After waking up this morning around 5:00 am, I looked out my window to see what further snow accumulation there might be. What I saw was a beautiful full moon lighting up the snow covered landscape. As I gave thanks to God for the gentle, wondrous and silent display, I was reminded of the folks who were still affected by the flooding along the eastern coast, caused in part by the full moon last night. I took a moment to offer up prayers for them and others.
An hour or so later I could see by a different light from another window, though at first not the source of the light itself. Then, as the dawn further broke and the golden-orange sun appeared on the horizon, I gave thanks for the new day.
And now, looking out my front window again, I see one neighbor helping others, clearing the additional snow which fell since their first clearing yesterday.
Although we won’t be having activities at Church of the Open Door today, we are certainly able to "have" and "be" church, the "body of Christ" on this, the Lord’s Day, or any day of the week.
As this month’s screen-saver background on my computer suggests, we can "Go deeper with God" in our homes, our neighborhoods and other places, as well as the place we call church.
So, let me invite you to consider today the theme/topic for what will now be next Sunday’s Worshipful Conversation worship service at Church of the Open Door . . . spirituality.
More specifically, we will consider what may be called "spiritual types", "spirituality types", or "spiritual personality types".
Have you ever wondered why different people, including yourself, are naturally drawn to different ways of searching for and finding God, or may have difficulty relating to a "Divine Being" at all? Have you ever thought about all the different expressions of faith, even within Christianity itself: in belief, feeling, personal practice, worship, and social standards or actions? I have found that these can be better understood and appreciated by learning about what I will call "Spiritual Types" as found in the Living Prayer Center of The Upper Room ministry.
Consider again my opening to today’s reflection. As you may have noticed in past sermons and postings, I favor a personal connection and relationship with the natural world, which I believe is God’s creation. Further, I think, believe, feel, and sense God "speaking" to me through that creation. You may have noticed that the Psalmists and some other writers of scripture also speak of these things. Consider Psalm 19:1-4(NIV):
"The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,"
Other writings (like Proverbs, Kings, Chronicles, etc.) speak more of history, teaching, wisdom, order, etc. Still others, like the Prophets, speak of keeping God’s commandments or Law, doing justice, and showing mercy and kindness. These are only some examples of the various expressions of spiritual types.
While you are spending some alone or family time today, I invite you to check out the questionnaire and descriptions (other sources use slightly different names of types) from The Living Prayer Center to discover your own "spiritual type" at;
Spiritual Types Test - Living Prayer Center
If you search the topic you may find other similar words/definitions used to describe the idea. Keep in mind that the point is that there is more than one way to approach, discover and relate to what we call our spiritual nature. The Holy Bible reveals to us that is how God designed and relates to us. In fact, it also says that God searches for and finds us as well. (Gen. 3:8ff.; Lk. 19:9-11; John 10:7-18)
My intent is to help people identify and learn more of their own "Spirituality Type", as well as better understand and appreciate the differences of others, and how that can impact our appreciation and value of differing styles and components of worship, and other aspects of Christian life. This also has a bearing on understanding and appreciating our sisters and brothers in Christ of other Christian denominations as well, and even for people of other faiths.
Please invite others and join us for worshipful conversation next Sunday. We will have the opportunity to learn further from the scriptures and share with one another about our walk with God and living our faith in our everyday lives.
With the Love of One, in Christ,
<>< Pastor Neil
The bible tells us that we are called and claimed by God as God’s own beloved children. In baptism we acknowledge God’s call and claim, and claim Jesus Christ as our savior in response to God’s love.
This morning I want to talk about being called and claimed by God. This past fall we considered that call, especially as related to the Apostle Paul. And just a few weeks ago, some of us shared about "Unexpected Calls: Life Changing Invitations" (12/27) I wasn’t here for that, but hope to hear more about them some time as well.
First – The Bible tells us that God knows us and calls us by name.
What does that mean? It means that the God who created us, knows each of us by name. And God calls each of us by name into relationship with God’s own self.
Further, as we read in Isaiah (43:1), God calls us collectively, in association with others whom he has chosen: "But now, this is what the LORD says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine."(NRSV & others) The NIV translation uses the word "summoned" instead of called , to indicate that God is not just giving the people a name or calling out to them, but is indeed summoning them – calling them to Himself.
