Read "From the Pastor's Desk," Pastor Michele Kaufman's monthly message:
February 2021 - Lent
Friday, February 26
…… Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Matt. 18:21
The story is told of two friends who were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand, "Today my best friends slapped me in the face." They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone, "Today my best friend saved my life." His friend asked him, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?" The other friend replied "When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it."
So real forgiveness keeps on leaving the sins of others and our hurts in the past. Yet Jesus understands the difficulty of such forgiveness. To keep on forgiving is a God-like characteristic. It is contrary to human nature. So He gives a parable beginning in v.23 which helps us obey His commandment to keep on forgiving.
Let us pray…O God in your mercy, wash away our sins. Cleanse us from the stain and guilt of the sins we cannot forget and those we cannot remember. We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. For the sake of Jesus Christ, turn your eyes from our sins and cover our guilt that we may know the joy of your salvation. Amen.
Thursday, February 25
Jesus’ disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation." He said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, `Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. I tell you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:1-13
A tale is told about a small town that had historically been "dry," but then a local businessman decided to build a tavern. A group of Christians from a local church were concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. It just so happened that shortly thereafter lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated that "no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not."
Prayer does its silent refueling of the soul. Many great persons have changed the course of history with dynamic leadership following the refueling of the soul. George Washington, amidst hunger and starvation, rose from prayer on his knees to lead his impoverished troops to a Christmas Eve victory over the Hessians. Abraham Lincoln, from the loss of his dearest loved one, rose with greater understanding to lead a sorrowful nation from Civil War to peace.
Prayer is not the whispering of sweet nothings, but communication between us and God. A resource which helps a sinner become good, but one must believe in its power and the connection.
Let us pray… Hear my prayer O Lord…listen to my cry. You know our innermost thoughts, you know the desires that lie deep within our hearts. Be with us we pray and guide us as we journey through the wilderness of life. May we listen for your voice and follow the direction you would have us take. Amen.
Wednesday, February 24
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Girolamo Savonarola preached in the great cathedral of Florence, Italy in the 15th century. The cathedral contained a magnificent marble statue of the blessed virgin Mary. When Savonarola started preaching at this great cathedral, he noticed one day an elderly woman praying before this statue of Mary. He then began to notice that it was her habit to come every day and pray before the statue.
Savonarola remarked one day to an elderly priest who had been serving in the cathedral for many years, "Look how devoted and earnest this woman is. Every day she comes and offers prayers to the blessed Mother of Jesus. What a marvelous act of faith." But the elderly priest replied, "Do not be deceived by what you see. Many years ago when the sculptor needed a model to pose for this statue of the blessed Mother, he hired a beautiful young woman to sit for him. This devout worshiper you see here everyday is that young woman. She is worshipping who she used to be.”
The first and perhaps the deadliest of the seven deadly sins is pride. The Oxford Dictionary defines pride as an "unduly high opinion of one's own qualities, merits, that is, an arrogant bearing." Pride is self-love that says, "I'm better than you." You see pride in others when someone makes a boast of his or her accomplishment as though you are expected to pay homage. This attitude toward God finds expression in one's attitude toward others, often causing people to have a low estimate of the ability and worth of others and therefore to treat them with either contempt or cruelty. Some have considered pride to be the root and essence of sin. Others consider it to be sin in its final form. In either case, it is a grievous sin. When we let sinful pride take over, we forget God created us equally.
Let us pray…Gracious God, Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth, from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace. Let peace fill our hearts, let peace fill our world, let peace abound. Amen.
Tuesday, February 23
As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down." As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?" Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. Mark 13:1-8
Have you ever felt unprepared? I mean for Christ's second coming? At times I know that if the sky cracked open and the trumpet sounded for the saints to be called home I would not be ready. Reinhold Niebuhr was a famous theologian known to most all us clergy. You perhaps are not familiar with him but you are familiar with his prayer:
God grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.
We know it as the Serenity Prayer and it conveys an attitude I like very well. On many occasions I absolutely refuse to accept people I know I have no possibility of changing. On other occasions I don't have the courage to root out some sin from my life. Why? Cause I don't wanna'. And wisdom? Well, you know very well that's in short supply. The more I can adopt the attitude of the serenity prayer the more ready I know I will be for His coming.
Let us pray: Holy immortal God, calm my troubled soul, dispel my fears, give me the courage to face each day with the knowledge that you are always with me. May I live each day according to your will and may I ever look to You to lead me forward. Amen.
Monday, February 22
John said to him, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward. Mark 9: 38-41
In 1939, a coast guard vessel was cruising the Canadian Arctic when the men spotted a polar bear stranded on an ice floe. It was quite a novelty for the seamen, who threw the bear salami, peanut butter, and chocolate bars. Then they ran out of the food. Unfortunately, the polar bear hadn't run out of appetite, so he proceeded to board their vessel. The men on ship were terrified and opened the fire hoses on the bear. The polar bear loved it and raised his paws in the air to get the water under his armpits. We don't know how they did it, but eventually they forced the polar bear to return to his ice pad but not before teaching these seamen a horrifying lesson about feeding polar bears.
