"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD." - Isaiah 60:1,6
It is the beginning of a New Year. The past seems a distant reflection of the coming days. The Prophet Isaiah foretold the restoration of God’s people over 700 years before the birth of Christ. He provided great details of the coming of the one who would restore Israel. In Isaiah 60, he gives details of the nation’s coming together to glorify and worship God. He even includes details of gifts that would be presented which include those the Wise Men presented Christ.
Isaiah sees restoration as a major theme in the work of God and God’s people. Think about that for a moment. Think about the time and energy it takes in order to restore something? I remember, one year when I was younger, my parents wanted to restore the kitchen cabinets in their home. It took nearly all summer to strip away layers upon layers of paint to get down to the original wood of all the cabinets. Hidden under these layers of paint added over many years was a beautiful wood grain that we were able to restore.
I am sure we have all taken on restoration projects at some point in our lives. Maybe we tried to restore something or someone. In doing so, we made a decision to return something back to its original condition. Isaiah foretold that God desired to return his relationship with His people back to the original condition. To do this he sent the Messiah into the world. It is in Christ that God provides the opportunity for restoration to all who come to believe upon Him. God desires to be united with His people
Friends, arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!
As we begin a new year together in Christ, let us strive to allow the Light of the World to shine forth in us as we live our lives faithfully to the call that God has set before each of us.
See you at church! – Pastor John
“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason
I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. – Ephesians 1:15-16
The apostle Paul in writing to the church in Ephesus was attempting to convey a message. It was one of hope, love, faith, and gratitude. He wrote this letter in the hope that the Ephesians would receive it even though they had never formally met. His writings to them were based solely on the things he had heard about the church in Ephesus. Paul’s intention was to help them focus on their relationship with God and their response in living as members of the Body of Christ. While Paul wrote this letter to the Christian community of Ephesus, he could have written it to any Christian community in times past or in times present, even to us here at Trinity!
It has been four years since Trinity called me to serve as Pastor and Teaching Elder in Jonesville. In the life of the church we have seen new members join us and good friends leave to join the church triumphant! We have celebrated baptisms, and friends begin attending worship services with us. We have opened doors to ministry opportunities for our church and worked hard to build bridges with others in our community. We have hosted the gathering of the presbytery and expanded our understanding of life in Christ during this time.
This past year we began to look for ways we could have a greater impact missionally within our own community. That exploration led us to begin this past Advent Season by erecting an Angel Tree filled with opportunities for us to be an extension of God’s love right here at home; the fruit of which has led to building stronger connections with groups in our community and to help open doors for sharing faith, hope, and love.
In this past year we began a new bible study with CARC at the resource center and included them in our movie days at Trinity. We helped to partner with the Council on Aging to find additional funds to provide transportation for Catahoula area seniors. They participate in group bible studies, activities, and events including the movie days each month at Trinity. Another opportunity is the Self-Development Grant that we have received in partnership with The Breadcrumb to begin providing life skills training for volunteers and clients.
I think that the Apostle Paul could have shared the prayer that he prays for the Ephesians even for us at Trinity in this day. Paul recognized that the Ephesians followed the model of living their life as Christ led his believers to live out their faith daily. The same could be said for us here at Trinity as the year 2016 is winding down. As we the church continue to support the ministry of Christ Jesus here in Jonesville and beyond, are we willing to be led by Christ in all that we do and all that we say to the Glory of God? I pray the same prayer for us at Trinity that Paul prayed for the Ephesians as we continue to respond faithfully to God’s call.
See you at church! – Pastor John
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
It’s that time of year again for the annual check-up. I think that the summer months offer a good opportunity for this. Be it with a doctor, dentist, financial advisor, auto mechanic or some other profession we rely on. Don’t you just dread these annual visits? What we hope to hear is good news, but still we are reluctant to go and instead procrastinate. And yet, even knowing that these visits for the annual check-up are intended to help us in living our lives, we may find ourselves ‘dragging our feet’ to get them taken care of. We may even cancel or reschedule an appointment several times to put off something intended to be beneficial for us.
