myoikos

The Crew: Susanna: Fellowship, Stanford, Genetic Biology, Palo Alto, CA; Duke University 2020 Luke: Student, USAF, Scott AFB Frances Brantley: Student, Baylor School, Chattanooga, TN; Daughter and Sister Wendy Williams Brantley: Hook Marketing, CEO; Mom and Wife John Brantley: Clergy, UMC Elder at Rock Spring UMC, oikos:itsahouseholdword, CIO of Hook Marketing. King of Kotimme.com [Clergy, Author, Writer, Seeker and Poet]

Homepage: http://www.clergy.pro

John 1:43-51 “Answering the Call”

Photo: https://www.ginfoundry.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Fig-tree.jpg
  • John 1:43-51     New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha
  • “Second Sunday after the Epiphany” January 17, 2021
  • Video: https://youtu.be/j3KH3CnKq2w

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” [NRSA: John 1:43-51]    

Central to Jesus’s work is the calling and equipping of disciples. He calls Philip who is influential in reaching Nathanael and other disciples and further sharing the Good News.

The convincing thing that Jesus grab Nathanael’s interest, trust, and response concerns both Philip and a Fig Tree.

Let’s look at the fig tree first.

As a personal testimony concerning fig trees, I have shared with you that I’m not a big fan of figs unless they are inside a Newton. Then, along with a glass of whole milk, I find the combination rather enjoyable. In reflection of thirty-six years of ministry and eighteen years prior as a preacher’s kid, there have been seven parsonages that had fig trees in the yard, and typically near the driveway. I don’t believe there are such instructions in the Book of Disciples about the furnishing of parsonages that include fig-trees, but as it is a prominent story in scripture I see that it is more likely to have fig bushes than mulberry or olive trees.

The things I have disliked about fig trees are the birds flocking to eat the fruit just when it is ripe that startle one passing by and the mess the birds leave when the remnants have fallen to the grown and one slips on a slimy fig leftover walking around the bush. Also, it’s another item that needs pruning, trimming, and maintenance in the yard. Nevertheless, the one bush that is at the end of our current driveway and near the path to the back yard in our current home is a fig bush. But by now, I have grown accustomed and find it a fond site every day. (I still don’t care to eat a fig, thankful our bush doesn’t have many left after the birds do their job.)

Why would someone be sitting under the fig tree? Likely, the broad branches filled with leaves would provide a cool and shaded spot on a blistering hot day. Secondly, for those who enjoy eating that fruit, it would be a shaded spot filled with snacks available at arms reach. What better place to rest: cool shade and convenient easts. Together, that tells us that Nathanael is a smart cookie. (maybe not as smart as a Fig Newton? I digress)

It is actually more important to see that Jesus’s call of disciples is not by chance. It is with insight, purpose, and intention that Jesus is looking for those to start the work of the church and to see it through times of struggle as well.

Part of what makes Nathanael a candidate for disciple-hood, is resourcefulness, his smarts, and practicality. These are good skills for a disciple. Part of what Jesus saw in Philip was his ability to reach other people. And this is just how Nathanael comes to meet Jesus, that is through Philip. The story of this fig tree is only to further persuade ‘Nate’ that God is already at work in his life.

The “Fig Tree” becomes a symbol of God’s patience, grace, and judgment later in Jesus’s ministry. But today’s fig tree is a person’s moment and place of being known by God.

Too often we don’t actually live thinking about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit being with us on a daily basis. Surely they are too busy, with more important matters, than to monitor our moment by moment activities. And if so we imagine that God must at least be looking aware at times and not see, hear, and be aware of our everyday life.

If we think of God being with us we would either be emboldened to defy God’s righteousness by doing what is evil, or opposite, or contrary to God, in God’s presence. And, if we think that God is too busy to be present with us, always, then we are not always trusting God’s presence in our fears, anxieties, and worries.

I’m assuming that we all just don’t think God is with us in the minute details, rather just checking in when we are at church, or in prayer, or study, or some random chance. Part of the Philip and Nathanael ‘call’ stories teach us that God is at work intentional with us, even when we are not aware of those moments.

When we think of God being busy, looking the other way, with some more important, more needed, or more evil than ourselves, we actually are teaching ourselves God is much smaller. Know that we don’t have to fully figure out God, even though God fully knows us.

Though this passage teaches us God is concerned, Jesus is with us, the Holy Spirit is in the breeze, in the share, in the daily tasks, and no matter how ingenious, smart, clever, resourceful, or alert, God is always a step ahead, a step behind, and standing with us.

So what do fig-trees, Philip, and Nathanael have to do with us in 2021?

God is no less interested in working in our lives than God was working with that tree, the tree in the middle of the garden or the bush at the end of our driveway. God is not less interested in working through our relationships, our days and night, our work and rest, to reveal the kingdom of God throughout the world in our time.

2021 is a call for the church, our church, every church to see the ordinary elements of our work and rest and the relationships that we already have established to be open to God’s revealing the Kingdom today.

In review, what has God seen us do this week that reveals God’s presence? Are our words, thoughts, and actions reflecting God’s presence, God’s patience, God’s power, and God’s plan — or have we done a better job of reflecting our own understanding, our own expectations, and our own goals?

Both Philip and Nathanael have different talents. God uses each of us in different ways, but the core, our starting point comes in recognizing that God’s Spirit is with us, and is longing to love us and work through us to bless the whole world.

2020 the church faced the greatest threat of being not relevant than ever in our lifetimes. We have clearly been labeled as non-essential workers. I’m not trying to make a political statement, I am clearly making a spiritual statement. In our collective lifetime, we have not been instructed to close our doors. Recall our motto was once, “Open Doors..” The threat of pandemic has made it easier to not gather for Christian fellowship, to NOT share our questions and stories of faith in the study; it has made it easier to occupy our time and interest in other activities.

When the pandemic started, if you were listening, your pastor/preacher reminded that this would be a time to spend more effort in prayer, study, and spiritual preparation. For some of us, 2020 was a good excuse to be sitting under the safe shade of a fig tree and not risk the heat of the day. We have grown more comfortable expending less in being the church in the name of safety.

We have tried to be innovative and creative, but the question comes to us: for a world that is starving for faith, security, peace, hope, trust, truth, love, and grace — have we been eating figs under the shade of the tree to prepare us for what is next, or simply to get by, be safe, be contented.

Nathanael’s ‘call’ story is as convicting for us as it was for him. Philip and Nathanael have a similar story to the familiar story of Mary and Martha. Both of those sisters had great talents and skillsets; Mary’s were needed more at one time, while Martha’s at a different time.

2020 was our retreat under the fig tree. 2021 is our call to reach out to those we know and those we are called to reach out to bring people to the love, truth, and heart of Christ for themselves.

Take this week to begin a list of persons that God might be calling you to reach, invite, call, and bless.

