Sermon Archive

 

Sunday October 15, 2017
Relevant to Who?
2 Corinthians 4: 1 – 10

[Read – The Lighthouse story]  Though this is a fictional story that has found itself in print from the 1930’s, and was revived by Steven Covey in “7 Habits…” book, we face the continuing dilemma of looking at what surrounds us and failing to rightly interpret what we see.  If our arrogance of might or power guides our life, we may soon run aground and face a disaster beyond measure.  Whether it is individually or corporately, the church faces the same issue: are our responses appropriate to that which we see around us?

Many discussions amongst church leaders focuses upon the decline in participation of people in the church.  Some will take a view that the church is no longer relevant to the world and society.  Others will say that ‘successful churches’ have compromised the Gospel for the sake of those who are being drawn into the mega-church contemporary styles.  Some will attempt to mimic the ‘success churches,’ even though they have few similar conditions that will be found in another location.

Though we are NOT Jesus, He was able to convey the message of the Kingdom to just one, to a multitude, to what seemed to be the entire city of Jerusalem.  His message was relevant to everyone, everywhere He went; we need a strong relationship to God, to guide us through the storms of life.   This relationship, and the restoration of that relationship through Jesus is the great treasure that Paul speaks of in our text (2 Cor. 4: 7).  Yet, too often we miss the treasure because we are looking at the ‘earthen vessel.’   Has the church (in general) eroded the Gospel treasure to a point where the earthen vessel is now worshipped?  Does the institution of the church mean more that the treasure of Jesus Christ?

In our text (vs. 4) we read that the god of this age has veiled the truth of the Gospel and the treasure of Christ.  “He” is nothing less than Satan, our adversary, the father of lies, who seeks to deceive the world from turning to and committing to the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom of the world and its deception continue to tell us that success is measured by how big, how much, how powerful we can be.  God is taken out of the equation of life and the Truth is removed from life and the pursuit of happiness.  We now listen to the world systems, for who we are and what we should be (or do).  What does God say?

God says that we are His adopted children.  We can (or have) become part of His family, with Jesus as our ‘brother’.  We will become co-heirs with Jesus, as we inherited the Kingdom of Heaven – after death.  God says that we are sinners, with no hope of salvation, except through faith in Jesus, who has paid the debt of our sin, by His death on the cross.  In faith, we are seeing the spiritual truth of who we are: sinners saved by the grace of God, our unmerited favor.

So we now ask ourselves the question: who needs to change?   The only answer is: all of us.  From those who sit in the pews, to those who wander the streets, or would rather be doing anything else than being in the house of God.  We cannot repair the earthen vessel pots with a coat of whitewash paint, if they are flawed or cracked.  We cannot carry the treasure of living water of Jesus in a cracked pot that is leaking, without some repairs.  Which is more important: the earthen vessel or the living treasure that we carry inside the vessel?  If the vessel is cracked (broken), then we must get it repaired (fixed).  Those outside of the church also need to change.  They, too, are people that need the Living Water treasure, but must come with a repaired earthen vessel, or come to the repaired vessel of the church. They must come, seeking the treasure of Christ, that is held by those already redeemed in the church.  They don’t need to come to discover high energy music, or the lights and show of the earthen vessel, they need to come to meet the music of the treasure Jesus, who is the light of the world.

Sunday October 8, 2017
  His Word Stands Forever   
1 Peter 1: 13 – 25

In today’s world, we see the continuous change of history and what is said to “match the climate of opinion of the moment.  I would choose to describe it as situational speech.  The words, the promises have little permanence or meaning, as we move from one crisis to another.  The words that are bandied about are in stark contrast to the permanence of the absolute promises of god that we find in His Word.  Let us call them the ‘forever promises.’  Amongst the many Scriptures of promises, four stand out.  Lamentations 3: 22, 23 tell us His compassion never fails and His mercy is renewed like the morning.  Psalm 103: 11, 12 reminds us that God grows angry, slowly, and is quick to forgive in Love, those who hold reverence for Him.  This is His compassion upon His creation.  2 Chronicles 7: 14 says that He hears our prayers and forgives our sin and heals our hearts and lands.  John 14: 1-6 reminds us that Jesus has promised He will come again to take with Him those who have believed in His salvation.
.   And so, we are challenge by His Word (Matthew 6: 33) to seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and the concerns of the world will be overcome in His love.  This will never change; our priority is to be on the things of God: our prayer, our worship, our study and our faith.
.   From where we began, the Word of the Lord stands forever (1 Peter 1: 25), our purification before God (vs. 22) comes in our obedience to the imperishable truth that He speaks.  This truth is made evident, not is judgment or condemnation, but in the love for one another, deeply and from the heart.

Sunday October 1, 2017
  A Right to be Wrong   
Proverbs 14: 12

I was reading a blog the other day on all of the controversy surrounding the protests over kneeling during the National Anthem in the NFL and other professional sports.  This has also filtered down into collegiate sports and even in a few high school events.  I do have an opinion on the matter, but it is not a pro or con vote for one side or the other.  It is about the “rights” that so many are flinging at each other, and the freedoms that have been ignored.  Our opinions must come out of the absolute rights that have been given to us.  It is not a personal permission or free license to say or do whatever we might choose.  We must divide the rights into the two categories of divinely given rights and human rights.
.   Human rights have been established by governmental powers or judicial minds and commissions.  Though they may have roots in divine rights, they are man-made, and are subject to bias or prejudice.  The problem comes into play when people believe that the human rights are divine rights; especially when they only acknowledge any supreme being when it benefits their cause.
.    At the core of this argument is the choice of wisdoms as described by Paul in I Corinthians 1 (amongst other references).  The wisdom of humanity is folly in the eyes of God.  Our wisdom is prejudiced and imperfect, but the wisdom of God is perfect, unchanging and absolute. It is our task to discern what is God’s wisdom in the matters of life and what is right.
.   God has given us the right of free will and the freedom of choice.  The problem is coming to a place and point of discerning what is divine right and what is human idealism.  One thing is certain, in free will, we may have the right to choose, but we may choose to be wrong.in the eyes of God.  Wouldn’t you rather know the wisdom of God and what is divinely right?

 

Sunday September 10, 2017
  The Sign of Jonah   
Matthew 16: 1 – 4

Another week has come upon us with the mighty forces of nature wreaking havoc upon nations and states, with hurricanes, fires and earthquakes.  We have observed beautiful sunrises and sunsets, because of the “blow-off” smoke from the wildfires.  Is this a sign from God?  Jesus commented in our text about how we read the ‘signs’ in the heavens, the red sunrise or the red sunset; though not mentioned, we might think about the words of Revelation and the “blood moon”, but how should we interpret these things?  Some will talk that these events are the wrath of God against sins of humanity; or the “just” punishment against corruption or greed.  But, what will we do about the innocent people who have become a ‘collateral damage’ of punishment?  Are these truly signs from the heavens, or have we missed the true sign from heaven?
.     There is a sign from heaven that has been given to us, not as a natural disaster, or even an unnatural disaster.  God causes the rain and the sun to fall upon both the good and evil, the righteous and unrighteous. (Matt. 5:45)  The sign that God has given is to be found in His Word and in His Truth.  His desire is that none would perish, but only those who come to Him in repentance and faith will be saved.  The sign of Heaven has come to us in the Living Truth of the Son of God, the only One who can pay the debt of our sins.
.  So, what is the sign of Jonah?  For that we must look back at the Word of God in the life of Jonah.  though we typically think of Jonah in the belly of the fish, and the sign that points to Jesus in the tomb for 3 days, the sign of Jonah is about the character and heart of Jonah.  In Chapter 2 we find the prayer of Jonah in his deep distress.  Here he comes to realize, in the depths of his despair, it is God who is in control.  He remembers that the Lord is God and that our prayers are lifted up to His Holiness, seeking grace that is only found in His Love.  It is too bad that Jonah missed the sign, himself, as his contempt for Nineveh returned and he waited outside the city for the wrath of God to be poured out.  Jonah was so focused upon the sins of others that he failed to realize the sins of his own life.  See Jesus warning in Matt 7: 3-5 as God’s warning to us.

Sunday September 3, 2017
  Responding to our future   
Matthew 20: 17 – 23

Hurricane Harvey has come across southern and southeastern states with a wide path of destruction.  The death toll continues to rise as relief efforts are beginning.  The cost of restoration is above $100 billion and will take years to approach normalcy.  Like hurricane Katrina, there are people who are claiming that it is the wrath of God and judgment against sin that brought the horrible destruction.  Do they have some special insight that has granted them this special knowledge?
Jesus spoke to the disciples and others gathered in plain language what His own future would bring.  It was of death and suffering, but not as a judgment against Him, but in recognition of God’s plan.  He claimed no special privilege or exemptions, only obedience to God’s will that would lead Him to the throne of God and the inauguration of the Kingdom.
.     James and John’s mother wanted special privilege for her sons, seeking the positions of power in the New Kingdom.  Jesus reply was to ask if they knew the cost of this request.  “Can you drink the cup” of sacrifice, of suffering and of death? Do you know the cost of engaging in this spiritual war that will continue until God says: “No more”? (Luke14: 25-33)
.     We are called to follow Jesus in God’s plan for our lives.  It may not be the identical path that Jesus walked, but as believers and disciples we need to accept God’s plan that He continues to open before us.  We accept His plan despite the wants of our lives.  God does not give us a “golden parachute” that opens our life to prosperity or pleasure.  The Gospel that Jesus proclaimed was not and is not a prosperity of possession gospel, but a prosperity of the Spirit (Matt. 6: 19, 20).Jesus accepted the will and plan of The Father with humility.  If we continue beyond the text, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a beast of burden, a donkey, not on the white charger of political or military power.  Humbly, with bowed heads, we seek to do and live God’s will.
.     As Jesus, we are asked to accept a life of service to the Kingdom.  We serve, not to gain position or power, but in obedience to the Lord, just as Jesus said in Matthew 20: 28, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

 

 

Sunday August 27, 2017
  Heart Commands   
Romans  8: 1 – 8

This past week the desires of the heart became quite evident with the 3/4 of a billion  dollar jackpot in the lottery.  All the hopes ad wishes of what could be done with that amount of money, even after taxes, was astounding.  How many of those who thought they might be a winner said that they would give much of the money to the church or to God, as if to justify their greed?  Who is in command of the desires of our heart?  Paul would say it is one of two options.  The first is what nature desires.  We want for our comfort, our pleasure, or new found power that wealth might bring.  Even though we may seek to justify ourselves by our good works, the heart is still driven by desires that may be described as lust, covetness or greed.
In contrast, the heart that is the dwelling place of God is obedient to the commands of the Holy Spirit.  It speaks and acts out of Godly love, compassion, generosity and obedience.

The command of our heart will always ‘live out’ the consequences of our desires.  Careful examination of our desires opens to discovery where our attention and where our heart is (see Matthew 6: 19-21).

In Romans 8: 5 – 8 we find the core of the matter.  Our hearts and minds are set on what is in control of our life.  The mind that is controlled by the Spirit of God and is submissive to God’s command, is at peace with life and God.  But, if our life is under the control of sinful nature, it is impossible to please God, and we become enemies of God.  Who is in command of our heart?

Sunday August 20, 2017
  The Wisdom of Silence   
Amos 5: 13 – 18

The current news is most distressing.  It is distressing for man reasons.  We grieve the loss of life, we grieve the anger and animosity that permeates our society. Yet, we fail to focus upon solutions and resolutions to the hated and violence in a way that answers the question of “What Would Jesus Do?”  Ecclesiastes 3 speaks through the heart of Solomon with words of futility and hopelessness: ” a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time for peace; a time to tear and a time to mend; a time to be silent and a time to speak.”  Have we forgotten the time to be silent?  Is it a time to mourn or a time for peace?  The internet has “blown up” with all of the commentaries and both real and fake ‘news’ to join the showboat of opinion about someone else.  Yes, there is a time to speak, but there is also a time to be silent.
.     Amongst all of the voices, who speaks with the purity and holiness of God?  Have we forgotten the words of Jesus that are found in John 8:7 chastising the Jewish leaders for their willingness to condemn the woman, without first looking at their own sins?  Are the voices that shout the loudest speaking of justice, or do they speak out of the guilt of their own sins?  But, let us be careful to not make this a matter of legalism; let us make this a matter of divine compassion and justice; a matter of our own forgiveness in our relationship with Christ.
.    For Elijah, (I Kings 19) it was in his silence and humility that he hears the still, small voice of God.  In the times of our personal solitude, we have the opportunity to listen for that voice of God, to await the cleansing (Isaiah 6) and purifying of God, so that our voice will speak the Holy Truth, and not our human bias.  Amos rose up in that God-given Holiness to condemn the sin and corruption and call the people to seek good – the things of God, with the hope and prayer that God’s mercy and love will fall upon all of us and His Creation.

Sunday August 13, 2017
  The Purpose of Worship   
1 Chronicles 16: 23 – 31

I was recently watching a British television series, where the main character went to a Quaker (Friends) meeting house during their worship.  Without a word spoken one person and then another and the whole gathering rose and left the meeting.  They had completed their worship without hymn, Scripture or prayer.  Yet, they had worshipped with bible in hand, heads bowed in prayer and a listening ear for the nudging of the Spirit.  In the 1950’s A.W. Tozer wrote that church members “want to be entertained while they are edified.” Would we attend church if the only attraction was God? If the screens and stage were gone; if the pulpit  and A/C were missing, would that be enough for God’s people to gather?
.     Today, as we look around us, we are living in a multi-tasking world.  The radio is on while we do our work; the television is on, while we check emails and social media; we engage in ‘conversation’ while doing something else. Is it possible to focus our attention solely upon one thing, without some form of distraction?  Some people have said that silence in the church is the most troubling time that we experience; particularly in times of prayer.  What is the focus of our worship, and what have we determined is most meaningful for those few minutes of the week when we are together?
.     Worship is equally and Biblically defined as service, to serve the Lord with gladness (Ps. 100).  It is the singular focus upon the worth-ship of the triune God.  Paul (in Romans 12: 1 [International Standard Version]) describes it as offering our bodies as living sacrifices as a reasonable way for you to worship.  The Chronicler describes worship a singing to the Lord, proclaiming His salvation, declaring His glory and His marvelous deeds.  We are called to worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness (1 Chron. 16).  Our worship is to be in the awesome presence of the Lord God Almighty and give Him the honor glory and praise.
.    Our worship and service is the reasonable expression to God of what has been done for us by Jesus Christ, our Savior.  It is not about the show, or the ‘entertainment’ of the time spent in the building, it is about the enriching of our soul, because we have known the presence of God, despite the sermon, the songs or the distractions that come our way.

