Tag Archives: Golden Rule

Why is simple complicated?

given on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 5:10-11, NLT

10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 Sermon scriptures:

Romans 11:3-6, NLT

Elijah the prophet complained to God about the people of Israel and said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”[a]

And do you remember God’s reply? He said, “No, I have 7,000 others who have never bowed down to Baal!”[b]

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel[c] have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved.

Romans 12:1-2, NLT

And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.[b] Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:9-18, NLT

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.[b]12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Closing: Romans 16:17-20, NLT

17 And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. 18 Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. 19 But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus[a] be with you.

 Reflection: Why is simple complicated?

One of my favorite cookies is a ‘no-bake’ cookie. Not only does it have all the chocolate one could possibly want, but also it does not include the extra work of baking them, especially on hot summer days. The no-bake cookie is simple, right? Well, the name of the cookie may be somewhat misleading.

In a similar manner being a Christian is really simple, too. How difficult is it to remember the new law versus the Ten Commandments of the old law? Surely being Christian is simple. Love God. Love one another.

When God decided to send Jesus with a much less complicated law, those who were faithful may have understood the Ten Commandments; but religious leaders had continued to add layers of rules to their lifestyle that complicated faithful living and could have lead one to breaking a law that they may not have even known existed.

Being faithful was not simple.

Jesus delivered a simple way to be faithful: Love God first, then love one another as you want to be loved. How simple can it get? Yet we tend to complicate even the new law. Paul knew the complicated law of the Jewish faith, so when he began his work sharing the new law delivered by Jesus, he wrote letters to keep encouraging the young churches.

Paul referred back to the ancient prophet Elijah about how God had not forgotten his people even though it may have felt like it. God does not forget the faithful Jewish people; he just tried to simplify their laws by sending Jesus to demonstrate how to live a faithful life. Paul’s letter goes into detail about the personal responsibility of all new disciples—whether Jew or Gentile:

  • 12:1 give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.
  • 12:2 let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
  • 12:3 Don’t think you are better than you really are.

 

Being a Christian should be simple, but we tend to complicate lives by what we do and do not do.

Paul continues to explain to the Roman church that God has given us each gifts to use: prophecy to speak out with faith; gift of serving; the gift of teaching, gifts of encouraging, giving, and showing kindness. The list is not complete, it simply lists a few of the skills God gives us to use in our lives, but we tend to complicate our lives with some very negative behaviors as Paul goes on to explain:

  • 12:9 Don’t just pretend to love others.. . . Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
  • 12:10 Love. . with genuine affection and . . .honor each other.
  • 12:11 Never be lazy. . .
  • 12:12 . . . be ready to help . . . eager to practice hospitality.

 

The list details the simple law of loving one another. Sadly, though we can be criticized for what we do, but living simply means ignoring those who “persecute you” and as Paul says in 12:16-17:

 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

 

Just like no-bake cookies. The name makes the cookie sound easy, but the instructions do not always include the difficult tweaks that good cooks know make the cookie so scrumptious or how to make them extra special with secret ingredients.

Paul listed the special instructions so the Gentiles could live in community with the Jews who had generations of instruction in living faithfully. The Jewish faithful had to have the special instructions so they could adjust to a simpler lifestyle and not judge the Gentiles. We, too, need to read through Paul’s letters to remember how to live faithfully, also.

Ask the best cooks you know what the secret is to their no-bake cookies and you will get a list of suggestions just as Paul’s letters provide a range of suggestions to the various churches. In Romans, he begins wrapping up his letters with a few other points:

  • Chapter 13: “Respect for authority”
  • Chapter 14: “The Danger of Criticism”
  • Chapter 15: “Living to Please Others

 

And then he concludes the letter with personal notes and plans. These last chapters are like the special notes the experienced cooks write in the margins of their recipes—some even dating when they made the recipe and for whom it was made.

My no-bake cookies are seldom the same any two times. Why? I tweak the recipe based on what ingredients I have available, who the eaters are, and even the time I spend on making them. And what are the notes along my recipe card? The most critical one is to let it boil at least 3 minutes. My favorite tweak is peanut butter added to the recipe. I have even changed it to a non-chocolate no-bake cookie, but it is not greeted as favorably as a dark chocolate version is.

