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Be Still: Confession

Be-Still-ConfessionWe have been traveling this journey through Lent while studying some spiritual disciplines so that we can “Be still and know God.” Today we come to confession and then the result, which is forgiveness. Let me first say that at the very heart of God is a strong desire to give, as well as forgive. How can we not see this through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ?

Let me tell you today; God wants to forgive you. Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve said, wherever you’ve been, God wants to tell you this morning that it doesn’t matter. Confess all of that stuff to God and let him take care of it. Let the forgiveness of God wash over you and give you the new life that is promised to you.

Now, there are three things needed when we begin talking about confession.

We need to have an examination of conscience. We need to reflect on our lives and our actions, allowing not only ourselves to examine them, but also God. We need to allow God into all areas of our lives, all those dark places, all those hidden spots that we don’t want anyone else to see. Know that God sees all, but we still must confess in order to be forgiven.

There needs to be sorrow. We need to have a contrite heart, a heart that has a desire to do and say the right things. We need to feel sorrow for the times when we don’t. This is how we know that we are really repentant. This is how we know that we truly desire forgiveness. Peter, after denying Jesus three times, weeps and runs away. Sorrow grabbed a hold of him and he knew that he had done something terribly wrong.

And finally, there needs to be a determination to avoid sin. John Wesley once said; “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God…such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.”

We need to have in our hearts, a disgust for sin. We need to fear it so much that when we are in the very presence of it, we do all we can to avoid it. We need to speak out against it. Whether it is in our own lives or of those around us. Identify it, fear it, run from it, confess and eliminate it from your life.

Confession is naming all of those places in our lives when we have fallen short of the glory of God; all those times when we have sinned against God. We hear the prodigal son proclaim that to his father as he tells him; “Father, I have sinned against God and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The son confesses, face to face, with his father. He tells him all that he has done, and that he no longer feels worthy. He no longer feels worthy to be called a son, a relative, or a friend. The son now wants to be treated like a servant. But the father does something amazing. He tells the other to put a ring on his son’s finger, get a nice robe for him, and killed the fatted calf because they were going to celebrate that night. For this son who was lost is now found, he has returned, and the father sacrifices everything for him. He sacrifices his reputation, more of his estate, and risks relationships with other members of the family.

As the son returns home, the father sees him far off and runs to him, grabbing him and wrapping his arms around him. This is the sign of Agape love, an unconditional, extravagant, and maybe even reckless love. And this is a story about how God loves us! He loves us so much, that he sacrifices everything in order to regain the relationship he once had with humanity. To reconcile each one of us back to him. God puts everything on the line to make it possible for us to confess and be forgiven. God spared no expense, no reputation, set no limits on welcoming us back to that relationship. God sent his only son, to die. God sacrificed Jesus Christ, for our sake. Jesus died on the cross so that you and I could be forgiven. It’s already been done. Why would we want to push that aside, thinking that we can handle this life on our own, when we don’t have to.

Jesus willingly gave up his life so that we can approach, confess, and be forgiven of all that we’ve done wrong. This isn’t a guilt trip, because we’re all in the same boat. Paul tells us that we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, we’ve all sinned. But we don’t have to live in our sin. We have a loving God that desires to forgive us, that desires to reconcile us to him, that desires to welcome us home, put a family ring on our hand, a robe on our back, and throw a huge party in our honor. All this because of the forgiveness that is offered on the cross by the spotless lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

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Be Still: Meditation

Be-Still-MeditationCarl Jung once said; “Hurry is not of the Devil, it IS the Devil.” Slowing down in this hurry up life is not only useful, it is essential. So, how do we slow down? How do we slow the pace of life? Do we want to slow down?

For the many ways our society has “advanced,” I see a deeper need to find the quiet places, those spaces where we can truly reflect on God wonderful design for us and this world. We have so many technological devices to make our lives easier, faster, more efficient, more productive, but we still seem to be lacking something foundational. We are missing a deep understanding of our creator. Our relationship with God is stagnant, or worse yet, possibly fading away. With all the information around us and the ease of access, we may begin to feel that we have no need for God. Nothing can be further from the truth. But how do we get it back?

