Happiness

Posted 2/17/2019

Many years ago, Charles Schulz suggested happiness is a warm puppy. More recently Lisa Swerling has written a book called Happiness Is… which lists “500 things to be happy about.”

Our society has a lot of ideas about what will make a person happy — and we do a lot of serious chasing after happiness. Even our Declaration of Independence places a premium on happiness, listing “the pursuit of happiness” as one of the inalienable rights of all persons.

Yet what does the Bible say constitutes happiness? What does Jesus say? When we look at the Beatitudes, whether in Matthew’s version (Matthew 5:1-12) or Luke’s version (Luke 6:20-26), we are likely to respond, “That’s happiness? You have to be kidding!”

The fact is much of what Scripture says constitutes happiness doesn’t sound all that appealing to us — poverty, mourning, persecution. Yet there is a real wisdom — and a real happiness — in those things. The happiness comes from living a life that is in sync with God’s will and ways — a life that knows we are dependent upon God. That it isn’t wealth, or the comforts of this life, or the amusements so many pursue which brings truly lasting happiness. That the “pursuit of happiness” in those things will ultimately not lead to happiness but disappointment.

Scripture invites us to choose another way. To pursue the true happiness that comes when we depend upon God. To learn to put our trust in God. To rely upon the one who made us and all that is — and who loves and cares for our true happiness more than we could possibly imagine. 

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Living through Adversity

Posted 2/10/2019

When adversity strikes us we may look to find support in any one of a number of different ways. Sometimes we turn to family and friends for support and assistance. We may turn to professionals to provide us with guidance and coping skills. We may turn to our own wits, stamina, gumption and inventiveness to get us out of the situation. We may even turn to all of these.

However, there is one resource we can turn to in every situation of adversity — God. Over and over in Scripture we are told that God is “our refuge and our strength.” We are reminded of God’s faithfulness to us and God’s love for us. We are given vivid images of God’s care and provision for all of his creation — including us.

Consider for a moment Jesus’ reminder that not a sparrow dies without God knowing about it; and the fact we are much more important than sparrows. Or that even the hairs of our heads are numbered. Such images remind us beyond all doubt of God’s interest in our lives and our well-being.

Or consider the fact that Jesus came and lived among us as one of us. As Paul puts it in Philippians, Jesus came among us, becoming poor for our sakes in order that we might become rich through him. What more proof of God’s loving care for us could we ask than his love for us in Jesus?

If God loves us this much and is this faithful in his love for us, we can surely turn to God in any time of adversity trusting that we can safely lean upon Him. God is the one we can safely lean upon that no matter what is happening in our lives. He will always care for us. 

 

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Listening for God

Posted 1/27/2019

Most of us wish, at least occasionally, God would speak to us. We may feel that ways especially when we are in doubt about a decision. At such times we are likely to wish God would simply tell us what to do.

At other times we really DON’T want God to speak to us. It may be we know we are doing something that is “questionable” or we feel God would be speaking to us with disappointment and/or judgment. 

The fact is, however, that few of us hear God speaking to us as Moses did. We don’t hear voices coming from burning bushes (or anywhere else), instead we are more likely to struggle to hear God at all. Of course, sometimes we hear God through creation. The beauty of creation can speak to us of God’s love and power.

While many of us struggle to hear God speak, some of us, at least once, in our lives may experience a profound sense of God actually talking us. But more often we have, at best, vague feelings of what God is saying. 

I wonder sometimes if that is because we aren’t taking time to listen. If we have gotten so wrapped up in our telling God what we want and feel we need that we aren’t quiet enough to hear God’s still, small voice. Over the years I’ve found that to be true in my life. I have to consciously decide I am going to be quiet and listen for God’s voice. I have to be willing to WAIT for God to speak because God seldom talks to me as soon as I become quiet. In fact, I may have to spend a lot of time and many periods of time in silence before I hear God speaking to me. Yet, when God does, what God says to me has always been something worth the wait.

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You are gifted

Posted 1/20/2019

It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and come up with long lists of things we can’t do — or can’t do as well as someone else we know. It can be a lot harder to look at ourselves and honestly acknowledge the things we can do — and do well. 

Yet that is what we are called to do. We are called to look for the spiritual gifts God has given us, not to make a long list of the gifts we haven’t received. When we do that, we discover that each one of us has something we can contribute.

Granted, some of us have gifts that “stand out” while some have gifts that are more “in the background.” But each and every one of us has at least one gift. And despite the differences in how “visible” the exercising of our gift may be, the truth is each and every gift is valuable. Each and every gift is needed for this church to fulfill the ministry and mission God has given it.

So, what is your gift? How might you use it to help build up the ministry and mission of the congregation? If those questions sound a bit like the questions asked by a career counselor — they are in some ways! God invites us to explore the gifts He has given us and discover the ways we can use them to build up the church, to strengthen our ministry and mission.

The fact is, the pastor doesn’t have all the gifts the church needs. No pastor can “do it all.” All pastors have not only strengths but also weaknesses. It takes the whole congregation — every member — to enable us to be and do all God calls us to be and do. 

So, what’s your gift? How might you use it to help build up the ministry and mission of this congregation?

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Big Enough God

Posted 1/13/2019

J. B. Phillips wrote a popular book entitled Is Your God Too Small? Another more recent book is entitled Is Your God Big Enough? I find myself pondering these two questions as I consider the anxieties and fears of many Christians these days. 

Is your God too small? Is your God so small He is unable to handle the trends and realities of the world in which we live? Is your God too small to ensure the continued existence of the Christian faith, no matter what may be the current political and cultural trends?

Is your God big enough? Is your God big enough to keep you safe, even in a world that to you may at times seem hostile? Is your God big enough to ensure you are able to be faithful, no matter what conditions may prevail in our world?