Being a faithful Christian should be easy with God’s new law delivered by Jesus Christ. Why, then, do we seem to make it so difficult? Paul knew personally the extent of the law’s change, and he did whatever he could to encourage the new church to live simply. In our personal lives, we must spend some time evaluating our own practices. Are we living faithfully? Are we respecting each other? Are we demonstrating our gifts in all the ways that we can to love one another?

The recipe may sound easy since it says “no-bake cookies,” but the more we develop our discipleship as Christians, we learn how to tweak the law to make the best Christians we can of ourselves. We need to work to be better. We also need to work together to be the church God asks us to be. When we fail, then we need to reread the recipe and try again. The result will be worth the reward.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You have delivered us a message, a recipe for faithfulness.

Generations have preserved the simple instructions,

But we look for ways to make them even easier to follow.

 

Just like excellent cooks know, the simplest recipes

Need practice to reach perfection.

Guide us in following your words so we too may reach perfection.

 

Help us to toss out what has not worked

And to try again to find the best ways to love one another

And to carry your message to others in our community.

 

Open our hearts so we can love freely.

Open our minds so we can learn from our mistakes.

Open our doors to all your children who seek

life now and life eternal

with you, our father,

with Jesus Christ your son,

and with the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

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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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How does God’s law fit into our American community?

given on Sunday, July 3, 2026

Scripture references:

According to the Gospel: John 15:11-15, MSG

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

 

Guiding scriptures: (esp. when talking freedom)

 

  • Galatians 3: 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[a] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

  • Galatians 5: 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

 

Guiding scripture: Galatians 6:7-10, NLT

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

 

Reflection:

 

Americans are celebrating this weekend—at least as much as the weather will allow—but the celebration marks the country’s 240th year since its declaration of independence from the British. Consider that time span. What has this country experienced? Why has it survived? What will the future be—another 240 years?

These questions cannot be answered, but reviewing history we can trace the changes that the nation has experienced. Not all the stories are happy, not all turned out as citizens expected, yet the country has existed for 240 years and that is worthy of a celebration.

The question for today’s Christians, though, is challenging: How does God’s law fit into our American community? Certainly this is not a unique or even novel question to ask, but for this 2016 year, the question seems to spring up in the midst of mudslinging, verbal attacks, and sometimes even worse behaviors as the country braces for the election season this fall.

God has seen it all before, I am sure. We have the stories of the Old Testament that share similar human behaviors just not on the global video screens we have sharing every bit of it in real time in full color right in our own homes. There seems no escape from the unethical, un-Christian behaviors playing out before us.

The negative behaviors are exhausting. We add to that the continual news feeds of the horrible atrocities whether nature inflicted or human inflicted. The world needs God as much, if not more, than it ever has needed him, especially since God is love.

God’s creation is losing the battle with evil and Christians cannot give up. God created the Old Law in order to assure that humanity could live in harmony with each other but also with the rest of God’s creation. A set of ten laws was all God thought was needed. He gave them to Moses to implement and the ancient Israelites were to follow them.

For thousands of years, regardless of the geographical location of the Israelites or the political powers that were ruling the lands, the Israelites were held accountable to the Ten Commandments. Still more laws were added to the original ten; judgments were made, punishments metered out, and the Old Law became unmanageable.

To shorten the recap of God’s faithful and the complications that developed during those ancient times, 21st century Christians can jump ahead knowing that God decided to make a change. Out with the Old Law and in with the New Law.

Certainly the Old Law could have worked, but God could not get the message to the faithful that the application of the Old Law became overly complicated. Action was needed and God did act. The answer to the 21st century question was answered over 2000 years ago when God arrived in the form of man, Jesus Christ.

There was no cataclysmic event destroying all the life on earth, rather there was the simple birth of a baby and a span of 33 years as that child grew up, became an adult, and began his ministry that ended in his death and miraculous resurrection. The simple New Law replaced the Old Law—Love one another, as you want to be loved.

How simple. One law. One rule to learn and to follow. One, not ten and not a thousand or more that had been created by the Pharisees trying to make sure the ten were followed.   One law is all God said we needed then and all we still need today.

The question that seems to confuse us is how do we live with just one law today, in the 21st century, in our community, in our nation, in our continent within the global community. The answer seems overly simple and that might be the problem. That one law should evaluate each action of each person. The rubric or the answer key is just one question: Does that action/word/behavior show that you love others as you love yourself?

