Monday Morning Meditation 12-2-19

A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Isaiah 40:3

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed these words in the 8th century B.C.  John the Baptist echoed them at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  They are ancient words that continue to have great meaning and significance to our lives as followers of Christ.

We have begun the season of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas.  Advent is a time of preparation, a time to prepare to receive again the Christ Child, and to prepare for His return.

But as I said in worship yesterday, preparation is not about stockpiling food and water for the “end times” rather we are to prepare ourselves to both expect God and say “yes” to God at all times.

Look again at Isaiah’s words:  “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Don’t just expect God to crash your party, rather make it easy – give God a straight access to your all.

As you travel through this Advent season, be prepared for God.  Expect God.  Say “yes” to God.

Peace (Hope, Joy and Love)

Bill

Monday Morning Meditation (Tuesday edition)

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Ps. 106:1

It was one of those Sundays when I tried something different.  For many pastors, trying something different can fill us with anxiety.  What will the congregation think?  Will they participate?  Or will this go over like a lead balloon?

It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving so I used that as the theme.  Normally I ask people to call out things they are thankful for, but for that particular Sunday I did something different.  In each bulletin was a sheet of paper and I asked the congregation to write down what they are thankful for, and place them in the offering plates.

The Ushers were instructed to take them and hang them up on the bulletin board in the Fellowship Hall.

And there was a problem.  So many people participated that there was not enough room.  The Ushers hung them on the board as well as the doors and a few on the walls.

Thanksgiving is an important holiday that, unfortunately often gets overlooked by Christmas.  But Thanksgiving, as a holiday, reminds us that thanksgiving, as a way of life, is crucial.  Giving God thanks for all of our blessings forces us to stop and think about those blessings.  And to see the blessings we often take for granted.

Studies have shown that gratitude makes people happier – people who keep journals or make lists of what they are thankful for are happier, more optimistic, more energetic, and nicer than those who do not.  In other studies, those who keep their gratitude lists exercise an average of 90 minutes more a week, sleep better and have less pain.  Gratitude actually can retrain our brains – changing neural pathways so that we can better deal with stressful situations, and even helps our hearts be healthier.

As you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner, take some time to truly look at the many blessings of your lives.  And do the same on Friday.

Peace,

Bill

 

Monday Morning Meditation 11-18-19

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Mt. 16:13-20

Wouldn’t it feel great to receive a verbal blessing directly from Jesus?  Doesn’t that sound good as Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!”  Wouldn’t it make your heart swell to hear Jesus say that to you?

We all need positive affirmations in our lives.  They keep us going.  And studies show that on average it takes five positive statements to overcome one negative one.

Perhaps we cannot hear directly from Jesus (although, by now you should know I would argue this point – if we just listen for God, God will speak), we can be Jesus-like to others and bless them.  In this day and age of negativity, of social media that spends more time tearing things down than building them up, we should be more like Jesus.

As you go through this week, start handing out blessings.  Bless everyone you encounter.  Find something positive to say to them.  Ignore the negatives and seek the good.  Become Jesus for others.

Peace,

Bill

Monday Morning Meditation 11/11/19

Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
This passage often leaves people scratching their heads.  After all, why doesn’t Jesus immediately want to help this distressed woman?  But if you read carefully, you begin to see Jesus is engaging in some witty repartee with her.  He says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” but she doesn’t take this for the final answer.  She engages with Jesus.  She continues to try her best to enlist the help of the One who can help.  And her faith is rewarded. This woman is a Canaanite (IE:  not a Jew) yet ultimately Jesus helps her – because she has faith that He will.

How often do we give up after one prayer, one time of asking, one instance of “help me, Lord?”

Do you ever find yourself praying as a routine rather than a belief that God will respond?  Is your prayer life ever dry and repetitive, but without belief?  It happens to many of us – we get so stuck in a routine that we forget to stop and consider what prayer really is at heart – a conversation with God (and as any good conversation goes, we need to listen to the other party at least as much as we speak).  And we must be faithful and persistent, knowing that God will, in some way, answer our prayer.

