Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Commissioned to do what?

Sermon given on Fathers Day, June 18, 2017

Scripture connections: NLT

Opening:  Psalm 46:1, 8-9

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble. . . .

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

 

Sermon connection:  Genesis 18:1-15

1The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures[a] of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked.

“She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.

10 Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”

Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. 11 Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.12 So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.”

But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”

Closing:  Psalm 46:10-11

10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”

11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.

 

Reflection: Commissioned to do what?

Back from annual conference, I find myself trying to sort out all the ideas, the testimonies, plus the Wesleyan and Biblical references shared by Bishop Farr and the other presenters—elders, licensed local pastors and laity. Annual conference is a state of Missouri’s UMC message with a strong thread of encouragement to continue following Jesus’s great commissioning as found in Matthew 28. We have read, heard, and discussed Matthew 28’s verses repeatedly, yet I always feel like I fail. I find myself asking: I am commissioned to do what?

The three scripture verses are really not long and complicated, but the message easily feels overwhelming:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

This is what I/we are commissioned to do! How does one sort out these verses in the context of one’s life? The human demands upon us seem to take priority over the commission that Jesus delivered to the eleven Apostles. Yet, these words clearly tell all who believe, not just the eleven, to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptize them, and then teach them to obey all the commands.

This commission is not new, it is, was, and always will be God’s commission to his faithful. What if the Old Testament scripture of Abraham and Sarah were not part of the story? The apostles grew up in their faith based on the Old Testament stories, and Jesus prepared the apostles by using those ancient lessons of faith. Reading the scripture from Genesis, there are really two lessons that Jesus and the earliest disciples knew: hospitality and faith.

Abraham and Sarah were not young people: they were living examples of God’s chosen people who faced disappointments and trials throughout their lives, especially not having any children. Yet, they continued to follow God’s commandments and welcomed three strangers into their home and fed them:

One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

The scripture does not tell us that he recognized the three men, rather he just raced out and greeted them, offering them relief from the hottest part of the day.   Recognizing that the Lord was with them came afterwards, after the reality of the promise that Sarah would have a child a year later.

This story relates to Jesus’ teaching as written in the Gospel of Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

Abraham and Sarah carried out God’s commandment without question. They did not ask what was in it for them. They did not expect a reward for their efforts. They simply cared for three strangers, one being God who recognized their faithfulness. They lived their lives with a purpose, to love God and their neighbors—whether they knew them or not.

The Lord rewarded Abraham and Sarah’s faith with a miraculous birth. Despite their age, the habit of hospitality to the three strangers fulfilled God’s greatest commandment that Jesus continued to teach his apostles. God’s commandments and his commission were taught throughout history, and we are to continue that work.

Thank goodness the eleven apostles did take on the challenge outlined in scriptures because the task was divided up and carried out at very difficult times and lead to the continued work of all disciples since Jesus ascended into heaven. The work of the earliest followers has continued by the efforts of the disciples they taught carrying the commission forward through the generations and on around the globe.

The concern facing Christians today, though, is whether or not they are carrying out the commission as God intended. This brings us back to annual conference. This is the time when United Methodists are asked to be accountable. Are we honestly able to say that we are making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them? Maybe even more critical is the question whether or not we are faithful to God?

Let’s look at one of the hymns, Lord, You Give the Great Commission (UMH 548). The verses remind each of us, both individually and as a congregation how we are to live faithfully:

Lord, you give the great commission:

“Heal the sick and preach the word.”

lest the church neglect its mission,

and the gospel go unheard,

help us witness to your purpose

with renewed integrity.

 

Granted we are not all gifted with the skills to heal as our medical professionals are, nor do we all preach. Yet we can do our best to share the responsibility of healing and preaching. Maybe we do what we can right here, beginning with prayers, but also with helping our neighbors when they are sick:

  • A simple runny nose may need a tissue and encouragement to blow,
  • Just listening to another’s bad day can help one heal; or
  • Taking a meal to someone who is not feeling well can also help heal the sick.

 

Lord, you call us to your service:

“In my name baptize and teach.”

that the world may trust your promise,

life abundant meant for each,

give us all new fervor,

draw us closer in community.

 

Each Christian can find ways to share the word whether by modeling the Christian lifestyle or sharing one’s belief in casual conversation. When others can see and learn how your faith is central to your life, then you are fulfilling the Great Commission.

Lord, you make the common holy;

“This my body, this my blood.”

let us all, for earth’s true glory,

daily lift life heavenward,

asking that the world around us

share your children’s liberty.

 

The acts of piety that John Wesley taught his followers are practices that keep us grounded in our faith and are ways to teach others about Jesus’ life and death for our sins. When we believe Jesus died for us, then we live anticipating “life heavenward” and share the sense of freedom faith provides.

Lord, you show us love’s true measure;

“Father, what they do, forgive.”

yet we hoard as private treasure

all that you so freely give.

may your care and mercy lead us

to a just society.

 

Our news is flooded by evil, and again this week living in an open society challenges our Christian mindset. Yet, we have a responsibility to care for our neighbors regardless of earthly boundaries. To live faithfully, offer prayers for God’s intervention, for his healing, and for forgiveness, too. We cannot judge, we can only do what we can. The concern for each of us is to determine whether we are doing whatever we can. Are we praying individually and in community for God to guide and to protect us?

Lord, you bless with words assuring:

“I am with you to the end.”

faith and hope and love restoring,

may we serve as you intend,

and amid the cares that claim us,

hold in mind eternity.

 

This final verse summarizes the value of our Christian faith. We have hope, and hope makes it possible to manage all the earthly challenges that can so easily defeat us. This is the good news and we must share it. How is found in the hymn’s refrain:

With the Spirit’s gifts empower us

for the work of ministry.

 

Each of us has been given special gifts that we can use to fulfill God’s commission. Certainly it is not easy to know what gifts we can use and when to use them all the time, but we are called by God to do whatever we can to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

The questions must be asked of ourselves and of our church itself:

  • Are you/we doing all that you/we can?
  • Are you/we living faithful lives as Abraham and Sarah did?
  • Are you/we spreading Jesus’ message as the Apostles did?
  • Are you/we following the very practices that John Wesley expected to continue living faithfully and doing all that you/we can to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world?

