Read "From the Pastor's Desk," Pastor Michele Kaufman's monthly message:
Valentine’s Day occurs every February 14. Across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Still others insist that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He, too, was beheaded by Claudius II outside Rome. And so Valentine’s Day has become a significant cultural, religious and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world.
Love….what the world so desperately needs today is love. It seems pretty obvious that the central teaching of Jesus is love. The kingdom of God is about love. Justice and righteousness are about love. It starts out with love. Love is the energy that keeps us alive, and love is the goal. If there is a God, it doesn't say God loves, but God is love. The essence of God is love. The prime mover, the creator, the mastermind behind all that we see and discover is love. The manifestation of that love came in the person of Jesus. God sent the one born of Mary to reveal, to let us see love. God wanted to love us in a tangible way, so Jesus was born. The Word of God which is love became flesh.
In the life of Jesus we see that love is a binding relationship, a caring, a willingness to sacrifice, to lay down one's life, to enter into the other person's situation. "Greater love has no one," says Jesus, "than to lay down one's life for others." Jesus' life is a demonstration of that love. God wants us to love one another. It's God's commandment to us. Love sums up all the commandments. It has authority behind it. It's not an option. It's not a theory, an idea, a philosophy to bounce around. It's not a question or suggestion as one possible route you may take. It's a command. This is my commandment that you love one another. Love is more than a feeling. It is an attitude from which we operate. It is a way of behaving toward others. We may not always feel love, but we can do the loving thing. Love is more than words. Love is sacrifice, obedience, partnership, turning the other cheek. We may sing "I love to tell the story of unseen things above," but what the world is looking for is not words or melodies, but love, love that manifests itself in the way we spend our money, the way we vote, the way we treat those who don't deserve our love, those whose skin color or beliefs are different than ours. "Mother, father, sister, brother, everybody sing and shout, 'cause that's what it's all about. It's about love."
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Since it is New Year's, what could be more appropriate than some New Year's resolutions? New Year's resolutions. Do you bother with them? "I'm going to quit smoking," or "I'm going to lose some weight," or "I'm going to spend more time with my family." Let’s look at 1 Corinthians. What is the first thing we run into? Paul's greeting to the church: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ". If we take those words and then consider the verses immediately following, we find some fruitful direction for resolution building.
What is the very first word? Grace — good word — it is one around which we can, not only build a New Year's resolution, but an entire theology ... grace! "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound....". There is something extra special in knowing that the new year begins with grace ... God's unmerited favor. We have grown up in a society that tells us, "You get what you pay for. There is no such thing as a free lunch." But grace is never paid for, never earned. It is there for the taking.
Next? "Grace to you and peace ..." (1 Corinthians 1:3). As we move into this special season when we think of "peace on earth," it would be most blessed if we could enjoy real peace, certainly in our violent world, but most especially within the fellowship of the church. We as individuals desire a true sense of peace- peace of heart, soul and mind.
The apostle says, "You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed". He says the church is not lacking in any spiritual gifts. We begin to get into something about which we can make a New Year's resolution. If we indeed do have all the spiritual gifts ... if there really is nothing we are incapable of doing spiritually ... then the resolution is to take those gifts and put them to work. One of the things Paul took pains to point out to the people in Corinth was that every individual did not have every gift. We only have them all as we come together as a worshiping community. For the church, the task is to seek out the spiritual gifts among its individual members; for you and me, the task is to make ourselves available so we can put those gifts that God has given to use in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to be a Christ-centered church.
Our New Year's resolution: let us show grace to each other and the world at large; to seek peace by being as positive with one another as we can; to honor God by putting our spiritual gifts to use in God's service; and to be genuinely Christ-centered people, both as individuals and a church. God grant us the strength and the resolve to follow through.
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!
October & November:
Some of us, whether we admit it or not, are like Bart Simpson. In one episode of THE SIMPSONS, young Bart sits down with his family to a meal. When it's his turn to pray and give thanks, he says something to this effect: ‘Lord, my dad earned the money to pay for this food, and my mom worked for hours to cook it. What did you do? Thanks a lot for nothing.' Bart Simpson is only a cartoon character, but he says what a lot of us are tempted to think. How sad. But that's the way many people today think. We all hear from time to time humorous stories of people who, in a moment of frightful crisis, who make extravagant promises to God, and then when the crisis has subsided, they reduce the levels of their promises significantly or forget them entirely.
In Deuteronomy these stirring words: "For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you shall eat food without scarcity, in which you shall not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."
We are called to remember to pause long enough to think about what God has done for us. It is so easy to lose track of our blessings in the helter-skelter environment in which we find ourselves. How often we forget to give God thanks for our daily bread, for the hands that prepared it, for the homes that shelter us as we take our daily bread. How often we forget that all we have is a gift from God.
“There is a time and purpose under heaven…”. All of us know that there are proper times to do and say certain things. For example, gardeners know that peas and lettuce should be planted in the early spring. If a family member is angry with us and thinks we don't care, it may be the time to put our arms around them and assure them of our love.
Words and actions have their proper times, and that is part of the teaching that comes to us from the book of Ecclesiastes. There is an appropriate time to keep silence or to say just the right word. I think we all know of times when the right word said at the right time has lent enormous comfort to a troubled soul or even set someone's life on a better path. But we also know of times when someone has blurted out something at a party that never should have been said or a gossip has told a confidence that never should have been passed on. There is a time to speak and a time to keep silence.