The God who calls us has redeemed us. Further, God also promises to be with us in all circumstances.
God also promises to bring His people together. "...everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." (Is. 43:7)
Christians see that great redemption in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus paid the price of our deliverance from sin an death.
All who are called by name, and called by the name of Christ Jesus, are part of his beloved people.
> We are part of Christ’s team, if you will. And that should make us feel GREAT!
How many of you remember choosing sides for teams in neighborhood or school recess sports games? The selected captains would call and "claim" their team players. How did you feel when the appointed captain called your name to play on his or her team?
I guess it depended on how you felt about playing on that captain’s team. But for those like myself, who got called close to last for either team, we felt glad just to be called or chosen.
The good news for each of us here is that God has called you and me into relationship. God calls each of us into service, to play on His team! If that does not want to make you praise and shout Amen, nothing will!
And for a team to be most effective and win, they have to practice, work together for a common goal and stay focused. (I’m no expert on pro ball, but just ask the Eagles as I saw on the news last week or so.)
Second – The Bible shows us that in baptism we respond to God’s call by claiming Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives.
We do that by surrendering our self, our will, to God’s.
We acknowledge that God, our creator, has chosen or ‘claimed’ us or our child. Jesus himself, gave us the example of that submission to God the Father. Luke 3 says (21-22), "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’"
Notice how God, our Heavenly Father, claimed and proclaimed Jesus as his own son. Further, God calls Jesus "my beloved" or "whom I love", even before Jesus performs any miracles or accomplishes his earthly ministry. His love is not dependent on anything Jesus does, except perhaps that first step of baptism, which Jesus says is "to fulfill all righteousness."
Going into a new year, we may have a tendency to regret the past or set high goals for the future. We may be worried or anxious about one thing or another. But God’s words of affirmation should give us hope and assurance.
Roland P. Rink of Gauteng, South Africa shared in the Upper Room a couple of years ago:
"Quietly, over a number of months, I fell into the bad habit of allowing myself to be dragged down into a pit of worry and despair. I began to worry even when I had nothing to worry about. This habit led to pessimism that was not helpful to me, my family, or others around me.
By grace, I found Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus. God’s Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice speaks directly to Jesus saying, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." In this profound moment, Jesus’ identity was confirmed.
These days, when worry and doubt begin to assail me, I have a new way of dealing with them. Over and over again I repeat these words: You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased. In a world of distraction and noise, I find it helpful to remember that God loves me.
When times get tough and the world seems to weigh us down, we can remind each other that we are God’s beloved children. And God is pleased with us." (©The Upper Room, 10/29/13)
And although Jesus would eventually lay down his own life to fulfill his earthly mission, it was not in violence to others or at the expense of other lives. Those who claim to follow Jesus must never murder in his name. I am glad to know that some collective bodies of Christ’s church have repented of such acts.
Likewise, I am pleased see and hear that Muslim clerics and others are speaking out against radical Jihadi and extremists, and are coming together with Christians and others whose families and communities have been victims of violence by those who have acted in the name of their beliefs.
>> We are called to a new and better life with God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
That means having higher standards than those of the common world. It means striving to live God’s way, with God’s grace and the transforming power of theHoly Spirit.
In Christian confirmation, we "claim the name" and faith of Jesus Christ for our selves – for our own lives.
In the life of the Holy Spirit, persons are called by God to serve God’s purpose and plan; some to ordained ministry, others to lay ministry.
And those who are called respond to that call and claim upon their lives, for a season or longer. For that I’m sure they are glad, demanding or challenging as it may be at times.
> The reward of serving on God’s team speaks for itself. . . when someone is helped, guided, encouraged, consoled, or led to Christ themselves.
In part, this is the calling and claim that each and all of us have in Christ. And it’s why today we are Reaffirming our Baptism.
If you haven’t received Jesus as your Savior and Lord yet, I invite you to do so now. Pray for Gods’ forgiveness and put your trust in Christ. Let me know that you have invited Christ into your heart and desire to learn how you may be baptized and follow Christ.