 

During Annual Conference, the stories of the different ways churches are doing all they are shared. The stories range from awe-inspiring to just every day routines. These Methodists know their Christian purpose and have found ways to be faithful and to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked and more, because that is what we are commissioned to do.

Let’s watch testimonies shared at conference and then consider how our church is fulfilling the Great Commission:

[Links to the videos:

https://vimeo.com/channels/moac17/page:5 – https://vimeo.com/channels/moac17/page:5

Begin with the Orange tee shirt, then the young boy, and close with the lady.]

Closing prayer:

 

Dear God,

We hear your call to Christian service.

We hear the church’s reports.

We hear the testimonies of the faithful.

 

Help us to hear your call in our lives.

Help us to find energy in serving.

Help us to love one another.

 

Show us your vision for our community.

Show us the ways and means to live faithfully.

Show us the joy that comes from serving.

 

Wipe away our weariness.

Erase our judging minds.

And renew our spirits

 

We accept the commission

To make disciples of Christ

For the transformation of the world.

 

In your holy name, God,

In your son Jesus Christ’s name,

And with the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

Supplemental handout for the sermon:

The Great Commission Scripture from Matthew 28:18-20

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus’ sermon from Matthew 25:34-36

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

John Wesley’s Means of Grace

[Accessed on June 17, 2017 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace ]

Courageous and forward-leaning mission congregations practice spiritual disciplines. Our vital work is a spiritual adventure based in John Wesley’s means of grace. John Wesley taught that God’s grace is unearned and that we were not to be idle waiting to experience grace but we are to engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening; and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through disciples. As we look at the means of grace today, they can be divided into works of piety and the works of mercy.

Works of Piety

  • Individual Practices– reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
  • Communal Practices– regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy

  • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
  • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment.

Lyrics for Lord, You Give the Great Commission (UMH 548)

Lord, you give the great commission:

“Heal the sick and preach the word.”

lest the church neglect its mission,

and the gospel go unheard,

help us witness to your purpose

with renewed integrity.

 

Lord, you call us to your service:

“In my name baptize and teach.”

that the world may trust your promise,

life abundant meant for each,

give us all new fervor,

draw us closer in community.

 

Lord, you make the common holy;

“This my body, this my blood.”

let us all, for earth’s true glory,

daily lift life heavenward,

asking that the world around us

share your children’s liberty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord, you show us love’s true measure;

“Father, what they do, forgive.”

yet we hoard as private treasure

all that you so freely give.

may your care and mercy lead us

to a just society.

 

Lord, you bless with words assuring:

“I am with you to the end.”

faith and hope and love restoring,

may we serve as you intend,

and amid the cares that claim us,

hold in mind eternity.

 

With the Spirit’s gifts empower us

for the work of ministry.

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Stage 4 in Faith: Blossoming in the SONshine

given on Sunday, May 21, 2017:  fourth stage in mini-series of Faith Development

 

Scripture connections: (using the NLT)

Numbers 11:26-29

26 Two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed behind in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but they had not gone out to the Tabernacle. Yet the Spirit rested upon them as well, so they prophesied there in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since his youth, protested, “Moses, my master, make them stop!”

29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!”

 

John 14:15-18, 26-28

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. 18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.

 

I Peter 3:13-17

13 Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

 

Romans 8:1-2

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.

 

Reflection: Stage 4: Blossoming in the SONshine

Clouds. Wind. Severe weather alerts. Thunder. Lightening. Rain. Tornado watches. Flash floods. The spring storms certainly influence what we do or do not do much less it affects our moods. For some, fear overwhelms them, while approaching storms can fascinate others.

Whether one hates storms or loves them, the weather is just as challenging as our lives are. Some days are absolutely a delight with blessings easy to identify. Other days are exhausting and wear us out because we cannot seem to find an end to the problems. I even find that when one light bulb goes out, it is often followed by a group of light bulbs burning out—I have attributed the problem to a light bulb gremlin that gets loose in the house.

Somehow, though, everything changes when a storm passes and the sun pops out and it brightly glows; the warmth it provides seems to reach right down to our inner being; and everything is seen so much more clearly in its light. The tiny sunflower seeds that are planted, germinate, and grow depending on the sunshine to develop a full blossom. A sunflower in full bloom, lifting its head to bright blue sky, is magnificent.

The life cycle of a sunflower seed may be a metaphor for understanding the stages of faith development, but the final stage is absolutely beautiful. The fourth stage of faith development is the same. Remember the first outline of the four stages? Let’s review:

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. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally are they able to accept the fact of the Resurrection. (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. (19912346-2347)

 

[This study note is located with John 20:1 and an almost identical one was found for Luke 24:11-12.]

No timeframe is identified with faith development; therefore, one can only infer that individuals must proceed through these four stages on their own. Each one of us is responsible for our own faith development, but fortunately others can contribute to our understanding of God. Jesus and the Holy Spirit can surround us, but each individual must experience the process independently. That is a tough reality for many of us who would do anything we could to make sure our own loved ones, whether family or friends, do have faith. What we do, though, is pray and simply be there loving unconditionally.

The anticipation of witnessing one’s faith takes us back to the sunflower. Nothing is more exciting as a gardener than seeing the first seedlings sprout up from the soil. There is a sense of hope and anticipation of the end result when those seedlings start reaching upward to the sun. The same excitement is found by Christians either as they watch others begin growing in their faith or their own excitement as they discover how Jesus is involved in their lives.

Meeting Jesus personally comes in so many different ways. Whether that meeting is the result of a life-altering event or whether it is in the simple beauty of a flower opening, God is present in our lives.   The mystery of God may seem impossible; but as God’s story and the records of all the faithful from the Old and the New Testament are checked out against all the historical documents and human experiences, the reality of God still comes in the form of a personal experience.

This week as nature’s fury was unleashed in so many places against so many people, God was present and met them personally. Just like the garden flooded a couple of weeks ago, God is there, too. The garden continues to grow.   God is in all of our lives and when we recognize him we may be like John Wesley and feel our hearts “strangely warmed,” too.

And, as we feel God’s presence in our lives, we reach that fourth stage of faith. With the awareness of God’s presence, there is a drive to share with others what faith in God does in our lives. According to the study note:

(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.

 

God’s gift of his son Jesus Christ is the key that unlocks the power of God in our own lives and it is so exciting that our lives blossom just like the sunflower does in our own gardens.

