“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God (1 Samuel 17:26)?”
I love this line from David. He is the youngest of his brothers and likely the smallest. He is not supposed to be anywhere near the battle lines. Everyone is fearful that this little guy might get hurt or killed if he wanders too close to the action. Meanwhile Goliath, a ripply, muscle-hardened giant dares the Israelites to challenge him! That’s when David utters the great line above! “Who the heck does this guy think he is, challenging God like that?”
Many of us remember that David went out there without any armor, any special training, or any special weapons. He sunk a rock, flung from a slingshot, into Goliath’s forehead. David believed God would give him what he needed no matter how bad the odds of the circumstances might have looked, and God did.
As we look to 2016, I’m aware there are many giant issues in the world today, terrorism, evil governments, hunger, global warming. But we are people of faith in a God who is larger than all of these issues combined! What giant are you facing in 2016? A relationship that looks so tangled that you don’t see any way to bring peace to it…mountainous tasks at work that you aren’t sure you can handle…temptations you don’t have the strength to overcome…a hurt that threatens to drag you under?
This year, may God give us the faith of David to say, “Are any of these circumstances too big for my God?” And may God give us the courage to act on that faith by heading into the fight. Here is a prayer from the book Common Prayer:
“Lord, help us to be faithful, even when we face our own fears. Remind us that we are your children, even when we feel inadequate. We know that you have overcome giants and crosses and all things evil. Help our unbelief. Amen.”
May your new year be filled with the hope and power and love of God who is with us to bring us to salvation!
Happy New Year!
Is There Worship Sunday, December 27th? Of course!
What better way is there to continue to celebrate the Christmas season than by coming to worship the new born King! Sing your favorite Christmas carols, pray, listen to Scripture, see friends and church family, and commune with Christ on Sunday. It will be a special time of considering God’s call on our lives in the year to come as we remember God’s covenant love for us and “Re-Up” our love for God. Hope to see you there!
Time To Re-Up!
This Sunday will be a special time of worship. Yes, bask in the glow of Christmas celebration, singing more of our favorite carols and spending time in prayer and scripture. But more than that, we will remember how Christ’s coming fulfilled God’s covenant love for us, and we will re-up our covenant love for God. This will be a spectacular way to get your new year focused on the love of Christ as your starting point! It will require some preparation. So here are some big questions to pray about as you prepare to meet God in worship this week:
1. Are you willing to offer your whole life this year to doing whatever God asks of you, no matter how unpleasant the task, no matter how big or small the tasks of love?
2. What sins have you struggled with in thoughts, words, or deeds this past year? Ask Jesus for grace to replace them with his ways.
3. What things or people have you placed in front of God this year?
I look forward to a rich time of worship and an outpouring of God’s grace upon us Sunday! Merry Christmas!
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).”
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19: 33-34).”
As we ponder the meaning of Jesus’ coming to earth it is worth noting that hospitality is an essential part of our salvation story! Hospitality is woven into all of the Scriptures. Abraham and Sarah gave food, drink, and rest to three men who turned out to be God’s messengers coming to tell them the good news that Sarah would become pregnant with Isaac. The writer of Hebrews may have had this in mind when he wrote, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).” And Jesus gracefully welcomed us into God’s presence even while we were sinners and enemies of God (Colossians 1: 21-22). And then there is God himself, born a vulnerable infant into a hostile world with only a place among the animals!
During this moment in history people and governments are working to tell the difference between people who truly seeking asylum for their families and terrorists disguised as the weak and vulnerable, it is vital for those of us following Jesus to reclaim the value of hospitality. Jesus’ followers are not called to live our lives out of fear but out of love, especially love for the stranger.
According to the Bible, God wants us to remember that we have all been strangers at one time or another. Remember when you first moved into this area and knew no one? Remember how it felt to start at a new school or a new job? Who reached out to welcome you? Who offered to help you get to know others? Who showed you how things worked in your new environment? Who made you feel valued and welcomed? Jesus calls us to be those who welcome others into our lives.
So who is the stranger among us? Who is new to our area? Who do we not know in our neighborhood? Who can we welcome into “our world” this Christmas as we show Christian love and hospitality? According to Jesus, when we welcome and serve those people, we welcome and serve him.
Joy on the journey,
“…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12: 1a-2).”