I think we can do this by an intentional focus on spiritual disciplines. This is one of the reasons for this Lenten worship series about being still. I hope that through this series, you are able to find one or more that resonate with you, and that you can implement them into your faith journey.

Today I want to look at Christian meditation. Like some of the other spiritual disciplines, meditation includes some of the others. We can see this in the examples Jesus gives us. In his short years of ministry, Jesus was a busy man. He was sought out by many for healing and teaching. He was desired for appearances everywhere. Jesus couldn’t get away from the people as they followed him everywhere.

But that didn’t stop Jesus from taking time to be with God the Father. We hear about the times when Jesus would take time to go up the mountain to pray. He would spend a little quiet time in a garden having a conversation with God. And of course, my favorite, he got out into a boat to be alone. Certainly, this involved the spiritual discipline of prayer, but it could also have included meditation.

Christian meditation is all about hearing God’s voice! It’s about taking the time to listen for the voice of God in your life. Jesus tells us that in order to do this, we need to abide in God. Jesus tells us; “Abide in me, and I in you.” When we abide in Jesus, he in turn abides in us. When we abide in God, God abides in us. So, when we abide in God, we are more apt to hear God’s voice. Jesus tells us that if we abide in him and in his words, we can ask for anything, and it will be done for us. But we must abide in him.

Christian meditation os one way of abiding in God. Now, let me be clear, Christian meditation is not the practice of emptying of the mind as we hear from some of the eastern religions with the focus of this meditation on clearing of a person’s mind, attempting to find absolute peace, bliss, or nirvana. Christian meditation is the practice of filling the mind with God, an intentional focus on the glory of God.

Some say that it is too difficult. I guess I can understand this as there are many times that I have tried this and the pace of life around me interferes with my focus. I begin to think about what is on my to do list, all those things that I forgot to do last week, or what might be coming up next week. Truly, this discipline is not difficult, it just takes practice.

Some will even say that this kind of discipline is out of touch with today’s world. In a space where time is a commodity and one that we should not waste, we feel that if we pause for just a moment, we are a failure. Society tells us that we should be constantly moving, even if we are on vacation. But I would say this is just the reason to practice this discipline. It is counter-cultural, but that just what Jesus taught. We are to be in the world, not of the world.

Finally, Christian meditation is not psychological manipulation. It’s not something you do with the intent to have physical or psychological benefits. That’s not the goal. The goal is to find the space where you can encounter the living God and hear the still small voice.

Christian meditation is not about exploring our subconscious but entering into a divine-human encounter. It is about coming face to face with the living God. It is a desire to hear God’s voice. Frederick Faber once wrote: “Only to sit and think of God, Oh, what a joy it is! To think the thought, to breathe the Name, earth has no higher bliss.”

Be still and know that I am God.

Be Still – Simplicity

Be-Still-SimplicityThere was this story of a farmer who had lived on the same farm all his life. Sound familiar? Well, it was a good farm, but with the passing years, the farmer began to get tired of it. He longed for a change, for something “better.” Every day he found a new reason for criticizing some feature of the old place. Finally, he decided to sell it, and listed the farm with a real estate broker who promptly prepared a sales advertisement. As one might expect, it emphasized all the farm’s advantages: ideal location, modern equipment, healthy stock, acres of fertile ground, etc.

Before placing the ad in the newspaper, the realtor called the farmer and read the ad copy to him to make sure it met with his approval. When he had finished, the farmer cried out; “Hold everything! I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to sell. I’ve been looking for a place like that all my life.”

The farmer thought the grass was greener on another side, another farm. He didn’t realize what he had, until it was pointed out to him. He realized that he should have been content with what he already had, because it was good, it was worthy, and it was his.

