“Don’t Grow Weary”

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Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

     “Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.  For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.  Brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right.”

 

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I met a man this week that happily uses the talents and gifts God has given him for the sake of Jesus Christ. His name is Randy Hofman, and he is a sand artist and evangelist in Ocean City, Md.

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He encouraged me to share his story and gave me permission to show pictures of his art, for this is truly his labor of love for the Lord. You may have seen pictures of his art and not known that it was his.

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Sometimes his art has been mistakenly credited to another Maryland artist. Pictures of Randy’s massive sand sculptures are posted all over the Internet and are often the subject of emails forwarded to friends.

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That’s how I first learned about Randy, who has done this for more than 3 decades. He works with simple tools– his hands, a plastic knife used for picking crabs, and a bottle of watered-down Elmer’s glue, which he sprays on the sculptures to help them survive wind and rain.

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If you want to see his 8 to 20 foot sculptures in person, you have to go to the Boardwalk at Ocean City and stop in front of the Plim Plaza Hotel.

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His favorite themes are Christ on the cross,

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The Last Supper,

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Jesus praying, and Noah’s ark.

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Randy, an ordained minister since 1985, gives away a small, 32-page Bible booklet to anyone who wants one; each summer, about 50,000 people take his booklet. Most recently, he has completed a child’s coloring book of his sand sculptures that are available at his Website: http://www.randyhofman.com/coloring-book/2015/7/23/wkucp4ttp6hdi6fxivzwhiay3s7il2

Randy depends on donations, along with earnings from his oil painting, for his living and mission expenses. Many people drop a nickel, quarter or dollar in a glass container in front of his artwork.

Some people leave notes, thanking him. Some stop to pray.

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When I heard Randy’s story, I thought what a great example of what the Apostle Paul is trying to teach all who wish to be faithful to labor for Christ’s sake. Most Christians just think of making disciples when Christ says, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”

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But when we read today’s epistle, we begin to understand that all of our lives are a witness to the work of Jesus Christ. Our labor includes what we do 7 days a week using the gifts, talents and opportunities God gives us, some of which leads us to earn money for our families and to share with the community so that all have “bread” to eat. Yes, this passage in Second Thessalonians is about stewardship–our call to make the most of every day and all that God has given us to care for and build up the Church of Jesus Christ. We are called to love and to work every day, as if we are loving and working for Jesus. This is what Paul is talking about when he says in 2 Thess. 3:13, “Brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right.”

The problem in the church in Thessalonica is that some people believe that Jesus has already returned for His Church or is coming so quickly that there is no need to work. Those refusing to work are living off the generosity of others and causing strife. Paul warns the church, in verse 6, to keep away from the idle, but this word translated “idle” also has a sense of disorder or “disruptively idle”; the rebellion of some people threatens the peace and wellbeing of the entire community. They are, he says in verse 11, “mere busybodies, not doing any work!” Paul, who hates gossip for its destructive power in the church, thought he had taken care of the problem when he wrote his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, a cosmopolitan city at the intersection of two major Roman roads in what is today Greece.

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The majority of the population of ancient Thessalonica is Greek, but Jews have migrated there, too, along with God-fearing Gentiles. The majority of the Church at Thessalonica, however, is not Jewish or God-fearing Gentiles. They are pagans. Paul writes in 1 Thess. 1:9-10: “For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.” In First Thessalonians, Paul writes more gently to the church of new believers that aren’t sure how they should live as Christians. Paul tells them of the importance of love and work! “Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters …. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you.” (1 Thess. 4:9-11)

Paul in 2 Thessalonians, as he often does, uses himself as an example. “We were not (disruptively) idle when we were with you,” he writes in verses 7-8, “we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.” It’s remarkable that when Paul claims to have been working “night and day,” he doesn’t distinguish between his work as an evangelist and his trade that allows him to make a living and support his community. In Acts 18:2-3, we learn that Paul is a tentmaker. While he is in Corinth, he meets a Jewish man named Aquila, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla. Paul went to visit them “and he stayed and worked with them because they were tentmakers by trade, just as he was.” I think Paul purposefully does not distinguish between his work as a church planter and his trade that allows him to make a living. He wants us to understand that everything he does–whether it be preaching, raising up leaders for churches or making tents — is an offering of himself for the Lord.

Paul says in Acts 20:33-35, while living and working in Ephesus, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Friends, the work we do to make a living and to help the needy of our community is both a gift and a calling from God. We are called to love. We are called to work–and when we love and work as an offering to the Lord, we are blessed. We won’t grow weary of doing what is right!

Our lives are holy and set apart for God, even as we labor in the world with our hands, like Paul the tentmaker and Randy Hofman the sand sculptor, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

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Randy has been playing or working at the beach since he was a small child growing up in the Washington, D.C. area and coming to Ocean City for family vacations. This was Ocean City, Md., in the 1950s.

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He was one of nine children. They all played in the sand like other kids — making roads, tunnels and sand castles.

Randy knew, when he was in second grade, that he wanted to be an artist. He didn’t imagine as a child, though, that he would be making sand sculptures. He attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, and studied advertising design and visual communications. He came to Ocean City in 1974 and created chalk murals on concrete next to the Boardwalk. Then he learned sand sculpture from another artist.

In the beginning, Randy could only make one sculpture a day–not because the tide carried it away but because he didn’t have water and had to dig down past the dry, hot surface sand for moist sand. He worked at night after the sun went down so his sculptures would retain moisture. Usually, by noon the next day, though, the sculpture had dried out and disintegrated. He had to start over. This part of the job is easier now because the owners of the Plim Plaza supply him with water and electricity.

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He presents up to 4 sculptures at a time now, and they are good for a week when he sprays them with the watered down, biodegradable glue.

Kids attending an outreach mission in Ocean City called SonSpot help Randy with his sand digging now. They come from six or seven Mid-Atlantic States. Helping Randy with the sand sculptures is part of their mission.

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The physical aspect of sculpting is his biggest challenge, says Randy, who is about 65 years old. He does grow weary, even in this work he does for love of the Lord. But he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. “It strains the back and gives me giant leg cramps,” he says, “so I take more breaks now. Lord willing, I’d like to continue for years to come.”

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Let us pray.

Lord God, we thank you for your gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, who gave his life so that we might be forgiven for all our sins–and have everlasting life with you! We thank you for your love for us; we ask that you stir us to love others, more and more, and to shine the light of Christ in all the dark places of this world. Thank you for Randy’s calling to minister through his sand sculpture and for our work, Lord, that we do for you each day–the work that supports our families and your church so that we may continue to proclaim your gospel with loving words and acts of kindness to people in need. Forgive us, Lord, for sometimes growing weary of the demands of work and being tempted to be idle, like the early Christians in Thessalonica. Keep us, Lord, from the temptation to gossip and disrupt the peace and unity of your Church. Keep us busy doing what is right and pleasing to you. Remind us that everything we do is FOR YOU. Guide and empower us to do your will. Renew us with your Spirit and the knowledge that Your Son, Jesus Christ, is coming soon to gather us to Himself. Amen.

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“Listen, love your enemies”

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Meditation on Luke 6:27-38

Nov. 6, 2016 (All Saint’s Day)

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

       ‘But I say to all who would listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 

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If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 

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Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;  give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

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Corrie ten Boom was the daughter of a watchmaker in Haarlem, Holland on Feb. 28, 1944 when the Gestapo raided her home. This is Corrie with her cats when she was young and what Haarlem looked like when she was growing up.

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Here is her home after it was restored as a museum after WWII.

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The Nazis arrested Corrie and 29 other family members and friends that day in 1944, some who had been attending a prayer meeting in her living room.

She and her family belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. One of the essential tenets of their faith was the belief that all human beings were equal before God. Corrie and her family had many Jewish friends. Not long after the German invasion of the Netherlands, the ten Booms narrow, 3-story home became a place of refuge for Jewish people and members of the Dutch Resistance. The Ten Boom family and friends saved the lives of about 800 Jewish people and protected many Dutch underground workers by hiding them in a tiny, secret space behind a false wall in Corrie’s bedroom.

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     On this day when we honor and give thanks to God for all the saints, I remember Corrie, who I have admired since I read her 1971 book, The Hiding Place, when I was a child. Corrie would be shocked that anyone would call her a “saint” or “hero of the faith” as some have said. She credited her family that nurtured her faith and showed her how to love and be generous with all people, no matter race or religion, rich or poor. The Ten Booms, who had very little money, fostered 11 children, along with caring for 5 children of their own.