Sunday August 6, 2017
  Living a Blameless Life   
Philippians 1: 3 – 11

Have you ever heard the phrase: “an attitude of gratitude”?  I have used it a time or two, with the intent of boosting the emotional moment of easily shared complaints.  There are times in each of our lives when the crises or struggles of the moment can overwhelm us and it just spills over with criticism, complaint or even anger.  The moments of saying that I want to be the master of my own destiny seem to be first and foremost on our mind.  Yet, it is not always possible.  I have seen many people, who place their own interests, their own satisfying pleasures, their own destiny ahead of anything and everything else.  They desire to “feel good” and grab for all of ‘life’s gusto’ while leaving behind that which satisfies the soul, that which holds greater concern for others and for God to chase after their own dreams.

Several years ago (1981), Richard Dreyfuss starred in the film: “Who’s life is it anyway?” [based upon the play of the same name] where a quadriplegic chooses to end his life, but only with the help of others.  Who is in control of their life?  To whom does our life belong? These were underlying questions of the play/movie.  Today, the church must also ask itself how and to whom will we live our life?

We can live our life for ourselves.  We can make everything about “me.” We grab for the ‘brass ring’ of the merry-go-round, expecting that we will receive a great or grand prize.  Yet, the brass ring will eventually tarnish, or the prize will soon become worn or broken.

We can choose to live our life for God.  We can pray and study; we can isolate ourselves from the world around us; we can do any multitude of things for God, but it is not enough.  This can be a short step away from believing that we can earn our salvation through the works of our hands and of our lives.

Or, we can take on the life of Christ.  His commitment was to the Father God.  His life was lived in obedience to God, but it went further.  He lived for others; and He died for others.  It was not about His own ‘self’ – as we remember His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “not my will, but Your’s be done.” (Luke 22: 42)  In that life and His sacrifice for others, for the sake of the world, not only in that moment, but from the past and into the future, Jesus gave Himself to others.  Read through Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

This was also the life of Paul.  His life was seen as a partnership with god and with others.  What was begun in the life of the church in Philippi, with the hearts transformed to hearts of faith, Paul desired that the moments of initial transformation and of growing salvation would continue.  What he began in the evangelism of one city was to continue.  What he demonstrated in compassion and missionary zeal was to expand and grow deeper in their relationship to Christ.  Is that true for us, or have we become stuck somewhere in living life for “me?”

Instead, take the words of Paul (and of God) that we be filled with God’s goodness and the love of Christ for those who have lost their focus.  Allow your life to be filled with the righteousness that is found only and exclusively in Jesus Christ, as we live in obedience to God and for the sake of others.

 

Sunday July 30, 2017
The Values of God
Psalm 42: 1 – 4; 11

There are many different currencies throughout the world, and now there is even an internet currency called bit-coins, where purchases and trades can be made in this electronic currency in ways that are beyond my understanding.  I like to look at the money that is exchanged, the dollars, the coins, for the tangible objects that are received in exchange.  But, there is a coinage of life that is in existence in a completely different realm that cannot be directly seen, but often the results are experienced and can be noted.  This is the Spiritual coinage of God.  The ‘commodity’ of God cannot be quantified or given a specific value, but the resources of God and the resources of heaven are limitless and unimaginable.

The value of God in the universe and in our lives is a little bit like the bit coin, because we do not see it in the exchange.  Our Spiritual coinage can be described as fruit (Gal. 5: 14) individualized as love, joy peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And our Spiritual coinage can be described as a resource, like (John 4: 10) living water, or (in parable Matt. 13: 45, 46) a pearl of great price.  The psalmist (of the exile – sons of Korah) described it as a stream of water that the soul seeks and desires.

The coinage of the Spirit is a matter of “heart value.” The value of God is found in the soul, not in what He does for us, or what He gives to us.  The values of God are found in what is done WITHIN our hearts.  Is there transformation, or change of focus?  Is there a renewed sense of what is right in God’s standards?  The psalmist, in his distress and sorrow [is this a word written before the rebuilding of the Temple?] could remember through his lament, the days of old, when the people (the multitude) would go in procession up to the house of God, with great joy, and with thanksgiving, in a festal procession.  Music, singing, dancing were all part of these great times; for on that day, the heart was filled with the Spiritual coinage of all that God is a great God and greatly to be praised (Ps. 48: 1 KJV).  Praises come from the heart.  The heart is the spiritual center of our being; and our heart can supersede the mind and the body.

Yet, the psalmist felt alone, despised and rejected (vs. 9).  Those who mocked him, those who heaped their scorn upon him torn at his heart strings with a melody of discord, as they taunted him with the questions of where is God in the midst of the ruin of the Temple.  The psalmist asks of God and of himself: “why are you downcast, why are you so disturbed within?”

There is a saying that describes the knowledge of one another in this way: “familiarity breeds contempt.”  Is knowing more about each other, or even God, bringing a spirit of contempt to our hearts?  Consider (at a later time) the situation of Jonah, how he “knew” that God would relent against his promise to destroy Ninevah, because the people repented of their sin.  Has our familiarity with God brought an arrogance to our hearts, because we think that we can know the mind of God?  And then, when God does not act (perform) as we expect, the joy of our salvation and the thanksgiving of our heart is pushed aside, for the complaint and distrust of anything that God is doing or preparing to do.  (Is. 43: 19)

Our familiarity with God should bring us to this word of hope that He is beginning to do a new and great thing amongst all of Creation.  Our familiarity with God should not bring contempt, but the value of God for our lives.  It is as the latter part of text (vs. 11): our hope is in God (not horse, not chariots, not other men/warriors, or leaders) Ps. 118: 8,9.  We give Him all of the praise, because He alone is our Savior and God.

Sunday July 23, 2017
   Kingdom Identity   
Matthew 13: 24 – 33

Jesus said several times in Matthew’s Gospel that “the kingdom of heaven/God is like….”  Yet, do we identify ourselves with the Kingdom, or have we pledged our loyalty to the King?  Our Kingdom identity begins with definitions.  The definition of who WE are in the Kingdom.  [Do we think that we are the king?]  It begins with the unique Biblical understanding that we are the creation of our Creator, God.  He has created us in His image and not the reverse – we create God in the image of our mind.

We then define the hierarchy of the Kingdom.  Do we belong to the King, or are we independent agents of our own little kingdom? To think that we can or do possess our own little fiefdom (kingdom) is to change our initial understanding that we are the created, as God remains the Creator.  We have become no better than Satan Himself, as he attempted to consider himself equal with God. (See Gen. 3 and the temptation.)

If we accept that we are the creation, and we are the subjects of the King (God) then we can define our role in the Kingdom.  We are first called as stewards/caretakers of the resources that God has created.  Second we are His servants and He is our Master.  There is an expected obedience to His call and command.  And third, we are adopted into the Family of God as His children and co-heirs with Christ Jesus, the Son of God.

And so, as we define WHO we are, we must also define how the Kingdom lives within our lives.  Here we come to our text, today.  In Matthew 13 we see the definitions that Jesus offers in parable.  First, we are sown as good, but evil is also sown into life.  God casts good and pure spiritual seeds in our hearts, that they might grow and reproduce in life.  But Satan (or evil) is also sown upon our hearts.  When the seeds germinate and are small, it is difficult to tell the difference, but when evil is identified, it is too late to uproot that evil from our life, to erase it from our being.  Jesus says that the time will come when evil and good will be cut down in the harvest, and THEN, evil will be separated out and cast off into the fire to be destroyed.  We live our life in Christ, rooted and watered in Him, while evil is amongst us in life.  We cannot avoid it or eliminate it, but we can still grow in our God-given purpose, if we trust in Him.

Second, Jesus says that the kingdom is like a mustard seed.  A seed of faith that over time, grows deeper in roots and taller in stature.  It produces its own fruit, and becomes a safe harbor for even the creatures of God’s creation.  So, grow your faith in the King and Kingdom.

A third parable of the Kingdom is of yeast in the bread.  This parable shifts from when Jesus calls leavening (of the Pharisees) to be evil.  It is a focus of action.  A small amount of leavening (yeast) causes the whole loaf to rise, if it is thoroughly worked through the dough.  For the action of the King and Kingdom in OUR lives to take place, we must knead the dough, working the Spirit through all of our living, in all that we do, so that the loaf may rise and be of spiritual nutritious value.

Not just one of the three, but all three need to be present in our lives today: perseverance in the face of evil; faith that continues to grow; from inside to outside, a life that is filled with the Spirit of the King and Kingdom.  Is that true?   Will you live it?  Have you committed yourself to the Kingdom?

 

Sunday July 16, 2017
   A Matter of Discipline   
Matthew 14: 22 – 33

At first glance of the title, you might think that today’s message is about judgment and punishment.  However, it is just the opposite.  It is about the grace and mercy of God that is discovered through our focused attention.  In our text, Jesus sends the disciples away and then dismisses the crowd that had gathered around him.  He then goes up to the high place or mountain to pray.  The sun had nearly set as he looked out over the Sea of Galilee and noticed the disciples struggling to make their destination because of the wind and waves.  Yet, He continues in prayer with His Heavenly Father.  This continues late into the night, until he comes to the disciples in the fourth watch (after 3 am.).  Why had he spent so much time in prayer when He knew that the disciples were struggling?
.   First, we look at the conditions that He had set for this time alone with God.  He needed to get away from the din of the crowd and the persistent dependence of the disciples.  Their demands of His human attention were a hindrance to giving His full and complete attention to God.    Second, we find in Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Mt. 6:6) that when we pray, we are to not only enter into the private/quiet place, but we are to intimately know the presence of God.  Prayer is not a voice mail left for the other person to respond in the future, it is the close presence of the God of the Universe in our conversation.  Third, we are to engage ourselves in the conversation.  Devotional prayer is not the oration or monologue of our wants and wishes, it is the listening and talking with God.
.    Then, as we move beyond the story of Peter walking on water, Jesus raises the question of faith and doubt.  If our prayers are a time of laying our burdens at the feet of God, then why do we pick them up again?  Where is the faith that God has heard us and will respond according to His perfect will.  [This can mean that His answer to us is “no.”]  Our faith tells us that He is and always will be in control of our lives, not overburdening us, or tempting us beyond what measures we are capable of resisting.  If we have faith, we will trust in Him, that He is doing, or allowing circumstances in our own lives for our own good, because He loves us and cares about us each and every day.
.    Our task and challenge is to discipline ourselves in the ways of God.  We bear the responsibility for the actions of our lives, and will discipline our self in faith and obedience to God’s Word.  The disciples failed to discipline their meager faith to trust in Jesus in the circumstances they faced.

Sunday July 9, 2017
   And In Conclusion…   
Ecclesiastes 12: 11 – 14

Solomon (the presumed writer of Ecclesiastes) has gone through a lot of ‘stuff’ that seems to be depressing and fatalistic. You might even describe this time as Solomon’s Great Depression.  It comes as today’s hour-long editorials that only offer complaint and blame for the situations we face.  Where is the hope; where is the opportunity for change?  We have all of this information, but where will it lead us?  There are well-over 100 years of weather statistics, but they will not predict what the temperature will be tomorrow.  There is Too Much Information (TMI).  So what should we do?

Solomon offers us the wisdom of the matter in the last 2 verses.  He offers a conclusion to the overwhelming stack of comments, criticisms and complaints.  It comes to us in 3 points:  Fear God.  A simple thought, but excessively profound.  Respect and revere God for who He is and what He has done.  No more, no less.
.    Then keep His commandments.  Don’t think that we can do it better, because we can’t.  Don’t make your life the exception to God’s rules, you will get caught and face God’s judgment.  Don’t think that God does not know what you are doing, because He does.  Don’t think that the ‘little white lie’ won’t make a difference, because it does, both to others and to God.
.    Finally, accept that God has a specific and particular calling for you.  Solomon describes it as “the whole duty of man.”  Do what you are supposed to do, according to God’s command and calling.  If God calls you to be a trash collector, do it to the best of your ability.  If God has called you into politics, may God bless you; but, serve for the sake and compassion for others, as Jesus had compassion of the weak and helpless.  Serve seeking justice and say and do what is righteous, for God is the eternal and righteous judge who will bring each and every word and deed of our life and heart into His judgment.

Sunday July 2, 2017
   Before It’s Too Late   
Ecclesiastes 12: 1 – 5

This week, during the Bible Reading Marathon, I had the opportunity to read through most of Jeremiah.(40 of the 52 chapters).  Though some was a difficult read, Going through it at one stretch, I found the repetition of the message, and a message that can apply itself to today’s message.  It is a call to take action and make changes from the world’s perspective; return to the Lord and obey His command, as He prepares the Land of Promise for our lives.
.     The text for today is a call to remembrance; the remembrance of the birth of a nation and its desire to be dependent upon the Creator.  It is the remembrance of a Savior, who gave His life for the soul freedoms we have.  It is the opportunity to pause and remember and to think about the things of God.  The things we remember from our youth, and the lessons from parents and grandparents; the lessons from Sunday School teachers and Pastors; the lessons from those who taught us about life.  We pause to remember the God of our salvation, our Savior who has brought forgiveness and eternal life to be a part of our life.  We remember the cost of our redemption, a price that was not paid b our labor, blood or treasures; a price paid by Jesus, as He gave up His life in the glory of heaven, to die on a cross for our sake. We remember the only God of eternity.  He gives to us eternal life, in exchange for our faith and trust in Him.
.     The condition of the world and our nation and our neighborhoods today bring fear to our hearts. The writer of Ecclesiastes describes the fear of a world, where the sun grows dark and the stars no longer shine; where our labors cease for fear of evil.  Even nature itself “feels” the weight of sin, evil and corruption.
.       But, we are called to remember.  Not to remember the ‘good old days’ but to remember the One who made the days good.  Remember the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.  Remember the wholeness of life and spirit, and the honest labors of our hand, to provide for the needs of others.  Remember Him, today, before we return to the dust from which we were formed, before the spirit is taken from this body in return to the Lord.