For instance, driving down the highway and needing to move into another lane does the action show that you have put the others safety first or does the action put self first at the cost of others safety and comfort? Does calling up a friend with the latest scuttlebutt about a neighbor share love for that person or does it hurt that person? When God checks you on how well you are carrying out his law, do you pass the test or do your fail?

The New Law, the Golden Rule, is now over 2000 years old and the news reports are filled with the very behaviors God does not want to see. We are God’s hands on this earth, and we are responsible to apply the New Law in the best way we can. That is how we use God’s law in the 21st century.

Use God’s law daily. Find ways to treat family, friends, and neighbors, even strangers the same way you want to be treated. The more we use the New Law, the more we internalize God’s love.

Paul knew first handed the power of God’s love. It was strong enough to blind the Pharisee Saul persecuting the earliest Christians. God used that same love to heal Saul and to send him as a missionary sharing the message beyond Jesus’ own world.

As the Christian missionary, Paul used any means he could to share the story and he refused to let even the Galatians corrupt the New Law by scolding them and reminding them how to live under the new law. In his letter, he explained how to focus on living the law:

  • Galatians 3: 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[a] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

  • Galatians 5: 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

 

These verses, as well as the entire letter, apply to us right now. The new Christians in Galalea were no different than we Christians here in our own American community nor any other global community.

God’s law frees us from all worldly restraints. Applying God’s law supersedes all laws. Living by the Golden Rule eliminates any risk of breaking any human rule. God’s law answers our question “How does God’s law fit into our American community?”

Live God’s law and we are free. Just remember that with that freedom comes a responsibility to love one another. Love is the method we use to operate in the home, in the neighborhood, in our country and even around this globe. The freedom we experience living God’s law also calls us to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

You are called to love one another. You are called to serve one another in love. You are commissioned by God to share his love in any way that you can. Use Paul’s words to check yourself.

  • Are you serving one another in love as you want to be served?
  • Are you willing to give up a few minutes or even hours to serve others in some way you might not typically do?
  • Are you able to open a door to someone new?
  • Are you sure that you reflect God’s love to all you meet?

This Independence Day is special for us as American Christians, but it is also a time to review what freedom is. Following God’s law truly frees us from all the worldly restraints and that gives us such joy that it explodes inside us like the fireworks sparkling above us as we celebrate our national American heritage. Let others find God sparkling in your life, lighting others up in love, too.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for the freedom your New Law

gives each and every one of your faithful.

 

We acknowledge that we all too often

fail to serve one another in love.

 

We ask your forgiveness for our flaws,

our closed hearts, doors, and minds.

 

Thank you for the strength of Paul’s words

teaching us how to live by the Golden Rule.

 

We ask you to fill us with the Holy Spirit

so we may share your freedom with others.

 

We ask you to open the hearts, doors and minds

to others in our community so they are free, too.

 

And when our days seem gloomy and dreary,

let your Son shine in our lives so others find the way.

 

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

grant us peace, now and forever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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The Legacy of Our Father

Scripture Foundation: Galatians 3:23-29 (NLT)

God’s Children through Faith

23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

26 For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[b] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[c] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[d] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Reflection: The Legacy of Our Father

Here it is Fathers Day, another special day filling our calendars. Ho hum? That depends on how you perceive the importance of celebrating the father’s role in your life. Sadly there are many who have no fathers actively involved in their lives or maybe there are those who never knew their fathers. Add to that the long list of those whose fathers have died, leaving just memories.

The memories may be filled with laughter and silliness, but consider the legacy our fathers do leave us. Christian fathers have provided us a faith foundation based on the foundation of their fathers. Today the foundation of our sons’ families is beginning to shake if not shatter.

God is our heavenly Father and 21st century Christian fathers are those who have a personal relationship with God. Sadly, though, when looking at the 21st century congregations, the absence of fathers is all too evident. Yes, there are some, but the majority of Sunday morning attendees are women and their pre-high school children.

In Galatians 3, Paul is explaining to the followers how different a Christian lifestyle is from the old lifestyle under the Law of Moses:

23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

The choice of weighted words points out the negative attitude towards the Law of Moses. Paul reminds them that the law made the decisions, and the Pharisees were like guards keeping all the faithful under strict supervision. The Law of Moses originally was developed to protect the faithful, Paul adds the word “custody” to that word “protective.”

