Read "From the Pastor's Desk," Pastor Michele Kaufman's monthly message:
Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of losing your health, fear of losing your mind, fear of being taken too seriously, fear of not being taken seriously enough, fear that you worry too much, fear that you do not worry enough, your mother’s fear you will never marry, your father’s fear that you will, fear of the unknown? Forget it. Fear of too many roads and not enough time?
Fear is something that every human will experience at one time or another. It is that feeling of anxiety we get when the outcome of something threatens our well-being and safety. We live in an age of anxiety and fear. Yet Jesus said, do not let fear control you. You have a choice. We must face and acknowledge our fears. Regardless of what happens, we must remember God has promised to be with us.
Beginning Ash Wednesday, our Lenten series will focus on things we fear most- and how through faith we can overcome our fears. Join us on Wednesdays at 11:00 a.m. Lent is a time to remember what God has done, is doing, and will do for us. Lent is a time to remember what our lives would be if our Lord had not lived and died for us. Lent is not a time to regret our faults or to rehearse our failures as much as it is a time to renew our faith that God is at work creating a promising future out of the mess that we have made of his world and of our lives.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord Luke 1:39-45 ·
"Look down and see the beggars at your feet. Look down and show some mercy if you can. Look down and see the sweepings of the street. Look down, look down upon your fellow man!" Thus reads the text of a song from the most popular work of musical theater in history: Les Miserables. In the musical version of the classic French novel by Victor Hugo this song shifts the scene to the squalid streets of Paris: 1832. It is sung by "the miserable ones," those from whom the novel and the musical takes its name.
The beggars, the poor, the dregs of society sing to the upper crust. "Look down," they cry. "See our misery." Theirs is a cry as old as human history and as fresh as today's headlines. The world has always been filled with "the miserable ones," "the wretched of the earth," crying out for mercy and justice.
Soon after this cry of the wretched ones in Les Miserables the student revolutionaries swing into action on their behalf. These young idealists are out to see that justice is done. They sing together these words: "Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry men? It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!" The revolutionary youth go on to sing of "life about to start when tomorrow comes." A word of hope appears in the midst of human wretchedness. It is the word of hope that has been held tight by "the miserable ones" in every generation of human history. This theme of Les Miserables strikes a universal human chord. People in every age have cried out for a better life. It is no wonder that this story takes such a firm grip on our human heartstrings. Hope for "the wretched of the earth" lives deeply in the hearts of human beings in every generation. 19 As is so often the case, however, those who fight for the new world that tomorrow brings are slaughtered on the barricades. The women sing of their grief at seeing their young men dead on the battlefield. "They were schoolboys," the women sing, "never held a gun ... Fighting for a new world that would rise up with the sun. Where's that new world now the fighting's done? Nothing changes. Nothing ever will ... Same old story. What's the use of tears? What's the use of praying if there's nobody who hears?" Nothing changes. Nothing ever will. Despair grips "the miserable ones" once more. There seems to be no hope. No point of tears.
And yet the final chorus of the musical dares yet to proclaim hope for "the wretched of the earth." The last words sung by the chorus ask if we hear the distant drums. These drums pound out the hope for the future that will come with tomorrow. "tomorrow comes!" These are the last bold words of "the wretched ones." These are the last bold words sung in Les Miserables. "tomorrow comes!"
And such it has been and such it will ever be. The poor, the lowly, the hungry can only dare to face life each day if there be some such ray of hope. tomorrow! That hope beats with mighty strength in the lives of all this world's wretched ones. It might be that tomorrow the whole world will be turned upside down and justice will reign at last. tomorrow -- surely -- our tears will be heard!"
Let us pray: Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the lost and forgotten. You offer us hope in the midst of a weary world. May we never lose hope in tomorrow. May we grasp your hand and move forward each day. Amen.`
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us Romans 8:31-24
Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Schindler’s List,” is a graphic, shocking, unflinching depiction of the 20th century’s most staggering horror – the methodical, brutal extermination of millions of human beings in those Nazi death camps of World War II. Oskar Schindler was a most unlikely hero… but through the efforts of this one man, some 1200 persons were saved from certain death. He put them to work in his factory where he could protect them. One of the most powerful moments in the movie is when Oskar Schindler is in conversation with the commander of the labor camp in Krakow, Poland. They are talking about power, and the commander (in his swaggering way) brags about the authority he has over these people. A man comes before him and he has the absolute authority to kill that man, exterminate that man, if he so chooses… and the commander has been in the habit of doing just that… killing people brutally right and left with no conscience at all. But Oskar Schindler says, “Oh no, Commander, you are wrong. That is not power. Anyone could do that. But to have a man come before you and to say, ‘I could take your life if I so choose but no… instead I pardon you! I pardon you!’ That, Commander, is power!”
Indeed. Power…real power is found in forgiveness… and that’s the Christmas gift God offers us.
Let us pray: Strength, power and wisdom are to be found in your teachings heavenly Father. In a world that puts us to the test, help us to do what is honorable, just and pure and transform us into a people of righteousness and peace. Amen.
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your LORD will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Matthew 24: 42-44
In the movie Bruce Almighty, starring Jim Carrey, there's a scene where Bruce's life has fallen apart. He's gotten fired, beat up when he tried to help a homeless man holding a sign, and he's had a fight with his girlfriend whose name just happens to be Grace. He's driving along feeling sorry for himself, talking to and yelling at God. "OK, God. You want me to talk to you? Then talk back. Tell me what's going on. What should I do? Give me a signal." Just then he passes a lighted traffic message sign which is blinking the words: "Caution Ahead." He ignores it and continues his rant. "I need your guidance Lord, please. Send me a sign." About that time truck full of traffic signs pulls out in front of him. Very visible are the signs: "Dead End, Stop, Wrong Way, Yield, No Crossing and Do Not Enter." But Bruce ignores them, he doesn't see what he's asking for, complains about the truck and whips around it only to eventually run into a light pole. He gets out and yells at God. At the end of the scene he hollers: "Answer me." Just then his pager goes off with a telephone number. Bruce says: "Sorry, don't know you. Wouldn't call you if I did"
I think Jim Carrey nailed how we feel in the middle of a crisis, in the middle of despair. He also captured exactly what happens. We ask for a sign and we're so blinded by what's going on in our lives that we can't see the signs for the fog of our emotions. That's part of what Jesus was telling his disciples. He says the signs are there. The signs have always been there. We just have to look. We have to get ready and stay ready so we'll know them when we see them.
Let us pray: Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual kindness to us your servants. Because we cannot rely on our own abilities, give us your wisdom and grace to acknowledge your presence in our lives and in the world. Amen.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
In the movie, “Shawshank Redemption" , Andy Dufresne is a quiet banker who is unjustly convicted of murder and sent to Shawshank State Prison in Maine where he is befriended by "Red" Redding, a lifer who knows all the ropes. The guy you go to when you need anything. It's Andy's spirit that attracts "Red" to him. Of all the prisoners, Andy is the only one who the place doesn't seem to get to. Andy is full of surprises and through his life, gives hope to the rest of the prison. But even Andy can only take so much. One night, to everyone's surprise, Andy escapes. He's left hints for his friend "Red" about how to find him if he's ever paroled. "Red" finally gets paroled and follows those hints. Near the end of the movie he digs up a letter and traveling money that Andy has left him and Red boards a bus headed to Hancock, Texas. Riding on the bus Red reflects: "I find I'm so excited, I can hardly sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it is in my dreams. I hope...."
William Barclay in commenting on Romans wrote: "The Christian hope is the hope which has seen everything and endured everything, and has still not despaired, because it believes in God. The Christian hope is not hope in the human spirit, in human goodness, in human endurance, in human achievement; the Christian hope is hope in the power of God."
Let us pray: O God, you are the source of life and the ground of our being. By the power of your Spirit may we embrace your Word and its promises. May we trust in you. Amen.
Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Luke 1:46-55
Here’s a true story that was published years ago in Good Housekeeping…. Phyllis grew up in a very poor but very happy family. One year, just before Christmas, Phyllis contracted diphtheria. Diphtheria was a serious and highly contagious illness, so the whole family had to be quarantined for many weeks. Every Christmas Phyllis’ mother had sold baked goods in order to buy Christmas presents for the children. But this year, due to the quarantine, her mother wasn’t allowed to sell any baked goods. But seven-year-old Phyllis’ biggest concern was that the quarantine would keep Santa from coming to their house. The poor little girl spent the weeks leading up to Christmas in a depression.
On Christmas morning, Phyllis’ father went up and brought his daughter down so she could see her surprise. Under the tree was the most beautiful doll Phyllis had ever seen. For years she would recall that doll as the best gift she’d ever been given. Years later, Phyllis learned the secret of the doll’s origins. Phyllis’ mother had taken one of Phyllis’ old, ragged dolls and washed and painted it. Then she took her one and only dance gown, the prettiest dress she owned, and cut it up to make a dress and booties for the doll. Finally, she cut off a length of her own beautiful hair and fashioned a wig for the doll. Her mother’s sacrifice resulted in a Christmas memory that will be passed down through many generations.
What that mother did for her daughter, God wants to do for each of us this Christmas season. He wants to take our lives and transform them. He wants to take our misplaced values and put them more in line with His divine purpose. He wants to take our broken dreams and broken hearts and replace them with dreams that are ever new and a heart that will never fail.
Let us pray: Good and gracious God, in baptism you make us your own. You call us by name. Take me and mold me and may I live according to your ways and abide by your will. Create in me a new heart and renew my spirit. Amen.
“Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.” Ezra 10:4
In 1966, Matt’s Dad had a heart attack. He ultimately survived the heart attack, but that year Dad was in the hospital in East Texas in December, and had not been able to take the children or their letters to Santa. Matt became concerned. They had moved to Tyler that year, so Matt became convinced that not only would Santa not know what they all wanted for Christmas, even worse, he wouldn’t know where they lived now. Matt decided that he would have to cover for Santa Claus that year. He had to play like he was Santa. As Christmas approached in 1966, however, Matt realized something. It hit him suddenly that his Dad had always been the one who had taken all of the children to see Santa Claus. His Dad had always been the one who had personally taken the children’s letters to Santa and made sure they reached Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole in plenty of time… so Santa would know where they were – and what all the children wanted for Christmas each year. Matt’s Dad had always been their special link to jolly Ol’ St. Nick,. So, on Christmas Eve, Matt hung five of his long, used basketball socks on the mantle and filled them with trinkets for his five sisters that he had bought with money he had saved from his paper route that he thoughtfully and carefully selected for each of them.
On Christmas morning, the family ran into the living room and found a double surprise. First of all, they discovered that the real Santa is so smart. He found them in Tyler, Texas, and he left all the right things. He left for them just what they would have asked for if they had been able to see and write Santa earlier in the season. And, as always, there was a note from Santa thanking them for the cookies and milk and encouraging them to be good children. Then, they discovered those long, used basketball socks filled with Christmas trinkets for each of the five sisters. Everybody was delighted and touched because they recognized those basketball socks, and they realized what Matt had done. Attached to the socks was another letter, this one from the play-like Santa. It read like this:
“Dear Children, Thanks for the cookies and milk. Remember to be good children. Remember to mind your mom and dad, say your prayers every night and go to church every Sunday. (Signed) Love, Santa” And, there was a P.S. It said: “Be nicer to your brother.” To this day when that family gathers for Christmas, there are long basketball socks on the mantle for everybody, only now everybody in the family puts things in the socks for each other. Members of the family sneak into the room in the middle of the night and add something to the socks.
