how faith worked. Jesus’ teaching, healing, and modeling of faith provided clear evidence that hope makes living a faith-filled life possible even through persecution as vicious as his own crucifixion. Graduating in faith leads to hope. Hope develops the ultimate degree of faith: Love.

Love is God in action. Love becomes the final product of a faith-filled life. Love is hope-fueled faith doing all that can be done for all who may need it and in as many different formats as possible. Love is good triumphing over evil. Love is personal and can be demonstrated in every facet of one’s life.

God provided each of us the model of living a faith-filled life in the form of his son, Jesus Christ, but even more he provides us the Holy Spirit to live within each one of his faithful servants. The Holy Spirit makes it possible to manage all the trials and tribulations that life hands any one of us. The Holy Spirit transforms wishes into love-based actions.

The words from “Diamonds” remind graduates in faith that God is never done teaching us how to graduate in faith, how to maintain hope, and how to love one another. The lyrics explain how God works in our lives:

Here and now I’m in the fire, in above my head
Being held under the pressure, don’t know what will be left
But it’s here in the ashes
I’m finding treasure

He’s making diamonds
Making diamonds
He’s making diamonds out of dust
He is refining
And in his timing
He’s making diamonds out of us

 

Graduate in your faith. The process will take us from being lumps of coal into precious diamonds.

Graduate in your faith knowing hope makes life manageable. Hope polishes us into the diamonds carefully cut and polished into gems.

Graduate in your faith, fueled with hope, and live God’s love in action. The lumps of coal pulled out of the earth, cut and polished with hope reveal the sparkles created by life’s challenges.

Love given is the greatest gift of all. God loved us so much that he gave us life. God loved us so much that he gave us the greatest teacher to provide us hope. God loved us so much that he now trusts us, graduates in faith, to love one another. Graduating in faith means we are diamonds sparkling here in God’s light. Nothing can destroy the diamonds, not even death because as graduates in faith we continue on with life eternal.

Closing prayer

Dear Master Teacher,

We lift up the graduates from our schools.

So many are still lumps of coal

Not understanding how faith works in our lives.

 

We lift up the souls struggling to find hope

Managing lives without faith

Crumbling under life’s pressures all alone.

 

We lift up your faithful

Continuing to learn how faith and hope

Transforms into love sparkling like diamonds.

 

Thank you for the gifts you give us

As faith provides hope

Leading us to share love with one another.

 

Thank you for the wisdom shared in scripture.

Thank you for the wisest teacher, your Son.

Thank you for the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

May we graduate in our own faith

Teaching others how hope sustains

Creating love-filled gifts for others.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

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A metaphor of change: Growing the Faith Tree

given on 5th Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2016

Opening scripture: Genesis 2:8-9, NLT

Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Kids’ scripture: Ezekiel 17:22-24, NLT

22 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, and I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. 23 It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!”

Scripture: Romans 11:11-24, NLT

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it.

 

13 I am saying all this especially for you Gentiles. God has appointed me as the apostle to the Gentiles. I stress this, 14 for I want somehow to make the people of Israel jealous of what you Gentiles have, so I might save some of them. 15 For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead!

 

16 And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy—just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.

 

17 But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. 18 But you must not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch, not the root.

 

19 “Well,” you may say, “those branches were broken off to make room for me.” 20 Yes, but remember—those branches were broken off because they didn’t believe in Christ, and you are there because you do believe. So don’t think highly of yourself, but fear what could happen. 21 For if God did not spare the original branches, he won’t[a] spare you either.

 

22 Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is severe toward those who disobeyed, but kind to you if you continue to trust in his kindness. But if you stop trusting, you also will be cut off. 23 And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree. 24 You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong.

Reflection

I had to give up on a tree this week. For three years I kept holding on to the hope the tree would survive, but the tree I planted died. Even though it attracted the attention of numerous tree trimmers, I could not give up.

The tree was something so unique and it grew so beautifully, but then it began to wither. I stumbled onto the tree one spring among the trees offered at Westlake’s, and since it was June, it was on sale. I had never seen one before, but it caught my attention. So, the tree went home with me, I planted it, watered it, and watched in awe as it grew.

The corkscrew willow grew upwards into a beautiful conical shape. The slim little leaves danced in the wind, and it quickly shaded the dogs’ favorite spot to watch the world pass by. I was proud of my tree.

Then one year, I realized the leaves were withering and falling off. Yes, it was a dry year and willows do like water, so I watered it. It did not improve. The tree was not dead, the seasons passed, and I thought it would revive come spring.