As Christians committed to God, we discover that we are also equipped to serve. Even in the Old Testament, the faithful are taught that the Spirit was with them. In Numbers, even Moses tried to explain that the Spirit was with the prophets who were excitedly telling about God out in the open, not strictly confined to the temple. Accepting God and acknowledging that his son Jesus Christ had lived, died and arose in order to erase our sins and provide us eternal life, guiding us is the presence of God with us in the form of the Holy Spirit.

The decision to accept the reality that Jesus died for our sins leads us to baptism. And as part of God’s faithful we commit ourselves to a Christian lifestyle. The excitement of a personal encounter leads us to do all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can for as long as we can. That is a terribly demanding goal, but God is with us in the form of the Holy Spirit and we are empowered to do all of that.

Freed from sin, as Paul writes in Romans 8:2 . . . because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The freedom to live for Christ is possible because the Holy Spirit is part of your own life. The Holy Spirit is the third part of the Triune God and is our personal advocate in our human lives.

In Acts 1:5, Luke writes to Theophilus, John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is God within us and with us [as explained in study notes]:

. . .The Spirit would comfort them, guide them to know his truth, remind them of Jesus’ words, give them the right words to say, and fill them with power. . . . The Spirit is the power of our new lives. He begins a lifelong process of change making us more like Christ. When we receive Christ by faith, we begin an immediate personal relationship with God. The Holy Spirit works in us to help us become like Christ. (19912366)

Life with God is full, busy, exciting, and rich. Others who touch our lives or we touch their lives can see how God blossoms in our life. Accepting God in our life, we are filled with hope. In fact, we become so full of hope and love that it overflows into the work we do and the people we touch.

In the midst of the storms in our lives, look for the Son to shine in and warm your heart. The storms that afflict damage on our homes and communities need us to do whatever we can, to serve as God’s hands and feet to help anybody, no everybody, who needs whatever we can provide. Maybe it is prayers. Maybe it is cash. But most important, we know that by doing we grow in faith, too. God will provide us with the ways and means to serve, we just have to hear his call and then follow.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Day after day, week after week

The stories of hardship fill our ears.

We know you are present with us

By our faith in your son Jesus Christ

And with us through the Holy Spirit.

Guide us in leading others to know you

So they too may find hope and joy

In the promise of life eternal.

Help us to hear your call to action

In all the ways that we can serve

Families, friends and strangers, too,

Because we want them to know

How a strangely warmed heart

Lets us blossom into the glory

Of God’s garden, now and forever. –Amen

 

Work Cited

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

 

 

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Stage 2 of Faith Development: Checking it out

given on Sunday, May 7, 2017:  Mini-series on the Four Stages of Faith Development

Scripture Connections:

Luke 10:38-42, NLT

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

John 2:23-John 3, NLT

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,[a]you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.[b] Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.[c] So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony.12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man[e] has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.[f]

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.[h]

John 10:1-10, NLT (from the Lectionary)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me[a] were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.[b] They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

John 20:24-29, NLT

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[a] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Reflection: Stage 2 of Faith: Checking it out. . .

Who would have ever believed we could have seven inches of rain in just three days! We are so fortunate not to have the long-lasting effects that so many are experiencing along the small rivers and tributaries in the southern areas of our state. Yet, in the middle of the mind-numbing videos of flooding pops up surprising and unbelievable are stories of survival. What seems impossible to believe is real and God has to be present through it all.

Faith is believing what you do not see. The floodwaters are what we see; but even as the water recedes, we watch to see the reality of what remains. In the middle of last weekend’s storm, we drove past a garden that we knew had been planted, was growing well and was well-tended.

The muddy, floodwater so completely covered the garden that there was not even a clue that the rows of seedlings were even there. I wondered if there was any chance that the garden would survive. Yet nature is resilient, and as I drove past that garden just three days later, the seedlings were once again standing up and reaching for the sunlight.

Checking out something that seems impossible to believe for one’s self is part of faith development. I could not believe that the force of the floodwaters would leave that garden in tact, but when I checked it out, I confirmed what I thought I knew. The same need to check out Jesus’ story is the second stage of faith development.

The story continues to be shared and preserved. Yet, the story of Jesus’ resurrection left so many and still leaves so many with questions. How do you believe something that goes against everything we know. When the body dies, there is no way that three days later it can be missing, much less alive. Even the closest disciples had to run to the tomb and see it with their very own eyes.

And even then, the reaction was of disbelief and fear. There was no rational explanation. Jesus’ appearance as recorded in the gospels provided the disciples proof. Now two thousand years later, we must depend on the words preserved in the Bible to assure us of the truth.

To continue developing one’s faith, checking it out and learning about Jesus is simply part of the process of becoming Christ-like. Look at the stories of all Jesus’ contemporaries and how they had to check out The Story:

  1. Mary and Martha knew Jesus personally and valued that friendship. Yet even Martha struggled to follow the cultures custom of hospitality while Mary ignored those expectations and sat at his feet to learn more of his teachings (Luke 10:38-42)
  2. Consider, too, Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader. Something about Jesus and his message/ministry seemed impossible to believe, so he went under the cover of night to talk directly to Jesus. He had to check it out for himself. (John 12:23-3:21)
  3. Finally, Thomas the Apostle had questions. Even after the crucifixion and the resurrection, Thomas struggled to believe what seemed impossible. Jesus understood that uncertainty and stood before him with the open wounds in his hands, side and feet so Thomas could touch them and believe. (John 20:24-29)

Story after story in the Gospels show how people, whether faithful Jews, Gentiles, Roman citizens, or pagans, heard about Jesus and his message/ministry and still struggled to believe.

Change is difficult and then to have this man say he was the Son of God defied, and continues to defy, what humans know to be true. There is no guilt is questioning the reality of The Story, and checking it out is part of learning the truth. Reading the Bible, studying it in community, researching more about the story, and even testing the New Covenant in today’s world is part of faith development.

Whether we are Mary, Martha, Nicodemus or Thomas, we have heard The Story and believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We continue to seek for better understanding so we can grow in our faith. As modern disciples, we do the best we can to live our faith so others may see faith in action.

John Wesley, the son of a preacher, followed his father into the ministry. He was raised knowing the Story, and even he struggled to understand. He continued preaching and searching for answers; and on May 24, 1738, he reported to his brother Charles that “his heart was strangely warmed” (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999) which is referred to as Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience:

About a quarter before nine, while he [a Moravian, reading from Martin Luther’s work] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. 