If you’re already on Christ’s team but are sitting on the bench, now is the time to reconnect and recommit. We have many ways you can be involved in making a greater difference in our community and world.
Let’s all make God’s further vision for Church of the Open Door a reality this year!
As we conclude our series on "sharing a Life-giving Christmas," let me ask how Advent has been going for you?
Where and how have you seen hope in this season?
When and how have you felt God’s presence give you peace in this season?
When and how have you felt joy in the past few weeks?
Today our attention is turned to love. As the scripture affirms, and as I believe we know deep within our hearts, without love we are nothing.
The Gospel According to John, points to and sums up the centrality of love being at the core of God’s purpose for the birth of Jesus Christ. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son . . ." (John 3:16)
And Matthew describes the conception and birth of Jesus, born of God’s love and Mary’s desire to serve the Lord with love. . . . And Joseph’s good heart and humble obedience to God’s will at least in part made him the one God chose to be the earthly father of Jesus.
When we think about a Life-giving Christmas, one which describes for us the very essence of life, we can not forget or omit love. It is something essential to the human psyche and soul.
Yet we know that it is experienced in many forms and types of relationships. And at this time of year especially, there are many expectations of love associated with those relationships.
When we make or fulfill Christmas wish lists, we should remember the one thing which everyone truly needs – LOVE!
>> Love . . .gotta have it – both for ourselves and to share it with others.
From the time we are greeted at the door, to the time we leave, our experience at church, in the body of Christ, is meant to be a sharing in the Life-giving love of Jesus. And when we go forth from this place into our homes, or into the world, we carry forth that Spirit of Christ’s love with us. . . in our hearts and in our lives.
As you may recall from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:1-3), he puts the priority of love very well. Paul goes on to give perhaps the best description of love found in the bible or anywhere else.
And in his letter to the Christians in Rome, he writes (12:9-13):
"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly (and sisterly) 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 God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality."
All of which is good advice to any who wish to experience a life-giving Christmas – and even beyond.
So when you may find your yourself stretched to the limit, remember God’s love for you in Christ Jesus. When you feel your patience wearing thin at home, on the road, in the stores or elsewhere, remember God’s loving patience for you and for others. When the voice of doubt and judgement leads you to believe the worst in someone, listen to the voice of God’s love and grace instead. When you see someone in need, or hurting and alone, open your heart to receive them in the spirit of God’s love.
How will you seek to do these things?
Be open and responsive to God’s word, as Mary and Joseph were.
And as Paul wrote:
"May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you." (1 Thess. 3:12-13)
Isaiah 35:1-10; 49:13; Luke 1:39-55
What is the happiest Christmas experience you can remember?
. . .the blessings of this holy season can come in many ways and forms. I don’t think it is a "one size fits all" experience.
In this season which is meant to bring joy and happiness, you may have your own personal Scrooge or Grinch to deal with, or others who may be well intended "kill-joys" of the season. Or, you may have other challenges to your joy.
Remember, the greatest blessings – and the greatest joy – will come from realizing the life-giving reason of why we prepare and celebrate Christmas. That is, the birth of Jesus Christ!
Although there are differences of belief as to how and why he was born, or who exactly he was and is, Jesus was born. And his life has forever changed and challenged the world!
With the remembrance and celebration of that event there are expectations, challenges and a variety of feelings even still today. Among them is happiness or joy.
The good news is that we are not alone in our trials and tribulations.
This is our hope. This gives us peace. And it is with God’s gift of joy that we will make it through the tough days and times of our lives.
What are your particular expectations for Christmas this year?
What challenges are you facing?
Let the simple and humble birth of Jesus be a sign for you, for each and all of us this Christmas and holiday season.
Let our hearts rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord! Take some quiet time to reflect, meditate and pray on it’s meaning and blessing for you.
Join with others in sharing that life-giving realization.
In whatever way you can, share the joy of God’s love and spirit with others this season!
And let God’s joy in Jesus Christ sustain you through the new year as well!
"Peace . . . from Above and Within"
What comes to your mind when you think of the word "peace"?