The Apostle Paul had a problem in communicating a similar message to the church of Galatia. It’s time for your ‘spiritual check-up.’ You see they had schedules filled with ‘works of the flesh’ and he presents a counter argument to them with his explanation of the fruit of the Spirit. So just what is it that he is contrasting the fruits of the Spirit with? If you were to turn in your bible to Galatians 5:19-21, he lays out just what constitutes a ‘work of the flesh.’ Some, we might all agree on as obviously harmful. However, with the other works listed there we would continue to be oblivious without the instruction of the apostle to avoid them as harmful to us in living. The world sees through selfish eyes. Christ taught the disciples to be selfless.
It is really easy to just ‘go with the flow’ or ‘not make waves’ and in the process make ourselves the center our attention. What’s hard and challenging is to accept for our lives the message that God desires more from us than most of us are willing to give. God desires to be glorified. Do we glorify God when we neglect the fruits of the Spirit given to each of us in Christ? We say we are all about love, joy and peace, but when something gets changed we are the first to voice our opinions and sometimes without kind words. We say we are generous but to what extent? Generosity that only equals our own self-interest in something which we are interested in doing. We are faithful to a lot of people, groups, interests and things that are in our lives. But, how faithful are we to participating fully and without reservation in the works of Christ? The thing that we miss the most in all of this is that it takes a gentle heart to respond as God desires.
We might even question: What about us? What about what we want? What we like? What we desire? What about our needs? The apostle shares that answer with us in his response ‘those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.’ What that means is that our self-centered point of view and opinions do not belong in the ‘Body of Christ.’ The more we make it about us, the less it is about what God desires of us. We are called by God to be more than that. We are called to serve a risen Lord and in doing so we are never alone in the work. If we do otherwise, the apostle warns that we will not see the Kingdom of God.
Is it possible that the church could possibly not be a part of the Kingdom of God? According to the scripture and the message given by the apostle here to the Galatians that is not just a possibility. It’s a promise. If we are who we say we are then the church should stand apart from the world. The followers of Christ should live their lives faithfully to the Word all the time and not just part time or when the mood strikes our fancy. Our response should not be based on the latest and greatest ‘Social Media’ trend or a poll from some trusted news group. No, we as the followers of Christ should have a clear understanding that the ‘works of the flesh’ have no part in the ‘Body of Christ.’ Our trusted source for good news should not be of this world. Friends, be the bearers of the fruit of the Spirit in all that you say and do. Live fully into the call of Christ.
See you at church! - Pastor John
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
When I was growing up, I remember a time when my grandmother was going away on a trip. She had asked me to come by often to tend her yard and water her plants while she was away. After all it was late June, and in Southern California that usually meant cool and overcast skies. I remember thinking this was going to be the easiest job ever. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Just after she left on her trip the weather changed drastically. The temperatures had suddenly leapt into the 100’s. I had gone back after a couple days and found many of my grandmother’s flowering plants wilting and withering. So I went to work. First I watered everything out front that I could and then I went to the backyard to see what needed to be done.
When I went into the backyard it was a disaster. There were dead plants in pots and many in the flowerbeds that looked as if there was no coming back. It needed real work to get cleaned up. I just remember her trusting in me and my commitment to care for her yards while she was away. So I went to work pulling up weeds and lifeless plants. And then I made and unusual discovery.
For years my grandmother had this arbor trellis upon which my dad on many occasions had attempted to start seedless grape vines. Growing grapes should not have been a problem since vineyards in our community were successful. But for some reason, my dad could not get a vine to survive no matter what he tried.
Imagine my amazement when I was working around that part of the yard to find a vine was crawling all over that trellis. Not just the vine, but multiple clusters of grapes were budding out on that single vine. I remember, that over the course of the next two weeks, I watched and the clusters slowly changed their form. It seemed like a very long and agonizing summer waiting for the fruit to mature upon that vine. On the day the fruit was ready, I wasted no time asking my grandma if I could collect the fruit.