I am aware of so many struggling this time of year with disease, broken relationships, painful circumstances beyond their control, and grief over loved ones who have died. We talk, sing, watch movies, and hear Bible stories that point to the joy of Christmas, but feeling it is a tall mountain for many to climb.
So what do we learn from the writer of Hebrews about joy in the face of difficult circumstances and suffering? We learn that he encouraged the Christians facing terrible persecution to persevere in their faith by finding joy in the good life in Christ that is to come. Certainly we cannot and should not deny the severity and suffering of our circumstances. Denial does not help us face our challenges and does not lead us to seek God’s help to deal with our difficulties. At worst, it trains us to deceive ourselves and allows our problems to grow larger. But neither should we respond as though we have no better life to look forward to in Christ.
Our joy is not always inspired by present circumstances, but we Christians can always find joy in the life to come in which “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away (Rev. 21: 4)” and in which new life flows from God’s throne and “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22: 2).”
Jesus endured the suffering and shame of the cross so that we might have abundant and good life in him. That was the joy that enabled him to endure the cross. May the joy of new life that will eventually come fully to us through Jesus Christ enable us to persevere through trials and be the source of our joy in good times and in bad.
I pray this truly may be the “hap, happiest season of all” for each of us, but if it doesn’t feel that way, persevere for the joy set before just as Jesus did.
May faith, hope, and love be yours,
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ’Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”’
There is a hunger that grows in every soul this time of year. We label it a “need for a break” or a “need for a mental health day” or something else. We certainly do need rest and mental/emotional space from the rush of daily life and the additional squeeze of holiday preparations. But there are times this hunger is deeper, a hunger of the soul. The soul is often understood to be the part of us that holds the various roles and values that make us who we are together. It is the fabric that ties together what we believe, think, say, and do. It is where integrity is made or broken and where our inner sense of peace comes from.
The soul craves emptiness to remember the value of being full. It wants silence so that speech regains meaning, stillness so that movement has purpose. The holiday culture we live in is overstuffed yet undernourished, over sold and under satisfied, over scheduled and under joyed! Here is a prayer for Advent, the time of waiting and anticipating the return of Jesus Christ and his reign over all.
“Lord, help us observe Advent so we may gain wisdom. Teach us to wait upon You in emptiness, in longing, with faith and trust in Your timing for our fulfillment in Christ. Let us learn from the Prophets who trusted You to save Your people through the Messiah generations after their prayers. They waited with faith, hope, and love. Give us strength to prepare the way for Christ to be born anew in us by protecting space on our calendars to simply rest and be with You and one another. In your love and strength we pray, Jesus, amen.”
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:9, 21.)”
Last Saturday, I found myself sitting on the hard wooden bleachers of Lake Howell High School, stuffed shoulder to shoulder between other family and friends of high school students from across Seminole County who were assembled in a fan shape as an orchestra. Following a deep breath, the conductor raised his baton and his eyes toward the players. Then he thrust them down to start the music.
I don’t remember the name of the piece now, but I remember the swell of emotions that rose in me. It was the day after the attacks on Paris. My mind was wrestling with how evil human beings can be to one another. My heart kept imagining what the people directly affected were experiencing. I pondered what kind of response should be made. The orchestra piece expressed shades of sadness and beauty and wonder that morphed together into hope. It was clear to me that the good these young men and women were letting loose in that gym was the direct opposite of the evil let loose in Paris. That’s when I texted some close friends of mine, “I’m sitting here at a school orchestra performance realizing that beauty is a great antidote to terrorism.”
The scripture verse from Romans 12 keeps rolling around in my head this week. Certainly Jesus’ resurrection shows us that all of the evil and sin in human beings cannot defeat the love of Christ. In the rest of chapter 12, Paul emphasizes how the love Christians express to one another, and even to our enemies, overcomes (has victory over) evil. He contrasts what is evil and what is good, then directs followers of Jesus to defeat evil by overwhelming it with good.
It seems to me, then, that we Jesus followers are not to live as captives to fear or anger or hatred or vengeance. Certainly we will feel these emotions, and just as certainly, God gives us the grace not to allow them to dictate our lives. We are to fully invest our lives in doing good wherever we are in the name of the risen Christ.
So wherever you are, whatever you are doing, in the face of whatever evil in front of you, by the grace of God “hold fast to what is good” and “overcome evil with good” in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth.
Let me know how it’s going in your walk with Jesus. How can I pray for you?