What are some of the reasons you find it difficult to find peace?
What things trouble you the most?
The good news is that peace is possible. And the Bible tells us how.
God’s promise of peace for the children of Israel and the world: (read Isaiah 11:1-10; Luke 1:67-79)
LK 1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
LK 1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
We can find peace – from above and within – as we seek to let Christ into our hearts and lives. Some suggestions: listening to carols or other peaceful or uplifting music, taking a walk, reading or meditating upon related scriptures for the season, burning a candle or even some frankincense, myrr.or other relaxing fragrance.
And we can help others know that peace as well, by how we think and act.
Check in with a prayer partner on your wish lists.
A large part of spiritual growth is surrounding oneself with those who will hold us in loving accountability.
Think of a situation where you desire peace, either in your life or in the world. Prayerfully ask God to guide you in doing something this week to strive for peace. It could be writing a letter to someone from whom you have become separated.
You can refine your own inner peace through outward action. Practice peace. Where you hear gossip, offer a good word. Where people experience broken-ness, do what you can to heal. Where sickness and death prevail, offer a moment of life’s joy.
If you have tumultuous relationships in your life, do what you can to bring about peace (Romans 12:18). Pray for your enemies as Jesus taught, that they may be blessed and find peace by trusting that God knows their deepest needs.
If you know of someone who is struggling with spiritual turmoil, anxiousness about life or death, or searching for deeper meaning to life’s challenges, take the time to listen and pray with them. Offer a copy of the Upper Room or other devotional booklets.
Listen to others. To find peace, people need to feel heard and to know they are not alone in their suffering. Infuse the conversation with God’s grace, perhaps sharing today’s Scripture. Let the hope and peace of Christ assure you that no matter the situation, peace can prevail.
Be mindful of others as you shop during this season. The Holy Spirit may lead you to someone who has a deeper need for inner peace than for money to buy presents.
Invite people to worship with you. Connecting your actions with following Jesus may stir curiosity in people who want what you have. Let others know that through Christ, people will find peace and hope.
May you experience and share a Life-Giving Christmas this year!
We are coming near the close of "The Call" by Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.
> As we consider Paul’s third missionary journey, as well as our own, we consider our call to give.
When you think about giving, what comes to your mind? Giving money? Hopefully, and that is one of the ways Paul and the early believers gave to help other believers, and even non-believers, as Jesus had taught and lived.
But as I hope you already know, that is but one way we give to the mission and ministry to which God calls us as individuals or as a congregation. Let’s again look to Paul and those early believers and followers of Jesus the Christ.
Perhaps you don’t like history as much as I do. However, the bible if full of history, and it helps to gain a better understanding of God’s instruction from the historical experience of God recorded in it, by learning of the context in which it was written. In others words, when we better understand when, how, why, and where God encounters us, as well as to whom there is an encounter, we can learn more from it – just as witness is shared by different people right here in this place (COD).
Hamilton writes, "When we left Paul at the end of his second missionary journey, he had returned to his home church in Syrian Antioch. According to Scripture, he stayed there for "some time" Was it months or years? We can’t be sure. At some point though, Paul embarked on his third missionary journey." (p. 152)
He adds, "We don’t know much about the beginning of Paul’s journey, which took him from Syrian Antioch through Pisidian Antioch to Ephesus and beyond. In fact, the first four hundred fifty miles are described by Luke in just one verse: "After spending some time there he departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phyrgia, strengthening all the disciples" (Acts 18:23, ibid.) Did you catch that last part?!
> So now Paul, after having planted the seeds for those churches several years earlier, returned to encourage and strengthen the disciples and congregations in their faith journeys.
I’m glad to witness that I have opportunities to serve God in this way here at Church of the Open Door. I am also thankful that I have opportunities even among family, friends and others elsewhere. Just last Sunday evening, shortly after Karen and I returned home, a young nephew of ours called from Missouri. He expressed a further call to ministry upon his heart and life by God. And he asked several more questions he had about the faith and life in Christ, personally and congregationally.
Paul reminds us to encourage and build up one another.
> Further, he also gave them instructions, as we heard read earlier, for the weekly monetary collection for the saints – brothers and sisters in Christ – in Jerusalem.
