God's Voice

1st Sunday after Christmas
Scripture: St. Luke 2:41-52

Christmas, the season of gift giving, is over.

Now, gifts receive various treatments.
Some are cherished.
Others are exchanged.
Some are tucked away and forgotten, only to be redeemed at another time.

Mary and Joseph received the gift of God’s Son Jesus. His birthday was with not a lot of fanfare. A new star was seen in the heavens and shepherds saw and heard angels speaking directly to them.

Some time later (upwards of 2 years), the 3 wise men found Jesus and His parents in Nazareth.

When Jesus reached 12 years of age, He was considered a man as is the Jewish tradition. He and His parents go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

In returning home, they travel a day’s distance before they discover Jesus is not with the group.

Three days later they find Him in the temple. Mary says, “Son, why did You worry us, causing us to look for You for three days?”

Jesus responded, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

As Jesus grew, God His heavenly Father filled Him with wisdom and great love.

When His parents found Him in the temple, the priest and elders marveled at His wisdom.

At this time, Mary and Joseph still aren’t ready for the boy Jesus to begin acting in these unpredictable, Spirit-led ways.

Now this is not the first time a young boy was called to serve the Lord.

Recall how Hannah prayed to the Lord that if she had a son she would dedicate her son Samuel to God’s service. When he was quite young, she took him to the high priest Eli and left him there.

Some time later Samuel was wakened up in the middle of the night, hearing a voice.

He thought it was Eli and went to check on him. Eli told him it was not him and told him to go back to bed.

That happened twice more before Eli told him that voice is the voice of God calling him.

Eli said, “If it happens again, say, ‘Here I am, Lord. What do you want?’ and obey His wishes.”

I too have heard the voice of God calling me. That’s why I stand before you as your pastor today.

God still speaks to all people: young, middle-age, and senior citizens. Often we do not hear Him, and thus we do not respond to Him.

Not too long ago, I was asked by Chloe if I would baptize her. I said I would check with her family. After checking, I was told that was her wish and not the family’s. Chloe is 9 years old.

I don’t know what caused her to want to be baptized, yet I believe the Spirit of God was involved in her decision. If this is a beginning of an invitation for a Spirit-filled life and service unto the Lord, praise God that He still calls little ones for special service in His name!

I would like you to do something for me. Sit quietly in your comfortable chair without the TV or radio on. Sit in the stillness of that hour. Focus on the Lord and His actions within your life.

It may surprise you that the still, soft voice of God is searching and inviting you for a special ministry.

For as long as there is air coming in our bodies, as long as we are breathing, there is an opportunity for the Spirit of God to call you and use you for His great ministry. As we start this new year, may we focus more of our time and energies on the love of the Lord that is open to each and every one of us.

Let us pray!

God's Blessings Come in Strange and Wonderful Ways

4th Sunday of Advent
Scripture: St. Luke 1:39-43

Luke’s scriptures tell us God’s prophetic words are often different from we interpret or expect to happen.

For centuries, Israel talked about a Messiah who was to come. And He would rid Israel of all of its enemies, setting up a new Israel. At that time a great war would take place and Israel would win the war.

Isaiah prophesied a great prophet quite different from a warlord would come leading the Israelites to repentance.

He wrote that a virgin would give birth and conceive a Son. He would be called the Son of the Most High God, and He would save His people from their sins.

The people of that day were no different from how we are today. They were all busy doing their thing and could not see the signs of the approach of a Messiah, especially in the manner and fashion that Jesus came.

Isaiah’s Messiah was not a Messiah of war and bloodshed. Rather, He would be a Messiah of love and mercy.

God saw Mary, a teenager, a righteous God-fearing lady, and sent an angel unto her telling her that she would conceive and bear a Son.

Mary’s question then was, “How can this be, for I am a virgin?” The angel told her that it would be by the power of the Most High God that she would conceive and bear a son - God’s Son - and He would redeem Israel and the world.

Mary’s answer was, “May it be done to me, the handmaiden of the Lord.”

When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, his first thought was to set her aside quietly, not causing her disgrace. Joseph also was greeted by an angel, who said, “Be not afraid to take Mary as your wife, for her pregnancy is by the power of the Most High God.”

Mary and Joseph were betrothed at this time. The betrothed period was 12 months. They lived as husband and wife, but there was no sexual activity.

If Mary had been pregnant by human activity, it would have been a disgrace. She could have faced terrible, terrible consequences. Being stoned to death was the most serious. And if not stoned, she would be disgraced the rest of her life.

I don’t think that we realize the consequences for a young woman caught in pregnancy during the betrothed period. And yet, both Mary and Joseph were God-fearing individuals and they believed the angel’s activity in their lives.

The angel told Joseph that Mary would bear a Son and His name would be Jesus, and He would save and redeem His people.