Philippians chapter 4, verse 11 says; “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” How content are you? I know this is not a normal conversation to have in this world. We are constantly bombarded by images and words that tell us that we need to have more, that we deserve more, that our life is not complete without the next big thing. So, talking about being content with what we have is counter-cultural. It’s not normal.

Philip Yancey wrote; “I’ve become more convinced than ever that God finds ways to communicate with those who truly seek him, especially when we lower the volume of the surrounding static.” He talked about someone who was truly seeking a deeper spiritual life and so, trying to interrupt this busy life, he decided to spend a few days in a monastery. He was introduced to one of the resident monks who told him as he showed him his room; “I hope your stay is a blessed one. If you need anything, let me know and I’ll teach you how to live without it.”

We live in a world of excess. We see it all around us. We might even walk through it every day in our homes. If I asked you how much clutter you have, can you honestly say that you have none? Maybe some of you do, and that’s great! But there are many of us who can’t answer that question well. The spiritual discipline of simplicity can help us with our lives of clutter, overscheduled-ness, and feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted. Now, I’m not asking you to live like monks without anything, but to simplify your life by eliminating some of the things that you don’t need.

During the 40 days of Lent, some people have taken on this discipline by filling 40 bags in 40 days. They will go through their house, room by room, closet by closet, and remove as much stuff as they can during Lent, donating the items after Easter.

Some of you know who Marie Kondo is. For those of you who don’t, she is a lovely Japanese woman who helps people with clutter, simplify their lives. She has a program on Netflix called “Tidying Up” where in about a half hour show, she is able to introduce a plan for people to reduce the things they own. Her plan is pretty simple, but difficult. It is all about finding joy.

Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 2:22-23; “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain, even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” All our working, day and night, if it doesn’t bring joy, its meaningless. I would even say that its more than that. I think it had the potential to harm us. Yes, I know there are jobs that are not the most glamorous, not viewed by society as important, but there are people who find joy in them. And when you find joy in what you, it ceases to become work. It becomes part of your life, and it is not meaningless.

I am reminded of a very special person who always brings a smile to my face, and she is just doing her job. But she does it with such enthusiasm, such joy, that it becomes infectious. I don’t know her name, but some of you may, but every time I hear her voice welcome me to Walmart in Freeport, I can’t help but smile and greet her back. Some may think it’s a meaningless job, but I see her as fulfilling a part of God’s plan by demonstrating joy in the everyday! How do you feel about your job? Are you able to find the joy in what you do?

When we find that joy, we begin to live into God’s plan for our lives. We find joy in the everyday. We find joy in our jobs, in our things, and in our activities. This is God’s desire for us, to find all that sparks joy in our lives.

Be Still: Study

Be-Still-StudyWe at Lanark United Methodist Church, are in the middle of our Lenten Series of “Be Still: A Lenten Journey of Spiritual Disciplines.” We’ve already talked about how prayer can be a discipline of spiritual growth, and now we look at another foundational discipline, study.

As Christians, we are called to a continual growth in our faith and knowledge of God. It’s not like we make a decision to follow Jesus and then “poof” everything is good, all falls into place, and we have no other worries, or frankly, no other questions about who we are following or what it means for us. Think of it this way, you are fresh out of high school, and you have finally decided what you want to do with the rest of your life. Maybe you want to be a teacher, a doctor, work in manufacturing, maybe sales, administrative assistants, or countless other fields you can work in. Do you make the decision and then begin working, like you’ve been doing it all your life? Probably not. There’s usually some training involved. You need to get to know the company you are working for, the people who lead and manage, your bosses. And that’s after you spend so much time in school learning about the field you’re going into.

When we decide to follow Jesus, and we give our lives over to his grace and guidance, we quickly realize that we don’t know everything. In fact, it’s at that moment that we realize just how much we don’t know, other than the great love He has for us. We want to learn more.