Wasn’t that beautiful how Matt as a young boy “rose to the occasion.” He noticed something that needed to be done, and he took it upon himself to be the one to do it. Isn’t that what Christ has called us to do?
Let us pray: Pour your love into our hearts O Lord, that overflowing with joy, we may freely give of ourselves to serve others in all we do. In your name we pray, amen.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
Have you ever heard about a creature called the “Advent Teufel.” Teufel is a German word for devil. According to an old German folktale it is the Advent Devil who tries during the Advent season to keep people so busy in outward affairs that they lose sight of the real meaning of Christmas. The Advent Devil doesn’t want people to have time to experience the rebirth of Christ within themselves. The temptations of the Advent Devil are diabolically clever. He makes it so easy for us to go along with the flow of seasonal celebrations. The Advent Devil’s business is to keep us so busy with holiday obligations that we forego daily prayer, Scripture study, and church services. Some of us have been fighting the Advent Devil this year. Hopefully you have him under control. Just a couple more days. I hope you are in a position to use that little bit of time that’s left to focus on the real meaning of it all.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, how easily we can become distracted and fail to see You in the midst of our celebration. May we be drawn to the wonder and promise that Christmas brings to a hurting world. May we welcome the Christ Child into our midst. Amen.
Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:7-12
Robert tells the story of when Molly was seven years old, she liked to help pack lunches each morning for her brothers, her dad, and herself. Into each bag, she would put a share of sandwiches, apples, milk money, and sometimes she would add a surprise note or treat. One morning for no apparent reason, she gave her dad two bags: one regular lunch sack, and another rumpled bag held together with duct tape, staples, and paper clips. “Why two bags?” her dad asked. “The other one is something else,” she answered. “Just some stuff. Take it with you.” Obediently, Dad stuffed both sacks in his brief case, kissed his daughter goodbye and rushed off to his office. When lunchtime came, he pulled out both bags. While eating lunch, he tore open the special bag and poured out the contents on his desk: two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses, and thirteen pennies. Dad smiled as he examined Molly’s trinkets, he was touched. But then responsibilities called. He had to rush off to important matters. Quickly, he swept the desk clean into the trash basket, left over lunch, Molly’s junk and all. There wasn’t anything valuable there, nothing he really needed. However, that evening, Molly came in while Dad was reading the paper and this conversation took place: “Where’s my bag?” “What bag?” “You know, the one I gave you this morning.” “I forgot to put this note in it.” She handed over the note “And besides, I want it back.” “Why?” “Those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like. I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back. You didn’t lose the bag, did you, Daddy?” Tears puddled in her eyes. “Oh no, I just forgot to bring it home.” “Bring it tomorrow, O.K?” “Sure thing, don’t worry.” As she hugged her dad’s neck with relief, he unfolded the note that had not made it into the sack. It read, “I love you, Daddy.”
Molly had given her dad her real treasures, all that a 7-year-old girl held dear. Love in a paper sack… and Dad had missed it. Not only missed it, but had thrown it away because he didn’t see anything valuable there. “O, dear God forgive me,” he prayed as fathers often have to do. Robert rushed back to the office that night to search through the garbage for Molly’s jewels. Fortunately, he got there just ahead of the janitor and he found them. He had to wash mustard off the dinosaur and spray away the smell of onions with breath freshener, but he found them. The next evening, he returned the precious sack to Molly, and he listened attentively as Molly described the importance of each and every item in the bag. Several days later, Dad got to take the bag to work again. He felt forgiven, trusted, loved… and a little more comfortable wearing the title, “Father.” Robert concluded the story with these words: “In time Molly turned her attention to other things, found other treasures, lost interest in the game, grew up. Something else. Me? I was left holding the bag. She gave it to me one morning and never asked for its return. And so I still have it. If the house ever catches on fire, it goes with me when I run. Sometimes I think of all the times in this sweet life when I have missed the affection I was being given. A friend calls this ‘standing knee deep in the river and dying of thirst.’ So the worn paper sack is there… left from a time when a child said, ‘Here… this is the best I’ve got… take… it’s yours. Such as I have, give I to thee.’”
That’s a beautiful heart-warming story, isn’t it? Because it reminds us of a very important truth, namely this: that the best gifts of all are the gifts that money can’t buy. I hope we will remember that this Christmas.
Let us pray: Let us pray…. With wonder and fascination, we look to you O Lord knowing you have a way of making all things new. Open our eyes and hearts and minds to the wonder of your love. Guide us as we take bold steps forward into the future, knowing we are never alone but guided by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10
Some years ago a friend told a story about taking his 5-year-old son Christmas shopping one Saturday morning. It was just a day or so before Christmas… and the store was packed with shoppers. Hugh told his son to stay near him, to not wander off because he might so easily get lost in the crowd. After they had shopped together for a while, Hugh was buying something for his wife at one of the counters. When he completed the purchase he looked back… and his 5-year-old son was not there. He had drifted off! Hugh began to frantically search for his son. He called out to him; he rushed through the crowd looking for him everywhere, but no luck. He could not find him. He moved quickly to the candy counter and then to the toy department. Surely, he would be there… but he wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Suddenly Hugh heard an announcement over the department store loudspeaker: “We have a lost boy here! If you have lost your little boy, please come to the service desk.” Hugh anxiously made his way there… and sure enough, there was his son. Their reunion was one with lots of hugs and words of love and visits to the candy counter and the toy department. They had been apart, but they had found each other again! They had been brought back together.
Now, think about this. The one who spoke over that loudspeaker, in a sense, served as a reconciler between the boy and his dad. They had gotten lost from each other because the little boy had wandered off, drifted away… but the one at the service desk got them back together again. In a similar manner, Christ has come down to this earth to help us get back together with God who made us… and who loves us. The word Emmanuel means “God with us.”. God with us! God comes in the Christ Child to seek and save the lost. That’s what Christmas is all about.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, even when I feel like no one else sees me or listens to me, I know You are with me. You listen to my every thought, my every word. Fill me with Your presence and remind me that I am never alone. In the name of Your Son, Amen.
Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. Matthew 25:1-13 ·
There is an old legend about a man who had a rather stupid servant. The master often got exasperated with his servant. One day in a fit of frustration he said to the servant, "You've got to be the stupidest man I've ever met. Look, I want you to take this staff and carry it with you. And if you ever meet a man stupider than you are, give him the staff." So the servant carried the staff. Often out in the marketplace he'd meet some pretty stupid people. But he was never sure they were worse off than he. Years passed with the servant carrying his staff. Then one day, he came back to the castle and was ushered into the bedroom of his master. His master was quite sick.
In the course of their conversation, the master said, "I'm going on a long journey." The servant said, "When do you plan to be back?" The master said, "This is a journey from which I'll not return." The servant said, "Sir, have you made all the necessary preparations?" The master said, "No, I have not." The servant said, "Could you have made preparations?" The master said, "Yes, I guess I've had my life to make them, but I've been busy about other things." The servant said "Master, you're going on a journey from which you'll never return, you could've prepared for it, and you just didn't?" The master said, "Yes, I guess that's right." The servant took the staff he'd carried so long and said, "Master take this with you. At last I've met a man more stupid than myself."
Could that be us? Could we be that foolish? I hope not. Victory belongs to those who are prepared. Preparation is an essential characteristic of character. The most important preparation we can make is for eternity.
Let us pray….Heavenly Father, you have promised us a place in your kingdom. You have taught us to be diligent and ready. May we always be aware if the world around us and the opportunities that are before us…amen.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight -- " John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mark 1:2 -8 ·
Each year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, a great number of people find delight in the marvelous story written by Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. There is something in the story that lures us back to it year after year; we never seem to grow tired of hearing its message. The main character in the story is a surly old man named Scrooge, who lives a miserly existence. He sees no benefit in being generous with the poor, or even providing a living wage to dedicated workers. He clutches onto his money and despises the thought of parting with any of it. But it is not only his money that Scrooge withholds from others, it is his entire being. He withholds love and kindness, he withholds warmth and friendship. Then, one night, Scrooge undergoes a profound crisis. He sees himself through the eyes of others. He has a vivid vision of his past; and then his present. But what is most frightful to him - what shakes him to the core of his being - is when he is granted the opportunity of a lifetime. He is allowed to witness his future. But his future proves to be so dark and frightening, that it prompts within him a dramatic change. He undergoes a radical transformation and becomes an entirely new person. Rather than being cold and indifferent to people, he becomes generous and compassionate.
It is a heart-warming story. But more than that, it is a hopeful story. It provides us with the hope that we too can make needed changes in our lives. We can break free from the ruts we have burrowed, and the negative behaviors we have cultivated. We can become kind and compassionate, humble and hospitable, joyful and generous.
Let us pray…Help us Lord to make those changes that will allow us to become the people you hope us to be. Allow us to see the possibilities that lie before us and never be blinded by the ways of the world. In your name we pray...amen.
As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4: 5-8
During WWII, a Jewish family named Rosenberg was confined to a concentration camp where prisoners could escape the gas ovens as long as they could work. A young boy in the family was partially disabled from birth and could not carry a full workload. The parents were separated during the day by their separate work responsibilities, so they would hasten in the evenings to check on the condition of each family member. One evening the father’s worse fears were realized. He could not spot his disabled boy. Then he saw his older son weeping in a corner. The son told the father that the disabled boy was taken to the gas chambers because he could no longer work. The father asked: But where is your mother? The older boy told how his little brother was afraid to go and clung to his mother, who said, "Don’t cry. I’ll go with you and hold you close." And she did.
And so does Christ. Where else can you find such an inner peace as with Christ. This is the way we can run the race, never alone, but being held close to Christ.
Let us pray……Heavenly Father, your peace surpasses all understanding. Give us the strength to face each day with the knowledge we are never alone, but that you walk with us, giving us the strength and courage we need to overcome all obstacles that stand in our way. Amen.
And all people will see God's salvation.'" Luke 3:6
Paul Stanley was an infantry company commander in Vietnam in 1967. He saw Viet Cong soldiers surrender many times. As they were placed in custody, marched away, and briefly interrogated, their body language and facial expressions always caught Stanley’s attention. Most hung their heads in shame, staring at the ground, unwilling to look their captors in the eye. But some stood erect, staring defiantly at those around them, resisting any attempt by the soldiers to control them. They had surrendered physically but not mentally.
On one occasion after the enemy had withdrawn, Stanley came upon several soldiers surrounding a wounded Viet Cong. Shot through the lower leg, he was hostile and frightened, yet helpless. He threw mud and kicked with his one good leg when anyone came near him. When Stanley joined the circle around the wounded enemy, one soldier asked him, "Sir, what do we do? He’s losing blood fast and needs medical attention." Stanley looked down at the struggling Viet Cong and saw the face of a 16- or 17-year-old boy. He unbuckled his pistol belt and hand grenades so the young captive could not grab them. Then, speaking gently, he moved toward him. The young man stared fearfully at Stanley as he knelt down, but he allowed him to slide his arms under him and pick him up. As he walked carrying this young Viet Cong warrior toward a waiting helicopter, the young man began to cry and hold him tight. He kept looking at Stanley and squeezing him tighter. They climbed into the helicopter and took off. During the ride, the young captive sat on the floor, clinging to Stanley’s leg. Never having ridden in a helicopter, the young man looked out with panic as they gained altitude and flew over the trees. The young man fixed his eyes back on Stanley, and Stanley smiled reassuringly and put his hand on his shoulder. After landing, Stanley picked him up and walked toward the medical tent. As they crossed the field, Stanley felt the tenseness leave the young man’s body and his tight grasp loosen. His eyes softened, and his head leaned against Stanley’s chest. The fear and resistance were gone--he had finally surrendered.
