A Gospel of Chances

3rd Sunday of Lent
Scripture: St. Luke 13:6-10

As we look at our text today, we see the fig tree and you and I have much in common in our growth problems.

Uselessness invites disaster. Taking only out of something and giving nothing in return, invites death.

There is more than one chance for spiritual life and growth, but there is a final chance.

The fig tree had a choice spot in the rocky soil. The soil was shallow but able to support the fruitfulness of the fig tree. It takes about 3 years for a new fig tree to produce fruit. In all that time, there is no evidence that the tree will bear fruits. If the fig tree or local church family shows no evidence of producing, our uselessness invites disaster. One must prove their worth and effort in bringing forth new life.

The gardener, by his actions of digging around the tree and waters it faithfully, shows that it gets a second chance. However, the story tells us that there is an eventual cut-off of chances if we do not produce what we have the ability to do.

Our local church congregation goes through the same cycle as the tree does. For reasons beyond our understanding and knowledge, other saw a need for an active church on this corner. Countless member have worshiped and served this church, and the Lord has blessed us. We have seen sparse growth at times and abundance in other times. In times of great growth spiritual and physical, we rejoice and praise the Lord. In times of little growth, I wonder if the Lord is testing our faith or seeking to change the direction of our ministry.

We have to face up to the reality that the church and its life are not the main focus in our lives today.

60-70 years ago, our lifestyle was centered around the church. We had Sunday morning worship and a Sunday evening service. Wednesday was used for Bible study and prayer group. Nearly every church was full of children, youth, and young adults.

This is not the churches' reality today, yet I personally believe that the Lord is not ready to throw in the towel (so to speak) in many small membership churches.

He offers us chance after chance to look at ourselves and see a plus or minus in our ministries, for we are both the problem and the solution to bring new life to us and the church community. One step is to realize that we are His hands, heart, and voice in the world today. Society will not respond to us unless we offer more than society offers the people.

Look what society and the 12-hour work shift have done to the church.

A case in point is that a grandson and granddaughter who are RNs both work four 12-hour shifts. They're off 3 days and on 4. Then they works 3 on and off 4. This cycle repeats.

In the oil industry in Alaska, workers are either on a 7- or 14-day turnaround. They fly up to the north slope, work 12 hours a day each day they are there, fly home, and are home 7 or 14 days before repeating the same schedule. One local pastor told me, “It’s like having 2 congregations.”

What does that do to the life of the local church? What does this do to family life? We need to block out a time slot for looking at our particular solution in the middle of Indiana to see how the church can respond to these situations. Worship schedules of yesterday will not do today. Doing what we have done in yesteryears will not bring new life and growth to the church and each family involved.

I don’t know the answers in solving the churches problems in these days, yet she must meet the demands of society to be fruitful. I realize that many small churches are running out of chances of being effective in the mission of the church and we see the results if we don’t try to meet the demands of the people seeking spiritual growth.

Are we willing to try new ways to bring Christ to others and refresh our own awareness of Christ in our lives? We need to brainstorm new and fruitful ministries.

The Lord, being our helper and guide, will help and direct us in the changes we need to make immediately. Amen!

Courage and Tenderness

2nd Sunday of Lent
Scripture: St. Luke 13:31-35

In our scripture we encounter 3 main characters:

  1. the pharisees
  2. King Herod
  3. our Lord

More often than not, we see the pharisees at odds with Jesus, but here we see them seeking to warn Jesus that King Herod is out to kill Him. The pharisees came to tell Jesus to leave the area, for He was in grave danger. The pharisees are much like you and me; like us we don’t all accept Jesus in the same way.

There were 7 different groups of pharisees. We hear mostly of those who are totally at odds with Jesus and call them the "shoulder pharisees." They wore they faith and actions on their shoulders, that all might see them as they keep the laws of Judaism.

Then there are the "wait –a –little pharisees." These men could always find a good excuse to put off a good deed until the next morning.