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When I first read The Hiding Place, I thought the title meant only the secret room. As an adult, I realized that Corrie’s Hiding Place is also the Lord! She tells of her father reading Scripture every morning to the family. One morning, when she was about 6, he put on his rimless spectacles and began to read a “long, long psalm”: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path… Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.” Corrie wondered what kind of hiding place her Father was talking about, and, in her happy, secure world, “What was there to hide from?”

After the family’s arrest in 1944, the Nazis released everyone but Corrie, her older sister, Betsie, and 84-year-old Casper. He died 10 days later. The sisters remained in prison until June 1944, when officials transferred them to an internment camp in the Netherlands; three months later, the Nazis deported Corrie and Betsie to the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany.

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In the terrible environment of a death camp, the light of Christ shone through them. They shared their faith with other prisoners, many of whom became Christians. They stayed together until Betsie died in December 1944, after telling Corrie there was much work to be done for the Lord. Corrie left the camp knowing that her life was a gift from God, and that she needed to share what she and Betsie learned: that “there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still” and “God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies.”  

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God’s love for us and our calling to love others is the message of the gospel reading in Luke. This passage is part of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain,” which has some of the same teachings as the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew. Just before our reading, Jesus shares a vision of the Kingdom, a society that we can hardly imagine; it is so unlike our world today. Jesus preaches to a “great crowd of disciples” and a “great multitude of people” who have come to “hear him” and “be healed of their diseases” (v. 18). He reveals God’s power and mercy when he heals them ALL (v. 19)!

Christ’s message is revolutionary. He tells them that poverty and persecution are signs of God’s blessing and favor! “Blessed are you who are poor,” he says in v. 20, “for yours is the kingdom of God.” They had been taught the opposite–that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing or reward for obedience, as in Deut. 28: “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out…”

After Jesus shares His vision, he shares the expectations for the “children of the Most high.” “But Listen,” he begins, meaning listen and obey, “Love your enemies.” This love is shown through actions and powered through prayer. “Do good to those who hate you,” he says, clarifying what he means by “enemies” as those who have a problem with you. In v. 35, Jesus repeats for emphasis, “But love your enemies, do good and lend, expecting nothing in return.” Also in v. 35, we hear echoes of Genesis 1–when God creates humans in His image. The command here is to be like God. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” And if you weren’t persuaded, yet, that our relationships with people affect our relationship with the Lord, you will be by v. 37. “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you…”

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     Friends, our relationships with people affect our relationship with the Lord! But to love our enemies isn’t easy for us; as it certainly wasn’t easy for the people hearing Christ’s message long ago. We answer Christ’s call to forgive and “do good,” depending on the Lord for help. We are powered by prayer. We can be inspired by other faithful Christians, who have endured great suffering yet pursue the divine vision for God’s children–to love, give, and forgive.

After Corrie ten Boom was released from the death camp, she began a worldwide ministry at the age of 53, testifying to God’s love and forgiveness, encouraging all she met with the message that Jesus is Victor. She emphasized the importance of prayer.

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But Corrie struggled with loving her enemies and forgiving them, too. In a Guideposts article in 1972, Corrie recalls meeting a former guard from the concentration camp when she was speaking at a Munich church in 1947. She saw him and “it all came back in a rush…” she writes. “…Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out. ‘A fine message, fraulein!’ he said. ‘How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’”

She remembered him. She remembered the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since her release that she had been face to face with one of her captors and her “blood seemed to freeze.” He told her that he had become a Christian since Ravensbruck. “I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein’–again the hand came out–‘will you forgive me?’”

“And I stood there,’ she writes, ‘I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? … I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. …And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion….it is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.

“‘Jesus, help me,’ I prayed silently….’ (Then) Woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And … an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

“….For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I have never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

Here are some of my favorite Corrie quotes:

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“Is prayer your steering wheel or spare tire?”

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“It is not my ability but my response to God’s ability that counts.”

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“Don’t bother to give God instructions. Just report for duty.”

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“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

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“Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of it’s sorrow; it empties today of its strength.”

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“Joy runs deeper than despair.”

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“If you don’t like your lot in life, build a service station on it.”

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“When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Let us pray.

 

Lord God, thank you for your love and your forgiveness! Give us your vision for the Kingdom and help us to live as you call us to live. Thank you that we can seek your help to mend relationships broken by our own stubbornness, selfishness, carelessness or pride. Forgive us, Lord, for not treating others with the same love, mercy and grace that you show us. Forgive us for judging and holding grudges. Empower us to listen to your Word and do your will–to love our enemies and do good. Help us to inspire others with our faithfulness and to always seek you in prayer! In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

I Must Stay at Your House!

 

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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“He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 

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2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief toll-collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 

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5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him , ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’  6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, For this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’”

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I arrived at the Fall Festival at 6 last night–and I could hardly believe my eyes! Children were roaming all over the church grounds, dressed as Tinker Bells, Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, princesses and witches.

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I even saw a little baby in a stroller dressed as the Flash!

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The adult costumes were great, too! Jim asked me, “Have you seen Pat Smith? I saw Sterling, but I don’t see Pat.” He had walked right past Pat in her witch’s get up, without realizing who she was!

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I talked to parents as little Trick-or-Treaters wandered from car trunk to car trunk in our circular drive, cautiously accepting candy from strangers and whispering, “Thank you,” as their mothers prompted them.

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I stepped into the fellowship hall, and I am sure my jaw dropped. It was packed!! I greeted children, parents and grandparents–many of whom I recognized from Kids Klub and the MIPC Preschool and Childcare center. Our members were busy serving in a variety of ways! Greeting, cooking and serving hotdogs and chips, helping kids decorate bags and cupcakes, taking photos, cleaning up, and running the games–ring toss, ping pong ball toss, fishing, and needle in a haystack. Courtney was painting faces. Caitlyn gave me a Hello Kitty tattoo.

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We ate through 104 hotdogs–and would have eaten more, but the dogs were gone before the people stopped coming!

All I could think was, “Wow, thank you, God! And thank you to all our hardworking volunteers!” We prayed for children and families to come. And they came. And our church was there–loving, giving, and serving–sharing our joy.

What our congregation did last night for the community, the church and the Lord was to be a good steward of our gifts and talents, time and energy and other resources–all that we have and all that we are. All that God has made us to be. For Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”

I am excited to see what the Lord is doing in and through us! I can’t wait to see how God will use us next to build His Kingdom!

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The story of Zacchaeus is something that children sing about–the “wee little man… (who) climbed up sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.” And though it IS a HAPPY story, a JOYFUL story, don’t be distracted and miss that it’s about stewardship– giving of ourselves TO the Lord, giving what we have FOR the Lord. The example of the good and faithful steward is a person of low status, employed in a job that makes his neighbors LOATHE him. As a toll collector, he takes money from the Jewish community and pays it to the Roman Empire. Jewish people who worked as toll collectors came from low status backgrounds; they weren’t born to families with land and money. This man– Zacchaeus– is a kind of entrepreneur, a self-made man. He is a “chief toll collector”–an expression only Luke uses and only found in this one NT passage. He supervises other toll collectors.

At this point in Luke, when his audience learns that he is a) a toll collector and b) rich, they are prepared to hate Zacchaeus, too! Up to now, though, Luke portrays toll collectors as people who are Jesus’ friends–people who are receptive to the Good News and are faithful. But Luke does NOT normally portray rich people favorably. In Luke 18:18, Jesus encounters a ruler who asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus recites some of the 10 Commandments. When the ruler answers, “I have kept all these since my youth,” Jesus says there is one thing lacking. “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the man hears this, “he became sad; for he was very rich.” Jesus looks at him and says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

After we learn he is rich, we find out that Zacchaeus is short–another mark against him in his competitive, macho, Greek society that worships beautiful, muscular, big, powerful bodies.

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Luke continues to startle his first audience when the short, rich, chief toll collector is willing to humiliate himself and his family by running and climbing a large tree –something that wealthy, adult men did not do! His behavior reveals Zacchaeus’ heart– he is eager not only to “see Jesus” but to know him!! He yearns to meet the Lord who eats and drinks with and befriends outcasts– “sinners” like him.

