Friday, September 26, 2014

Reacting Under Pressure

We can’t know the depth of our character until we are put to the test. How easy it is to be righteous and proud when everything is going great. But how will we react when the pressure is on? How will we respond when things don't go exactly as we would like them to go or when others point with ease to our shortcomings?

I guess it's really a matter of character. God desires a witness from disciples of Jesus Christ that is patient and certain even in the face of adversity. God's desire is not necessarily to keep us from pain and frustration, but to give them meaning.  

Growing Through Adversity
God's desire is that we grow through adversity, that our character be strengthened and, when necessary, be renewed. I doubt there are many of us who are not tested every day in some manner or another. But we need not look at adversity and frustration as things to merely overcome, because, in reality, the trials we face are helping us to “become.”  They help us to become stronger, more confident, more effective disciples of Jesus Christ.

If you are facing frustration or pain, know that you have hope:  hope that you can share with others in a world that often seems bent on taking away our true hope in Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
(Romans 5:1-4)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

To Serve and Protect

    When I was growing up I wanted to be one. They were brave. They were smart. They saved peoples’ lives and got to ride on the bumper of speeding engines. Yes, I wanted to be a firefighter. 

      Some of our children may have been planning the same thing this past week. Our church’s Day School is studying Community Helpers in September and had a special visit from some local firefighters. The children were able to inspect the uniforms, equipment, and the large, bright red fire truck. 

In some ways, firefighters remind me of key attributes of God. 
      The Psalmist wrote: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry ... he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34: 15-18) 

      God hears our cries for help and can be relied upon to respond. God waits, God listens and God delivers. Today, if you are in trouble, brokenhearted or crushed in spirit; call upon the Lord. He cares enough to save and will not delay in his response. 

      Let us give thanks and glory to God as we gratefully remember and celebrate the first responders in our community whose ordinary day-to-day duties are full of devotion to preserve life and to serve the common good. God is the creator, redeemer and sustainer of all life including the lives firefighters seek to protect and serve. Yes, God stands ready to deliver, to rescue, to give meaning and purpose to all who would call upon him this day. 

It is good that our children should dream of becoming servants and heroes. It is good that we celebrate those who devote their lives to service and the preservation of life. 

May their devotion inspire us today and remind us of God’s redemption made available in Jesus Christ. 


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Visions built on strong faith

I saw a quote on the internet recently that caught my attention: “If we are too busy to be kind, we are too busy.” (A Lokes)  In our busy lives, let us all take a deep breath and consider what is really important in life.

One of our STAIR reading tutors
with her second-grade student.
Photo by Virginia Jones

Christ our risen Lord, whose fullness we have all received, you call us to abide in you as you abide in the Father. Strengthen us then, who seek the truth and beauty of your gospel. For those in our church and community who are dispirited or downcast, may we become a visible demonstration of your encouragement and compassion. Help us to see their needs and take the time to help them as Christ would do. Together, let us build our dreams, our visions, our lives and our community with a strong, faith-filled courage that is based upon our resurrection hope and the indwelling presence of your Holy Spirit.  AMEN

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Promise of eternal life

       Known to all as a brilliant scientist, Thomas Edison was also known by his closest associates and family members as being very precise in his observations and statements. I find this very intriguing because on the night of his death, Mrs. Edison leaned very near to her husband because she sensed he wanted to tell her something. There, with great radiance in his smile, Thomas Edison assured his wife, "It's so very beautiful over there."

Very near the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18, 19)

I believe that from the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus knew where his journey of obedience and faith would lead. Jesus knew the cost of obedience.

Why then did he go? Because he knew it was his father's will, and because he knew there was more to this life than we can ever know or even begin to comprehend. He knew that all of life belongs in the hands of the creator who has a plan for your life and mine. He knew of the beauty of the Kingdom of God.

What do you seek today? Do you seek good news? Do you seek to know that your brokenness is not in vain? Do you seek freedom from all that imprisons you or oppresses you in this life? Do you seek favor from the Lord, of comfort from all that causes you pain or grief?

If you seek something this world can’t offer you, then rejoice, for today is the Lord's day.  It is a day acceptable to the Lord. A day of possibilities which can be lived with an overwhelming confidence in the salvation and forgiveness and redemption of Jesus Christ made available to you and me. Today is a day in which we can joyfully serve God and humanity, certain of the eternal glory that awaits those who put their trust in Jesus.

In Christ we can look at life and death and everything in between, with a confidence and hope which this world can never understand. Indeed, we have hope, for Christ has not only come, he will come again! Today let us strive to witness and to serve as obedient disciples of our Lord ever confident of his promise of eternal life.