Take this week to move from the silent prayers of homes and hearts, into the conversation with share with others that they might clearly experience God’s Spirit working in their own lives.

2020 might been names Nathanael. 2021 is Philip. The year of stepping out of the shade, away from the figs, and into each other’s hearts.

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Acts 19:1-7 “Baptism in 2021”

January 10, 2021 – First Sunday after the Epiphany

“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied– altogether there were about twelve of them. [NRSA: Acts 19:1-7] 

We begin the new year in a hope for something old and something new. We want to have the old way of life, our familiar habits and sense of order to return while looking forward to the innovation of change and opportunity of transition. But this is not a realistic expectation. The past is now the past and we are only left in the present to prepare for our future. And the only thing that we can influence is the present, this moment, right now… well now, no now!

Precious seconds have moved into that past of our history, memory, and shared remembering and we are still living only in the moment. Some take this living in the present and assume it comes without God’s expectation and hope.

We are blessed by the past, we are challenged by the experience it offers, but our calling is to live in this moment becoming God’s people, God’s persons. We are called to be God’s people in 2021.

With every year that the world view expands, the more discoveries, the more inventions, the more knowledge the more God’s people are challenged to live into the perspective that God has created, and blessed, and provided in the past, but has now left the rest to us to figure out.

Remember the God’s Good News: Mark Chapter 1

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” [NRSA: Mark 1:1-8]

Mark reminds us that the Good News is not about us. God’s Good News is about God. It is about God’s work in Jesus Christ. Mark is connecting the promises of the prophet Isaiah to the first century church. He recounts about John the Baptist just are Luke reminds us of Paul’s sharing the same story with yet a different time and community.

The Story of God’s goodness begins in baptism. What is the big deal about baptism?

Prior to John the Baptist, baptism was more understood as an act of purification, a spiritual bath. And just as often we might bathe to keep our physical bodies clean, to remove dirt, sweat, dead cells, we would have found the ritual of cleansing bathes to be the release of toxic spiritual thoughts, behaviors, and choices. But think about taking a bath to be clean and then going back out to the beach. No sooner does the wind blow and your skin is covered with sand and sweat again.

John is known as the baptizer because he took baptism and focused it one a way to spiritual prepare for the Messiah’s arrival. Getting our Soles/Souls ready for the Savior. [Cobblers sign at Easter]. It is the combination of spiritual cleansing as a sign that “I am ready for the Messiah to arrive and I want to be ready.” [The Promise that Jesus is Coming Soon and you better be ready, that we hear in traditions who continue to see baptism as the necessary step to assure salvation.]

But our look today helps us think about what Baptism is to us.

One bishop of the early church would immerse persons three times, holding them under the water to the near point of drowning, so that they might experience the death of Christ, and be gasping for the new life in the Spirit through baptism. By the 1500’s most who thought about Baptism, as only a physical reminder of either Jesus’s baptism, or even Jesus’s time in the tomb. It was simply a mental reminder with a ritual practice that might not even contained water at all. Martin Luther say baptism as this type of memorial and ritual. This Lutheran tradition influenced most protestant theologians and traditions.

Those who only think of Baptism as immersion, “going all the way under the water” as the only valid baptism come from a theologian named Zwingli, who required believers to not only be immersed, but also only accepted baptism when it also was accompanied one personal verbal confession/profession of faith. He did not recognize infant baptism, and objected from the practice of baptism being a mental affirmation, in his tradition it have to be full, all the way under, immersion. It is from this tradition that the Baptist, Mennonite, Amish, Church of God, Pentecostal and other find their understanding of baptism being a replication of John and Jesus’s baptism models.

United Methodist are a combination of the traditions. We see that baptism is not about the amount of water, but that through the water, we experience awakening as a spiritual person. We may allow a time between the act of baptism and the believers confession or profession of faith, to allow for infant baptism, that is later confirmed when we are older. We typically call baptisms a “Means of Grace”. That is to say that it is one of the times that we trust that God is both physically and spiritually connected with us. Just as in receiving Holy Communion, it is not simply a meal, but it is through that meal that receive the spiritual food, to claim, re-claim, forgive, bless, heal, and empower both our physical and spiritual journey.

So much for the History and Theology Lessons. What is Baptism to us in 2021?

Baptism continues to be a means of grace, but it is not repeated as with communion. Just as we much eat, and wash, and rest, and work communion is that which we might trust daily. Baptism, as a “Means of Grace” is our spiritual adoption into the Family of God. Once we are a claimed as heirs with Christ, God does not let us go, unless we reject or forsake that relationship. God does not force us, but once Baptized, God continues to make one of God’s Dwelling places in the world.

Baptism is the formal connection of God with Us.

Think the Lord’s prayer: We pray together, with all those in Christ, as we repeat and remind each other, to ask for both our daily bread, AND we ask for God’s Kingdom to be revealed, completed, available, and experienced in our lives, wherever we go, for everyone around us. “wherever you are, there I am also.” The more God’s baptized people are “In the world” the more of the world can experience the Salvation of God, the power of God, the love of God.

Baptism is our confirmation as Citizens of Heaven.

Baptism can also be thought of as the occasion that we are ‘naturalized’ as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our citizenship is not just something we find when we show the passport to St Pete and the angels at the Pearly Gates, it is what we are called to do, how to live, and how to interact with the crazy, sinful, every changing, ever wooing world of 2021 and beyond.

Baptism is our Spiritual Birthday and birthright through Christ.

As heirs and joint-heirs with Christ, we are as the church, God’s living witness of life in a world focused on death and destruction.

Baptism is our receiving authority and purpose for our spiritual journey.

Baptism is being granted power of the Holy Spirit and the expectation to do even greater deeds than the first disciples.

Baptism is our gift of God’s promise that we unwrap and use every day for eternity.

We begin each day on God’s terms, in God’s time, for God’s purpose and we have God’s Counsel, Guide, Power, and Wisdom as our account, as our resources, and as our tool box.

Baptism is not just a ritual, it is not just words that we say, it is not just

If you have been baptized, I invite you to type in the chat or in the comments as an affirmation. “I have been baptized. I am a child of God.”

If you have not been baptized, please share your questions or hesitations. Not for judgement sake, but in the community of faith we would like to share what it means to be a child of God to help you know why our life, while it doesn’t take away the struggle, we live knowing we are on the winning team. We know God has won the championship. We know God has paid our way, and our part is to celebrate and share God’s blessing and guidance in our journey  with one another.

Today we either remember and reaffirm our Baptism, our citizenship, our adoption, of God’s claim on our life

Or we encourage those who have not found God’s heart as your hope, strength, and salvation, then we help each other open the doors and make straight the paths to God’s heart.

