Tag Archives: Paul

Christianity amidst chaos

given on Sunday, July 30, 2017

Scripture connections: using the NLT translation

 Opening: Matthew 13:34

“I will speak to you in parables.
I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.

 Sermon connections:

Matthew 13:33

33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

 I Corinthians 5:6-8

Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.[a]So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread[b] of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread[c] of sincerity and truth.

Closing: Psalm 105:1-2

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.

Reflection: Christianity Amidst Chaos

As the week started and we turned on the morning news, once again chaos greeted us. Chaos seems to follow us as we step out of our homes and into the community around us. And sometimes we do not even leave our house to find chaos—and I am just thinking about housecleaning.

Chaos can be openly evident, but it can also be easily disguised. The insanity of the political arena is one form of chaos, and then there is the chaos created by natural events such as the rainstorms we have witnessed this week in Kansas City. Chaos even lines the store aisles as the merchants frantically shift from one sales season to the next—right now the workers are filling the shelves with the back to school supplies in every shape, color and style imaginable.

Where, in the midst of this insanity, do we as Christians live out the very principles of loving God and loving one another? How do we keep the priority of loving one another over all the pressure to live as the others live in our society? How do we even have a chance to demonstrate and share the benefits of Christian living?

Paul wrote the letter to Corinthians trying to encourage them to live in a community where pagan worship flourished, different cultures existed, and immoral lifestyles tempted them. The first eight chapters of I Corinthians develops a picture that really is no different than today’s culture. The practice of sacrifices and pagan worship may not be openly evident, but other forms or pagan worship do exist. For instance, consider the idolization of the various sports figures and movie stars. Is that not a form of pagan worship?

Again, Biblical literature is just as applicable today as it was 2,000 years ago when Paul was writing and even thousands of years before God even sent Christ to demonstrate Christian living. His letters encouraged the young Christian churches to maintain their faithfulness in the midst of the peer pressure from the non-Christians in their immediate community.

Peer pressure is a mighty force to manage. We become so accustomed to living in harmony with those around us, that sometimes it is easy to just agree with others even in a casual conversation and we fail to maintain our Christian principles. Think about gossip. Standing in a small group talking with friends about the latest local news can easily turn into a judgmental conversation that does not demonstrate Christian love.

As parents and adults, teaching kids about resisting peer pressure seems to be easy, but then how many times do we give in to our own peers. Do we join in the worship of the Hollywood icons? Do we let our interest in the local sports teams over rule our worship time?

In today’s scripture from Matthew 13, Jesus uses the parable of the yeast to teach us how just a small amount of yeast can permeate an entire batch of dough. In the first reading of that parable, I can interpret that as the power of God’s love for one another can filter out into the community around me. The intent of Jesus’ reference to yeast indicates how just a small amount can make such a major difference in producing the bread: “. . . only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Having made bread, I can understand how powerful God’s love can be and how important it is for me to use that love towards others in all the various settings I find myself. If I can add a dose of love in the midst of three parts of unloved, then I am living my commission to love one another, share the good news of God’s love, and make new disciples of Christ even if I do not know exactly how or when that love will grow.

Yet, at the same time, Paul’s use of the yeast can also demonstrate the powerful negative effect bad yeast can have. In his letter to the Corinthians, he says, “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough.”

The young church in Corinth was struggling with maintaining Christian lifestyles in the community. Paul uses the metaphor about bad yeast to answer the concern expressed about someone in that church whose behaviors were not Christ-like. He was warning the church that even small, seemingly insignificant un-Christian practices could infect the others—negative peer pressure.

Many might be surprised to discover Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains so many specific instructions about living in the community. Many Bible readers think of I Corinthians 13 as the primary message defining love and the context it is so often used—wedding ceremonies. But the first eight chapters of the letter target so many unchristian behaviors.

The early Christians needed encouragement too because the culture was filled with pagan worship rituals. The excess sacrificed meat was sold in the markets and they did not know whether they could eat it or not. The immoral sexual practices associated with pagan worship were everywhere and sometimes caused conflict in the home when one partner was pagan and the other Christian.

Paul’s warnings are as important today as they were in any culture at any time in history or will be in the future. Living in a culture with immoral behaviors and negative peer pressure is the same in today’s world. Even in our small community as well as national community, we see evidence of immoral practices and it saddens us. Yet, are we the good yeast or the bad yeast?