The "bruised and bleeding" Jewish rabbis would not talk to any woman in public, not even their wives or mothers. They shut their eyes at an approaching woman, thus  often running into someone or tripping over something.

The "humpback pharisees" walked bent over at the waist, always cringing in humility.

The "ever-reckoning pharisees" reckoned that their good deeds would strike a balance sheet of profit and loss with the Lord's love.

The "timid pharisees" or "fearing pharisees," were ever fearful of the wrath of God and what little faith they had brought them very little hope.

Then there was the “God-fearing pharisees” group. This is the group that was drawn somewhat to Jesus and his teaching and warned him of King Herod and his desire to destroy Him.

Jesus called King Herod a fox. It took real courage to call the king a fox.

  • The fox was regarded as the sliest of animals in their culture.
  • A fox is one of the most destructive animals.
  • A fox was a cultural symbol of worthlessness and the insignificant of man.

It took a brave person to call the reigning king a fox. One needed to be aware of what they said about King Herod, who was a very vicious man. Jesus took His orders not from any human king, but from the heavenly King, His Father in heaven.

There is nothing that hurts so much as to give someone your heart and then have them break it, yet all of us break the heart of Jesus from time to time.

As we look at the different groups who make up the pharisee family, we should see that the church today is much like that family. We each have our little special understanding of God’s love that leads to division within the universal church. It also brings down each local church family from time to time, when we must have it our way or we leave that active church family.

Of the different groups of the pharisees mentioned in our scripture, whom do you most identify with?

At the expense of building the church, are we willing to get beyond our differences to glorify our Lord in courage and tenderness? Let us pray.

A Battle with Temptation

1st Sunday in Lent
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God by the devil tempting us and our yielding to that temptation.

I recall a local pastor in Dayton, Ohio on a Sunday morning radio program saying he had not been tempted by the devil to sin since he had confessed Jesus Christ as his savior.

In my understanding, one of 2 things materialized by that statement. He had either lied, or had already sold out to the devil. I base that statement by paraphrasing scriptures: When we are tempted by the devil we can tell him in the name of Jesus Christ, "Get lost. Leave me."  And at that moment he has to leave, but he will return the first chance he gets.

Our scripture today states that Jesus was full of the holy spirit when he returned from Jordan, but was led by the devil, Satan, to the desert, where He was tempted by the devil for 40 days. He ate nothing during that ordeal.

Often, our temptations come in less than 40 minutes, not 40 days.
Jesus' 1st temptation was, after not eating for 40 days, to turn stones into bread. The wilderness was not a wilderness of trees and sand, but a wilderness of limestone, many in the shape of a loaf of bread. The devil told Jesus if He wanted people to follow Him, He could use His power to turn the stone to bread.
Jesus' answer used Deuteronomy 8:3, noting man will never find life in material things.

The real task of Christianity is not to produce new conditions of faith. The church must stand firm in the words of God in an effort to make new disciples.

Jesus' 3rd temptation was compromise. The devil took Jesus to the highest mountaintop, requesting that He look around at all the kingdoms of the earth.

He asked Jesus to fall down to worship him. All this fallen world is his and he promised to give it to Jesus in exchange for worship.

Jesus once again answers quoting Deuteronomy, this time with 6:13. Jesus states there will be no compromises! Right is right, and wrong is wrong.

We are tempted daily to make compromises in our walk with the Lord. The devil looks at things of this earth in a gray color. Our lord looks at all things as only black-wrong or white-right and full of the glory of the father in heaven.

In making compromises, we are looking at life and actions as a color blind state of being.

Jesus 2nd temptation was to use His power for Himself and not for the kingdom of God. The devil took Him to the highest point on the temple, asking Him to fall down off the temple, which was 450 feet high. Jesus replied, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Jesus saw quite clearly that if He produced sensations He might be nothing more than a 9-day wonder. Sensations don’t last; they are like a flash of light in the darkness and are then gone. It is hard to serve the Lord day in and day out without being tempted over and over. And to believe or say that you are never tempted is nothing more than a bare-faced lie. When tempted one should say, "Lord help me with the temptation I am facing. Help me be stronger, that I will not yield to that temptation again.