Now hear this about BAPTISM in Jan of 2021:

At the moment, the world is in crisis and what we have hoped will be an end to the pandemic, and end to political distress, and a return to some place of comfort in the past.

  • Baptism is our Life Vest, in the storm of chaos.
  • Baptism is our Anchor when we are torn apart.
  • Baptism is our connection to the God’s current work in the world.
  • Baptism is our affirmation that God desires to be present with us more than anything else, and makes a way for all that is lost, hopeless, in despair, and torn asunder…
  • Baptism is our lifeline to God and God’s placing us, equipped to win over all that evil can throw our way.
  • Baptism is the certification of adoptions, the class ring, the wedding ring, the written covenant, and the passport for bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

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Ephesians 1:3-14 “Spending the Inheritance”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. [NRSA: Ephesians 1:3-14]

Spend the Inheritance?

If your financial planner tells you its time to spend all your live savings, you either have a terrible advisor or he or she has some serious insider trading information that you need to listen to quickly.

But our spiritual inheritance is different because of the power to love in the face of our enemies, the grace to look beyond the past that has separated us. Paul writes to the churches of Ephesus calling them to step up their faith and witness. He knows they are able because of God’s plan, Christ’s death, and resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

A New Year, A Renewed Charge and renewed Strength

I have been fascinated with the unfolding of ancient cultures and people’s structural remains of architecture reveal an obsession with connecting the order of civil life to the sun, moon, and stars. The use of lasers and LIDAR has been scanning the globe revealing lost cities around the world that have been lost in time but reveal very organized people who had advanced knowledge of the order of the creation. The orientation of roads, buildings, mounds, entrances to caves, and the placement of stones and markers are used to measure time, season, and the general order of the earth in the universe. In Turkey, structures are found to orient people long before our accepted understanding, people have celebrated the markers of each new year. In Chine, in the Pacific Islands, in the Amazon, in the Southwestern US, in Europe and Africa, we are finding evidence that we have been looking for order, purpose, and direction for more generations than we can imagine.

As we begin a near year, let us hear these words Paul’s shares with the church then, to allow them to be heard a new, and inspire us into faithful action:

In our reading we learn:

  • God has a plan. The plan includes us as children, in God’s family.
  • God’s plan includes the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, for us, for God’s purpose.
  • God’s plan is lavishly spent on us, therefore we can lavishly praise and bring glory to God.
  • God’s Spirit is giving us wisdom, insight, and revealing what once was a mystery.

To what end? For what Purpose?

God’s plan includes a desire for all of us to be united through grace into faithful trust, obedience, and relationship.

What is the measure of a successful parent?

Look to the scriptures:

  • Colossians 3:21 do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
  • Ephesians 6:4 do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
  • Exodus 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
  • Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
  • Proverbs 22:6 Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
  • Matthew 6:33-34 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
  • Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
  • Proverbs 1:8-9 Listen, my child, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. 9 They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.
  • 1 Peter 5:2-3 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
  • Psalm 127:3-5 Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. 5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.
  • Deuteronomy 6:6-9 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
  • Joshua 4:20-24 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”
  • Proverbs 3:1-12 My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, 2 for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. 3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. 9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. 11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

Psalm 78:1-7 My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old— 3 things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they, in turn, would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Paul gives the fulfillment of Psalm 78: Christ is revealed. The Holy Spirit is poured out! Salvation is made possible through life, death, and resurrection.

so that: vs 7 of Ps.78, “Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

There it is!

God has made spent our inheritance that we might trust God, remember God’s works of love and grace so that we would keep God’s righteousness, commandments, and be a living witness of that trust.

So as we begin this new year, let us do more than resolve to trust God’s righteousness, let us begin now. It is not our goal, it is the mission.

Our key response to the Resurrection and Salvation that God has given us in Christ is to be the inspiration of what John Wesley identified as SANCTIFICATION.

  • It is the sum of the activities that we do to grow in faith, share our faith, and praise God.
  • If it helps to think in terms of New Year Resolutions, choose a new spiritual practice and set a course to be devoted to it for God’s purpose.

Most of the New Year Resolutions are for our own benefit. We want to lose weight, start exercising for our physical activity for health, We create budgets to save and spend more responsibility.

This invitation is, again, more than a resolution, more than a goal or suggestion. Take the steps of faith to make 2021 the memorable year of our spiritual growth.

  • Some Ideas:
  • Read through the Bible in 364 days. Start today, there are several good suggestions, simply Google them.
  • If your health allows, begin one day a week that becomes your fast each week. Drinking water, coffee, or tea but no food and spend that time on food procurement, preparation, consumption, and cleaning in prayer, study, singing, or service.
  • Begin a personal ministry of faith sharing. Write out your faith journey, nuggets of what and why your faith gives you strength, and find ways to bring Christ into your weekly conversations with others.
  • Start a prayer group, find a group of people that you share on the phone or texting, or social media, and share prayer concerns and pray to encourage one another and lift others up.
  • Start a new devotion reading. There are resources on the Upper Room website and dozens at Christain bookstores. Start the day, end the day, or find a time during the day to start a new spiritual habit.
  • Start a new saving plan that is specifically for God to use for others in need. This past year has devastated many and 2021 may hold new challenges that are yet to be experienced that your gifts will be a blessing.
  • While worship online has been a challenge for most everyone, it is something that we need to cherish every opportunity to sing, share, and experience the Christain community in every way we can. Be devoted to not miss weekly worship and share the experience with others by sharing links and experiences that encourage others.
  • Bottom line, don’t stop what you are currently doing… add a spiritual discipline to what you are already doing. If none of these have been your practice, then start one or some similar spiritual exercise program.

The Goal, the Mission is to praise and grow in our relationship with God and one another.

These are the things that open the door to God’s heart.

These are ways that we show our praise.

In Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

You are called, you are blessed, you are equipped, you are strengthened, you are saved, you are the investment. Make 2021 the year you begin to mature God’s trust.

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1SunChristmas Isaiah 61:10-62:3 “Dressed for the Wedding”

The average Georgia wedding cost $32,400 in 2020, which is down from #33,900 in 2019.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, a

The average Georgia wedding cost $32,400 in 2020, which is down from #36,600 in 2019.

Wedding Statistics

  • Destination weddings average $32,000, while
    • hometown weddings average $27,000.
    • First marriages weddings average $30,000, while
    • second weddings average $14,000.
    • Millennials typically spend $30,000, while
    • members of Gen Xers spend $20,000
  • New Jersey has the highest average cost at $53,400, with Utah taking the lowest spot at $19,700.
  • The average wedding dress costs around $1,500.
  • Wedding photography costs an average of $2,400, while videography averages $1,799.
  • The average cost of a wedding cake is $540, but can vary widely.
  • Venues normally charges approximately $30,000 for a standard wedding with 300 guests indicated micro weddings cost an estimated $2,750 for up to 30 guests or $4,500 for up to 50 guests.
  • Couples budget, on average, spend 25% more than they budget according to Wedding Wire’s 2020 Newlywed Report.
  • All these expenses and what is appropriate for the one person Required to officiate and make it legal?