Peace,

Bill

Monday Morning Meditation 11/4/19

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Mt 5:4

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Ex 13:21

in-memory-candle

You might be wondering what these two passages have to do with each other.  And honestly, they are not related.  Except for one thing.  They are both reminder of God’s presence.

Yesterday (11/3/19) was All Saints Sunday, a day on the liturgical calendar set aside to remember those who have gone before us.  There is a long history of Christians remembering the dead, and that history extends into Judaism as well.

Jews practice something called “Yahzreit”, which includes lighting a candle on the anniversary of a person’s death, or at significant times in the Jewish calendar.  It is a way of honoring those who have gone before.

Notice the candle – the flame – the light.  Now I turn to the passage from Exodus.  God’s presence was known in the pillar of fire.  As long as those wandering in the desert saw that pillar of fire, they were reminded of God’s presence.

And as Christians, we believe that the dead in Christ are not truly dead, rather they are in God’s presence, so lighting a candle of remembrance is a way of reminding us that God is present with us, and our loved ones are present with God, therefore we are blessed – even when we mourn.

Yesterday we lit candles in memory of our departed loved ones.  Yesterday we had a prayer of thanksgiving for their lives, and we gave God all praise and honor and glory.

And the flames reminded us that God always goes with us.

Peace,

Pastor Bill

Monday Morning Meditation 10/28/19

Ghosts and Ghouls, Saints and Souls

It is the end of October and Halloween is around the corner.  Halloween brings a lot of discussion within the greater church. Some believe it to be nothing more than a fun day for kids (and adults) to dress up and trick or treat while others think it is a portal to Hell itself.

Personally, I’m more concerned with the real evils present in the world than plastic skeletons and children with sheets on their heads saying “boo.”  After all, Paul does say “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12)” and we see far too much evil on a daily basis.

Halloween actually has its roots in early Christianity.  The word actually means “All Hallows Eve” as it is the day before All Saints Day.  The early church honored those who have died, especially a martyr’s death by remembering their “death” day as the day they entered into the Heavenly Kingdom.  But when persecutions began under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the church selected one day to honor these saints.

But who are the saints?  All who believe in Christ Jesus.  Colossians 1:11-13 says; “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”  All throughout scripture the saints are those who believe in God.

But then scripture also says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) and continually mentions those great saints who have gone before.  It is good and right to honor those (not worship them, but honor them) for they are not truly gone but in the presence of Almighty God.

On Friday (or Sunday when we will observe All Saints Day at the church), take a moment to think about a departed loved one and give God thanks and praise for their life.

Peace,

Bill

Monday Morning Meditation 10/21/19

Healing prayer.  It’s been a part of my call for a long time, even before I graduated seminary.  I believe that God still heals today.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t bother with the “Prayers of the People” in the worship service.  Why lift up the concerns of the people if God doesn’t heal anymore?

But God does and we pray.

“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”  Jeremiah 17:14

Yet healing services are sometimes met with suspicion, and I get this.  Just watch the T.V. healers, or read the stories of how they have been debunked and it makes sense.  Say “healing service” and the popular opinion is charlatans and fakes fleecing the flock.

But scripture calls us to pray for the sick.

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15james

On Sunday October 20th, we held a Service of Healing and Wholeness.  It’s not the first time I’ve tried to do this, but it was certainly the most attended and accepted.  The time was right.  On a wet, cold, rainy October Sunday afternoon we gathered in the sanctuary to worship God, to share Christ’s supper, to sing, pray and anoint.

“Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you…” Exodus 23:25

The congregation was more than receptive.  They sang, they prayed, they sat in silence, they accepted the anointing with oil and they came forward for prayer with honest faith.  It was one of the most powerful services I’ve been involved in.  And the Spirit was certainly present.

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5

Jesus was present.  His comfort was present.  His love was present.  And Jesus took all we put at the foot of the cross.

“But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD” Jeremiah 30:17

Our congregation has been hit hard this year with illnesses.  We have a few people with cancer, we have some hurting from grief, we have had too many funerals, hospital stays and crises.  But God is not finished with us.  God has far more to say about healing than we have to say about sickness.

To God be the glory!