Chosen and Redeemed, part 2

4th Sunday in Epiphany
Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Jeremiah was a young priest in the territory of Benjamin when the voice of the Lord came to him. The Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born, I sat you apart. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” It is here that Jeremiah is reminded of the words from Genesis 2:7

The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being in the image of God.

Israel only had God chosen of all the families of the earth. God reminded Jeremiah that he was consecrated and told him to go to the potters' cottage where the potter was spinning a bowl on the spinning wheel. The clay breaks down and the potter reshapes the clay and starts over.

This time the bowl is formed properly.

This makes Jeremiah aware that if there is failure the first time trying, he should trust the Lord. Try again in the name of the Lord and you will be fruitful.

It is here that Jeremiah tries to weasel out of God’s request. His humanity shines brightly like our humanity when we are asked to do something we don’t want to do or think we can’t accomplish. Jeremiah says, “But Lord I can’t speak,” wherein the Lord puts forth his hand and says, “Behold. I have put my words into your mouth to take back the nations of the world.”

Is the Lord about to pluck up and tear down Israel once again?

As we view our world today, I question: Is God using our action as a wake-up call because our world is in such an uproar?

It is only when we hold fast to our faithfulness that he will continue to bless us. What has transpired in our world that has caused our straying from the path of righteousness? What is the great reason for the darkness that abounds in our world and in our personal lives?

As Jeremiah was a chosen vessel of hope in his generation for the lord, a great sunlight penetrating the darkness, are you and I the chosen hope and sunlight of God in our generation?

I sense we are the only lifting hope of a new and fresh spiritual awakening for the Lord in our world.

While our God is slow to anger, extremely patient, and abounding in love, is our time short in awakening to His spiritual blessings? For he will ultimately have his way, with or without our humble helping.

We are to awaken a rising, shouting from the rooftop. Our God is not dead or sleeping. He still seeks our assistance. He is calling, his voice cries out for renewal, repentance and eternal love from us. We have strayed down that long track that leads to a dead end, because He created us with free will and we want that free will our way, not His. Many are hoping and starving for spiritual awakening while we are side tracked because of our self-will.

The days of playing the church game must come to an end as we return to our first great love, the love of God for all mankind. May the Lord get us on the fast track, the right track that leads to the streets of gold in His heavenly kingdom.

Let us pray!

One Body, Many Parts

3rd Sunday in Epiphany
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

There is no other illustration more famous to show and express the unity of the church than the human body. Men and women have always been fascinated in the way in which the different parts of the body cooperate. Plato draws these famous pictures describing the human body:

  • "The head was a citadel."
  • "The neck is the isthmus between the head and the body."
  • "The heart is the fountain of the body."
  • "The pores the lanes of the body."
  • "The veins the canals of the body."

Thus Paul drew his picture of the church as a body. While there are many parts of a body, the one essential for the body is unity. Unity in the church of God on earth is essential for producing new life for Christ on earth. Paul takes a second giant step here. "You – we – are the body of Christ."

Jesus Christ is no longer walking physically in a human form on earth, therefore if He wants the task done for Him within the world, He has given the task to you and me. If He wants a sick person cured, He finds a host of persons in the medical field to aid him.

A child needs to be taught, so He equipped us with an educational system to fulfill that task. We have to be the body of Christ. An old poem goes:

"He has no hands but our hands
to do his work today
He has no feet but our feet
to lead men women in his way
He has no voice but our voice
to tell men women how he died
He has no help but our help
to lead them to his side."

Here Paul draws a picture of the unity which must exist inside the church. If the church is to fulfill it’s greatest purpose and function. We ought to realize that we need each other. There is no such thing as isolation of one another in the church. Far too often that happens when people get so engrossed in their bit of work, sensing it has some supreme importance.

We ought to respect each other. In the body there are no questions of the relative importance of each part of our physical bodies and the church body. We ought to sympathize with one another. If any part of the body is failing, ill, the whole body suffers. From time to time, we all cause the body of Christ, the church, to suffer.

If the true function of the living church is the presence of Christ, there must be unity. Let us pray.

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!