We must be the good yeast and knead it into our community to spread that positive influence around. Reading Paul’s letters provides us additional encouragement and assurance that we can resist peer pressure and we can be good yeast not bad yeast.

We are to love one another without judging. We are to do all the good that we can without any expectations or limitations. We are to support the good others do rather than be jealous or suspicious. We are to work as a team to defend others and us from the bad dough that can destroy our community. We must stand up to peer pressure that destroys and promote peer pressure that builds our community in Christian love.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving God,

We wake every morning to chaos

In our world, community and lives.

And all too often cave in to peer pressure

Because it is seems easier.

 

Guide us to be the good yeast

That spreads throughout the chaos

Making a change for the better

Because that is what you ask.

 

Give us the strength

To work together in unity

Spreading the good news

And leading others to Christ.

 

In your name,

And your son Jesus Christ,

And with the Holy Spirit, amen.

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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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Lent 2017: f God is for us, who can be against us?

given on Sunday, March 19, 2017:  Week 3 of Lent 2017:  A Season of Mindfulness

Scripture Connections:

Judges 6:6-16, NLT

So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.

When they cried out to the Lord because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites. He said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. 10 I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

13 “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”

15 “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

16 The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

 

2 Corinthians 1:3-11. NLT

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.

 

Romans 5:6-11, NLT

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 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.

 

Week’s memory verse:  . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?

Week’s challenge: Remember. Record. Reorder. Spend time writing down the tough times in your life that you felt discouraged. Then write down what God did in your life as a result of the tough times.

 

Reflection: If God is for us, who can be against us?

Glory be! Two days ago we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and now we are just two days away from the first day of Spring—so much green, and it truly is green. A few days ago a deep freeze attacked the spring flowers, the Bradford pear blossoms and the tender green wheat, but that cold snap was just a momentary lapse in an extraordinarily mild winter.

A cold snap like that easily discourages gardeners and farmers watching the young plants they so carefully planted and nourish. Once the wheat or any seed/seedling is planted, human control is relinquished and God, through the forces of nature, assumes control. Trusting God is tough.

In Judges 6, Gideon is doing his best to harvest the wheat. Even the harvest has to be done as secretively as possible, but the Midianites along with other tribes keep attacking and taking all the harvest. The Israelites become discouraged and turn away from God returning to idol worship. For seven years, the Israelites battle to survive under these difficult conditions, and God’s angel shows up and talks to Gideon:

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

 

Imagine the surprise Gideon experienced. Here is inside a winepress, a hole in the earth, trying to clean his wheat in hiding. The conditions were not good and the task extremely difficult in that setting. He hardly felt like a hero much less that the Lord was with him at that moment. He had to be discouraged, frustrated, and exhausted after seven years of failure.

Undoubtedly we can all think of similar experiences. I know that Dad used to say that a drought year would occur about every seven years. Living on a small farm during the 1960s and 1970s, the challenges left my parents discouraged over and over. But farming was their life. The land, the cattle, and the crops provided the structure of life itself. Those years of drought were tough, but I never saw their faith in God fail, either.

The stories in the Old Testament and the New Testament are filled with examples of how the faithful are tested over and over with challenges. The problems cover the very basic needs of humans—food, clothing and shelter, first; but also the next level of human needs as identified by Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs, that includes security and safety. (McLeod 2016) Gideon and the Israelites were struggling with all these human needs when the angel showed up. Certainly, Gideon doubted what the angel was saying so he replied:

 

13 . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

 

Three weeks ago the first memory verse was introduced from Genesis 3:1—“Did God really say that?” The challenge then was to consider the 5 Ds that the Devil can use to tempt us into following him rather than God: doubt, discouragement, divisiveness, defeat, and delay. Gideon and the Israelites were being tempted by the Devil just as we are tempted when life challenges bombard us over and over again.

How many times in your own lives have you become discouraged because life kept knocking you down over and over again? No where in the Bible does God promise an easy life, rather he gives us the laws or commandments and the people to guide us in our life so we can manage the Devil’s temptations along with the simple challenges of managing to meet the basic needs in our life of food, clothing, shelter, security and safety. And still we become discouraged.

Meeting with a few friends recently, I heard testimony that reminded me how difficult seeing God at work in our lives really becomes. I cannot imagine any single person hearing this today not having a life filled with challenges, but my friend spoke through tears as she testified how God had worked in her life. This woman lost a son during his elementary years. Then her husband was diagnosed with cancer and died while she still had twin sons living at home. All the time she was a teacher, working full time.

