Lessons of God’s Community through Lessons in Baseball

Scripture Lesson:  1 John 5: 9-13 

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

On April 29, the Baltimore Orioles played the Chicago White Sox in Baltimore. The odd part? They played with an entirely empty stadium. Due to the unrest in Baltimore and the riots, the MLB decided they did not want to risk any violence during the game. Some of the players added some humor, such as one tossed the ball into the empty stands on a foul ball. Another batter hit a home run, but because there was no one in the stands, the ball hits the bleachers and bounced back onto the field, taking the home run away from the hitter. The Orioles definitely had the home field advantage. The game was a shut-out, with the Orioles winning 8-0. There is something to be said when there are fans cheering you on.

And so it is in the Christian community as the whole Church and as each individual church with its respective members. Unless we have each other to cheer each one of us on in our journeys it becomes a pretty hum-drum existence for us. When you have a congregation of people that have formed a community together you have a group of people who cheer for us when we are at our top, and mourn with us when things are looking down.

Hospitality seems to be a word not used much today. It was used in the world around us when we used to talk about how things used to be. Neighbors knew each other, they were friends, and most neighborhoods had the annual block party, Christmas parties, and so on. Hospitality was offered to anyone: family member, friend, neighbor, enemy, someone from a foreign land. It was offered as a token of invitation to the community and welcome to its ministry.

However, we have forgotten the meaning of the word as a society. There is such an atmosphere of mistrust between one another that we rarely, if ever, meet our neighbors. The Johannine writer of our Scripture today is telling us that without the love of Christ in our lives, and then going out to show that love is what marks a true follower of Jesus. Our intentions, then become the proof of that love that is within us.

CNN News released last Monday an article that states that the millenial generation people are leaving the traditional church structure and worship for the bigger mega-churches, where they can experience something more entertaining than finding and experiencing the awesomeness of our Creator God and the love of Jesus Christ. I read in the Statesman a couple of days that this new generation for the young people of today is the YOLO generation, which means “You Only Live Once”.

Dorothy Day, a Roman Catholic advocate for social justice said, “As for ourselves, yes, we must be meek, bear injustice, malice, rash judgment. We must turn the other cheek, give up our cloak, go a second mile”. These are all things that Jesus said we must do. It is part of the action of the intentions of our hearts in our relationship with the Holy One who lives within us.

Perhaps for us today is the beginning of a realization in our lives that God has chosen us for a new ministry in Jesus’ name. God is always changing things, so should not our ministries also evolve and change the more we encounter the Holy One?

Paul Scott Wilson, a professor at Emmanuel College of the University of Toronto, says, “God preserves a community of proclamation, a community that both proclaims God’s word and flourishes because the word lives within its members.”

Although the author of our Scripture for today is presumed to be John, the same author as the gospel, the message for today is that if we truly believe in God’s intention to put Jesus’ intentions into our lives, then we will show this love of God by doing the same things, in essence showing that we have the love of God in us. It is in this knowledge that we know we have eternal life in God.

In the Scriptures the woman at the well, after hearing Jesus, took action because the word, Jesus, had met her, resulting in a change that caused her to go back to her community and spread the news. It was an act of action because of Jesus.

Mary, when she approached the empty tomb and had no one else with her, was approached by a man she believed to be a gardener. Hoping to find the physical body of Jesus she asked this gardener where someone had taken the body. It was only when Jesus said her name, “Mary” that she again encountered the word of God, causing her to again go into action. It is this life account that goes on and on in our lives as it did for Mary and anyone else who encountered Jesus. There is a change in how we live now as a community of believers in one building.

The disciples, after seeing Jesus rise into the clouds of heaven, did as Jesus told them, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and direct them in the intentional Gospel of action and love.

How many people here today started at this church and never moved to another church? There is not that many of us. We have gone to churches, and maybe have been very active in them only to become disheartened because we end up doing everything ourselves (we think), we do not like the preacher or the ministers, someone offends us, we do not like the doctrine, or we just get plain tired of the same people around us. However, this group of people here today are here because the word of God here has compelled us to some intentional action on the part of that word, and with that word we feel part of the community of this particular church at this particular time.

Our situation as church members or church goers is to show the love of God in our lives with the time that we have on earth. As Abraham Lincoln said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years.” As we leave this community gathering today and move into and through the week, let us love what God has given us by showing our neighbors, enemies, and friends the love of God within us in all that we do.

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Open the Door and Clean

Scripture Reading:  2 Chronicles 29: 3, 18a

In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them.