Today our passage from Isaiah invites us to think about garments.

My uncle Mike use to tease us saying when we very little, “Did you know you have garments all over your body. Does you mother know you are covered in garments?” ..Thinking he was talking about germs or cooties, we didn’t know what to think.

Hear Isaiah 61 and following

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. For Zion’s sake, I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not rest until her vindication shines out like the dawn and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. [NRSA: Isaiah 61:10-62:3]

The Prophet Isaiah calls God’s People to Rejoice!

— I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God;

Can you picture your whole being, present in praising God? Too often we are self-conscious about what others are seeing our hearing of doing and saying. Our minds are thinking about one thought while we are going through the motions of ritual or exercise. We rehearse the words and concepts but can separate what is good and righteous when we need the advantage to confront the opposition.

Rather than living ways that categorize our time and energy, we could be fully present in any moment, be empty of all other distractions. We do experience moments, where our hearts, minds, and bodies are focused, this is one of the reasons we gather for worship. To set aside the time, this location or stream, to share the same song, words, prayers, and spiritual presence.

Isaiah is describing something more ordinary than a day of worship. Can you picture yourself in the presence of all those who are gathering to worship God today, right now? Those in our community, in our state, region, nation, and around the globe? Add to that fellowship are those worshiping in heaven, from times past, present, and future.

My grandmother Ruby used to say, it does not matter if you wear your suit or a dress to church if you are wearing your best. Give God your absolute best.

Isaiah must have spoken to Ruby and countless others who are reminding us that being in the presence of God is our purpose, is our mission, in our life. When we go to this moment, give our absolute best to be present for God.

Too quickly we drift into miscellaneous dress codes and comparisons, and mistake fashion for praise. Think instead this way. If you getting married and you wanted your spouse to see you at your absolute best, what would your way to celebrate that first impression?

Isaiah knows God is much more interested in being made whole, presentable, accepted than our getting dressed up for the special occasion.

— for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,

— he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

The appropriate clothes to wear to be in God’s presence are the clothes that God has given us.

Have you ever received some gift from someone who cares very much for you and that gift was something to wear, but even though it is not something you would have selected for yourselves, Mama says, We are going to see your aunt Shirley, “Wear the shirt she gave you.”

What is that about?

Is it proving a point? Or is the wearing of the garments an act of gratitude and appreciate? It is.

Bride grooms have it easier… than the brides.

— as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

One of the things that I think is so funny is that if a woman sees someone wearing the same dress that she has selected she and the other woman have this awkward moment where they share both inward feelings and outward conversation to help resolve that fashion faux pas.

But if a group of women are all asked to wear the very same dress as attendants to their friend who is the bride, who will be wearing the best dress in the house, these same women will claim it as an honor to wear the same dress to the wedding. What’s up with that?

Or consider the lilies and daffodils that are waiting to break through the cold ground of today to announce the coming spring of rebirth!

— For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Isaiah calls us to be a Garden ready to blossom.

I recall the first time I spent a season of planting corn on the family farm, we planted acers of seeds in the brown clay. The rains came and the days past, and small green leaves transform barren land into an enormous lawn. Most days and nights past and the lawn became green stalks, and green stalks produced small ears of corn, and the tassels came forth and changed in color to report that time of harvest.

Or the digging of holes to be filled with thorny sticks, that with time, water, and nurture became beds of roses of deep and brilliant colors.

God is planting in us, investing in us, nurturing our spirits, that our lives become those moments of beauty and praise.

What does Isaiah teach us to do with this knowing that God is preparing us?

  •  For Zion’s sake, I will not keep silent, and
  • — for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not rest until her vindication shines out like the dawn and
  • — for her salvation like a burning torch.
  • — the nations shall see your vindication, and
  • — all the kings your glory; and
  • — you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

Why get dress up? Why give our best? Why nurture our spirit? Why save us from our sins?

It is for God’s sake, that we are blessed, loved, corrected, saved, and made whole.

-You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and

When I sang in our church youth choir our director asked us to describe a diadem. The word that Isaiah uses in this passage describes what we are to God. We did not have Google to look it up, we actually had to go home, find a dictionary, look it up and the first one to find it and call the director at home did not have to lug the choir’s risers up after the next practice. (The promise of food is an inspiration to many, but the avoidance of manual labor inspires a young teenage boy.)

Isaiah paint the spectacular picture of the jewels and precious metals and symbols of authority and sovereignty of the most special crown of crown.

–a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

To God, we who are divided, broken, empty, selfish brutes, God saves us to be the witness of God’s authority, and the fruit of God’s love.

Just as the king or queen would wear a majestic crown, a diadem, we are the witness of God’s greatness, but being all in, fully present, totally committed, and devoted to God.

As we conclude this crazy year, we may indeed have more struggle and journey ahead, but we know the path to the father’s heart, leads through Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. These are our means of grace. We know to close ourselves in God’s goodness, because left alone, we become a broken, hot mess.

  • We know that under these clothes of God’s goodness, we are vulnerable, afraid, and lost.
  • We know that our best impression only lasts a moment, and God’s claim upon us is to be eternal.
  • We are called to be the crown, the jewel, the witness of God’s power and mercy.
  • May we surrender our will and worries, our weakness and wisdom, trust God with our whole self.

Lord have mercy on me, for your sake, let this and every day, may me life be yours.

  • God be in my eyes and my vision.
  • God be in my hands and my doing.
  • God be in my mind and my thinking.
  • God be in my rest and when I wake.
  • God make me the joy of your salvation. Amen!

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“Christmas Eve in 2020” Titus 2:11-14

Unwrap Christ with Zeal and a Passion to Share Jesus Christ

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. [NRSA: Titus 2:11-14]

“Open House for Christmas”

Some of my earliest memories of Christmas Eve have been shared with church families from around the state: Cliftondale, Forest Park, Eatonton, Breman, Oxford, Elberton, Emerson, Gainesville, Covington, Atlanta, Fairburn, Blue Ridge, Jackson, and now Rock Spring. Every Christmas Eve of my life I have spent in church. Other churches opened their doors on Christmas Eve before my memory. So here we are in 2020 with our virtual doors open on a messy, cold, and windy night. It seems fitting to experience Christmas Eve in 2020 in ways that are less than ideal as a reflection of the reality we have shared this year.

 One of my favorite years was the open house at the parsonage in Eatonton, Mom had not only had us baking, cleaning, and decorating for the congregation to come to the house between the two Christmas Eve services, we were suppose to be singing and remembering lines for a Christmas program that year. Anxiety levels were high. Christmas joy was not in sight. It was simply busy business and far from celebrating Jesus.