As she spoke, she reminded us that at the time she was angry and scared; but as she continued getting up each morning and going to work, she could see God working in her life in unexpected ways. She added in pieces about professional decisions and her sense of discouragement. Yet, she remained faithful and today she can see how God worked even in her most painful days.

  1. S. Hawkins shares in The Jesus Code an interesting explanation of how God reaches out using a comparison to professional lifeguards:

When [professional lifeguards] spotted someone in trouble in the ocean, the guards swam out to them but did not immediately lay hold of them. Instead the guards would tread water just beyond arm’s length. Why? The drowning swimmer’s kicking and thrashing and struggling could well take them both down and under. But when the struggling swimmers neared the end of their strength—when, in essence, they said, “I give out. . .I give in . . . I give up;” when they realized they were unable to save themselves—then the rescue began, and they were pulled safely to shore. (Hawkins 2015, 307)

 

The logic of the lifesaving technique seems to go against everything we might think, but only when the fight is gone can the lifeguards succeed.

God is our lifeguard. We must not ever forget that he is always just an arm’s length away waiting for us. He waits for us to “give out, to give in, and to give up” as Hawkins explains. Only when we have given up and turned our lives over to God, can God move in and save us.

My friend learned this. My mom learned this. And from knowing you, you have learned this. Today’s memory verse may be from the Old Testament, but it is a theme carried throughout the Bible. Jesus himself had to experience life challenges throughout his ministry, even dying on the cross in order to save us today. Paul, too, had to go through blindness in order to see God working to save him.

In Gideon’s question to God, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” sounds familiar, then so should God’s answer: “I will be with you.” God never abandons us. God reached out to us through the arms of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ saves us because he died on the cross for us.

How do we demonstrate our faith so we can serve as God’s arms? The answer is provided in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

 

Look back over the words in today’s reading and notice how many times Paul repeats that idea: He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. By my count, I see it listed five times in the verses 4-7.

My friend said almost the same thing. She did not know that losing a husband would push her to work with other widows trying to deal with their grief. She did not know that losing a son would open doors to comfort others who lost their child as an instructor taught her in her grief. In her reflection on God’s work in her life, she realizes that when life shuts a door one way, God opens the door in great and wonderful new ways.

Living in today’s culture, the temptation (or the Devil) can cloud our vision. When we are handed one more life challenge that seems overwhelming and we feel like we are drowning, God is only an arm’s length away. That arm may be a friend who understands the struggle from a personal experience. The arm may be a stranger waiting in line behind you offering you a simple smile or more. The arm may be a song’s lyrics that you hear on the radio. The arm may be a lifeguard waiting for you to give out, to give in or to give up so they can safely bring you to shore.

Life is one challenge after another, and no one is exempt from the challenges. Stop, listen to the life stories of others, and examine the quality of their lives. The life challenges come in so many forms—death, disability, health issues, financial problems, abuse, divorce, fire, natural disasters, job crisis, and so much more.

This week memorize Gideon’s question and remember God’s answer: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? . . .I will be with you.” Then I challenge you to review your own list of life’s challenges, even record them in a journal (and continue on with the practice), and then reorder your thinking to know that God is with you always. Life wears us out, but only when you give out, give in, and give up to God are you saved.

Paul explained it to the Romans:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 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.

Take courage, do not be discouraged, but rely on God to be there for you at even the most trying of times. Once you discover you are not drowning, you will then become God’s arms in the lives of others seeking to find answers.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, our heavenly lifeguard,

 

Day after day, I feel the weight of the world

Pushing down on my shoulders.

I struggle to look up for the Son’s light

And find your arms waiting for me.

 

Day after day, I battle temptations

Making my life seem so discouraging.

Keep my eyes looking up to you

And find your arms holding me up.

 

Day after day, I feel like I am giving out

Or giving in or giving up.

Speak to me the life-saving words of grace

Through the mouths of your faithful.

 

Then, Lord, open my heart to others

Feeling discouraged and drowning

So I can share your grace and your love

To comfort and encourage them.

 

In the your name,

the Father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

given on Sunday, February 26, 2017–final sermon in series based on Ephesians

Scripture connection: Ephesians 4:17-31 (NLT)

Living as Children of Light

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[a] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[b] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

Ephesians 5:6-15 (NLT)

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Living by the Spirit’s Power

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.