Would that every war story had that kind of ending. The Advent/Christmas story is an affirmation of our unity with all humanity. Ultimately every person on this planet is God’s child. Every man is our brother; every woman is our sister. Christmas is a foreshadowing of a world that is that is yet to come when Christ, the Messiah, reigns over all. It is a world of pure hearts, of undiminished hope and goodwill for all humanity.
Let us pray: Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness. In the face of adversity help us to remain firm in faith. Renew us with your grace, sustain us by your power, that we may stand in the glory of your name. Amen.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
At the age of 20, Art Berg was a very happy man. Everything was going right. He was a gifted athlete and had started his own tennis court construction company. He was engaged to a beautiful woman. Leaving California one Christmas eve, he was headed to Utah with a friend. He was going to meet his fiancée and complete their wedding plans. During the long drive, he fell asleep while at the wheel. His car hit an abutment and rolled down a hill. He was ejected from the car and found himself laying on the desert with a broken neck. He was paralyzed from the chest down. He completely lost the use of his legs and arms. The doctors told him he would never work again. They concluded that he could never play sports again and would be dependent on others the rest of his life. One even suggested he forget getting married.
Art Berg was really afraid. It was the darkest moment in his life. The "end times" were upon him. In the midst of his peril his mother came and whispered a few words in his ear. "Art, while the difficult takes time, the impossible takes a little longer." In other words, "don't panic!" Suddenly, Art's darkness was filled with a light of hope. That was eleven years ago. Today Art Berg is president of his own company, a professional speaker and author. He has gained back some of the use of his arms and legs and can now drive. He travels across the country sharing his message, "that the impossible just takes a little longer." Art married his fiancée and they have two children. He has even returned to the world of sports, swimming and scuba diving. In l993 Art was the first quadriplegic to race 32 miles in a marathon, all because he didn't panic. Don't panic, is the message of the day.
Let us pray: Merciful God, when we are empty, fill us. When we are weak in faith, strengthen us. When our love grows cold, warm us. Inspire us to see the possibilities that lie before us and may be encourage others to do the same. Amen.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:31-40
During the Second World War there was a young boy in a small town who had to go to the drugstore for his mother. As he arrived at the drugstore, he saw a poster on the front window that made a great impression upon him. It was the picture of an American soldier dressed in full battle uniform lying flat on his face, dead in the sands of a South Pacific island. He was lying there with the ocean cradling his body, and at the bottom of the poster was this question: "What have you done for your country today that's worth this soldier dying yesterday?"
Let's change that scene and go outside the city of Jerusalem to a hill called Calvary and ask you to look on a cross and see the Son of God, the Savior, dying for your sins and the sins of the world. Let me ask you the question: "What have you done for Christ today that's worth what He gave for you on Calvary?"
While we wait and trust, we are also to put our hands to the plow. We are prepared simply by doing the work God has called us to do and doing it faithfully and with vigilance.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we long for your return, but until that day we are to be witnesses to the world, sharing your love and grace. Strengthen us in all that we do. Amen.
“Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on the Lord. Luke 12: 35-38
In the movie Mrs. Brown, Queen Victoria is sunk in a deep depression after the death of her husband Albert when her advisers come up with an idea. They send for her pony to be brought to Balmoral, accompanied by a handsome Scot named John Brown. She is not interested in being cheered up, and is infuriated when she looks out in the royal courtyard to see John Brown standing at attention beside her saddled pony. Day after day she refuses to go down. Day after day he returns. Finally she sends someone to tell him that she is not now and may never be interested in riding. John Brown is unmoved. "When her majesty does wish to ride," he says, "I shall be ready."
John Brown shows the attitude Jesus wants from us in our faith life. Can we say, "When His Majesty, God, does come, I shall be ready"?
Let us pray: Gracious God…Teach us day by day to let go of the past and those things which weigh us down. Help us to see the power and the freedom that comes through forgiveness. With each day, help us to move forward, always prepared and ready for what may come. In your name we pray…amen.
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Matthew 24:36
In his book, The Education of Little Tree, Forest Carter writes of life with his Cherokee grandparents. He tells of sitting with his grandfather watching the morning sun rise over a mountain one winter morning.
"... we watched the mountain while we ate. The sun hit the top like an explosion, sending showers of glitter and sparkle into the air. The sparkling of the icy trees hurt the eyes to look, and it moved down the mountain like a wave as the sun backed the night shadow down and down. A crow scout sent three hard calls through the air, warning we were there. Now the mountain popped and gave breathing sighs that sent little puffs of steam into the air. She pinged and murmured as the sun released the trees from their death armor of ice.
Grandpa watched, same as me, and listened as the sounds grew with the morning wind that set up a low whistle in the trees. 'She's coming alive,' he said soft and low, without taking his eyes from the mountain. 'Yes sir,' I said, 'she's coming alive.' And I knew right then that me and Grandpa had us an understanding that most folks didn't know."
Little Tree learned from his Grandpa how to read the signs of nature. Reading signs, not the printed ones we see on our streets and highways, but the signs of nature and life and living is an art that takes time, practice and patience. The reward is what Little Tree called, "...an understanding that most folks don't know."
Jesus talks about "signs of the times" and particularly the signs of his coming. In effect, he says, "Pay attention to signs of the times and be prepared for my coming." From Jesus' day to the present people have speculated about the end of the world. Over the centuries people have made calculations and predictions, sold or given away all their belongings, and gathered at appointed places to wait for the end of the world and for Jesus to return. Obviously, the world has not yet come to an end and Jesus has not returned. Still, we wait. We look around at the world in which we live filled with violence and crime and racial tension. We read about child and spouse abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and we say, "Things just can't keep on going the way they're going." Times of uncertainty and crisis trigger thoughts about the end of time. And people always want to know when. "Beware," said Jesus, "that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and `The time is near!' Do not go after them." Jesus did not want his followers to become too preoccupied with thoughts of the future. He did not want them to be led astray by persons who made false claims.
In times of persecution, suffering, when our world seems to be crumbling, in times of our greatest need, we will receive strength from beyond ourselves. That strength comes from God. Jesus warned the disciples that the days ahead when he would no longer be with them would be difficult. But they would not be alone. And neither are we.
Let us pray: O Lord God, you are the salvation of your people. By your Spirit awaken our understanding of the world around us. Strengthen our hope in you. Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment. Amen.
December 5, 2021
Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name. By the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel: “My way is hidden from the Lord. My just claim is passed over by my God” Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40: 26-31
During the Second World War, a group of Scottish soldiers were languishing in a Nazi POW camp until one day a prisoner heard over a smuggled radio that the Allies had landed on Normandy. Word spread quickly through the camp and all the prisoners began cheering. Their guards thought them crazy, but the prisoners knew better. They knew that their waiting was not in vain and that the victory was already won even if it wasn't there yet.
That's how we can be when we are waiting for God. Sometimes people receive what they seek from God right away. Sometimes they wait a whole lifetime. But through it all, "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," as Isaiah says. They are renewed and strengthened as they wait for God because they know that their waiting can never be in vain. They know that the victory has already been won, even if it isn't fully here yet.
Let us pray: Good and gracious God, it is the season to watch and wait. May we be mindful that you may come when we least expect, like a thief in the night. May we be prepared for your coming and ever mindful of your presence each and every day. Amen
December 4, 2021
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
There is a rabbinic story about a burdened old man who, along his difficult journey in life, met an angel. The old man was bent under the enormous weight of a great burlap sack across his shoulders and on his back. The angel said, "What have you got in there?" The man replied, "In there are my worries." The angel said, "Empty them out and let me see." The old man lowered the sack to the ground and turned out the contents. Out came first yesterday and then tomorrow. The angel picked up yesterday, threw it aside and said, "You don’t need that anymore, because yesterday is in the hands of God, and no amount of worrying will change it." Then the angel picked up tomorrow, threw it aside and said, "You don’t need this either, because tomorrow is in the hands of God, and no amount of worrying will change it." The legend says that the old man smiled, stood up straight, breathed freedom for the first time in a long time, and went on his way. Yes, there are two days in every week that we do not have to worry about--yesterday and tomorrow. Do not let your epitaph read: Hurried, Worried, Buried.
Worry is not the same as careful planning and normal concern for our own and our family’s future. It’s an inordinate concern for the physical and material well-being of ourselves and our families that becomes crippling and often goes for days and weeks unconfessed. We need to trust that nothing is too great for God's power and nothing is too small for His attention. Dr. William James of Columbia University said, "The essence of genius is to know what to overlook." Don’t focus on it. Worry if not in check can physically immobilize us.
Let us pray: I come to you O Lord. Help me to live one day at a time. Help me to not worry about tomorrow but instead focus on what’s happening in my life right now. I want to trust in your promise to take care of every one of my needs. Help me to trust you more and worry less. Amen.
December 3, 2021
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. Besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ Luke 16: 19-31
Charles Dickens tells a kind of “folk tale” very similar to the one we hear our reading for today. Dickens said he used this parable as a basis for his story, A Christmas Carol. In fact, Dickens uses the name Lazarus in disguise, as Lazarus is etymologically related to Eliezer or as we know him Ebenezer! Dickens uses the name to describe the raising of the “dead” of Scrooge’s soul, when he goes through his dramatic change at the end of the story! The one raised in Jesus’ life is Lazarus. The one raised in Dicken’s tale is Scrooge!
Dickens loved the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, but he provides an alternative ending. In Jesus’ story, the haunted rich man begs Abraham to send the dead back as ghosts to convince his five “brothers” to change their ways. But Abraham refuses, saying if they didn’t believe the prophets, they won’t believe in the raising of the dead either! But in Dicken’s story the dead return to haunt Scrooge. Scrooge sees his former business colleague in chains and in pain. He warns him of his own fate, should he continue to follow the path of selfishness and heartlessness. At the end of the Dickens’ story, Scrooge is a changed man.
Ultimately the message is the same: the way you treat your family, your brothers and sisters in Christ will determine your own future in God’s kingdom. How we live our lives matters. We have been taught that God so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son that we might have eternal life. We are called to love him back with our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are all responsible for the lives and actions of one another. When our sister or brother sins, we all are tarnished by that sin. When a sister or brother lives out her or his faith in a way that many see the love of God, all of us have reason to rejoice. In a world all too often filled with people concerned about themselves first, characterized with an impersonal "what's in it for me" attitude, we are called to witness to something more important -- love that gives of itself for others; love that cares about others; love that makes our lives meaningful and significant in giving to others.
Let us pray: Almighty God, who heals those that are broken in heart, and turns the sadness of the sorrowful to joy; Remember those who are this day destitute, homeless, or forgotten by the world. Uplift those who are cast down. Cheer with hope all discouraged and unhappy individuals. Be with all those for whom we pray...amen.