The brazier’s house was but a few steps away, and John Wesley hastened thither to hail his brother with the rapturous words, “I believe,” and to join him in singing the new hymn, Where shall my wondering soul begin. . . (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999)

Today we continue our own practices in faith. We attend Sunday worship, we read the Bible, we meet with small groups, we worship, and we serve. Or do we? The impossible-to-believe story may be something we have learned, but are we checking it out and learning the reality of the story?

Wesley’s own experience ignited his own ministry and we follow his methods today to continue in our own faith development. Through his work, we have two sets of guidelines that we can follow to continue developing our own faith: the acts of piety and the acts of mercy. Have we used these tools to grow in our faith?

Personally and communally, Wesley recommends that we follow the practices to grow in our faith as well as to share our faith:

  • Works of Piety
    • Individual Practices– reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
    • Communal Practices– regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study
  • Works of Mercy
    • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
    • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

Accepting what seems impossible to believe, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation, is the first stage in faith. The second stage is to check out, to learn as much as one can about Jesus Christ and his ministry. As Wesley did, so do we, and in that process we may experience “a heart strangely warmed” too. Wesley’s ministry became inspired, ignited by the Holy Spirit:

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment. (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

As our faith develops, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our faith practices can ignite our own lives and only God knows what seeds of faith grow into.

Today, we join in the service of the cup and the bread. Wesley called communion, or Eucharist, one of the works of piety. As we join together to share the elements, we are joining in the community of believers. The Story continues because we have checked out the story and believe. We join in sharing the bread and the cup because we are part of the Christian community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, almighty,

We know the story. We struggle to believe.

Even Wesley struggled, but he prayed these words:

O, thou Saviour of men, save us from trusting in anything but thee! Draw us after thee. Let us be emptied of ourselves, and then fill us with all peace and joy in believing, and let nothing separate us from thy love in time or eternity.” (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

And we join in his words,

Seeking to follow Jesus and all the disciples before us.

Lead us in faith so that we may, too,

Have hearts strangely warmed.

 

As we grow in our faith,

May we follow the examples of your faithful

As we serve one another in love.

In the name of God the creator,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

Works Cited

An Account of John Wesley’s Life. General Board of Ministries. 2017. http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/Account-of-the-Life-of-John-Wesley (accessed May 4, 2017).

Chapter VII: The New Birth. The Wesley Center for Applied Theology. 1999. http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/chapter-vii-the-new-birth/ (accessed May 4, 2017).

The Wesleyan Means of Grace. United Methodist. http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace (accessed May 4, 2017).

 

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God so loved us

given on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017:  I finished Easter Sunday service and began a week’s vacation.  I apologize for not posting sooner.  May you know that God loves you so much he gave his only son for your salvation.

Scripture connection

 John 3:13-17

13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 John 20:1-10

1Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.

Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

John study notes from the Life Application Bible (NLT):

“Nicodemus Visits Jesus at Night”

3:14,15—When Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God sent plague of snakes to punish rebellious attitudes. If snake bit, looking up to Moses holding the bronze snake and believing that God could save them, did save them.

3:16–. . . When we share the Good News with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.

3:16–. . . eternal life is not an extension of a person’s miserable, mortal life; eternal life is God’s life embodied in Christ given to all believers now as a guarantee that they will live forever. In eternal life there is no death, sickness, enemy, evil, or sin. When we don’t know Christ, we make choices as though this life is all we have. In reality, this life is just the introduction to eternity. . . .

3:16—To “believe” is more than intellectual agreement that Jesus is God. It means to put our trust and confidence in him that he alone can save us. It is to Christ in charge of our present plans and eternal destiny. Believing is both trusting his words as reliable, and relying on him for the power to change. If you have never trusted Christ, let this promise of everlasting life be yours—and believe.

3:18—People often try to protect themselves from their fears by putting their faith in something they do or have: good deeds, skill or intelligence, money or possessions. But only God can save us from the one thing that we really need to fear—eternal condemnation. We believe in God by recognizing the insufficiency of our own efforts to find salvation and by asking him to do his work in us. When Jesus talks about unbelievers, he means those who reject or ignore him completely, not those who have momentary doubts. (emphasis added)

“Jesus Rises from the Dead”

20:9—Jesus’ resurrection is the key to the Christian faith. Why?

  1. Just as he said, Jesus rose from the dead. We can be confident, therefore, that he will accomplish all he has promised.
  2. Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ, not a false prophet or imposter, is ruler of God’s eternal Kingdom.
  3. We can be certain of our resurrection because Jesus was resurrected.   Death is not the end—there is future life.
  4. The divine power that brought Jesus back to life is now available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life.
  5. The Resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world.

Reflection: God so loved us

[Sing Morning Has Broken, UMH 145]

Today is the third day after Jesus was crucified. Today is Easter and morning has broken, as the hymn reminds us, like the first morning. The earth continues to revolve around the son, the birds still sing, and after the rain, everything is like new. Yet, today is Easter 2017, over 2,000 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and we awake to a new morning.

Do you sense the awesomeness of the new morning?

Do you sense the renewal of our world after a spring rain?

Do you sense the love of God?

Hear these words from John:

1Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

[Sing Lift High the Cross, UMH 159]

Mary and the other women greeted that Sunday morning with a tremendous sense of loss. Certainly they did not see the awesomeness of Easter morning, they were beginning the new week with a tradition of honoring the death of a loved one.   At the moment, their steps were slow and their shoulders were sagging. They were simply following the tradition of mourning, carrying the spices to the tomb. The mood was anything but joyful.

Yet, the story in all four of the gospels reveal the same shift in emotions when the women discover the stone rolled away from the tomb’s opening. Can you not see the change in the women’s posture and expressions when they reach the tomb, look up from the path and see the open tomb?

The Sunday morning suddenly turned from grief to joy. These women experienced the glory of God as they see, first hand, the promise of God revealed by an empty tomb. The glory of God evidenced as the figures in dazzling white robes, white as snow, tell them Jesus is risen from the dead, as Luke tells the story (Luke 24:5-7):

5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

[Sing Up from the Grave, UMH 322]

How awesome it is to realize the prophecy shared for thousands of years has come to fulfillment! Mary, the other women, and now the Apostles are learning firsthand the revelation that Jesus, a man with whom they had walked and talked was indeed God. Do you sense the renewal of hope that the gospels share with us today, this Easter Sunday 2017?