Reflection: In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

Paul’s ancient world may seem awfully small compared to today’s world in which communication happens in an instant and one can travel from one side of the globe to the other side in a matter of hours.  Personal relationships could be kept private as the only means of ‘seeing’ the relationship was face-to-face since there were no myriads of cameras or a social media platform to share scuttlebutt instantly. Yet, when Paul began his missionary work, he traveled to share the good news.

Travel was a tedious process and in Paul’s case, he stopped in communities to work as he carried the Word to new communities. No mass media was available, so his very person had to be the witness to a new way of life, the Christian way. Paul’s very life had to be a visible testimony to living a Christian lifestyle.

The scripture from Ephesians talks about the earliest Christians were to live in the ‘light of the Lord’ (Eph 5:8). Literature offers a multitude of analogies that use ‘light’ as goodness, purity, cleanliness among other positive images. The significant meaning even of theatrical costumes pits good versus evil, light versus darkness, the white hat versus the black hat. The cinematographers carefully manipulate light in the scenes to identify the good versus evil themes in the stories. And music aficionados can identify tones that are light versus dark, good versus evil. Paul’s use of light means to live the Christian lifestyle with God at the center.

How does one know what that lifestyle is? Paul outlines the very behaviors God expects from his faithful. They are itemized in the scripture:

  • Eph 4:24—stop telling lies,
  • Eph 4:26—don’t let anger control you.
  • Eph 4:28—quit stealing, do good hard work, give generously,
  • Eph 4:29—don’t use foul or abusive language; be good and helpful; and offer words of encouragement, and
  • Eph 4:31—get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil.

The list applies today as much as it applied during Paul’s lifetime. The same problems and/or evil behaviors continue to thrive in our world now.

Paul’s letter was meant to encourage the young congregation to maintain the very behaviors Jesus had modeled and taught during his lifetime. The list of behaviors changes a bit in the next chapter, but again it is a clear that following God’s commandment binds all believers into one unified church. The letter continues:

  • Eph 5:6—don’t be fooled by those who try to make excuses for sin,
  • Eph 5:7—don’t participate in things sinful people do,
  • Eph 5:8—live as people of light.
  • Eph 5:11—expose evil deed, nor
  • Eph 5:12—do not even talk about the evil deeds.

Living a God-centered, Christ-centered life places one in the light. Following God’s one commandment in all relationships in our lives placed a spotlight on the evil in the world around us, too. Just take a few moments and think about the TV shows, the movies, and even the books that we read for pleasure. The fiction stories are filled with good versus evil; then place yourself into those stories and ask whether you are living in the light or living in the darkness.

Step away from the fiction, now, and look at the news reports and all the social media feeds that we see crossing our screens. Can you spot the darkness? The evil in the world fills our lives in so many different ways, but follow God’s ways to keep the light in your life and in the life of others who surround you—whether in person or in cyberspace. Let God’s light shine in all that you do and say.

In the scriptures from last week, we discussed how to keep God’s lifestyle central in our private relationships—those with our spouses and children, those of children to their parents. Living in the light keeps our relationships healthy. The same rule applies to relationships in all facets of our lives.

One relationship that can challenge a Christian is that found in the work place. Yet, living one’s faith on the job is another means of testifying for God. Treating the fellow worker, the customer and the boss as you want to be treated develops more positive work experiences even work environments. When others are bad mouthing the boss, another worker, or the customer, the setting becomes cancerous. When the work forces one into a position that challenges beliefs, then the resulting conflict sickens the soul and can lead to health problems. What does one do in such cases?

No easy answer, but God wants us to be the light in the world. Stop joining in on idol conversations that promote negative attitudes. Do your best to ask others to stop, too. If the job places you into an ethical dilemma, which does happen, the choice is more complicated.

The job is income and meets the need of the family. The job uses your training and natural gifts. Yet even if you like the work and do it well, if the boss asks you to do something unethical you are then asked to go against your standards, your Christian beliefs. The conflict that develops makes it difficult to live in God’s light much less to shine as his light.

I confronted this issue within a year after leaving college with a journalism degree. My goal in life to save the world as a journalist ran into the issue of right and wrong. In journalism, the circulation sets the value of advertising. Circulation is reported to a national database that determines that cost. Self-reporting is done with an affidavit that the figures are accurate. The publisher told me to sign the figures. I knew the figures were inflated and it forced me to make a decision—I quit. I signed it, yes; but I quit and went back to college to get a teaching certificate. I had to make a life changing decision, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

These decisions reflect who we are as Christians. No one wants to be forced into a decision that risks one’s livelihood or forces a change that could be financially devastating. Being trained in one job and then looking for a new job does not always mean the transition is smooth or that you may have to be retrained. Yet, God has give us the instructions on how to live our lives. He sent Jesus to show us, and then Paul tells us in his letters, too.