December 2, 2021
"Prepare the way of the Lord. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" Isaiah 40:3, 5
Isaiah informs us that "the glory of the Lord will be revealed." With this expression, Isaiah reveals the universality of God's reign. Where God's glory is revealed and people acknowledge that glory, then and only then, will our crazy, angry world be changed.
That is the hope of Advent! Just before Yom Kippur 1997, eight-year-old Yuval Kavah was struck and killed by a car on a busy street in Tel Aviv. Yuval's parents rushed him to a hospital where coincidentally a little Palestinian girl, whose name was Rim Alija-roushiu, lay dying of heart failure. In a gesture that stretched across prejudice, hatred, and ethnic backgrounds, Yuval's parents offered their son's still beating heart to any child who needed it. After the organ was harvested from Yuval's chest, it was transplanted into Rim's chest. When the surgery was completed, an Israeli mother and Palestinian mother embraced, weeping tears of joy and grief, and a Jewish boy's heart beat inside a little Palestinian girl's breast.
When we hear and read of events like this, we pray and hope that the ancient cry of Advent will become our cry. "Prepare the way of the Lord. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken".
Let us pray: God of the unexpected, Open our eyes to the wonders of your unfailing love. You break into our world in various ways. Remove the barriers that divide us and teach us to love with all our might. Amen.
December 1, 2021
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our Go, until He is gracious to us. Psalm 123: 2
Christmas decorations are beginning to appear everywhere and children are getting excited. Children love this time before Christmas because it gives them something for which to look forward. We all like to have something exciting and good for which to look forward, don't we? Advent always seems out of place with everything else that is going on around us. While people are rushing toward Christmas in a shopping frenzy our observance is markedly different. Sometimes we get so lost in the sentiment and traditions of Christmas that we have difficulty connecting with the themes of Advent.
Advent is about waiting expectantly while longing for God to act. We enjoy expectancy. That is the great thing about the season of Advent. It is a season of expectancy. It is a season of looking forward expectantly to the celebration of the birth of the Savior. And yet Advent is not only about dreaming of the perfect Christmas or searching for a gift for the person who has everything, but rather looking to the future — to the second coming of Christ. Advent begins not with a baby in a manger but rather, looking forward to the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let us pray: Gracious heavenly Father…we wait O Lord, we wait. We wait in hope, in anticipation. You break into our world with messages of comfort, peace and joy. Renew our strength as we wait for your coming. Amen.
November 30, 2021
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-3
There is a story of a little boy who was in a hospital in England in the days of King George V. While George was a grandson of Queen Victoria and the first cousin of both Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, George was far less pretentious than many of history’s monarchs. The patients in this particular hospital where the little boy in our story was being treated were told that the king was going to pay them a visit that day. So everybody put on their best clothes as they were lying in their bed, waiting for the king to come.
This little boy was eager to see the king. All day long there were a number of visitors, because it was visitor’s day. And along about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, a man came in with a number of other men with him. He spoke to some of the boys and girls. He even spoke to this young boy who was waiting so eagerly to see the king. He patted him on the head. He spoke very nicely to the boy and left. That night, as he was being made ready for bed, the little boy spoke to the nurse. “Nurse,” he complained, “the king didn’t come!” She responded, “Oh, but the king did come. Don’t you remember that nice elderly man that came over to you and patted you on the head? And spoke so sweetly to you? “Yes, I do.” “Well, that was the king.” But the boy protested and said, “But nurse, he didn’t have on his crown!”
This is what most disappointed the people who came to see Jesus. He wore no crown. He came as an ordinary man. His parents were ordinary citizens. His hometown was so little respected that there was a common expression, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Christ is worthy of our adoration, first of all, because of his willingness to identify with the human condition. John says it all in the Prologue to his Gospel: “The word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .” What an amazing truth. He became one of us.
Let us pray: Gracious heavenly Father, Your Son came down from heaven to live among us. May we be ever mindful of Your presence each and every day. As you have come and are with us always, may we be mindful of your promise to come once more. May we never lose sight of the wonder of your love for us…amen.
November 29th, 2021
'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. 'In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord our righteous savior Jeremiah 33: 14-16
There is an old Arabian story about a wealthy prince who claims the land of a poor widow so that he can enlarge his palace gardens. The poor widow brings her complaint before a local judge. The judge is a man of character and integrity, but he is also smart enough to know that the wealthy prince could ruin him. As it was in ancient times, so it is today: the poor and powerless have little chance of receiving justice when they go up against the wealthy and powerful.
Rather than summon the prince to his court, the judge loaded a large sack on his back and went to the palace. The judge then asked the prince if he could fill his sack with dirt from the palace garden. The curious prince agreed. After the judge had filled the sack to the brim with dirt, he asked the prince to lift it. The prince said, “The sack is too heavy even for our combined strength.”
The judge replied, “This sack which you think too heavy to bear, contains only a small portion of the land that you took from the rightful owner. How then, at the day of judgment, will you be able to support the weight of the whole?”
We have an innate need for justice, don’t we? We want to see bad guys punished and good guys rewarded. There is something built into the very fabric of our being that yearns for justice. Until the Messiah comes, what is our role in creating justice? Because it is all too easy for us to turn a blind eye to injustice, even to benefit from it. The days are coming. The days are coming where there will be justice. That is the first promise Jeremiah makes about the coming of the Messiah. There will be justice. This world needs more justice.
Prophetic words are meant to challenge us. They are meant to wake us up. Life is not fair. Nevertheless, the days are coming, says Jeremiah, when the playing fields of this world will be leveled. The days are coming when that which is unfair will be set right. For when the Bible speaks of justice, it is not merely talking about individual justice. God’s call is for a just society. God’s call is for basic fairness for all people. God’s call is for a new kind of society—a society where all persons will live in dignity and freedom. That is what justice is all about
Let us pray…Speak to us once more dear God, speak to us once more. May we speak your words of peace, compassion and hope. May we find the words to challenge the inconsistencies, the hypocrisy and wrongs of the world. May we stand with those who cannot speak for themselves and in doing so may we serve you. Amen.
1st Sunday of Advent November 28, 2021
"When you see the abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong--let the reader understand--then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now--and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. "But in those days, following that distress, " 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. He will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Today is the start of the season of Advent. A season of anticipation. A season of hope and waiting. It is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. During Advent we walk on tip-toe with hushed voices, because we have the feeling that something great is about to happen. Just as Advent moves us toward the remembrance of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in the first century, it also reminds us that most of the world was preoccupied and utterly unprepared for that first Advent and many missed the whole thing. The basic question that needs to be asked is will we miss the whole thing again?" Keep alert! Watch! Ready or not -- Christ is coming!
Gracious God, once again we stand at the threshold of a new church year. We wait in hope and anticipation at the coming of the Christ Child. Be with us we pray as we seek to find “new” life in you. Guide us as we move forward, looking for the advent of our God. Amen.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS...
Tell me about the kingdom of God. How would you describe the Kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is the reign of God over human hearts and society as a whole. With our finite minds there is not a whole lot we can say about the kingdom. Jesus doesn't describe it in detail, but one thing we can say with an air of certainty, is that it has something to do with love.
The kingdom of God is both now and not yet. When Jesus assembled his disciples, he sent them out to preach the Good News. The sermon was exactly the same. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
This kingdom, said Jesus, may be as small as a mustard seed, or as quiet as yeast in bread, but powerful things come in small packages and don’t necessarily make a lot of noise. The kingdom of God comes when the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.
* Find where God is—that is where you need to be.
* Find what God is doing in this world—that is what you need to be doing.
The will of God can be known. It’s not as much mystery as we would like for it to be. It’s not as secret and hidden as we often think that it is.
The will of God can be known; it can be found.
It is the will of God for there to be peace on earth. Long before the time of Jesus, Isaiah prophesied of a day when nations would turn their military weapons into farming tools and people would train for war no more. It is the will of God that children be cared for. As long as there is one child in the world who suffers, you and I, who believe in God’s kingdom, have work to do.
It is the will of God that no one perish, no, not one.
It is the will of God that we love one another.
It is the will of God that we forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us.
It is the will of God that we serve one another as Christ served us.
It is the will of God that we are good stewards of all creation.
It is the will of God that the lost be found.
It is the will of God that the least be helped.
What part of God’s will don’t you understand? We have work to do. “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God will not keep you.” You can build your life on that principle. I believe it with all my heart.
Looking back at my life, God had guided my life much better than I ever could. I have learned to say, “I’ll go where you want me to go dear Lord, over mountain, or plain or sea. I’ll say what you want me to say dear Lord, I’ll be what you want me to be.” I had no idea then where life would lead me, or God would guide me. Through the years I have found one thing true—God will not always place you where you want to be, but he will always send you where you need to be. Blessed are those who are willing to follow him all the way.
The twelfth man tradition is one of the great legends of sports. Most people are not accustomed to seeing the entire Texas A & M student body stand throughout an entire football game except during half-time. This unique Texas tradition is based on something that happened in 1922. A &M was facing Centre College. The A & M team had so many injuries that Coach Bible wasn’t sure he’d have enough to players to complete the game. Then Coach Bible remembered seeing a former player, E. King Gill, sitting in the
stands. The coach had released Gill from football to play basketball. Coach Bible had Gill brought down from the stands and suited up on the sidelines so he would be available to play should the Aggie team need him. Gill became the team’s twelfth man. The Aggies went on to win without Gill’s help, but on that day a tradition was born. To this day hard-core A & M fans stand ready, as a body, to show their willingness to play if needed, to be the twelfth man.
I think a lot of church folks view themselves as the twelfth man. How many folks come dressed up every Sunday morning standing ready, as a body, to show their willingness to play if needed, to be the twelfth man, but never get on the field. They never volunteer to teach a Sunday School class, or
volunteer to work on the Stewardship campaign, or help with the fellowship dinners, or invite friends to worship or any of the various ministries that help the church carry out its work. They have good intentions, but then we all know about the road paved with good intentions. Nobody can do everything
that is required to move a church forward, but all of us can do something. We are church.
The Apostle Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere that the Lord's people are the body of Christ. Each part is a part of the whole body. The body is an assembly of parts. Without its parts, the body is not. By its parts, the body exists. But a number of severed parts do not make a body, it is their assembly, their being together, which does that. Not only does one member of the Christian community need each other member, but each needs every other. A hand cannot function unless it is organically
related to a body, unless it is what the body needs it to be, unless it does what the body needs to have it do.
Paul wanted the people within the church to work together as a team. Each person possesses a different yet complementary gift that when used together builds up the church. We are incorporated into the body of Christ. Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit
dwells in you?” The church is more than brick and mortar; it is the people. We are the church together!
We are God’s temple with the Spirit dwelling in us. Ask yourself...how can you become involved in the work of St. Johns? What can you do? Don't stand on the sideline as the 12th man.
May - The Festival of Pentecost
Later this month, we will celebrate the Festival of Pentecost. It was one of the most wonderful and exciting moments in the history of the Christian faith. The Holy Spirit had fallen fresh on the lives of believers. People were filled with the passion and fires of the Holy Spirit. They gathered from every
persuasion and city, every nation and province, glorifying God, speaking different languages but understanding each other, expressing different voices but still in one accord. This was the time of Pentecost, when God saw fit to pour out the spirit which gave birth to the Christian Church.