Jesus arose! He is alive! Jesus is the Son of God. The women ran to tell the Apostles, the other disciples, and surely all their friends even who still did not believe. This news was a personal witness so how could anyone still doubt the truth of these eyewitnesses to God’s amazing love of us.

John, the apostle that Jesus loved most, wrote the gospel for us. We are Christians so far removed from the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry that we are still seeking to understand God’s love (John 3:16-17):

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 

John had to learn firsthand that Jesus, someone he was deeply devoted to, a friend so close to him that as he was dying on the cross told him that he was to take care of his mother as though she was his own mother and that his mother was to accept John as her own son. This is love.

[Sing What Wondrous Love is This, UMH 292]

God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that we might be forgiven of our sins and have eternal life. Do you sense the enormity of that love? In our earthly world, the full meaning of God’s love is beyond our human understanding. We get glimpses of it in our lifetimes, but full understanding seems just beyond our reach.

True knowledge typically comes from first hand experience and we have yet to experience our own death and resurrection. We depend on the words of the gospel, the letters of Paul and the others books in the New Testament to provide us the guidelines for living as Christ’s disciples; yet, first hand knowledge of the Easter experience continues to be a promise made by God in the Old Testament stories, by Jesus as revealed in the gospels, and by the Apostles and disciples who were there.

[Sing Where you there? UMH 288—used during Maundy Thursday]

Today, Easter 2017, we continue to share the story and live with the expectation that we, too, will remain in relationship with our loving God, until the time we, too, will experience life everlasting. As we read the resurrection story and hear the promises of the hymns, again consider:

Do you sense the awesomeness of the new morning?

Do you sense the renewal of our world after a spring rain?

Do you sense the love of God?

Where are you in the story?

Where are you in your relationship with God?

Where are you in living the life God has given you?

This Easter morning, consider then what John has shared in his gospel:

17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Find the awesomeness of living in this world today, but remember the story and sense the full love of God as you walk out the doors to enter into our real life world today. You have a story to share and it is amazing. Live with the knowledge that life is a gift but the promise is that eternal life with God is even more wonderful than we can imagine.

[Sing Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, UMH 302, &/or He Lives, UMH 310.]

Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

Be excited about God’s love as you step out today. Feel a sense of renewal because Christ did arise from the grave. But remember that as much as God loved us, we have been tasked to carry the story forward and to live as Christ has taught us to live: Love one another as you want to be loved!

Closing prayer:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, God!

 

You have lifted Christ from the grave

And you promise to life us, too.

 

You have refreshed the world with new life

As we witness in Spring’s glory.

 

You have demonstrated love in the worst of times

So we may learn that love wins every time.

 

Thank you, God, for sharing life with us.

Thank you, Jesus, for teaching us to love.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being with us always.

 

May we, with the help of you, God,

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Live today knowing that you loved us so much

That you died for us. –Amen

 

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Lent Week 4: Who among you fears, reveres, honors, respects?

given on Sunday, March 26, 2017 as the fourth sermon in the series, Lent:  A season of mindfulness. 

Scripture connections:

Revelation 19:5, NLT

“Praise our God,

all his servants,

all who fear him,

from the least to the greatest.”

Luke 1:48a-51, NLT

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation

to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

Isaiah 50:10, NLT

         Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys his servant?

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

Proverbs 2:1-5, NLT

My child,[a] listen to what I say,

and treasure my commands. 

Tune your ears to wisdom,

and concentrate on understanding.

Cry out for insight,

and ask for understanding.

Search for them as you would for silver;

seek them like hidden treasures.

Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,

and you will gain knowledge of God.

Acts 2:40-43, NLT

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

Ephesians 5:21, NLT

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

Week’s memory verse:  Isaiah 50:10a

                  Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?

Week’s challenge: Rewrite the verse into your own words and post around the house: bathroom mirror, refrigerator, above the screens—tv, computer, etc.

 

Reflection: Who among you fears, reveres, honors, respects?

Everybody knows that words trigger strong emotions, reactions and even actions. Words can soothe a crying child, trigger a riot, start a stream of tears, or elicit a belly laugh. The words we use in our lives provide first impressions either positive or negative, and have the power to establish lasting bonds of friendship or to permanently severe relationships. Words hold power.

Today’s memory verse causes me problems because of one word—fear. For as long as I can remember, I have heard this verse in church services and have struggled because of that one word! Fear. That word has sent me on a journey this week, one that went back to scriptures, to an entomological dictionary and even to a traditional dictionary. I had to understand that word, fear, and figure out how that verse has values for me in today’s world.

The memory verse is Isaiah 50:11:

Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys his servant?

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

 

The key to memorizing the verse is that first line, Who among you fears the Lord. . . but that is only part of the full sentence. The second phrase hints at the prophecy of the Messiah, here referred to as “his servant.” The full verse is more applicable to Christians: Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?

Yet even understanding the context of the verse does not help understanding the value of that verse when it hinges on that one word, fear.   Fear is not a positive word in our culture now: instead, fear is a word of alarm, caution, and pain. Fearing the Lord creates almost a complete opposite image than what Christians proclaim in phrases such as “God is love.”

Taking a reading journey through the Bible helps understand why the word fear continues to be used. In ancient language, the word fear held a different value than it does today. Using a Biblical dictionary, fear is only listed in a phrase, fear of the Lord, and is not listed as a simple one-word entry:

fear of the Lord, the awe that a person ought to have before God (Prov. 5:7; Eccles. 12:13). As such it can be said to constitute a “true religion” (Ps. 34:11). This “fear of the Lord” is represented by the “fear and trembling” with which Paul exhorts the Philippians to work out their salvation (Phil. 2:12). It describes the piety of the growing church in Acts 9:31. However it also carry overtones of judgment (2 Cor. 5:11; 1 Pet. 1:17) (Achtemeier 1996, 333)

 

Today’s Oxford On-Line dictionary lists the first verb definition as: Be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful. The meaning of this one word has changed and we do not hear the scripture in the same mind set as it was written.