The note that mom had left on the hand towels that afternoon was not removed when the doors opened for the neighbors, friends, and congregation. All through the evening guest at snacks, toured the collection of nativity scenes in every room of the house, they also made mini pilgrimages to the guest bathroom. After the events of the evening were over Mom was in the guest bathroom and let out a horrible scream. She found her own note that had not been moved: “Keep you damn nasty off the towels.” For years people asked if we every dried our hands on those towels.

But that year, was moment, we had to ask what was more important, the festivities or faith? This entire year has been a testing of our faith in God, in our society, in our neighbors and with one another.

Our Need to See God is Open for Business

Titus in those early days of the church also needed to be reminded: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

  • Grace has appeared in acts of service and kindness that we have shone through one other.
  • Sometimes we, myself surely included, have missed important opportunities, but we have also learned how important our faith, our ministries, our loving-kindness is needed.
  • Tomorrow begins our season of Christ; of giving birth and rebirth of the hope, joy, love, grace, and salvation Christ has promised, delivered, and continues to reveal.

Titus was weary and needed to hear it; so do we.

Titus needing encouragement and training to decern Godliness from worldliness.  This season of pandemic and political carnage reminds us that we need to encourage, train, and retrain one another in the areas of self-control, righteousness, and what is Godly, while we wait for hope to be revealed.

Christmas 2020

Most of us, have the idea of what we will do when we do not have the pandemic to deal with every day.

  • This is a goal, but are not there yet, and do not have specific end date. We are living in a time of waiting.

This parallels our waiting for Christ. We do not just put off being good and righteous until Jesus shows up. We are called to share the gospel even in the waiting. Share the hope because we have not arrived at the promised land. Share grace because we are surrounded by fear, greed, lies, and lawlessness.

  • Christmas comes for Mary and Joseph at an inopportune time.
  • It messes up their plans and dreams.
  • It changes their lives forever.
  • We can say the same of the era in which we find ourselves.

This year, 2020 Christmas is more than a story retold

Christmas is the challenge to see Christ revealed, his love birthed in the darkest night, in the threatening doom, in the weariness and apparent free reign of what is evil and broken.

We are being called to share Jesus NOW, in the middle of the mess, in times of uncertainty and division, in unsettle times, for these very reasons:

It is Christ, himself, that redeems, restores, renews, and makes us right, true, and whole.

Titus needed to hear it: “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

This Christmas and with every day, we can unwrap the mysteries of faith, sing the joy of the Gospel, share the Good News, EVEN for world that driven inward and fleeing from God.

  • We can sing the hymns, carols, and songs of faith that break through the dark of the night.
  • We are lift high the light of Christ when all around us is vile, empty, or dark.
  • We share gifts of kindness all year long, but especially when we are so sequestered and separated.

Being Zealous for Good, for God, for Christmas

Zeal is great energy, enthusiasm, and passion in pursuit of a cause or an objective.

  • Our cause is Christ and our objective is to let his light shine through all we do.
  • Where you hear fear, hate, and lies: Stand up and speak hope, love and truth
  • Where you see despair, empty, and want: Show acts of hope, fullness and wholeness
  • Where you know patterns of behavior, poor-choices, and sin: Give and Seek help to make good habits
  • Where you are tired, frustrated, and afraid, Give yourself to the Christ again, and again
  • Where you are lost, seek God’s spirit to Guide
  • Where you are broken, give yourself to restored in God.

And here are on a hallowed night:

  • Tonight and tomorrow, practice telling each other you are glad you have time share the love of Christ in new and creative ways. – yes, we miss some traditions, but our calling, our Christ is not on vacation.
  • Tonight and tomorrow, unwrap the scriptures, open your hearts in prayer, sing your strongest chorus and celebrate Christ’s arrival and revealing in your life now. – not just when things get easier or more familiar.
  • Tonight go to sleep anticipating what God has planned, hoped, and dreamed your Christmas will be.
  • Tonight rest in the peace that Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection have given and will give all who claim life in him.
  • Tonight know Christ is with us, call us to give hope and life to the world in its darkest hour.
  • Tonight Christ lives in you, and me, connecting with a world that hungers and thirsts for Christ.
  • Tomorrow is a day of Zeal, Passion, Beginning, and tonight is our anticipation of that gift made whole in for us.

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Advent4 Romans 16:25-27 “Mystery Revealed in Doing” Tis the Season to be Trusting and love God and not the as the World

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. 

[NRSA: Romans 16:25-27]

Who knew the conclusion to a letter could be so powerful! Paul’s letter to the church at Rome,

The purpose of Jesus being born and revealing God’s heart, mind, word, and will is for us to clearly see that we would completely trust and obey.

Compare with the introduction to Paul’s letter to the churches at Rome [NRSA: Romans 1:1-5]

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,

Paul’s opening is basically a repeat of the conclusion. Bookends to hold up a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What does that have to do with our Advent journey?

What are the bookends in our lives?

I was recently reminded of a Peyton Manning who had shared his perspective about the occasion an athlete retires. Typically, on an announcer show, a most recognizable photo of a player during their career and the years of play are shown under their name. Joe Namath, 1965-1985, Hershel Walker, 1985-1997; Peyton Manning, 1988-2015. Peyton’s comment was about the dash between the numbers. The Dash represents the career of success and failures between the two numbers. The bookends are important, but the dash is more important.

Part of Advent has been establishing the bookends, the context, the itinerary of our spiritual journey. This fourth week we best focus on the main thing.

We have reminded one another to praise, to prepare, and to practice maturing our spiritual self. The last leg of this trek is to pause.

Traditionally Advent is the time

  • we hear about John the Baptizer and his call to prepare the way for the Lord,
  • we hear God’s call upon Marry, who is both humble and faithful, to carry and deliver the Son of God.
  • We hear about Joseph and his uncertainty about the unfolding events,
  • And maybe we hear about the shepherds who are both frightened, comforted and compelled by the host of angels.

But this year, I invite you to place those stories in the position of the bookend that help define and refocus us as Christmas is now less than a week away.

Hear Paul’s words to the church as we reflect on 2020 and look forward to the power of God with us in 2021.

  • God who is able — Who is ABLE to overcome pandemics? political strife? fears and even death?
  • to strengthen you — Where will you and I find the strength to overcome these things and more?
  • according to my gospel and — Did we know this promise is in God’s word? Read them? studied them? shared them?
  • the proclamation of Jesus Christ, — Have we told others about Jesus, his strength? grace?
  • according to the revelation of the mystery — Do we trust what’s been shown to us? experience?
  • that was kept secret for long ages — Can we look back and see God patiently at work?
  • but is now disclosed, and — Can we find God being revealed now?
  • through the prophetic writings is — Have we looked for the pieces and fitting them together?
  • made known to all the Gentiles, — God loves us who love Him but also those who do not.
  • according to the command of the eternal God, — is it an idea, a suggestion, a nudge, or a command?
  • to bring about the obedience of faith — This is the heart of it all — God is seeks our response.
  • to the only wise God, — God who knows what is best for us
  • through Jesus Christ, — Who makes clear, knowing our sin, failures, faults, & weaknesses. Died for us.
  • to whom be the glory forever! — God desires an eternal relationship, love, faith, trust, obedience.

