Different Gifts

2nd Sunday in Epiphany
Scripture: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

As we look at our scripture, I sense that Paul is saying, “Wake up. Don’t be ignorant of our spiritual gifts.”

Having been created in God’s image, we all have gifts to serve Him for the advancement of His kingdom on earth. It is with these gifts daily we are to worship our Lord.

Now, there is no gift greater than any other. Some may appear greater, but they are all to strike a cord in our lives, for the scriptures tell us that even a cool glass of water given on a hot, August day to a stranger will not go unnoticed by our Lord.

While we think the actions of our love that directly produce a new soul for the kingdom are the only gifts of service for the Lord, I beg to differ with you.

Our local church family here at Peniel is abundantly rich with gifts to offer to the Kingdom of God.

Let me start with the gift of music. In our music ministry here at Peniel, Pat is worship chairperson and director of the choir. She selects the music we sing each week.

There are Deloris, Jeff, and Linda, who cause our hearts to be lifted up with the instruments of music.

A choir of 10-15 persons to sing the praises of the Lord. And the congregation.

Meanwhile, all these people lift up the spirit of our living Lord in our lives week after week.

The leadership of the church is enriched and blessed in many different gifts of administration.

Linda, David, and Ruth deal with the church funds.

Leslie is a board chairperson, associate lay leader, and assistant teacher.

Lester, Joan, Ruth, Linda, and a host of others are all teachers.

The whole church family is missionaries through our outreach programs.
·       school supplies
·       Clothing Tree
·       Bear Ministry
·       Weekly gathering of food for the food pantry

The above are only a few of the programs we join.

We are truly blessed and enriched by our prayer ministry, the prayer warriors who pray daily for countless others.

I want to cry out loud when someone says, “I don’t have any special gifts to offer to the Lord.”

My blessed child, you are that gift by the way you share your life each and every moment of every day.

A smile can chase the blues away for someone. A kind word can turn the blues of gloom and distress into hope and a ray of sunshine.

While I may not have mentioned your name, each and every one who enters this church service, or who is out and about, or who is home ill, you are a gift beyond your greatest imagination for the Lord, breathing new life into each and every situation. You are His greatest gift of life, that you may share your life with others in countless ways.

Let us pause and praise the Lord for the gifts He has endowed to us as individuals.

Chosen and Redeemed, part 1

1st Sunday after the Epiphany
Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7

As we enter the scriptures, the prophet Isaiah is speaking to the chosen people, telling them that God is offering them another chance to fulfill their duties as the chosen ones.

He says that meanwhile the whole world is to give God praise and share in His holy glory. God is like a woman in childbirth, crying out for His chosen ones as He seeks to bring them back into His loving grace.

The world at that time in history was in great turmoil (much like our world today). After nearly 500 years of the Israelites in slavery worshipping idols, God is offering forgiveness as He seeks to bring them back into His divine fellowship. The New Testament speaks of a loving God who is patient and slow to anger. While we are God’s greatest creation, we need to be aware of His actions. We are created in His image and formed in His likeness and redeemed by His gracious love for us. Even when we fall short and fail to live according to His wishes. Created, we are the works of the Master Craftsman. He created us with free will. Our adhering to His will is our choice. We can either accept His invitation to be His children or reject it. God never forces His love upon us. It is by our acceptance of His invitation we become His children, His sons and daughters. That free will within us is a constant enemy within us, for we want it our way. We want to be the rulers over our lives.

We believe we know what’s best for us. We all have sinned because of the enemy in our lives, free will. When God formed us in His own image, He gave us the freedom to be like Him. God can change any situation that enters into our lives. We have the ability to change things in our lives because of our free will. We can change a bad habit into something that brings excellent results in our midst.

If one is overweight, they know what it does to their health. By changing our lifestyle we can reduce our weight and greatly improve our health. That is within our lives because God gives us that ability and power.