 

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Then comes the personal invitation–and the revelation that not only is Zaccheaus looking for Jesus; Jesus is looking for him!! He knows his name, even though Jesus has never met him. And I love this thought–the Son of God wants to come into his home. What an intimate thing we do when we enter into another’s home and eat their food! Jesus, though he is only passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem and his life-giving sacrifice on a cross–will take time away from his public ministry to lodge with Zacchaeus overnight. Jesus wants a relationship with Zacchaeus! Jesus wants to personally bring Zacchaeus–and ALL sinners–his salvation!

Jesus says, “Zacchaeus. Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

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Zacchaeus joyfully obeys and is “happy to welcome him” or literally, “rejoicing, he welcomed him.” He is the opposite of the crowd that grumbles, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

The next scene is when Zacchaeus is standing–presumably in his home–and sharing his heart with the Lord. The verbs in this passage aren’t future tense, as the NRSV translates! They are present tense. What he really says is, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor.” This means he is already going way beyond the Old Testament tithe of 10% of the increase. Zacchaeus gives 50%! He goes on, “And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much.”

Hearing of Zacchaeus’ integrity and generosity to the poor, Jesus declares, “Today, salvation has come to this house!” It isn’t because of what Zacchaeus does that earns him salvation, just as it isn’t our good works that earn us God’s forgiveness and eternal life. Zacchaeus’ giving reveals his faith! He knows to whom he belongs–and that his life is not his own. Jesus holds him up as an example to those who profess to be God’s children because they are descendants of Abraham, but fail to live by faith. They don’t give; they don’t love. This is what Christ means by, “For this man, too, is a son of Abraham!” Zacchaeus embodies all the qualities of those fit for the Kingdom of God.

Friends, make sure the Lord really is number one in your life! Does your giving reveal a strong faith? With God’s help, let us seek to be good stewards of all God’s gifts to us! Let us keep on revealing our faith not just by our words but through acts of lovingkindness and generosity. We will be blessed, as we were last night!

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We are still sinners, in need of God’s grace. We are far from perfect! The Good News is that Christ loves sinners and desires to be in loving relationship with us! God knows our names! He wants to GIVE us ALL salvation through His Son, who gave himself for us!

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Will you welcome him into your home?  Will you welcome Him into your heart?

Seek the Lord eagerly! You will find that Christ is eagerly seeking you!

He calls out to us, like he did to Zaccheaus, “I must stay at your house today!”

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Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for seeking us eagerly, for knowing us so well and calling us by name. Thank you for forgiving us for our sins and for desiring to live in our hearts and in our homes and be in loving relationship with us! Thank you, Lord, for using us to serve the community through wonderful outreach events such as our Fall Festival and for stirring many children and families to come and be blessed. Thank you for the kind volunteers who willingly and faithfully give of their time, talents, hearts and minds, money and other resources so that we may continue our ministries through this congregation. Help us, Lord, to touch the world by giving and loving, more and more, sharing the joy of your salvation–a free gift to all who believe, accept and receive it. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, Redeemer and Lord. Amen.

 

 

“God-breathed”

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Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11my persecutions,

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and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch,

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Iconium,

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and Lystra.

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What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

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12Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. 14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

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16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

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4In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 

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2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

***

   The 4-year olds smiled as they filed into our activities room one Tuesday morning not long ago. They sat down criss-cross applesauce on the rug.

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Cheryl Carson and I had eagerly anticipated the arrival of the two VPK classes from the MIPC Preschool and Child Care Center.

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It was our second “chapel” worship of the school year. At the first chapel, Cheryl, our Faith Formation Ministries Director, and I had introduced the song–“Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah! Praise Ye the Lord!” After our greeting at the second chapel, one little girl–Sophia or Reina– called out, “Aren’t we going to sing a song???” It was a perfect segue. “Yes, let’s sing!” we said. This time, Cheryl taught them the motions to “Hallelu, Hallelu” while I played the piano. One side of the room stood up when we sang, “Hallelu, Hallelujah.” The other side stood up at “Praise Ye the Lord!” Even one little boy, who didn’t want to sing at first, fell in love with the song when he got to jump up and down. “Let’s do it again!” he said, giggling. Then, Cheryl read the Creation story from a children’s Bible storybook.

 

The children joined in when Cheryl read, “And God saw that it was good.”

When we got to the creation of the animals, Sophia asked, “What about the people???” “Yes, they come next,” Cheryl said. She told them about God creating human beings in His image and breathed life into them. Cheryl led them in a simple prayer in which they echoed the words.

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     We ended both chapel services by leading the children to make a “prayer train” that began with the words, “We pray for…” Then the children, one at a time, would stand up and call the name of another child.

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Soon everyone, including the adults, had been prayed for and were on the “train” that carried them back to their classrooms.

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Along the way, we passed Miss Dolly and her little “bus” of 1-year-olds exploring God’s great world.

     It’s hard to leave the children once we’re there. They want hugs. They want us to stay and play. I always spend a little time talking with them. It’s good for them to get to know “Pastor Karen,” though they probably don’t know what a pastor is! It’s also a blessing for me just to be with them. And this is one of the many reasons I knew God was calling me to serve this church when I began to serve here a year ago–because of MIPC’s ministries for children and our desire to serve more families. I want to serve more families, too! I am uplifted when I see the young children’s joy for God’s Word and their enthusiasm to sing God’s praise! But the way they understand and accept God’s love and parts of the Bible that adults sometimes question, such as the story of Creation, is a mystery to me! The only way I can explain it is that it’s a supernatural thing!

 

***

     Christians were not the first to believe that ministry to young children was important. It goes back at least thousands of years in Judaism– to Abraham, when children are included in the covenant with the Lord and are circumcised, according to God’s command.

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Orthodox Jewish families, from ancient times, are expected to teach Scripture to their children beginning when they are 5 years old, but they hear and sing God’s Word long before that. Psalm 8:2 says, “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”

       We know how Jesus feels about the young children’s importance in the Kingdom. He lifts them up as models for believers!

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“And they were bringing even their babies to Him,” says Luke 18:15-17, “so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”

     Jesus himself is a child, in Luke 2:42, when we read how he engages in serious study of the Scriptures. He is just 12 years old when his parents accidentally leave him behind in Jerusalem after the Passover Feast ends. They find him days later at the Temple, “sitting amongst the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”

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     Paul’s first “school” for faith is his own Jewish family. His father, he says in Acts 23:6, was a Pharisee. Timothy, however, lives in an interfaith family; his father is a “Greek”- not Jewish or Christian, as far as we know. His mother and grandmother are Jewish when they accept Jesus as the Messiah, risen from the dead. Paul says his friend has “sincere faith” (in 2 Timothy 1:5) “… that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” Timothy, though we don’t know his age, answers the call to church leadership as a youth, urged on by his mentor, who says in 2 Tim. 4:12, “Let no one despise your youth (or look down on your youthfulness), but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

     Timothy’s is not a traditional Jewish upbringing; he is not circumcised until he is at least a teenager. Paul wants him to accompany him on his missionary journey in Acts 16 and fears the Jewish people will not accept him unless he is circumcised.

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But Timothy has a firm foundation in Scripture and sound teaching nurtured from childhood. In 2 Timothy 3:14-15– we read, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it (meaning Paul), and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

   Are you wondering what Paul means by “sacred writings”? The OT is the only Scripture for Christians during Paul’s time and throughout the age of the apostles, though Paul’s earlier letters, such as his letters to the Thessalonians, are ranked with “other Scriptures” as early as 2 Peter 3:15, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.” Paul’s letters are written in the 50s or very early 60s– before the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John and probably Mark, which is the oldest gospel. The expression of “sacred writings” (in Greek–hiera grammata with no definite article–no “the”) is found only here in the Bible; normally the word for Scripture is graphe, which can mean a book of Scripture or Scripture as a whole.

     So how does studying the OT lead to salvation through Christ Jesus? The word translated “instruct you” is literally “make you wise” or “provide you with wisdom”– something lacking in the false and deceitful teachers espousing erroneous doctrine that Paul warns Timothy to avoid. What Paul is saying is that the key to understanding Scripture is faith in Christ Jesus, a faith that is made alive by the Spirit of God.