He finally reaches Ephesus, about four miles inland from the southwest cost of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. It was the Roman Empire’s the fourth largest city in the first century, with a population of more than 250,000 people. I remember when Philadelphia made a similar claim in the U.S. with many more people. Ephesus, too, was a port city: with terraced houses, a couple of major roadways, a great theater, a public square, and even a library. It was then, a metropolitan city. It also had two great gymnasiums. It seems that they were great sports fans as well. :) Or, at least, they highly valued athletics.
Somewhere near the shopping district was the "lecture hall of Tyrannus," where Paul spent two years in a rented space, to teach and minister to non-believers and believers alike. (P. 159)
These were two of the gifts Paul received from the Holy Spirit, and of which he in turned shared with others.
Here Paul convinces the disciples of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which were in turn used for ministry.
Hamilton speaks of his own church experience in younger years by which he came to know of the Holy Spirit, and to invite the Spirit to guide and lead him. I’ve shared some of my experience as well. I continue to invite God to lead, guide and empower me each day.
And when we baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we call upon the Holy Spirit to fill the one being baptized.
So, have you been baptized? Do you acknowledge and invite the Holy Spirit to fill and empower you to follow and fulfill the call God has given you?
"Luke wants readers of Acts of the Apostles to understand that the Holy Spirit was critical in the spread of the gospel, and what was true in Paul’s day is also true for us today." (Ibid, p. 165)
I’m thankful that in our Walking in the Word group we call upon the Spirit to fill us, empower us and lead us in our daily lives, and in the life of our congregation!
I am thankful that at Church of the Open Door we seek the fruit of the Spirit, as described in Paul’s letter to the Galatians – "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (5:22-23)"
> Against these things there is no law, biblical or otherwise. And without these things there is no grace and peace from God or anyone else.
So let us pray often that we will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit!
> Now among those fruit is generosity – giving generously. But I don’t think this is just referring to money. Surely, money is among our gifts to God’s work in this world.
Yet, we are called to give also of our time and our talents.
We are called to give or offer our prayers, our presence in worship, study and discipleship, our service in ministry of some kind, and our witness of God to others.
As recorded in Acts (19:23-27), Adam Hamilton points out that there was considerable push-back, if you will, from merchants who relied upon the business generated by the pagan Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
They were afraid that if enough people stopped believing in the goddess Artemis, sales of smaller statues, amulets, incantation scrolls and the like would suffer greatly. Indeed, the book of Acts says that quite a number of converts to Christianity had gathered their scrolls of incantations together and burned them (19:18-20). Doing the math, that amounted to about $5,000,000 in today’s money!
Obviously, our faith and message can effect the economy. It can effect how we encourage and treat others. It can inspire us to share of the abundance, or even the little, that we may have, so that others have as well. And it starts with each one who comes to believe and practice what we believe. It is what we have learned from Jesus and are moved to do by the Holy Spirit.
Offering our prayers, as we learned last year and continue to witness, is powerful! It brings our hearts and minds in line with God and God’s will, even when we don’t fully understand or see it completely.
Offering our presence – participating in worship, in small group study, support and accountability – helps us grow and mature in our lives of faith.
Giving our service furthers our mission and ministry by showing Christ’s love for one another and all people.
And giving our witness to God’s wonderful presence and work in our lives helps spread the good news of God’s love in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
> So, where are you? Have you heard the call of Christ upon your heart and life? If not, hear it now. If you have not yet, I invite you to place your trust in him, and receive the gift of new, abundant and eternal life Jesus offers. And if you have not yet discerned the call of Christ in ministry and mission, please speak to me or one of our Deacons about your interest.
For all of you who are members of Church of the Open Door, I ask you to consider your call as you receive your Celebrating Our Call to Ministry envelops . . .
. . . and return them with you on our Stewardship Dedication Sunday in two weeks. It will be a day of acknowledging our clergy and laity alike being called and sharing in ministry.
Thanks and praise be to our God!
For the past several weeks we have been reading and watching "The Call" by Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.
As we continue our look at Paul’s life, we next consider how Paul continued his second missionary journey.