The history of God’s work with the world is revealed in the bookends of Paul’s letter:

The heart of the story is fleshed out with us, throughout human history.

We have God’s strength, guidance, word/teaching, grace, hope and life — when we give obedience.

Oh it was going so well until we get to the Trust and Obey part.

God desire good and blessing for all, but we are living in a

  • playground,
  • workplace,
  • homestead,
  • political agreement
  • neighborhood

..where not everyone Trusts and Obey and we wrestle with whom to trust.  We see the power of disobedience

What does it mean to Trust and Obey God? Look at the bookends we have discussed the past three weeks.

  1. We are not the potter; we are the clay.
  2. We need to repent of our sins and be made new through Christ
  3. We need to be maturing and growing in spirit.
  4. The Dash – “Dashing through the snow” Calling one another to live like
    1. We are being shaped by God and not the world
    1. Loving our enemies and the lost because it serves Christ and not ourselves
    1. Wake up and get to work growing and sharing Christ with others.

Trusting and Obeying is the DOING these.

This fourth week we gather to invest this next week…

Before any traveling, cooking, shopping, wrapping, decorating, or celebrating: Is what I’m focused on right now something that is drawing me toward God, keeping me stuck where I am, of moving me away from the heart of God.

  1. Actively do, say, and think what draws us to God and not to the world
  2. Intentionally seek out those we need to forgive and seek their forgiveness
  3. Wake up each day with this prayer: “Good Morning God! What do you want me to do today?

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Advent4 Romans 16:25-27 “Mystery Revealed in Doing”

Tis the Season to be Trusting and love God and not the as the World.

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. [NRSA: Romans 16:25-27]

Who knew the conclusion to a letter could be so powerful! Paul’s letter to the church at Rome,

The purpose of Jesus being born and revealing God’s heart, mind, word, and will is for us to clearly see that we would completely trust and obey.

Compare with the introduction to Paul’s letter to the churches at Rome [NRSA: Romans 1:1-5]

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,

Paul’s opening is basically a repeat of the conclusion. Bookends to hold up a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What does that have to do with our Advent journey?

What are the bookend in our lives?

I was recently reminded of a Peyton Manning who had shared his perspective about the occasion an athlete retires. Typically on an announcer show, a most recognizable photo of a player during their career and the years of play are shown under their name. Joe Namath, 1965-1985, Hershel Walker, 1985-1997; Peyton Manning, 1988-2015. Peyton’s comment was about the dash between the numbers. The Dash represents the career of success and failures between the two numbers. The bookends are important, but the dash is more important.

Part of Advent has been establishing the bookends, the context, the itinerary of our spiritual journey. This fourth week we best focus on the main thing.

We have reminded one another to praise, to prepare, and to practice maturing our spiritual self. The last leg of this trek is to pause.

Traditionally Advent is the time

  • we hear about John the Baptiser and his call to prepare the way for the Lord,
  • we hear God’s call upon Marry, who is both humble and faithful, to carry and deliver the Son of God.
  • We hear about Joseph and his uncertainty about the unfolding events,
  • And maybe we hear about the shepherds who are both frightened, comforted and compelled by the host of angels.

But this year, I invite you to place those stories in the position of the bookend that help define and refocus us as Christmas is now less than a week away.

Hear Paul’s words to the church as we reflect on 2020 and look forward to the power of God with us in 2021.

  • God who is able — Who is ABLE to overcome pandemics? political strife? fears and even death?
    • to strengthen you — Where will you and I find the strength to overcome these things and more?
      • according to my gospel and — Did we know this promise is in God’s word? Rethem? studied them? shared them?
        • the proclamation of Jesus Christ, — Have we told others about Jesus, his strength? grace?
      • according to the revelation of the mystery — Do we trust what’s been shown to us? experience?
        • that was kept secret for long ages — Can we look back and see God patiently at work?
        • but is now disclosed, and — Can we find God being revealed now?
      • through the prophetic writings is — Have we looked for the pieces and fitting them together?
      • made known to all the Gentiles, — God loves us who love Him but also those who do not.
    • according to the command of the eternal God, — is it an idea, a suggestion, a nudge, or a command?
      • to bring about the obedience of faith — This is the heart of it all — God is seeks our response.
      • to the only wise God, — God who knows what is best for us
    • through Jesus Christ, — Who makes clear, knowing our sin, failures, faults, & weaknesses..died for us.
      • to whom be the glory forever! — God desires an eternal relationship, love, faith, trust, obediance.

The history of God’s work with the world is revealed in the bookends of Paul’s letter:

The heart of the story is fleshed out with us, throughout human history.

We have God’s strength, guidance, word/teaching, grace, hope and life — when we give obedience.

Oh it was going so well until we get to the Trust and Obey part.

God desire good and blessing for all, but we are living in a

  • playground,
  • workplace,
  • homestead,
  • political agreement
  • neighborhood

..where not everyone Trusts and Obey and we wrestle with whom to trust.

What does it mean to Trust and Obey God? Look at the bookends we have discussed the past three weeks.

  1. We are not the potter, we are the clay.
  2. We need to repent of our sins and be made new through Christ
  3. We need to be maturing and growing in spirit.
  4. The Dash – “Dashing through the snow” Calling one another to live like
    1. We are being shaped by God and not the world
    2. Loving our enemies and the lost because it serves Christ and not ourselves
    3. Wake up and get to work growing and sharing Christ with others.

Trusting and Obeying is the DOING these.

This fourth week we gather to invest this next week…

Before any traveling, cooking, shopping, wrapping, decorating, or celebrating: Is what I’m focused on right now something that is drawing me toward God, keeping me stuck where I am, of moving me away from the heart of God.

  1. Actively do, say, and think what draws us to God and not to the world
  2. Intentionally seek out those we need to forgive and seek their forgiveness
  3. Wake up each day with this prayer: “Good Morning God! What do you want me to do today?”

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Advent3 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 “3 Rules for Christmas”

LSU training in the off season

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. [NRSA: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24]

Normally we think of Christmas as a time to forget someone the rules, but 2020 has been a challenging year, and Christmas may be the best time to remember our guiding three rules.

Wesley’s core teaching about Christian living are to 1 do no harm, 2. Do all the good you can. 3. practice the disciples of spiritual growth.

