Read "From the Pastor's Desk," Pastor Michele Kaufman's monthly message:
LENT IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER… “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Lent is the church's way of telling time. How much longer to Calvary? How much longer to Easter? It is the church's way of remembering the adult Jesus and how everything ended ... rather than the baby Jesus and how everything began. Once upon a time, Lent was a preparatory period ... a time of instruction ... getting candidates ready for Easter baptism. Today, it's much more than that. Or can be. For some, Lent is a disciplined effort at self-improvement. More than "forty days to thinner thighs," Lent might involve a conscious decision to better the self in ways deemed necessary or spiritually beneficial. Services rendered
Reconciliation extended ...
While for others, Lent is the church's permission to look inward.
To delve into our soul
To deepen, rather than widen
To replicate the forty days our Lord spent in the wilderness and stare down temptation ... step up our obligations ... saying, "this I mustn't do" ... countering with "this I ought to do"
It can also be a time to Listen for God; to meditate or pray or journal or merely make peace with silence.
As for giving something up ... or taking something on ...you be the judge. And as for doing better versus digging deeper ... well, you be the judge of that. Ask yourself a question: "Which needs more work, my behavior or my interior?" Only you can know.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to 4 have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 12:13-14
You know, there is something about New Year's Day that is a little bit like Judgment day. It is a time when we look back and ask ourselves if we feel good about what we did with the year just passed. Fortunately, for most of us, New Year's Day is the promise of another year -- another possibility -- a chance to do better. When old age or serious illness makes us wonder how many chances we have left, we may take the opportunity very seriously. We all should take it seriously. None of us know how many chances we have left to make the most of life.
According to USA.gov the top ten resolutions that Americans make every New Year’s Day are the following: Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions 1. Lose weight 2. Manage debt/save money 3. Get physically fit 4. Eat healthy 5. Learn something new 6. Drink less alcohol 7. Quit smoking 8. Reduce stress 9. Take a trip somewhere 10. Volunteer to help others. Those are all very good resolutions. The problem is 4-out-of-5 people who make them will break them. One-third of people who make resolutions won’t get past the end of January before they break them. That is why I believe what we need is not a New Year’s resolution, but what we need is a New Year’s revolution.
What does God say to us? He has plenty to say about how we can maximize every year He gives us to reach our God-given potential to be what we ought to be, do what we ought to do, and become what we ought to become. Why do people fail in keeping New Year’s resolutions? Why is it so many of us come to the end of one year with the same baggage we carried the year before? We come to the end of the year and we are no further along in our spiritual, social, physical, or our vocational lives than we were the year before. The date changes, but the destination hasn’t. We are still stuck in the same place. A psychology professor at Florida State University did a study and came up with two reasons why people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions are too general and there are too many.
The first thing you need to do as you enter into a new season is put the old one behind you. You can’t focus on where you are going until you forget where you’ve been. You cannot sail the ship of your life into the seas of the future with joy and peace if your anchor is stuck in the mud of the past. You can’t run forward if you are always looking backward. Paul said the key to living a productive life is to focus. Anyone knows that concentration is the secret of power. If you take a river and make that river flow in one direction and one direction only and not overflow its banks it can become a tremendous source of electric energy. If you can take light and concentrate it and its power, you can make a laser that can cut through steel. I am absolutely convinced that the greatest single thing I do on a daily basis is to try and hear God speak to me through His Word. There is nothing that feeds my spirit, nothing that encourages my heart, nothing that motivates me to live for Jesus like reading His Word. I’m going to move forward into the New Year saying each and every day: “This is the day the Lord has made and with God’s help, I will rejoice and be glad in it by being more committed to kindness, more committed to encouraging others and more committed to Christ. And I hope you will join me in this.
And so it begins, the season of Advent, a time of preparation, a time of going toward the coming again of the Messiah, a time of great expectation and great anticipation. But exactly what is it that we anticipate? What are we getting ready for? What do we expect to happen? Do we anticipate the end of the world, as some religious cults always do at this time of the year? Are we preparing our hearts and spirits to receive again the coming, the coming of the Christ child into the world?