"And this is what he promised us— even eternal life." (1 John 2:25)


Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Slogan's Power

Our lives are filled with slogans.  Some we remember, some we don’t. Our idea of slogans dates back to the 16th century. In fact, the word “slogan” joins two Gaelic words meaning “army” and “cry.” Slogans identified and rallied Scottish clans to the battlefield.

Throughout Christian history, a particular slogan identifies Christian disciples:
     Christ is our Cornerstone.

Hear what Paul wrote as he rallied those in the early church:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as our cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”   Ephesians 2:20, 21

We are all “citizens with the saints” and members of God’s household. But what does this mean for us throughout the world?  Our purpose is to glorify Christ, Our Cornerstone, in everything we do, even when Christ is often pushed aside in the midst of our busy and hectic lives. Let us be grounded and renewed by the fact that Christ is Our Cornerstone. And let us be joined together by God’s Word and Spirit. Then may our words become more than mere slogans, but life-changing thoughts and actions to the glory of Christ our Lord.        


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Time: The Gift of our Presence

        I read a story about an unusual crime that took place years ago. Apparently some juvenile delinquents gained entrance to a large department store late one night, and rather than steal any items, they methodically went about changing price tags. For instance, they took the price tag from a pair of men's socks and exchanged it with a diamond ring. At first their crime might seem humorous, but they were so thorough in the number of price tag exchanges made that the store had to close the entire next day (at tremendous cost to the owners) to restore the tags to the proper items. 
This crime does, however, make me wonder how our culture also assigns the wrong values to many things. I was reminded of a song by the musician David LaMotte. A line in his song "Deadline" is, "There's no time like the present and no present like time." 
Time is a precious gift of God, and so often in our lives I fear we misjudge its true value. Probably if you ask any mature young adult what the most precious thing his or her parents ever gave them, and I'm betting they will tell you, "Time."
One of the tutors with his 2nd grade student
in our STAIR program
(Start The Adventure In Reading)

How true this is in other important human relationships as well. I may have many responsibilities as a pastor: preaching, teaching, moderating meetings, administration and counseling, but one responsibility that never fades is that of pastoral care. But this is not only true for pastors.
        People need time. It is the most precious gift  (given in the form of our presence) that we give others to show how much we care.
Today, think about time. Time is one of the most precious gifts God has given us. There are many things that we must accomplish in our lives, but we must remember that time is a limited resource. Ask yourself, “How will I invest my time this week?” 
May God grant you the insight to understand the value of your time and your life.

        "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time…"  (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11a)


Monday, August 11, 2014

Prayer for Illumination

       The great French theologian John Calvin believed that one of the essential elements of worship was the "Prayer For Illumination," offered right before the scripture was read and proclaimed. He understood that the reading and understanding of scripture must come through prayer and humble submission to the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

       We must open ourselves in prayer to discern the meaning of scripture, but this first requires the opening of the scriptures! It is impractical, if not impossible to gain biblical insight for the issues of our day if we are not willing to devote time and reflection to the daily reading of scripture. We can participate in all the studies we desire, but until we live in God's Word and make scripture the primary point of reference in our lives it's doubtful we will grow in our biblical understanding. Scripture only becomes the authoritative Word of God when we open ourselves to the revelation and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Faithful interpretation and humble submission to the Spirit are required if scripture is to become God's living, "authoritative" Word for our lives. 

       If I have anything to offer someone, especially those in need, confused, hurting, lonely, oppressed or abused, it is the gospel. Only the gospel can give meaning, purpose and direction to humanity. It is not I but Christ who makes the difference. But without honest effort, devotion and reflection toward discerning God's Word, all my efforts remain just that: mine. And this is not very effective in the long run. Only when God's Word becomes central in my life (when I read and prayerfully reflect upon scripture every day) can I begin to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit. Then and only then can my actions begin to reflect Jesus Christ and his redemptive mercy in the world.

       The Psalmist wrote: "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." (Psalm 119:97, 103-105)

       May we have the strength, insight, will and courage to devote ourselves to God's redemptive Word today, as the Spirit of Jesus Christ leads us.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Said by God to each of us

One of the authors I enjoy reading is Karl Barth, often considered one the greatest Protestant theologians of the last century.  Following is a portion of one of his writings, “Saved by Grace.”

“Someone once said to me, ‘I need not go to church. I need not read the Bible. I know already what the church teaches and what the Bible says: ‘Do what is right and fear no one!’ Let me say this at this point: if this were the message at stake, I would most certainly not have come here. My time is too precious and so is yours. To say that, neither prophets nor apostles, neither Bible, Jesus Christ nor God are needed. Anybody is at liberty to say this to himself. By the same token this saying is void of any new, of any very special and exciting message. It does not help anyone. I have never seen a smile on the face of a person reassuring himself with this kind of talk… Let us hear therefore what the Bible says and what we as Christians are called to hear together:
By grace you have been saved!
No man can say this to himself. Neither can he say it to someone else. This can only be said by God to each one of us. It takes Jesus Christ to make this saying true…”
                   Karl Barth

In times of great anxiety, in times of need, or indeed any time, we can all be reassured by God’s Words to us:  “By grace you have been saved!”