All throughout the Bible, God has set seasons and times for everything. From Genesis to Revelation, God shows us what He does, what He has done, and what will be done. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes, “I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that we should fear him. That which is already been and what is to be has already been, and God requires an account of what is past.
God gives us these seasons to build up and sanctify us. We all endure most of all of these seasons because God wills us to go through that which He has laid upon our lives. Whatever season you are in, it’s for a reason. We may never know these reasons, but as stated in Ecclesiastes the Bible states, I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives and that everyone should eat and drink and enjoy the good of their labor-it is the gift of God.
In all circumstances, God sets forth season after season just as the flowers grow and the leaves fall. In Psalm 104, the Bible says, “he made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.” God does what He does without us knowing the entire meaning of it all. God makes everything in season beautiful, even in the darkest of seasons. But as Galatians suggests,” Let us not grow weary of doing good. For in due season we will reap if we do not give up.” Do not give up, even in the circumstances that we get ourselves into. God makes a way for us to return to the path He has set before us.
Perhaps at this time of year, we can all be mindful of God’s many blessings And so we should pray:
Thank you for your unfailing love O Lord, for your blessings and goodness. Thank you for your faithfulness guiding me through times of uncertainty. Thank you for your word that comforts me and reminds me of your promises, plan, and provision. Thank you for taking away my fears and worries, the what-ifs, and reminding me that my help comes from You. In your name, we pray….amen.
Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25
There are all kinds of reasons to go to church, and I would say good reasons. Some people go to church for the fellowship; some go for service; some go for the music; some go for the atmosphere; some go for the preaching. But if you come to church for any other primary reason than to worship God, you are coming for the wrong reason.
The focus and foundation of worship is none other than God Himself. God speaks to us through his Word of blessing, forgiveness, and instruction. We speak to God in words and acts of confession, adoration and praise, commitment, and intercession. Together we celebrate the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. God is at the center of our worship, the focus of it all.
We take our faith and our spiritual freedom for granted. We live our lives, squeezing everything else in, but leaving God out. We fail to find time for God, but expect him to be there when life comes crashing down around us. We concern ourselves with our physical well-being while failing to consider our spiritual well being.
Summer offers us the opportunity to sit back and relax; to enjoy a holiday away from the norm; it’s a time for outdoor gatherings and events, but it was never intended to take a break from God. If anything, it’s a wonderful time to reconnect with Him. Worship allows us to gather as a community of faith, to hear the Word of God, to share in His supper, but also be encouraged and challenged to think and act in a Christ-like fashion. The church serves as a conduit to channel our talents and resources into our community.
I know we all have busy lives and crazy schedules, but in the midst of everything else, I encourage you to find time with God.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters,He restores my soul… I want you to imagine for a moment that you are in your favorite place –that place where you feel relaxed and calm and refreshed and happy. Is it at the ocean? In a garden? In the mountains? Maybe for you, it’s a real place, or maybe it’s a place you’ve always imagined. But I want you to take time and imagine that place right now (I’m serious…. take 2 minutes…close your eyes…. breathe in, breathe out…).
If you followed my directions, you just experienced what might be called a psychological “rest stop.” A rest stop is a brief reprieve from the stresses and roller coaster of life. It’s a time of relaxation, refreshment, and joy in which for a brief time, you can put your troubles aside and breathe. We all need something that breaks our stress, interrupts our pain with a little bit of pleasure and joy, something that breaks our “fasting” with a little bit of peace. How many know what we’re talking about? You know, when you go traveling and you’re going by car, driving for hours, and you really need a pit stop? Maybe it’s a bathroom break you need, or a fresh bottle of water, or a snack, or a little nap. Or maybe you need to stretch your legs because you’ve been driving forever. Rest stops were created for this kind of necessary break. Day been long? Road been hard? Life been tough? Take a break. Pull over. Relax. And refresh.
I know we all believe the summer months are for just that purpose. You see, we’ve kind of misconstrued that word in our culture today with the idea that taking a “rest” means taking time for ourselves just to do more stuff! Or sleeping in instead of going to church! But here’s the problem with that. That’s not the kind of “rest” that God intended. This is why Jesus told us, “Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is our Sabbath. He IS our break. Sabbath is a time when we allow Jesus to refresh us, heal us, renew us, and rejuvenate us before sending us out to face the world again. Sabbath is not a time to “check out” of worship, but a need to “check into” worship! That’s where the refreshment “stand” is. That’s where the living water fountain flows. That’s where you eat the food of holy communion and are rejuvenated in the power of the Holy Spirit. Worship is where you gear up again for the road and the way and the journey still to come. Cause if you don’t refresh, you will burn out. We need to give ourselves a break, and a little downtime works well for almost everybody. It doesn’t really matter what the activity or inactivity is. The idea is to give your body, mind, and heart a chance to relax and recharge. If you keep going at full speed every day, it can be really hard on you, both physically and mentally. We were not designed to go 24/7/365. But also remember how important it is to maintain your relationship with God. Making time for God will allow all the pieces of your life’s puzzle to fall into place.
Cellphone: (570) 881-2371
Home Phone: (570) 443-0832
Office Phone: (570) 474-6616 (Saint Paul's)
She can also be found on Facebook under "Michele Kaufman."