Advent has nothing to do with the number of shopping days left until Xmas. With the hanging of the greens, the placement of the poinsettias, the lighting of the first Advent candle – all these invite us to dream dreams of a better world, to allow expectant visions that have nothing to do with sugar-plum fairies to dance in our heads. Advent invites us to fill the cup of today with a full measure of tomorrow.
The way we see Advent and Christmas will determine our approach to the celebration. Is the essential work of Advent hanging decorations or is it more about opening our lives to the coming Christ and learning to live in peace? Will Christmas come only if we do all the right things to get ready for it? Or, is Christmas a gift from God that arrives whether we’re ready for it or not?
We need to get our lives in order or we will miss the whole thing. The truth of the matter is that God’s entrance into our lives in the person of Jesus Christ occurs at God’s initiative and not ours. Christ arrives in our midst not as a reward for our careful preparation for his coming, but as a result of the love and compassion of God. Christ comes to us whether we’re ready or not. The truth of the matter is that God’s entrance into our lives in the person of Jesus Christ occurs at God’s initiative and not ours. Christ arrives in our midst not as a reward for our careful preparation for his coming, but as a result of the love and compassion of God. Christ comes to us whether we’re ready or not. Matthew describes the gift of the season of Advent with a single word, my personal favorite of all the "Christmas words" – Emmanuel, God with us. Not God HAS BEEN with us; not God WILL BE with us; but God WITH us, right now, TODAY!
Reformation Day isn't just an anniversary or just a remembrance of what God has done in the past. It is a reminder that God is working among us now, in the present; that God is calling us forward into the future. God is reforming us now, beckoning us back to the truth, back to hope and life and forgiveness we can never earn. God is sending us out to live and speak life. Through Jesus Christ, God forgives and re-forms you and calls you to be his body, his church. Through the Holy Spirit, God reforms and holds the church. And through the church, God announces the good news and reforms the world.
Most Protestant Christians observe Reformation Day in honor of Martin Luther and other Christians who removed false doctrine and destructive practices from the Christian church. Because the Roman Catholic Church was desperate to raise money to complete St. Peter's in Rome during the Middle Ages, many clergy used fear as a tool to obtain money from poor and unsophisticated people. They told the people that they had to pay money to the church so that their sins and the sins of their families might be forgiven. The people bought pieces of paper called pardons and indulgences from the church so that they could believe that they would go to heaven when they died.
Luther was deeply disturbed by these and other abuses in the church. At the same time he was aware of his own sins and imperfections, and he tried very hard to make himself into a person that he thought God would like. The harder he tried, the worse he felt. He thought he was growing farther and farther away from God, and that it was becoming impossible for God to like him at all.
In despair, he began a deep study of the Bible, especially the letters in the New Testament that were written by Paul, most of all the letter to the Romans, and he began to understand what Paul had told the early Christians over a thousand years before.
In his preaching and writing, Luther began to emphasize two main points: justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.
Justification by faith means that Christians can never earn God's love or forgiveness. All that Christians must do is to accept God as God, and God will love and forgive and cherish them.
The priesthood of all believers means that every Christian has his or her own personal relationship with God, reading the Bible and worshiping in his or her own language, and praying directly to God without anyone's going in between.
So Protestant Christians give thanks to God on this day for the opportunity to lead lives of faith, instead of lives of fear.
Each of us will face trials and tests, and as in this simplistic example, it is how we react to those difficulties that will determine our success and happiness. Each of us will face adversity no matter where we are. We are taught in the scriptures that there “must needs be … an opposition in all things.” We each face times of difficulty and the question is not when we will face them but how we face them.
The Apostle Paul taught an interesting lesson only a few years before the saints in Rome were to face some of the most violent persecution of any Christian era. Paul reminded the saints that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” Our heavenly Father, who loves us, permits us to have experiences that will allow us to develop the traits and attributes we need to become more and more Christlike. Our trials come in many forms, but each one allows us to become more like the Savior as we learn to recognize the good that comes from each experience. As we understand this doctrine, we gain greater assurance of our heavenly Father’s love. We may never know in this life why we face what we do, but we can feel confident that we can grow from the experience.