Christmas is the birthday of the Christ Child, Mary’s firstborn, God’s only Son.

As for the gifts we share at Christmastime, giving to one another is because of three wise men who took nearly 2 years to find Jesus and His parents in Nazareth. They bought gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The gold represented a wealthy person. Jesus was wealthy as the Son of God.

Frankincense and myrrh are elements for preparing a dead body, showing that Jesus would suffer and die for our sins, the sins of the world.

Praise God that He loved His fallen creature and in redeeming Him sacrificed the blood of His precious Son, our Lord and Savior, whose birthday we celebrate yearly as a reminder of how much God loves each and every one of us. Amen!

A Summons to Repentance

Third Sunday of Advent
Scripture: St. Luke 3:7-18

Crashing into our advent season to tear our attention away from the distractions that assail us at this time of the year…

We need to draw away from the glitter and the tinsel, the shiny trappings from under the tree that take us away from the heart of our faith.

These distractions provide us a way out of being challenged by our Gospel message. This affords us a way to avoid the uncomfortable Gospel truth.

John proclaims it is time for a change in our ways, permitting the Lord Jesus to enter into our lives. Instead of harking back to the way things are, what if we started looking for God’s presence in unexpected places and ways.

What if we prepared to hear the good news from unexpected persons, even strangers we meet and see while shopping? It’s high time we wake up to the fact God lives at the margin of our lives today, waiting, just waiting, to meet us there.

John’s Gospel was not just good news, yet there are three outstanding messages that John was seeking to share with us:
1. It was a demand that we share with one another.
2. It was a social Gospel that laid down that God will never resolve the situation of the man who has too much while his neighbor has far, far too little.
3. His message orders the man not to leave his job, but to work out his own salvation by doing that job as it should be done.
· Let the tax collector be an honest tax collector, not lining his own pocket.
· And let the soldier be a good soldier.

It is today a man’s duty to serve God where God has placed him. Nowhere is that better stated than in an old Negro spiritual:

"There’s a King and Captain high, and He’s coming by and by,
and He’ll find me hewing cotton when He comes.
You could hear His legions charging in the regions of the sky.
And He’ll find me hewing cotton when He comes.

There’s a man they thrust aside
Who was tortured ‘til He died.
And He’ll find me hewing cotton when He comes.

He was hated and rejected.
He was scorned and crucified.
And He’ll find me hewing cotton when He comes.

When He comes!”

When He comes!

He’ll be crowned by the saints and angels when He comes.
They’ll be shouting our Hosannas!
To the man, the man denied.
And I’ll be kneeling among my cotton when He comes."

It’s John’s conviction that no one can serve better than in their daily life and labors where the Lord has placed them.

We all feel that if we were someone else, say a great preacher like Dr. Billy Graham, we could preach the Word. Like we are all like a snowflake, there are no two just alike. And there are no two persons equipped alike to share the love of God.

John was quite sure that he himself was only the forerunner of the King of Kings who is to come.

The greatest gift any one of us can offer the Lord is just to be who we are, allowing the Lord to equip and use us to spread His good news with the gifts and graces that He has endowed upon us.

We must strive constantly to be open to God’s love and that small voice that is calling us over the clamor of the world in which we live. When He comes, our gracious King will be riding on a great white horse, a symbol in battle that He comes in peace and love, and not war.

Advent is a special time for spiritual renewal in our humble lives. God created us with free will, wherein we can accept that spiritual renewal or we can reject it.

How will you spend this advent season this year?

Let us pray.

Prepare You the Way

2nd Sunday of Advent
December 6, 2015

Opening statement: There are lots of ways to get ready for Christmas. Some get ready by decorating a tree and/or the house. Others wrap gifts for the family members and friends. Some bake special cakes and cookies that they serve only during the advent season.

However we prepare, I think that what the prophet Malachi wants us to consider is that we have no idea what we are doing.

However, we know intellectually that we are getting ready to receive the Christ child and to see what new things God will do for us.
While there are time-honored ways of preparing for and welcoming the Christ child…

Malachi states we forgot something important. We have a white-washed vision of “God is with us.”

It’s not going to be a Christmas-card experience, nor a beautiful one with small candles burning in the darkness. This is far more than the burning of one candle. We are telling about the True Light that has come into the world.

The light of these candles is a fire burning so hot that injustice can’t stand it. This is a messy and sometimes difficult situation to perceive.

Our Christmas cards and nativity scenes and Macy’s windows and parade don’t even begin to get to the reality of “God with us.”

In spite of our best intentions, we can’t possibly begin to prepare for something like this. There is a sort of motto of the Reformed Presbyterian church:
“reformed and always being reformed, bringing reform and recreation by the spirit of the living God, who is continually and always working within our lives.”

