Hope

When we were children, we hoped for our long-awaited presents on Christmas morning. Every year, we hoped for short school days and long summers full of friends and fun. We hoped for fun family vacations, our favorite foods at meal time, excitement, happiness, and security. We had hope. 

Sometimes, at times our hopes were crushed. Our classes seemed to last forever, summer went too fast, vacations were cancelled, mom decided to cook liver and broccoli, friends moved away, families broke up.

Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent. As many of you know, there are five candles in an Advent wreath that symbolize hope, love, joy, and peace. Just think about the power of these words. Hope, love, joy, peace. The center candle is, of course, the Christ Candle. Jesus Christ in our world makes all of these things possible. 

Hope is a powerful thing. Hope can make hard times bearable. As adults, we hope to finish school, for better jobs, big families, a winning lottery ticket, growth in our churches and growth in our finances.

Unfortunately, hope sometimes seems hard to find. We have to drop out of school, we lose jobs, our marriages crumble, our churches decline and our finances are depleted.

Mark 13:24-27 says, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

What do we do when our hopes are unfulfilled? We continue to hope. We do not hope to run away or escape. We hope to see the fulfillment of hope. We hope to see the Son of Man. We hope to see Jesus Christ. We hope to become. We to become the hands and feet of Christ in a dark and evil world. We hope to become the love of God to those who feel unloved. We hope to become the source of joy to others through our service and by our presence. We can become instruments of God’s hope, love, joy, and peace in our homes, workplaces, churches, and communities.

In this Advent Season, we sing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel because we long to be people of God. We long to become people of hope.

Thankful

My life has mostly been one of privilege. I imagine most of the people reading this can say the same thing. We are reminded time and again how fortunate we are. When we were children and complained, our parents would remind us that other children did not have what we did. As adults, we complain and then we see others in much worse situations. Why do we complain sometimes and at other times are thankful? I believe there are two reasons; thankfulness is both a matter of perspective and of choice.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How can we be thankful when we are out of work? How can we rejoice when our health fails, when we are lonely or discouraged? We rejoice because we make a decision to do so. We are thankful because we choose to focus on that which is good.

During this Thanksgiving week, I encourage you to focus on that for which you have to be thankful. Focus on friends and family that are still around. Focus on fond memories. Focus on the love that God has for you. His love for you is so great that he gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for your sins. In Jesus’ sufferings we find solace that he relates to our deepest pains and struggles. Jesus knows your pain. Jesus chose to bear your burdens. So, let us choose to leave our burdens at his feet. Let us choose to be thankful.

Expectations

When I lived up north, I knew each winter would bring unwelcome change. I knew I had to get myself ready for what was yet to come. All too soon, the days would turn colder, the darkness would come sooner, and the snow would begin to fall. What was worse, was the knowledge that the snow would cover the world around me until April or May.  

We are so fortunate to live in one of the southern states where we can look forward to experiencing all four seasons. Near the end of summer, we feel the first cool breezes and we know that fall is coming. Then, we see the leaves change color and we know cooler weather is headed our way. 

By the end of summer, we look forward to cooler weather. By the end of winter, we look forward to spring flowers and milder climates. 

Last Sunday, we talked about preparing for the end of all things. We see increasing signs that Jesus Christ is coming soon! We also know how very short and fleeting our lives are. Whether it’s the signs around us, or merely our awareness of the brevity of life, we look forward to a glorious homecoming! We look forward with great anticipation to the advent of the King. We also look forward to the time when we will all be in the presence of God in our heavenly home. 

May this hope bring you joy and excitement as we approach the season of Advent.

Pastor Don.

Order

Recently, I had an experience that brought up the subject of order. About a month ago, I joined an international prayer room on a social media platform. My impression was that it was a place of peace, where people could go to listen to and pray for each other. Then, the talkers started creeping in. What was a prayer room became a platform for people to teach whatever they wanted for as long as they wanted. Fortunately, order has since been restored.

The administrators of the prayer room learned the hard way that rules and boundaries were necessary to keep the room going in the direction they had intended. Otherwise others would take over. We all like the idea of being laid back and going with the flow. The problem is that without order, people have a tendency to go off in all kinds of directions. This is the point of 1 Corinthians 14:40, “…all things should be done decently and in order.” We all want to be heard. We all have opinions. What if we all expressed them however we wanted whenever we wanted? There would be chaos.