>> As before, we see that we, as Paul, are called to go into the world to spread the love and word of God with the good news of salvation in and through Jesus Christ, that others may receive the gift of life and become followers of his Way.
I have enjoyed getting back deeper into the book of Acts and some of the letters in the New Testament, as we journey with Hamilton back over the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul (who had earlier been know as Saul of Tarsus). We have considered his mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ far beyond the borders of Judea, Samaria and Galilee, to the reaches of modern day Syria, Turkey, Greece and elsewhere, eventually taking him to Rome as well
In the process, we have been considering our own spiritual journeys and the call that Jesus has made upon our lives. Further, while doing all this, we of Church of the Open Door have been further considering, by way of our annual Charge Conference, our call to mission and ministry as a congregation.
In this chapter of his book, Hamilton tells not only of Paul’s journey and mission which would establish church communities in places he visited, but also later letters which he would write which would "demonstrate his pastoral concern for the church and reveal the issues that the church – and Paul – was facing."(p145) Further, as does the book of Acts, his letters to the church in Corinth "offer us a window into the challenges, concerns, and conflicts faced by the early church and show us how Paul addressed them." (p.147)
Like Paul and the early church, it is all too easy for congregations and larger bodies of faith to get wrapped up in disagreements and divisions, all too often fueled by our own human perspectives and egos. While these may be a natural part of the process of spiritual growth and understanding, and even serve God’s greater purpose, God calls us to remember and focus upon that greater purpose and plan to which we are all called.
Paul wrote: "Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. . . " (1 Cor. 15:1-4) Indeed, as Paul earlier in his letter describes some of the many spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit, it is so that we may further the work of Christ as his body now on earth. He shares what he calls "the most excellent way"(1 Cor. 12:31b) It is the way of God’s love.
Let me share with you again those words of 1 Corinthians 13, from the Contemporary English Bible (CEB) translation.
"If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don't have love, I'm a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don't have love, I'm nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body (as a martyr) to feel good about what I've done but I don't have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.
Love is patient, love is kind, it isn't jealous, it doesn't brag, it isn't arrogant, it isn't rude, it doesn't seek its own advantage, it isn't irritable, it doesn't keep a record of complaints, it isn't happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I've put an end to childish things.
Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love."
The special Native American Ministries Sunday worship service here last week helped me to remember and celebrate my love for Native American peoples, and my first calling into ministry many years ago, even before being baptized with water by another person into the organized Christian Church. And it gave me an opportunity to recall the question Jesus, my Savior had asked, "Do you love me?" And to recall words of Jesus, that if I indeed loved him, "Take care of my sheep." "Feed my lambs." "Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-17)
I spent most of this past Thursday morning in meditation, prayer and fasting, and the afternoon in administration of ministry, connecting with people on Facebook, texting and email, and watching this week’s DVD session of The Call. I went to sleep in prayer, and woke in the middle of the night to write most of these words as the Spirit led me.
For, as helpful as it is to have a vision and set goals, it can be all too easy to get weighed down or stuck in survey-taking, planning, number taking, and report making. And as helpful as computers and other electronic devices may be in the process of these things, including communication – let us remember that it is the people (all of God’s children) – and the message (new, abundant and everlasting life in Christ that is of utmost importance. (John 3:16, John 10:10)
It must be God’s Spirit leading us.
Although all of life is sacred, created by God – YOU, and every other person, are what matters most to God. God’s LOVE – that is why Jesus came to this earth in human flesh and blood!
That is why he called Saul to be an apostle (one who is sent out) to the Gentiles. That is why he calls each of us who would follow him into the world!
As we sang at the close of worship last Sunday, may we so live and walk together, as One in the Spirit, one in the Lord, so that others may know we are Christians . . . by our love.
> So, where are you? Have you heard the call of Christ upon your heart and life? If not, hear it now. If you have not yet, I invite you to place your trust in him, and receive the gift of new, abundant and eternal life Jesus offers.
. . . And if you have not yet discerned the call of Christ in ministry and mission, please speak to me about your interest.
"If You Can?!"