Sunday June 25, 2017
   Pressing On for the Lord   
Haggai 1: 1 – 7

Our Wednesday Bible Study has been working on the Book of Daniel, and I was interested in how many other associated prophecies are part of that book.  Though there is a lack of clarity of some of the names (particularly that of Darius), they contemporaries of Daniel write of similarities regarding the Temple restoration and the restoration of Jerusalem, and the “Holy One” which we understand as the coming Messiah, Jesus.  Haggai’s prophecy comes during the reign of Darius.  The Lord speaks to him with authority, judgment and hope.  Is this the same Darius who had Daniel thrown in the lion’s den?  Is Darius an alternate name for Cyrus, or is he associated with the rulers who let the people return to Jerusalem?  During their period of exile, Judah (and Israel) that remained in the promised land had gone into survival mode.  They looked at taking care of themselves, first, and left the city and the Temple alone.  Now this is understandable, as they had been left with little or nothing to live upon.  Even the soil and weather was uncooperative (or was it God’s judgment?).  There was a shortage of food, but the crops that they had were consumed by the wealthy or powerful, and the people and God had little or none.
.        Their complaints to the Lord drowned out the quiet Word of God and hearing the priorities of God.  The people said we have needs, but failed to observe the spiritual needs of God.  Is that our situation today?  I found it to politically interesting that people were protesting in the halls of Congress and in media advertising over Medicare and Medicaid cuts in a proposed draft of the health care bill that had not even been released or published.  Are we talking and complaining so loudly, that we not only cannot hear what God has to say, but we are unable to see what God is already doing?
.    In verse 7 we find the wisdom of God’s Word:  “Give careful thought to your ways.”  This is important enough to be heard/said a second time in Hag. 2: 15.  Are we giving careful consideration to our lives and livelihood?  Even when we see what God is doing in the hearts and minds of many, our “contact” with the world and its corruption defiled us from coming into the holy presence of the Lord.  Instead, we should seek holiness in our lives.  (Hebrews 12: 1, 2) Throw off the hindrances and the sin that entangles us; fix our eyes on Jesus as He perfects our life in whatever condition it may be.  (Levit. 20: 26) Be holy as the Lord is Holy; as God’s people we are His sheep, His joy and His hope.

Sunday June 18, 2017
   Knowing the Father   
John 17: 1 – 5

It is difficult to choose a Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day message that speaks to everyone.  The reality of life says that there are some pretty poor fathers and mothers out there in the world today who are not Godly examples of what it means to be a good parent.  So with this in mind, let us consider the parent (Father) of God for our lives.  Let’s go beyond the language barriers, as we look at the attributes of God, whom Jesus called “His Father.”
.     First, we discover that God is a giving Father.  Genesis 1: 28 – 30  describes that at the completion of Creation, He has given to all of humanity the resources of this world to utilize (with good stewardship) for all generations.  This requires wisdom on our part, so that the resources may be used for good, and for the benefit of all, both present and future.
.     Second, we see God as the guiding Father.  In Exodus 13: 21, 22,  God is seen as the pillar of cloud and flame, visible both day and night.  He leads the Hebrew people to the places of benefit.  His guiding presence is also a protecting presence in the exodus from Egypt.  When Israel found themselves in trouble, it was because of their disobedience in following God.
.   Third, God is a loving Father.  In Psalm 130: 7, 8 describes God’s love not simply as a temporary, “when I feel like it” love; His love is unfailing and filled with forgiveness, redemption, mercy and hope.
.     Finally, we come to the point of acknowledging God as “our” Father.  Romans 8: 17 describes the faithful and redeemed as heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ.  We are given the right of calling God OUR Father, the perfect Father.  Though we may share in the sufferings, as Christ did, we will share in the glory of the resurrected Christ.  We open our hearts, lives and conversation to and with God, even as Jesus left the example of prayer in Matthew 6: 9-13.

Sunday June 11, 2017
   Satan’s Lies   
John 8: 42 – 47

Today marks the traditional day of recognition as “Children’s Day.”  We think of how trusting these youngster can be, accepting of whatever adults may tell them, even if it is fictitious or an out-right lie.  IS it also true that as children of God, we can be easily deceived by the fiction or lies that Satan plants in our minds?  Our text today calls Satan the father of all lies, and later in 1 Peter 5: 8, Satan is described as a roaring lion, seeking to devour its prey.  Now the lion roars in the distance, for the effect of power and territory.  When the lion is close to its prey, it is silent and stalks its victim.  Satan is no different.  He stalks us with the whispers and lies of his own making, so that we might be drawn away from the safety of the sheepfold of God.  We hear the distant roar, and fear may chase us from the security that God provides.
.     Satan whispers in our ear messages of deception.  His lie that he told Eve in the Garden brought death to humanity and expulsion from the perfect garden of Eden.  (Genesis 3)  He whispers to us and casts doubt in our redemption and salvation.  He spreads a question before us that we are unworthy of the love of God.  His words of doubt say that we have no power, no authority in today’s world; we are simply the pawns of the ‘system’ of the world.  Yet, we fail to realize that this world is the domain of Satan.
.  Satan sets a ‘bug’ in our ears to desire more, to demand more, to expect more from a world that is not a part of the realm of God.  He sets in our hearts the desires to have what belongs to others, to have what we have not earned, to center our lives around possessions.  This breaks the 10th Commandment (Exodus 20: 17) as we want more and more.
.     Returning to our text, we are to listen to God, Jesus and the Spirit for what is right and true.  We need to be in the totality of God’s Word so that we will not be deceived by Satan’s lies.  Our hope, our strength, our well-being is directly connected to our obedience to the Lord, if only we would listen and not try to “out-think” what God is saying.to us.

Sunday June 4, 2017
 What a Delight!  
Psalm 37: 1 – 7

I don’t know if it is a matter of aging, wisdom, or some other issue, but it seems that the world condition leads us t greater worries.  Our instant communication venues put the “breaking news” at the forefront of knowledge and attention.  Do we really need to know each and every fact of what is internationally happening?  Because it comes into our living rooms or on our smart phones, does that mean that there is imminent danger for our lives?  Now we do need to be aware of what is happening in the world, so that we can make it a part of our prayer concern, but does God expect us to ignore the concerns of our communities and families, so that we might pray for God’s intervention on an island of the southern Philippines?  With all of the information and news that surrounds us, will we let worry consume us, or depress us?
.     The Psalmist David was in a difficult time, with his world’s evil gaining upon the nation.  But, instead of allowing worry to consume him, he calls for two actions that are part of our reading today.  First, we are to trust in the Lord.  Do not allow doubt to overshadow the power of God.  Our faith and trust in what God is doing and allowing to happen should draw us closer to Him.   And then, do good (the Godly things).  This will bring joy in your service.
.     Then we are called to “delight yourself in the Lord.”  This is a different charge for our lives.  What does it mean to delight in the Lord?  Matthew Henry describes it this way: “to know, and love, and live to God, to please Him and to be pleased in Him.”  We are to find peace in that joyous relationship with our Creator and Sustainer of life and soul.  What a delight, to know that god loves us, and He cares about us and our welfare.  When our hope and joy are first in the Lord, we will find that what we truly need will be found or given.  The world will never satisfy the longings of the heart, but our delight in in God’s way.

Sunday May 28, 2017
 A Whole New World  
Revelation 21: 1 – 7

After a couple weeks away from the pulpit, we are squarely in the middle of the Memorial Day Weekend.  Some describe this as the un-official start of summer, some may remember this as Decoration Day, while others have made this a second Veteran’s Day.  With the end of World War II, many thought that this would be a new beginning for the world.  As the war had touched the lives or virtually everyone on the planet, it was to be that new world of hope.  The brass quartet played the Largo movement from Dvoriak’s New World Symphony (no. 9) with the melodic and sometimes haunting sound of that new world, that inspires the words of the song “Going Home.”
.     It is a time to remember, not just those who gave their life in military service, but to remember the One who gave His life, that we could find ours and to sing the song of going to our heavenly home.  We remember the promise of John 14 that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, and that He will come again to take the faithful to be with Him forever.
.     We are moving onward, from the old to the new.  We are moving towards the new heaven and new earth, where the old is no more.  It is a totally new world with God at the center, where Jesus is the light that illuminates all that is good, holy and pure.  (Rev. 21:5) These are true and trustworthy words; a promise that will not be broken.  There will be the place of eternal joy, the pains of this earth will be gone.  The sorrows and disappointments that we have known will be forgotten.  We will be filled with the Living Water and the Bread of Life.
.    Yet, this inheritance will not be know during our lifetime.  We are called to overcome the adversities with faith and with hope.  We must set aside the notions that the people of this world can “fix” the problems that we face.  We must accept that there may be “a thorn of the flesh” that will not be removed from our life in this world.  We will look to the New World, the glories of heaven, endeavoring for the Kingdom and King each day until He comes again.

Sunday May 7, 2017
 Recognizing Jesus  
Luke 24: 25 – 32

Throughout our lives we end up searching.  The young child searches for presents or candy.  The youth may search for a job or friends. In our old age, we search for car keys or reading glasses.  But, the disciples were searching for truth and new realities after the crucifixion.  They were searching for Jesus, amidst the reports of His resurrection.  Yet, they were unaware of the very presence of Jesus as they walked along the road to Emmaus.
.    Though they spoke to Jesus, they failed to recognize Him.  They told their sad tale of the hopes that were dashed by His crucifixion.  They bemoaned the word of the women, that Jesus was alive, but, as yet, unseen.  There was no mention of faith, or believing what Jesus had taught them; it was a list of negatives.  Does that sound familiar?  When things go “wrong” according to our ideas, how fast are we to complain or even blame others for the situations we face?  How quickly we forget that God is always in control and what we may consider to be “God’s plan” is in reality, our plan.  We forget the words of Romans 8: 28.
.   When life seems to be going in directions that we might not want, we begin to get ‘cold feet.’  We question the wisdom of God, or the timing of God because of what we experience.  But when these two disciples urged the hospitality to this fellow travelling stranger, to eat the bread of the Passover week with him, they quickly saw Jesus for themselves.  Oh, how this warmed their hearts, and it warmed their feet as well.  They rose up from the table, in the late hour of the day and hurried back to Jerusalem (some 7 miles by foot in the dark) to tell the others.  In their encounter with the risen Lord, the dangers of the journey were no longer a concern.  The sorrows of the crucifixion were left behind.  The truth and reality of all that Jesus said and all that Jesus is lifted them to heights of joy.

 

Sunday April 9, 2017
 The Grafted Vine  
John 15: 1 – 8

Horticulture offers the basis for what Paul writes in Romans11 about grafting branches onto trees and root stock.  The desired branch is grafted onto the root stock and it will produce transformed results in the fruit.  Though Jesus did not specify the grafting process, it is implied in His discourse of John 15.  In the vineyard of God, Jesus is the vine, or root stock.  In verse 6, Jesus specifically states that He is the vine and we are the branches, the grafted branches.  So, what is the meaning of Jesus as the vine?        He is the source of the nourishing  of the branches and moves the nutrients of the soil (of God’s creation) to the branches so that they will bear fruit.
.     But, as the branches, we must remember that we have been grafted onto the vine.  We have been attached at the cutting (piercing) of the vine to grow and produce fruit.  It is not an immediate production of fruit, but over a period of time, the vine grows and will sustain the production of fruit.  It is not a matter of our own choice, but the realization that the vinedresser (God) has deliberately chosen us and grafted us to Jesus.
.     The critical and crucial factor of this union of grafting is whether we choose to be sustained by the vine.  Unlike the vines of the vineyard, as humans, we have the choice of connection.  God can connect us to our Savior, Jesus, but it is only when we choose to grow and thrive on the vine, that we will come to the point of bearing fruit.  We are challenged to abide (to be knit together) with Jesus to find the sustenance that will help us to grow, to endure through the storms of life and to bear fruit.

Sunday April 2, 2017
 The Package Deal  
John 14: 6 – 11

For many, it is counter-cultural to live our life independently.  They become accustomed to a dependency upon others, or even one.  This might be described as a co-dependency.  But there will come a time in our life when we will be utterly dependent upon one person, and that is Jesus.  As we stand at the entrance of eternity and are asked if we are worthy of entrance before God’s Holiness, our answer will be dependent upon Jesus response to our faith.  Will He say: yes I know this person and their faith, or will He say I do not know them? (Mt. 7: 21-23)
.  Jesus explained in John 14 that to know Him is to know the Father, because He and God are one.  God is seen in two forms, but they are one and the same.  This great mystery has confounded many throughout the centuries, mainly because they cannot explain it.  Jesus does not ask us to explain our Trinitarian theology, but simply asks us to believe in Him, t have faith.  It is to trust what He has said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, except through Him.  This is our dependence.
.   We are to change our perspective and our independence for a new reality.  We are dependent for eternity (our place in heaven) upon Jesus.  He is real, and the new reality of absolute Truth.  It is so absolute that He is the personification of Truth.  All that He says and all that He does is true and right.
.  He is the new reality of Life.  Not just in eternal life, but in our life today.  He is Life.  Life means growth, transformation, even metamorphosis.  He is Servant and King, Savior and Lord.  His is the embodiment of Life, even in His death.
.   And, He is the Way.  It was not by chance that the early church people were called Followers of the Way, even before they were known as Christians.  Jesus is leading the way to heaven and eternity with God, and He is the means of our entrance to heaven.

