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.

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.

More Than We Can Handle

Romans 8:28

“28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. “(NRSV)

In Adam Hamilton’s Half Truths, Rev. Hamilton pointed out one that is commonly believed, “God won’t give us more than we can handle.” While I don’t believe God brings evil into our lives, I do believe life does. When terrible things happen, we look for someone and something to blame. The truth is, terrible things happen because we live in an imperfect world.

Satan is loose and sometimes life sucks. It is in the suckiest moments of life that it helps to remember Romans 8:28’s promise. All things working together for good necessitates a loving relationship with God and being “called according to his purpose.” When we love God more than ourselves, our perspective changes from inward to outward. When we realize we are all called to a higher purpose, we stop making excuses and start creating opportunities for success.

May God help us choose love, stop making excuses and trust God to work all things “together for the good.”

Free

Romans 6:22-23 (NLT) “But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This week we celebrate our freedom and give thanks for those who fought so bravely to secure it. Our freedom was bought at great price and our response should be to live our lives with gratefulness and honor.

In the same way, Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins with His blood so we may live forever. Along with that payment comes our responsibility to live our lives with holiness. Though we have been made free, we have made ourselves slaves of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Thankfulness drives us. Gratefulness revives us. Freedom enslaves us to do what is right because that is what we want to do and how we want to live.

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/chain-broken-link-freedom-297842/

Called To Serve

Isaiah 41:9-10, “I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you  and will not throw you away. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

None of us are perfect and we have all made mistakes of which we are ashamed. Dwelling on those past mistakes only leads to guilt, shame and fear. Negative thoughts turn our energies inward and keep us from helping ourselves and others.

When we remember we are called by God to serve, that we are chosen and our past mistakes do not disqualify us forever, we are able to let the Holy Spirit of God work within us to achieve great things. When we remember that God is our righteousness and that He is our strength, we are able to turn outward and know that we can use our past failings to help others. Though we fail, we can live our lives in the confidence that God will never throw us away.

Comfort

2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

In this scripture, we are reminded that God is ever-present to comfort us. We are also reminded that He is able and willing. In light of this knowledge, we praise “the Father of compassion and God of all comfort.” If we believe this simple fact, then there is no need to turn to other substances nor to behaviors to achieve this comfort. Our comfort source is God. Our level of faith determines whether or not we will turn solely to Him, or to someone or something else for comfort.

Secondly, in this scripture, we receive the call to comfort others. Since we have been through dark times, we are able to empathize with others. We have been  changed and empowered by the comfort God has given us and we are now able to share the ultimate source of comfort with others.

May God bless you this this week and bring you comfort in times of trouble.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

First Hand

1 Corinthians 15: 3-4 (NIV)  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

There were several scriptures that foretold the life and work of the coming Messiah. Isaiah 53:7 is one of them, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

There is a difference of telling a story from second hand and first hand experience. When someone speaks out of first hand experience, it carries greater weight.

Though Paul was not one of the disciples, he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and experienced His power first hand. He learned for himself that Jesus was the Messiah and Savior. Though he had studied the scriptures, it took a first hand encounter to really know the one spoken of in the scriptures.

It is because of his experience that Paul is able to speak with authority and spread the word of Jesus Christ as Messiah, Savior, Lord and redeemer.

Jesus invites all of us to meet him where we are. He wants to shine light into our darkness and reveal the hope we have been missing. When we finally believe in who Jesus is and what he has done for us, we become resurrection people because we serve a resurrected Lord. We die to our doubts, our fears, and our selfish desires and are risen to new life in Christ. We become finally free and empowered to share our new life with others.

So, as we go our way today, remember we serve a resurrected Lord. We are resurrection people. We live in faith, power and freedom. So, let us share that with others in as many ways that we can with as many people as we can.