Theme: When our attitude about Jesus is one of uncertainty or doubt, he brings attention to our lack of faith and reminds us of God’s power (omnipotence) to do all things.
As we continue our journey through the Season of Lent, we not only contemplate the forty days of Christ’s wilderness preparation for ministry, and his final suffering and passion during Holy Week, but journey with him along the way from the Mount of Transfiguration to his final days in Jerusalem. We have been considering some of the questions asked by and of Jesus himself. And we have been reflecting upon the answers to those questions as they still have relevance to our lives now and in the future. In this process, we trust that we will grow as disciples of Christ as we live out our faith day by day.
One question we’ll look at is one that is both of and by Jesus. "If you can?!" And it comes in the midst of other questions and responses during an encounter shortly after Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, and seen by Peter, James and John speaking with Moses and Elijah.
So let’s take a closer look at what happened when Jesus, Peter, James and John returned down the mountain to the other disciples.
(14-17) When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the (Jewish) law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. (He asked the scribes), "What are you arguing with them about?"
(18- ) A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."
Now from the father’s later words, I believe we can agree with one commentator who says of him (IB), "There is no bitterness on his lips, no anger in his heart. But his disappointment and broken hopes are themselves a reproach that must have cut sharply." How would you have felt as that boys father? Jesus’ disciples had, after all, earlier been given authority to cast out demons and they did (6:7-13). Why could they not do so now?
They could not. They were not able. How often have you felt that way when someone in need requested something beyond your means? Or perhaps you have been in the father’s position, hoping that someone else could meet your need, only to feel the disappointment when they could not.
The scribes sought only to argue with the disciples, perhaps questioning their interpretation of the law, or their authority to try and cast out demons.
"You unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." (emphasis added)
These seemingly harsh words of Christ were meant for more than those immediately present. They were for all living in Christ’s time. And they can cause us to pause and reflect on our own faith, or lack of it. How long can we expect Jesus to stay and bear with us as we argue over the interpretation of God’s teachings and authority, while abused children or others in need of protection, healing or release from demons are left to suffer?
How long shall Jesus put up with us when we lack the faith to follow our conscience in matters of moral and ethical living, wether individually or corporately?
"Bring the boy to me." Jesus said.
So they brought him, Mark tells us. And when the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
It’s interesting to note that Mark’s account, very likely from Peter himself, shows Jesus gathering further information about the boy’s condition. Jesus asked the boy’s father, "How long has he been like this?"
"From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
Here Jesus asks another question, the answer of which reveals that the boy has been oppressed since childhood. It is a question that we naturally ask when we are concerned about someone who is suffering. We can often only imaging what it is like to live with a debilitating or life-threatening condition, like seizures, for a long time.
Now I know that some people may not believe in demon possession, and may want to explain this passage only in terms of a medical condition, perhaps epilepsy. But I believe that while medical knowledge was largely limited or unscientific as we have it today, still there were instances of actual demon possession or oppression, as well as mental illness, which accounted for a large part of human suffering – and still does.
And that brings us to the real question of the day. It was first put by the father to Jesus.
Did you hear it just a minute ago? "But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
And what was Jesus response? . . . "‘If you can’?!" said Jesus. "All things are possible for one who believes."
If. . . you. . .can. Now it’s interesting to note that different translations use either a question mark or an exclamation mark after those three words, pointing out the fact that they can be interpreted as either a question or an exclamation. That is why I have used both in the sermon title.
In other words, Jesus responds to the father’s question as he often does, by turning it around upon the one asking. And because he does so in this case, his response could have more than one meaning.
As the Interpreter’s Bible explains: "Commentators have interpreted these words in two different senses. They may be taken as an exclamation of wonder that anyone should use the word ‘if’ in connection with God’s power. . . .That is no way – as Jesus’ repetition of the (words) ‘if you can’ might indicate – to approach a question of God’s power." For as Jesus points out, "All things are possible for one who believes."
"Others take the words as referring to the man’s own part in the healing. ‘If you can,’ Jesus may be saying, throwing the issue back to the man (that is the father) himself." It is as though Jesus were saying, "It’s not whether I can do anything, but whether or not you can." Just as he declared at other times, it was the faith of others which brought healing and wholeness to themselves or those they loved.