Protective custody in our 21st century world implies the loss of freedom, limiting who we hang out with, what we do, where we go—almost like being on house arrest with the ankle bracelet to track our every movement. The legacy of our American forefathers would not approve of “protective custody.” Today’s fathers—including the mothers—balance the challenges of home, work, and family. The old Law of Moses administered by the Pharisees would complicate that balance making protective custody more like imprisonment than freedom.

This Fathers Day we can celebrate the freedom God granted us by replacing the Old Law with the New Law. The New Covenant that was sealed with the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ freed fathers—and mothers—simpler and more expansive: Love God. Love your neighbor, as you want to be loved.

Paul explains to Galatians how the law worked: “24 . . . The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.” God demonstrated how fathers raise their children. As our children develop through childhood, the parents keep children in “protective custody.” The rules are firm, the boundaries are defined, and the parents model behaviors preparing the children for adult freedom.

Parents today need God to show them how to raise their kids. Looking at the Old Testament, we can analyze the stories. Those who followed God’s law in a balanced manner raised healthy, faithful families. Yet, some Old Testament stories tell us that making too many laws, demanding unreasonable expectations, and putting others in front of God separated the families from God and sometimes separated the families.

Of course a cautionary statement in this conversation is necessary. God gave humans free will and there is evil in the world. Parents exercising strict application of the law can discover that being legalistic separates them from their children. The Pharisee’s strict application of the law and the evil that crept in also combined to destroy the relationship of God and his children.

God’s law became the Pharisee’s law and through the strict application of the laws added to the original Ten Commandments. Understanding the Law of Moses became difficult for faithful families. Mistakes were made, distance developed, and evil’s influence grew. God, as the Heavenly Father, had to make a tough decision.

Despite the centuries of prophecies, God could not manage the Pharisee’s overly strict development of the Law of Moses, nor could he control evil influences that were luring the faithful away from the parent-child relationship God had with humanity. A change had to happen.

As parents, we all know that sickening feeling that comes when we have to administer an appropriate consequence or punishment. God must have had that same sick feeling, but he made the decision to do what was best for his children. He stepped in personally in the form of Jesus Christ, the man.

Fathers, and mothers, who experience the pain of wayward children know that they do try to do everything they can to keep them from self-destructing. Would not they make a decision to exchange places with the child to protect them from destruction?

God did just that. As a parent, he decided to make some changes personally rather than leave it up to the Pharisees and the prophets. A hands-on approach was the final parenting method that God chose to remove the “protective custody” and teach a better way to live as caretakers of this world. God chose love over law.

This week in particular (June 12-19, 2016) we have witnessed parents experience heart-wrenching pain as their children are destroyed. Evil lurks in some of the most surprising places. Every time newscasters, politicians, friends, or families talk over the events that have cost lives of somebody’s children, a question is posed: How come this evil keeps happening?

The question for Christians is really more about how come God’s New Covenant, the new law, of loving one is not more widely used. Do we raise our children knowing the immense value of applying God’s Golden Rule: Love one another, as you want to be loved. Parents faithful to God raise children to know how to love one another.

Sadly, though, the free will factor and evil can step in and destroy the loving child parents struggled to raise. Yet, knowing that all our best efforts may not provide the ‘protective custody’ needed to guarantee our sons and daughters live a Christ-like or Christ-filled life should not keep us from trying.

In answer to the cries heard on the news broadcasts this past week begging for an answer as to why all the evil keeps happening, one can only ask: Have you remained faithful to God, our Heavenly Father? Faith in God may not prevent the violence or tragic accidents, but with faith in God we are given the strength to manage the grief, the outrage, the sorrow, and the hate that can creep into our lives.

This Fathers Day can be the perfect day to reaffirm our faith in God. In the lectionary’s commentary the points out some truths we must remember:

  • It is time to let people know that being Christian does not mean that every day we “Put on a Happy Faith.” (p.171)
  • When we see how far we and the world (and also the church) fall short, we have reasons to grieve. But we also have reasons to hope that our holy grief will not have the last word. (p.172)
  • Christ really can step into the hurts of our lives and make us all new (p.172)

These truths remind each of us that God, our Heavenly Father, experiences the same parent emotions we do. When a world is shocked by evil’s actions such as we witnessed this past week, as God’s children we must reconfirm our own relationship with God.

We need to remember that evil is always close at hand. We need to remember that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. We need to remember that being Christian is not a one time agreement, it is a life-long commitment.