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       Paul goes on. “All scripture (now Paul uses graphe for scripture ) is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The Greek word translated “inspired by God” — theopneustos–doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Bible! It means literally “breathed into by God” or “God-breathed.” Isn’t that beautiful? Scripture is opened to our understanding and given personal relevance to us when God breathes into it and gives it life, much like when He breathed life into us at Creation.

***

     Cheryl and I ran into cute little Sophia from the MIPC VPK class on the evening after our morning chapel. Sophia was the one who wanted to know when God created the people. She may also have been the one to say, “Aren’t we going to sing?!!” Sophia was with her parents at the Tuesday night church supper.

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She entertained Cheryl and me with conversation throughout the meal. She is so smart! Before we began to eat, her mom said it was OK for me to take her picture, but be prepared for silly.

And here she is with her parents.

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Afterward, Sophia enthusiastically helped us sing our grace for the gathering of adults and some children from the preschool and childcare center. With us extending personal invitations to the students, staff and families of the childcare center and passing out flyers to them with the menus each week, sometimes as many people from the center attend the meals as people from our congregation. Wouldn’t you like to join us next Tuesday night? Don’t you want to meet Sophia and her family–and the other families, too, and show them God’s love?

     For our grace, we sang the song Sophia learned in chapel when we had read about Creation and how God made human beings in His image– and breathed life into us! And I thought to myself, that day–the chapel, the meal with her family and her singing the song–it was a supernatural thing.

    Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah! Praise Ye the Lord!

Let us pray.

Holy God of mercy and grace, thank you for your God-breathed Word–our Old Testament and New– that teaches us all that we need to know for our salvation in Jesus Christ and shapes us into the people you want us to be. Help us to study your Word every day and encourage one another to dig more deeply into Scripture, welcoming the transformation of our hearts and lives and world. Lead us to gather around your Word in small groups in church, such as our women’s Bible study, adult Sunday school, and meetings inside and beyond our church walls. And teach us to pray–and to persist in prayer and never lose hope. Thank you for entrusting us to care for the children at MIPC. Please bring us more workers and leaders for your sake for our session and committees, preschool and childcare center, Sunday school, Kids Klub and youth group. Please bring us more children and youth to nurture in the faith and reveal your grace. For your Son says the Kingdom of God is “such as these.” Bless our teachers, assistants, directors and volunteers with joy, energy, creativity, patience, and love. Move us to give generously to support and improve our ministries for children, youth and young adults, to take risks, trust in you, and truly be good stewards of all that you have given us. In Christ we pray. Amen!

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A Life of Joyful Thanks and Praise

 

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Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

       On the way to Jerusalem,

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Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him.

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Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 

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Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.  And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

***

So, it has been an interesting week. I have now experienced my first hurricane with you.

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When I was offered the call to Merritt Island last year, the one question I failed to ask the PNC was, “What about the hurricanes?”

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I learned that everything in the yard that isn’t rooted or cemented needs to be brought inside or otherwise secured. I was advised, if we didn’t have windows covered with hurricane shutters or plywood, that we should at least tape them so glass wouldn’t fly everywhere if the windows broke.

 

These are what some of the houses in our neighborhood looked like before the storm.

 

We planned on being without power and water for several days, stocking up on batteries, candles, matches and drinking water. Melvyn the cat wasn’t worried at all!

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On Wednesday–a few hours before the evacuation of the beaches and barrier islands–Leslie and I finished the bulletins for today. Then I stood looking around my office, wondering what I should do next to protect it from hurricane Matthew. I took all that was stored close to the floor and put it up on shelves or tables, including the stuffed animals I keep for visiting children.

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I packed and took home my computer, my wedding picture

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and children’s baby pictures, and all my garments for worship–my stoles, gold cross, and white alb.

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I left everything else! I knew that whatever happened, I would be leading worship somewhere, somehow, on Sunday and every Sunday after that. We would, whatever happened, lift our voices in joyful praise, giving thanks to the merciful God who loves us and sent His Son to die for us. For there is nothing more precious than our salvation–the promise of new, abundant and eternal life in Jesus Christ.

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To live as people of faith means that we live lives of joyful thanks and praise–to the glory of our God. To fail to be grateful for what God has done for us is to fail to be faithful to the call of Jesus Christ!

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***

Our gospel lesson in Luke today reminds us of what is truly valuable for all eternity. On the surface, the account of the 10 lepers seems to be another healing story. And it is. But it’s also about the power of faith and the mercy of God, who loves even those whom society has deemed worthless. And there’s another important lesson here.

But let’s start at the beginning. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem–meaning not just the place, but His destiny–suffering, dying on a cross and being resurrected from the dead–to fulfill God’s purpose– redeem the world from its sins.

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Samaria, the home of those who are enemies of the Jewish people, is mentioned alongside Galilee, the region that was home to Jesus and his disciples.

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He is about to enter an unnamed “certain village,” which could be a Samaritan village, like the one Jesus sent messengers to in Luke 9:52. They refuse to welcome him because he is on his way to Jerusalem, the Holy City for the Jewish people.

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The Samaritans didn’t worship God at the Temple in Jerusalem; they worshiped God on Mt. Gerizim.

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As Jesus and his disciples enter the village, 10 people with leprosy “meet” him and call out to him from a distance.

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They call Jesus “Master”–so they must know his identity and his reputation for miracles. Jesus cleansed a leper in Luke 5:12-14: 12 Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 13 Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.”

The 10 lepers don’t ask for healing or to be “made clean.” They ask for mercy–an act of kindness and grace; forgiveness that is undeserved. Leprosy is seen as a divine curse. The leper or his or her parents must have sinned against God to be afflicted with the disease. Leprosy would mean social isolation and poverty, for they could not live or work amongst other people, including their own families; they could not worship in the Temple or synagogue. They remain at a distance not just because they are contagious but because they are “unclean” and could defile others if they come too close. The priestly ritual for the leper to become “clean” after they are healed of their disease is detailed in 32 verses in Leviticus 14.

Jesus doesn’t touch the lepers as he did in chapter 5; he looks at them and simply tells them to “go, show themselves to the priests.” Their act of going is an act of faith and obedience, for they would not present themselves to the priests unless they had already been healed. As they go, they are not just healed, they are “made clean,” without any priestly sacrifice or rituals. Faith in Jesus will become the only sacrifice anyone will ever need to be made clean. Only one of the lepers, when he sees that he has been cured, turns back and falls at Jesus’ feet, praising God in a “loud voice” and thanking him.

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That’s when the audience of Jesus’ time is stunned to learn that this one who has turned back to Jesus in gratitude and joy isn’t Jewish; he is a Samaritan! “Were not 10 made clean?” Jesus asks his disciples. “Where are the other nine?” “Can it be that none has been found to come back and give praise or glory to God except this foreigner?” Or, as some translations say, this “outsider” or “stranger”? The disciples say nothing. They are dumbfounded at what Jesus has just said about a Samaritan being the only one to do what is right. This challenges their view of their world where they are the good ones–and everyone else outside their religious community is “unclean.” Strange, how people nowadays can think the same way, even though God loves ALL people of ALL faiths, just the same! Jesus turns to the Samaritan. “Get up and go on your way,” he says, leaving us to wonder where the Samaritan’s way will be–now that he has experienced Christ’s healing and has a new understanding of God, who isn’t just far off, waiting on a mountain or in a Temple to be worshiped, but is in the person of Jesus Christ, standing right in front of him, caring for a stranger, an outsider, in his time of need.

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Would this Samaritan be like the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, whose encounter with Jesus leads her to tell everyone in her village, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” Many Samaritans come to believe in Jesus the Messiah because of her testimony.

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The final phrase of this passage: “your faith has made you well,” has often been misunderstood. Over the years, some Christians have told people who fail to experience physical healing that the problem is that they don’t have enough faith. This can’t be further than the truth! The man’s healing was a gift from Jesus to all 10 lepers who sought his mercy. The faith that made the one leper “well” was not faith for a physical healing, for all 10 lepers received that! The words translated “made you well” literally mean “saved you.” The Samaritan’s faith that brought him salvation was demonstrated with his grateful, joyful response to God’s mercy, revealed in Jesus Christ.

***

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After the storm, I worried what we might find when we went outside in our yard.

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What we found was evidence that, yes, a fierce storm had come through, but without damaging our home at all.