Sunday March 26, 2017
 The Special Night Light
        John 9: 35 – 41

Children will often want a nightlight in their bedroom to chase away the imaginary ‘monsters’ that invade their sleep and dreams.  But, God has come to us as a Light to dispel the darkness of evil and sin (John 1:5).  Jesus is that Light; just as he said: (John 8: 12; 9:5) “I am the Light of the world.”  To follow Him is to have that Light and to see by that Light.  The darkness cannot dispel the Light, only the Light will cast out, overcome, or dispel the darkness of evil.
.    We are given the opportunity of choice; whether it is to live in the Light or remain in the darkness of sin and evil.  It is only with the presence of the Light that the darkness is overcome.  While some will choose to live in the darkness, to embrace evil and corruption, it will only be in the choice of inviting the Light into our lives that we will see the realities of evil, sin and corruption.
.    John 9: 39 says that Jesus has come for judgment.  It is not that He comes to punish any or all who stand against Him, but He comes to discern between those who are in the Light and those who stand in darkness.  He offers us the opportunity and ability of choice.  There will be those who are blinded by the Light.  The Pharisees (most but not all) were blinded by the Law of Moses and could not see the Light of truth who is the Son of God.  They could see the command of God, and as they knew the Word of the prophets, they could see the promise of the Messiah, but when Jesus came to them, they were blinded and could not see that God was there, in person, with them.   It takes the Light of the world t see the truth of God’s desire for humanity, and our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Sunday March 19, 2017
 The Gateway of Eternity
        John 10: 1 – 10

Our thoughts today turn to our desire for righteousness.  Whether good or evil, saved or lost, we look towards the rewards of heaven.  But there is a door that blocks entrance to that reward.  The thief knows that it is impossible to get in through the guarded doorway, so he attempts entry over the walls.  It is a futile effort to steal what is inside.  But, the gentle sheep, the obedient sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice and follow his command, and will freely go in and out of the sheepfold as they  follow the master.
.   The shepherd not only leads the sheep to green pastures and still waters, the shepherd becomes the door at the entrance of the sheepfold.  The shepherd protects the sheep within the fold and keeps that which is not of the flock out.
.     John 10 tells us that Jesus is the Shepherd who is the gateway to heaven.  The sheep know His voice and are to follow Him both in and out of the fold.  When the sheep are in the fold, then he will protect the sheep and no one can snatch them from Him.
.     The Shepherd calls the sheep to enter the fold and receive of the great blessing of the eternal reward.  Because He is the way of entry and the means of entry, we must listen to His call and command.

Sunday March 12, 2017
 The Divine Feast
 John 6: 32 – 40

Are you hungry?  The people had heard of Jesus feeding 5,000 with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, and inquired when Jesus had arrived – was it meal time?  There was a similarity of hunger and complaint as the Hebrew children were on their great exodus from Egypt.  Yet, they did not remember that the manna lasted only one day, and their dependence upon God for the provision of bread was daily.  Jesus replied that the bread of life (Himself) was sufficient for the hunger of their lives, for their hunger was not in their bellies, but their hearts.
.    We have a need to be full (satiated).  Yes, there are times that we physically hunger, but we have a spiritual hunger for truth, meaning and purpose.  Filling this emptiness comes first in belief.  The Son of God has come to earth, to be the bread of life, which is sufficient to stop our hunger.  In the finer restaurants, when you are seated at the table, they will bring you a basket of bread and a glass of water.  These stop the pangs of hunger until the full feast arrives.  Jesus is the bread, who also provides the bonus of being the living water (John 4: 10) that will also quench our thirst.
.   Yet, we must wait for the main course, as Jesus described in the parable of Luke 14: 16.  Yet, Jesus requires obedience to His command in order to experience the great main course.  We must be patient until that day, when the banquet hall is opened.  But, we can be satisfied with the bread and water of today.

Sunday March 5, 2017
Who do WE say He is?
Matthew 16: 13 – 19

Jesus put this question to the disciples as they had gone to Caesarea Philippi: Who do people say the Son of Man is?  The disciples responded with various answers, but Jesus pressed them further with the question: who do YOU say I am?  What is your personal opinion of me (Jesus)?  Peter’s response was that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  It was a shocking revelation to come from Peter, the same one who (in 15: 16) was described by Jesus with the question: “Are you still so dull?”

And still, we are asked the question: what is Jesus to you?  Who is it that leads your life?  Some may think that we are no better than the bull with the ring in his nose, led wherever the farm desires with the rope or chain attached to the nose ring.  Others may say that no one will lead us about in our life.  I am master of my own destiny.  Still others may say that our debt determines our life.  We owe for a long list of things, and we must work to pay for those things.  Some may say that our work (the company) leads our life.  The demands of employment control our days (and nights), and there are times when we feel as though we have lost any control or determination of our life.

So who leads your life?  Can you put a name to that which moves and motivates you?  Peter identifies Jesus as the Son of God.  He is (Mt. 3: 17) identified as the beloved of God, His only begotten Son (John 3: 16). The great I AM has declared this relationship and instructs us to listen to Him [transfiguration](Mt. 17: 5).  The One who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, who says I am the one and only living God, who was, who is, and who shall be forever, speaks and commands the control (leading) of our lives.  Jesus will say: “I am…” (in allegory) 7 times in the Gospel of John.  His name will stir the heart and mind to the things of God, to the truth, the meaning and purpose of life.  His name, Jesus, will mean so much more than the Hebrew name Joshua. (to save)

Jesus is not just the son of the “Great I Am,” rather He is the Great I Am.  He is the Divine Creator of heaven and earth.  He is the One who walked on water, who turned the water into wine, who healed the sick, made the lame to walk, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead to life.  Each attribute we assess to God, are the descriptions of Jesus.  He is the foundation of life for those who will be called ‘His bride’, the church.  And, they will prevail over hell itself.  They will find the divine power of God in faith to say (even) to the mountains, move from here to there. [Though why would we ever want to do that?!!]

Who do YOU say that Jesus is? What would Jesus say that describes his connection to you?  It was only by divine revelation that Peter would utter the words of our text today: you are the Christ.  It is only through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we can say: He is my Savior.  He is the One who paid the debt of my sin, on the cross of Calvary.  He is the One who reconnects me to God, my Creator.  He is the One who builds the bridge of a healthy spiritual relationship with the Divine.  He is Yeshua, the Savior of His people, Israel. And He is Lord.  The ruler of Heaven and earth.  He is Master and Savior, Redeemer and Friend.

Who do you say that Jesus is, in your life?

Sunday Feb. 26, 2017
When God is rejected
Judges 2: 10 – 16

Our human nature is commonly at fault when we find ourselves in difficult straits.  We may have feelings that God has abandoned us, or left us to struggle by ourselves, but is that true? How easily do we forget the words of Hebrews 13: 5 (Deut. 31:6)- “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  Or have we left God behind in our lives?

Judges 2 tells us that just one generation after the conquest of the Promised Land, the people had forgotten God and all the He had done in leading the people and bringing victory to establishing their homeland.  As God’s people, are we in a similar situation?  Does each generation come to a point of self-reliance or complacency because of what the previous generation has done?  God ends up being left behind in all of the concerns of our life today.  The assembly for worship, prayer and study becomes an option of the lesser priority.

I went shopping with my mother this week, going to a store (when I was growing up) known as Sears and Roebuck.  Just a few years ago it was Carson, Pirie, Scott, but now it is the clearance store for Carson’s and other associated stores.  Within the giant retail space, there were only 3 pair of men’s pants in my size, but there were rack after rack, after rack of women’s Christmas clothing. I went with an expectation of finding the old department store, even though I had not been there for months or years.  Is that our expectation of God?

The Israelites had forgotten God; left Him behind in the busyness of their lives. (vs. 12) They not only forgot God, but they began to chase after the gods of the land.  They placed their spiritual priority on the god of Baal and of Ashtoreth.  They worshipped served the idols of Canaan.  When we feel the distance from God, we must ask ourselves the question of: ‘who’s moved?’  Have we come to worship the idol of Hollywood, and bow down to the idol of Oscar?  Did we commit the whole day to super Bowl, so we could watch the 5 hours of pre-game hoopla and hype?

The book of Judges tells us that our abandonment of Him, angers Him and for the Israelites, they were handed over to raiders, who plundered them (vs. 14) They were sold to enemies and became a conquered people and slaves to the world around them.  When they attempted to fight against these enemies, the Lord stood against them and they were defeated in battle.  Their relationship and dependence upon God was negligible, and they found themselves alone in battle.

But the Lord would raise up the leadership that was needed and necessary.  It was not the leadership of the Tabernacle or the palace.  It was the judges we have heard about for so many years.  It was Gideon, a farmer and grain miller.  He thought so little of himself, that he challenged God before he would answer the call to serve.  He needed to affirm his relationship with God, before he would go out with just a few men to conquer the Midianites and prove the power of God to himself and the people.  And Sampson, the child dedicated to God, did battle against the Philistines.  But, in his arrogance and disobedience of God’s Word, lost his hair, his strength and his sight.  Yet, the relationship to God was restored in his slavery and even in his death, he was redeemed by God.

We are a nation and a people separated from God.  We live in pride and arrogance, bowing down to the gods of money, power and fame.  But, God will raise up leadership to turn the hearts of His people back to Him.  Who will he call?  Will it be you?  The call will challenge our faith.  It will challenge us to know whom we will trust, who will we follow.  It will challenge us to know with certainty that our faith is in God, that we trust Jesus for our salvation and we embrace the guidance and encouragement of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday February 19, 2017

Another Chance
 
  Luke 13: 1 – 9

Environmentalists describe the western culture and society as wasteful, consuming (an estimated) 80% of natural resources.  As Jesus taught the people, as recorded in Luke 13, there was a question of the resources that were given and used by the people.  In competition with Pilate many died in Galilee over unnamed resources.  In Siloam, 18 were killed as they attempted to build a tower near the pool.  Were the human resources wasted for the sake of the Kingdom?  Was sin a factor of the loss?  Is there something else that Jesus wanted these people to know?
.     Our life may be lived in peril or danger, but will that mean that we will perish for all eternity?  God has “planted” us on this earth (like the fig tree) with the expectation that we will bear fruit for the sake of His Kingdom.  There are no guarantees in this life, only for the next.  Nations against nations, disaster from our greed bring death and destruction to our lives.
.      As Jesus told the parable of the fig tree (vss. 6-9) the steward of the divine resources asks for a second chance for the fruitless fig tree.  We can believe that the steward is representative of Jesus.  He comes to give special attention to those who have been planted by God, but are not bearing fruit.  With special attention and care, with water and nutrients, the hope is the fig tree will bear fruit.  They are both in agreement that if there is no fruit, the tree will be cut down, and the resources (soil) will be used for another tree.
.     Did Jesus get your attention?  Does that mean that we should work harder in order to gain access to God’s rewards?  Or, does it remind us that we have been given by God a responsibility to bear the fruit of our soul.  Consider what is written in Luke 3: 9 and 6: 43.  Fulfill your God-given destiny and bear the fruit of your repentance.

Sunday February 12, 2017

170 Years Young
  Ephesians 2: 13 – 22

February 5 (last Sunday) marked the 170th birthday of First Baptist Church.  Way back in 1847, when Keokuk was a pioneer town of only a few hundred people, there had been a Catholic mission since 1838 and the Methodists had gathered since 1846.  Eleven folks gathered to determine the initiation of a new house of worship.  We do not know where this meeting was held, but history records that the Thompson home was used for a period of time as the place of worship.  6 days later four additional names were added to this optimistic body. The clerk’s record indicates that these people sought to know “What is the will of God for this people in this place?”  A question that should be asked every moment of our existence.
.     Yet there is a constancy of matters that have remained not just from 1847, but throughout the history of those who have heard the call of God Almighty.  The Gospel of old, was their Gospel, and it is still the same Gospel today.  Our salvation in is Christ and Him crucified.  God still calls to humanity, not just to find forgiveness and receive salvation, but He also calls us to obedience and service; to love one another as Christ first loved us.  God set before those folks a mission, an endeavor to be met.  It was a charge to bring a Baptist witness to this gateway city of Iowa, as the motto of the American Baptist Home Mission Society: “We preach Christ, crucified.”  These eight families would soon seek to have a house of worship and call its first Pastor.  They would meet on April 15, 1847 for the formal chartering of the church. Rev. L.C. Bush (who may have been one of  the initial forces of the Baptist work in Keokuk) and Rev. J.N. Seeley were the only 2 of the 5 clergy invited to charter the church.  It was not clear where those invited came from, but they were Baptist in background with familiarity with the Baptist Home Mission Society.
.     Will we join in the 170 year old effort, which is in reality nearly 2000 years old?  Paul wrote to the Ephesians of the true and constant Gospel of Jesus Christ, They were called out of the world to be the children of God, and were sent out to tell others of this Good News.  They were described as members of God’s household through Christ Jesus.  They were officially and formally a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  their body was the new temple (dwelling place) of the Holy Spirit.  Today, are we only a member of First Baptist Church, or even a member of this congregation?  The message has not changed, but we are changed by the message, for our membership is secure in Christ Jesus, as the Spirit dwells within us.

Sunday January 29, 2017

Lift High the Word
Psalm 19: 7-14

Amongst social media there have been various commentaries that our world and societies have taken a lesser view of the Scriptures.  Too often God’s Word is taken as a fictional novel or fairy tale.  It has been discounted as scientifically inaccurate and irrelevant to life in this 21st century.  I might say yes from their perspective, BUT there is a grave error in this thinking if they presume that life in Biblical times can be replicated for today (either Old Testament or New Testament).

Though it is scientifically wrong to prove one principle by itself, the uniqueness of the Bible stands alone, with its own prove of existence through the millennia.  2 Timothy 3: 16 says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (17) so that the [child] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  The Scriptures become the standard by which we compare and judge our spiritual and total being.  How do we compare against what God has said?  Do we know enough of this Word to make a fair judgement of our own lives? Or, do we only know enough to cover a few basics?

There are 6 precepts in our text for today that I want to share.  Each precept has a resulting condition as it is applied to our lives today.  #1 – The law of the lord is perfect.  There is nothing that supersedes God’s command. His Law is perfect and no judge can overrule its Truth.  But what does it do for us?  It revives the soul.  There is no greater energy for the soul than to know with absolute certainty that we are fully compliant and obedient to Gods Word.

#2 – We can trust what we find in the Scriptures, because they come from God.  The Scriptures are not the internet, where we find false stories and total fabrications.  It contains the trustworthy counsel and command of the One, True and Living God.  If we write those words upon our heart and mind, what will it do?  It will take the simplest of truths and make them as golden nuggets of wisdom.  Wisdom from God, not the fantasies of mankind.