With orders of worship, our church services are able to include a variety of experiences that help others feel closer to God. We can worship by singing, praying, giving, and listening to the Word together. With an order of worship, you know what is coming next. It is in the context of order that we may experience the beauty found in worship services and sacraments. Worship services, weddings, baptisms, and funerals are ordered to provide a foundation on which beautiful, meaningful, and healing experiences may be built. So, while I am in favor of freedom of expression and others sharing their gifts, everything must be done “in order.” In this way, we respect each other more fully while giving honor to God in all that we do.

After Graduation

Psalm 37: 23-24 says, "Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand." (NRSV)

While we were in school, we complained and struggled with the constant onslaught of projects, difficult classes, uncommunicative teachers, the hell that is group work, worry about maintaining our grade point average, and wondering if we could even finish the work.

We dreamed what life would be like when we finally had time. We dreamed about what we would do, places we would go, the people we would see. In our few spare moments, we did what we could to care for our current responsibilities. We woke early and stayed up late to study so we could work and serve during the day. Sleep was minimal and caffein was our constant companion.

Then, one day graduation came. At 57, I finally have a Master of Divinity. All the hard work finally paid off. We have all overcome many barriers to achieve something. We celebrated, posted pictures, and put up diplomas. We soon realized that the free time we thought would come was just an illusion. We realized that no matter what we accomplished, we had to make it happen. We had to intentionally set aside time for study, project completion, family, ministry, work, and self-care.

After graduation, we go from one season to the next. We realize that the nature of time does not change. We come to know that time must be directed intentionally. Productivity and growth in our ministries, work, and relationships do not just happen. These things are directed and positioned. Self-care and Sabbath does not just happen either. They must be scheduled and carried out.

I have heard retirees say they became busier in their retirement than when they were working. This happens because we choose to redirect time in each season of our lives. As our bodies, minds, and spirits give us ability, we are always able to do that which we truly desire.

My prayer for all of us is that we not be pulled in different directions at once. May we not be overwhelmed, nor constantly busy and trying to keep up with it all. In all of our seasons of life, may we be intentional to work and serve in areas that give glory to God. May we be intentional to connect more deeply with God, family and friends. May we be peacefully productive and ecstatically employed. Graduation has come and gone. As we await our final graduation to glory, may we study well, work with integrity, and serve with joy as God guides our steps each day.

God bless you,

Pastor Don.

Hosanna!

We awaken to worship.

The evening fog lifts

We arise with hope.

New light radiates within our souls.

We cry, “Save US!”

We are made new by His love

Washed in His blood

Filled with His presence

Embraced by His essence.

Hosanna!

Living By The Spirit

Gal 5:25-6:10

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Living by the Spirit is a great challenge because we are made up of flesh.

We are prone to conceit, competition, and envy.

When speaking to the Christians in Galatia, the Apostle Paul assumes the Christians there are not only able to detect others transgressions. Detection is not judgment. It is a statement of fact. But, once detected, we must do as he said in Chapter 6, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

May we be able detect our own sins, to be open to others helping us find our blind spots and to bear one another’s burdens.

Summer

Summer

Summer on the verge of fall

Lingers beyond its time to leave

Holding on to its dying days

Like those who taste the end to come

Anxious for just one more ride

Another taste of stolen time

A touch, a word, a song, a note

Just once again, another line

What Are You Missing?

Blindfolded

Scripture Reading: John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Devotional Note: Many are looking for something. Whether it be a better job, the weekend, a new mate, another child, or a new purchase. We see God’s works all around us but don’t recognize God in them. We see miracles of life, birth, and provision, but we don’t really see the miraculous. Like the Pharisees, all we can see is our city, the weather, our church. We let ourselves get distracted by our desires, but miss the Shepherd’s voice. I challenge you to take time to look around. Stop and listen. Slow the world down long enough that you see Jesus in the people next to you. Pay attention to the miraculous. Listen for the Shepherd’s voice. He is always speaking. Will you listen? Will you see?

God bless,

Pastor Don