Our relationships in this world develop the community in which we live. We are not challenged in our country to live a secret life nor are we persecuted for living a Christian life. Our lives are defined by our decisions even in our civic responsibility to vote. As a voter, we create a relationship with elected officials. The election’s outcome, any election, reflects the belief system of the populace. If we vote using God’s viewpoint, we continue to maintain our personal principles. If the outcome does not match what our vote, then we must align ourselves with that decision. That does not mean that we give up our Christian principles, instead the election may place us in a position to be more vocal or active in demonstrating the Christian principles we live.

Living a Christian lifestyle does not simplify our lives in the secular world, but God knows our positions. He does not task us in a way that we cannot manage. He is beside us as we confront the conflicts in our life. He gives us the strength needed to stand firm in our relationships. He provides us the gifts to use and the words to share to make our relationships into beacons of light for others, too.

This February we may face the darkness even in the bright sunshine. The darkness makes us unsettled and causes us to feel heavy as we watch the latest news reports and hear the latest talk in town. Where is the light? The light is our responsibility. Paul tells the Ephesians and us that we are to live as ‘Children of the Light.’

As God’s faithful today, we have as much responsibility of sharing the good news/God’s message as any of the ancient disciples did. There is no excuse for us to act as though we do not know God. There is no excuse for us to casually ignore the evil around us. There is no excuse for us to be passive in a world where evil is aggressive.

Take up God’s commission to share the Word and to make disciples of Christ, but also stand up to evil. If others are sharing dark messages on Facebook, then do not share them. In fact, hit that button and remove them from your own feed. Make a comment on postings that you find offensive so others may see God’s light in your life. Post some positive words so others might see God’s light in them.

As you watch and/or listen to the latest news, use prayer. Do not whine and complain. Do not let the ‘fake’ news pass on to others through words spoken as though you agree. Instead, listen with God’s ears. Is there another viewpoint to consider despite the words presented? Could there be a positive to the report that is being overlooked? Do you need to speak out? Maybe you need to contact your representative or other elected official. Maybe you need to write a letter to the editor. Maybe you need to research an answer on your own, easier to do with the internet offering so many options or a library close to our homes.

Being God’s light is not easy. There is no quick fix to the problems that evil causes. But, in our world, we have a responsibility to live as beacons for God. We must say no to evil in any way that we can at all the times that we can in any way that we can. We must do good in any way that we can in all the ways that we can at any time that we can.

Paul reminded the Ephesians that all who believe in God and who accept Jesus Christ as their savior are also baptized by the Holy Spirit to serve as God’s light in this world. You may not think you can do anything, but the Holy Spirit is alive within you and you can do something. You are a beacon and the light shines in the life you live—as long as you reflect God’s love.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or we can rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.” I chose to see thorn bushes have roses, just like I see the glass as half full not half empty. I chose to see good whenever I can, too. I chose to follow God and pray that he guides me in all relationships to be the light in the darkness for others to see his love.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Paul’s letter serves as a beacon of light

in a world darkened by evil.

Guide us in using our own words

to serve as rays of light around us.

Paul’s words encourage us

to strengthen our relationships.

Guide us to see our relationships

in your light and to love one another.

 

Today we hear you speak

in the words of scripture and hymn.

Fill our hearts with love for one another

so our world shines brightly.

Give us the words to build up relationships

that will enrich our lives, our world.

Armor us so we resist evil influences

and lead others to your light. –Amen.

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In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

given on Sunday, February 29, 2017

Scripture connection: Ephesians 4:17-31 (NLT)

Living as Children of Light

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[a] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[b] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

 

Ephesians 5:6-15 (NLT)

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Living by the Spirit’s Power

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.

Reflection: In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

Paul’s ancient world may seem awfully small compared to today’s world in which communication happens in an instant and one can travel from one side of the globe to the other side in a matter of hours.         Personal relationships could be kept private as the only means of ‘seeing’ the relationship was face-to-face since there were no myriads of cameras or a social media platform to share scuttlebutt instantly. Yet, when Paul began his missionary work, he traveled to share the good news.