Do No Harm:

  • Tpically, this is a no-brainer, we don’t want our words and actions, or our silence and inaction to harm others.
  • Sometime we are advocate for others when we speak up and find proactive ways to help others.
  • Sometime we are to refrain from talking so that others may speak for themselves.

WE ASK IS MORE HARMFUL TO SPEAK OR BE SILENT?

  • There are times that we spend, and times to save.
  • There are times to be reckless in our loving, and times to cautious in waiting and watching.

WE ASK IS IT TIME TO BE INVOLVED PERSONAL OR WAIT FOR a FUTURE TIME?

  • In some circumstances it is impossible to avoid harm.
  • If we choose to help one person, we no longer have resources to help another.
  • If we choose to be friends with people who belong to one group, we may be excluding ourselves from being intimate with another group.
  • In choosing who you are going to marry and spend a lifetime together, there may be one person who is thrilled while the other is disappointed.
  • Before we can actually choose, we need to qualify and name whom is being harmed.
  1. In matters of personal safety,
    1. do I hang out with people who are not a good influence in my life as my friends.
    2. do I hang out with people who are not a good influence because they need a good friend.
      1. Some times we are not strong enough to be the friend in a risky situation.
      2. Sometime we are not truly friends until we can share each other burdens.
  2. In choosing, it is important to be honest with God, ourselves, and others and for some people we say, I can’t be your friend at this time because I’m too tempted to be around you while you are behaving as you are. I can connect from time to time but I can’t be there for you at the moment. I hope one day soon that I can.

Behind this honest connection is not just an excuse to get our of being in a difficult relationship, it is stating that I need to not be tempted, confessing that I’m not strong enough to be in a risky situation, because I will make poor choices given the opportunity. This is also a confession to God, that I have a greater need for God to be guiding my life. Both persons need the benefit of friend, but it is too risking at the moment.

What is the better choice: Telling someone you know who needs a support and friend that needs your friendship or do you risk both of you missing out of what your time together could be?

There is a better answer: We are going to commit to being friends but we both needs some accountability to protect each other. This is where God works through use as mediator for others, in small groups, in support groups, in mutual counseling and many other ways.

Do you give money to someone who is hungry on the side of the street? Is it doing more harm to potentially contribute to someone’s perpetual poor choices or not give them something and hold them accountable.

  1. It is actually more comforting to the donor or helper than a transformation of life for the recipient. The answer to the question is both have good, but neither is a solution. If someone is hungry and asking for help at least it is easy to identify a need in our community. Many more people live meagerly and we don’t know, we don’t see it. Someone on the corner is visible. On the other hand a handful of change or fist full of Benjamins will not be enough to solve all the typical struggle that lead to someone in that situtaion.

The way to look at the choice of what is harm is to be in conversation with God about our world around us.

There are concrete times that God has said to me: This persons needs that $5 in your pocket much more than you. And other times, God has said, not now, even if you gave them $100 there are not in a place to make wise choices. The difference is who is defining the harm.

Do No Harm, is to be defined by God and the only way we know is through rule number three:

Do all the Good you can.

We like this one because it adds a qualification that the first rule does not state, but both are implied. That is that perspective that tempers what we are able to do.

Do all the Good, holds the same struggle that at times we are not sure what the good is and it become filtered by what WE say is good, or what it Good for us.

Sometimes, doing that which is good for God, is not good for us personally, at least in the moment.

  • These are the times that we experience personal sacrifice.
  • These are times that we learn about our relationship with God and how much we trust or question God.

Examples:

  • Just as a parent might choose for a child to go on an adventure they would love to experience, but they stay home so the child can know the blessing.
  • Just as co-workers choose to work together for the company’s success
  • As teammates struggle are personal harm to secure the win for the team, the coach, the school, the fan, parents, etc.

Just as in measuring what is Good, we are called measure Goodness by God’s standard and direction.

Good for our friends, work, political parties might be 180 degrees from God’s call upon our lives. The way we discern what is GOOD, is through practicing rule number three.

3. Practice the Disciplines of Spiritual Growth

This is where the church is at its greatest help, because even the evilest person with the evilest intentions and goals, can justify what is harmful to them and their cause, and what is good for them personally and for their efforts.

In truth, Rule #3 is the backbone and strength that make keeping Number 1 and 2 possible.

What are the ways we practice our spiritual development. What spiritual exercising build our spiritual nature.

  1. Prayer – Meditation
  2. Study
  3. Worship
  4. Fasting
  5. Confession
  6. Christian Fellowship
  7. Rest
  8. Holy Communion
  9. Serving
  10. Generosity
  11. Chastity
  12. Disciples Making

If you are conditioning for a sport or team:

  • there are skills to practice,
  • repetition of practice with regularity,
  • planning and forecasting,
  • eating well and resting
  • celebrating and nurturing the individuals and the team.

How well would the game go if an athlete is devoted to doing one or two of these things well, how would that effect their own performance and their contribution to the collective work of the team.

This final rule is the one that will make the most different in our understanding and experience of Christmas and our Christian living: Practicing the disciplines of spiritual growth.

What do I want for Christmas VS what do I need for Christmas to be the transforming-life-changing time of my life, your life, the life of the church?

  • WORK ON ALL 12
  • Help encourage one another in all 12
  • Don’t let each other off the hook for all 12

Practice all the tools that make us ready to do no harm and do all the good that we can. For in Christ I can do all things in Christ who gives me/us strength… be strong in the disciples, it be strong in the Lord, in the church, in the world, in our lives, in our relationship.

This is not the time just repentance, don’t just look at what’s missing, look at the missing parts and get fired up! This is time to put the spiritual sweat into the life God is calling us to live.

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Advent2 Mark 1:1-8 “Tying Laces”

closeup photo of brown lace up boot
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” [NRSA: Mark 1:1-8]

  • It is interesting that Mark’s gospel begins with Jesus and John the Baptist.
  • The starting point is baptism. John’s invitation was a call for people to repent.

REPENTANCE

Moving spiritually closer toward God requires that we acknowledge our separation from God.

  • Some of the spiritual distance comes from our moving away from God by wilfully choosing what we know to be harmful to others, ourselves, and/or the opposite of God’s best for us.
  • Some come as we allow other relationships and responsibilities to come before God. It is not that the relationship and responsibilities are bad, it is that we look for strength, judgment, discernment from ourselves, or others ahead of God.
  • In this year we have particularly been asked to trust the science, trust the scientists. We appreciate those who devote themselves to using the mind, research, calculations, measurements, and follow the methods and practice of science. But even science is the discovering, understanding, and use of God’s creation. There are those who want science to be void of God and stand as an authority that needs no idea of God, this is not why God has given us the ability to reason, to be self-aware, and to imagine new solutions. If we study at the marvel of God’s creation and not honor that God is greater than our greatest minds, then we create our own God. (commandment #2)
  • Some the gap is created when we choose little, by little, our will over God’s: The fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden was just one piece of fruit. What difference does one tangerine, one apple, one pomegranate make in a garden of plenty?
  • God is gracious to forgive, but our failures to follow God’s direction and call in our daily lives in whatever form reveals the chasm we are from God. (Lazarus and the Rich Man)

John drew crowds of people from all around who came to hear him help them see their weakness and make changes. The sign of this fresh start was given through baptism in the Jordon.