This comes through learning all about God. This comes through studying. This comes through reading the bible, devotionals, and Christian classics by wonderful theologians over the years. But how do we do this? Is there a process, a plan, a schedule? Is there an organizational chart that shows what days you should read, how much time you should spend, and what material you need to read? Yes, and no.

In order to find out more about God, who God is, what God desires, how God acts, judges, and loves, we need to dig into the word. We need to intentionally take the time to read the bible, to digest it, to listen to what is being said and how it affects our lives. We want to know what all these stories mean for us. If you’re wondering where to begin, my answer would be that there are many ways to read the bible. So, you need to find a path that works for you. You may want to start in Genesis, the first book, and read through the bible from cover to cover. Others might like to start with the gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There really is no wrong way of reading the bible.

Here’s what I fully believe. The Bible is the living Word of God. It speaks to us, right where we are. There are times when I read a certain passage that I will hear one thing on Monday and something completely different on Friday. It depends on where I am and what God wants to say to me at that particular time. Now, don’t get me wrong, scripture passages don’t change, and overall meanings of the texts stay the same, but different verses will stand out to me at different times.

There was a story of a time when the preacher’s car broke down on a country road. He walked to a nearby roadhouse to use the phone. After calling for a tow truck, he spotted his old friend, Frank, drunk and shabbily dressed at the bar. “What happened to you, Frank?” asked the good reverend. “You used to be rich.” Frank told a sad tale of bad investments that had led to his downfall. “Go home,” the preacher said. “Open your Bible at random, stick your finger on the page and there will be God’s answer.”

Sometime later, the preacher bumped into Frank, who was wearing a Gucci suit, sporting a Rolex watch and had just stepped out of a Mercedes. “Frank.” said the preacher, “I am glad to see things really turned around for you.” “Yes, preacher, and I owe it all to you,” said Frank. “I opened my Bible, put my finger down on the page and there was the answer — Chapter 11.”

As funny as that is, I need to let say that there have been times when I was struggling and needed to hear a word from God. After some prayer, I just asked God to speak through scripture. I took my bible and opened it up, right to a passage that spoke to my need at that time. This doesn’t happen all the time, and I don’t want it to seem like it’s a granted wish thing, but it was still there. We need to be open to hearing God speak through scripture, but in order to do that, we need to spending time reading it.

Our bibles can’t be just sitting on a shelf, collecting dust. We have to open it, we have to read it, we have to study it. This is one way that we are able to hear God speak to us, it is one place we are able to get guidance for our lives.

Be Still – Prayer

Be-Still-PrayerHow is your prayer life? Is it just before big family meals on holidays, only on Sundays during worship, or maybe only when someone else is offering a prayer in your presence.

Let me ask you a question; how confident are you in your prayers? Really, when you pray for something, does it usually go like this… “God I’m really hurting right now. I’m in pain, I feel lost, I am struggling financially, emotionally, spiritually. So God, if you have a moment, can you help me out here? Please? I know you have a lot of other people to help right now, so I understand if you are too busy and can’t help right now and frankly, I’m not sure if I deserve your help anyway. But if you can find it in your heart to help, I would appreciate it.”

That doesn’t sound very confident, does it. It reminds me of a story.

Three farmers gathered daily during a horrible drought. The men were down on their knees, praying that the sky would open up and pour rain down on them. The heavens were silent, however, and the farmers became discouraged. But they continued to pray every morning.

One morning a stranger asked the men what they were doing. They said; “We’re praying for rain.”

The stranger looked at each of them and shakes his head. “I don’t think so.”

The first farmer said, “We are down on our knees, pleading for rain. Look around; see the drought. We haven’t had rain in more than a year.

The stranger said they’re efforts won’t work.

The second farmer said, “We need the rain; we aren’t asking only for ourselves, but for our families and livestock.”

The stranger still wasn’t impressed. “You’re wasting your time,” he said.

The third farmer in anger says, “What would you do if you were in our shoes!”

“You really want to know?” the stranger asked.