Faith is much like the trees. Trees begin as a seed that just happens to fall into a space on this earth that nurtures us. Our faith is not always formally planted; sometimes a seed of faith is just dropped into our hearts and takes root.

How we develop faith is as complex as the types of soil and climates that nurture the expansive number of tree species. Trees have common traits, but they differ in form, uses, strengths and weaknesses. Some grow wild, independent of any special care; some are carefully sculpted into the small bonsai trees for decoration.

Paul’s letter to the Romans uses the process of grafting a tree to share how Christianity was grafted onto the Jewish faith. Paul’s mission grafted Gentiles onto the holy Jewish foundation: For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too. (Romans 11:16)

Chopping down the corkscrew willow felt wrong because some branches were still green. Yet the main trunk was dead, so dry that it sounded hollow. Upon close inspection, I discovered that the green was coming from new trunks growing from the roots, right up along the dead trunk. They were grafted onto the trunk and I could not see any way to cut out the dead and let the green continue.

What do I do? Mom always said to trim trees in September or April—sap drains down or sap rises. The weather already showed that the sap was back up the branches, but only about a fourth of the branches seemed to be green. What should I do?

A little research on line provided me new ideas and inspiration. The corkscrew willow was easy to start. In fact one website indicated that one inch of a willow twig had the growth hormone equal to the powder growth home sold in a bottle. One inch of that willow in a pot of soil could make anything grow.

The same site explained that just a sprout of the willow could be put into water and it would sprout roots within a week although it recommended letting it stay in water at least two weeks before trying to plant in dirt. What could I do?

I pruned some of the healthiest green branches and went to work. I cut some pieces that had a leaf joint and planted them in the dirt. I took some small pieces and placed them in water. I even took longer branches and stuck them directly into potting soil, watched and waited.

It worked! The roots in water were visible within a week. In fact it has been three weeks and now I am wondering where I should put them.

The branches stuck into the potting soil are not looking very good. The temperature since I did cut them dropped a couple of nights and the green leaves look as though they froze. The twigs have some green, but I am not sure I followed directions successfully and they may not survive.

But the biggest surprises are the one to two inch pieces of twigs, stripped of the leaves. The pots into which I pushed them are showing brand new growth on all the twigs. What I did, worked!

The effort to try something new is paying off. The original corkscrew willow is now a pile of brush on the curb waiting to be picked up. I had to make a tough decision, but each little branch I worked to save is a promise of a new corkscrew willow to grow tall once again.

Faith is a tree in our lives. We must do whatever we can to see that it grows. Sometimes we have to prune out the dead in our lives or even restart from just a glimmer of faith and build it up again. Sometimes the faith seed we plant, takes much longer to root than the one-inch piece of the willow, but the promise of new faith is there.

The metaphor of the corkscrew willow is an example of how faith grows, dies, and regrows in our lives and the lives of others. As a gardener, I must do whatever I can to nurture faith grows strong and hearty even if that means having to prune, root or cut down the tree.

Paul’s mission took Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection grafting God’s message of love into new cultures. His work sharing the story and continuing God’s mission established a church that is now the global church. The Christian faith tree did not grow trouble free, and it continues to survive despite human plagues trying to cut it down.

Each one of us must grow our own faith tree, but we are also gardeners who have a responsibility to nurture faith trees around us. The corkscrew branches may grow straight up the trunk reaching for the sun, or they may reach outward to the east, the west, the north or the south.

If you study the patterns of the twigs, you can also see that it twists and turns much like our lives do. Faith in God, when carefully tended, makes it possible for those twists and turns to turn into strong, beautiful twigs, branches, trees, and groves. Whatever we do, we must learn to grow faith trees as beautiful as the corkscrew willow. It takes faith, it takes knowledge, and it takes a faith community to keep the faith tree growing.

To summarize:

  • Analyze the health of one’s faith
  • Determine what is needed for healthy growth
  • Prune the deadwood and/or cut it down
  • Re-root or graft as necessary
  • Turn it over to God with prayer
  • Nurture the new growth
  • Be prepared to do it again

 

Closing prayer

Dear Father,

You are the gardener who planted seeds of faith.

You asked Abraham and all his descendants

To be gardeners, too, keeping evil away.

 

We, too, whether Jew or Gentile,

Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran or not,

Our faith brings us together in your garden.

 

Teach us the story and equip us

So we may tend your garden

In a world filled with evil weeds.

 

Open our hearts and minds

So we identify the challenges

To healthy faith and Christian lives.

 

Prune out the dead and the disease

In our faith tree

So we might be renewed.

 

Thank you, Lord,

For the trees and promises

Of life eternally. –Amen

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