The work and expectation that I experienced is very similar to Jesus teaching the disciples of the relationship between him as the vine and them as the branches or extensions of that vine. Just as the vineyard is tended by workers so we as the church are cared for by Christ. This passage in John 15 takes it a step further. The branches are expected to produce fruit. If not, they are cut off by the worker so that others may grow to produce fruit. Jesus is telling us that he calls us to bear God’s message of grace and love to bear fruit of His kingdom.
We as a church use a little spoken word for this known as Evangelism. You see the fruit that is in our hearts is expected to bear more not less. We have a simple task. It’s not complicated. We are called to love our neighbors without reservation or judgment. This is the work of the church: to bring hope to the hopeless; to offer a place of spiritual healing; to welcome those who by the world’s standards would be unwelcome.
We have that opportunity right here in our own community. We are currently developing a program in partnership with The Breadcrumb to be partially funded with grants applied for through the PC(USA) to create hope and lasting change in the lives of the least of these right here in our community, but funds alone cannot solve this problem. We as the church must step up and connect on a very real level by building bridges of hope and not passively waiting for someone else to respond. We are called to be faithful to the vine that bore us as His fruit.
See you at church! – Pastor John
So You Will Believe
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”– John 20:21
It’s been three days since the faithful witnessed the death of Christ on a tree. Right now all the disciples are holed up in a small shuttered room. They are afraid. What are they afraid of? For starters that they’re going to be next on the religious leaders list to face death for associating with Jesus. They are huddled up together and probably contemplating the safest way to get as far away from where they are now. When Jesus had been alive and with them they really feared nothing. They had developed a trust in what Jesus taught and in who they believed Jesus to be, a king to replace the Roman rule over the people; the one to come and reorder the political landscape placing them in strategically beneficial positions because they were close to him.
The author of the Gospel of John reminds us that three days following Jesus’ public execution, the disciples themselves were filled with fear and anxiety. What they thought was going to be the plan for a new Kingdom has suddenly evaporated and now three days later, the fear that they are feeling for the preservation of their very own lives has likely grown incomprehensibly great. It’s probably not hard to imagine how this group of dedicated followers had suddenly lost their bearings in the aftermath of losing their teacher, mentor and friend.
But then in the middle of chapter 20, Jesus suddenly appears in the midst of the ones gathered in this room. Think about that for a moment. The doors and other openings are secured. There was probably only light from an oil lamp. They had kept their voices very low so that their location was not accidentally ‘revealed’ to their enemies. In verse 19, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst. He didn’t walk through a wall or drop from the ceiling. He appeared. Jesus’ first words to them were not, “What’s going on here?” or “Why did you all give up?” No, he knew the events of the previous days had been tough on them. So what does he say? “Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me so I send you.” There was no time to waste. Jesus’ very presence with the disciples revealed to the disciples that nothing had changed for them. But even in this appearance, what had changed? He had overcome a physical death so that the world may benefit from the gift of eternal life given only to those who believed fully in the resurrected Messiah.
Thomas was not with them at the time when Jesus appeared. When they told him what they had seen, Thomas stated his terms to fully believe who he was. Thomas needed to put his hands and fingers in the places where Jesus had been wounded. A week later Jesus reappears to them in in the very same room, and Thomas is there. Jesus again says, “Peace be with you” and then immediately directed Thomas to do exactly what he had said days earlier in order that he may fully believe. Thomas responds seemingly without hesitation, “My Lord and My God!”
Before Jesus had reappeared in the midst of the disciples, each was contemplating how they could safely leave where they were hiding. But after Jesus’ appearance, he reminded them that he was sending them into the world to do exactly what he had prepared them to do. The scripture is clear in the fact that they did not go alone. It says, “He breathed His Spirit upon them.” Being a faithful follower of Christ rarely meets our expectations. If we are truly living sent by God into this world then we know that we are not alone on the journey. As it says in the close of chapter 20, “these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, you may have life in his name.
See you at church! – Pastor John
The Reset Button
18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:18-19
Out with the old – In with the new. It is odd to be considering this ideology at this time of year. The most common time to hear something like this is around New Year’s Day when many look forward to putting the previous year behind and launching into a new hope and new beginning. This is done by reflecting on the previous year’s events, both the peaks and the valleys that may have come their way. But inevitably, after a personal inventory is taken and a reconciliation of their experiences is complete, one is usually ready to move on to new things.