“Yes, we really want to know!” the farmers said.

The stranger said; “I would have brought an umbrella!”

How confident are your prayers? Do you have the confidence of praying for rain, so that you need to bring your umbrella? Our prayers need to be filled with expectation. Many times, in my prayers, I bring up the past. Now, this is not good to do in arguments with your spouse, but in moments of prayer, it is certainly alright. Proclaim God’s power in answered prayers of the past. This can be from scripture, or even from your personal life.

One way of knowing about your answered prayers, is by keeping a prayer journal. Write your prayers out on a journal and keep them. You can go back a couple of months or even a couple of years and read prayer requests that have either been answered, or, to your benefit, unanswered. This will also help with your confidence in prayer. You start to see where God is working in your prayer life, and then you want more. You want to keep your prayers going, you want to pray without ceasing. You begin to pray all day long, while you’re driving, while you’re working, when you get up, just before bed, anytime of the day.

Let me wrap this up with just a couple more thoughts.

Prayer is not complicated. Prayer is a simple conversation. Jesus tells us to not be like the those who like to stand up in public, lifting lengthy and wordy prayers so they can be seen by others. Be like the tax collector who humbly bowed his head and cried out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” God wants to talk to you, have a conversation with you. Will you talk to him today?

The late Mr. Rogers once visited a teenager with cerebral palsy. At first the boy was so nervous about the visit that he began hitting himself. His mother had to take him to another room. Mister Rogers waited patiently, and when the boy came back, the star of children’s television asked the boy, “Would you do something for me,” Mister Rogers said. “Will you pray for me?”

The boy was shocked because nobody had ever asked him for something like that. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers. At first he didn’t know if he could do it, but then he said he would try.

From then on, the boy kept Mister Rogers in his prayers. He didn’t talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figured Mister Rogers was close to God, and if Mister Rogers liked him, that must mean that God liked him too.

When Mister Rogers was asked how he knew what to say to make the boy feel better, he said, “I didn’t ask prayers for him; I asked them for me. I asked because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked because I wanted his intercession.”

Who do you want praying for you?

PathThere was this woman. She was not accepted in many of the circles within her community. She wasn’t allowed to be near everyone, no one wanted to be seen with her. She would go and get her coffee at odd times of the day just so she wouldn’t run into anyone she knew. She was shunned. She was an outcast. Deep down, she wanted so much more to her life. She wanted to feel loved. She wanted to feel welcomed, and even more than that, she wanted to feel accepted. Sure she had a past, sure she hadn’t always done the right things, but she longed for love and acceptance.

She found it one day, at the coffee shop. This man walked up to her and asked her if she would buy him a cup of coffee. Maybe he had forgotten his wallet at home, maybe he didn’t have any money. Maybe he had lost his job, who knows? She doesn’t ask him about that, instead, she turns the attention of the story to her. She tells him that he probably doesn’t want to be seen talking with her, that she was an outcast from the community, and that it would be bad for him to even talk to her. Word might get out, you know?

But then something happens. This man begins to tell her about her past, that he knows who she is, and that it doesn’t matter to him. He says, if you only knew, you could ask and I would take you to my coffee shop, and you could have all the coffee you would ever need. She wants to go with him, she realizes who he is, but they both know that she needs to stay in the community because she has a message to tell, just the way she is. Many lives are touched and changed because of her witness to this chance encounter with this man.

Sound familiar? John, chapter 4, Jesus meets the woman from Samaria at the well. He offers her living water and she goes home to share her experience with everyone. John 4:39; “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”

Jesus uses this woman to spread his good news to people that the Jews didn’t want to hear it. When the disciples came back to the well, they were astonished that Jesus would be talking to this woman, it was not what they expected. But then again, how many times did Jesus do things that were expected in those days?

Like the disciples, we are surrounded by things we don’t understand and don’t expect. There are things out of our usual or traditional understanding of life. Many times, this comes in discussion around human sexuality. But it also can be found in different areas of life as well.