Then they went inside to King Hezekiah and said, “We have cleansed all of the house of the LORD.”

It is spring cleaning time.  We are anxious for the cold to be over, the trees and bushes are budding, next Wednesday potatoes will be planted (St. Patrick’s Day by custom), and the grass is green, looking for a good raking and a first mow before fertilizer is spread.  We clean up the interior of the house, throwing away all of the stuff we have accumulated that we realize we no longer neither need nor use.  We go and buy some new clothes to welcome Spring and Summer.  We want to get rid of all of the old growth, our old stuff, and bring in new look in anticipation of the new growth that will be coming.

It is also Lent, which means “Spring”.  It is a time where we reflect on our lives with Christ and determine what needs to go away and what we would like to see God do in our lives.  Maybe we have seen the dreams of the winter go unseen.  It is time, then, to ask God for a new dream.

The reading for today is really the first 11 verses of 2 Chronicles 29 and then verses 16-19.  The points I want to make today concern verse 3 and verse 18a, from which I have come to this lesson.

First, the doors were opened and then repaired in the Temple of the LORD.  The Temple had gone unused for years.  Hezekiah, being young and ambitious, sent instructions to go take a look and see what needs to be done to clean up the mess that had accumulated all of those years of unused and neglect.  In order for any of us to be able to do any cleaning in our temple that is ourselves, we must open that door, make an inspection, compose a list of to-dos, what to throw away, what to save, and then repair the door so that both God and Jesus can come into our lives to live, move, and have being in us.

I was once kind of young and ambitious.  I was on a pathway to ordination, feeling called of God to be a pastor.  I did a summer gig in a small mountain town, and asked our pastor the next year if there were any other summer places I could fill in for a while.  As circumstances would have it, a church about fifty miles from where I live needed someone to preach on Sundays.  I accepted the request from the congregation and went every week for three weeks.  At the end of the three weeks, the congregation asked if I would be their permanent pastor.  Most of the people I talked with when thinking this over said it would be a waste of time, but I felt that this was the first step I should be making.

After a few weeks, I had my license from our conference and thought to myself, “Now, let’s see how we can get more people in the door.”  Well, as I found out, that was the problem – the door.  It had been locked for whom knows how long.  I asked why they locked the front door all of the time, especially Sunday mornings.  I was told it was the way it had been forever, and everyone knew to come in the back door to the fellowship hall for coffee before church.  What if someone saw the sign, came to the front door, found it was locked, and walked away?  The door was unlocked.

The next Sunday four new people came in for service.  They said they had tried once before, but the door was locked.  Since the congregation was small, there were not a lot of cars parked at the curb to indicate anyone was actually in the church.  I would show up about an hour early for church, open the door and the windows, crank up the organ and play as loudly and as best I could to let people know that there was definitely church going on inside.

In our personal lives with Christ, we must make a decision to open the door of our heart, repair and oil our “creakiness”, and then go to work doing some cleaning.  This time of year, Lent, gives us the opportunity to do that spring cleaning in our lives and get rid of all of the distractions that keep our heart and mind from faithfully, joyously, and continuously serving God.

At the end, we can state what the servants and workers stated to King Hezekiah.  The temple has been cleansed and is now ready for God to inhabit.  As we are about half way through the Lenten journey, let us focus ourselves in fixing those things in our lives that constitute the temple God has given us.  Let us clean, sweep, wash, wipe, and maybe even cry for that true presence of God to return or burn hotter in our lives.  Pray that we may have the presence in a truer, real sense than we have ever felt God before.  Amen.

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Are You Words, or Action?

Scripture Reading:  Numbers 22:12

“…you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”

In the Boise, ID area in 1984 an old, but still in use building burned and was eventually destroyed.  The area was cleaned up and a parking lot put in its place while the city downtown association decided what they would do with the property.  Meanwhile, someone rescued some of the gargoyles from the top of the building, part of the main stone archway over the door, and a couple of the arch side doorways.  One is still for sale in a rock yard some thirty years later.

A company came to the designers with a building that would fill the space where this old magnificent building had been.  The city approved, and construction began.  The basement was dug, foundations poured, and the hole was readied.  But something happened.  The work stopped.  There was no explanation to anyone as to what happened.  For years the “hole” was there, representing the empty words of a company that could not pull through on its promise to build.

Finally, a few years ago, a company came in with a plan to build a large bank building on the site.  Construction began.  Construction continued.  The building was built and now stands as the new Zions Bank in the skyline of Boise.  This was the result of someone who put actions to their words and followed through.