Let us pray…
Living God, what can help us to know and understand and receive your mercy but grace alone?  Your mysteries extend from the deepest points in our souls to the farthest constellations, and yet we know and affirm that we matter to you, for we are children of God for whom Christ died and for whom Christ arose. This is your mystery of love and mercy fulfilled. O God, call us out to greet Christ Jesus, our Lord, so that with our eyes and hearts focused only on him, we may follow to the light eternal.   Amen.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Placing our hand in God's

The news of the world is filled with pain and unimaginable horrors.  Major conflicts, fires, plane crashes to name just a few. We must remember that through anything in life, we can turn to God and trust that we are in the presence of the Almighty.

               Merciful Father, when the outcome of the day seems grim, remind us that what is unknown is unknown to all but you.  We ask for your mercy for those who are weary and sick at heart today.  We ask for your divine compassion for those who live with fear or agony in body or spirit.  We ask for your quiet presence, comfort and strength for those who are grieving or in harm’s way.  But most of all, dear Lord, we pray that though the end of the day is unknown, the world and all those whom we meet this day will know that you are here. You are present. And you demonstrate your reconciling, redeeming compassion and mercy through those who love and serve you as disciples of Christ.  In Christ we trust, in him we hope, in him we act as those who know that this day, O Lord, is yours.  AMEN.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Standing before the stranger

        Creator God, permit me to recognize and entertain your presence.  Send your Holy Spirit to stir within me an eager devotion to your Word: open my heart, my mind, my will.  Grant power to my prayer that faith may reveal love, and love, the multiple opportunities to serve you this day.  May the inner light of your peace grant me courage as I stand before the stranger, the angry, the lost.  May I truly represent Christ as a non-anxious presence, seeking transformation not by simply talking about Christ, but by embodying the truth of the gospel he taught.  As Jesus offered himself, the bread of life and the cup of salvation, may my life become a sacrament of charity and love: broken and poured out not aimlessly and without purpose, but according to your providential desire to save.  Grant me Father, the joy of discipleship and the mysterious, redemptive glory of offering my every thought, word and deed as a living sacrifice in the name and for the sake of Jesus, my Lord.  Amen.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

God's healing balm in the world

With all that's going on in the Middle East, let us turn to God and pray in earnest for peace.

photo by Virginia Jones

    In the darkness, Jesus, we reach out to you and pray for peace in our world. We pray for those in harm's way. We pray for those who are hurting and afraid.  It is only the hem of your robe we need;  it is only your touch, which you promise. Help us this day to have courage, to reach out to others who are frightened or alone, not only with the gospel but with the incarnate touch of your Holy Spirit. May compassion be in our hearts, justice in our minds and charity evident in the work of our hands.  May you come and be present: our hearts, our minds, our hands administering your healing balm in the world. Living Christ, be present with your children throughout this world and grant to all life and peace, to your glory!   AMEN 


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Real Freedom

Spirit of God, your Word brings our freedom on the battlefield within our hearts and souls, set free from fear and anxiety. It is only in our total surrender to you, O God, that we find boundless liberty:  your truth, our strength; your mercy, our charity; your boldness, our action; your righteousness, our drive for justice. Thanks be to God!   Amen 


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Seeking God

A reflection on a polished
wood floor of the sun shining
through a stained glass cross
photo by Virginia Jones

Lord, grant us to be still in the vortex of life. Grant us an insatiable drive to seek you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  May we be at peace in the midst of unrest, especially that which we cannot avoid or control. Grant us a sure humility as we seek your righteousness and justice. Come Holy Spirit and fill us with your peace beyond human understanding and your strength to remain true to your Word and leading.  Amen.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sent to be Christ's hands and feet

A team from our church family left early this morning on a mission trip to Mwandi, Africa, to help serve in the Mwandi hospital, among several other places.  They take with them large boxes of supplies and a willingness to be used as Christ’s hands and feet to minister to those in need. They also go with our love and our prayers for safe travels.  

Holy God, we are not alone in this world, for you have cast a wide net. You have issued a wide invitation. We ask you to be with our mission team as they journey and serve in your name.  Let them risk kindness.  Let them provide compassion, certain that the redemptive mercy and grace they offer others may be done in your own name, through Christ, who is Lord and our Salvation.  Amen.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Symbols of the
 Trinity in the
windows of our
Sunday we celebrate Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost , which honors our fundamental Christian belief in God in three persons:  God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

       Gracious Lord, you are not only bread for the hungry and the cup of salvation for those who thirst; you are also the light of life. Illumine the darkness of our hearts. Let your light shine upon the path you have chosen for us; and as the morning dawn brings joy, may our souls rejoice in your radiant glory.  Jesus, may our lives, every moment and every day, be a testimony to the repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and salvation you offer. May the humble light of your desired mercy find reflection in our deepest yearnings and in all the relationships we pursue this day. Baptize us, O Lord, with your Holy Spirit, and grant our lives to shine:  ten, twenty, one hundred-fold more brilliant to your glory alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Come Holy Spirit, Come

Sunday we celebrate the Day of Pentecost: the coming of the Holy Spirit.