"When I realize I have been tempted and yielded to that temptation, cover me with Your grace and eternal love, and forgive me in your precious name.


Ash Wednesday

As I read the familiar story that launches the yearly Lentin fast, i am struck by Joel’s “render your hearts and not your clothes.” I am struck even more by the shameful memories that there are so few things to render my heart these days. I have become inundated by the daily news of senseless street crimes, coupled with that of a school girl kidnapped as a war trophy, political shenanigans, bombings, and the invasions that I have lost the ability to feel the world's pain deeply in my heart.

In a fast-paced, task-oriented world, there is no time to apply. No time for tears, or sorrows. Only work. So we pull down the window shades, avert our eyes, and put bricks in the place that once provided a window to the world.

Use the few tears that refuse to leave for the joy and concerned prayers. Lent is the time to unbrick ourselves, to tear down the protective walls that has kept us from days of continued tears over the troubles of this world.

Joel 2:13 instructs us: “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.” The trumpet has been sounded in Zion and we are called to heart rendering prayers. Between the vestibule and the alter, let the priest and ministers of the Lord weep.

The prophet is calling us beyond one day's ashes, in the sign of the cross to a season of public demonstrations that grieve over the mockery we have become.

We have graduated from giving up chocolate and our favored pleasures to take up the dare to see as God sees things. We are called to look at ourselves in the mirror without makeup, to look across the aisle and across the way without rose colored glasses, and to weep a response at what we might happen to see.

Let us pray!

The Transformation of Jesus

5th Sunday of Epiphany
Scripture: St. Luke 4:28-43

A transformation experience is like a bright light going off in a dark room. Suddenly you are wide awake from an extremely bright light and everything shines like polished gold. Mountaintop experiences are an important part of the Christian encounter.

Peter is one of the closest companions of Jesus. He wants to elongate this experience by building three shelters: one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But the real blessing of these mountaintop experiences comes only as one leaves the mountain and returns to everyday living.

While it is a privilege to witness a miraculous, inspiring, once in a lifetime event, these experiences are worthless unless they motivate us to greater confidence and assurance that new life to others as well as ourselves. Every time we receive validation that our faith is meaningful and based on more than hope or a whim, it should compel us to share it with those who have not yet experienced it as we have. It is never enough that our faith remains locked up in only our hearts. It has to be shared wherever and whenever we have the privilege to share it.

What happened on the mountaintop is important, but it is never more important than what happens in the world and in our lives as we come back to reality.

The real problem of mountaintop experiences is they are so wonderful and so inspirationally filled we don’t want to leave the mountain and move out to face our daily lives, yet we need to go forth and wage war on the evils of our day. Let your transfiguration light go forth into the world. Lead and comfort those who are suffering from sadness, illness, injustice, or oppression. Let us confess to them that God’s name is great and awesome.

In each of our lives, we miss so much because our minds are asleep. There are certain things that are liable to keep our minds asleep. For instance, there is prejudice. We may be so set in our own ideas that our minds are shut closed. The holy scripture records such events, especially among Jews toward Gentiles and Samaritans. God is the father of all the people, yet His chosen ones believed they alone had the keys to the heavenly kingdom.

Our lives are full of actions that shut out God and God’s grace to so many of his children.

Poet Elizabeth Browning wrote these words:
“She looked at him.
He looked at her
As only 2 lovers could.
And suddenly their lives awakened.”

True love is an awakening to a horizon we never dreamed possible. For so long we have lived our lives in a routine like state, half awake and half asleep. In a transfiguration experience one becomes fully awake. One throws off their rose colored glasses and sees life as it really is. Then one cries aloud, “Father God, help me! Forgive me!”

We all need a new and fresh transfiguration as we descend the mountaintop and come down to the reality of our sinful lives. In Jesus’ name we pray.

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.