Take an apple seed as an example. Hidden within that seed is the ability to produce not only good fruit, but abundance of fruit, even bushels. Unfortunately some apple seeds don’t adhere to the God-given ability (just like you and I don’t).

Change is exciting and dangerous at the same time. Will that change be productive, or will it cause us more problems? As we are formed in God’s image, great results can transform us and our lives. We can see this in the lives of many.

I know an example of an ex-con who was converted while in prison. God was giving him a second chance in his lifestyle. He got involved in the life of a church when he got out. He felt he needed to go forward in his faith journey. He became a very active layperson. Yet he felt that something was still missing in his life.

He became a lay speaker and then a lay pastor, serving a local church. He stepped out in faith, allowing God to use him as God sees fit, not wasting his talents that God had given him as a gift.

Are we like an apple? One that withered and rotted on the tree? Or are we like the living tree that God redeemed to bring more of His lost children out of the wilderness and into the promised land?

Think about that. God calls all of us to be the living word, not the dead, lifeless apple rotting on the tree.

Let us pray!

A Three-Point Message

Epiphany Sunday
Scripture: St. Matthew 2:1-12

As we look deeply into the people involved in our text today, we see differences in human responses to news.

First, we see the action of King Herod. From early in his life and his reign, we discover a man with a superstitious mind. He also was a murderer, having killed one of his wives and her mother. He likewise killed others who he saw as a threat to his leadership.

When he heard of the new King, he requested from the chief priests and scribes (the teachers) the birthplace of the new King. They replied, “In Bethlehem of Judea.” He staggered in revenge that this new King will seek his kingship.

Second, we see the actions of the chief priests and scribes when he asked where the new King would be born. There is no reaction at all to the chief priests and scribes.

They are so set in their ways and in keeping things as they were. Actually, they made no action or little response to the news.

There are churches today that are often like these men. They are doing their thing and nothing is gonna disturb them.

Third, we see the arrival of the 3 wise men. They asked where the Child was born and they were told where. When they came to Herod, he asked them to search for the Child and send him word, saying that he also wanted to worship Him.

Tradition says that after two years of searching, the wise men found Jesus and His parents.

Of these 3 scenarios, which of the characters are you most like?

No one would admit that he or she is like King Herod, but I say we often are.

Praise the Lord! No one here has murdered anyone, but you might as well have if you have assassinated and destroyed someone’s character. You might have spread a false comment about this person, something that they did or something that they did not do but should, causing great pain in that individual’s life.

One might be like the priests and scribes who showed no emotion about the birth of Christ even though they knew the historical scriptures about the news of His birth. Maybe you knew the result of someone’s actions and you could have spoken up to protect them, but like the chief priest you keep your mouth shut and don’t want to get involved in anything.

You could have been invited to be involved in a long-range project, but you failed to commit yourself because you do not feel at ease with the time, effort, and energies that may be involved. After all, nearly two years passed in the search for Jesus before the wise men found Him.

If we are honest with ourselves, we are so set in our own ways that we don’t want to change. Some of the things we may say include:

“I don’t like the new type of worship services. I don’t like the music. I don’t like the screen in the front of the sanctuary or the side with the words only. I don’t feel the music when I see nothing but words.”

“I don’t have the time or the energy to look for a lost person. After all it took the wise men nearly 2 years to find Jesus. I don’t have years to waste in looking.”

The church has been on this spot for many years (upwards of 100). Some drive by the church five days a week to school or to work.

“Why should I go look for them surely they know where the church is by now if they want to come.”

Human nature has not changed. The 3 situations mentioned are in our backyard yet today in some form.

Is this the coldness of our hearts and our ability to remember that every human being is created in God’s image and needs to be loved, cared for, and afforded the basic things in life? Are you willing to invest some effort and time to find the Master? After all, He could be right next door to you.

All have been selected to be like the 3 wise men in their commitment and energies, to seek and search until we have a fresh and refreshing new relation with the Lord.

Let us pray.

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.