This week we will celebrate Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season Lent. It is a day that we remember that our earthly bodies are mortal, that we will once again return to the dust from which God created us. But it is also a time of repentance. It is a time that we confess our sins before God, ask for forgiveness, receive the ashes on our foreheads, and then walk our Lenten journey of faith as we anticipate the celebration of the resurrection which seems so far away.

This Ash Wednesday, I ask you to reflect on how God uses each one of us to proclaim the gospel message of hope, grace, and love. Think of the many people who don’t look like us, act like us, or think like us, but who have lived out their testimony for the love of God. It may be like that woman at the well, whom everyone else disregarded, but Jesus empowered to witness of his love. Who might this be? Is it you?

You Belong!

BTCS_Meme_7These past couple of days have been a very trying time within The United Methodist Church as we gathered from around the world for a special called General Conference. This was to address certain areas of our polity in the situations surrounding human sexuality. This was a moment that we could demonstrate to the world what a fellowship of Christian believers should look like and act like. This was a time for us to stand up for all of humanity, regardless of age, race, economic status, and yes, gender equality and identity. This should have been a time when all people could hear the love God has for them, how much God desires to be in a relationship with them, and how the Church can help in every aspect of their lives. It wasn’t.

I am disappointed and hurt that we could not find a way to demonstrate that love which God blesses us with. I am saddened for all the people who have been hurt by these words and actions. I am frustrated by the process in which we can move forward. But there is one thing I will not lose over this decision. I will not lose hope.

I hope and pray for the day when we are truly all equal. I pray for the day when there is no racial divide, no gender bias for employment or pay, no discrimination for anyone, and no oppression felt by anyone. We are all created in God’s image, and that image is one of love. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are also called to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can we possibly do that when we want certain ones, not like us, to be excluded from any aspect of our lives? When did we become the ones to choose who was in or out?

So, let me tell you this. I don’t care who you are, what you might have done, or how you identify yourselves, you are a beloved child of God. And God longs to show his love to you. Romans 5:8 tells us; “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ didn’t just die for a few, but for all. Christ didn’t die for only those who had been circumcised, those who belonged to Israel, those who followed all the commands of the Bible. Christ didn’t die for only those who attended worship every single time or gave a full tithe. Christ died for all of us, and that means me and you, wherever you are.

Paul tells us in Galatians that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are all one, unified in Jesus Christ for his one mission of making disciples. Helping others along their journey of faith. Can we be unified in this? I think we can and to a certain degree, I think we are.

I follow more of Paul’s words in Ephesians when he tells us to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiveness is offered, and now the mission is before us. Do we choose to take the difficult path and choose to make disciples, regardless of the cost? I say yes! I will faithfully live out God’s call on my life and I encourage you to do the same. We are all God’s creation. We are all loved by God. And in the words of God, we are all very good.

You are a beloved child of God, and I love you.

Go and Tell…

MicrophoneThis past Sunday we celebrated the baptism of the Lord where we recognize John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river where the dove descended upon Jesus and we heard the voice of God tell us that this was God’s son and that God was well pleased with him and that we should also listen to him. One of our scripture passages from this past Sunday came from Acts chapter 8, verses 14-17 where we hear of another group that was baptized. Let me share those words with you today.

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Many of us might remember the story of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan woman at the well, and maybe even the thought from the people in Jesus’ time that Samaria was not a good place to be. The people there were not to be liked. They were not to be invited in, or to even have a relationship with. But Jesus taught something completely different. He taught that we should love all people, and that included the people in Samaria. It didn’t matter who they were or where they lived, they too were god’s children, so who were they to judge them or worse yet, hate them?

The apostles hear that Samaria has received the word of God, they have heard someone share the witness of Christ and they are being changed, transformed. They begin a new life in Christ. So, Peter and John travel to Samaria to pray for these new believers. They want to support them in every way they can. It didn’t matter who they were or where they lived, they were baptized and therefore, they were family.