  • Think about a good athletics coach, their job is not to only talk about the good things that the team accomplished, but they spend more time pointing out the problem, potential problems, studying tapes of past problems, assistant coaches to look out for offense and defense, all to make changes to improve each player and the team.
  • Even the very best teams, in every sport and league, are made of players that have mistakes, misjudgments, poor choices, grow weary, break the rules, miss opportunities, don’t score, and lose games and seasons.
  • Repentance is looking at the tapes and seeing where we failed and grace is knowing there are another game and other opponents the next day or week.

SANDALS and SERVANTS

John’s illustration is about a simple task that most everyone in this room and stream has done throughout their lives… tying shoes and sandals.

Do you remember learning to tie shoes? We have a different experience with our footwear. The task of washing feet was the task of the least person of status to prepare people for leaving the dirt of the world in the street and washing the feet to be clean in the house.

There are strong images of baptism in foot washing. Recall how Jesus surprised everyone when he washes the disciple’s feet.

There are several example of sandals, feet, and laces in the old testament:

  1. Gn 14 Abram tells the King of Sodom that he would take even a thread from his sandals so he would be faithful that the Lord’s work provides and not the wealth of other nations.
  2. Dt 25. If a woman’s husband died, her husband’s brother was to take her in and provide a family for her. If he would not, the woman would take offer her sandal and spit in his face.
  3. Ruth 4. If someone took off their shoe and give it to his neighbor, he was disowning their friendship and not welcome them as part of the community.

These three examples cover, tithing, marriage, and care of one’s neighbor, and now baptism. Key themes we weave together through laces.

John’s connection is that the Messiah was so much more qualified, able, AND worthy to look for, follow and trust, that John, himself, was not even worthy to carry his shoes or untie his laces.

The baptism John is offering is a helpful sign of washing away the past to start fresh, but it was only symbolic, and all the ‘work’ and the need to ‘wash’ happens as often in daily life. BUT, Jesus is coming to wash our spirit!

LACES and BETTER FIT

  • When we tie our laces we are drawing together the wide open gaps to a snug fit.
  • When we untie our laces we are making room and setting free our feet for rest and welcome.
  • What can set our spirit free to be fulling God’s People?

John the Baptist:

  • I’m famous, but I am not worthy to set you free,
  • I’m a good coach, but I am not worthy to hold your faith together;
  • I can draw a crowd, but I am not worthy to keep your family safe;
  • I can offer you a valuable message, but I am not worth enough to make you wealthy,
  • I am not able to hold the community together, BUT the Messiah can do all that and more…

Here John Proclaims the coming Good News: Jesus both holds’s us snug in this world and free’s our spirit and makes us both physically and spiritually whole.

  • You and I help each other see our sins and Jesus is the one who saves us
  • You and I care for those who hunger, and Jesus makes our spirit new and full.
  • You and I can do great things, but if we think they are possible without God, we steal the glory
  • You and I cannot do all things, but Christ can.
    • This is who we seek,
    • this is who we trust,
    • this is who we praise.

In this second week we review the tapes from this year’s season and see what we need to repair, renew, and restore… Through this we repent and make ourselves ready to meet Jesus who is our salvation, hope and joy.

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Advent 1 Isaiah 64:1-9 I am Not the Potter

Photo from https://dailywalkdevotion.com/potters-hands/

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence– as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. [NRSA: Isaiah 64:1-9]

We begin Advent as a spiritual Journey

Our starting point is our current condition. Looking around and within ourselves. Things are not perfect. We are not perfect, but we have hope. Our hope is in Christ!

• We have been blinded by enormous data,

• we have been swallowed up by conformity,

• we are already investing beyond our control,

• we have the demons that test, tease, and torment us.

• We feel grip of grief. We know the repetition of confinement.

• We think what is evil; we do what is evil.

• We welcome evil into our hearts, minds, and souls.

• We watch what is sinful round the world,

• we grow a custom to brokenness and violence in the news,

• we are desensitized in the entertainment we consume. It’s ok, it’s not real, it has no effect on me.

• And yet it does. It all make evil more normal and digestible

How do we break through?

We come at Advent and recognize we are but a lump of clay before God. But we are not just any lump of clay. We are the lump of clay that God loves, molds, and patiently reworks. God has unfinished business with each of us, as with all of us.

Advent begins a spiritual journey that starts our knowing or remembering that we are the clay and not the Potter.

Here is our prayer for this first week: . Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

• Knowing Christ in our hearts and out hearts in Gods is our destination,

• we need to acknowledge we have a way to go.

• But we have been given, The Way. Out, the Way through, and the Way home

Thankfully, while God has every right to be furious with us, God loves us more than we can imagine.

The journey is one of yielding to potters hand, vision, and will for us.

Packed for the journey

Every trip, even in unknown adventures needs resources. Has in the tank, snacks for nourishment, and. Map if we lose out way. The counterparts for our spiritual journey as the same. We find direction, energy, and nourishment from our Christian fellowship, worship, study, and service.

These are the tools, activities, and necessities for us to gather, trust and use.

Our first steps are

1. to confess,

2. repent, and

3. remember we ARE plagued with the struggle of sin and weariness.

4. And we are taking first steps back to the heart of worship, heart of faith, to the heart of God.

Step one: Remember “I am not the potter. I am the clay.”

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Prayers of confession: (portions from various UMBoW prayers)

Almighty and merciful God,

we know that when we offend another, we offend you.

[We choose other paths, we move away from you.]

We are aware that we have often allowed the shadow of hate

to cloud our souls, hiding the light from our [weary and disinterested] eyes.

We have said unpleasant and hurtful things to our brothers and sisters

when they failed to live up to our expectations.

[We have said things that are pleasant to ourselves and others, but in so doing we have said and done hurtful things to you]

Grant that we might find that spark of love that ever burns within us,

[Fan the flame of your Spirit]

[We long for the grace we know in Jesus Christ]

the love that you have shown to us even when we failed you.

Fan the embers of that love until it roars again

in flames of love, peace, and reconciliation.

Forgive us our sin and help us to forgive those who have sinned against us.

Lead us into new life through your Son Jesus Christ,

who died for the sins of all. Amen.

[Based on (MICHAEL J. O’DONNELL, U.S.A., 20TH CENT.) but with additions]

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