Balaam in Numbers 22 was like the first contractor.  He wanted to do what looked good to the people.  He knew that the children of Israel were blessed, but King Balak wanted Balaam to curse the people.  Balaam, seeing a quick opportunity to get some extra cash for just a little curse on the people did not seem an out of hand thing to do.  However, he still went to God and asked for permission to curse the people.  God replied, “you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”

Balaam went back to the king and told him that the people would have to go back to their own towns and places of residence because the Lord refused to let Balaam curse the people.  It appears that Balaam was following the direction of God, but in reality Balaam wanted the money and wanted to curse the people to see what God would do.  If you continue to read the story, you find out how Balaam finds out what God really wanted through an animal.

How many times in our so-called Christian lives have we known what God wants us to do, but tell ourselves that God really does not want us to do that?  We have started to build, and then leave the building with just a hold in the ground.  We fall short, just as Peter fell short in denying that he knew Jesus, was with Jesus, and was a part of Jesus’ ministry (the three denials that Jesus predicted).

We would like to be a part of the world without actually having to acknowledge that we know Jesus Christ.   We dress and act like we are not a part of the ministry.  We deny that we ever were with Jesus, seeing the wonderful building powers of a God in action in our lives.  We wish to be normal parts of society and the neighborhoods in which we live.

How would our lives change if we did the opposite of just using words and started using some action, as God intended our lives to be?  It is God’s intention that we use action to back up the Christianity we so conveniently carry hidden in our spiritual wallets.  We forget what we can do if we take the wallet out of our pockets, open it up, and start using what is in it?

God intends that we bless the people of God every day of our lives.  God intends that we continue to build a beautiful building in the spot where God has placed us – a place where the actions that we do reveal the type of people that we are.  Are we excited about the resurrection life that Jesus has given us?

In Mark 14, we read about Peter’s denial of Christ.  The location of this denial occurred outside of the high priest’s house, which is probably the same location mentioned in the other gospels.  However, Jesus was in an upper court; Peter was in the lower court, allowed in by the guards probably because of his language revealing him as part of the Jesus crowd.  After the third denial, though, Jesus looked down from the upper court to the lower court directly to the face of Peter.  Peter realized he had sinned by lying to himself, lying to Jesus, and then doing what he said he would never do, even to the death.

At that moment, though, the hole that Peter had started to dig finally began to become filled with a ministry that would center in the Jerusalem area for the rest of his life.

We need that building influence in our lives so that the life that we do live is the one that God has intended for us to live.  What is God’s call on your life?  What actions does God have for you to do instead of just words and empty holes?  Surely, there is a building that God wants you to erect for the blessing of the people of God, where there is no cursing of the people in that building, but continual construction of all of the good things that God has placed into our hands, said into our ears, taken us on foot, and shown us with our eyes.

Today, let a new building start to occur in our lives, that we live, and move, and have our being only through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

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Our Presentation: Do Other See Jesus in Us?

On March 23, 1987, the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” introduced a new term – the transmogrifier. It was a cardboard box turned upside down with a cardboard dial on the side that pointed to originally an eel, baboon, elephant, and dinosaur. As the comic developed, Calvin added space on the box to write in anything else.

The purpose of the box was to turn the dial to what you wanted to be, get into the box, and when you came out, you would have been “transmogrified”, or transformed into that object.

Other inventions, including another type of transmogrifier device were added later in the cartoons, but I want to stop with the simplest and the first device. I looked up the word “transmogrify” in the dictionary, and it is a real word. It means “to transform”, which was the purpose of Calvin’s box. You entered as yourself and came out as another creature.

Perhaps by now you are beginning to see where this is going, so let us go back to the time when Jesus is being presented in the Temple. In Leviticus the baby and the mother had to be presented to the Temple at the 40-day mark after birth. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all had roles that had to be done that day. The family would approach the Temple and enter at the southern gate, where there were a lot of pools for immersion. Mary would have to go through all of the pools herself for the ritual cleansing required by the Law. Joseph would part from her and pay the redemption price for Jesus’ birth, which was two turtledoves. Once mother and father were rejoined, the child would have been redeemed and becomes an official part of the family. Since Jesus was a firstborn son, he was to be officially dedicated to God, as also was the Law. These two actions show that both Joseph and Mary obeyed the Mosaic Law quite rigidly.