The other day I was reminded of this in a very peculiar way. Modern technology sometimes throws us a curve. It usually happens at the most inconvenient of times. My “smart-phone” had what I would call some kind of melt down. It was stuck, frozen and felt like hot coal. Despite everything I tried, it would not turn off. I pushed every button and held the power button in for an extended time, but nothing I did helped. I resorted to the good old fashioned way of fixing it. No, I didn’t throw it or bang it against anything. I decided to just take it apart and remove its power source. After a few moments, I put it all back together and guess what? The phone reset itself once it installed a missing software update. My phone needed something else in order to work correctly, but it could not do that until I took a drastic measure to reset it.
The prophet Isaiah brought the message to the children of Israel that God desired not to remember the “stuff” from their history together. Through the prophet, God brought the message that He desired reconciliation and the offering of a new hope for them as His people. It is interesting that this message comes to us in scripture readings as the season of Lent enters its final week. We encounter it on the Sunday before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Events progress rather quickly to the point where God, through Jesus, hits the “reset button” for all. The moment God desired to reorient a relationship with His children through their acceptance of a redefined relationship with Him. God desired that they would come seek a new relationship with Him. Reminding them that their past was not to influence their future. It was time to let go of it and make a change.
That’s a tough one. It’s seems that the one thing that can set us free is the very same thing that can hold us back. It comes down to us. We must decide for ourselves. It was the same for the Children of Israel, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and even the disciples up to the point of Jesus’ crucifixion. But the ultimate “Reset Button” came for all mankind on that first Easter morning when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ overcame death and provided the opportunity for each of us and all who choose to believe in him a ‘new life’ through Him.
This new covenant or agreement with God was the fulfillment of the promise made by Him through Abraham and his descendants that carries us to a new beginning. He created a new opportunity for reconciliation between Himself and His children. He didn’t do this to compel us to do anything. He left the door open for us to choose for ourselves to commit to Him; to accept his great love for all of God’s children in order that we ourselves may be redeemed through love, mercy, and grace found in Christ Jesus. We can’t go out and buy that forgiveness. No, that price has already been paid in full. It is important for each of us to recognize that we were called by Christ to be one of His own and that each of us has also been sent by Him into the world to share this message. See you at church! – Pastor John
Searching for …
34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
After that no one dared to ask him any question. - Mark 12:34
Have you tried to search for something recently? Maybe it was something you had lost, forgotten, or you were just unsure of, so you went looking for answers. Sometimes when you are looking for an answer to a question, you might turn to an internet search provider. After entering a few words into a browser, it quickly provides you multiple options of possible sources to find that elusive answer you were searching for. In preparation for this letter to you all, I Google’d a question to find out what the average number of search requests were in a day on Google. The results of that query provided multiple possibilities to answer my question. One source in particular gave a live counter that monitors the number of search requests which resets every 24 hours. This source also offered the most compelling answer to my question which you might find wildly beyond even your own best guess: “Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. (http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/) Can you imagine that? I checked the stats for how many questions were processed in the same second of time that I had sent in my question. The result showed me that there were another 52,601 other people doing the same thing. They too were looking for answers to their questions in that moment.
In contrast to this, let’s consider the activities as shared with us in Mark 12:28-34. Jesus is asked by a scribe what the greatest commandment would be. Jesus’s first response is that God is one and that there is no other. After this he gives not one, but two commandments that are above all the rest. The First is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your strength, and the Second is to love your neighbor as yourself. The scribe then agrees with all that Jesus has said by giving a concurring justification for what Jesus gave as his response to the scribe’s question. The scripture records that Jesus viewed what the scribe said to be wise so Jesus tells him that he is “not far from the Kingdom of God.” This is a powerful affirmation of both God and God’s desire to interact with his children.