Today we need the fervor, fire, tongues, passion, and spirit of Pentecost. Today the Church needs to experience a rebirth of the spirit, where souls are on fire with the love of Christ, where barriers are broken down and superficial divisions that divide people are bridged through a unity of the Spirit.
Today more than ever the church needs to recapture the fires of Pentecost so that souls can break free from bondage and healing. We need to experience Pentecost in all its glory. Too many churches are struggling because they lack the enthusiasm and love of Christ. They exist only for their own ego.
In Galatians 5:13-6:10, the work of the Holy Spirit is most clearly spelled out as Christians are commanded to “walk in the Spirit.” Christians are “led by the Spirit,” that they might bear “the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 6:22). Walking in the Spirit means that the life of Christ is reproduced in the life of the believer. As Christians, the Spirit enables us to be, as Luther said, “little Christs” to others.
Jesus made it clear He would send the Spirit to empower us for ministry. We cannot keep the Spirit to ourselves. To neglect mission and ministry as individuals and/or congregations is to grieve, even contradict, the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises the presence and power of the Spirit for local ministry and
global mission. But in order for that to happen, we need to open ourselves up to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What we need is the spirit of openness and receptiveness to the Spirit's outpouring: to the promise
and capacity of the Holy Spirit to transport, translate, and transcend us to higher heights in our faith,
belief and the contemplation and expression of that faith. The more we are open to the Spirit's outpouring, the more we lose personal control and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, the greater is our knowledge, power, and ability to express and interpret what God would have us do.
Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, Happiness is a lot like a butterfly. Pursue it and it will always be just beyond your grasp. Sit down quietly and wait for it and its likely to land right on your shoulder. It is a lot like that with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the living God is not something we see, but someone we
When a large ship enters a harbor, it takes on board what is called a harbor master. This is a man who knows that harbor; he knows the length and the depth of it. He knows where the hazards are. He knows where the tides and currents run; what direction they flow in and how strong they are. When
that harbor master comes on board, he takes control of that ship, and he gives order to the captain who steers the ship. He is an outside expert who is brought in to make sure that ship docks safely.
As we sail through the sea of life, we have been given a harbor master. He is the Holy Spirit. He knows the currents, the tides, the hazards, and the flow. If you will let Him guide the ship of your life, He will guide you safely through the hazards of everyday living, and some day, right into the harbor of heaven.
He is the only guide you need.
Lenten Devotionals -
Pat was making his rounds one summer morning when he was called to visit a patient admitted with an undiagnosed ailment. John, a man in his sixties, had not responded to any treatment; medical tests showed nothing; psychological tests were inconclusive. Yet he was wasting away; he had not even been able to swallow for two weeks. The nurses tried everything. Finally they called the chaplain's office.
When Pat walked into the room, John was sitting limply in his bed, strung with IV tubes, staring listlessly at the wall. He was a tall, grandfatherly man, balding a little, but his sallow skin hung loosely on his face, neck, and arms where the weight had dropped from his frame. His eyes were hollow.
Pat was terrified; he had no idea what to do. But John seemed to brighten a bit as soon as he saw Pat's chaplain badge and invited him to sit down. As they talked, Pat sensed that God was urging him to do something specific: He knew he was to ask John if he wanted to take Communion. Chaplain interns were not encouraged to ask this type of thing in this public hospital, but Pat did. At that John broke down. "I can't!" he cried. "I've sinned and can't be forgiven."
Pat paused a moment, knowing he was about to break policy again. Then he told John about 1 Corinthians 11 and Paul's admonition that whoever takes Communion in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself. He asked John if he wanted to confess his sin. John nodded gratefully. To this day Pat can't remember the particular sin John confessed, nor would he say if he did, but he recalls that it did not strike him as particularly egregious. Yet it had been draining the life from this man. John wept as he confessed, and Pat laid hands on him, hugged him, and told John his sins were forgiven. Then Pat got the second urging from the Holy Spirit: Ask him if he wants to take Communion. He did. Pat gave John a Bible and told him he would be back later. Already John was sitting up straighter, with a flicker of light in his eyes.
Pat visited a few more patients and then ate some lunch in the hospital cafeteria. When he left he wrapped an extra piece of bread in a napkin and borrowed a coffee cup from the cafeteria. He ran out to a shop a few blocks away and bought a container of grape juice. Then he returned to John's room with the elements and celebrated Communion with him, again reciting 1 Corinthians 11. John took the bread and chewed it slowly. It was the first time in weeks he had been able to take solid food in his mouth. He took the cup and swallowed. He had been set free.
Within three days John walked out of that hospital. The nurses were so amazed they called the newspaper, which later featured the story of John and Pat, appropriately, in its "LIFE" section. No additional commentary is necessary…
Let us pray…..On this day, may we remember how our Lord gathered together with his disciples and shared the bread and wine, symbolic of His body and blood. May we love one another as our Lord Jesus commanded, loving each other with all our hearts. May this sacrament so work in us that we live to proclaim the salvation you offer. Amen.
Wednesday, March 31
So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately. Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times. John 13:31-38
Here’s a wonderful fable titled "The Dance of the Heart." It is a fitting parable for the message of the gospel to us this morning. Once upon an ancient time in a distant land lived an emperor and an empress, who had a son and a daughter. The children, as children will, often quarreled and nagged each other in ways that distressed their wise and loving parents. They often argued about who would get the larger inheritance. "Perhaps we have spoiled them," said their mother. "They are too often concerned only for themselves."
"This is not a good quality for future generations," said their father. And so the parents discussed how to prepare their children to be the next rulers of the kingdom. When the children were old enough, the emperor and the empress called them to the throne room. "Our gift to you is a wheat field ready for sowing," they said. "The harvest of your hearts at the end of the growing season will tell us if you are ready to take your rightful place in the kingdom." The children weren't sure if they understood their parents' wishes, but they did understand farming, and set off, delighted, to plant and tend the field. They worked very hard together, which wasn't always easy. When their first harvest came in, they were proud indeed. "See the wheat we have grown with our own hands! Let us build a storage place for the grain. Then we will have some for now and some for later. Perhaps this is the lesson we are to learn."
So they set about to build a barn in which to store their harvest. The day came for the emperor and empress to visit. "Mother and Father," said the young prince, "see the wheat we have grown and how much we have saved for the winter!" "Very good, my children," said the emperor. "Your minds are certainly working. Your hearts, however, are still sleeping. We will come to visit you again next year."
Once again the children plowed and planted. Once again they had a good harvest. When they gathered their grain, they said, "Let us put some away and trade the rest for other goods." They hurried to the marketplace, where they bartered their grain for many things, and then took their treasures home. "Now," they said, "let us give our parents gifts for all their kindness." The parents came for their annual visit and once again inspected the work of their children. They received their gifts and thanked the prince and princess warmly. "My children," said the mother, "your hearts are no longer sleeping. Your hearts have learned to walk; now, you must let them dance. We will come again next year."
When harvest time came the children were puzzled. What were they to do with this year's harvest? They decided once again to save some of the crop and to take the rest to the market place. "This time let us not be in such a hurry," the young prince suggested. And so they set out. On the road they met a mother and two bouncing children carrying their grain to market. Just as the prince and princess were about to pass them, the children tripped their mother and all three tumbled to the ground. The grain in the woman's basket tipped over, and the wind blew most of it away. The children grew silent, and the mother did not get up. "Here," said the young princess rushing to her aid, "let me help you."
But the woman said, "It is no use. All that I have has danced away in the wind. Now my children will be hungry when winter comes." The small children tried to comfort their mother. "It's all right," they said. "The wind has given the grain to the birds. They are hungry, too." The dance of the wind brought back the words of the emperor and empress. Suddenly, the prince and princess saw with new eyes. "We shall share our grain with you," they said at once. They hurried to pour some of their grain into the woman's basket, and helped her on her way.
After the family had gone, the young prince said to his sister, "My heart has skipped a beat! I do not know," he continued, "if that is from its dancing, or from fear that we will not have enough grain for ourselves when we get to the marketplace." "When two people dance," the princess wisely replied, "one person leads and the other follows. If we let love lead and fear follows, then our hearts can dance without tripping. Let us practice this step in the marketplace." And so they did. To their surprise, they saw many people in the marketplace in need of one thing or another. They gave a little grain here or a bartered good there or an act of kindness somewhere else. Each time they gave, they found their hearts no longer skipped quite so anxiously. At the end of the day, their baskets were considerably lighter -- but so were their hearts. When the emperor and empress saw how the young prince and princess had begun to share their gifts with all who lived in the kingdom, they finally trusted them to rule.
The children never forgot the lesson they learned. Each year, their love led them to give a little more, and to keep a little less.
Let us pray….Give us thankful hearts O God that we can live each day acknowledging the many blessings you have bestowed upon us. Living in a materialistic world we often find ourselves wanting more than we need or deserve. Help us to treasure in our hearts all that God has done for us. Amen.
Tuesday, March 30
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Monday, March 29
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. John 12:1-11
Alan Paton, a South African writer, tells a powerful story which took place before the changes to apartheid in South Africa. In the story a white police lieutenant falls in love with a black African woman. Not only was it against the laws of apartheid in that racist society, but also it was an abominable sin, an unforgivable offense.
The lieutenant is confronted by his captain and initially denies the charge, but the evidence is so overwhelming that he is forced to confess his transgression. Then the captain does what appears to be a strange thing. He goes to visit the lieutenant's father and reports the situation to him. What follows is a moving and tragic scene. The father asks the captain, "Is it true?" The captain replies, "I fear it is." The father insists, "Are you sure?" And the captain answers, "He confessed it to me. It must be true." The father stands unmoving, the silence broken only by his heavy breathing, like some creature in agonizing pain. In the room observing the scene are the father's wife and his sister. He turns to his sister and says to her, "Bring me the Book." She goes to the bookcase, pulls down the heavy family Bible and sets it on the table in front of him. As she puts it on the table, she wonders aloud what passage he is going to read.
But he doesn't read any passage at all. Instead he opens the front of the book where the family names have been recorded for 150 years. He takes the pen and ink and crosses out the name of his son, Peter van Vlaanderen, not once but many times as though to completely obliterate it from the page. Without any anger or despair, without any words, and without any emotion, he does away with his son. Then he turns to the captain and very calmly asks, "Is there anything more?" The captain knows this is his cue to leave and he does, offering to the mother and aunt any help he can give them. But the father turns abruptly to him and says, "No one in this house will ask for help!" So the captain leaves. The father, still sitting at the table, turns to his sister and says, "Lock the door and bolt it and bring me the key. The door of our house will never open again." The door is closed forever. The son can never return home.
That is not the picture of God that Jesus brings us. You are forgiven, Jesus tells us. You are forgiven and set free. Instead of our names being obliterated from the Book of Life, Jesus writes them with indelible ink! You are forgiven and given a new start in life. That's what the word "forgiveness" means.
Let us pray…Gracious heavenly Father, forgive us for all the wrongs we have done, especially the prejudice and hatred we lay upon others. How quick we are to judge! Open our hearts and minds to your ways that we can truly be brothers and sisters in Christ…amen.