It seems to me one of the challenges that faces us as Christians in America at this time is believing in a God who is big enough. A God who is big enough to redeem and save — no matter what else may be going on in the world. A God who is big enough He is in control of history, no matter what may seem to be the current cultural or political trends. A God who is with us every step of the way and will enable us to remain faithful even as we pass through the difficult times.

Is your God too small? Is your God too small to be the one who is the redeemer of the world? Is your God big enough? Is your God big enough that He is able to redeem all of history? What size is your God? 

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Epiphany

Posted 1/6/2019

Epiphany. Such a strange word. In our world we tend to think of it as something that just comes to us — a flash of insight that comes out of the blue. 

Yet in Scripture, in the language of the Church, epiphany is about the revelation of God. It is about humans coming to see God, such as when Moses saw God in the burning bush. Within the church Epiphany is God showing himself to us. 

Today is called “Epiphany.” It is the last Sunday in the Christmas season and it is the Sunday we celebrate the coming of the magi (astrologers) to worship the Christ child. It is the day we remember the revelation of God’s grace offered to everyone — even Gentile astrologers. Even you and me.

And it is a day for us to reflect on to whom and where God might be revealing himself today. Epiphany is a day to recognize the broadness of God’s grace — a grace that reached out beyond the boundaries of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament (the Jews) to include Gentiles (all non-Jews), despite the barriers the Jews raised against this. A grace that still reaches out beyond all the barriers and boundaries we might erect. A grace that includes everyone — even our enemy!

As we celebrate Epiphany — God revealing himself to us — let us also take the time to consider the question, “To whom might God be revealing himself today? Who might be today’s magi, the unexpected ones who have come to see the wonder of God’s work of grace among us this day?”

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Waiting

Posted 12/23/2018

We live in a world where “time is money” and waiting is a waste. In our fast-paced, always on the go world, waiting is probably among the least liked activities of our lives. Yet we do a LOT of waiting! We wait for appointments and planes. We wait for spouses and children. We wait in checkout and traffic lines.  And in our Christian life we wait. During Advent we wait for the coming of Jesus. 

But what do we do while we wait? I know beginning in college I got in the habit of carrying something to work on with me almost everywhere I went. When I’d wind up waiting for an appointment, I’d pull out a book and study. When I wound up in a line, I’d grab my flashcards out of my pocket and review. I admit that while I don’t carry flashcards in my pockets anymore, I usually do carry something to read. I hate just sitting and waiting.

But what do we do while we wait for God to act? While we wait for the coming of the baby? While we wait for Jesus to come again? What do we do while we wait?

Scripture suggests at least 3 things we can do while we wait. 1. Share our longings and desires with God. Over and over in the Psalms we see fervent prayers offered while the psalmist waited. 2. Wonder at God’s promises. The truth is what God has promised is wondrous! When we know we are about to get the gift we’ve longed for since forever, we are filled with wonder. That is the gift God gives, and it calls for our wonder. 3. Praise God for what God has done and is doing. If God’s gift calls for our wonder, it also calls for our praise and thanksgiving. These are three things we can do while we wait.  

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Emmanuel

Posted 12/16/2018

The gift of God’s presence among us — the gift of Emmanuel — is the gift of Christmas. It is the gift for which we are preparing during these days of Advent. God’s wondrous gift of God’s own presence among us in Jesus means several things, things we reflect on during this time.

It means, as John the Baptist and the prophet recognized, that we are confronted with God’s holiness. God’s presence means finding ourselves faced with God’s judgment and purifying fire. It means coming to see ourselves as we really are.

It means, as the hope of Israel reminds us, that God has come among us as Savior. While God’s holiness challenges our very sin; God’s grace walks among us as the gift of salvation. God’s last word in coming among us isn’t one of judgment, but one of grace. God’s desire is to redeem. 

And God’s desire to redeem leads to another wonderful truth about God among us — God delights in us. God rejoices in us. God takes joy in us. Like the parent who delights in his/her child, even when the child is not behaving; God continues to delight in us as his own creation. God loves us!

It is God’s love, God’s delight in us, God’s redemption that leads to the final aspect of what it means for God to be in our midst. It means our delighting in God. It means our hearts being filled with thanksgiving and praise to the one whose love for us is beyond all measure and whose desire for us is without limits. 

Christmas means God is in our midst. In Advent we prepare thankfully and joyfully ourselves for the wonderful, awe-inspiring reality of a holy God who loves us coming into our lives today. 

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Preparing for Jesus

Posted 12/9/2018

As we walk closer and closer to Christmas, the sounds of celebration surround us. Lights, laughter, plans for family gatherings — all these are parts of the way our world celebrates Christmas.

Yet as Christians who are preparing for the coming of Christ there is also a “somber” side to our celebration of Christmas. It is the recognition of the fact Jesus came to be our Savior. It is the acknowledgement that we are sinful and needy people — people who need someone to save us. 

In the midst of all the joyous celebrations, it can be hard to stop long enough to acknowledge why Jesus came. It is so much easier to simply celebrate the birth of a baby — always a joyous occasion. It is much easier to stay in Bethlehem at the stable. 

Yet this baby was born to grow up into a man who willingly died on a cross. This baby was born to restore our relationship with God. This baby invites us to acknowledge the truth about ourselves.

And when we do acknowledge that truth, we recognize that we need God’s forgiveness. We recognize that our lives need changed. We recognize that part of celebrating the birth of this baby is taking time to seriously consider our lives and our priorities. 

Taking time to prepare for this baby can be difficult in a world focused on only a joyous celebration. But opening our hearts to God’s transforming power that has come to us in Jesus is the way to prepare for this baby!

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