As we begin our Lenten journey this year, we have selected the study “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh and Sean McDowell. It is a take home study for each of us to do in our own devotional time but we will have discussions in a groups at both our Lenten Soup Suppers on Wednesdays evenings beginning February 10th and on Sunday mornings at Adult Sunday School. I will be leading the Wednesday Evening discussions for the odd numbered chapters and Mike Wilson the even numbered chapters at 9:45 AM each Sunday leading up to Easter. The study will conclude at our Maundy Thursday Soup Supper on March 24.
Josh McDowell quotes thirteenth century philosopher Thomas Aquinas as saying, “There is within every soul a thirst for happiness and meaning.” Our hope and prayer is that this study will not just entertain questions about our faith, or what we believe, but also prepare us to dig a bit deeper and help us better understand how to openly share and talk about it. Not just among ourselves where it is safe, but openly and completely in all aspects of our lives. This is what God desires for those who believe in Him to be prepared to respond and fully sent to do the work of God’s Kingdom as each of us is called. You see, Jesus was more than a carpenter and so are we.
See you at church! – Pastor John
Recently, I was reminded just how important a good flashlight is and knowing just where to find it when the power is out. I think back to my childhood and I remember the camping trips with family and youth groups and how important it was to take care of that flashlight and ensure I had a good stock of D batteries. Today, there all sorts of flashlights available using many sources for power. There are flood lamps, standard, small, LED, wall charging, hand-crank charging, and many more options. The key here is that regardless the options of flashlights available it still requires us to take care of them. If we have not maintained it properly, it is quite likely that when the time comes to use it will be worthless to us.
In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus used a parable or a story to help the people in his earthly ministry to explain how the Kingdom of Heaven relates to the responsibility for the caring for the light entrusted to ten bridesmaids. You see, each of these bridesmaids was waiting for the groom to escort them to the wedding celebration. They obviously had gathered together at one location during the daylight hours and each had brought with them their oil lamps knowing that they would likely need them after dark. Imagine with me for a moment, the bridesmaids have gathered at a location and being ready for quite some time the groom has yet to arrive. As darkness falls, they light their lamps and use them as a light where they have been waiting for the groom’s arrival. Time has passed. They get word that the groom’s party is approaching to escort them to the festivities.
Immediately, they gather their things to make ready for the groom arrival. The bridesmaids trim their lamps. That is to say they added oil to them to ensure their light will carry them on the journey to the wedding gathering. A problem arises for five of them as they realize they have used more oil that they expected and did not bring any extra. They beg of the others to share oil with them and are told that they have no extra. They encourage them to go out and ask the dealers for more. To hear that would be like saying go to the store and buy batteries for a flashlight when the store is already closed. It was not going to happen. So the foolish bridesmaids scattered, banging on doors looking for anyone who would sell them the extra oil they needed to light the way. By the time they arrive at the festivities, the door has been closed and they are told that the groom does not recognize them and that he is accepting no other guests.
This parable helps paint a broad picture of what the Kingdom of Heaven is to be like. We can view Christ as the groom, and when we do, we come to understand the importance of keeping our lamps trimmed. If we view ourselves as one of the bridesmaids, we quickly recognize that our spiritual relationship with God through Christ is representative of the oil available to us to trim our lamp. Are we like the wise bridesmaid that fills our lives with that which strengthens our spiritual relationship with God? Or, are we like one of the foolish ones who are satisfied with just doing enough to keep ourselves happy and expecting to do a little more later on when it might be more convenient? The reality of this is that God desires our total commitment, not just when we feel like it or when it might work better for our plans. Hence the footnote to the parable Jesus taught supplied to us in verse 13; “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
As we begin a new year together in Christ, let us strive to be one of the wise bridesmaids so that His light might shine forth in us as we live our lives faithfully to the call that God has set before each of us.
See you at church! – Pastor John
From Thanksgiving to Advent
Luke 1:5-25, 57-79
It’s that time of year again when we turn our focus more introspectively upon our own lives. We take stock in the events of the past year or maybe even the years that we have lived and reflect upon their effect on our lives. Sometimes we feel thankful, and sometimes we are left scratching our heads.