Sunday, March 28 Palm Sunday
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). John 1:29-41
Centuries ago, on the island of Formosa, there was a ruler named Goho. He was a forward-thinking man who convinced the savage tribes under his rule to stop human sacrifices. Instead, they began using various animals for their sacrifices, animals which they believed would bring a good harvest. But one year the crops failed and the people became afraid. They thought the gods must be angry. Once again they demanded a human sacrifice. Goho tried to talk them out of it, but could not. So, finally he agreed. He told them to go to a certain place in the forest the next day, and they would find a man tied to a tree, wearing the red robe of sacrifice, and a red cloth over his head. That man would be the victim. The next day they did as he said - and they killed the man tied to the tree. Then, they discovered the man tied to the tree was Goho himself. From that day they never sacrificed another human being. By his death Goho did what his teaching could never do.
Let us pray…Lord Jesus Christ, on this day so long ago you made your way through the streets of Jerusalem. The crowds cheered upon your arrival, but how quickly they were to turn against you. You are the Lamb of God who bore the weight of our sin upon your shoulders. Forgive us when we fail to honor you as Lord and King…amen.
Friday, March 26
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”
A young man was at the end of his rope. Seeing no way out, he dropped to his knees in prayer. "Lord, I can't go on," he said, "I have too heavy of a cross to bear." The Lord replied, "My son, if you can't bear its weight, just place your cross inside this room. Then, open that other door and pick out any cross you wish."
The man was filled with relief and said, "Thank you, Lord," and he did as he was told. Upon entering the other door, he saw many crosses, some so large the tops were not visible. Then, he spotted a tiny cross leaning against a far wall. "I'd like that one, Lord," he whispered. The Lord replied, "My son, that is the cross you just brought in."
When life's problems seem overwhelming, it helps to look around and see what other people are coping with. You may consider yourself far more fortunate than you imagined.
Let us pray…Lord we ask you to unburden our hearts, souls, and spirits. We often times take on more than we should; we chastise ourselves for not being in control. Cleanse us from our sins and help us to let go that we might serve you with a quiet mind. Amen.
Thursday, March 25
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-8
Bob Weber had spoken to a club in a small town and was spending the night with a farmer on the outskirts of the community. He had just relaxed on the front porch when a newsboy delivered the evening paper. The boy noted the sign Puppies for Sale. The boy got off his bike and said to the farmer, "How much do you want for the pups, mister?" "Twenty-five dollars, son." The boy's face dropped. "Well, sir, could I at least see them anyway?" The farmer whistled, and in a moment the mother dog came bounding around the corner of the house tagged by four of the cute puppies, wagging their tails and yipping happily. At last, another pup came straggling around the house, dragging one hind leg. "What's the matter with that puppy, mister?" the boy asked. "Well, Son, that puppy is crippled. We took her to the vet and the doctor took an X-ray. The pup doesn't have a hip joint and that leg will never be right." To the amazement of both men, the boy dropped the bike, reached for his collection bag and took out a fifty-cent piece. "Please, mister," the boy pleaded, "I want to buy that pup. I'll pay you fifty cents every week until the twenty-five dollars is paid. Honest I will, mister." The farmer replied, "But, Son, you don't seem to understand. That pup will never, never be able to run or jump. That pup is going to be a cripple forever. Why in the world would you want such a useless pup as that?" The boy paused for a moment, then reached down and pulled up his pant leg, exposing that all too familiar iron brace and leather knee-strap holding a poor twisted leg. The boy answered, "Mister, that pup is going to need someone who understands him to help him in life!"
Crippled and disfigured by sin, the risen, living Christ has given us hope. He understands us more than you know our temptations, our discouragements, and even our thoughts concerning death. By His resurrection we have help in this life and hope for the life to come.
Let us pray…Heavenly Father, we have sinned and fallen short. You know our failures; you see us for who we are, but you also see us for who we can be. Strengthen us that we may rise from the ashes to live life anew. Amen.
Wednesday, March 24
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? Romans 10:13-14
There were two men who had been business partners for over twenty years. They met one Sunday morning as they were leaving a restaurant. One of them asked, "Where are you going this morning?" "I'm going to play golf. What about you?" The first man responded rather apologetically, "I'm going to church." The other man said, "Why don't you give up that church stuff?" The first man asked, "What do you mean?" His partner said: "Well, we have been partners for twenty years. We have worked together, attended board meetings together, and had lunch together, and all of these twenty years you have never asked me about going to church. You have never invited me to go with you. Obviously, it doesn't mean that much to you."
Don't get yourself in that fix. Don't let others think your faith doesn't matter that much to you. Come and see for yourself what Jesus can do in your life. Go and tell others what Jesus has done and is doing. Tell them and but more importantly show them through your life and your lifestyle.
Let us pray…Gracious God, You have planted the seed of your Word in my heart. May that seed continue to root and grow that I find ways to share the Good News with those I meet every day. May the fruits of my labors continue to flourish and grow. Amen.
Tuesday, March 23
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit." "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel." Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that." He then added, "Very truly I tell you, you will see 'heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on' the Son of Man." John 1: 43-51
A few years ago something fascinating happened at a high school in Unionville, Tennessee. Three nominees for homecoming king decided that if one of them was awarded the crown they would give it to a junior named Scotty Maloney, who has Williams syndrome, a neurological disorder that affects learning and speech. When Jesse Cooper’s name was called as the winner at a ceremony, the principal announced what the nominees decided to do. “I’ve been blessed with so many things,” Cooper told ABC News’ Nashville affiliate WKRN-TV. “I just wanted Scotty to experience something great in his high school days.” “When they called Scotty’s name, his eyes got really big and I don’t know that he registered exactly what was happening. He knew something was,” Maloney’s teacher Liz Hestle Gassaway told ABC News. com. “It was very, very emotional.” The crowd erupted with cheers and Maloney got a long-standing ovation, WKRN reported, as he was awarded his “king” medal. Everyone loves Maloney at that school. He wears that medal wherever he goes.
When we embody the love of Jesus it will get people’s attention. When every Christian embodies the fascinating love of Christ, the world will want to know about it and they will want it too!
Let us pray…Heavenly Father, may we never tire of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others that they may come to know you. Help us find ways to touch the lives of others in word and deed. Amen.
Monday, March 22
It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry and to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ.
Eric "The Swimmer" Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea was an unlikely hero of the Sydney Olympic Games. The 22-year-old African had only learned to swim the January before. He had only practiced in a 20 meter pool without lane markers, and had never raced more than 50 meters. By special invitation of the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permits poorer countries to participate even though their athletes don't meet customary standards, he had been entered in the 100 meter men's freestyle.
When the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, Moussambani was forced to swim alone. Eric Moussambani was, to use the words of an Associated Press story about his race, "charmingly inept." He never put his head under the water's surface and flailed wildly to stay afloat. With ten meters left to the wall, he virtually came to a stop. Some spectators thought he might drown! Even though his time was over a minute slower than what he would need to qualify for the next level of competition, the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood to their feet and cheered Eric on. After what seemed like an eternity, this young African athlete reached the wall and hung on for dear life. When he had caught his breath and regained his composure, the French-speaking Moussambani said through an interpreter, "I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going."
It was the cheering of the crowd that kept him going. Wouldn't it be nice for us to say in the midst of this pandemic “it’s been my church that has kept me going. Wouldn’t it be nice for those recovering from illness to say, “it’s been my church that has kept me going.” Wouldn’t it be nice as people leave the area because of family or work they seek out another church because “it’s been my church that has kept me going.” What a revelation! What a compliment!
Knowledge puffs up, but loves builds up. We have many smart, well-educated, hard-working people in our congregation and we're thankful for that. Knowledge is much to be preferred over ignorance. But that alone will not make us a great church. What will make us a great church is when we become a church of encouragers, building one another up with the love of Christ.
Let us pray…Heavenly Father, may your love abound and encourage us onward. As you watch over us, may we watch over those less fortunate than ourselves. May we strengthen the Body of Christ by our willingness to care for others. Amen.
Saturday, March 20
And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.
One foggy night in London, many years ago, a ragged unkempt man shuffled into a little music shop, owned by a Mr. Arthur Betts. Clutched under the man's arm was a violin. "Will you buy this old violin from me?" the man muttered. I'm starving. I need money to buy something to eat." "Well, I already have several violins," Mr. Betts replied. "But I don't want to see you go hungry. Will a guinea ($5.00 at the time) help you out?" "Oh, yes," said the man. "Thank you. Thank you." He took the money and disappeared into the night. Mr. Betts picked up the violin, took the bow and drew it across the strings. The violin gave forth a deep mellow tone. Surprised, Mr. Betts took a light and peered into the inside of the violin. He could hardly believe what he saw. There, carved into the wood were these words: "Antonio Stradivari...1704." Mr. Betts ran out into the street to find the old man, to pay him more for the violin. But he had gone.
The "Betts" is among the most legendary violins from Stradivari's workshop. Part of that status comes from the circumstances of its acquisition. In about 1820, an individual entered Betts' shop (owned by he and his nephew) at the Royal Exchange in London and offered the violin in its pristine state. A deal was made and the instrument changed hands for the sum of only one guinea. The sellers name was unknown and never discovered. Whoever he was, he didn't know what he had, and accepted Arthur Bett's offer. Betts was a violinist, teacher, and violin dealer. His teacher had been none other than the famous violinist, Giovanni Battista Viotti, who played a 1709 golden period Stradivari violin, so Arthur knew what he was doing. Not surprisingly, the nephew thought the violin should belong to the firm, but Arthur claimed that since he bought it with his own money, (one guinea) it was his. Arthur Betts used the violin for the rest of his career.
When it comes to the good news do we recognize its value? Are we able to acknowledge how truly blessed we are to have received this gift from God!
Let us pray….Teach me today in the power of Your Holy Spirit, the truths that You would have me learn. May the Spirit of all truth open my mind today as I read and study Your Word. May I be willing to be led into all truth and to be taught what is the will of God in my life. Amen.
Note: The instrument is currently in the collection of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., among the four other Stradivaris in the Cremonese Collection donated by Gertrude Clarke Whittall in 1935.
Friday, March 19
When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” Matthew 8:23-28
"One night at the end of a special Saturday night worship service," wrote Warren Hudson of Ontario, Canada," a thunderstorm unleashed a bolt of lightning that plunged the church into darkness." With the congregation seated in total darkness, the pastor felt his way to the kitchen to find some candles. The pastor handed out the candles to everyone present. Persons lit their candles in much the same way as many churches do on Christmas Eve, each person lighting the candle of the person next to them. The worshipers then made their way through the church's winding hallways to the front door. "Peering out, we could see the rain coming down in sheets," Warren remembers. With traffic snarled, people were running for the nearest shelter. Looking around they realized that the entire city was in darkness. "There in the darkness we stood," Warren writes, "a little band of Christians, each clutching a light, not sure whether to venture out into the storm or stay inside the church in hopes that the storm would soon blow over."
There in the darkness the light of truth struck him. In this most dramatic way he realized what it means to be the "light of the world." He writes, "It occurred to me then that this is the temptation I face every day. It is easy to play it safe and be a good Christian in church. It is a lot harder to venture out in faith into the storms of the world."
Let us pray….Be with me, Father. Help me speak the right words, make the right choices, and choose the right opportunities. You are my light shining in the darkness. With your celestial fire, enlighten my spiritual eyes, to see as you see. Amen.