Do all that you can, with your children, the neighbors’ kids, the kids down the block; in any way that you can whether a friendly wave, a casual conversation, an invitation, a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, or a hug when there are tears. We are God’s presence in our communities. We are the only way some will ever meet God. We, as faithful followers of God, the father, the son and the Holy Spirit, are the fathers and the mothers of the future.

Closing prayer

Our Father, who are in heaven,

Give us the nourishment of faith

Needed to protect our families from turmoil.

Grant us understanding of scripture’s wisdom

So we can continue to live in your protective custody.

Fill us with the Holy Spirit

In order to serve one another in love.

Thank you for the leadership of your Son

Showing us that the Golden Rule works.

May we revel in your unending love.

May we discover the strength faith provides.

May we use all the gifts you provide

So we may be Christ-like witnesses today. –Amen.

 

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Do We Ever Grow Up in God’s Eyes?

–given on Sunday, January 10, 2016

Scripture base: Luke 3:15-22 (lectionary reference to Jesus’ baptism)

Luke 18:15-17

Biblegateway.com connections:

[ Jesus Blesses Little Children ] Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them;

[ Jesus Blesses Little Children ] People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

[ Jesus Blesses Little Children ] People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.

 

 

Have you ever noticed that you never feel grown up? One of life’s more embarrassing experiences is running into an old high school classmate and not even recognizing him or her, but then there is that voice. Suddenly a thousand memories rush over you and recognition is there!

The process of growing up does make physical changes in our appearance, but the process does not have the same effect on our brains.   The more we age, the more knowledge we gain; but does this mean we grow up in God’s eyes?

We often address God in our prayers as ‘Father’ and we ask him for guidance. We go to God to complain and to ask for help. The attitude we take is often the same as that we use with our earthly parents. Do we ever grow up in our parents’ eyes?   Do we ever see our own children as grown up?

In the commentary for this week’s lectionary, there is an interesting reference to Dominican Priest Jude Siciliano. He explains an old Southern saying that I have never heard before: “God has no grandchildren.”

The saying means that our faith is not handed on the way family heirlooms or family stories are handed on from one generation to the next. Although we honor our ancestors in the faith from Adam and Eve, through Abraham, Moses, and the apostles, our faith is not handed down from them. God has no grandchildren; God has only children. The Lord entered our lives directly through our baptism. Our parents and godparents certainly want to see us have the gift of faith they have received but they cannot give that gift; it is from the Lord.

 

Maybe the secret to growing up is not to grow up. If we are always, regardless of chronological age, a child of God it seems like we do not have to “grow up.”

But let’s back up this aging thing a bit. Aging is a process that begins on one’s birthday. There is no doubt that we have earthly, biological parents. Even Jesus was born with earthly parents, but it was during Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River that God’s presence became public when the Holy Spirit descended upon him.

Our baptism publically declares God as our father. As God’s child, we are never going to grow up. We can grow, but we are never going to outlive God. We are always his sons and daughters. We are never grandchildren. Nothing can forcibly separate us from our heavenly Father.

Can we ever grow up though? Certainly we can. We are organic beings who can physically develop from newborns to toddlers to school-aged kids to high school students, and even on to be parents.

Yet, through all these developmental phases, God is with us. As our heavenly parent, God is always present. He is available at any moment in time. He loves us even when we make mistakes.

In our closing hymn, Jesus Loves Me, we are reminded of how God loves us as his children. We might think the hymn refers to the youngsters, only, but if we are God’s children then age does not matter. Remember, we are God’s children even if we turn 5, 15, 55, 91, or 101.

Does this not make a huge difference when we consider birthday celebrations? If we never grow up in God’s eyes, then we never have to feel grown up. The opportunity to be forever young is a gift that we can accept.

How do we accept God’s gift? There is only one way. We accept Jesus in our lives, and publicly affirm the relationship through our baptism. Accepting God also means that we accept the responsibility to follow his teaching and to live according to his Golden Rule. If we do not unwrap God’s gift, then we will never discover the secrets of life everlasting.

As Christians, remembering our baptism can keep us young. Even though it is possible to never participate in a reaffirmation of faith service, reviewing the baptismal covenant is one way to celebrate being God’s child. [Turn to p. 32 in the UMH to read the statement concerning baptism and/or review of the covenant ceremony.]

The Baptismal Covenant is God’s word to us, proclaiming our adoption by grace, and our word to God promising our response of faith and love. Those within the covenant constitute the community we call the church .