Zechariah was one of the last prophets of the Old Testament and yet he plays an integral part in the opening of the New Testament. He was a good and faithful servant of God and a prophet to the people of Israel. The real force of that prophetic voice given to him by God was actually first heard in the silence that he encountered after his visit by the heavenly messenger Gabriel. You see, Zechariah lived into his old age childless. He and his wife Elizabeth had lived what would have been considered in their time a full life but never having a child of their own; without the joys of seeing a child grow, without the opportunity to nurture a child, without an heir to complete their lives. For them, it was as if they were incomplete and any hope of a child being born into their family had long since been extinguished.
Scripture tells us that it was just another day in the hum drum life of a temple priest. Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the inner sanctuary of the temple and perform the duties of the priest while all the others remained outside praying. As Zachariah began his work, we read that he is suddenly in the presence of a heavenly angel, the messenger of God. We hear in the narrative that Zachariah himself trembles in fear. Can you imagine what he must have felt in that moment? One minute you are doing regular tasks in a secluded place not expecting anyone else to be there, and then suddenly you have this heavenly being in front of you saying he has a message for you from God. Terrified and overwhelmed? That may have been an understatement.
What was the heavenly message that Zechariah received? You are going to be a dad! You and Elizabeth are going to have a son. You will name him John and your house will be filled with joy and gladness! Many will rejoice in the birth! He will be great in the eyes of God and will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. Zechariah in a state of shock ask Gabriel how will this be so since he and his wife have long past the time to have a child. Gabriel responds that because you have not believed the things that God has shared with you will become mute and not speak until all of this has been fulfilled. And with that Zechariah went silent and the angel left his presence. Think about those who had been outside when they encountered him as he left the inner sanctuary, and Zechariah wouldn’t and couldn’t speak about what had just occurred. Think about that first interaction when he returned home. The prophecy that he received locked away inside him, trapped in silence.
Upon the birth of the child, the prophetic message is heard for the first time, the words that guide us into advent:
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. … to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (from Lk 1:67–79).
Hear these words that are offered up as the message of God’s faithfulness to His people; the hope offered to all who come to know him; the joy that is encountered when we trust in his promises; the love that we experience in the presence of God’s grace and peace. This is the advent journey as we await the coming of the Lord! See you at church! – Pastor John
“…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too
elated. 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7–9
Recently, I was reminded that a personal weakness can be a strength if it is recognized and named. As many of you know, I recently underwent sinus surgery. In the days leading up to that procedure I went about life suffering from chronic sinusitis - a condition that has pretty much been a “thorn” in my life since childhood as a result of common allergies. During the time that led up to my preparing for the procedure, I discovered that at some point in my life experience I had broken my nose which was contributing to my suffering. When did this occur? I am not really sure. The point is the problem was there all along and I had not done everything that I could have done to fix it much sooner.
Thorns are referred to as an illustration in the scriptures because most everyone can relate to them. The Old Testament provides examples for us where thorns and thistles carry the weight of curses and punishment. They are referred to in Genesis as a result of the fall of man when Adam and Eve were removed from the garden and God cursed the ground. The result of which was that men would be forced to with contend thorns and weeds when they planted crops competing for the same soil. Even the biblical prophets used the illustration of thorns in relation to the punishment of the people in not keeping God first. In each of these examples the people failed to recognize their dependence upon God.
Jesus referred to thorns in his parables to emphasize how we can become disconnected spiritually from God. In the parable of the sower, his explanation of the seed sown among the thorns represents those that hear the Word but go on living their life apart from it. As this thorn in their life takes over, they become choked by the cares, riches, or pleasures that they encounter so their fruit never matures.
The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that he himself carried a “thorn’ with him despite calling upon the Lord to remove it as a personal burden. The scripture tells us that he asked three times to have it removed. The answer that he received from the Lord in response reminded him and us not to rely solely on ourselves alone. Thorns played a key role in the Crucifixion as the ‘crown of thorns’ was placed upon Christ’s head. It was meant by his persecutors to be a symbol of humiliation and weakness. Paul shares with us where true power and strength comes from. Grace that God provides is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in weakness.