I wonder if that motto might apply to our advent season. Luke shares with us the appearance of John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness, preaching a baptism repentance, whereby our sins may be forgiven.
This action of John was first mentioned in the book of Isaiah the prophet.
A voice of one crying in the wilderness
Get the road ready, for the Lord is coming.
Make His path straight and the rough places smooth, and all flesh shall see God’s salvation.

At Jesus’ birth, the world was not hearing the ancient message of the prophet, and I wonder if we have captured that message yet today…

At the time of Jesus’ birth, if the king of that day was planning to visit his subjects, a forerunner was sent out telling of the king’s coming, “Prepare for his coming!”

That tradition is still followed today at the coronation service in Westminster Abbey when a new queen is being crowned. Everyone is seated for the service and out of nowhere a small army of men and women come forth with brooms and vacuum cleaners and prepare the road, the carpet runway, for the approaching queen.

As we enter into this advent season, what stands in our path, our lives, that needs to be swept away, that we might encounter a new and fresh awareness of the birth of our Savior?

That God the Father loves us so very much that He sent His own Son to earth as a sacrifice for our sins…

That is the true and only gift of Christmas that we should offer our family, friends, and associates. For Jesus is the reason for the season!

It’s not fancy-lit Christmas trees, fancy packages under it, nor large family gatherings. Those are only a very, very small part of it.

The real and only reason for Christmas is God’s gracious love for His creation, mankind, that He sent His beloved Son in human form to earth.

Lord God Almighty, help us. Enable us to capture the real Christmas Spirit.

Worry and Its Cures

First Sunday of Advent
Scripture: St. Matthew 6:25-34

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary reads,
“worry: to think about problems or fears : to feel or show fear and concern because you think that something bad has happened or could happen.” As we enter into the scripture today, it sounds familiar, for the text appears like what I shared last week from Luke.

Except today our thrust is not personal possessions; it is about our worried state of mind.

If we are honest with ourselves, we should all admit that we worry about certain things.
Jesus relates several different arguments and defenses against worrying.

In verse 25, He points out that we are not to worry about our lives, stating, “If God gives us life, He will attend to our needs.” We are to trust Him.

He goes a step further, stating that if the birds of the air who neither gather nor store up in abundance their food to eat and we are much more than the birds of the air, God will surely feed us also.

Now this does not mean that we are to set back and expect God to send manna from heaven daily to feed us. Rather, we should trust Him as our God and our God-given ability to prepare for ourselves nourishment for the body.

A Jewish rabbi wrote these words:

“I have never seen a deer drying figs for food. Nor a lion as a porter. Or a fox as a merchant. Yet, they are nourished by their Lord without worry.”

Jesus states that any worry is useless. It could mean that no man or woman can add a cubit to their life. A cubit is 18 inches. Then Jesus saw the flowers of the earth and spoke about them as one who loved their beauty.

He said that the blooms on the hillside of the landscape are beautiful today and gone tomorrow. Yet even Solomon in all his glory was not as beautiful as one of those flowers.

He goes on to advance a very fundamental argument against worry. Worry, He states, is a characteristic of a heathen, someone who is abandoned, who has abandoned God and God’s love.

Worry, then, is essentially distrust in God and the nature of God’s grace.

Such distrust is understandably in a heathen’s mind and heart. They are unaware of God’s actions and what He can do.

That is beyond comprehension for one who believes in God and addresses God as “Father.”

Lastly, Jesus says that worry can be defeated. We can acquire the art of living one day at a time. “Do not worry over tomorrow’s evil, for you know not what today brings forth. Perhaps tomorrow you will not be alive and you will have worried for a world that shall not be yours. Each day is lived as it comes. Each task is done as it appears. Then the sum of all days is found to be good.”

Jesus’ advice about worry is to not worry. Just handle the demands of each day as they come without worrying about the unknown future.

If we center down our worrying about a tomorrow that might not come for us, we rob ourselves of the multitude of blessings that God offers and gives us daily.


An Abundance of Possessions

Last Sunday of Pentecost/Thanksgiving Sunday
Scripture: St. Luke 12:15-31

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, we should be thankful and praise the Lord for all our earthly blessings, including the spiritual blessings that He offers to each and everyone.

Many are in great need for even the things we have to just survive. Jesus said to his disciples and to you and me, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

Scripture tells us of the rich farmer who had a great problem. The crops and his fields had produced such an abundance of grain that when it was all gathered in he would have no room for it in his barn. Then he reasoned with himself. He decided to tear down his small barn and build much larger one. Then he would have all the storage he needed, allowing him to sit back and enjoy life.

But Jesus threw him a curve ball, warning that his life was almost over. He asked His disciples (and you and me) who would get the fruits of his labors and his worry? Who would reap his great harvest?