The challenge this week is to find the meaning in the scripture and make it a mental trigger for us today. Look back at the memory verses for the past three weeks:

  1. Did God really say that? (Genesis 3:1)
  2. Who am I (to do as you ask)? (Exodus 3:11)
  3. If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us (. . . who can be against us)? (Exodus 6:13)

 

And now add in today’s:

  1. Who among you fears the Lord? (Isaiah 50:13)

These memory verses continue developing the relationship God established with his creation. Even though human choice tests relationships with God, God continues to remain in hopes that the relationship with his faithful can be maintained.

Here is the challenge today, figure out how the Old Testament understanding of fear of the Lord is a guiding axiom for us today. What is a better word for us to use than fear if we want to make sure that we are doing what God wants us to do? Remember how Jesus answered the Pharisees when asked what was the greatest law of Moses:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38, NLT)

 

In Jesus’ answer, the key word is love not fear. Personally, I believe that is a major key to figuring out what the Isaiah verse really means in today’s culture.

Reading through O.S. Hawkins’s explanation about this verse, set off the proverbial light bulb in my head—an enlightenment. In answering the questions “What does it mean to live in the fear of God?” Hawkins states:

Does fearing the Lord mean living in a constant state of fright or concern that if we say something or do something wrong, God will zap us with some big bolt of retribution? Nothing could be further from biblical trust. The most common biblical word for fear means to stand in awe before God with such reverence and respect that that reverence becomes the controlling motivation of our lives. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Hawkins continues to share how in his teenage years his own pastor explained fear of God to him:

. . . walking in the fear of God meant living so that He will not take his hand of blessing off me. Fearing God is to live with the conscious awareness of His presence, and wanting to do nothing that might cause God to remove His hand of blessing and anointing from us. Living with that awareness makes an incredible difference in what we do, what we say, where we go, and how we live. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Suddenly, I understood what fear of the Lord meant. I realized that I needed to make this verse real to me, in words that I understood. I need to live my life in such a disciplined manner that what I do, what I say, where I go, and how I live gives God no reason to doubt that I am in a lasting relationship with him.

The challenge for each of us then is to take this verse from Isaiah and make it a verse that sticks in our own minds much like the advertising slogans that bombard us through the media. We need the verse to be our own advertising slogan that even others around us can witness and follow.

The key to finding the right words appeared in the explanation from Hawkins. In that quote, I added the emphasis to the words ‘awe,’ ‘reverence,’ and ‘respect.’ These words all hold positive images in my mind. The contemporary use of them is almost opposite of the current use for fear. I need a word that calls me to follow God in a positive mindset. I want to grow in a loving relationship with God and not be afraid of God.

The memory verse is “Who among you fears the Lord. . . ” but that is just half of the verse. The remainder is “. . .and obeys his servant?” God promised the Israelites that he was sending someone to help us understand how to live in relationship with God. Jesus Christ is that servant and he has taught us how to live so we may remain in relationship with God. He even continued to answer the Pharisees with a second commandment:

A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:39-40, NLT)

 

Tracing the term “fear” through the Bible, the Israelite understanding continues to be used, but remember the first Christians were Jewish and that term was part of their understanding of the relationship they were to maintain with God.

  • Luke 1:50—Mary uses the term fear in her “Song of Praise”: He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear
  • Acts 2:40-43—Luke quotes Peter:

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

 

The scriptures do carry the theme of “fearing the Lord” throughout the old and the new testament, but in trying to clarify what that means today, the meaning of fear must be translated into words that have the same meaning as fear did when the scriptures were first preserved. The word revere is what I chose to use but I cannot separate it from respect.

To take that original verse from Isaiah and make it into a slogan, I must reword it: Revere God; respect Jesus. That is a billboard campaign for my life. Following those four words allows me to live in a life of challenges filled with awe of the power of God. I see God in all that is around me. I see the pain of those suffering. I see the joy of living. I see the faith of the farmers as the dormant seeds spring alive. God is in all of life. Jesus has shown us how to live so we know God in all that surrounds us.

Looking forward into the rest of Isaiah 50:10:

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

 

The promise of life with God is awesome. For those walking in darkness, be a ray of light. Help them to see that trusting in the Lord makes life amazing. Help them to find ways to love God, to follow Jesus’ example; and you will discover that the ray of light you see, lights up others’ lives, too.

Each step you take is an opportunity to revere God. Whether you are living a life cleaning your house with no one around or whether you are part of a team serving food to the kiddos at school or at the movies, you are living the life of God’s servant. You are living a life that respects and reveres God and his son Jesus Christ.

For every fleeting thought that crosses your mind, you are revealing your fear of the Lord. He knows what you think, he knows what you do, and he knows what is in your deepest recesses of your heart. Living in reverence of God and respecting Jesus’ teachings determines the depth of your relationship with God. As Hawkins’s pastor told him:

Fearing God is to live with the conscious awareness of His presence, and wanting to do nothing that might cause God to remove His hand of blessing and anointing from us. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Do you “want to do nothing” to take you out of a loving relationship with God? Life with God is awesome. Why risk anything that might severe that relationship or even severe someone else’s relationship with God? Be mindful of all that you do, in all that you say, in all the places you go, and in how you live so that you may maintain a loving and lasting relationship with God. Be mindful that God loved us so much that he joined us as the servant Jesus Christ, son of Mary and Joseph, so that we who believe in him might continue our awesome relationship with God throughout eternity.

Revere God. Respect Jesus. Life with God is awesome.

Closing prayer:

Dear Awesome God,

Today we hear the words of scripture

Seeking full understanding.

Use those words and words of others

Encouraging us to put words into actions.

 

As we daily live in relationship

With family, friends, and others,

Keep Jesus’ teachings forever

In our thoughts and actions.

 

May we reflect the awesomeness

Of a relationship with you

That attracts others to Your Light.

May us respect and revere you,

God, the Father,

The Son, Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit. –Amen

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A Season of Mindfulness: Who am I?

 

given on Sunday, March 21, 2017–2nd Sunday in Lent

Scripture connections:

Opening scripture: Exodus 3:1-4, NLT

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro,[a] the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai,[b] the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

Scripture connection:

  • Exodus 3:9-14, NLT

Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. 10 Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”

12 God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.”

13 But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14 God replied to Moses, “I am who I am.[d] Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.”