Today, we worship in a beautiful building that did not sustain major damage. Praise the Lord! Thank you, God!! But if we had sustained damage or even lost our worship home, we would still come together to give thanks to the God who loves us and sent His Son to die for us.

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For there is nothing more valuable to us than our salvation–the promise of new, abundant and eternal life in Jesus Christ.

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To live as people of faith means that we live lives of joyful thanks and praise–to the glory of our God. To fail to be grateful for what God has done for us is to fail to be faithful to the call of Jesus Christ!

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The day of the storm, a friend asked that I post something on Facebook to encourage people who were feeling afraid. I wrote this:

“Dear friends, Hope you are in a safe place and are prepared–or getting prepared–for the storm. Please remember that wherever we go, whatever we do, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are always “at home” with Jesus, though we may have had to evacuate our homes on the island or beach, for now. Remember how God has always been faithful to care for you and your families in the past. That although the storms may rage around us, Christ Jesus is always our peace.

 

This is the God who commands the wind and the waves, “Peace! Be Still!” The Spirit that lives within us will remain with us and strengthen us with wisdom, love and even joy during the most difficult trials. The Church is not the building, though we love our worship home. The Body of Christ is eternal. We will never die! And now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep,

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equip you with every good thing to do His will. And may He accomplish in us what is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Let us pray. Holy One, we praise and thank you for your love, mercy and grace for a world of sinners, in need of your salvation. Thank you for your precious gift of a saving faith to all who seek you and trust you as their Lord. Forgive us for fretting over small things when we have all that we need with your Son, Jesus Christ, and our promise of new, abundant and eternal life in Him. Thank you for sparing our church buildings and our homes, Lord, from serious damage. Thank you for protecting us and our loved ones from harm. We ask that you would be with those who are suffering from great loss in the wake of hurricane Matthew–lost homes, belongings, family and friends. Comfort and heal them. Provide for their needs through friends and strangers, like us. Lead us to help our neighbors and to live lives of joyful thanks and praise, no matter what our circumstances, shining your light and sharing our hope with the world. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Rekindle the gift!

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World Communion Sunday

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

   Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 

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I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 

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Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 

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I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

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Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me, his prisoner,

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but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 

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For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do.

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But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 

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Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

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***

My friend, “Sis,” gestured for me to come to her table after our church supper on Tuesday. She was holding a blue bag and a wicked, sweet smile. “I have something for you,” she said.

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She had found a treasure while shopping and thought of me–a hand towel embroidered with Matt. 19:26, “With God, all things are possible.”

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I thanked her and gave her a hug.

How did she know I needed encouragement? But then, we all do! Can you recall a time this week when someone encouraged you? A card or note? A small gift? Gentle word? A phone call? A hug? How did you feel? What did you do? Did you pass it on–and encourage someone else?

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As we headed home that night, thunder boomed. Lightning flashed. Raindrops splattered our car. Soon, it began to pour! The windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the water flowing down; we could barely see the road.

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I felt afraid. Silently, I prayed for safety and comfort in the storm. As I prayed, I looked down and saw that I was still holding my gift from Sis. Suddenly, the familiar scripture took on a deeper meaning.

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This is the God of power who calms the wind and the waves and the storms of our lives, with, “Peace. Be still.”

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This is the God of love who calls us beloved, who is ALWAYS with us, closer than we think.

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His Spirit lives in you; it lives in me.

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It’s this same God, God the Spirit– with and in us, changing and empowering us, uniting us in Christ–with whom all things are possible!

***

This is Paul’s message of encouragement to young Timothy, his friend and co-laborer for the gospel. Did you ever wonder why Paul’s letters were kept, hand copied and shared for thousands of years?

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Why would Timothy, first of all, keep Paul’s letters after he read them? One reason is because they attest to the apostle’s approval for his ministry, if anyone might question Timothy’s qualifications and call. This would be particularly important for a young man like Timothy having to stand up to older men teaching wrong doctrine in his church. Paul, in v. 1, attests to his own authority, saying he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God” and that he was the one to “lay hands” on Timothy at his ordination to empower him for ministry (v. 6).

But why would Timothy keep the letters throughout his lifetime? Have you ever kept any cards or letters people have sent you? I kept all the cards and notes people sent me after my surgery. Why? They lift me up, warm my heart and make me smile, especially on a hard day or in a tough week. They strengthen me to endure, persevere, and even be joyful during trials in this “holy calling,” as Paul calls it in v.9 — serving the Lord, seeking God’s purpose for me and the church and always God’s grace. For we are not saved “according to our works,” but by grace given to us in Jesus Christ, Paul tells us, “before the ages began.”

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Paul is an encourager. He speaks with affection, calling Timothy, “my beloved child,” (v. 2) with echoes from the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:11), when the Spirit descends like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “You are my beloved son…”

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He reveals his sorrow at their separation, saying he is praying for him “constantly”–“night and day” and remembering Timothy’s tears at their parting. He longs to see Timothy, (v. 4), and be “filled with joy.” He speaks of Timothy’s “sincere faith,” which isn’t just a set of laws, traditions, and rituals devoid of meaning, done without thinking and feeling. Timothy’s faith is in sharp contrast to the Pharisees and scribes, whom Jesus calls “hypocrites” (Matt. 23:27): “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

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Timothy’s faith “lives” in him just as it “lived” in his mother and grandmother.

It’s important to know that Paul is writing these encouraging letters when he is prison in Rome, awaiting execution.

 

He is not feeling sorry for himself; he is not ashamed, he says in v. 12, “for I know the one in whom I have put my trust.” Jesus is the one he continues to serve and obey, calling himself the Lord’s “prisoner” (1:8). Paul urges Timothy not to be ashamed of him or the testimony of the Lord. He says, in essence, follow my example; prepare to die. (v. 8) “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God.” He is passing on the mantle of leadership, much like Moses and Joshua,

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and Elijah and Elisha.

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Paul says (v. 7), Don’t be afraid! God didn’t give us a spirit of fear! The Spirit is “power, love and self-discipline” or self control.

Paul (v. 6) reminds Timothy to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” The gift of God can be understood differently; it may mean a spiritual gift that God has given Timothy or you can see it as the gift of God, meaning God IS the gift. Paul means it both ways. For the Holy Spirit is God, we confess in our Nicene Creed, come to dwell with us, “the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.”

Paul’s reminder to “rekindle” the gift puzzled me at first. What does Paul mean? The word translated “rekindle” is literally “fan into flame” or “stoke up the fire.” Building or stoking a fire is something people in Paul’s time did every day for cooking, warmth and light, or to refine and shape metal or silver and bake clay into bricks.

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But Paul isn’t referring to every day uses of fire.

Fire is a symbol of the Lord and His presence throughout the Bible. Hebrews 12:29 says, God is a “consuming fire.” In Exodus 3:2, God appears in a fire that burns on a bush, without consuming it.

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Fire is an instrument of God’s judgment (Numbers 11:1, 3; 2 Kings 1:10, 12) and a sign of God’s power (Judges 13:20, 1 Kings 18:38.) Religious sacrifices were lit by God and burnt by fire (Lev. 9:24). Priests were charged to keep the altar fire burning (Lev. 6:13). In Matthew 3:11, John tells those he baptizes with water that Jesus will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

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In Acts 2, the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and “tongues of fire” rest on each one.

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Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 6:11 that the Spirit cleanses us from sin and makes us holy, And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” In Luke 24:32, two disciples travel the road to Emmaus and encounter the risen Jesus, though they don’t recognize him until the breaking of the bread. Later they say their hearts were “burning within us.”

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With “rekindle the gift of God,” I believe Paul is telling Timothy, “Stoke up the holy fire that is burning within you and use it for all its potential to do what God is calling you to do.”

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***

I was blessed to attend our annual Women’s Retreat at Riverside Presbyterian in Cocoa Beach yesterday.

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The theme was, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” but it was really all about encouragement for women of God, weary from the struggles of this world. As I entered the fellowship hall, I received smiles, hugs and a white gift bag decorated with a cross.

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Attached was a diamond-shaped card with a quote from Charles Spurgeon: “The entire person of Christ is like one diamond, and His life in every dimension leaves one lasting impression.” Inside was a large, plastic “diamond” ring, a blue and gold pompom,

 

Hershey kisses that said, “Keep calm and sparkle on,” and a devotional called, More Precious than Diamonds.