At the time of the presentation of the child Jesus, Simeon and Anna come into the story, recognizing who Jesus was. Simeon was an old priest, so the duties for older priests who could not offer the sacrifices of the larger animals were to collect the redemption monies for the child or perform the sacrifices of redemption with the smaller animals, like the birds required. He had seen a lot of children in his lifetime come through the temple that did not reach his senses of the Divine presence in his midst. When Jesus came along, that promise was fulfilled, and he knew that he would die knowing that he had met the savior of the world.

Anna, who has been spending her years in the outer courts of the Temple praying and waiting, recognizes who Jesus is and offers her blessings and prayers to the child. Because she was female, she could enter the Temple proper, so her time was spent outside waiting, just as Simeon had been waiting. Her proclamation was to all who would listen that this child was the redeemer of the people of Jerusalem.

The first question we should ask ourselves is this: “Do we recognized Jesus when we look at someone?” Do we have the eyes to see the transformation someone else has had with God and Jesus, feel the Spirit move within us, and offer prayers and thanks to God for who we have met?

The transmogrifier is a means of transformation. To put it in a spiritual perspective, God has given us a plain cardboard box with a cut-out dial. God, too, has given us a blank slate to write whatever we want to be in God on the box. It is up to us to get into the box, wait for God to work on us, and then exit the box as a transformed individual – completely different than who we were when we first entered.

I am a big proponent of camp for kids, and I believe it is becoming a lost means of transformation. Today, camp is replaced by simply being home with all of the electronics someone needs to keep their minds occupied with everything else except simple imagination, thought, and action.

Camp changes that, in that as a young person, the electronics, gadgets, TV, music, and everything else that takes up time in one’s life is replaced with solitude, quiet, meditation, study, and imagination. It is a place and a time for reflection on who one is and what they feel God calling them to be. It is a time, especially for young people, to discover that there is a God who truly loves them, and a Christ who has anointed them to use their particular gifts, talents, and abilities. This is a time when young people, and sometimes older people in special camps, need to be transmogrified by the same spirit. When I would come home from camp, I was a changed individual. I kept my meditations on God, my thoughts on what God wanted me to do, and how I could make a difference. I even felt more spiritually attuned to the Spirit of God. However, after time would pass by I would need a refresher each summer.

All of us need those quiet times. But now is the time for the quiet to come to an end. Jesus is born, Jesus is here! It is official. He has been presented in the Temple. Mother and father unite with the Christ child to train the child to love God, obey God, and let God use him for the purpose for which God sent him to earth.

It is the season of proclaiming our transformation in God. It is time for us to come out of our box of transmogrification, using the gifts, talents, and abilities that God has given to us. We must present ourselves a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God. And this is just our reasonable and dutiful service to God.

This is Christmas. It is not the presentation of gifts, the joy of being with family and friends, or a sense of duty or obligation to give. It is the celebration of the birth and presentation of Jesus Christ into our lives. It is the time of transformation. John Paul Scott, a professor at Emmanuel College of the University of Toronto says, “The incarnate God (Jesus) organizes a movement that changes reality by creating an alternative way of life to that of the empire.” This is why Jesus was crucified. He was a threat to the existence of the Roman Empire because there was a change occurring in people’s lives, just as today we change.

We can be as Simeon, who abides in the Temple waiting for the moment of Christ’s arrival. Or, Jesus can be presented to those outside the temple, as Anna was. Those who are the outcast in society, unable to accomplish something suddenly can see Jesus and know that Jesus is here for all peoples, not just the church people.

Let us let the presence of Jesus Christ come into our lives during this Christmas season, as it still lives on. Let us welcome Jesus into our lives and the lives of those around us. We have prepared during the season of Advent, and now we must see who God has given to us to follow.

Let us get into the box that God has given us and be transformed to a people who anxiously await what God will be doing in our lives from this day forward.

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Naked Foundation

Scripture Reading:  Zephaniah 3: 13

You go out ot save your people.  For the salvation of your anointed you smashed the head of the house of wickedness, laying bare the foundation up to the neck.  Selah (Common English Version)

It is only three days to Christmas.  In my family, Christmas is the time when all of the family comes together.  We would meet early in the morning.  As kids, there was nothing that could contain our excitement enough to warrant our sleeping in anything past five in the morning.  That tradition still continues with my own family.  Breakfast either precedes or follows present opening, which seems like it would take forever but never does.

Particularly this season I am filled with a greater hope, spirit of decorating-ness, and a desire to give like I have never given before.  Maybe it is the fact that being sick has brought to me the realization that one more day is one more that God has given to me to live.  Therefore, I should enjoy those next moments as gifts from God to give back to those I love and minister to on a daily basis.