Travel was a tedious process and in Paul’s case, he stopped in communities to work as he carried the Word to new communities. No mass media was available, so his very person had to be the witness to a new way of life, the Christian way. Paul’s very life had to be a visible testimony to living a Christian lifestyle.

The scripture from Ephesians talks about the earliest Christians were to live in the ‘light of the Lord’ (Eph 5:8). Literature offers a multitude of analogies that use ‘light’ as goodness, purity, cleanliness among other positive images. The significant meaning even of theatrical costumes pits good versus evil, light versus darkness, the white hat versus the black hat. The cinematographers carefully manipulate light in the scenes to identify the good versus evil themes in the stories. And music aficionados can identify tones that are light versus dark, good versus evil. Paul’s use of light means to live the Christian lifestyle with God at the center.

How does one know what that lifestyle is? Paul outlines the very behaviors God expects from his faithful. They are itemized in the scripture:

  • Eph 4:24—stop telling lies,
  • Eph 4:26—don’t let anger control you.
  • Eph 4:28—quit stealing, do good hard work, give generously,
  • Eph 4:29—don’t use foul or abusive language; be good and helpful; and offer words of encouragement, and
  • Eph 4:31—get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil.

The list applies today as much as it applied during Paul’s lifetime. The same problems and/or evil behaviors continue to thrive in our world now.

Paul’s letter was meant to encourage the young congregation to maintain the very behaviors Jesus had modeled and taught during his lifetime. The list of behaviors changes a bit in the next chapter, but again it is a clear that following God’s commandment binds all believers into one unified church. The letter continues:

  • Eph 5:6—don’t be fooled by those who try to make excuses for sin,
  • Eph 5:7—don’t participate in things sinful people do,
  • Eph 5:8—live as people of light.
  • Eph 5:11—expose evil deed, nor
  • Eph 5:12—do not even talk about the evil deeds.

Living a God-centered, Christ-centered life places one in the light. Following God’s one commandment in all relationships in our lives placed a spotlight on the evil in the world around us, too. Just take a few moments and think about the TV shows, the movies, and even the books that we read for pleasure. The fiction stories are filled with good versus evil; then place yourself into those stories and ask whether you are living in the light or living in the darkness.

Step away from the fiction, now, and look at the news reports and all the social media feeds that we see crossing our screens. Can you spot the darkness? The evil in the world fills our lives in so many different ways, but follow God’s ways to keep the light in your life and in the life of others who surround you—whether in person or in cyberspace. Let God’s light shine in all that you do and say.

In the scriptures from last week, we discussed how to keep God’s lifestyle central in our private relationships—those with our spouses and children, those of children to their parents. Living in the light keeps our relationships healthy. The same rule applies to relationships in all facets of our lives.

One relationship that can challenge a Christian is that found in the work place. Yet, living one’s faith on the job is another means of testifying for God. Treating the fellow worker, the customer and the boss as you want to be treated develops more positive work experiences even work environments. When others are bad mouthing the boss, another worker, or the customer, the setting becomes cancerous. When the work forces one into a position that challenges beliefs, then the resulting conflict sickens the soul and can lead to health problems. What does one do in such cases?

No easy answer, but God wants us to be the light in the world. Stop joining in on idol conversations that promote negative attitudes. Do your best to ask others to stop, too. If the job places you into an ethical dilemma, which does happen, the choice is more complicated.

The job is income and meets the need of the family. The job uses your training and natural gifts. Yet even if you like the work and do it well, if the boss asks you to do something unethical you are then asked to go against your standards, your Christian beliefs. The conflict that develops makes it difficult to live in God’s light much less to shine as his light.

I confronted this issue within a year after leaving college with a journalism degree. My goal in life to save the world as a journalist ran into the issue of right and wrong. In journalism, the circulation sets the value of advertising. Circulation is reported to a national database that determines that cost. Self-reporting is done with an affidavit that the figures are accurate. The publisher told me to sign the figures. I knew the figures were inflated and it forced me to make a decision—I quit. I signed it, yes; but I quit and went back to college to get a teaching certificate. I had to make a life changing decision, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

These decisions reflect who we are as Christians. No one wants to be forced into a decision that risks one’s livelihood or forces a change that could be financially devastating. Being trained in one job and then looking for a new job does not always mean the transition is smooth or that you may have to be retrained. Yet, God has give us the instructions on how to live our lives. He sent Jesus to show us, and then Paul tells us in his letters, too.