Some people make the same mistake with sin that these sailors nearly made with the polar bear. They begin feeding it a little at a time without thinking through the consequences. "It says something about our times," writes Willard Ferrell, "that we rarely use the word sinFUL except to describe a really good dessert."
Let us pray….God our Father, we are a pilgrim people, who wander from your ways. We cry to you for forgiveness. Grant us peace and release. Help us to discern your ways from the ways of the world and in all that we do, may we serve You. In your name we pray…Amen.
February 21, 2021
Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised. I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. I say to you, they have received their reward. When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. I say to you, they have received their reward. When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Once upon a time long ago a young man decided to become a saint. He left his home, family, and possessions and journeyed into the hot sands of the desert where he eventually found a dark cave. He thought, "I can find God here. I will be alone and nothing will disturb me." He prayed day and night in the cave, but God sent him many temptations. He imagined all the good things in life and wanted them desperately, but he was determined to give up everything and be with God alone. After many months, the temptations stopped and the young man was alone with God.
Then one day God called to him, "Leave your cave and go to a distant town. Look for the local shoemaker. Knock on his door and stay with his family for a few days." The holy hermit was puzzled by God's request, but nonetheless left the next morning. He walked across the desert sands and by nightfall had reached the village. He found a small house, knocked on the door and was greeted with a smile and a welcome. The hermit inquired if the man was the local shoemaker. Hearing that he was, the hermit was pleased, but the shoemaker, seeing that the hermit was tired and hungry invited him in to stay. The hermit was given a hearty meal and a clean place to sleep. The hermit stayed with the shoemaker and his family for three days. The two men talked quite a bit and the hermit learned much about the shoemaker, but he revealed little about himself, even though the family was quite curious about him.
Then after three days the hermit said good-bye to the shoemaker and his family and walked back across the desert to his cave, wondering all the while why God had sent him on this mission. When he arrived back at the cave, God questioned the hermit. "What was the shoemaker like?" The hermit answered, "He is a simple man; they have a small home. He has a wife and a baby. They seem to love each other greatly. He has a small shop where he makes shoes. He works very hard and makes very little, but he still gives money and food to those who are less fortunate. He and his wife pray each day; they have lots of friends." God listened to the hermit and replied, "You will be a great saint, as you wish, but the shoemaker and his family will be great saints as well."
The legend of Saint Antony of the Desert describes what sainthood is all about, namely leading a life of holiness. Baptism is a call to discipleship that may be lived in many ways, but the central call for all who follow in the footsteps of the Master is to live a holy life. Antony discovered there were many paths to God and sainthood. Living in the light of the Christmas season just passed, we must see our call to be disciples, to live holy lives consistent with Jesus' message of peace, humility, and love.
Let us pray….Help us to see your ways O Lord ; help us to do your will. Help me to do as you would have me do in whatever way I can….amen.
Saturday, February 20th
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. Titus 2:11-12
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian, who joined the resistance against Hitler, established an underground seminary during those days. Out of that experience he wrote a book called, The Cost of Discipleship. It's a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. In it he makes the distinction between "cheap grace" and "costly grace." Cheap grace is going to church to hear the comfortable words, the good news about God's unconditional love, then snuggling in it, as if it were a down comforter, leaving church with a warm, peaceful feeling, but not letting the one who brought that love into the world, who died for you because of that love, challenge the way you are now living.
In the Bible repentance is not just remorse for the past, feeling sorry that you did something. In the Bible repentance is making a decision about the future, how you are going to live. It's the realization that God is giving you a new opportunity for life, and seizing that opportunity.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed. We struggle to be true to Christ. We are fully aware of our unfaithfulness, the pride, the hypocrisy, our impatience and lack of concern for others. Accept our repentance for the wrongs we have done. Renew a right spirit within us O God. Be with us we pray…amen.
Friday, February 19th
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
There’s a story about a young man whose wife had died, leaving him with a small son. Back home from the cemetery, they went to bed early because there was nothing else he could bear to do. As he lay there in the darkness--grief-stricken and heartbroken, the little boy broke the stillness from his little bed with a disturbing question, “Daddy, where is mommy?” The father got up and brought the little boy to bed with him, but the child was still disturbed and restless, occasionally asking questions like “Why isn’t she here?” and When is she coming back?” Finally the little boy said, “Daddy, if your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep now. And in a little while he was quiet. The father lay there in the darkness, and then in childlike faith, prayed this prayer: "O God, I don’t see how I can survive this. The future looks so miserable. But if your face is toward me, somehow I think I can make it.”
That’s what the Jesus came to teach us: that God’s face is always towards us. Do you feel insecure as we enter this Lenten season? You do if your marriage is less than solid. You do if your job is at risk. You might if you have medical problems. If you have lost a loved-one in the last year, insecurity could be part of your grief. Let Jesus replace your insecurity this Lenten season with the following bedrock conviction: God and you are in this together. Nothing can happen that God and you together cannot manage. Nothing will ever be able to separate you from his love. Now, that’s real security.