A project I recently have taken on is taking pictures of historical spots in the town I live.  I am doing this by neighborhoods.  I bought a map of the city from 1908.  This historical society made a mistake and printed a 1909 map and ended up giving that to me as a bonus (no charge).  I am going in section a quarter mile by a quarter mile, taking pictures of those sections as they are today, then captioning the picture with what used to be there.

The other day I was at an old town site.  The town had to be moved up the hill from the river due to spring flooding damaging the town every year.  The location of this site is now a wildlife preserve.  As I was walking through taking pictures, I found brick foundations of houses and buildings that were once there now becoming exposed.  As there has been no flooding in this area for years, the foundations of homes that had been moved remained, now to be exposed for the piles of bricks and stones that they are.

In Zephaniah, God is telling the children of Israel after their exile to get their act together and remember who God was, is, and will always be, make God a part of their lives again, and become restored.  If not, then God would destroy the buildings, laying the foundations bare to the point where someone might be able to figure out what the building was.  Then, God would rebuild a new home and building that would stand up to the love of God.

At the end of the verse there is a rest, the word Selah.  Scholars differ on the exact meaning of the word, but it basically is a spot in the journey to rest and think about what was just read or told before the journey continues.  Advent is a time where we read a lot of Scripture from the Lectionary that seems doom and gloomy.  They are almost Lenten scriptures.  The purpose, though, is the same.  It is a time of preparation once again this year to expect the “God with us” to come.  It is a time of expectations of what we will find on our journey.  It is a time of expectations and surprise to see what Jesus has in store for each of us.

Christmas is a time of gift-giving.  God has given us each gifts, talents, and abilities that we can enjoy and use in our journey.  Just as I like historical books of places I live so that I can trace the history of my town with my own pictures, and then retell that story to people who look at the pictures, Jesus has given us the gift of the story of his life and love so that we might live without sin in this world.  We need not worry about bad things happening, though they very well may happen.  Our concern, though, is how happy we are to be alive, to give the gift of God in our lives, to continue our journey and adventure God has mapped out for us.  It is a time of discovery, so that we may see old foundations and build something new from them.  It is a time when God will expose the old buildings in our live, that we may rebuild them and reconstruct them as a gift worthy of giving back to God.

My prayer to all of you is for a very merry Christmas, knowing that Jesus is born into our lives again this year with hopes of great things happening.

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How Level are You?

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 26: 7-9a

The way of the righteous is level;
you clear a path for the righteous.
In the path of your justice, LORD,
we wait for you;
with all our being,
we long for your name and your acclaim.
At night I long for you with my whole being;
my spirit within me watches for you.   (Common English Version)

Have you tried to fill an entire wall with pictures of different frame types, sizes, differing picture sizes in different frames, matted and non-matted?  I have.  We tried selling our house about this same time last year.  When the price of our new house kept going up and the real estate agent wanting us to drop our price, we decided the house was fine.  We just needed some upgrading, new paint, new furniture, and maybe even a new kitchen.

I had personally emptied the whole house of all of the “personal” things the agent said were not needed.  I had everything boxed up and in the garage, ready to be moved.  We were essentially packed up to go except for the furniture and the dishes in the kitchen.  When we decided to keep the house, I painted the inside by myself by hand as some sick form of cardio rehab.  I then proceeded to paint the outside of the house and start moving the stuff in the garage back into the house.  I made an executive decision to completely redesign how my office would be.

I am not sure now if there is any place for any new pictures, as all of the available real estate on the walls either has shelves on them or pictures.  When handling the picture-hanging task, I needed one row at the top of all of the walls to be the same level and distance apart.  That would be the row of the fire engine pictures of each engine company in Boise, some seventeen pictures.  My big level was too clumsy to try do each individual picture, so I downloaded a level on the phone.  It gives me the degree differences from zero in any direction and has a graphic looking like the bubble level I had in my other hand.  After hanging a couple of pictures, the big metal level would be used to ensure the whole row was level.

After getting all of the pictures hung, I made sure they were as close to zero degrees as possible.  The wall now has fire engines, wedding pictures, my seminary diploma, a cross, framed Lincoln and Ford posters, and other memorabilia that signifies to anyone that this room belongs to me.  Add to this mini-museum the shelves of books, diecast fire engines and diecast Lincolns I have, and WOW!, there’s a lot of stuff that still shows this room is me and me alone.

Isaiah is telling the children of Israel in a song how trusting in God forever has its rewards.  The passage I have quoted from today tells the audience that the journey we take with God is level.  In my instance of crossing the river, it would be where God has a level crossing for us to take, where the water has calmed and formed some deep pools, and the rocks we are crossing on are clearly visible and flat (level).