#3 – God gives us the precepts of Life. [precept (def.): A rule prescribing a particular kind of conduct or action; or a command in writing.]  They are right, without error.  What will be our benefit?  They will bring joy to our hearts.  Not always happiness or a naïve giddiness, but the satisfaction and contentment that will endure even the worst of times.

Sunday January 15, 2017
Franchising “Our Faith”?
  .      1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11

.    To know that our faith is a franchise given from God is a good thing.  However, Biblical history tells us that there were some who thought that they were the originators of the franchise of faith. 2 Corinth. 11: 3-4 tells of those who held on to another gospel which was contrary to that which Paul had taught and was given to them.  It was a contrary gospel of salvation, where works were demanded, or actions such as circumcision and obedience to the Jewish law before salvation.  It was a contrary gospel that denied Jesus as Son of God and atonement only through His sacrifice.
.     Even today we see people who have made attempts of creating their own franchise of faith.  It comes under many different terms: a prosperity gospel; a name it-claim it gospel; mystic power crystals; each with someone’s idea of how we can find happiness or joy, or even salvation from the world in which we live.  They speak of the guarantee of success or happiness is only we follow their “faith” to the proper level or degree..
.    Paul tells us in his writings to the Corinthians that we are to carry the true Gospel in three ways.  First, in His Holy Word. We do not have a fanciful flight of imagination in the Bible of today.  It is a time-tested collection of what God has said and done in the lives of both the faithful and the reprobate over the centuries.  It is a Word of Truth and of Hope that will not be thwarted.  Second, we are challenged to carry this particular Gospel in the original Franchise of Faith that God has given to us.  It is His faith in our hearts.  And, third, we carry this Gospel in our Deeds.  Our lives are lived in the Faith, Hope and Love that God has demonstrated and we hold as stewards.  We need to remind ourselves frequently, when the times are tough, of all of what God expects from us as disciples of Jesus and Christians.  Just look at Matthew 5 – 7 to get an idea of what Jesus expects of us.

Sunday January 8, 2017

The Franchise of Faith
  .      Romans 12: 1- 8

.    There are times in which we become oblivious to the idea of the franchise.  We go to Dairy Queen, or McDonald’s, or a car dealership not thinking that there are owners of the name, the brand or the product that we purchase.  Sometimes there are “company stores”, but most often there is someone who has purchased the franchise so that they may sell the products and use the name of the parent company.  The owner of the franchise is very limited on what they can say about the product, or even when they can sell the product.  Can we look at faith in the realm of a franchise?
.     We begin with the understanding that we cannot ‘own’ faith as a product that we have produced.  Romans 12: 3 tells us that we are given a “measure of faith from God.”  If we consider faith as a product, it is given to us in an undetermined quantity by God.  He gives us whatever measure that is in accord with His divine will.  Jesus describes it in the parable of Matt. 17: 20-21 that even the smallest seed of faith, when planted in the heart, has great power, and (Luke 13: 19) can mature into a tree large enough to hold a bird’s nest. God has established and owns the franchise of faith.  It has been paid for by the death of Jesus on the cross.  God has planted that seed of faith in our hearts, as a franchise, so that it might be watered and cultivated into a mature ‘product’ that can benefit others.
.    God has planted faith within us to have and to hold as stewards of the divine treasures.  But, we must utilize that faith for the day will come when we must account for the stewardship of that franchise.  As stewards, we discover the additional gifts of faith.  We learn how to trust God in the application of those gifts. We utilize the gifts that are ultimately owned by God, for the purposes that God has set before us.  We are committed to the franchise of faith by a contract paid for by Jesus.  Faith does not ‘belong’ to us, but we are given the rights to hold it and use it for the glory of the Master and Owner, God.

Christmas Day meditation 2016

As Good as our Word
Galatians 3: 16      Genesis 22: 18

What joy of knowing and feeling our redemption.  It’s Christmas, the time when God has come to us, to show us His salvation for our lives.  Scrooge was so overjoyed that Christmas Day that he greeted everyone with the wonderful spirit of the day.  How are you! Merry Christmas!  And he knew where his redemption had come from, so he went to church that morning [this is only in the original novel].  He walked about the streets; he searched and found that everything brought him pleasure and joy.  He had never dreamed that any walk or any thing could give him so much happiness.  He celebrated the day with his nephew Fred.

But the next morning, he was early to the office, hoping to catch Bob Cratchit, late for work.  He set his heart upon this scene.  And it happened.  A full 18 minutes late, was Bob Cratchit.  Bob hurried to his stool and pushed his pen as if to turn back time.  But, Scrooge responded differently to this tardiness, promptly raising his salary, and greeting him: “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year!  Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another “I” Bob Cratchit.”  Scrooge was better than his word,. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew.

Though Scrooge had no further connect with the spirits, he lived in a principle of abstinence, ever afterwards.  And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well.

Can that be said of us?  When we greet one another with “a merry Christmas” does it reflect our redemption from sin?  Are we keeping Christmas as the Holy day when God came to us in human form, to redeem us from our sin?  All that surrounds us: the green tree, the lights, the ornaments and gifts; are not the true meaning of Christmas.  It is in the knowledge and faith that God loves us enough to send us His Son, the Promised One (Gal. 3: 16).

Today and every day, let us keep Christmas (Christ) well, even as Scrooge now did.  May that truly be said of us, and all of us!.  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Christmas Eve

The Redemption of Scrooge
John 3: 3

Scrooge’s long night was now over.  Coming to the realization of his surroundings of home, Scrooge became the happiest that he had ever known.   He repeated to himself: “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  Heaven and the Christmas Time be praised for this!  I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!”  He saw that all of his house was as before; nothing had been taken in his “future death.”  In the giddiness of his realization and redemption, he declared:  “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy.  A merry Christmas to everybody!  A happy New Year to all the world!”

Scrooge shouted: I don’t know what day of the month it is!  I don’t know how long I‘ve been among the Spirits.  I don’t know anything.  I’m quite a baby.  Never mind. I don’t care.  I’d rather be a baby.  Flinging open the shutters of the window he cried out to a boy (in his Sunday clothes) in the street: What’s today?”  The boy replied: “Today? Why, Christmas Day.”   “It’s Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it.  The Spirits have done it all in one night.  They can do anything they like.  Of course they can.”  And he sent the boy off to the butcher, to buy the prize turkey for the Cratchit family.

All in one night, one special night; God sent His only Son from the glory of heaven, to be born of mankind, born in the quiet stable of the inn at Bethlehem.  Just as was prophesied, and as it was declared by the angels to the shepherds, Jesus came to save God’s people from their sins.  In this Child would be the redemption of Creation, if we believe.

In Scrooge’s declaration (I’d rather be a baby) is the reality of redemption according to John 3: 3 (the words behind me) “You must be born again!”  Christmas means God with us (Emmanuel).  No more scoffing (Bah… humbug); Scrooge was saved from his own demise.  His bitterness, selfishness and greed were wiped away in the joy of this day of redemption.

Will the spirits come visit us tonight?  Will we see our past, our present, and maybe how things might be in the future?  The angel’s message that the Savior has been born, brings to us once again the good news and great joy: He is Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, born for you am me.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will is the message to receive.  Our redemption has come, but we, like Scrooge must believe.

In the stillness of the Nativity, God’s message became clear.  Christ was born, so that we might be born again.

Sunday December 18, 2016

The  Prince of Peace
 .      John 14: 23 – 27

.    As the third spirit of Christmas silently visits Ebenezer Scrooge, Scrooge is taken to various scenes of what might be in future Christmases.  One of the more touching scenes is that of Christmas in the Cratchit home.  Bob comes home from Sunday church walking slowly by himself.  The household is almost silent this time, as the children gather around him.  They softly speak of days gone by, and Tiny Tim, because he was no burden to body or soul.  Bob Cratchit had been to the cemetery, to visit the grave of this beloved son.  In the midst of his sadness, there was a spirit of joy, for all that his young son had brought to him.  It was a place with warm sun and green grass.  Though tears were shed, the youngest Cratchit would say: “I am happy,” as if God’s joy reigned triumphant in their sorrow.
.     This is the story of Christmas, and of Christ, the One Isaiah called the Prince of Peace, for His Peace brings a joy that goes beyond what we might normally consider.  This new form of joy is described in the words of John (14: 27) “I do not give to you peace as the world gives.”  Our joy cannot come out of the peace of the world, for the world cannot bring comfort or satisfaction as Christ can bring.  Our joy cannot be by the world and its feeble attempts at world peace.  War, its pain and suffering, its death and violence will not be erased by human hands. For the peace that brings joy comes from the redeemed soul.  God is no longer considered the enemy of the soul, but the Savior of the soul.
.   Scrooge would come to realize that the darkness of the future, his future, if there was to be any joy, would need to be played out in the hope that Marley showed him, and the peace and love and joy that the spirits showed him.  Christmas joy is not for a moment or for a day of the year, but for every day.  It is the faith in the promises of God and the joy of the renewed and redeemed relationship with our Savior Jesus.

Sunday December 11, 2016

The Redemption of Scrooge Series
Love Came Down at Christmas
 .      I John 1: 3 – 10

.    There are times in which children confuse the use of presence, present and presents.  We look at the present time with the current events of our lives.  Children look for presents under the Christmas tree.  Yet, there is a presence of the Spirit of God in the hearts of those who follow Jesus.  Scrooge experienced the presence of the Spirit of Christmas present, as the clock again struck one.  He heard the voice call to him: “Come in, and know me better, man!”  With a touch of his bright red robe, they were off again to visit Christmas present.  In the bleak cold of winter sounds of joy were heard from the people. baskets filled with meager supplies were filled and overflowing with love.
.      Off to home of Bob Cratchit, where wife and children prepared the Christmas meal with great love.  And, father Bob came from church, carrying Tiny Tim on his shoulder; a broad smile upon his face as he carried his crippled son with great love.  Then, as the day passed, the toasts of the day; a glass raised to toast the “Founder of the Feast,” Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Yes, a toast of love for even the miserly Mr. Scrooge.  But one last moment of the short-lived present showed Scrooge two undernourished children, hidden under the robe of the Spirit.  The boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want, said the Spirit.
.     The Apostle John wrote to the early churches with a call of compassion that echoed the words of Jesus (John 15: 12 and 17) “Love one another.”  More than having compassion or giving in charity, we are to love each other, as well as loving even our enemies (Matt. 5: 44).
.     The heart of Scrooge was beginning to open to the message of Marley and the Spirits.  Are our hearts open to the Spirit of Christ in the present?  Will we celebrate the love of friends and family every day of the year?   It is not the presents under the tree, but the presence of the love of Christ that chases away ignorance and want; for God’s love came down at Christmas, to show us the Way, to give us the Truth, and to guide us to eternal Life.

 

Sunday December 4, 2016

The Redemption of Scrooge Series
The Past and its Contentment
 .      Philippians 4: 10 – 13

.    Continuing in the Scrooge series, we give consideration to the events of the visit to Scrooge of the spirit of Christmas past.  This apparition, which has the face of a mature person, but the features of a child may give us pause to consider the first part of the Trinity, God the Father, yet there is the element of purity and the innocence of childhood.  Among the scenes that are ‘shown’ to Scrooge is the Christmas party at the hall of Fezziwig.There he sees the joy of the gathering, the magic of Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig in a jolly dance.  There is contentment and peace as the cares of the world are set aside for this moment of family and friends.  It gives Scrooge a warm feeling in the moment of seeing and remembering the days of his youth, so long ago.
.    The apostle Paul wrote of his contentment, to the people of Philippi long ago.  In the midst of his own hardship and imprisonment,  he would describe a peace in his life and heart, for he knew that God had made provisions for the very needs of his life.  The presence of those who lived with him during his house arrest gave him the warmth of camaraderie. It would be OK, because he knew where his trust and his faith lay.
.   This contentment and peace is found in the salvation of Christ.  Paul describes it as “the glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Ph. 4: 19).   Scrooge once knew and experienced that peace, but in the darkness and bitterness that he had wrapped around himself, the contentment with the divine provision had been stifled.  Even the profits of his business were not enough to bring him peace.  Have we stifled the warmth and contentment in knowing the riches in Christ Jesus?

Sunday November 27, 2016      —        Redemption of Scrooge Series
The prophet’s hope
Colossians 2: 9 – 15

We begin the days of Advent with a series based in part upon the book entitled: “The Redemption of Scrooge.”  It is in the writing of Charles Dickens’ novel: “A Christmas Carol” that we see an underlying theme of the Advent and Gospel messages.  The beginning of A Christmas Carol could have begun with the words of another Dickens’ classic: Tale of Two Cities- “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  The Christmas carol (song) begins with the stark words: “Marley was dead.”  The seven years since his death had brought bitterness and sorrow to his life, and to those under his employ.  (Scrooge becomes the ‘everyman’ without the love of Christ.)  In the cold and darkness of his living quarters, Scrooge ‘dreams’ hears the sounds of chains dragging across his floor, and then the apparition of Marley appears.  (Though this contradicts Biblical understanding – the dead do not or are not allowed to return to speak to the living – Lk. 16: 19-31)  He comes as a prophet, to speak to the fears of our heart, and to the ignorance of our minds.

What fears strike out at our lives today, that we (like Scrooge) may pass off as a disorder of the stomach, a crumb of cheese or undigested beef?  Do we live in the darkness and bitterness where no warmth can warm, or when the worst of winter storms could not have an advantage over our lives?

And then the prophet (Marley) comes telling the tale of his life:  Saying that he wears the chain forged in life, made link by link and yard by yard, forged of his own free will, wore by his own choice.  But the prophet’s word to Scrooge would not be left with an old tale of the reality of one life.

In the midst of Scrooge’s darkness and fear, Marley would give him a prophet’s warning by his own life.  Be careful of how you live this life, for it will follow you into death.  The choices you make now will affect you eternity.    But the prophet’s word would not be left in the darkness of the apparition in chains.  He would offer a word of Hope.  Marley said: “I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance AND HOPE of escaping my fate.  A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.” And so 3 spirits [could it be the Trinity?]  would come in visitation of this hard hearted man; three visitors that must come, in order to show us the path out of the darkness.