  • I Thessalonians 5:14-22, NLT

14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

Closing scripture: I Thessalonians 5:23-24, NLT

23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

 

Week’s memory verse: Exodus 3:11 (NLT)

But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people.

Week’s challenge: Create a plan for a ministry you feel called to lead.

Check yourself: Why are you afraid? What will it cost? What abilities do you have to use?

 

Reflection: Who am I?

I was on my knees scrubbing the kitchen floor this week. Now I have to be honest, this is not typical for me, but I gave up and got down and close to the floor this time; and I found myself reflecting on something Bertha, who had cleaned my floors for years, told me.

As much as I tried to make sure she did not have to be on her knees, getting mops, cleaning fluids, or whatever cleaning tools I could, she refused to use them. She preferred to be on her knees, despite the physical problems she had with her spine due to a car wreck when she was 12 years old and the osteoporosis that developed in her later years.

Bertha and I met at church where I learned how she lived her life despite all the human hardships she had endured. Bertha was a Christian disciple. She never said, “Why me, Lord?” She lived her faith in service, even on her knees. From my perspective, she lived her life as though her answer was really, “Why not me, Lord?”

Bertha was a modern-day Moses in my perspective. Reading a biography on Moses reveals some interesting twists and turns. Born under the Egyptian Pharaoh’s decree that all male Hebrew babies were to be killed, Moses was saved when his mother placed him in a basket along the Nile River, was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as an Egyptian prince.

Moses’s story took a twist when he intervened in an Egyptian slave master beating a Hebrew slave. To summarize the story, when confronted by other Hebrews who knew that he had killed the Egyptian slave master, Moses fled to Midian fearing that the Pharaoh would learn what he did.

Even though Moses had been raised as an Egyptian prince, returning to the Hebrew enslaved community had to have been challenging. The Moses we meet in today’s scripture certainly does not sound like an Egyptian prince accustomed to all the best food, education, even jobs. Instead, the Moses in today’s scripture is a shepherd with little evidence of his former life. Moses rejoined the Hebrew community living as God’s faithful servant.

Can we relate to Moses? Absolutely. We understand the challenges life hands us as we raise our families, manage our monthly budgets, and daily go to work to do whatever we must to make our lives as comfortable as possible. We make decisions that put others as a priority rather than pleasing our personal wishes. We turn to help our family and/or friends manage the ups and downs in their lives. We are just like Moses.

The question “Who am I?” that Moses asked God is also familiar to us. In our life experiences we may not witness a burning bush, yet there are times when we are asked to do something that we feel totally unprepared or unworthy to do. The request might be from a thought that pops up in our mind or it might be a request to take an active role in a committee or to accept a job offer that you had no idea you could do. We ask the same question, “Who am I that can do that?”

Moses argued with God. He said he could not possibly go back into Egypt and lead his people out from under the Pharaoh’s control. He used the fact that he had poor speech (supposedly he stuttered) and could not eloquently make an appeal to the Pharaoh to free the Hebrews.

How many times do we do the same thing? How many times do we turn away from a thought, an idea, or a request to do something because we do not think there is any possible way to do it? Way too many times we say no. Why?

Three different answers come to mind: fear, money, and ability.

These are the same three concerns that Moses had. Imagine the fear of going back to the Pharaoh and saying let me take the Hebrews away from your control—slaves, a work force, an economic factor. Moses probably even feared that he would be imprisoned or worse for killing the slave master years ago.

Money was a concern, too, and going further into the scripture we learn that God tells how to manage that, too. He tells Moses to simply ask the Egyptian women for gold and silver as they leave. And they do it. This funded the new life and the building of temples.

Finally, God answers Moses’ concern about the ability to lead. Speech was a concern, so God tells him not to worry, his brother Aaron can speak for him. Moses was afraid that the Israelites would not follow him, either:

13 But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14 God replied to Moses, “I am who I am.[d] Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.”

With Moses’ fears and the two major issues answered by God, Moses did lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The job was not easy and Moses certainly had his reasons for asking “Who am I?”

The ancient story is no different than so many stories of God’s servants accepting his call to action. This week we witnessed local communities handle disaster with grace. The videos of the Oak Grove homes destroyed by the tornado reminds us of how vulnerable each of us really is in this world, but the videos of the families, the friends, and the strangers pitching in to clean up the mess is awe-inspiring. The Oak Grove students heard the call to serve with gloves and a garbage sack and they joined in, too.

I can look around me, right here, and see those who God has called and they answered. Certainly when they heard God’s call, they probably said, “Who am I?” Yet, they answered. Look around you and think about how many times something in the community called for an action and someone right here stepped up and did all that they could to meet that challenge.

God is with you, with us. He does not ask us to do something without knowing that we have the ability to do it:

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:31, NLT)

 

We must learn that when God asks us to do something, he already knows we can.   Our responsibility is to work together to fulfill God’s call. We can do it.

In Paul’s final words to the Thessalonians we can find the ways we can serve:

14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

 

The list grows. God will never give us an idea or call us to do something unless he knows we can do it. We are equipped with the Holy Spirit to do all that we can for all we can in any way that we can.

Bertha served, even on her knees ,when scrubbing her clients floors. I found myself on my knees with her guiding me by her example this week. She had absolutely no reason to be on her knees, but that was the way she prayed. She told me that the time she spent on her knees was her time to pray. I am humbled by her presence as I cleaned my own floor on my knees, and I prayed.

God reaches out to others through our actions. Last week we looked at the question from Genesis: Did God really say that? We can test the ideas that come up in our minds and in our work with the same five Ds: doubt, discouragement, division, defeat, and delay.

Any idea that develops in our ministry can be tested through these five Ds, and today’s verse, “Who am I?”, also can be tested:

  1. Why am I afraid?
  2. What is the cost?
  3. What abilities do I have?

 

The answers will confirm the call to action when God is leading. God is present within each of us. We accepted our call when we were baptized.   God will make sure that each of us will be equipped to serve.

During the coming week, test yourself. Think about a time when you felt called to lead or to participate in a ministry of the church or in a civic effort that you did not think you could do. Why were you afraid? What would it have cost? Why did you think you could not do it?

The challenge, now, is to identify some task or idea or ministry that you would like to see done, then ask the same questions knowing that God will give you what you need to do it.   Make a plan, figure out who will help you, identify the costs, and then share the plan—with your small group or with the Church Council. What you may think is impossible may be exactly the ministry God is calling you to lead.