Isaiah takes it a little further than just giving us a level playing field.  It involves a trade-off between us and God.  It involves a covenant, which by terms means that we promise God something in exchange for God promising us this level pathway.  The exchange is simple:  love your journey.  Do not disregard the bumps, falls, spills, mistakes in judgment, and all of the other things that show that we are human.  However, make them a part of the journey that you are on so that you can wait for God’s justice in your life and in the lives of others you touch and reach out to.

When the day is over and night comes, business is ended for the day.  The phone stops ringing, e-mails stop flowing, and things quiet down.  In the slowing process we can wait for and long for God, watching for something special to occur to keep our journey level.

During this time of Advent, we spend a lot of time waiting and watching for God’s action in our lives to bring forth a new knowledge, a new depth and height of relationship with God and our fellow neighbors, a new star in the sky, a new song in our hearts.  It is the time when the dear Savior nears (hmmm, could sing a song with those words). It is the time when Jesus is revealed in our lives and in our journeys.  Where there is darkness, Jesus levels the field so that we see light.  God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a lamp on our path.  Our longing and waiting is to see what the next adventure in the Church year will give to us.

For some reason, this year I am excited about Christmas.  I have always loved giving more than getting anything, but this year we, as a family, are also seeing the people in our city who are struggling.  We give to charities that will help them.  Perhaps being so sick and unable to accomplish everything that I want, God has shed some light and hope in my journey to see others less fortunate even than I am.  But God has also given me the ability to do something with an expectancy that perhaps someone else may see God’s light, God’s hope, and God’s Son, Jesus.

The Church year starts with Advent – the season of hope, peace, joy, and love.  A season we have to use our spiritual “levels” to make sure the wall of our heart shows who we really are as Christians.

May your Christmas (forget the politically correct, as this is a Christian blog) season be one of renewed vision in your journey.  May God open your eyes as well as you heart to be bigger, greater, and more proud to be serving Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.  Amen.

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What Follows You?

Scripture Reading:  Revelation 14: 6, 14b

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.

…. “for their deeds follow them!” (NIV)

Today is Thanksgiving Day.  I have a lot to be thankful for other than the fact I have made it to another Thanksgiving.  I have a wonderful wife, daughter and her family, friends I have coffee with, my church, and the faith I have in Jesus Christ.  There are a lot more things of which I am thankful, but those are the main things.  It is the things that create community for me that make me feel the strongest in my life.

I have grown up in churches of every different type and am now settled in a denomination that is progressive in its view of Christianity.  I am a minister of those same views.  The gospel that I preach is the same gospel that Jesus Christ preached.  The goal of all of Christianity should be an intentional spreading of the gospel to fulfill the vision that John saw of the angel spreading and eternal gospel.  That message reaches everyone, though, not just the people in the churches.

Politics aside, Idaho has passed a measure allowing gays to be legally married.  I believe that God loves everyone, including the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, black, white, Latino, Basque, and any other peoples.  These people are the same people for whom the gospel is intended.  This is just one means of justice being accomplished through someone’s deeds who felt it time that marriage include all people.

As I am writing this, my wife is cooking the turkey, getting the dressing made (she does her own dressing), getting the vegetables and potatoes cooked, and getting the table ready for dinner.  However, we acknowledge that there are those to whom there is no table, but a cold sidewalk under a bridge.  There are those who have lost their homes and wander the streets looking for a place.  The lines are long at the shelters today that are offering their time and deeds of love to providing meals, sometimes the only meal this week, to those in need.  We have given to the local food bank, the Interfaith Sanctuary, the Women’s and Children’s Alliance, and other charities in our area as our deeds of helping to provide someone a good holiday experience.

And that is the essence of this eternal gospel we preach.  It is a gospel of knowing that Jesus would be doing the same thing.  And, the works that we do and the gospel that we preach contain deeds that will follow us.

Some people will never know what deeds they have done until after they are dead and someone mentions the deeds in the funeral (see verse 13 and 14a).  But that person may not have known their deeds.  I believe that the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ, our faith in Jesus, our help from the Holy Spirit, and a God who will provide our needs compels us to be “deedful”.  The holiday season coming up after Thanksgiving seems to be commercialized to a high level this year.  However, if we are “deedful” and give with our hearts and love, then the true holiday spirit comes out.  And, if there is an occasion to do a good deed to someone who has nothing or little, then let us make the gospel which lives within us the one that does deeds to everyone.

May God bless you with the spirit of generosity to everyone this year.