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We talked, ate, worshiped, and some shared inspiring personal testimonies about “Diamonds in the Rough.” We laughed at Lorrie’s stand-up

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and a hilarious skit called “Diamonds are Forever.”

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I was truly sad that I had to leave before making Pat’s candle craft and enjoying the liturgical dance and evening worship with Communion by candlelight. How did the women who planned and prepared for this wonderful event know that this is just what we need? I sensed the rekindling of the Spirit burning in our hearts. Now I hope to encourage you!

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Friends, don’t forget the real treasure–the Spirit of God–with and in us, changing and empowering us, uniting us in Christ–with whom all things are possible!

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Let us pray.

 

Holy Spirit, thank you for dwelling with us and in us, changing us and empowering us to walk by faith and love and serve you and our neighbors each day. Thank you for giving us your Spirit, so that we may have the power, love and self control to do your will and use for your glory. Help us trust you throughout every storm of our lives and to cast all fear aside, for it is not from you. We ask that you rekindle the gift of your Spirit and help us to share the gospel with all we meet and to be encouragers, like Paul was for Timothy. Thank you that your Spirit unites all believers as One Body of Christ, in every time and place, something we celebrate especially today on World Communion Sunday. Help us to truly live out the vision of Kingdom–when all Creation will be renewed and at peace, when your work of reconciliation will be complete. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Good Fight

 

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       “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 

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But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 

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For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

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But as for you, O man of God, shun all this (or flee from these things); pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 

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Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for 

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which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

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In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,

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I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 

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It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

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      As for those who in the present age are rich,

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command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 

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They are to do good,

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to be rich in good works,

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generous,

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and ready to share,

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thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

***

We were on our way to Cocoa Beach on Monday–my day off– when we pulled into the drive at Lori Wilson Park.

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A creature was stepping out into the road as our car rolled past. Jim and I both said at the same time, “A turtle!”

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I begged him to turn around and go back–so I could see the turtle up close. He was moving pretty fast for a turtle. We were back in a jiffy, but he had already crossed the paved driveway and made it to the grass. He was heading towards the playground.

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I jumped out of the car and tried to take his picture without getting too close and frightening him as he moved along purposefully–this turtle on a mission.

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Like us, he was headed to the ocean–or at least, the green, wild area that borders Cocoa Beach. He had a long way to go, with his little stubby legs, carrying his house with him. But he knew where he was going and why.

 

He wasn’t afraid to journey alone. I smiled as the old saying came to mind, “Slow and steady, wins the race.”

 

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We parked and walked to the beach entrance.

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Jim led the way. I paused on the wooden ramp to adjust my flip flops that would carry me across hot, mid-day sand. It was my first time at the beach since before my surgery– several months or more. I was still moving slow, plodding along, like a turtle, but enjoying my surroundings, stopping to look around at children playing, people lounging in chairs, birds flying or tiptoeing on the sand, catching fish in their beaks.

 

 

I stopped to take pictures with my phone–and Jim was soon far, far away. I motioned for him to stop, so I could catch up. He did, but soon he was far off, again, leaving me to meander and poke along.

 

I watched water rush around my feet and let my toes sink in the sand. I looked for pretty rocks and shells and saw little fish caught in pools the tide carved out. Then I watched a wave come to their rescue and carry them back out to sea.

 

 

I was content, though I was a gopher turtle, still moving slowly in my recovery, but moving steadily, sure of where I wanted to go–and why I wanted to get there. Not worried about how far, aware of every step I was taking. Not concerned that I might be the only one going that way.     Isn’t that what our Christian journey is like, friends? And along the way, we do ministry as the Lord leads us.

Watching the water swirling at my feet, I thought about starfish. Where had all the starfish gone? When I was little girl, visiting Daytona Beach with my family, we would find starfish on the sand.

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I could tell when they were still alive and when they had been out of the water and in the sun too long– dry and hard, devoid of life. Like the starfish tourists bought for 75 cents at souvenir shops. I thought of the old story about starfish. Hundreds, no thousands, of starfish washed up on a long, lonely stretch of beach–drying out in the sun.

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An older man, who had a habit of walking the beach each morning, watched as a young woman picked them up, one by one, and threw them out to sea. Smiling, he said, lightly mocking her, “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?” Smiling, she bends down, picks up another starfish and tosses it far out over the water. She says, I imagine, with gentleness, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”

 

 

***

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The Apostle Paul tells Timothy, “Fight the good fight,” in our epistle reading today. But it’s not what you might think. He is talking about a spiritual battle fought with love and faith, clinging to the promise of eternal life. The occasion is Timothy’s commissioning for ministry to the people of Ephesus. Paul, perhaps writing around 62-67 CE, is concerned about “certain people” and their teaching in the church at Ephesus. They desire to be “teachers of the law without understanding what they are saying,” Paul says. They are busy with “myths” and promoting “speculations rather than divine training that is known by faith.”

Paul meets Timothy in Lystra (in modern day Turkey) on his second missionary journey.

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They become friends, and co-workers, along with Silas.

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Timothy’s name in Greek–Timótheos–means “honoring God” or “honored by God.” His father is Greek and not a Christian. Timothy’s faith, says Paul in 2 Tim. 1:5, comes from his grandmother, Lois, and his mother Eunice–Jewish women who believe in Jesus the Messiah.

Timothy is younger than Paul, who encourages him to be a strong, confident leader, despite his youth. He says in 1 Tim. 4:12, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

What strikes me is how relevant Paul’s observations and instructions to Timothy are for today. Could it be that our society struggles with the same problems, sins and temptations that the people of Paul and Timothy’s time struggled with nearly 2 thousand years ago?

Paul tells Timothy to be content, for “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out it.” Doesn’t that sound like, “You can’t take it with you?” But that is exactly what people believed back then–that you take your wealth and status into the next world. Egyptian pharaohs’ remains were laid in elaborately painted caskets and adorned with golden death masks.

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They were entombed with jewels and other belongings, food, and offerings to the gods in the afterlife. Paul isn’t completely anti-wealth, however. Recall he did work for a living; he wasn’t like John the Baptist dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, living like a hermit in the wilderness. In verse 10, Paul says it’s the love of money that is “a root of all kinds of evil”–that pursuing wealth and accumulation of things is what plunges people into ruin and destruction. Wealth also leads to haughtiness, Paul suggests in verse 17, and to people setting their hopes on the “uncertainty of riches” rather than “on God who richly provides for us and everything for our enjoyment.”

When Paul, in verse 11, calls Timothy, “man of God,” and tells him to shun “all this,” or “flee these things,” he points back to a list of sinful behaviors and attitudes that begins in verse 4 with conceit and ends in verse 10 with the love of money. The good fight is the struggle to pursue what is good — to be faithful to be what the Lord calls us to be– faithful to our baptismal vows, as Paul suggests in verse 13, as Timothy made the “good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things…”

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Christ’s fragile humanity and suffering for our sakes is emphasized here, without even mentioning his death. The cross looms over us as we read, “and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.” And with the image of the cross and Paul’s encouraging words in this ancient letter of commissioning, we have the promise of eternal life–not far off in the future, waiting for us when we die, but right here in this world, to be grasped. “Fight the good fight of the faith,” Paul says, “take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called.”That list of good pursuits Paul urges on young Timothy?

This list is for all who seek to follow Christ. Paul says, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.” The word that stands out is gentleness because of its position at the end of the sentence. Paul means to emphasize this to Timothy and all who would hear his instructions. Gentleness was in short supply in Paul’s “manly” world.

Gentleness is in short supply in our world today.

 

***

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Friends, going back to the starfish stranded on a beach and one woman’s efforts to save them, I recall that the story doesn’t end where I left it, though I can’t find a different ending on the Web. The story I remember ends with the man watching the woman for a while–and then joining in–following in her loving, gentle example. Though there were thousands needing rescue, and they would gain nothing in this world, but contentment, perhaps even joy. The older man reached down, ever so gently picked them up, and threw them back.

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One by one.

Will you pray with me?