Persons of any age are suitable candidates. Infants and others unable to take the vows for themselves are presented by parents and/or sponsors. . .

. . . Baptism is not administered to any person more than once, for while our baptismal vows are less than reliable, God’s promise to us in the sacrament is steadfast.

Baptism is an outward sign of one’s acceptance of God as our heavenly father. Baptism defines God’s relationship with us. We are responsible as sponsors and as independent adults to accept God’s gift.

Unwrap God’s gift by reading the Bible. We know that our earthly parents and grandparents have learned many secrets to life, but those who model reading the scripture, going to church, serving one another in love, will always be children in God’s eyes. They opened up God’s gift and used it. As you unwrap God’s gift to you, too, you will learn that the secret to never growing up is accepting God as your heavenly father.

  • Apostles’ Creed (UMH 881)
  • Invitation for baptism/church membership (UMH p.33)
  • Closing prayer (UMH 253)

 

 

 

 

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Revelations reveal secrets and builds hope

given on Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scripture base: Revelations 21:10-21 & Revelations 7:9-17 (NLT)

I admit I have Royal Fever. The excitement with the World Series makes it very difficult to admit that November is here. The weather must be confused, too, with all the delightful weather we have had and forecast for the week ahead.

Of course the biggest problem is that Royal Fever tends to distract a person, so I admit to another issue—preparing today’s worship service. Today is All Saints Day. The temptation is to connect the two but that might be a real stretch. Yet, there is one image that can—the concept of Kingdom.

Witnessing the transformation of Kansas City into a Royal Kingdom with blue fountains, blue lights, and the Royal logos everywhere creates a visual image and a unity that is creating a kingdom filled with new life.

Reading Revelations can be intimidating, but today’s two selections create visual images that help us anticipate the new life promised for those who accept Christ in our lives. The heavenly kingdom shared in Revelations 21 builds a mental picture of breathtaking beauty:

11 It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal.

And the description goes on listing precious stones: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst and even pearls.

Granted the Royal Kingdom is colored by all the blue sapphires, diamonds, and pearls one could imagine, and it has transformed our world. Does the description of God’s heavenly kingdom create a sense of excitement and anticipation for you?

On this All Saints Day, the picture created in Revelations captures my attention. I cannot imagine the visual glory that will greet us as we enter into God’s kingdom, but the words in Revelations 21 gives me renewed conviction that God’s promise of eternal life is real.

Just in the past year, we have witnessed losses in our community as well as in the national and international communities.  Those who have died took a little light away from our community, but the promise of Revelation’s words provides each of us hope. Not only hope for our own eternal life, but also hope to reconnect with those who have already moved to God’s eternal kingdom.

All Saints Day provides an opportunity to review the list of those who have moved away from our world and on to the heavenly world. We know those who have gone, and we know the promise God has made for all Christians. We use Communion to review and to reaffirm our own covenant as Christians.

In the scripture from Revelations 7, there are echoes of Christ’s story in these words that we share during the liturgy of communion:

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in[a] the great tribulation.[b] They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

The words remind us that accepting God’s gift of his son and his death for our sins, we are purified. Remember the promise in John 3:16:

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

or

16 “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. (NRSV)

or

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

or

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NLT)

Powerful words. A guarantee. A home run—no a grand slam.

Today, All Saints Day, we hear the promise and we can imagine heaven through the words in Revelations. And, remembering all those who have guided us in this earthly world, we hear the promise of joining those already in God’s heavenly kingdom:

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom free of all the tribulations of our earthly life. The decision to believe in God and to accept his greatest gift of his son will turn our earthly tribulation-filled life into an eternal life may not be easy, but believe. The saints in our lives know and the secret is revealed in the words of Revelation:

17 For the Lamb on the throne[c]
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelations reveals the secret to eternal life and provides us hope. All Saints Day and celebrating the sacrament of communion provides the perfect diamond for a winning season. Each of us is a royal witness to God’s kingdom. Share the story, live the story, and receive the crown.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You manage our lives in ways we do not see.

The saints in our lives have coached us

By modeling the one rule that guarantees

A winning season in our earthly world:

Love one another as you want to be loved.

May we share in the meal of champions,

The bread and the wine of the Lord’s table.

Let them be for us the blood and the body of Christ.

Purify us so we may be winning Christians

Teaming with love for one another.

Thank you for all the grace you provide,

For all the opportunities to serve one another,

And for all the forgiveness when we err.

May scripture strengthen us in our tribulations.