Our relationships in this world develop the community in which we live. We are not challenged in our country to live a secret life nor are we persecuted for living a Christian life. Our lives are defined by our decisions even in our civic responsibility to vote. As a voter, we create a relationship with elected officials. The election’s outcome, any election, reflects the belief system of the populace. If we vote using God’s viewpoint, we continue to maintain our personal principles. If the outcome does not match what our vote, then we must align ourselves with that decision. That does not mean that we give up our Christian principles, instead the election may place us in a position to be more vocal or active in demonstrating the Christian principles we live.

Living a Christian lifestyle does not simplify our lives in the secular world, but God knows our positions. He does not task us in a way that we cannot manage. He is beside us as we confront the conflicts in our life. He gives us the strength needed to stand firm in our relationships. He provides us the gifts to use and the words to share to make our relationships into beacons of light for others, too.

This February we may face the darkness even in the bright sunshine. The darkness makes us unsettled and causes us to feel heavy as we watch the latest news reports and hear the latest talk in town. Where is the light? The light is our responsibility. Paul tells the Ephesians and us that we are to live as ‘Children of the Light.’

As God’s faithful today, we have as much responsibility of sharing the good news/God’s message as any of the ancient disciples did. There is no excuse for us to act as though we do not know God. There is no excuse for us to casually ignore the evil around us. There is no excuse for us to be passive in a world where evil is aggressive.

Take up God’s commission to share the Word and to make disciples of Christ, but also stand up to evil. If others are sharing dark messages on Facebook, then do not share them. In fact, hit that button and remove them from your own feed. Make a comment on postings that you find offensive so others may see God’s light in your life. Post some positive words so others might see God’s light in them.

As you watch and/or listen to the latest news, use prayer. Do not whine and complain. Do not let the ‘fake’ news pass on to others through words spoken as though you agree. Instead, listen with God’s ears. Is there another viewpoint to consider despite the words presented? Could there be a positive to the report that is being overlooked? Do you need to speak out? Maybe you need to contact your representative or other elected official. Maybe you need to write a letter to the editor. Maybe you need to research an answer on your own, easier to do with the internet offering so many options or a library close to our homes.

Being God’s light is not easy. There is no quick fix to the problems that evil causes. But, in our world, we have a responsibility to live as beacons for God. We must say no to evil in any way that we can at all the times that we can in any way that we can. We must do good in any way that we can in all the ways that we can at any time that we can.

Paul reminded the Ephesians that all who believe in God and who accept Jesus Christ as their savior are also baptized by the Holy Spirit to serve as God’s light in this world. You may not think you can do anything, but the Holy Spirit is alive within you and you can do something. You are a beacon and the light shines in the life you live—as long as you reflect God’s love.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or we can rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.” I chose to see thorn bushes have roses, just like I see the glass as half full not half empty. I chose to see good whenever I can, too. I chose to follow God and pray that he guides me in all relationships to be the light in the darkness for others to see his love.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Paul’s letter serves as a beacon of light

in a world darkened by evil.

Guide us in using our own words

to serve as rays of light around us.

Paul’s words encourage us

to strengthen our relationships.

Guide us to see our relationships

in your light and to love one another.

 

Today we hear you speak

in the words of scripture and hymn.

Fill our hearts with love for one another

so our world shines brightly.

Give us the words to build up relationships

that will enrich our lives, our world.

Armor us so we resist evil influences

and lead others to your light. –Amen.

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Paul focuses on personal relationships

given on Sunday, February 12, 2017

Scripture foundation: Ephesians 5:1-5, 21-6:4 (NLT)

Living in the Light

5 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us[a] and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Spirit-Guided Relationships: Wives and Husbands

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

22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[a] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[b] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Children and Parents

6 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord,[c] for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”[d]

Fathers,[e] do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Reflection: Paul focuses on personal relationships

Today would be my Uncle John’s 81st birthday, not to mention it is also President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. For me, today is a significant day and it is quickly followed by Valentine’s Day on Tuesday. By the social buzz about Valentine’s Day, one might think it is the most important special day in our lives because it focuses on those most intimate personal relationships in our lives.

A trip through the greeting cards these last few weeks reminds us of all the possible special people there are in our lives: husband, wife, daughter, son, grandchildren, grandparents, parents, step-children and step-parents, teachers, students, even neighbors. The list of special people seems endless.

Paul’s love letter to the Ephesians did not get delivered with a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses. His letter was not filled with gushy endearments, yet his letter was filled with love. He used his words to remind the church that all who believe in Jesus Christ are one; the relationship with God places us in a loving relationship with each other, too.

