Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance. Ps. 33:12
My family attended a traditional July 4th concert. The band played the standard patriotic songs and marches, as well as some great movie themes. We stood to sing the National Anthem together and enjoyed the night. This is America.
In Philadelphia, White Supremacy groups were protesting in front of our nation’s most historic and iconic landmarks. This is America.
During the concert, children of difference colors were playing ball together. Watching these children running around, laughing, helping each other and even shaking hands reminded me of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This is America.
At the end of the concert, we were treated to a spectacular fireworks display. This is America.
Three of these things were absolutely wonderful. One was horrendous. All of them reflect America today. We can be the best of the best, and, unfortunately, we can be far from our ideals.
In worship, during the “Prayers of the People” I gave thanks to God for the founding and independence of our nation. I thanked God for those who have defended our freedom, and asked safety for those currently doing so. And I thanked God for those who point out our sins as a nation.
The Prayer of Examen is a daily spiritual exercise of praying for God to show us where we went astray – not to beat ourselves up, but to ask forgiveness and pray for the strength to become more of what God wants us to be. This is also a good idea of a nation. We do need to examine those areas where we can bring liberty and justice for all – and do so in a kind fashion.
We must never lose sight of our potential to be a “city on the hill”, and we must never lose sight of our capacity to take our blessings for granted.
As you celebrate, take a moment to give thanks for our nation and ask God to truly bless us.
54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. Acts 7:54-60
Throughout June I have been preaching on different visions in the scriptures. We looked at two from the Old Testament (the Call of Isaiah and the Valley of the Dry Bones) as well as two from the New Testament (Peter’s vision on the rooftop and Paul’s conversion). Each of these visions teach us more about God. If you are interested in these sermons, you can click here for a link to our worship services.
Today’s scripture from Acts is a different kind of vision. Stephen, as he is dying, sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He has a death vision, or as I often put it, the veil between this world and the next is opened as Stephen enters into Heaven.
If you have stood by the bedside of someone dying, you may have seen this – they might be looking intently off in the distance, and even having conversations. I have seen this many times, both in my role as Pastor and with family members. While it is primarily a comfort to those about to pass, it is also a sign for us – that God continually walks with us and will guide us to the next life.
Jesus said “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3). This is a promise of comfort to us.
As you journey through this week, know that God is with you.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:23-26
For God all things are possible. This was on a plaque hanging in our living room growing up which was a good reminder that no matter how difficult things were, God was with me, God would guide me through (as long as I allowed God to do this).
With God, all things are possible, even getting through difficult situations.
With God, all things are possible, even healing in our nation.
With God, all things are possible, even reconciliation between hostile people.
With God, all things are possible, even the church recovering from a pandemic.
With God, all things are possible (insert your situation here).
As you travel through this week, lift your burdens to God in prayer, remembering with God, all things are possible.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
It was only a couple of days, yet it was restorative and healing. Our brief time away also revealed how exhausting the past 15 months has been. On Monday, right after lunch, we decided to take a little time to read or watch TV before going back to the beach. Two hours later we awoke.
Everyone needs to take time away from the rigors of life, time to refresh, time to rest and time to refocus. It is hard to continually ride the wave of life without stopping to reflect, and as Jesus said, He will give rest.
The life of a follower of Jesus should not be so busy running around that we lose sight of Him, rather it should be filled with time of rest, time that He can tend to our spirit.
As you travel through this Summer, take time for rest and allow God to refresh you.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” Genesis 1:20
Mourning doves are amazing birds. They mate for life and return to their nesting place year after year. We have had a pair of mourning doves in our yard who have returned many times. As mourning doves can have up to six broods a year, our neighborhood is filled with that melancholic cooing. In fact, lately this spring the cooing starts before my alarm clock.
While we always love to see the doves on our deck, their return this year has been extra special. Things are getting better here (yet we continue to pray for those nations still in grave battle with Covid), and the return of the mourning doves reminds me that God is still in control. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”. Appreciating nature is a great way to examine God’s works.
As you travel through this week, stop for a moment, look around at the beauty of nature and give God thanks.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
These parting words from Jesus, just before His ascension reiterate both the call of all followers of Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit to empower that call. It is a fuller description than what Luke writes in his gospel (You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Matthew’s gospel gives us the Great Commission – to go out into all the world teaching about Jesus, and again promises an eternal presence.
As followers of Christ, we all have the call to bear witness to Jesus in many aspects of our lives. Some preach, some teach, some can simply talk about Jesus. We all have a story to tell, and we are all called to share that story. Fortunately, we need not fear doing this for God will empower us in our ministries, and God will be with us. Always.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:25
Did you bring a blessing to someone yesterday? Is there someone you can bring a blessing to today?
So often we go somewhere to be enriched, or blessed, or entertained, or a combination of these. This includes a worship service. We go to get something. But did you bring something for another? Did you leave a part of yourself for another?
This morning while on my weekly Presbytery Zoom call, I mentioned how I was struggling with the meditation this morning. Another pastor chimed in, saying he also writes a Monday meditation and has been stuck as well. He gave me a word of comfort and promised to pray that the meditation would come.
I was blessed by attending the call. I also blessed another by offering some support and shared some resources.
Who can you bless today? Who can you refresh or nourish tomorrow? Whoever brings blessing will be enriched.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
One morning last week it hit me hard. The morning started as it always does, I got up, checked messages, made breakfast and ate with the family. There was a nagging feeling in my soul – I needed far more than my morning prayer routine (and don’t you just hate the word “routine” when it comes to prayer?). I told my wife I needed more time in prayer that day.
It was one of my days to drive our daughter to school, so I dropped her off and headed to the church office.
As soon as I arrived at the office, I had tons of work to do including finishing up the sermon and liturgy for Sunday, review the mail, finish some administrative work and make follow up calls to a few sick members. The nagging feeling grew and as I was about to head up to the sanctuary, I received another prayer request, one of deep concern for a member.
At this point, I knew everything else could wait, in fact nothing else could be done without the prayer time so I went into the sanctuary, put on some reflective music and began to pray.
On this particular morning, I slowly read the daily scriptures, sat in silence giving God the space to speak to me, allowed the Lord to refresh my soul, and then began to lift up the prayer requests.
“…apart from me you can do nothing.” Those words of Jesus are so true. Most of us have lots to do every day and it is so easy to get caught up in those “to do” lists. Yet prayer time should never be on a list. It should not be one chore of many that needs to be accomplished then checked off. It needs to be viewed the same as breathing – something we must do to live.
Have you thought much about breathing? We usually do not, and we usually breathe in a less than effective way – quickly taking short breaths. But the most beneficial breathing is to breathe deeply and slowly, allowing each breath to be calming. Prayer is the same. We can always do short, quick prayers – and there is a place for them – but truthfully, extended time in prayer is far more important than many of those tasks we do.
As you go about your new week, spend a little more time with God. Breathe deeply and slowly as you read scripture. Say the Lord’s Prayer s-l-o-w-l-y and deliberately. Offer real time to God and see what happens.