Monday, July 25, 2016

You Want Me to Do What? Part 1

It’s been a very busy week for me as I worked as far ahead as I possibly could in just two days to prepare for my vacation time this week and attending a family funeral the other two days. Friday was my day to run errands, pack, and load up the car so that I could leave early Saturday morning to attend the New Wilmington Mission Conference. My last afternoon in the office, I received an email from a woman on the Worship committee at the church that I work for asking if I would consider preaching the message the day after I return from Conference and while I was honored to be asked, I really didn’t see how I could possibly put together a message worthy of the congregation I serve with no time to prepare. So I politely declined.

The church where I work as an Administrative Assistant is in a state of flux right now as we are between pastors. My boss and good friend Larry with whom I worked for and with for 13 years retired and in good Presbyterian fashion we are prayerfully searching for the Interim Pastor who will help us unite with the person God is preparing to shepherd us into the future. Because of this, our worship committee must find people to fill in every Sunday until our Interim Pastor arrives. That’s why the opportunity to share God’s message became available to me…or so I thought. What happened is God decided he was going to share a particular message through me and this is the way he went about doing it. I just didn't see it at the time.

I arrived early Saturday morning at Conference to participate in the Staff prayer and worship time and after lunch had a few hours to kill before registration so I found a quiet place on campus to write today’s blog. Something that was said during the earlier prayer and worship time sparked a passionate response that made my fingers fly about the keyboard. Later that evening, I picked up where I had left off and again the words continued to fill the page at lightning speed. It was as if God were dictating a letter and I was just typing what I heard. As I reread what “we” wrote, I said to myself a phrase I’d heard a thousand times from my friend Larry—“That will preach!” I paused; shook my head and muttered to myself, “Oh.” Now on board with what God had planned all along, I contacted my friend on the worship committee and told her that I would be happy to share with the congregation the amazing message I was receiving here at Conference this coming Sunday. I said, “I thought I wouldn’t have enough time to prepare but I didn’t take into account what God had planned for the week.”

I’m not a great public speaker, but I do love God and when I’m talking about something or someone I love, it’s as if my apprehension and fear dissipates. I guess perfect love does cast out fear. Why am I telling you all this? Because I need and ask for your prayers as I listen closely to the message God has for me this week and for those I will be sharing with on Sunday.

Sneak preview: The theme verse is Acts 1:8:  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. I'm learning to understand it in a whole new way this week and the impact of this new understanding will change me forever. Join me this Sunday, July 31st in worship or next week in this blog to see the amazing thing God reveals to us together.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Good Bye for Now

My family will be gathering this week to celebrate the life of an extraordinary woman, my Aunt Mary Therese. Her passing has left a hole in our lives filled with a lake of sadness that will eventually diminish as we learn to live our lives without her. As I combed through Scripture inviting the Spirit to speak words of healing to me, I was brought to some I’d like to share with you today.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7) My aunt did not have an easy life. She always seemed to be facing challenging times or illnesses but never once did I see her waver or give up living the best life she could for her and others. My aunt was a woman full of life and love. When I read Romans 12:9-15, I can’t help but picture Aunt Therese. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:9-15) It’s the way she lived her life. She was a kind woman of deep faith who loved everyone and helped out in any way she could. She could never be said to be lacking in zeal for her God, her family, or her friends. Her smile invited you into her space and her laugh was infectious. Her empathy for all was part of who she was rather than what she did and so her good works weren’t always blatantly apparent to anyone but the one she was consoling.

If Aunt Therese could tell us anything right now I believe it would be that the God who saw her through life, who blessed her mightily and whom she dearly loves is there for us just as it says in the Psalms and in Isaiah:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

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

Aunt Therese knew that these days would come. She had been sick for a very long time. But instead of facing them in dread, she faced them with courage and joy, knowing that this is not the end, but just an intermission in our life together.

When telling his disciples that he would be leaving them soon for a while and then he would be back, Jesus explained:  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:22) So it will be with my aunt and the family she leaves behind. This is only a temporary situation. The bible tells us this. Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) And in that new life with Christ—He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4) Nothing but joy in the Lord and Aunt Therese’s laugh to keep us company in the time to come.