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Firmness in God

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 24:  13

But he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

This passage of Scripture is where Jesus tells the disciples what the end of times would look like.  Since the writer of Matthew is recalling events that occurred in the past while that person was following Jesus, the writer may have felt that those times were already started.  Mark writes the same (almost identical) passage in Mark 13.  For scholars, this means that the writer of Matthew used Mark’s passage in the same place prior to the crucifixion of Jesus.

The placement of this passage also may indicate, at least to me, that the disciples and the writers of the gospels may have been feeling that the end was near for them, as Jesus had already told them three different times that he was going to be betrayed and crucified in Jerusalem.  For the disciples, knowledge that a Jew was going to be crucified meant that Jesus was going to become a curse, and for them, that might mean all of the things Jesus had prophesied.

The point, though, is Jesus told them that the person who stands firm to the end will be saved.  That is a reassurance that for those of us who hold firm to our faith, not just beliefs, but the faith that moves us to worship God will be saved.  We will not be moved, as the psalmist said, as our anchor and position is guarded by what Jesus has said and the actions that we perform in the name of Jesus.

I live in Boise, ID.  Last year was the 150th birthday of the city.  The celebration continues even through this year with many books coming out of the different formations of neighborhoods that eventually became part of the Boise proper.  I am going around taking pictures of the buildings that are still standing and pictures of places where buildings used to be.  That is one reason I like Boise so well is the fact that there are still so many historical places still standing – firm as the day they were built – for us to enjoy.  Though the purpose of the building may have changed to something else, like the old Central Fire Station is now a fondue restaurant, the structure remains the same.  You can still tell that at one time this was a fire station.  I read of Cottonwood Creek running in front of the station.  Now, it is covered to prevent flooding in the downtown area.  But, I visualize a muddy road with a creek raging down the street.

God, in the great love that is given to us through Jesus Christ, has established a firm foundation.  As the disciples marveled at the temple and all of the buildings associated with it, Jesus said that he was the cornerstone.  Though the temple was completely destroyed in 70 CE people today still go to the one part of the wall that remains to place their prayer requests.

If we, as the people of God, or Christians, can stand firm in the building in which God has placed us, a place of awe and beauty showing the Creation of God and the beauty of Jesus Christ alive in our hearts.  We will intentionally serve God with actions proving that we are standing.  The town I was raised in did not restore the old historic buildings that make up the downtown core.  Instead, they would tear the buildings down and replace them with new modern buildings.  Today, there is no history when you walk down the sidewalks.  There are no books about the history of the town, because the city wants to move beyond the memories of the good and proceed to something new.

Our lives in Christ are based on a firm, solid foundation.  This foundation is the rock on which we cement our lives and fasten to.  By standing firm in the things that Jesus has told us, we become part of the great building that Christ is building.  It is a community of people who hold the same intentional beliefs and have a faith that is resolute in its standing.  I was reading today where many people in the Arab states build their houses to resemble small mosques, because they want to continue the feeling of community in their homes that they have when they attend mosque.

Today is Sunday.  I will go to church, but my intention is that church continues on for the rest of the week.  Sunday is my day for recharging at church, meeting friends I only see on this day, having coffee and fellowship with the congregation, meeting the pastor, hearing a sermon in which I purposely listen for God to tell me what I should expect for the next week.

How about you?  Do you need a recharging in your life with Jesus Christ to remind you that you are firmly set, saved, and part of the greater community of Christians throughout the world?  What are your intentions for the next week?  I hope they are not just to get by, but to do something awesome to show what an awesome God we serve, and, that we are part of the greater intentions that God has for us.

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Religion and Politics

Scripture Reading:  Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I do not believe in mixing religion (or more, one’s faith in God) with the political.  We are one week from the mid-term elections, and we see political ads attacking one another with a vengeance.  I have not seen, though, anyone promoting hospitality, generosity, soft words, meditation, prayer, or anything else that would promote a real neighborhood-like community.  That must have disappeared somewhere in the 1960s or 1970s.  I think too many people, including the Church, have been side-tracked to look at the political realm and what one can gain for themselves than seeking that which is for the betterment of all around them.

Jeremiah is prophesying to the children of Israel, who are at this time of writing captives of the Persian empire.  Cyrus, king of Persia, though, has given the children of Israel the freedom to worship God, live peaceably among the Persian peoples, and create their own communities.  However, they did not do that, but complained that the political system was keeping them from worshipping God.  Jeremiah has come and sees, instead of a hopeless system, a day of hope and a good future.  And, that is what he is preaching to the people of that day.

