Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Your Good Shepherd

Dear Friend,

Last Sunday we opened our worship service by reading Psalm 23. Because that Psalm is so often read at memorial and funeral services, seeing and hearing the familiar words can evoke a cloud of memories – some from long ago and perhaps some still painfully recent. And if we rush on through  this psalm with thoughts from our past, we may miss what God is wanting us to hear today.

We may either get stuck on or gloss over the words: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” But the words “shadow of death” are translated from one compound Hebrew word meaning a place of “intensely thick darkness.” It means a place of terror, calamity and despair. We will walk through the valley of death just one time in our lives, but we walk through that dark and dreadful valley of despair many times. We walk through that valley when we have experienced that seemingly unbearable loss of a loved one – when that relationship ends through abandonment, divorce or death. We walk through that valley when our heart breaks for our children and grandchildren. We walk though that valley when we get the call from the doctor’s office. We walk through that valley when the unthinkable happens. But no matter how many times we walk through the valley, we walk not alone. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

I am the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
John 10:11

We were reminded last Sunday that one of our traditional Christian beliefs is the Doctrine of Incarnation. We may never have used those exact words but we know that Jesus is the Son of God – the Savior – the Word – the I AM. The Good Shepherd. That’s good sound theology to which we can all say “amen.” But the best part can be the most difficult for us to really get: Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd!” Jesus is not just the Shepherd, He’s YOUR Shepherd. This is almost just too big for us to wrap our brain around. God created the Universe and then He created our World. And He created YOU. And then He told you that He will be your Shepherd. The Almighty God who created the Heavens and Earth has made YOU the object of His concern and care!

Jesus has chosen you; He calls you by name; He knows you; He provides for you; He gives you rest while He protects you. He gives you eternal life and no one can snatch you out of His hand! (John 10) And, He invites you to dwell in His house – in His presence – forever. (Psalm 23:6) In His presence, you have His provision and protection and you shall not want because you’ll have all you need. The good Shepherd is YOUR good Shepherd, and that’s the most amazing blessing of all..!  AMEN?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fear Not Tomorow

Dear Friend,

I’ve been singing a new song lately called FEAR NOT TOMORROW.  It’s a great song but right now it’s pretty obscure and hard to find. It was written by a worship leader in a church which released it on an album of their own music. Maybe one Sunday we’ll need to learn this wonderful song to help make it a little less obscure!  The chorus goes: “Fear not tomorrow, God is already there...”  Isn’t it funny how just a few words of God’s truth can change your whole perspective on something?  We can look at our past and so clearly see that God was working in our yesterday, but we forget that our timeless God is already working in our tomorrow.

And, have you noticed how it’s never our past that scares us, it’s always our future?  It’s never the known of our yesterday that weakens our knees, it’s always the unknown of tomorrow.  And yet is there really anything to fear about your tomorrow when God is already sitting there and just waiting for you to show up?
Wise Words:“The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear. It is the storm within which endangers him, not the storm without.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
We can struggle to admit our fears out of a “fear” that to do so would somehow reveal a weak and untidy Christian faith. But fear is a normal human response to perceived danger. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was distressed and in agony over His impending death, and God responded by sending an angel to strengthen His Son’s faith. In His despair, Jesus experienced both the human emotion of fear and divinely strengthened faith. And, we too can experience that tension between fear and faith when we face our future. Fear creates dark clouds of doubt that make it difficult to see the presence of God. But faith overcomes fear and we fear not our tomorrow, for God is already there.
One night a house caught fire and a young boy escaped the flames by crawling out of his bedroom window and onto the roof. The rest of the family had already escaped through the front door, and now the father was on the front lawn calling to his son to jump off the roof and into his arms. The boy was terrified. With the swirling smoke and the darkness of the night, he was unable to see past the edge of the roof. “Jump!” yelled the father. “I can’t!” screamed the boy, “I can’t see you!!” The father replied, “I know son, but I can see you and that’s all that matters.” And the boy jumped safely into his father’s arms.
Even when the darkness of fear swirls around us, our faith is what reveals the unseen presence of God. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)  Let’s jump into our future with faith knowing that God is already waiting for us with open arms.  AMEN?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Would Jesus Do Today?