But for now we must live in this slightly more diminished world with only our memories of her. Our world may be a little less vivid today but we are not facing this alone. We have each other and we have the God who loves us all, those with us in this life and those who have gone on ahead of us. Let us remember that he who created us, loves us, died for us and bestows his righteousness on us is with us in this moment of grief.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

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)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  (Matthew 5:4)

Whether we live on this side of heaven or the other, Jesus is our Lord and we are all serving him together. We may not be walking side by side with her in this life but we are working side by side in our praise, worship and service of the Lord God. That’s the legacy she leaves us with to carry on. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. (2 Corinthians 5:6-9)

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Kingdom of God in This Troubled World

It’s so easy to get discouraged when I think about the state of the world—everyday, people are being killed for their race or the uniform they wear here in the U.S. and throughout the world. Children are being used and abused in atrocious ways. In many countries, women are considered property and have no legal or social avenue to look out for their own interests or to receive justice. National and cultural leaders who are nothing more than bullies have ultimate power to rain their terror down on others and they hold nothing back in pursuit of their own pride and agendas. It’s easy to lose hope by watching the evening news or scrolling through your social media page. When I think about these things, I turn to Revelations 21:1-6. It reminds me that one day Jesus is coming back and he is bringing with him a new world—one that is as it was meant to be before mankind turned to sin. A world where God walks with us in the garden and human beings love each other in a godly way. My hope is rekindled and the joy of the Lord returns to my heart in anticipation of that day.

1  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
5  He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
6  He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21:1-7 (NIV)

But that can’t be where I stop because God’s Word demands my involvement—my response to his grace—when God’s Word goes out, it does not return to him empty, but accomplishes his purpose.

10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:10-12 (NIV)

So how am I to respond? What can I possibly do that would fulfill God purpose?  Jesus ministry had one message—The kingdom of God is here. That kingdom that God speaks about Revelation 21 is already here? How? Where? The Bible tells me that when I give a drink of water to a thirsty man, the kingdom is here. When I feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and the refuge, when I comfort the sick and the mourning, the kingdom of God is here! So how am I to respond? By being available and reaching out to all people, doing what I can do to ease their pain and grief. In this way they might see the love of God and take hold of the promise of his grace and redemption giving way to a great celebration in heaven and in the kingdom of God here on earth.

Monday, July 4, 2016

What Is True Freedom?

The Continental Congress voted to become an independent nation apart from Great Britain. On July 4, 1776 in a bold move, the United States of America declared its freedom from the British Empire and King George III with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The American Revolution actually began a year earlier in April of 1775 and at that time the colonists were merely British citizens rebelling in intense dissatisfaction against their leaders. But by declaring its independence, the U.S.A. became a nation unto itself no longer under British rule and fought to become the nation it declared itself to until September of 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris ended the war and recognized internationally for all time the sovereignty of the United States.

In honor of the holiday we celebrate today, I looked at Scripture texts in the Bible that included the word freedom. The obvious one that leapt to mind was Galatians 5:1:  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery. I saw a meme on social media the other day that said that our nature doesn’t change instantly so that we are good and perfect people the moment Christ enters our heart. We actually have to work at it and become the people we now have the freedom and ability to be because of Christ’s great sacrifice. Just as the colonists had to fight for many years to achieve the freedom they claimed, we are instructed to fight to achieve and maintain the freedom Christ won for us on the cross. Don’t get me wrong. From the moment we ask Jesus to be Lord of our lives and proclaim his sovereignty we are saved, washed clean and have full access to our Father in heaven through the righteousness of the Son. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12) That doesn’t mean we don’t have a whole lot of living into our new reality to do before we become more like Jesus than we are at that first moment. 

Galatians 5:13 tells us that we were called to be free. However we are not to use our freedom to indulge the flesh; rather to serve one another humbly in love. Many years ago, God made his good news known to me in a real and personal way. I, like Abraham, took God at his Word, believing in his gospel of grace and redemption, and God credited Christ’s righteousness to me, formally adopted me into his family forever.  In seeking his way and to serve him wholeheartedly, I am living proof of Psalm 119: 45 as surely I walk about in freedom—more freedom than I ever knew possible.

It seems like today’s news and social media is full of talk about our rights and responsibilities as citizens of this great country. How often we seem to leap over the fine line between our rights and their rights. (Insert any two groups or factions you like for ours and theirs.) It’s a constant fight to determine where individual rights begin and end when they seem to ram into and run over each other in opposition. Thankfully, in the book of Romans, God has given us a clear understanding of the rights and responsibilities of the true freedom we enjoy as citizens of his kingdom.

Romans 6:12-19 (MSG)
That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.
So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!
I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?

May you be blessed this 4th of July with true freedom—freedom won not with the blood of our forefathers but with the blood of our God and Savior.