Perhaps his words and his emphasis reflected both intentions. For "taken either way the words proclaim the same great truth of the power of God and the need of faith to make that power operative."
And how did the boy’s father reply? Immediately he exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
Very often we find ourselves in the position of that boy’s father, again asking Jesus to help us believe in more than we do. Our life is a process of spiritual growth – growing in faith as we walk daily with Christ. We must rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us in the way and empower us.
When our attitude is one of uncertainty, doubt or despair, Jesus brings attention to our lack of faith and reminds us of God’s power (omnipotence) to do all things.
Jesus can cast out our demons as he did that boy. He can help overcome our unbelief as he did for the boy’s father.
One last question to be asked and answered by today’s passage.
After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn’t we drive it out?" Do you remember his reply? He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer."
Let’s not overlook the need for – and power of – prayer. Here as elsewhere, the bible points out the effectiveness of prayer, of communing with God in the Spirit.
As some of you know, I have personally heard the witness of my own mother, whose healing process from cancer was made complete after praying to God and receiving a divine visitation. I firmly believe that my prayers for healing and cleansing have been answered numerous times for myself and others.
That is not to say that every prayer for physical healing has been answered as I would have hoped at first. Sometimes in prayer or following God has given me a different answer that I have learned to accept as part of God’s perfect and loving will, difficult as it may at times be.
But I rely upon God’s love and grace for all persons and in all circumstances. I realize and accept that some times God is calling me to be part of his plan and will to bring healing, peace and freedom to all people. "If you can?!" he says to me.
My friends, Jesus says the same to each of us. For "all things are possible for those who believe."
This Lenten season, I invite and challenge you spend some time in contemplation and prayer on our Lord’s suffering and death on the cross. But also be in prayerful communion with him to seek how you may be called and empowered to bring a miracle (even a minor one) into someone else’s life. Some ways you can follow with Christ this season include things like helping and serving others, coming to church each Sunday, reading your bible, praying with and for others.
There are opportunities to do great things for Christ’s kingdom in and through our church, as many of you know by doing already. Invite someone else to join with you. Let me know of others in need of prayer or other assistance.
If you can?! Yes, Lord. I know you can! And with the power of the Holy Spirit, I can too. And so can you. Amen.
Greetings to all!
If we were artists, with what colors would we use, or ask others to use, to color our world? The yellow of sunshine, clear blue skies, pure white snow, vibrant colors of spring or fall?
As I left home this morning, I was uplifted by the rays and warmth of sunshine after days of cold. Then as I drove to church, the clouds of grey rolled in once again. But rather than despair, I thought of many others in places to our north, still shoveling and plowing out from under six feet of snow. I enjoyed the scenic roadside, traveling at a reasonable speed, as I was not in a particular rush. Soon small flakes of snow began to fall from the clouds and float upon the gentle winds, blowing them wistfully by. As I needed to make a stop and open my window, one or two even gently blew in and landed on my face, almost as a kiss from God.
As we are busy living our lives, do we take time to appreciate the simple gifts God provides? In every season, our lives present challenges and opportunities to grow in Christ’s love and grace. How do we relate to God in good and bad times alike? How do we color our lives?
Gertrude B. McClain shares the poem below, as a prayer to the Master Artist and "Captain of life".
"Colored With Love"
Just color my life with sunshine;
This is the prayer I will say –
But it’s when the storms are raging
That we gain new courage each day.
And color my life with a rainbow
To cover life’s battles and strife –
But peace can be found in the conflict
When we trust the Captain of life.
Just send me a song of great beauty;
On wings of a song let me soar –
But sometimes our song is of sorrow
Yet He is beside us once more.
I’ll trust Him when sunshine surrounds me;
And yet when the storm clouds appear
My trust and faith will be stronger
For I know His rainbow is near.
I’ll trust Him when my heart is singing,
When nothing on earth can go wrong –
And yet when my heart knows no music
Then I will still praise Him in song.
So color my life with the sunshine
Or color my life with the rain,
For when life is colored by His love
Then nothing is ever in vain.
With the love of One, in Christ,
<>< Pastor Neil