Dear Friend,

Do you remember when it was cool for Christians to wear wristbands that said WWJD? The initials stood for the words, “What Would Jesus Do?” and that was a movement in the late 1990's to encourage Christians to not just believe in Jesus but to act like Jesus. In 1896, a Congregationalist preacher, Charles Sheldon, wrote a book called IN HIS STEPS – What Would Jesus Do?   That book was a call to Christians to show their faith as an outward action toward others and sparked the WWJD? movement in our own generation. 

That crusade in the '90's was the rage among youth groups and encouraged Christians of all ages to do what Jesus would do and treat others with the love of Jesus. But the excitement to follow Jesus has faded in many churches today as we have allowed ourselves over the past decade to be reshaped by secular society. And in doing so, the body of Christ is turning our back on God and we are marginalizing our own faith.

Wise Words:
“Christians who permit themselves to be shaped by secular culture 
are guilty, not only of betraying God, 
but of losing their own true selves.”
 W. Paul Jones
Professor, Theologian, Monk.

When we give ourselves over completely and fully to the Holy Spirit, we are motivated by the love of God and that love is manifested toward others. Our Christian faith should be clearly visible in our life and our lifestyle. A Christian lifestyle of good works toward others is the consequence of the state of grace.  Our good works is the evidence of the “Fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-23) in our lives. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus describes good works as the fruit that comes from the good treasure we have stored up in our heart by God’s grace. If someone were to inspect the fruit produced by your faith, what would they see?  

Some of us today may be too old, too cranky or too vain to wear a plastic bracelet that says WWJD? and I admit to being two out of the three. And even in the 1990's when the bracelet was worn by the cool Christians, no one could ever accuse me of being one of the “cool” ones who followed fads and trends.

But, today the trend is for Christians to follow in the footsteps of secular culture and we’re walking in the wrong direction. We need to reverse that trend and start a fad that’s new all over again. The fad to follow in His footsteps and do what He would do! Take a moment and find a post-it or small piece of paper. Write WWJD? in large letters and post it on the bathroom mirror for a week or the refrigerator or maybe on the inside of your front door so that you’ll see it when you leave the house. Then let’s all together watch how this “new” fad to do “what Jesus would do” changes our lives, and be prepared to share some praise reports!  AMEN?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The AMEN Corner

Dear Friend,

Welcome to the first edition of our weekly newsletter, Amen Corner! This will be a very short and informal newsletter with stories, reminders, scripture, prayer requests, things to remember from last Sunday and things to look forward to for next Sunday.  When I say that this will be a “weekly” newsletter, please forgive me when it isn’t. 

I’ve been thinking that as we look forward each Sunday to worshiping the Lord and connecting with our church family, it can sometimes feel like a long time between Sundays. We can feel disconnected during the week, and at times we may even need a spiritual boost to keep us recharged and refreshed.  

Hopefully, the Amen Corner will help to keep us connected with each other at the mid-point in our week and maybe even refresh our souls with a spiritual boost of encouragement.  I was also thinking that for those in our congregation who, for distance or health reasons, find it difficult to come and worship with us every Sunday, Amen Corner may help them to remain connected with their church family.

Why did I call this the Amen Corner?  In the more “vocal” churches – some Pentecostal, Baptist, and African-American churches – the congregation shouts out words of encouragement as the pastor preaches: “AMEN!” “PREACH IT BROTHER!”  “GLORY!”  “YES! THAT’S RIGHT!”  And the “amen corner” is an area, usually near the pulpit, where the most vocal shouters sit together to lead the congregation in their encouraging responses.  This newsletter is your pastor’s “amen corner” where I will try my best to encourage you during your week and keep us connected between Sundays.  Can anyone give me an AMEN! to that??