Closing prayer:

Dear Lord,

Open our ears to hear your call.

Open our hearts to the ministries around us.

Open our minds to the work we must do.

 

Keep us from being afraid to lead.

Help us know the cost of serving versus not.

Give us confidence to use the gifts you give us.

 

May we become the servants your ask us to be.

May we trust the Holy Spirit will guide us.

May we be all that we can be in your name. –Amen

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Paul tells the Ephesians all are one in Christ; same message today

given on Sunday, February 5, 2017  (This will be the first of four in a series based on Ephesians.)

 

Scripture connections: Ephesians 2:11-22, 4:1-16 (NLT)

Oneness and Peace in Christ

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

A Temple for the Lord

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 4:1-16 (NLT)

Unity in the Body

4 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all, and living through all.

However, he has given each one of us a special gift[a] through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say,

“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]

Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world.[c] 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Reflection:

 

“Life isn’t fair.” Just three words, but how many times have we heard that or even used them as we listen to someone talk about how tough things are. I certainly do not like hearing them thrown at me. In fact I dislike them so much that I try very hard never to use them, especially if someone is telling me how difficult life is for them.

How, then, does a person listen to a friend or a family member when they are complaining or whining about how tough life is for them? For me, I listen, but then I hear God. From the pages of Genesis right through to Revelations, God listens to the complaints of even the most faithful; but he never tells them life isn’t fair, instead he challenges them to love one another.

Granted that is an oversimplification of God’s instructions, but here it is February and our society is flooded with images of hearts, flowers, candy, and love. Just do a search on special events for the month, weeks, and days in February. Suddenly this short month is crowded with reasons to demonstrate love or at least pay attention to life challenges, different groups or organizations, even sweet potatoes—yes, February is Sweet Potato Month, along with November.

Life may seem terribly unfair, but God puts us into a powerful role when he authorized us to love one another, as we want to be loved. Currently our society is bristling over decisions that appear to pit those who have versus those who have not. Forgotten is the fact that the system that placed us in this dilemma is designed to be fair and equitable. If today’s Christians dropped all the whining and complaining and listened to God, I am convinced that the negatives would be smothered by the positives.

God created a world wanting a relationship with us. He did not create a world that was purposefully filled with conflict; we created the conflict. In Ephesians, Paul tells the congregation in Ephesus that living a God-centered life is key to a healthy relationship with God, true; so using the same approach to all relationships can remove the life-isn’t-fair mindset. Living a God-centered life is exactly what our society wants if February’s labels are any clue.

Today our society seems to be screaming, “life isn’t fair” as one decision is made after another. Our culture may compare closely to the one in ancient Ephesus. The city was a leading center of trade. The influences that created it’s profile came from all corners of the world as ships docked in the port and trade routes went inward to land-locked regions. Paul spent three years in Ephesus working to establish the church soundly as a Christian community in the midst of the diverse culture.

Paul’s letter, written while imprisoned, served as a love letter to the congregation. Filled with good wishes, the letter also provides advice how to love on another whether in one’s own home or whether at work or just in the community. Life might not seem fair, but following God’s commandment gives Christians no excuse for complaining. Rather, Christians are challenged to act. The ancient Biblical literature works just as well today.

The complex culture in which we live today developed just like it did in Ephesus.   People all over the world chose to come to North America to establish homes and businesses. The United States evolved from those Atlantic communities, and the history books are full of the challenges. The history is really no different than the history of the ancient world shared in the Bible. Therefore, Paul’s letter is just as appropriate for us in our community this February 2017.

Paul tells us, as he did the Ephesians, that no matter whether you were Jewish or Gentile—a believer or a non-believer—once you accept Jesus as your savior, you are all equal. No matter what your physical makeup, financial status or cultural heritage, as a Christian we are all one. Life is fair when we acknowledge that we are all one in Christ:

12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

Knowing that each one of us sitting in this sanctuary today believes in Christ’s salvation makes us equal. And when we look past our differences and work together as one, the power of the Holy Spirit takes over.

Paul tells the Ephesians how the Holy Spirit works through the church that is unified as one in Christ:

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Each Christian has gifts that God uses. Our task is to stay focused on God’s commandment to love one another right now in February 2017, the heart month, to build relationships that are God-centered.

Invite others, who still see life as unfair, to know God as we know God. We know God through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We know God because we know Jesus as his son sent to take our sins away. We know God because he baptized us with the Holy Spirit that powers our ability to love one another, as we want to be loved.

Life may not be fair, but when we accept God into our life and live by his commandment; life is good. Looking at our lives as God looks at our lives, we see the positives and find ways to manage the negatives. This February we open our hearts to God with thanksgiving, but we also open our hearts to those still hurting. Share God’s love so more and more can become one in Christ.

Paul was a prisoner and he had every reason in the world to say life was not fair, but he did not. He chose to continue using all his gifts to share God’s message of love to all he could:

  • He left a powerful position as a Jew to preach to the Gentiles. He saw no difference between the believers and the non-believers; he saw they were all one in God’s eyes.
  • He left his old life and literally stepped out on a new path that led him around the Mediterranean coast, stopping in communities, working, and sharing the good news—God loved them so much that he gave his only son so that their sins were forgiven and they could have eternal life.
  • He was forced to even leave his mission travels because legal authorities confined him, but he still shared the message that all are one in Christ.

And today, Paul’s letters continue to guide us in living as one in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians reminds us even today that life may not be fair, but living as one in Christ makes a difference in the quality of our lives.

Paul gave us a Valentine’s letter that guides us, encourages us, and fills our hearts with love. This February we will celebrate the love of God and review the lessons that Paul shared with the Ephesians. Tough times take some tough words; and God shares them with us to strengthen us and to show us that life is good when filled with God’s love.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

 

Thank you for loving us so much

That you sent your son Jesus Christ

To teach us how to love one another

And to save us from a life that is not fair.

 

Thank you for your missionary Paul

Who learned that all are one in Christ

And stepped out to share the Word

Even when life was not fair to him.

 

Thank you for the gifts of the Holy Spirit

That equip us with gifts we need

To love one another in our lives

Doing what we can to make life fair.

 

Guide us in our lives today and tomorrow

To demonstrate love for one another;

To share your love in as many ways we can

So others learn that love erases differences. –Amen.

 

 

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