The message of hope, of renewal, and a message that sets our hearts and minds on the good will and blessings of God comes to us.  The prophets speak to us on this first Sunday of Advent that there is hope.  There is a hope for us to embrace; a hope that can and will take us out of the darkness and cold reality of the world that encroaches upon our lives.  Our hope comes in the life of the Son of God.  (Col. 2: 9) In Him lives the fullness of the joy and glory of God the Father, for He is the head of every power and authority, and desires to reign over our hearts.

What great hope is ours as we are made alive in Christ (vs. 13).  By faith we are forgiven of our sins of the past, and set free to forge the armor of God, rather than the chains of despair.  It is in the child of God, who comes to us in human form that leads us in triumph over sin and death by His own death on the cross (vs. 15).

Scrooge was given a one-time opportunity to come to his senses and embrace what we see as Good News.  God gives us many opportunities to see the reality of life, either with, or without the hope of Christ.  The apparition of our past, may not come to us, but the prophets of God’s Word tell us that as the people walk in great darkness (Is. 9: 2) a great light will shine.  For those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light will dawn.  This is our affirmation; this is our hope.

Sunday November 20, 2016

More Than a Feeling
 .      1 Corinthians 1: 4 – 9

.    It is Thanksgiving week and a time to consider not just the “how” of giving thanks, but why we give thanks. It is easy to give thanks when everything seems to be going just right, but when there are difficulties and troubles, we must remember the greater and higher things that cause us to give thanks.  Paul describes the thankfulness as more than a feeling of happiness or contentment in his letter to the people of Corinth.  They, and we, should give thanks for the grace that God has shown to us through Jesus Christ.  We are undeserving of His great mercy as we can be forgetful of the love and commitment of Jesus to our lives.
.     But, there is more.  We are to give thanks for the many gifts that God gives to us.  He has provided the resources of His creation for our benefit.  He has given knowledge and wisdom to us and to others for the benefit of humanity.  The greatest gift is not just the baby Jesus gift at Christmas, but the Jesus who is the gift of our salvation.
.  And, because of God’s faithfulness to us, we should give thanks in all circumstances.  He is here amongst us, even when we turn our backs to Him, or ignore His command or call to our hearts.  Even when we reject God, we still have the opportunity in this life, to repent and ask for His bounteous forgiveness.
.  So let’s give thanks today and everyday, to God and to Jesus for the Blessed Hope that belongs to the believer (Titus 2: 13), that Jesus will come again to take the sheep of His pasture to their eternal reward in the presence of the One who is the true reason for our giving thanks.

Sunday November 6, 2016
Fly the Flag
        Song of Songs 2: 1 – 5

.    With limited interest I have noticed the many hashtags for the Cubs, of “fly the W,” recognizing the tradition of flying a “W” pennant on the giant scoreboard of Wrigley Field after the Cubs would win a ballgame.  It has been a rally cry for the diehard fans this year, as the team journeyed to the World Series Championship.  I wondered if the church should have a pennant that they would fly from the church steeple with every victory over sin that our faith would bring?  Today we look at three Scriptures that describe banners that were/are part of the life of God’s people.  The first is from Exodus 17: 15, where the reference is to the battle flag of the armies of the Hebrews. It can also pertain to the banners of the twelve tribes that led the clans in their larger groups during the Exodus.  This banner is placed at the altar, declaring that the Lord God is the banner of the faithful people, who come before the altar of sacrifice.  Its significance is that the battle being fought is the battle against sin
.    The second reference of battle banners is in Psalm 60: 4, where again we find a nation in crisis.  They were suffering difficulty against the Edomites.  Out of the defeat, because of their faithlessness, God “places” a banner in the Tabernacle that those who come to Him and in repentance and remorse seek the will of God, will find deliverance.  God is the Ruler of second chances for those who seek Him and His will.
.  The third reference is in Song of Songs (Solomon) 2: 4.  Here we see the poetic context of yet another banner.  It is a prophetic acknowledgement of what we see described in the parable of Matthew 22.  At the great and final wedding feast their will be yet another banner flown high.  It is not the banner of battle or tribal identity, but the banner of victory through God’s love.  It is the reminder for us that we need to fly the banner of victory in God’s love over the castle of our hearts each and every day.  It recognizes that God is and will always be the ultimate victor in life and history.

Sunday October 30, 2016

Why We Exist
        2 Corinthians 5: 16 – 20

.    There are times in which we may ask our selves about the meaning and purpose of our lives, both individually and together.  If we ask the question with only what is on our mind, we will certainly get the answer that we expect.  But, we must ask the greater question of what is God’s desire for our lives?  So, we dig into the Scriptures for the answers to that question of why we exist.  God has indicated from the very beginning (Genesis 3: 8-10) that we have been created for fellowship with God.  God sought out Adam and Eve in the cool of the garden, not for judgment, but for fellowship with Him.
We also find in Matthew 4: 10 that we have been created to worship and serve God.  He is to be the ultimate focus of our lives.
.     But we are also created for others.  We have not been created as puppets (or heavenly beings) who only surround the throne of God to say: “Holy is the Lord God.”  We are even more than the heavenly beings, as we are created in the likeness of God, male and female to be joined to one another in holy matrimony.  We are to be present with one another in the unity of our Creator to build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11).  This requires compassion, listening and encouragement.  Have you encouraged someone else this week? And finally, we are created for each other for the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinth. 5:18).  We go beyond our self, beyond the fellowship of believers, to encourage others to be reconciled to God. As we (presumably) have been reconciled with God, then we bring others to restore the relationship that has been broken with God.  WE have this ministry, not someone else.  God wants us to be the eyes, ears, hands and feet that leads others to that saving relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.

Sunday October 23, 2016

A Letter to Paul
        Philippians 2: 25 – 3:1

.    This election cycle has been one of the most rancorous campaigns in recent history.  None of the presidential candidates have risen to a higher standard of debate, but continue to repeat innuendos, lies, denials and accusations of epic proportions.  We evaluate the situations and typically comment on how the ‘world’ has reached a crisis point that we may not be able to find recovery.  The people of Philippi had come to a point of turmoil and difficult straits, and so wrote a letter to Paul.  They sent their ‘messenger’ Epaphroditus with the information for Paul to resolve the issues. Yet, we do not know the full content of the letter of discontent.
.    When the sent the message to Paul, had they sent it to the right person?  Maybe this mail had been misdirected, despite its address of Paul in Rome.  Maybe we misdirect the problems to our lives to the wrong person.  Have we assumed that someone else will be able to solve our problems for us?  The problems of life and spirit cannot be made different or resolved unless we are the root of the change.  Paul pointed the Philippians, and us, in the direction of change through changing our heart and mind.
.    The Epistle to the Philippians is Paul’s reply and counsel to the troubles that were faced.  It is God’s reply to the ailments of our hearts, as well.  Look at 3:1.  Here is our answer to the questions we face: “Rejoice in the Lord!”  We will not be exempted from the difficulties of life.  We cannot remove those whom we consider evil or corrupt.  But, we can live in the confidence of the Lord, and know His love and joy through any and all circumstances that we might face.

Sunday October 16, 2016

Where Lies Your Heart?
        Matthew 15: 1 – 9

.    Dee Brown wrote a book entitled: “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”  It tells of the forced migration of Native Americans and of the massacre of Lakota tribe’s people at Wounded Knee, SD.  He expresses the grief of the senseless loss of life and the tragic plight of so many.  Recently there have been reports of about a dozen native Syrian Christians who have been ‘executed’ by the factions around Aleppo, their own countrymen, as they remained in the warzone to bring aid and assistance to those caught in the crossfire of war.  Where does our heart lie in these matters of religiosity and ecclesiastical legalism?  Jesus dealt with those who placed greater emphasis on the legalism of their religion, than in the relationship with God.  (see text for today)
.    Though we look at matters from ancient history or in lands far away, or in a culture that is now nearly extinct, there is a need to examine who or what holds our attention today.  Have we become a “news junkie” that cannot wait for the next innuendo or criticism, or the next tidbit of mud-slinging?  Have we become so biased or jaded that we ignore the platform or policy that will be proposed?  Will it only be what entertains us, or gives us pleasure that carries our heart?
.     God calls us out of the fog of the world to see where His light is shining.  His desire is for us to live out our faith in Him and Jesus.  Our redemption sets us on the divine pathway of reconciliation to God, seeking justice, acting with compassion, offering hope in the midst of hopelessness.  Our hearts lie in the Hands of God; ready to serve Him as He commands.  We will not literally bury our hearts in Him, but we can commit our life to that which He sets before us, not for ourselves, but for others.  Remember what Jesus said in Matt. 20: 28 — “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”

Sunday October 2, 2016

The Writing on the Wall
        Daniel 5: 18 – 21

.    The stories of Daniel and his friends in the first chapters of this book are of great significance and importance to our life today.  They tell us of faith, perseverance, persecution and restoration in troubling times.  The exchange of Daniel and Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, peaks the story of arrogance, ignorance and restoration.  Nebuchadnezzar had many lessons to learn during his reign, but none was more significant than the problems of pride.  This pride is described in Dan. 4: 23.  It is a confirmation of the wisdom of Solomon and Proverbs 16: 18 (pride goes before the fall).  Through Nebuchadnezzar’s trip down the lane of madness, he learned the lesson of who is truly and ultimately in control.  His restoration came only after he gave God the proper praise and the acknowledgement that God is the greatest (4:34).

.    In the text of chapter 5, we learn of the son and his errors.  He failed to observe or even take to heart the learning of his father (5: 2-4). It was in his arrogance and pride that the hand of God is seen writing upon the wall with the words: “mene, mene. tekel, parsin.” His life would be weigh in the divine scale and found wanting.  There was no humility to be found in his life, and his life would be taken from him, as he had not learned anything from the lessons that his father had learned.

.    What lessons will we learn today?  The greatest lesson is that we are to honor God with all of our being.  We are not in control, nor can we take control from God without significant consequences.  The writing is on the wall: weigh your heart and its obedience to God, or face the consequences over which you will have no control.

Sunday September 18, 2016

Communication Failures
        Nehemiah 1: 5 – 11

.    When there seems to be a communication failure, I am reminded of several Hollywood inspired communication phrases.  From the Paul Neumann movie “Cool Hand Luke” the warden says that what we have here is a failure to communicate.  In some of the 1960’s TV shows the spies communicated through pen communicators or shoes, either voicing a call to “open channel ‘D'” or dialing out through the heal of the shoe.  But the communication that we are to use – our words- are often absent or miscommunicated.  Sometimes our communication with God can also be misdirected or the genuine message gets lost in some misguided translation.  Consider what we find in Proverbs 25: 11 and Proverbs 15: 23.  Our words are to be spoken in kindness and with Godly wisdom.
.  There are times that the words come out, but they are not appropriate, timely or accurate.  More often than not, this stems from a failure to listen.  We must ask, first if what we say would be consistent with what Jesus would say.  We also ask ourselves if we have truly heard what God has to say, or if we are only listening to our own inner voice.
.   The measure of success in what we say comes as it did with Nehemiah.  He first listened to God and then in his confirmation of what he heard, he prayed for God’s success in the presence of King Artaxerxes. The success of his words not only led to the release of the Jews held in captivity, but in the return of the Temple treasures to Jerusalem.  The failures of our communication can be found in any one of the examples or failures on our part.  The measure of our success comes in our listening to God, and our obedience to His command.

Sunday September 11, 2016

The Heart of the Matter
        Ecclesiastes 12: 9-14

.    Most often, when we read from the book of Ecclesiastes, we think about chapter 3 and the passage: “for every time and season”.  They are good words to consider the passages of time and life, and “there is nothing new under the sun.”  The rest of the writing seems to be depressing, and without hope.  In the matters of life and in the  matters of the heart we might think as Solomon wrote: “everything is meaningless.” (Eccl. 2: 1-3)  In the blame and shame of American politics the words seem meaningless.  They are words that may evoke emotion, but where is the substance and specific meaning; where is the honesty and integrity of their own self?
.    Throughout Ecclesiastes we come to discover that it is the “heart” where all things matter.  The soul (heart) speaks of and urns for the hope that only God can provide.  As in chapter 12:9, God is the only one who knows both our beginning and our end.  He is present from the beginning of time to the end of history, while everything else is nothing more than dust in the wind.
.   And then as a golden nugget at the end of the writing, is the conclusion that is drawn from all that seemed meaningless and hopeless:  “Fear God (hold reverence before) and keep His commandments is the whole duty of our life.”  As Proverbs 3: 5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”  Our personal responsibility is to love God with all our being, to love one another, and to live under God’s authority and command.

Sunday September 4, 2016

In Spirit and in Truth
         John 4: 19 – 26

.    Often times I hear of congregations that are engaged in “worship wars” over the order of service, the music selection or style, the casual or the formal, or whether the sermon is too long or too short.  Recent authors have written about the underlying meaning and purpose of worship.  Some think that worship is a gathering of the saved, for the unsaved to ‘find Jesus’.  Others find the importance of ‘meeting with God.’  While still others believe that the worship time is when we seek to find comfort (or BE comfortable), to accept it as a ‘safe place,’ or to be the spectator of worship (some would describe this as being entertained).
.    Jesus met a Samaritan woman by the well of Jacob.  She said (or gave the excuse) that she and her ancestors worshipped on the top of nearby Mt. Gerazim. It was there that the performed the rites and rituals, psalms and sacrifice that had also been done in Jerusalem.  but which place was the right place to worship?  Jesus reply was that a time was coming and had now even arrived when true worship would not be limited to specific places, but worship would be in Spirit.  Did He mean it was to be lively. for worship (particularly sacrifice) on Mt. Gerazim was made as ecstatic, frenetic chaos? Sacrifice at the Temple of Jerusalem was dignified and more measured in their rituals.  Jesus indicates that our worship is to be less of the ritual and more of the relationship with our Creator God.
.    We are called by Jesus to worship in Truth.  But what is truth, as Pilate asked Jesus (John 18: 38) “what is truth?”  Today we ask the same question abut truth, but refine the question outside of worship.  Is Truth a matter of legal definition, whether or not we have told a lie?  Is Truth absolute, or is it conditional to our situation?  Or, is Truth a person, a living active person that we know as the Divine Truth, who is Jesus?  We come to worship our Living Lord, to deepen the relationship and trust that is given exclusively to him.  Our worship is not about perfecting our lives, but deepening our faith, because we has sought and met with the risen Savior.