Paul, though, acknowledges that even with God at the center of our life, we do have personal relationships: husband and wife, parents to children, siblings to each other, and the list grows much like the list on the Valentine cards. In Paul’s letter, he reminds the Ephesians of how God expects us to apply unconditional love in those relationships, too.

Have you ever asked yourself how you would answer Paul’s love letter if he wrote it to you personally? Could you say to Paul that in your life you do express unconditional love to others regardless of race, color or creed? Could you say that the Valentine’s you have sent over the years speak the truth that you do live out God’s love in all your relationships?

Or, if you read Paul’s letter as though he were writing it to you personally, would the letter leave you feeling uncomfortable? Would you end up in tears because you realize that some things you have said or done damaged personal relationships? Would you put the pen down, turn away from Paul’s letter and ignore what he says?

            In today’s Bible translations, a subheading Spirit-guided relationships: Wives and Husbands, Paul begins, “21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” He begins his instruction with Christ at the center of all relationships, not the ancient cultural norms of a husband dominating a wife.

         Reading Paul’s letter literally clashes with our culture today. The term ‘submit’ frequently is negative in a society that values equality in relationships. Submit! No, that is not appropriate in today’s culture, but what if ‘submit’ was not emotionally charged in conversation about human relationships?

In the ancient setting in which Paul was teaching, submission was a form of honoring the authority of ruling governments, bosses, and heads of household. Paul was addressing the newest Christians in terms that matched the culture in which they were living.

Today, Valentine cards would not use the word ‘submit,’ instead the emphasis is on healthy, respectful and caring terms. Many sentiments include references to friendship and Paul’s letter would agree. The new Christians were encouraged to value each other despite their cultural history. The new Christians were told to love one another, as they wanted to be loved. Study notes explain Paul’s message in today’s viewpoint:

Submitting to another person is an often misunderstood concept. It does not mean becoming a doormat. Christ—at whose name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10)—submitted his will to the Father, and we honor Christ by following his example. . . . In a marriage relationship, both husband and wife are called to submit . . . willingly following [the spouse’s] leadership in Christ. . . . Submission is rarely a problem in homes where both partners have a strong relationship with Christ and where each is concerned for the happiness of the other.”

 

Paul’s love letter covers the most important relationships in our lives. He tackles the relationship of husband and wives, but he also includes advice on relationships between parents and their children. He tells the children to ‘honor their mothers and fathers’ as the Old Testament commandment said.

Even when our children are grown, maintaining a positive relationship depends on keeping one’s self Christ-centered. As parents raising our children, decisions are challenging. The relationship begins with total dependence upon the parent, but as the child develops, independent thought absorbs influences from outside of the home.

Paul knew that Christ-centered parents understood how to develop positive relationships that honored their children; and sons and daughters raised in that home learned to honor their parents. In Paul’s letter, Ephesians 6:4, parents are cautioned:

Fathers,[e] do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Reading Paul’s letter challenges us to check our own relationships.

Any answer we have to Paul’s letter should provide clear examples of how we do love one another. The self-evaluation may be painful, but it is also necessary. If we have lived a God-centered life, then we can be confident our personal relationships are healthy. If we determine a relationship failed, the cause may be due to the lack of keeping God in the center of the relationship.

         Are we living with Christ at the center of our lives and our relationships, or are we living under our culture’s influences? The greeting cards you select may give you a clue to that answer. Therefore, if you are looking for a Valentine’s card for Paul, think about whether or not your relationship reflects God’s love?

         A Valentine’s card that keeps Christ in the center of any relationship reflects the sender/giver really does care to “send the very best.” (Sorry for the cliché based on Hallmark’s reputation in the greeting card industry.) God asks us all to demonstrate love in all relationships. Today, even if we live independently and the kids are grown up, we still maintain relationships with family and friends. Do you keep that relationship strong because you are centered on Christ? Today’s Valentine’s cards need some editing. The sentiments need to say thank you to the special people in your life for loving you as they love Christ. What a compliment that is!

Closing prayer

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for sending your servant Paul

To teach us about loving one another.

His words of encouragement reaches

Across the centuries through the words of Ephesians.

 

Open our hearts, minds and souls

To Paul’s advice,

Keeping relationships centered

Around the example of Jesus.

 

Guide us in living God-centered lives

So we can celebrate personal relationships

That enrich our lives

As we love one another. –Amen

 

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