Thursday, March 18
….who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and ... Philippians 2:6-11
Robert Coles, a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard writes a lot of books. He wrote a book about Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day, is a famous Catholic social worker, the founder of the Catholic Worker. When Coles was a medical student at Harvard, he volunteered to work at the Catholic Worker. He was a Harvard graduate. He was in medical school. He was going to be a psychiatrist. In this society, that is about as high a status as you can get. He knew that. He was really proud of it. He was also proud that as this person with all these credentials, he was volunteering to help the poor. It was the kind of thing people would sit up and take notice of.
He arrived at the premises of the Catholic Worker. He asked to see Dorothy Day. He went right to the top. The person said that she was in the kitchen. He went into the kitchen, saw her sitting at a table, talking to someone. He had enough medical training to recognize that the man that she was talking to was addicted to some dangerous substance. He was disheveled. He was obviously a homeless street person. She was sitting at table with him, listening intently to what he had to say. Now I want you to have in mind Jesus' parable of the banquet and the seats at the table, and where you are supposed to be at that banquet. She is at table with this street person, giving him her full attention. So she didn't notice Coles come in the room. He stood beside the door, waited for her to finish. When she finished the conversation she stood up. That is when she noticed Coles. She asked, "Do you want to speak to one of us?" He was astounded. Dorothy Day was famous. This man with her was a nobody. He's a derelict. "You wanted to speak to one of us?" Coles had never seen anything like this before. Humility that can identify with another person so completely as to remove all distinctions between them. It cut through all of the boundaries, all the categories that society sets up to separate us from one another. There were just two people, brother and sister, the sister concerned about the brother.
It changed his life. He said he learned more in one moment than he did in four years at Harvard. He saw in one moment what it means to humble yourself as our Lord did, "who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself, and took on the form of a servant."
For he who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Let us pray…God our Father, yours is the beauty of creation and the good things you have given us. Help us to begin this day joyfully in your name and to spend it in loving service of you and our fellow man. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Wednesday, March 17 St. Patrick’s Day
I arise to-day
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise to-day
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in a multitude.
Christ to shield me to-day
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
Most believe that the prayer of St. Patrick, also known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, originated as a prayer to protect St. Patrick from a Pagan ambush. According to the Irish legend, the prayer of St. Patrick was composed in 433 AD as he and his followers journeyed to the Hill of Tara, knowing that along the way they wouold face an ambush intended to kill them all. Instead of seeing St. Patrick and his group, the Druids waiting in the bushes to kill all of them saw a doe followed by fawns. Needless to say, St. Patrick’s prayer saved them all. Because of this legend, the prayer of St. Patrick is also sometimes called “The Deer’s Cry.”
Let us pray…We thank you that your presence is powerful and real even today. We thank that your Word reminds us over and over again, that you are always with us. Thank you that you go before us, and that you cover us from behind. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit, that you live within us, bringing life and peace. Thank you for your protection over us, that you surround our lives as a shield. Thank you for your grace and favor, for your blessings and love that you so graciously shine over your people. We look to you today, our Lord and Savior, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Tuesday, March 16
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
Some years ago a military airplane crashed at Sonderstrom Air Force Base in Greenland. Twenty-two people were killed. The runway and the nearby fields were strewn with bodies. It was a tragic and horrible moment. There was only one chaplain on the base at the time and the entire burden was laid on him to bring comfort and the Word of Christ to a shocked community staggered by the horrendous accident. But there was little time to mourn. The grisly task of gathering up and identifying the bodies needed to be done. The chaplain, along with a young lieutenant and a group of volunteers went about the awful business of picking up the mutilated bodies and trying to identify the dead. It was a heart breaking and exhausting task, but it had to be done. The people worked in shocked silence well into the night until they almost dropped from fatigue. When every last remnant of death had been picked up, they each went silently to their individual rooms.
That night, after midnight, there was a knock on the chaplain's door. Outside stood the young lieutenant. He said nothing. He just stood there and wept. After some moments, the young lieutenant spoke through his tears and he said, "As we were picking up the bodies today, I realized something. I realized that the only other people out there with us were the people who go to church here. I have always been an unbeliever, and I used to ridicule these same people who were out there with us. Yet they are the only persons who would, or perhaps could, do what we had to do today. It must have been their Christian spirit that could help them see beyond the horror to the hope."
That tragic day turned around the life of that young lieutenant. As he had admitted, he had never been religious, had seldom gone to church except for weddings and funerals, but from that time on he was a new man. Christ was born in his heart. From that time forward, he took an active part in the Christian ministry of that base. Then he did an unheard thing – he extended his tour of duty in Greenland for an extra year. He was the first person in the history of that base to do that. He did it because he wanted to be able to tell others the story of how the power of the Christian hope had changed his life.
Let us pray…Almighty Lord God, give us true faith, and make that faith grow in us day by day. Give us hope and love, so that we may serve our neighbors according to your will; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Monday, March 15
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them-do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." So he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'" Luke 13:1-9
During the years of Communist rule in the U.S.S.R., a person could be arrested for any act or statement that seemed threatening to the government. Writers, philosophers, teachers, and pastors were imprisoned for their beliefs. During this era, Soviet author Alexander Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years of hard labor in a Soviet prison camp for writing "disrespectful" remarks about Stalin in a private letter to a friend. The oppression, the humiliation by the guards, the backbreaking work in the gulag wore him down. He was ready to give up on life. One day, he wandered away from a work team and sat down. At any moment, he expected the guards to kill him, and he no longer cared. Instead, an old man came and sat next to Solzhenitsyn. Picking up a stick, he drew a crude outline of a cross in the sand. And as Alexander Solzhenitsyn looked at that cross, he suddenly realized that this was his only hope. With Jesus' power inspiring him, he could survive anything. After his release from the camps, Solzhenitsyn wrote world-renowned books on the nature of freedom and faith.
Let us pray…Lord, You have promised wisdom to all who ask, and Father, I am asking for that wisdom today so that I may know the direction You would have me go. Help me to be strong and live according to your ways. Amen.
Sunday, March 14
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4
A man named Gerhard Dirks, the "father of the modern computer," was one who had to face up to life's most important question. During the years of the Second World War he made many inventions that led to the development of the first computers. He and his family escaped from Hitler's Germany and later Russian occupation to the west. He was a brilliant man, reported to have an IQ of 208. He had over 140 patents with IBM and even attempted theoretically to reconstruct the human brain. But he became completely bewildered and shaken when confronted with the complexity and utter impossibility of such a reconstruction. He didn't know what to do or where to run. He had to face a choice: Either the human brain came about by a fantastic chance or by intelligent planning. Dirks re-established contact with an old friend and found out this friend had become a Christian. He saw the change in this man from being selfish and impatient to being patient and at peace. But, Dirks clung to his atheism because he could not understand how God can know all about us, every person in the entire world. He couldn't understand where God could possibly store all the information about every person that ever lived.
Dirks went with his friend to a discussion group where a man talked about God. Someone asked "What do you say to someone who thinks they are not a sinner?" The leader of the meeting told the man to take four pieces of paper and number them 1 to 4 and write a list of things on each piece of paper. On page 1, he said: write down every time you can remember when you said "yes" and meant "no" or said "no" and meant "yes." Then write down every time you can remember when you told an outright lie. Write down every time you gave someone a shady answer, every time you made a promise and broke it and every time you made a promise and never intended to keep it. On page 2 write what it is that you hide from everybody. You don't have to show this to anyone, but to yourself. Write down something that, if anyone found out about it, something inside you would wither. On page 3 he said make a list of friends to whom you have done something that you would not want them to do to you. Never mind if they did something to provoke you, just put down your part. On page 4 write the names of the people for whom you have done something good, and done it without hope of any compensation or reward of any kind. He then said "I think that any man who does that honestly will see that he is a sinner and that he is desperately in the need of salvation. He will know that the sin and the wrong he has written down is only the tip of an iceberg."
Dirks went home and did it, and the imbalance between paper 4 and papers 1, 2, and 3 were self-evident. He had to admit he was a sinner. And, suddenly it hit him. He knew where God stored data. He got his answer without even looking for it. God stored the information about Dirks IN DIRKS. Everything he had ever thought, seen, heard, said, done - everything was there in his own mind. He was his own "file." Every human being was his own "file." Now, he lost all his excuses for not believing in the Savior. People CAN change, because he saw the real changes in his friend. There is information for a final judgment - because every person carries his own data. He realized that he did not like himself and the way he lived. Just like when a computer has errors he needed to be "debugged." He fell onto his knees and prayed "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and wash me in your blood."
In a few minutes he stopped crying. He knew that something had happened. A wall had come down, the wall that had stood between him and his Creator. He hadn't known the wall was there, until it came down. It was the wall that Christ had demolished. For the first time in his life, he knew what it meant to have fellowship with his Heavenly Father. Then he thought, it wasn't a wall, it was more like a sphere made of stone - a sphere that formed a prison. It had kept him in, and God out. He was now free of that prison!
Let us pray…Lead me Lord, in the way that I should go and give me clarity of thought and a clear focus on what your will is for the direction of my life. I seek your guidance, a sense of direction, clarity and focus, and pray that by grace through faith I will walk in your spirit and truth. Amen.
Saturday, March 13
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
Florence Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. On the Fourth of July in 1951, she attempted to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast. The challenge was not so much the distance, but the bone-chilling waters of the Pacific. To complicate matters, a dense fog lay over the entire area, making it impossible for her to see land. After about 15 hours in the water, and within a half mile of her goal, Chadwick gave up. Later she told a reporter, "Look, I'm not excusing myself. But if I could have seen land, I might have made it." Not long afterward she attempted the feat again. Once more, a misty veil obscured the coastline, and she couldn't see the shore. But this time she made it, because she kept reminding herself that land was there. With that confidence, she bravely swam on and achieved her goal.
How often our judgment is clouded by our circumstances. Despite our insecurities, we must learn to trust and believe in the promises of Christ, remembering that he has promised to always be with us.
Let us pray…Trusting you is hard, O God. I need to learn how to release my control to you. Help me to have confidence in your trust and guidance. Amen.
Thursday, March 11th
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. Just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” The Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd rejoiced at all the wonderful things that he was doing. Luke 13:10-17
One summer morning as Ray Blankenship was preparing his breakfast, he gazed out the window, and saw a small girl being swept along in the rain-flooded drainage ditch beside his Andover, Ohio, home. Blankenship knew that farther downstream, the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath a road and then emptied into the main culvert. Ray dashed out the door and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the foundering child. Then he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. Blankenship surfaced and was able to grab the child's arm. They tumbled head over heels. Within about three feet of the culvert, Ray's free hand felt something protruding from one bank. He clung on desperately, but the force of the water tried to tear him and the child away. "If I can just hang on until help comes," he thought. He did better than that. By the time fire-department rescuers arrived, Blankenship had pulled the girl to safety. Both were treated for shock. On April 12, 1989, Ray Blankenship was awarded the Coast Guard's Silver Lifesaving Medal. The award is fitting, for this selfless person was at even greater risk to himself than most people knew. Ray Blankenship can't swim.
Let us pray……Lord, we want to do Your will for our lives. Continue to use us to do Your will. Continue to bless us that we may be a blessing to others. Amen
Wednesday, March 10
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
The key word in 1 Corinthians 9 is "aimlessly." Paul wants to stop us in our tracks, forcing us to reevaluate our schedules, and determine what activities are worthwhile and what is simply aimless. To determine which is which requires some intentional quiet time.