Today, we still have that same promise from God, though.  God has plans for each of us individually and collectively so that we may prosper in the middle of the stormy climate around us, giving us hope and a future.

For those who are following this blog, you may know that I am terminally ill.  In the state in which I live, I have the option to stop treatment and let the illness fulfill its course to let me die.  I have peace that one day that decision will be made, and I have peace with God if I make that decision.  As depressed as I may get I still see some future and some hope in living another day.  Perhaps, as long as I am alive, there is still God’s work to perform.

I was told by a politically-motivated person the other day, that if I make that decision it is still suicide with a result of going to hell.  I replied that someone sitting in the armchair position with no experience or compassion for humanity cannot make a judgment about someone else’s experiences.  I have been a Christian since I was six.  When I prayed and asked Jesus Christ into my heart (that’s the best way I can describe it), I felt a change.  I always felt that God has called me for a special purpose.  God gave to me a future and a hope, regardless of the condition I am in or the people surrounding me.

It is with that purpose, hope, and any future I have left that I continue to serve God.  God, to me, is a living force – the one that drives me to continue day by day.  I ask God each morning to point me to the dream that God has for me, so that on the day I leave this earth I will know that I have faithfully executed all that God has given me to do with the gifts, talents, and abilities that I found in Jesus Christ.  I feel like Paul, as he knew his death was coming, in making sure that I fulfill the promise I made to God in the little Sunday School room when I was six.

I disregard what other people are thinking, saying, or judging of me.  I hope that those who are reading or following this blog will also think the same of yourselves.  Instead, think of the hope and future that God, not the political systems around us, has provided for us, act on that, and put our faith in something that has a real substance and not just words.  Words and judgment are easy to dish out.  That is the human nature.  Action and love toward each other are harder.  They require our attention on God.  Will we be the people that God has given a future and hope to and act on that promise?  I pray that it be so.

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Deep Conviction

Scripture Reading:  1 Thessalonians 1:  4-5

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.  You know how we lived among you for your sake. (NIV)

One of the fun things that I do on Sunday is to try to outguess what the pastor is going to preach about that morning.  I have never succeeded.  The reason is that I do not know the congregation as well as the pastor does.  While I am a licensed minister on staff at the church, I am not involved in the day-to-day activities.  My powers of observation are limited to how people behave, act, their needs, desires, and so on.  All that I know about them is what I have personally seen, heard, and know from interactions with them.

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica twice.  Thessalonica was a seaport town, one of the biggest in the period of time that Paul was writing (about 60-80 CE).  As most seaport towns it was rough, rowdy, dirty, and full of markets by the ships selling their daily goods.  There was a church established there that Paul wrote to twice.  Paul starts out in his greeting by explaining to the church there that the gospel of Christ was not an advertisement for the goods to be sold, nor was it a book to read, nor a story just to be told.

Instead, the word of God, or the gospel, contained power because the Holy Spirit gave it the power, but that power resulted in a deep conviction.  Literalists would like to state that the conviction is the convicting power (as for a criminal) to punishment if the believers did not believe as Paul did, or have a fear of punishment, as a lot of people do today.  Fear to serve God is no service at all to Christ or to Christianity.  God, instead, wants people to serve God because of the love, the deep conviction in what Christianity entails.

More than going to church every Sunday, Christianity is summed up in the end of the verse:  “You know how we lived among you…”  It is the life of our lives exemplified daily in how we walk, talk, and speak the good news to our families first, then our neighbors, our church communities, and the local areas in which we live.

The other day new neighbors moved into the house next door to us.  I was out in the yard putting away the garbage cans and saw the neighbor putting her garbage can away, too.  As I always do when we get new neighbors, I introduced myself.  I found that she and her husband were Christians, her husband being a pastor at another local church in the city.  However, we were able to talk about our lives in Christ, prayed for a few moments, and were glad that we had some good neighbors.

I cannot guess what anyone who studies the Scripture is thinking about or how that Scripture applies to their own individual life, just as I cannot guess what the pastor is going to preach on Sunday.  However, I can see by their life of action in Christ, their word, the power of the Holy Spirit residing in them, and the deep conviction with which they live their lives.  And that, I believe, is what Christianity is all about.

The Mercury 7 astronauts had a public event for the press before the first launch of the Mercury capsule.  One of the astronauts said that it was with deep conviction that they believed in this program as a benefit for the entire United States.  I believed our deep conviction of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives is the witness we need to show those without Christ in their life how a Christian is supposed to live.

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