 

Holy One, we seek your face, grateful for your Son’s suffering on a cross for our sake. Thank you, Lord, that you have done all the work for our eternal life–that we only must reach out and accept this precious gift. Thank you that this life isn’t something far off in the future, waiting to be grasped, but something we can hold onto in this world as we struggle to shun or flee from sin and pursue the good works you lead and strengthen us to do. Teach us how to be righteous, godly, faithful, and loving, enduring temptation, trials and persecution until you come again. Stir us to be gentle in this world of anger, hatred and violence. Help us to make a difference as we seek to reach out and rescue this broken, hurting world, one soul at a time. In Christ we pray. Amen

Faithful in Little, Faithful in Much

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       Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. slide19So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” 

     Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.”

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He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.”  Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” 

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And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;

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for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

     ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 

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You cannot serve God and money or wealth.’”

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****

Other children were laughing, talking, and gluing colored pompons on pinecones–making Christmas tree crafts in Kids Klub.

 

But not one little girl, new to Kids Klub this fall, along with her older brother. They wore uniforms from ACA–the Christian charter school for special needs children here on our campus. The little girl was off by herself, staring at the glue on her fingertips with a blank expression. Her pinecone had only a few pompons.

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“Hello, I’m Karen, ” I said, then asked the little girl her name. “Jacey,” she said, shyly. I sat down and started gluing pompons on another pinecone, showing her how I put the glue on the pinecone — not the pompons, as she had been trying to do. I was hoping she would want to do more with her craft. But she stared at me and then back at her gluey fingertips. I asked, “Don’t you want to glue some more pompons on your Christmas tree?”

“No,” she said. “I want to wash my hands.”

Another child approached me for help, then, so I left Jacey and didn’t notice her again until she needed help gathering her things, when most of the other children were already lined up. A teen volunteer had helped her wash her hands. Yes, there was something special about the little girl and her older brother. But the specialness went beyond learning differences, their grandmother, Deb, told me after Kids Klub. Deb, with her husband, are raising their two grandchildren. While she and I talked, Jacey and Tyce watched the Fellowship committee lay out desserts for our Tuesday night supper. They stared longingly at the cupcakes, cookies, and ice cream before asking me what they were for.

   I invited them to stay for our church supper–for meatloaf and mashed potatoes, vegetables, and biscuits, and, of course, dessert. Deb hesitated before saying she didn’t have money for the supper that evening. Pork chops and leftovers awaited them at home. But the children continued to look longingly as the hot food trays were carried out from the kitchen. “Why don’t you stay?” I said. “Don’t worry about the money.” And so they did. We sat together, with other church members at a long table. The children ate. And ate. And there was plenty of food left over.

The following Tuesday, a similar scene played out. This time, it was their grandfather who stayed with the children because Deb had a meeting. A girl named Elly sat across from Jacey and called Jacey her “best friend.” They had only known each other from two afternoons of Kids Klub. The children ate. And ate. And there was plenty of food leftover.

I had a crazy idea last summer about the Tuesday night suppers. I asked session to allow the children and families of the childcare center to stay for our meals–without requiring them to pay. Some of them truly are struggling financially. The session first asked questions, such as where would the money come from to pay for the food? Then, they approved my crazy idea, which wasn’t logical in this world’s reasoning, but in Kingdom reasoning, it made perfect sense. The suppers are an opportunity for our church to reach out and share the gospel through friendship and a small act of kindness — revealing the grace and welcome of the people of God. Our hope is that more members will come to the suppers to greet and welcome new people and eat with them, too. And we hope that more members will want to join those who help serve the meals, truly embodying the warmth of God’s love.

By giving and actively participating in this ministry and other exciting ministry opportunities at our church, you are answering our Lord’s question, “Who do you love–God or wealth?”

If we are faithful in just a little, we are faithful in much!

 

***

“Who do you love?” is the question Jesus poses to his disciples, the Pharisees and all of us listening in. This is a “don’t be like the Pharisees” story because they are “lovers of money,” as Luke says in the passage immediately following today’s reading.

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After this parable, the Pharisees ridicule Jesus for teaching that we demonstrate faithfulness to God when we extend hospitality to the poor and use wealth and friendship to further God’s Kingdom.

Unlike the parables of the lost sheep,

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lost coin,

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and Prodigal Son,

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this one is not meant to be an allegory! Jesus isn’t telling us to take any of these roles–not the “shrewd” or “dishonest” manager, as Jesus calls him, and not the rich man. This parable is drawn simply from daily life; it is what Jesus’ audience takes for granted about the way the world works.

The wealthy man–is he good or bad? Not a very likeable guy, is he? He really is rich in that the quantities of the debts owed to him are large, reflecting a considerable olive grove with an acreage of 20-25 times more than an ordinary family farm.

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Jesus is talking to a Greco-Roman audience where friendships and economics are inseparable. Like The Godfather, the exchange of money created, maintained and solidified various forms of friendship.

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Like other places in his gospel, Luke doesn’t portray the rich in a favorable light in this reading. He pronounces misfortune on the rich in 6:24, on those who find their security in wealth in 12:16, and those who invite only their friends, relatives, and rich neighbors to their homes for dinner in 14:12, so they may receive invitations in return. Jesus says, in verses 13 and 14, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The manager is more interesting. Is he good or bad? Jesus calls him “shrewd” and “dishonest.” A “manager” in the Roman context is a slave or a freed slave, who acts as his master’s agent in his business affairs. Though a slave, he would have a high status because of his master’s wealth. Think of Joseph, from Genesis!

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People actually sold themselves as slaves to manage rich people’s wealth; it beat living in poverty, doing manual labor or begging– the manager’s choices when his master discovers he has squandered his property. Without his job as manager, a slave would have no home, no place to go.

After a brief moment of indecision and a soliloquy that reminds me a little of Hamlet’s, “To be or not to be…?” the manager hatches a plan. Are you surprised when the master, though his ex-manager has just cheated him out of more money, praises him for his “shrewdness?” For the manager has secured himself a home with his newly made “friends,” who will welcome him, despite their humble means, because he reduced their debts as much as 50%.

As the parable draws to a close, Jesus speaks directly to his audience, contrasting his disciples–the children of light–with those firmly entrenched in this present (“evil”) age. He encourages the children of the light to be as shrewd with their wealth as the “children of this age,” with their worldly pursuits. He urges us to use “dishonest wealth”–meaning “worldly riches”–to further God’s Kingdom. For everything we have belongs to the Lord. We are called to be stewards–caretakers, managers– of God’s gifts to us, using all that we have and all that we are to welcome, befriend and win souls for the Lord, securing for them “eternal homes.”

***

Deb, Tyce and Jaycee’s grandmother, called me a couple of days ago and I shared how I ran into her grandchildren while I was visiting their ACA classroom. Tyce’s teacher said he had been talking about the church supper ever since that first Tuesday night, telling all the other kids about it. Deb said she couldn’t believe how much her kids ate that night–especially Jacey, who gobbled down Carl’s meatloaf, but won’t touch meatloaf at home. She was sorry to miss the supper last Tuesday because of her meeting, but her husband thought it was great. She has been telling others about our suppers, though she attends another church regularly. She gave me permission to share her family’s story because she wants our congregation to know how grateful she is for our ministries to children and families, such as Kids Klub, which meets social and emotional needs for her special needs grandkids. She worried that because a large crowd hadn’t stayed for our first two Tuesday night suppers, we might think they were not worthwhile. For her family, she said, they are “an answer to prayer.”

Friends, we may not be a large congregation compared to some, but we are a church with a heart to love people and help those in need.

Through your giving of your time and talents, energy and enthusiasm –you are keeping our ministries going and growing–furthering God’s Kingdom purposes! Through your prayers and financial support, you tell all the world whom you love–God, not wealth.

You are faithful in little, faithful in much.

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Let us pray.

 

Loving Lord, thank you for your grace that covers all our sins! Thank you for giving so generously to our church–pouring out your Spirit so we would have an abundance of gifts, talents, and resources to use for your salvation purposes. Help us, Lord, to reach out to our near neighbors with kindness and compassion, welcoming and winning new friends so they may secure eternal homes. Stir us to give generously from all that we have and all that we are, not seeking anything but your peace in return. Bless us with your joy and laughter as we take creative risks with our ministries–seeking to grow them and your Kingdom, this day and forevermore. Amen.