Sunday August 28, 2016

Divine Commodity
         Exodus3: 1 – 6

I am borrowing a theme by author/pastor Skye Jethani and looking at Moses personally experiencing God in the desert of Midian, near Mt. Horeb.  Jethani questions the worship of church today as missing what I call the classic interpretation of worship.  The ancient translation of Hebrew brings us to a literal definition as worth-ship of God.  He is worthy of praise and worship.  Yet there is a growing trend of measuring our worship as a definition of the worth of the divine commodity of God.  This is best unpacked by reading his book “Divine Commodity.”
.    Moses was engaged in the new-normal of his life, as shepherd for his father-in-law Jethro.  This task was not extraordinary, but would provide for the needs of his life and for his family.  Egypt and his crime were things of the past and could easily be forgotten.
One day he noticed a bush burning along the hillside, but it was not consumed.  He went over to the place to see this strange phenomenon.  And then, he heard a voice coming from the bush: “This is holy ground, remove your sandals.”  The very presence of the Lord in that place sanctified the ground.  Moses must respect that holiness in the removal of his shoes.   Are we noticing the presence of God in this place?  Do we respect His Holiness when we are here, or have we come to consume His goodness and become satisfied with that which makes us feel good?
.    And God called him by name.  And God told Moses His name: ‘I AM.’  God is a personal God, a relational God even though there is a gap between our sinfulness and His holiness.  There are the moments when God calls to us in unique ways to draw us closer to Him.  He comes to connect with us, and call us into service of the Kingdom, or to demonstrate His love to the world around us.  Yet, His holiness demands our purification; “take off your shoes, Moses, you stand on holy ground” because the I AM is here.
.    God gave to Moses a great challenge that would bring fear and trepidation to his life.  Return to Egypt; convince the Israelites to follow God (and him) to the promised land of their forefather Abraham; and be the voice of God to Pharaoh to cease his oppression of the children of God.  But Moses needed to know God and have a relationship with God before he would be convinced (and convicted) for this task.

Sunday August 21, 2016

Programs, People, Purpose
   I Corinthians 9: 16 – 23 [NRSV]

Today’s Scripture Reading is taken from the NRSV with the specific purpose of noting that ‘preaching’ is not reserved for the clergy.  This translation uses the word “proclaim”.  It is an action that is considered exclusive to all Christians.  In the understanding of what Paul was saying to the people of Corinth (and to us) we are to maintain our convictions and principles of God’s Word and Law, while identifying with those outside of the Christian Community.  This is to build a relationship where we might proclaim Jesus to those whom we have built a relationship.  Dr. D. James Kennedy describes it as earning the right to share the Gospel.
We are at a point in this world and society that demands less isolation and more relation to those who disagree with our faith so that we might proclaim Christ. But our relationship is to be the priority.  We build the many relationships in our lives in these three ways:  In our worship of God.  Has our relationship with God become cold or distant?  Are we ‘connecting’ with God through our Bible reading, prayer and worship? Second, we need a relationship of ministry.  Do we move outside of our own self interests with compassion for others and the issues they face with or without Christ? Lastly, Have we built a relationship of mission?  Kristy Engel emphasizes the importance of building a relationship with others and from other cultures in mission work. The adage of ‘walking a mile in someone else’s shoes’ applies here.
The next principle of relationships is developing a passion for others.  We have set a vision statement to bring Christ to others. We take our passion for Christ in our lives with the intent of our ever-increasing devotion to Him and share that passion and enthusiasm with those who are around us.  First, within the congregation, and then into the “community.”  The old hymn tells us: “We’ve a story to tell to the nations…”
As we grow our relationships and passion for Christ and others, we are now ready to develop the programs that implement and grow further relationships and passion for Christ.  Programs are not done for the sake of having a program, or because someone else may have met with ‘success’ in that program.  Everything is to grow out of our relationship with Christ and our passion to share what we have come to know in our salvation with others.

Sunday August 14, 2016

Recovering the Vision
Haggai 1: 3 – 7

There are times when the adage of you can’t see the forest for the trees is too much of a reality.  We become engaged in looking at one thing (tree) in particular, debating size, condition, shape, fruit, etc., but then forget that this tree is part of an orchard or a forest.  One author (?of a blog) wrote that there is a great difference between having a vision statement and capturing a vision.  But how do we see the forest when our attention is focused upon a few trees?

Haggai, a prophet of Judah after the exile, received the Word of the Lord in a time of transition and turmoil.  Jerusalem had been in complete and utter ruin.  The walls had crumbled and the gates burned, but Nehemiah had organized the people and clans to bring security and safety to the Holy City.  The people then turned to rebuilding their homes within the city.  They drifted away from their dependence upon the Lord, they had quickly forgotten that it was God who brought them back to Jerusalem from Babylon, and God had seen fit to raise up the leadership to organize the people to stand against those who sought to destroy them. (Nehemiah and Sanballot)

To make a complete recovery as a city and as God’s people, they needed to look at the wider picture of Judah and Israel and remember who had brought them to this point in time.  The Lord said to Haggai and the people, (vs. 5) “give careful thought to your ways.”  Give careful thought to who we are and where we are in the world today.  Judah was a minority population, but they had been led by God out of the most powerful nation (Babylon) in the ancient world. Again, in verse 7 we read the admonition, to give careful thought to YOUR ways.  Recover the vision of what God’s church and God’s people should be.

God said that their self-interests had taken the priority over the interest in the One who had saved them from a cruel master/enemy.  Though they had done some things right, the results were not right.  They planted much, but harvested little.  They ate much, but were never satisfied; they drank, but remained thirsty; they wore (finer) clothing, but could not stay warm, they profited, but they money was lost by their own careless stewardship.

The time had come to listen to what the Lord had to say.  Our time is to listen carefully and give careful thought to what the Lord has to say.  It is time to recover God’s vision for this church and this community, believing that God has not left us or forsaken us to the self-absorbed world that surrounds us.  We are to be a light, THE Light in the darkness that surrounds us.  God’s true and vibrant Light we never we overpowered or consumed by the darkness.  God has said this, but do we believe it; will we live out this truth?

In our recovery (even as the victim of substance abuse) we come to the beginning, that we are sinners, recovering from its destructive oppression and we are dependent upon the higher power of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit to bring us back to what the Lord has said is right.

We come to know our transformed identity that begins with Who owns our heart/soul.  We are not our own, but the “sheep” of God’s pastures.  We recover that which we believe; our faith that says Creator God is our only Master.  We remember that this world is not our end, our destiny is not tied to an political, governmental, social or economic organization.  Our citizenship is in God’s heaven.  He is our Master and Redeemer; He is our advocate for entry into the Kingdom of heaven.  He is the One who lays before us the plan and the vision for our future.

Now we are ready to recover the vision and lay His plans for the how’s of who we are and what we should be.  We are God’s peculiar people, uniquely suited for this place and this time.  But we must be convicted and convinced of what God wants us to be and do.  Haggai as prophet shared what God wanted Zerubbabel to do in restoring the temple, the focal point of the people’s lives. God provided the vision, the prophet shared what was needed, but it was dependent upon the people to embrace what God was laying on their hearts.

Sunday August 7, 2016
Resurrection DNA
    Isaiah 33: 2 – 6

Our DNA is that genetic code within each cell that directs the growth or repair of cells to conform to the specific structure of our DNA. Unless it has been altered, we will have 5 digits on each hand and foot; we will have 2 eyes, a nose and mouth; etc.  When we have chosen to follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the spiritual DNA is altered to that which can be described as resurrection DNA.  There is something within our soul that is altered to instruct us in a life that is transformed to the resurrection mindset and focus.
We are given the opportunity to rediscover the foundation from which sin has altered our being.  In 1 Corinthians 3: 11 we come to rediscover that the foundation of our life originally was upon God, but in post-resurrection mindset we are renewed to the foundation that is laid in Jesus Christ.

Our life is now to be built on not only the foundation of Jesus Christ, but upon the ownership of God Himself.  Psalm 50: 10, 11 describes the ownership of all creation and of life itself, which God breathes into every creature.  All of creation belongs to God; every forest, mountain, bird and creature.  We are given stewardship of His creation, but the ownership is never transferred to us.  The life (soul) that God has breathed into us belongs to Him, and He asks of us that we would follow His instruction.  It is His DNA that has been breathed into our life, but we still must choose whether we will obey or not.

When our life is found to be obedient to the resurrection DNA we will also rediscover the joy that fills and fulfills our hearts.  The song of Psalm 51: 12 prays for God to restore in our lives the joy of our salvation (resurrection) and grant us a willing heart not just to preserve us, but to sustain us each day, for growth, renewal and great joy.

Look at Jonah and his prayer in chapter 2.  It is God who brings us up from the pangs of death and destruction.  Out of his prayer from the belly of the fish, he remembered the presence of God, the foolishness of humanity and the promise that was made to God, to obey His commands.  He is reminded that his salvation comes from the Lord and not his own hand, and this brings a song of thanksgiving to his heart, even though he is still in the fish.
Isaiah (33:2-6) becomes our song and prayer.  Only God is our salvation in the times of trouble.  The riches of the world are nothing but the enemies plunder.  Only God is exalted above all the earth, and He is our sure and certain foundation; a storehouse of spiritual riches, wisdom and knowledge.  He is the key to the treasure and to our eternal riches.

 

Sunday July 31, 2016
He Restores My Soul
    Psalm 23

What will we do when we have “grown weary in doing good?”  To consider our revitalization personally and as a congregation, we need to set our priorities.  What are the things that are the priorities of our lives?  Often we know what should be ton the priority list, but the list gets set aside in the tyranny of the urgent.  The 23rd Psalm begins with the simple words of the utmost priority.  The Lord is my Shepherd.  It is God who shepherds us through each day.  His provisions are set before us.  He leads us into eternal safety and blessing.  Yet, we must listen for His directions and guidance.

Our lives need to take the priority of faithful obedience to God.  This obedience is not to be considered the giving of every item of our desires, but knowing that the God of the Universe sees us and hears our cry in times of trouble.

When the tough times come upon our lives, we need to consider how we got there.  Was it unrealistic expectations?  Did we fail to heed the warnings that God sets before us?  Have we gone ahead of where God wants us to be?

The restoration of our souls comes from the presence of God in our lives.  Come into His presence with thanks giving in your hearts and give Him the praise.  In faith, know that His goodness and mercy will beside you all the days of your life.  And in that faith and obedience, you will dwell in His glorious presence for ever.

Sunday July 24, 2016
Doing What We Love
    Galatians 6: 7 – 10

In looking back a the events of the last months and a few of my sermons, I seemed to see a moment of reality in all that is happening. People act/respond for their own interests, and what they love the most. Aren’t we all guilty of doing what we love most?  But is what we do compatible with what we say we love the most?  Jesus said (Mt. 6: 21) that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  And, just a few verses later (vs. 24) “You cannot serve God and money” [at the same time].  We are called by God to examine what controls our life.  Is it God, or is it something else?  Do we commit ourselves to (Matt. 5: 46) “those who love us,” or do we love our enemies?  We are reminded that God loves us, despite our past of sin.  He sent His Son to die that through Him we might find eternal life.  While we were enemies of God in sin, He came to us to demonstrate His love for us.

So, what is it that we will do in response to this love?  Will we strike out in revenge against those who have brought harm, pain or suffering to us?  Getting even, retaliating or taking revenge is not the answer.  We must defend our selves with the power and justice of God.  In Hebrews 10: 30 we read that God says: “vengeance is mine, I will repay.”  If there is truly injustice, God will take care of that injustice.  In the mean time, we are called upon by Jesus (Matt. 5: 44) to love our enemies.  This is the reminder that God loved us when we were enemies to Him, so we should love those who are enemies to us.  This is not an easy task.  It is one that will stretch our patience and abilities. But, if we have taken the name of Jesus as our own (Christian), then we are to love as Christ loves.  Galatians 6:9,10 reminds us to not grow weary in doing good (the Work of God) for it is in God’s time that we will see the results of our labors.  Do not be discouraged when life does not go as we desire, but be reminded that God is and always will be in ultimate control.  He will ultimately win.

Sunday July 17, 2016
The Problem of Sin
    Psalm 139: 17 – 24

When will this all end?  The chaos, the violence, the sniping and political avoidance seem to flow like the Mighty Mississippi.  Where in the goodness and righteousness of God do the problems of sin prevail?  We live by faith in God and His righteousness that will rule forever and brings justice to the world and its corruption.  Can we focus only on God, or will the evil of the world distract us from that divine righteousness?  Today we will look at the entirety of Psalm 139 and this picture of the righteousness of God.  This picture describes the infinite love, knowledge, wisdom and compassion of God.  Yet, in the midst of this goodness, comes a distraction from the divine to the corruption of the world.  (vss. 19 – 22)

How many times have we been distracted in our relationship with God, by sin and evil in the world?  We begin with great and noble intentions to read our Bible every day, or spend 30 minutes in prayer each day, yet how often is this time hijacked by the interruptions of life or the temptations of the world?  As the Psalmist (David) gave focus to the character of God, the press of the enemies to Israel became the focus of this song.  (vss. 19 – 22)  His focus came to “blame” others for his distraction.  God, if You would only rid the world of violence and sin, then I could devote myself fully in worship and prayer.  If only this enemy could be removed, then my heart would be fully devoted to You.

But, the answer did not come.  God will not remove evil from the world to make life easier for those who follow Him.  It is in the last verses of the Psalm that David realizes what he has said.  The call is not to rid the world of its sin, so that I might have an easier time in life.  The call is for God to examine and purify OUR hearts, so that the sin of the world might not encroach upon our relationship with Him.  God, examine our hearts and see if there is any sin, that in Your divine correction, I will be lead in the path of righteousness.