Matt Lauer interviewed Mother Teresa on the Today show. He asked her about a typical day. Mother Teresa told Matt that she gets up early and usually spends two hours in prayer and meditation. "Two hours," he said. "What do you do for two hours?" She said, "I listen to God." "And what does God say to you?" Mother Teresa said, "He doesn't speak. He is listening to me." And with that, this world-class interviewer was speechless — not sure if it was awe or confusion. So he broke for a commercial.
The psalmist wrote, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). Certainly there is a time to make your request known to God with great details. Certainly there is a time to sing at the top of your lungs. Certainly, there is time to be busy, doing the work of the Lord, but there is also a time to be still. In Mark, the evangelist wrote, "In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35). Jesus was a very busy man but he was not running aimlessly. But to remain centered, he needed to be still.
Paul is not saying that running is the problem nor is it being too busy. It is running aimlessly that is the problem. I bet as we scurry from activity to commitment to yet something else, much of our running is aimless. All those things we think are so important will one day be forgotten. Trophies that define us, plaques that identify us will crumble like dust. Paul makes it clear that he doesn't want that to happen to his life. He wants his life to count. He longs for meaning and purpose, not running aimlessly, but having purpose, making a difference.
Let us pray….Father, when the enemy uses the noise of this world, the lure of negativity and controversy on social media, and circumstances in my life to distract, discourage, and distress me … help me. Help me to “be still and know” You.
Tuesday, March 9
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. As to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
The movie, Forrest Gump, came to mind when I read this text in 1 Corinthians. As a young boy, Forrest has to wear these clumsy, heavy leg braces. For the most part, he doesn't care. In fact, the braces become so much a part of his life that he doesn't even realize much how they have trapped and confined him. Then one day, some bullies chase Forrest and he has to run away but the braces slow him down. As the bullies get closer and closer and Forrest struggles to run faster, the braces finally break, fall off his legs, and suddenly he is set free to run fast. The point is this, Forrest never knew what it felt to be free or how fast he could run until he took that step or, in a better sense, was forced to break out of braces, and live differently, to live beyond himself. He never went back to the braces.
On the surface, Paul wrote about practical issues. Can we eat meat sacrificed to idols? This is where the freedom of the gospel hit the harsh reality of living in a pagan culture. Paul challenged his readers and challenges us to live a life that is not shaped by the limits of legalism but in the freedom that breaks the shackles of those braces and allows us to live a life spirit-filled.
Let us pray...Gracious God, we are often shackled by our attitudes, our lifestyle, the expectations of those around us. Help us to start every day with a new attitude and plenty of gratitude. Let us make the best of each and every day to clear our mind so that we can hear You. In your name we pray…amen
Monday, March 8
As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it.
1 Corinthians 12:20-25
There’s a story of a visiting pastor who attended a men's breakfast in the middle of a rural farming area of the country. The group had asked an older farmer, decked out in bib overalls, to say grace for the morning breakfast. "Lord, I hate buttermilk", the farmer began. The visiting pastor opened one eye to glance at the farmer and wonder where this was going. The farmer loudly proclaimed, "Lord, I hate lard." Now the pastor was growing concerned. Without missing a beat, the farmer continued, "And Lord, you know I don't much care for raw white flour". The pastor once again opened an eye to glance around the room and saw that he wasn't the only one to feel uncomfortable. Then the farmer added, "But Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I do love warm fresh biscuits. So Lord, when things come up that we don't like, when life gets hard, when we don't understand what you're saying to us, help us to just relax and wait until you are done mixing. It will probably be even better than biscuits Amen."
Within that prayer there is great wisdom for all when it comes to complicated situations like we are experiencing in the world today. Stay strong because our Lord is mixing several things that we don't really care for, but something even better is going to come when He is done with it. AMEN
Let us pray….You have made a way for us. You have poured your love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and we can remain in your love. Help us Lord to keep our focus on you, despite all the distractions of life. Guide us to walk with You by Your Holy Spirit.
Sunday, March 7
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 2 Corinthians 4:18
There was a young boy named Billy who was fascinated with professional divers and wanted so much to dive like them, but refused to take time to learn the basics. Time after time his coach Mr. Brown tried to help Billy see that the most important thing about diving was to keep his head in the proper position. If his head entered the water properly, Brown explained, the rest of his body would enter the water properly--at least, more properly than it had been. Billy would dive into the pool, do a belly flop, and come up grinning, "Mr. Brown, were my feet together?" "Billy, I don't care whether your feet were together or not," Brown shouted back. "Make sure your head is straight, then everything else will work out."
The next time Billy would stand on the edge of the pool and really concentrate. Then he would dive and, once again, make a mess of it. "Mr. Brown, were my hands together?" "Billy," Brown would groan in frustration, "I'm going to get you a neck brace and weld it onto your head. For the hundredth time, if your head is right the rest of you will be right. If your head is wrong, the rest of you will be wrong."
Isn't that true in all of life? If our head is wrong, our marriage will probably suffer. If our head is wrong, our priorities will be fouled up. If our head is wrong, it may even affect our health in a negative way. God understands our distress and God seeks to make us new persons so that we can handle our distress more effectively.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, I thank you Lord, for your great sacrifice and the grace You poured into my heart. Come Lord Jesus into my heart and abide in my life as I abide in You. As we keep our focus on You, help us to look with Your eyes and love beyond all means and understanding. Amen.
Saturday, March 6
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12
There is a legend telling us about Judas. Following his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent, he looked up and saw way, way up a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards the light. The walls of the pit were dark and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top and then he slipped and fell all the way back down to the bottom. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb up again. After many more falls and efforts and failures, he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around the table. "We've been waiting for you, Judas," Jesus said. "We couldn't begin till you came."
God’s love, mercy and forgiveness extends well beyond our comprehension.
Let us pray...Gracious God, we have sinned in thought, word and deed. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. We are all your children, and your desire is that none of us should perish. Amen.
Thursday, March 4
“… to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'
Here’s a wonderful story of a man who had been a closet slob most of his life. He just couldn't comprehend the logic of neatness. Why make up a bed if you're going to sleep in it again? Why put the lid on the toothpaste tube if you're going to take it off again in the morning? He admitted to being compulsive about being messy. Then he got married. His wife was patient. She said she didn't mind his habits . . . if he didn't mind sleeping on the couch. Since he did mind, he began to change. He said he enrolled in a 12-step program for slobs. A physical therapist helped him rediscover the muscles used for hanging up shirts and placing toilet paper on the holder. His nose was reintroduced to the smell of Pine Sol. By the time his in-laws arrived for a visit, he was a new man. But then came that moment of truth. His wife went out of town for a week. At first he reverted to the old man. He figured he could be a slob for six days and clean up on the seventh. But something strange happened. He could no longer relax with dirty dishes in the sink or towels flung around the bathroom or clothes on the floor or sheets piled up like a mountain on the bed.
What happened? He had been exposed to a higher standard of living. That's what confession and repentance do for us. That's what Jesus does for us.
Let us pray…Lord help me to discipline my life and so strengthen me for the task of following you beyond concerns of self to love for others. Amen.
Wednesday, March 3
For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. The righteous shall be preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. Psalm 37:28
In 1970 Malcolm Emory, a student at Northeastern University, was convicted of assault and battery on a police officer during an anti-war demonstration. The case revolved solely around police officer Vincent Logan's testimony that he saw Emory throw a rock. Emory maintained that he had just come out of the library, that his arms were loaded with books, that he threw nothing, and that he had merely stopped for a few moments to watch the demonstration.
The court's conviction of Emory cost him his college scholarship, ended his research job with the Navy, and finished his plans for a career in physics. While he did not have to serve jail time, the conviction was a major blow to Emory's life. For years he remained angry over the incident and kept expecting things to be set straight. Finally, after about 5 years, he realized that he needed to get on with his life.
Twenty years later an unpublished newspaper photograph was found that showed police dragging Emory off, both his arms loaded down with books. A superior court judge ruled that Emory was entitled to a new trial, and the district attorney's office declined to prosecute again. Emory was now free of the original charge. Further, Emory, a professional welder, was offered a full scholarship in physics at Northeastern University if he wanted to resume his studies. Emory said he was simply pleased and relieved to have the matter brought to a close.
There is no guarantee that justice in this life will be either fair or speedy. Some things will be set straight quickly, others will wait 20 years, and still others will await God's final judgment. Sometimes all we can do is wait. Sometimes all we can do is pray…but ultimately we need to remain firm in our faith that justice will prevail.
Let us pray… Lord, you have been so patient with me over and over again. You search me out when I try to run and hide from you. Give me courage to open myself up to you so that I may abide in your presence and know your peace. Amen.
Tuesday, March 2
Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” Luke 15:8-9
A legend tells the story of a fisherman called Aaron. Aaron lived on the banks of a river. Walking home with his eyes half-closed one evening after a hard day's work, he was dreaming of what he could do if he were rich. As he walked his foot struck against a leather pouch filled with what seemed to him to be small stones. Absentmindedly he picked up the pouch and began throwing the pebbles into the water. "When I am a rich man," he said to himself, "I'll have a large house". And he threw another pebble into the river. He threw another one and thought, "My wife and I will have servants and rich food, and many fine things". And this went on until just one stone was left. As Aaron held it in his hand, a ray of light caught it and made it sparkle. He was not throwing ordinary stones but valuable gems, throwing away the real riches in his hand, while he dreamed of unreal riches in the future."
This legend summarizes our situation. The value of the Kingdom of God is before us if we will but realize.
Let us pray…..Father, in our joys and sorrows, in sickness and health, in light and darkness, in laughter and tears, may your grace keep us serving and pleasing you. Amen.
Monday, March 1
… Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.
An ancient Chinese parable tells of Old Tan Chang who had a small farm overshadowed by a towering mountain. One day he got the notion to get rid of the mountain. With the help of his wife and sons, he began to hack at the rock around its base. A neighbor walked by and scoffed, "You will never finish the job, old man! There are not enough days in the year for you to do this." But Tan replied confidently, "I am not as foolish as you think, my friend. I may be old and feeble, but after I am gone, my sons will continue to peck away at the mountain. Then their sons and their sons'' sons will do the same. Since the mountain cannot grow, someday it will be level with the ground, and the sun will shine upon our land."
Many of the problems we cannot eliminate instantly can be moved one piece at a time, one day at a time. "So do not be anxious about tomorrow, tomorrow will be anxious for itself." It might be that tomorrow the whole world will be turned upside down and justice will reign at last. tomorrow -- surely -- our tears will be heard!"
Let us pray….O Lord, help us recognize our Lord as the center of existence. May our lives revolve around him and his grace. Amen.
Saturday, February 27
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?
It was once a custom in Russian villages, at a time when many children did not survive infancy, to have a mourning hut at the outskirts of every town. All women who lost children were sent to live in that hut for a month of solitude and grief. At the end of the month, the hut was set on fire. The woman inside had to decide whether to live or die. If she came out of the burning hut, this indicated that she was prepared to live, and she then rebuilt the hut for the next mourner. As harsh as the practice may sound to us, it provides a graphic picture of the necessity we confront to decide to move out of the despair we find ourselves in when we are dealing with grief.
Let us pray: God of Love, help us find comfort in Your word that tells us that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. I pray that even in death we know that we are not separated from You and Your omniscient power, Amen.
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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