Like my lifelong experience of suffering with sinusitis, we as individuals and also as the church must come to terms that we cannot be perfect. It is in our brokenness, our faults, our weakness, our frailty that God’s work in us becomes perfected. Unless we are willing to admit this and seek the grace offered to us in Christ, then we will always be at odds with what God desires of us. It is time to set aside the notion that we can do this alone or on our own terms. See you at church! – Pastor John
Stain Remover for the Soul
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows
in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” – James 1:27
It happened again and my wife was not with me to help fix the problem. You know we take for granted the ‘fixers’ that occupy our lives. The ones that come along just at the right time. The ones that we instinctively turn to for help to remedy a problem. Like a child that trips and skins a knee and immediately seeks out a parent to make it all better. So what happened to me that brings this up? I stained my shirt. Normally, my wife would take care of that for me. This time she was not here to rescue the shirt for me. So, I first went looking for “the stain remover stick.” It was empty. Next, I looked for the Oxyclean that she usually adds to the laundry. Couldn’t find any. Guess what I didn’t do, call her and ask what should I do? All the time wasted in trying to find for myself what I expected to find and not a thought to ask her or anyone else for that matter for help.
James, Jesus’ brother, helps to provide us with a few reminders on how to care for ourselves so that we might remember our relationship with God. The referenced verse above concludes the directions that he gives the early church and us by extension about just what it means to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” Imagine that even in the early church there were problems understanding that faith and responding to it is rooted in the Word of God. The Word exists in our lives. It exists in a broken and imperfect world. It is not just enough to hear the Word as a means of it being spoken or read, but we must act upon it as well. The Apostle Paul likened this to the understanding of becoming a ‘new creation’ in Christ Jesus.
James also throws out another caution in this reading. What is the intent behind the action? To do good because we expect to receive some personal benefit from that is a false understanding of the Gospel message. Works are not intended for personal benefit. They are intended to draw others and bring glory to God.
The world has twisted the understanding of this message. Some believe that by doing greater works than their brother or sister do will garner them a “better place” in the presence of God. Their belief can apply to both this world and in the resurrected presence of God in the next. There is a great fallacy in this belief. Jesus himself on more than one occasion corrected this thinking among his disciples and the religious leaders; like when the disciples argued among themselves who was the greatest and asked Jesus to settle the matter; and when Jesus observed the religious leaders giving greater preference to those who “gave more” in the temple over the widow whose gift was greater because it was all she had.
Ultimately, Christ came into this world to be the ‘stain remover’ for our sin so that we might be made clean and restored into God’s presence. He gave his life for ours. Through this gift of grace, the stain of our transgressions was blotted out from God’s memory forevermore. And yet, we still try to go it alone. We fail to call upon the Living God. We think that we have it covered when the truth is God has had it covered from the beginning. Why we would rather seek the approval of this world? Why wouldn’t we want to give God the glory for all that we have instead? See you at church! – Pastor John
Talking with God
“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
– Matthew 6:9
When was the last time you talked with God? Now I know what you’re thinking, most of us would immediately respond with something like this, ‘I talked to God just last night, or yesterday, or maybe it was last week when I was having a bad day.’ But seriously, think about it for a minute. Personally consider the following: in my prayer life, am I talking to God? – or – am I talking with God? Grammar enthusiasts may recognize the distinction in these two questions, but for the rest of us it might be a little harder to grasp. The real difference between each is the implied relationship that is revealed through the prepositions used in each. Therein lies the problem. It is in our own understanding and interpretation of the relationship that exists between us and God when we talk.
When we ‘talk to God,’ we assume the relationship of directing our attention toward God. When we use the preposition “to” we are implying a direction or motion taken toward a point or a person. The use of “to” also implies limitations. We use our finite understanding and only go so far, to the point which we are comfortable with or towards the ends that we are familiar with. Ultimately, when we “talk to God” we inadvertently limit God’s work in our lives and God’s work accomplished through us in this world. This is especially true if we consider our prayer life as one that is reactionary to the physical realities or limitations experienced in this world.