May the legends in our lives be saints at your table.

May the promise of life eternal fuel for our game.

Grant us peace as we share in the cup and the bread.

Fill us with energy as we continue in life’s journey.

Keep hope alive as we hear your word.

And forgive us when we stumble.

We thrill with the promise of life eternal

As we join together at your holy table. –Amen.

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World Communion Sunday

Sunday, October 4:

The following selections were used as part of United Methodist’s long liturgical service of Word and Table.

Scripture Lesson:            Psalm 25 (lectionary) –NLT

Declare me innocent, O Lord,
for I have acted with integrity;
I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.
Test my motives and my heart.
For I am always aware of your unfailing love,
and I have lived according to your truth.
I do not spend time with liars
or go along with hypocrites.
I hate the gatherings of those who do evil,
and I refuse to join in with the wicked.
I wash my hands to declare my innocence.
I come to your altar, O Lord,
singing a song of thanksgiving
and telling of all your wonders.

I love your sanctuary, Lord,
the place where your glorious presence dwells.

Don’t let me suffer the fate of sinners.
Don’t condemn me along with murderers.
10 Their hands are dirty with evil schemes,
and they constantly take bribes.
11 But I am not like that; I live with integrity.
So redeem me and show me mercy.
12 Now I stand on solid ground,
and I will publicly praise the Lord.

Response to the Word/Reflection:

Participating in Communion today connects all Christians here, there, and everywhere. Today, no denomination can claim ownership of this sacrament. Today, communion brings all Christians to be one in all.

In the Apostles’ Creed, the use of the term ‘catholic’ does not mean that the Catholic denomination, it means the entire or universal church. It is a word that means all Christians who worship are of one church, God’s church.

Reading through Pope Francis’ address to Congress, the audience he tries to reach is American, but he expands it to all individuals. He refers to a ‘catholic’ society, a unified society trying to exist in a global community. He by-passes the boundaries that define the various countries, he appeals to humans who are seek peace and justice for all individuals.

Pope Francis referenced four Americans for four different qualities. He chose Abraham Lincoln for his efforts to defend liberty. Martin Luther King was referenced as he keeps the ‘dreams’ for all humans.

Two others are not as well known, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Day was known for her efforts to achieve social justice and the rights of persons. Merton was a Cistercian monk who a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

A primary theme of the Pope’s address to the Americans via Congress can and was summarized by one rule, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Mt 7:12). He said,

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

The Golden Rule is the New Covenant. All laws need to be tested by the filter of the Golden Rule. Pope Francis talked about other issues, but he put theology into action by speaking out on each topic and showing how the Golden Rule puts theology into action which protects liberty, creates and encourages dreams, fights social injustice, and promotes peace between one another.

Therefore, today as the Christian world join in communion, let us join in the Apostles’ Creed knowing that this statement of faith unites us and with the Golden Rule we are equipped to live as Christians and to lead others to Christ, too. These are the tools of our faith; they are the foundation of our faith; and we can put our theology into action here, thee, and everywhere.

Scripture lesson: Hebrews 2:5-13 (lectionary) 14-18 (added emphasis) –NLT

And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. For in one place the Scriptures say,

“What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
or a son of man[a] that you should care for him?
Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.[b]
You gave them authority over all things.”[c]

Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.”

Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. 10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.[d] 12 For he said to God,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
I will praise you among your assembled people.”[e]

13 He also said,

“I will put my trust in him,”
that is, “I and the children God has given me.”[f]

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had[g] the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters,[h] so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

 

Response to the word/Reflection: 

 

            Do not be afraid to put what you believe into action. God loves each one of us. He loves us so much that he decided to walk along side of us as a man known as Jesus Christ. He gave us one golden rule by which to live. And he died for us. His death we remember today–here, there and everywhere.

Pope Francis radiates love of this earth and all that is in it. When the news reporters noticed the change in his face as he reached out to the peoples, he witnessed theology in action. Christians around this world know the wonder witnessed on the Pope’s face as God’s love.

Each one of us can share our theology, our love of God, every day. We simply must love one another as we want to be loved and we must do all we can do for all we can in any way we can. God grants us grace, so we must offer grace to others, too.

Today we thank God for his creation, for his grace, for his love, and for the gift of his son. Communion reconnects us to God, it reaffirms our faith, it shares the hope we have for salvation, and it fuels us with love. Communion is theology in action.

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