When you look around you, what do you see? Do you see all the differences in people? Do you see democrats and republicans, educated and uneducated, different shades of color, gay or straight? Do you see those with money or those without? Do you see popular or unpopular? Or do you see something different? Do you see people the way God sees them?

God views each of us the same way. We are God’s children and he loves us all just the same. God wants us to do the right things, but doesn’t love us any less when we mess up. More than that, God calls us to love each other the same way. We are given the two great commands to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This can look like our story today from Acts as Peter and John travel to a place that used to be forbidden for the Jewish people, but God has welcomed them into the family and so, Peter and John go and welcome them by showing support for them and praying for them. What if we did the same? What if, instead of judging others for who they are, where t

hey live, how much they have, what they look like, or anything else, we just loved them and supported them? What if we prayed for them?

Can you imagine the change in this world if we would follow this simple, but profound command to love? I encourage you to do just that. I want to challenge you to pray for those whom you would normally find yourself judging or condemning. See what happens in your life. I think you might be surprised at the changes that happen within yourself as you share these moments with your creator. Allow God to transform your heart, and remember that you are a child of God.

Epiphany

three-wise-men-750277I remember working on a car stereo back in my high school days. They were projects that I would enjoy; modifying the dashboard for the new stereo, running wires to the fuse panel, speakers, and amplifier. After a couple of hours of painstaking work, the moment of truth came. I turned the car on and then turned the stereo on, except nothing happened. No lights, no sound, nothing! I went back over everything, double checking my power connection, the speaker connections and could not find where I went wrong. Why was this not working, I was sure that everything was hooked up right. Well, a couple more hours passed by of fiddling with it, walking away from it, even having conversations with it, more like arguing with it. Then the epiphany, my Aha moment came.

For those who know about electricity, you will understand. On the wiring diagram, I saw a black wire that seemed to just go to the car, but not connected to anything. So, I didn’t connect it. Well, this black wire is the ground wire and without it connected to anything, more importantly to the cars frame, no power would go into the stereo, hence, nothing happened. I finally realized my error, I saw clearly this project in a new light and after properly connecting the ground wire, the stereo started, and I once again had music. These Aha or epiphany moments happen throughout our lives.

In our scripture lesson from this past Sunday, we are heard about the three wise men. This Sunday is called the Epiphany of the Lord and it marks the day when Jesus Christ is manifested to the Gentiles, represented by the wise men. That is the church’s definition of Epiphany. The wise men come and encounter Jesus Christ and are changed, they have an epiphany moment, an Aha moment, and are changed, how can you not be? I can’t imagine anyone encountering Jesus Christ and not being changed in one way or another.

These wise men, or magi, have come from the east and are searching for the child born to be the Messiah. When they finally found the place where Jesus was born, what did they do, what was their response to their encounter with Jesus? Worship! They presented the child with gifts and bowed down to worship him. They were changed, like the others were changed, but in a much different way. Their lives were dramatically altered because of this encounter. Their lives changed direction. It is said that they returned home, but not by the same path. Herod was waiting for them down the original return trip, but they were new men with new lives. They no longer lived like they used to. The song “Thanks to Calvary” by the Cathedrals speaks about the changing nature of encounters with Jesus Christ. Here is one of the lines from the song; “Thanks to Calvary, I am not that man I used to be, thanks to Calvary, things are different than before.” An encounter with Jesus Christ changes everything. When the change happens, we don’t want to live like we used to anymore. We don’t want to take that trip back down the same path which brings pain and misery. The wise men didn’t want to travel back home by the path which led to Herod, they wanted to go another direction.

Have you encountered Jesus Christ? Have your lives been changed by the Christ child who brought light to this world? It is a very real question, a question that needs an answer. Other questions arise from this, why are we here? Who are we? Who am I?