Sunday July 10, 2016
Facing our Fears
    Luke 12: 1 – 7

The course of events in recent weeks seems to have fueled the fears of not just a few, but for many.  Holy wars are waged in the “name” of what has been made god.  Nothing is new.  This has gone on throughout history, as a struggle over power, authority and control.  So who is truly in control of life and the world today?  If I don’t feel as though I have the power to control my life, what should I do?

To not have, or feel I have, control generates fear; fear of imagined threats.  If we don’t ‘allow’ open choice of which restroom should be used, are we afraid of a lawsuit?  Will we restrict our services and activities to those who can identify themselves as members? (An interpretation of Iowa Codes regarding discrimination.)
Do we fear the unknowns of the future, both immediate and eternal?  How much confidence do I have in my ability to control my future and destiny?  We have become dependent upon the actions of someone else for our wellbeing and future, instead of being dependent upon the guidance and directions of God.   We live with a great uncertainty in this world.  We are not sure about our income, our health, our abilities to do that which we once did, but that should not sway us from the promise of eternity.

Our text reminds us of the One who is truly in control of history and eternity.  We are to trust in God, not that He will make this moment perfect in every way, but that His promise of eternity is unshakeable.  His promises are from the beginning of time and history, and we have known His promises throughout time.  We are called to believe in all that Jesus has promised us through faith.  Read again John 14: 1-7 to see Jesus eternal promised that is based upon our faith.   Jesus calls us to faith, to believe what God has promised.  He will provide for the needs of our lives.  We can come to know the important things of life through Him and not be dependent on self satisfaction for our life values.

Sunday July 3, 2016
Independence From Oppression   
    Romans 6: 11 – 18

We have seen and heard the many phrases that surround the patriotic holidays.  Freedom isn’t free; Some gave their all; freedom from tyranny; Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are proclaimed to the masses.  But the end has never been achieved.  We remain at war with faceless terrorists; the oppression of violence in our communities has not been resolved; and we still do not fully understand the implications of freedom and liberty, and how they are applied to our society.
.    Only God has truly achieved freedom in the heart.  It is a freedom from the bondage of sin, only found through the saving sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross.  That freedom is achieved by the One other, to offer us a freedom from the oppression of the guilt of sin in our lives.  Because this is a matter of heart and soul, it becomes a matter of faith.  Do we believe that we have truly been set free from the guilt of our past?  Is there the spark or even flame of faith that releases us from the funk of guilt to the joy of salvation?

Yet, we also must ask what this new found freedom means to our life and existence in this world.  Does freedom from sin mean a liberty of our own choice?  Looking at our text for today, we must not allow our freedom from the guilt of sin push us (or give us liberty) to return to the past and its immorality.  Our freedom in Christ  does not give us ‘license’ to do whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we choose.

We have been set free from the bondage of sin to become a new creation in Christ.  Yet, Paul writes to the Corinthians that although we have been set free from sin by Christ our Savior, we are now slaves to the righteousness of God.  We, as saved sinners, are now responsible to the identity and responsibility of God’s righteousness.  The only right or privilege that is accorded to us as ‘the saved’ is that we have set aside the master of sin, to serve the Master of the Heavens.

Sunday June 26, 2016
I Take His Name       (Acts 11: 26)
    2 Corinthians 5: 16 – 21

The month of June is bathed in the old tradition as the month for marriage.  In the traditions, the woman would take the family name of the husband.  Is there a correlation to our spiritual experience with Jesus?  Revelation chapter 21 describes the relationship of Jesus to the church as He is the Bridegroom and the church is the bride.  We, as the universal church, are engaged in a covenant relationship with Christ, even as we are joined with Jesus in our hearts.

In Acts 11: 26 we read of the followers (disciples) of Jesus were first called Christians.  They “took” the name of Christ as their identification.  Out of the bond of reconciliation and salvation, we are yoked with Jesus, taking His name as our own.  We are identified with Him with great joy.  We have willingly taken His name with not only the rights and privileges of that Name, but with the responsibilities of honoring that Name in our words and deeds.

We are called to submit to Him in obedience to His command.  This is what He tells us as He calls us His beloved friend (John 15: 9 – 16) (cf. Eph. 5).  Not only do we honor this beloved Bride of the heart, we are also called to serve His interests.  He does not say this as the command of a distant ruler, but He speaks this out of His own life.  Matthew 20 : 26 – 28 tells us that the King of the Universe did not come to us (the bride) to be served, but to serve others.  As we have taken the Name of Jesus, joined to Him in our covenant bond of love, we are now called to serve others as He has served.  He calls us His ambassadors, to speak respond and do His desire, in His place, in His stead.  Let us respond as Jesus would respond in our world today.

Sunday June 19, 2016
Do Not Lose Heart
    2 Corinthians 4: 1 – 6

It is natural to feel the “let down” after a week of VBS, or an other event of significance.  The decorations, the enthusiasm of the children, the games, the stories all have contributed to a period of significance.  One part says, I wish it would never end, while another part says that I have no more energy to continue.  2 Cor. 4: 1 says: “…we have this ministry…”  A task given by God to reach to the (true) needs, both physical and spiritual of those with whom we have connection.  Paul further writes that we should not lose heart, don’t give up the Godly purity of this ministry.  Don’t just offer pity, but compassion and God’s love.  Offer the help with plain truth, facing the harsh realities, explaining God’s Truth and seek the divine solutions with compassionate objectivity.  God does not want us to live on emotions and feelings driving our lives.  He does not want us to live without emotion or feeling, but the listening for the Holy Spirit to clearly move our actions.

When the Spirit is in control of our lives, we will let the Light of Christ shine into the darkness of the world of sin.  The Light shines from our “hearts,” that center of our being. The center of body, mind and soul.    The light shines in and from our actions. Our ‘works’ will point to God’s love more than a social service project.  The Light must also shine in our words.  It is wrong to think that the words we share cannot cause harm.  Our words must speak the disciplined and caring speech of Jesus.  Even when He spoke harsh words, it was with compassion, seeking the restoration of the divine relationship with God.

Sunday June 12, 2016
Going Deep
    Luke 5: 1-7

The account of Luke 5 and the great catch of fish is a multi-layered truth of the many “Deep-Sea Discoveries” in the Scriptures. The first point of this discovery is the necessity to go deeper in our faith, in order to reap even greater benefits in faith.  This discovery requires our going deeper in understanding the love of God.  We must go deeper that the recitation of John 3: 16: “for God so loved the world…”  Though we must embrace these fundamental truths, we need to ‘chew’ on the meats of our faith, rather than continuing with the simple ‘milk’ of our Christian infancy.  To go deeper, we must be obedient to the instruction and command of the Divine Master.  The disciples would have given up in their work of the night, had they not been obedient to Jesus command to cast their nets on the other (deeper) side of the boat.

We must be willing to dive deeper into the waters of our faith; not to do it ‘just because’ or for the ‘fun’ of it, but because God has set out great spiritual treasures and blessings for those who dive deep.  And so to increase our relationship with our Savior and to go deeper in our faith, we dive in to discover more about our Redeemer.  This exciting part of about the deeper discoveries is the joy of what we spiritually receive.  It is a SPIRITUAL prosperity that cannot be compared to any earthly commodity.   Then we will find that we want to increase the frequency of our ‘dives’ into the treasures that God has placed before us.  And we will give Him the glory and the praise for inviting us to be a part of His great treasures.

Sunday May 22, 2016
So that You may be able
(text) 2 Corinthians 1: 3 – 11

I was reading a book on prayer (Praying Like Paul by Jonathan Graf) and discovered something quite interesting.  We don’t have any major examples of prayer by Paul, though he frequently writes that he was praying for others.  We read only once where he prayed for himself (2 Cor. 12: 8).  So, what was Paul’s prayer life like?  We know it was to be without ceasing (1 Thess.5:17).  We also gain from his writing that our prayers are primarily for others, or for the intangibles from God.  Our prayers are about praise to the Almighty and the giving of thanks for His providential action.  but, thee is  one phrase in the writing about prayer that really sticks out: “so that.”  This is the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, so that God might receive the glory, so that the kingdom might be enlarged, so that others will come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

So how is our prayer life?  Have we gotten to a place where our prayers have become the wish list for God’s actions?  Please do not stop praying as an intercessor before God.  Please continue to pray for the needs of others, for their peace of heart and mind.  Pray for your own needs and concerns, but don’t make that the exclusive emphasis of your prayer time.  Remember the words of Paul as he spoke of his prayer life.  He prayed so that others might see or experience God.  He prayed so that God might be glorified in his own life, whether in a prison, or on the streets of Rome.
Look at Philemon 6 where Paul prayed that he might be active in sharing of his (Philemon) faith, so that he will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.  Philippians 1: 10 adds in Paul’s prayers “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless… to the glory and praise of God.”

Pray today, not for the wants of your life, but for eyes to see all that God has done, is doing and will do in our life.  Pray that in our life, others will see the peace of God, and the glory of our Savior in every word we speak and every action we take, so that others might come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

 

Sunday May 15, 2016  –
The Sign and Seal
(text) 2 Corinthians 1: 18-22

What do we think of when we hear the words: ‘signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours’?  These words are from the Stevie Wonder song of the same title. But, does God own title to our soul with those same words?  God has made covenant agreements with humanity in many different times and in different ways.  One of the first covenants was with Noah, where God promised that He would never destroy the earth again by flood.  This was a unilateral covenant (only given by God).  Later we find the covenant between Abram and God (Gen. 15).  This is a covenant and agreement between God AND Abram.  When Moses gave the 10 commandments to Israel, they engaged in a new covenant of obedience.
.    We also find other signs of covenant in the dove, first as Noah had the dove return with the olive branch (Gen. 8:11). Later in Matthew 3: 16, at the baptism of Jesus, a dove is seen as descending upon Jesus and the words of God are heard: “This is my Son.”  But there is a third sign or evidence of God’s Covenant in the Holy Spirit.  (2 Cor. 1:22).

From the evidences, we acknowledge the seal of God’s ownership.  Revelation 7 speaks of the multitude who were “sealed” as servants of God.  To be sealed is to declare who owns us.  The believer belongs to God, as Jesus is our Master as well as Savior.  When we are sealed,, there is an assurance for the future.  Like the soft drink can that is sealed, when the time comes to open it, we expect that it will remain tasty and fizzy.
.   God’s seal upon our lives, His ownership of our hearts, not only gives us the assurance of the future, but a confidence to stand firm in our faith in the present.  In the anointing of the Spirit, the deposit and guarantee of the future is ours, to lead a life of God’s righteousness.

Sunday May 8, 2016  –
Silver Coins
(text) Colossians 3: 12 – 17

Last week I introduced an idea from Luke 15 that there are “10” silver coins of our salvation.  This was continued further in the Sunday night study group.  Today’s message is the investigation of the precious “silver coins” of our salvation.  What are the new characteristics that are uniquely found in our life that come from our salvation?
.      In our hearts and lives we hold a great treasury of heaven’s transformational life characteristics.  God gives to us each of these things at our salvation as heavenly gifts.  We make choices about what we will do with each gift presented.  We can continue in the path of the world’s corruption, or we can embrace the things from above (Col. 3: 1).  If Christ is in our heart and life, we must continually choose to “think” and live on that which God puts before us in our new life as a follower of Jesus.
.       Paul’s letter to the people of Colossae describes these “coins” as a piece of clothing that wraps around our lives.  Was there a practice of the ancients to sew coinage upon their clothing to signify their wealth or power? Paul describes in verses 12- 15 eleven different characteristics that would identify the Spirit of Christianity uniquely over and against the world.  Out of the love of God through Christ for us, and the holiness before the Lord through our faith, we are to be clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, grace (to bear with), forgiveness, love, unity, peace and thankfulness.  These are not to be thought of as the ‘end all’ list of characteristics, but a large sample of what Jesus presents to us in our salvation.
.    Above all, we are to let the peace (reconciliation) of Christ be the rule of our hearts and lives.  His peace is that which surpasses all understanding of the mind (Philippians 4:7).  It comes out of faith.  (See Hebrews 11: 1)  His peace is that which grows out of our love for God, for each other and for ourselves.
.    As these ‘coins’ are set before us, to embrace and hold, they are not to simply be placed in a coin purse and hidden from view.  They are to be an adornment of our life clothing; they are the clothing of our life that covers our heart and soul as an outer cloak. As a testimony of Jesus in our life, speak, act and live as if it were Jesus Himself speaking or doing the actions of our lives.

Sunday May 1, 2016  –
Regaining what is lost
(text) Luke 15: 1 – 10

I have a reputation for organized chaos in my different realms.  The garage, shed and my office look as though I could never find anything, but very seldom is something forever lost.  Sometimes I have to dig and sort through to find that which has been forgotten or misplaced, but it is with joy that the lost becomes found.  In the triple parable of Luke 15 (we will only look at two) Jesus begins with the story of what is valued to God (the shepherd).  His love and concern for each individual is so great that He would leave the greater group to its own maintenance, so that He might seek and rescue the lost individual.  We can think of His compassion in a way that says Jesus died to save even me.
.     The second parable speaks to what we personally value.  There is a parallel to Matthew 13 and the pearl of great price.  The widow has lost a coin, one tenth of her meager fortune.  She lights a lamp, sweeps the house and searches thoroughly for the lost coin.  Often we think about this as the diligence of God to seek the lost soul.  Today I want us to consider our selves as the widow.  And we have lost the “tenth” or what belongs to God.  How much effort would we expend to recover that which does not “belong” to us?
.     Let’s push this even farther. What are the needed components when we have lost something of value to our soul?  First, it comes in the realization of the loss. We are now motivated to recover what is lost.  Some would call this repentance, the sorrow of the current condition and the desire to reverse that condition.   The widow then lighted a lamp.  We re-introduce the Light of the World into our house (soul).  She then swept the house.  We clear out the clutter, the dirt and garbage from our lives.  She then could begin the search for what is still present in the house, but not in her immediate possession.  Our search may be for what is described in Revelation 2 – to forsake our first love of God.  It may be another treasure from the storehouse of heaven that we have set aside or forgotten.  But, we must search in the recovery of that Heavenly, spiritual treasure, and when we have found it, go to those around us and in great joy share this good news with others.