                                               --photo by Paul Romjue

We read in scripture:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:1-4

Come Holy Spirit, Come                    
     We pray, "Come Holy Spirit, Come," but are we prepared for the consequences of our prayer, O God? The Church, as a human institution, O God, cannot overcome the world by our reason or accomplishment; nor can we transform culture. But by the power of your Holy Spirit, who breathes life into the souls of those you call: people who go where you desire, who create, and serve and sometimes even speak with passion like tongues of fire, your Spirit is truth which needs no explanation. The truth is revealed to us in Jesus who is our spiritual home, our center, our brother, our Savior. Grant to us your Holy Spirit to know Christ and in him stand in mystery, in hope, in love and in you:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen.     


Thursday, May 29, 2014

I am with you always.

Today is Ascension Day:  the 40th day of Easter which commemorates Christ’s ascension into heaven.  Matthew’s Gospel records Christ’s words:

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”                                                             Matthew 28:20

“I am with you always.”  What profound joy and comfort to hear these words and know their truth.
The Ascension Window at Independent Presbyterian Church
Represents the ascension of Christ.
The full window depicts Jesus surrounded by
eleven of the disciples who watch as clouds take Him
away from their sight. Also four angels receive
Him into heaven. The inscription on the
window is, "Lo, I am with you always."

Let us pray
God, who does not grow tired or weary, fill us with your spirit that we may know your presence. Let the tranquility of this time, and the powerful, radiant, equipping silence of prayer transition to humble, obedient servanthood this day, the evidence of which is love.   Amen.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Remembering the Sacrifices

Monday, May 26, we honor and remember the men and women who have died while in service with the United States Armed Forces. This holiday has its roots in Decoration Day, which after the American Civil War honored Confederate and Union soldiers who died during that war. Their graves were decorated with flowers or flags. The holiday has now expanded to include veterans who have died in all wars fought by our American soldiers.
The Heroic Mosaic in our sanctuary.
This mosaic ties together Christ's
 sacrifice and the sacrifices of those
 who have served God and Country in
all ages. The hero Gideon is the central figure.
The sides contain medallions
to represent the branches of America's
military services.

Let us pray for their sacrifices...
       Merciful God, as a nation we remember those who have given their lives in armed conflict. May the sacrifices they have made not be forgotten or trivialized by time. As friends, loved ones and grateful citizens, we honor their courage and devotion to duty and pray for the day when war will be no more. Though war is devastating, give us wise discernment to stand against aggression and injustice, which reign confusion and terror upon the innocent. Turn the inner, spiritual drive of both enemy and ally toward the wellspring of peace. Help us as people of faith to recall the promise of your prophets that one day nations will no longer train for war or take up swords, but will beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  
    O God, we look forward to your kingdom and everlasting reign of peace. Only you can restore wholeness to the torn fabric of our humanity. To you, O God, be honor and glory now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The ground zero of our lives

I’ve watched with interest the news reports this week showing images of the new 9/11 museum in New York: The new National September 11 Memorial & Museum, opening May 21, 2014. 
A display made from "missing"
posters that appeared after the attacks
 in New York City.
  photo by Stan Honda/AFP

September 11, 2001. This was the day that brought us all to the “ground zero” of our own lives. This was the day that forced us to recognize the most important things in our lives.  For most, these would be our faith and our loved ones.

Remembering this day with its stark images makes me ask myself if I have indeed kept this focus on the most important things in my life. I offer you my prayer this week from my early morning devotional time.

Lead me early this day, O Lord. Do not let the masters of schedules, structures or pride enslave me.  Free me to simply be like a trusting child in your presence. May my life of prayer be found in the wonderment and awe of silence, of creation, of children’s laugher and simple trust in relationships that depend more upon you than others. Protect me this day, O Lord, even if my great enemy rises from within disguised as pride and importance of accomplishment. What can I accomplish of more importance today than to live before you and to love others as you love me?  In your holy name, Amen


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Resting in God's Presence

                                                                               photo by Paul Romjue

God of my salvation, let me rest this day in your presence.  The road is long, and the journey often a struggle. Remind me today of your peace and the promise never to abandon me. Guide me in your way everlasting. May I find joy in Christ today and be renewed in the true life only you can grant.   Amen.