If you have encountered Jesus, what was your response? Were you hostile towards his calling for change in your life? Were you indifferent, looking more towards what you are doing here in this building than to a relationship with Jesus? Or were you joyful, worshiping God for the change he has brought into your life?

One of my epiphany moments in this life came while working on that stereo so long ago. It came when I realized that the stereo needed to be grounded in order to work. It needed to be connected to the foundation, the frame of the car, otherwise nothing was ever going to be heard. Another epiphany comes today, as I realize that God’s message will never be heard unless we are grounded in our foundation, our relationship with Jesus Christ. Is your ground wire connected? Are you receiving the power you need to face your day, your circumstances, your life?

If not, how do you plan on getting connected? Attending worship, studying the bible, spending time in prayer are all good ways to get connected. Will you strive to connect today?

Is It Over?

christmas-ornament-701309_1920It’s a new year, over a week after Christmas. Now, I have to say that most of the time, we try to leave our Christmas decorations up as long as we can, at least until January 1st. I know that we should try to keep them up until Epiphany, which is this next Sunday, but there are many times that has been impossible, especially with the tree. I remember one year, after noticing that needles were dropping from the tree faster than leaves on a good and frosty autumn morning. We didn’t want to touch the tree, we couldn’t bump it, for fear that all the needles would fall off.

We decided that Christmas day was going to be the day we took the tree down. Sure, we were careful the week before Christmas, only lighting the tree when we would be in the room with it, Carefully making sure we didn’t smell smoke or light candles within 20 feet of the Christmas tree. So, we began to remove the ornaments, one by one. We remembered once again what each one meant to us, just like when we hung them only a few weeks earlier. We removed the girls’ first ornaments, our first one as a couple, ornaments that we bought each year as a family, and even those that were gifted to us by friends and family. By the time we removed the last ornament, we realized that we also removed every last needle on the tree. Charlie Brown had nothing on our tree that year. Bare sticks were all that was left. I remember feeling grateful that no spark or open flame got anywhere near that tree over the final week or so. Who knows what could have happened.

But then, as I looked where the tree once stood, I thought, is it all gone now? Is the wonder gone? Is the excitement gone? Now that the tree was removed, and the decorations came down, was Christmas really over? There have been years when the feeling of Christmas left right after the gifts were opened, the decorations were down, and the stores all moved ahead, without even a remembrance of what we just experienced. How is that possible? How can we just plug right along into the next season, the next holiday, the next anything, forgetting all about what we just experienced? Is it over?

Christmas is not just a once a year thing. It is not just something that we feel around December 25th, and then put it away just like the decorations, until next year, until the next holiday. When we do, we miss the meaning of this wonderful celebration. The Christmas carols, the lights and sights, the snow, the faces of family and friends, the gifts, all of these helps to remind us of something greater than we are. They remind us of the wonder in this season, the wonder of Christmas. That wonder is the birth of a King, but not just any king. It is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor. This child is Emmanuel, God with us.

So, how do we keep this feeling with us? How do we keep the wonder of Christmas all year long? I think we do this by living a Christlike life. To live as a Christian, as a child of God. It is to love each other, to allow the peace of Christ to live within us, caring for one another.

Remember; Christmas is not a one-time story, but a continual story. The wonder of Christmas is that God is with us. My prayer is that we will all live into that promise of God being with us, so that all who see us will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the promise God gave all of us is real, and it’s for them too. Christmas is the assurance that no matter how far we have traveled from God’s will in our lives, no matter how far we’ve fallen, no matter how much we’ve sinned, or how badly we’ve been hurt, abandoned, judged, or viewed by others, God has come to be with us. To walk with us, to love us, to cry with us, to encourage us, and to redeem us.

You see, Christmas isn’t the whole story, it’s the beginning of the story. And it is a story that continues on through the cross where Jesus offered his life for you and for me, to redeem us, to make us right with God. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we receive the saving grace of God. And it all began with a star, a whisper of a name, the humbleness of a manger, and the hope in a promise.

It is not over. It will never be over. It has only begun.