Let us pray: Give us the strength and the courage we need Heavenly Father to place our trust in You. Look into the depths of our hearts; help us to choose what is right and true and to believe that You are with us every step of the way. Be with us we pray…Amen.
Thursday, February 18
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1
Ann Wells was visiting her brother-in-law after her sister’s death. He opened the bottom drawer of her sister's bureau and lifted out a tissue-wrapped package. ‘This," he said, "is not a slip. This is lingerie."
He discarded the tissue and handed her the slip. It was exquisite: silk, handmade and trimmed with a cobweb of lace. The price tag with an astronomical figure on it was still attached.
"Jan bought this the first time we went to New York, at least eight or nine years ago. She never wore it. She was saving it for a special occasion. Well, I guess this is the occasion."
He took the slip from her and put it on the bed with the other clothes they were taking to the mortician. His hands lingered on the soft material for a moment, then he slammed the drawer shut and turned to her….
"Don't ever save anything for a special occasion. Every day you're alive is a special occasion."
Let us pray….Good and gracious God, so many things happen in a day’s time that distracts us from seeing those things which are ultimately important. May I never wait to do tomorrow what I can do today. Amen.
ASH WEDNESDAY - FEBRUARY 17th
Ash Wednesday is the first day of the penitential season of Lent. Its true name is actually not "Ash Wednesday" but "The Day of Ashes." Whichever name is used, the reference to ashes comes from the ceremony of placing ashes on the forehead in the shape of the cross as a sign of penitence. This custom was introduced by Pope Gregory I, who was Bishop of Rome from to 590 A.D. to 604 A.D.
Yet even now, says the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. "Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.
This is a story told by Major Barbara Sherer, a United States Army Chaplain. Major Sherer's letter came from Kuwait, where she was stationed, serving our troops. She tells of a fire that raced through a complex of five large tents that served as the camp's central dining facility, and also the place where she and the other chaplains held religious services. Miraculously, the fire broke out at just the right time. It was Sunday morning, but breakfast was over. The Protestant worship service had ended and the Catholic service had not yet begun. A little earlier or a little later, and the results could have been tragic. Those tents would have been packed with soldiers.
But there's more to the story. The fire occurred on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Chaplain Sherer happened to be faced, at the time, with a dilemma. She was preparing to hold an Ash Wednesday services in a few days, but she had no ashes.
Traditionally, the ashes for Ash Wednesday come from burned palm fronds, left over from the previous year's Palm Sunday; but in all the hectic preparations for her unit's deployment to the middle east, Barbara had not thought ahead about where she was going to get ashes. Let Barbara tell the rest of the story in her own words:
"The site was under guard, so I asked an MP to escort me to the firefighters who were working there. Things had calmed down, and they were just watching to make sure there were no flare-ups. "I explained to the officer in charge what I wanted. He agreed it was a very appropriate request. I handed a cup to one of the firefighters, who walked to the rubble, scooped up some ash, and returned to me. “Is this enough?” he asked. "'Perfect,' I replied. I placed the cup in a Zip-Loc bag and headed to my tent. Two days later I decided to open the bag and see if I needed to crunch up the ashes into smaller pieces. I was digging around in the cup with a plastic knife when I noticed the edge of something metallic. I reached in, and pulled out a cross: a flat, metal cross. It had some dark smudges on it from the fire, but it was otherwise undamaged. I could still read the etching on it: 'Jesus is Lord.'
"I can't even fathom the odds of picking the exact site of that cross out of the acreage destroyed by the fire. It doesn't matter. The message to me is clear: God walks with us through the terrible firestorms of our lives, and we are lifted unharmed out of the ashes. We may be marked in some way, like the cross of ash placed on our foreheads during Ash Wednesday. However, that mark is a symbol of God's love and protection. "I wear that cross now on my dogtags. No matter where the Army may send me, or what God may ask of me, I will cherish this special reminder that God will never leave us alone to face the tragedies in our lives. With God's help, we will always rise out of the ashes."
So why do we bother to smear ashes on our foreheads? Why do we gather and remember what we are on Ash Wednesday? The answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, more importantly we also gather to remember who God is - and what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ. We do not observe Lent in order to grovel in the realization of how bad we are; we observe Lent because we know that, if we faithfully and obediently make that journey of repentance, on the other side is the glory of Easter.
Let us pray: Most holy and merciful God, we confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We confess our past unfaithfulness, the pride, the hypocrisy, our impatience and lack of concern for others. Accept our repentance Lord for the wrongs we have done. Restore us God Lord to your care. Be with us we pray…amen.
January 2021 - New Year's Message ~
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 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 past. Fortunately, for most of us, New Year's Day is a judgment day with the promise of another year -- another possibility -- a chance to do better attached. 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 in the year before? We come to the end of the year and we are no further along in our spiritual lives, our social lives, our physical lives, 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 resolutions.
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 and nothing that grows my love for God like reading His Word. I am going to ask you to make this your one thing.
I don’t know about you, but 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 encourage others and more committed to Christ. And, I hope you will join me in this.
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