I realize that it is much easier to look back when difficulty is behind us and see what we have learned from our experience, but the challenge is to gain that eternal perspective while we are in the midst of our trials and tribulations. Knowing that Christ is with us gives us the strength and the fortitude to overcome all things.
Jesus tells us that where we place our treasure, we will find our hearts. Whether we think of it as treasure, wealth, or just “our stuff,” Jesus is aware that the things in our lives have a way of becoming the center of our lives. We usually don’t mean for things to happen that way but the more we concentrate on something, the more important it becomes to us. The things that start out on the periphery of our lives have a way of working themselves onto center stage. Too often we have allowed the “stuff” of our lives to determine our sense of worth. That’s not the kingdom God calls us into. Jesus said that where our treasure is there our hearts will be also. I believe he was talking about the fundamental orientation of our lives. What is most important to us?
Years ago, my mother-in-law would ask permission to make a purchase for my children. My response was often, “It’s your money.” She did it because of the joy it brought not only to the children but because she could do it. My mother-in-law grew up during the depression. She knew what it was to go without. But knowing she was in a position to be able to do and give brought her great joy. Now as a grandmother I understand the feeling. While we all need to pay the bills, things are not as important as the joy one sees in the giving of not only gifts, but time spent, memories made. Time and how I spend that time has become more precious than the money or things.
God’s gift to us is a wondrous gift. It calls us back to the reality of who we were created to be so that we can live out of that reality instead a fantasy of material wealth. We are offered a place in God’s realm where we matter just because we do. God has said that we are precious and that makes it so. When we quit trying to earn our place in God’s world and just accept it as God’s gift, then we can begin to really live. We can know wholeness and joy that no one and nothing can ever take away.
Read 1 Kings 17:1-24 The Widow of Zarapeth
When things are scarce, people tend to be more careful. When the economy is down, people spend less, and start fewer businesses. When income is down, people are slow to spend and tend to save more. We adopt a "wait and see" attitude based on our fear of the unknown. During seasons of scarcity, people are rarely focused on giving. But something happens when we're willing to give even in a season of scarcity.
The widow of Zarapeth is featured in the story where she takes Elijah, a stranger, into her home. While he stays with her, God sustains them with a little flour and oil for nearly two years. What is remarkable about the story is that before the miracle she takes her last flour and oil and gives it to Elijah in obedience to God's word. This widow demonstrates what it means to be generous and practice generosity requesting nothing in return. We could very well understand her refusal under the circumstances, but she gives from the heart. She doesn't say sorry, my family comes first or sorry I can't help you, and go about her business, but instead goes about meeting his need trusting the word of God. He gives her a promise from the Lord: “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.” She gives not expecting to receive in return. She also reminds us of another widow who gives her last two coins into the temple treasury in Luke 21:1-4. These generous women would be considered poor by the rest of the world, but by heaven's standards, they are wealthy beyond description and our comprehension. But both these women serve as an example to us, especially those of us who want for little that a generous heart is comprised of certain characteristics:
A generous heart is a careful steward of their personal resources and skills which implies a circumspect attitude to giving, thinking, and expecting good return to giving. Giving is done with careful thought and not on the spur of the moment. They understand the difference between ownership and stewardship.
They show kindness even when it is undeserved and grace to those who don't deserve it based on personal integrity and courage; they are persons of conviction.
They also know how to suffer lack, without growing bitter. They have a personal integrity and a sense of purpose; an awareness of the bigger picture.
They give quietly, sacrificially, and lovingly, exhibiting faith
A generous heart is anchored in God's love. God pours his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, giving us the ability to be truly generous. A generous heart is a lifestyle that permeates every area of our lives. Being a generous giver starts with working on the attitudes of your heart first. When our hearts are generous in our giving and trusting the word of God, we are in a position to see the miracles God will work in our lives and through us in the world.