Now, let us consider what it means to “talk with God.” If we view our prayer life as part and parcel with living out our day to day life experience as a partnership with God, then things are very different. The life experience is not created or controlled solely by us. It is led and guided by an active partnership experienced by us with the living God. In the understanding of what it means to “talk with God” we discover a fuller, more complete understanding of a relationship that is accompanied by God. This implies an interaction between the two and reflects a clear connection in communication between God and us.
Jesus provided teaching that was intended to help his followers bridge the gap that exists between the human understanding of our finite beings and the infinite found in God. He taught us to pray. It is interesting that the passage that leads up to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 is one that is fraught with do’s and don’ts when it comes to communicating with God. The biggest of these is the reminder that the ‘the world is not a stage.’ Theologian Eugene Peterson translates Matthew 6 in this way: “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you do not make a performance of it…. the God that made you won’t be laughing.”
Jesus reminds us that it is in our humble and broken selves that God seeks us. We should not be looking to impress others as we approach God in prayer. That means that if we are seeking to limit our ‘connection’ by just “talking to God” then we have missed the point altogether. Jesus reminded his followers that God desires to respond and “talk with us.” Peterson translates Jesus’ instructions in this way, “don’t be tempted to role-play with God. Just be there as openly, and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace. Don’t fall for the non-sense, this is your Father that you are dealing with and he knows better than you what you need.”
So remember Jesus’ teaching as you enter into prayer. When we “talk with God” our expectation and God’s expectation should be one in the same. See you at church! – Pastor John June 2015
“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”― 1 Cor. 10:17
Some of you who have been attending church this Easter season may have noticed that it seems like we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper every week. You may be wondering why so often? You may even be thinking that maybe we are sharing communion more often than we should. Well truth be told, during the season of Easter, the church recognizes the observation of the Lord’s Supper as a part of Jesus ministry that continued following the Resurrection. The evangelist Luke shares with us what happened when two of the disciples were walking along a road when a man appeared and joined them on their journey. When the two disciples reached their destination the traveler appeared to be continuing his journey. The two invited him in to rest and have a meal with them. We are reminded of the outcome of this spontaneous act of hospitality and fellowship when these followers of Christ rejoin the rest of the disciples in Luke 24:35, “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
It is interesting to note that the prophets used the idea of ‘breaking bread’ to reflect an insatiable human desire that could never be satisfied. In Jeremiah 16:7 we find that the prophet shares the understanding that human selfishness would never allow for the people to break bread for the mourner or even to offer adequate comfort for their loss. Jeremiah reminds us that in the face of difficult times, our own human tendencies will not come close to fulfilling the needs of others. Ezekiel adds to this understanding in Ezekiel 4:16 when he shares God’s message to the people of Jerusalem that the ‘staff of bread will be broken.’ He tells of the people that will eat and eat, and they will never be satisfied by what they consume.
This is an important element in understanding the importance of the Lord’s Supper. You see the prophets tell us that as humans we will never be satisfied with the physical needs in living our lives. But this changed with the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah. Jesus broke bread with the disciples and shared the cup in the upper room and proclaimed that it was the feast of the new covenant; a covenant that was not centered on man’s ability but on the reconciliatory work of salvation that we experience in the risen Christ.
That is why we can know the risen Savior and how he becomes known to us in “breaking bread.” This activity as shared in multiple New Testament reading reminds us that we come to the Lord’s Table seeking more than a meal. We come searching for the hope that is offered to us in our brokenness; Christ body broken for our own human imperfection with the knowledge that we could never surpass the sacrifice made on our behalf by a Living God. We accept the cup of this new covenant that seals the promise that our sins have been forgiven and remembered no more.
As we gather around the Lord’s Table, remember that the gift of grace that is extended to you comes with the full force of God’s love for you despite the faults and failures experienced in our humanness. Scripture tells us that they will come from the north and the south, the east and the west to sit at our Lord’s Table. This invitation comes with a single condition that those who approach His table believe in the risen Lord and that they seek the redeeming grace offered in Him.
See you at church! – Pastor John