Earthly possessions are like a great sandcastle built on the shores of the sea. When the high tide come in and the water flows over it, it will be destroyed! When the sea recedes at low tide, there will be no evidence that it even existed.

I saw and witnessed a human tragedy. A man told me that he live on the wrong side of the tracks. Life was rough and they had very very little. Though a miracle of God, he was able to get a good education and earned a degree in business. He became a wealthy businessman during the oil boom in Alaska and had a large company with many employees. They repaired and sold equipment needed to produce oil. He build a large beautiful home on a bluff overlooking cook inlet near Kenia River Peninsula. He remarked more than once in my presence that he was a self-made man. That he deserved everything he had, but all his earthly possessions came at a tremendous price.

He was a failure as a husband and father of two sons. His wife told me that she would divorce him instantly if it were not for the two boys. In her state of mind, she started drinking. She was having a tremendous problem with alcohol. The boys were in high school and excellent in sports and academics; they were also hooked on drugs. Family life was shot! They had plenty of material goods, but she was the only one who occasionally came to church.

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, what are you and I really thankful for?

I pray we are thankful for much more that a large family gathering with a table piled high with a large turkey in the middle of the table, mash and sweet potatoes, all sorts of vegetables and fruits, a large assortment of pastries, and pumpkin pie piled high with cool whip. While it’s a special time with family and friends, the real reason we should celebrate Thanksgiving is to thank and bless our Lord for His divine presence in our lives!

I recall that a few years ago as I prayed over our Thanksgivings dinner – perhaps praying a little longer than I should – as I paused just momentarily one of my young grandsons said, “Amen!”  The whole laughed and that ended my prayer and the family started filling their plates.

Who did you invite to share your Thanksgiving dinner with? There is a knock on your door. There is a stranger. He looks like he hadn’t changed clothes or shaved for weeks. He says, “I am hungry and cold. Could I possibly get something to eat?”

In your shock of seeing him, you thought, “Wait a moment.” And then you make him a brown bag. He thanks you, turns, and is gone.

In my state of mind after this real encounter, I remembered Hebrews 13:2 saying, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

What do you thing would happen if we had invited him in to sit at the table? Let us pray!
Happy Thanksgiving from Pastor P. and Judy!

The End of the Age

25th Sunday of Pentecost
Scripture: St. Mark 13:1-8

Seeing a beautiful building, Jesus’ disciples said, “Teacher, see that stone building. How wonderful it is!”

Jesus replied, “You see that great building, but the day will come when not one stone of it will rest upon another.” They were looking at the temple that King Herod was building, one of the wonders of the world at that time. He began the construction in 20-19 BC on top of Mount Moriah. It was still not finished when Jesus looked at it in this passage.

Instead of leveling the mountaintop, Herod had a massive masonry work to enclose it on a huge platform. It had stone pillars 40 feet long, 12 feet high, and 18 feet wide held the structure up. And it had a marvelous bridge with arches built 41 and 1/2 feet tall to reach it.

We now have a glimpse of the shock and dismay of the disciples as they looked at this huge construction. They heard Jesus statements about it, that it would crumble and leave not one stone upon another. Here Jesus forecasts the awful terror at the siege that will lead to the final fall of Jerusalem. This is an insight into the last days before he comes a second time.

From scripture it is my understanding that during that period of time it will be a holocaust that will make Hitler’s terror look like a picnic in the park! Christians will experience tremendous persecution with terrible sufferings and deaths. It would be a great blessing if we were already in the heavenly kingdom by that time.

At a time when a pastor preached hellfire and damnation and asking the Lord to come quickly, A teenage Christian stated while at the alter when praying, “Please don’t come now.” Her spirit cried out, “I want to grow up, finish high school, and graduate. I want to learn to drive a car. I want to go to college. I want to be kissed by a handsome boy, fall in love, get married, and have children. Please Lord, don’t come now.”

The urgency of the gospel is not to scare or frighten anyone; rather, it is a warning because we don’t know when Jesus will return. We do know He said He would return. Jesus tells us that even He doesn’t know the day or the hour of His return. Only the Father in heaven know when that will happen. We get so wrapped up with this life, that we put the Lord’s return on the back burner of our lives.

If we don’t make our plans to be with Him, which is a precious gift He offers to all who will confess and believe in Him, when He comes He won’t come for us. Often we are like a child who has been warned not to touch the hot burner on the stove for fear we will get burned. Like a child, we put off making amends for our eternal life with the lord.

If we fail to make amends, the outcome will be a tragic event in our lives, robbing ourselves of the perfect eternal life that He has offered each and everyone who believes in Him, confesses their sins, and accepts His offer of the eternal, abundant life.

The pathway to eternal life is available. Life is much like a 2 lane highway. Which road are you traveling? The road of the world or the road that leads to the heavenly kingdom?

Let us pray.