Grumbling in the Wilderness

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Rally Day: Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

   “Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep

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and losing one of them,

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does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

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And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 

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Just so, I tell you, slide18

than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

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When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 

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Just so, I tell you,

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***

Friends, I am happy to be back with you, my flock, to worship and study God’s word together again! Jim and I have just come back from Montreat, NC, where we took a continuing education course for pastors and spouses called the “Art of Transitional Ministry.” I wanted to learn how to lead and support my congregation through the challenges of change–within the church and outside the church. I wanted to learn more about training, equipping and inspiring leaders to discern God’s vision and plan for our future ministry. I ended up learning a lot about myself–not just as a pastor–but as a person, a child of God. A beloved sheep of the Good Shepherd. Lost and found, but often needing my Good Shepherd to lift me up on His shoulders and carry me home!

On our way to Montreat, we encountered a roadblock. Literally.

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In July, a U-Haul driver attempted to exit the gate, despite signs that say, “No trucks.”

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The beautiful, old stone gate–owned by Montreat Conference Center– was severely damaged. They plan to restore the gateway using the stones from the original arch, along with new materials and methods of construction. Something old. Something new. Honoring the past. Serving the Church of the future, whatever form and shape the Savior leads us to be.

Jim and I easily took the detour loop around the gate and made our way through still lovely, serene surroundings to the Assembly Inn–a far cry from Montreat’s tent camping beginning in 1897!

 

The camp was founded to be a place of spiritual and physical renewal. And that is just what we needed! My physical therapy at Montreat included walking a seemingly endless number of steps!

 

I came to appreciate the padded benches whenever I saw them and took a rest now and then.

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Our conference was in Convocation Hall,

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connected to Assembly Inn by, you guessed it, more steps!

At the conference, we worshiped the Lord together, and I learned, once again, how quirky pastors are. When I saw a cartoon about the Church–with Jesus herding cats–

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I thought of the faculty as our shepherds and us pastors as the cats. I felt sympathy for the faculty, who struggled to keep pastors on task. They are always talking! They struggled to persuade them to follow instructions. The first night, the leader invited us to join her in the Call to Worship and half the room started speaking the ONE part instead of the ALL. The leader had to stop the liturgy and explain, when everyone didn’t immediately catch on, “No, I am the ONE and YOU are the ALL!” The second night, the same thing happened again!

We laughed together in Montreat, especially when one of our teachers, Susan McGhee, opened the daily announcements with what became a running joke about bears.

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Rev. Susan McGhee

Bears in Montreat, you say?!

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Don’t worry, they aren’t grizzly bears, she would say with a smile, just black bears

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but don’t go near the dumpsters! Don’t leave food in your car! And don’t hike up Lookout Mountain at dusk or dawn.

 

“Cause there be bears in those hills!” she would say, pausing for effect.

None of us expected to see any bears, of course. Then, one morning, we read an announcement by the dining hall,

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Next to the announcement, was a picture of a conference attendee, mouth wide open and hands raised in mock alarm. None of us expected that the next day, bears would been seen on the grounds–and that they had been searching for food in the dumpsters. “Don’t go near the dumpsters!” Susan said again.

Humor helped us persevere through our intense schedule of lecture and small group discussion and tasks as we sought to apply our learning to our own situations. The first night, my group of 6 was given a frustrating task–at least it was for me. It was late, I was tired, and we didn’t know each other well. Now we had 15 minutes to plan a series of worship services for a liturgical season. Pastors don’t usually plan worship with other pastors they have just met, first of all. And the series had to be a transitional ministry theme, using scriptures and focus areas the teacher supplied. Within minutes of the assignment, I strongly disagreed with two of my tablemates–one on either side of me– and the emotion that rose up in me surprised me.

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I was so upset, I was speechless. We sat in an awkward silence, before finally struggling through the exercise, finishing the task, but not to anyone’s satisfaction. I was relieved to go back to my room that night and collapse into bed!

The next day, God’s grace triumphed over human emotion and fatigue. I showed up a couple minutes late for group–not intentionally– and saw worry on their faces. They asked how I felt and gave me encouraging smiles. They gently restored me–a sheep who, the night before, was feeling more than a little lost and out on her own.

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***

I would guess that when most people who have been Christians a long time read this passage in Luke 15 about the lost sheep and lost coin, they identify with the 99 righteous ones, needing no repentance or the 9 coins that aren’t lost. The lectionary leaves out the third parable in the chapter, but all 3 fit together to complete the teaching–the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son. All are Jesus’ responses to the Pharisees and scribes or legal experts grumbling when the outcast and marginalized of the Jewish community — “tax collectors” and so-called “sinners” — are gathering around Jesus, anxious to learn from him, grateful for his kind treatment of them.

The Pharisees and scribes grumble loudly enough to be heard by everyone, but without speaking directly to Jesus. This is to emphasize their dislike and disrespect of him. Not “rabbi” or teacher, they call him, “this fellow,” or “this guy,” to use modern lingo. “This guy welcomes sinners and eats with them”–meaning Jesus has made the outcast his friends and even his disciples, as they are recipients of his teaching.

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The 3 parables have 3 main characters in common. The first is the one seeking and hoping for what is lost and rejoicing when it is found–the shepherd, father and “woman.” She is a village peasant, living in a house with no windows; hence, she must use a lamp and a broom to look for her coin. She lives in a barter economy, so 10 coins likely represent the family savings–not a great sum, but to her, it would be significant to lose even one. Ten silver coins are the equivalent of about 10 days’ wages. The 2nd main character is the one that is lost or goes astray-the rolling coin, wandering sheep or rebellious son. And the 3rd are the ones who are not lost–those who remain in the flock, with the other coins, or with the father, when his younger, rebellious brother takes off.

Of the 3 parables, the one that leaves me with unanswered questions is the lost sheep. Where does the shepherd leave the 99 when he goes to find the one that is lost? In the wilderness! To leave your flock in the wilderness is to risk losing 99 to wild beasts or thieves. Or they, too, could wander off. Why would Jesus leave His own flock to perish on their own? That isn’t the Jesus we know–who promises to be with us always!

The words “grumbling” and “in the wilderness” are important to our understanding of this parable. They would especially be meaningful to the original Jewish/Christian audience who would recall the story of Moses and the Israelites, led from captivity to wander 40 years in the desert wilderness–hungry and thirsty, tired and frightened, angry and emotional. But the wilderness is also a good place to be. This is where they are with God, relying on him for their faith and all their needs–to guide their every step. And the wilderness is where they receive the hope of a brighter future in the Promised Land.

Reading these parables in the context of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and scribes grumbling about his friendship with the outcast, we see that Jesus is calling you and me– as he is teaching them–to be more like Him– the Good Shepherd, who cares about and seeks to rescue every person in need! He invites us all not to grumble or doubt but to rejoice with him — and all the angels of God–when what was lost is found!

You have already guessed that I often identify with the lost sheep. That tells you something about me! I struggle with my own high expectations for myself. Too often, I see only my failures and weaknesses–the times when I am tired or doubtful of a difficult task I must do–like I was that first night at Montreat. Maybe you struggle with these same unrealistic expectations for your own life of faith.

The truth is we are all lost sheep–and we are all found! — saved by God’s grace and not through the good things we do! So stop trying to be perfect! Just be who God has made you to be. We are His beloved! Today, and especially on Rally Day, we celebrate. Our Savior has found us and will be faithful to lead us. And when we are tired, he will carry us home.

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Let us pray.

 

Dear Savior, like a Good Shepherd, lead us in the way you want us to go. Give us joy for this wonderful journey we walk together. Thank you for loving us and promising to never leave us. Thank you for our congregation–your Church!– and the children you have brought to us to nurture in the faith. Bring us more, Lord, and more workers for the harvest, too! Thank you for all who have said yes to your call to minister to children and youth and their parents. Remind us that although we may feel scared, lost or alone, we are found and securely in your fold. Help us to reach out with love and kindness to people in need all around us, sharing the gospel through words and deeds, drawing people who don’t know you closer to you. Dear Lord, keep them and keep us in your tender care. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A World of Difference”

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Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,  ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ 

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Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 

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Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth;

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and the Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’

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     I came back from the Montreat Youth Conference, and everyone asks, “How was Montreat? Did you have a good time?” And I answer, “Yes, it was great!” But then you start to talk about what happened at this huge PC (USA), 5-day youth gathering, and you don’t know where to begin!

The setting is so important.

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The people you come with are SO important.

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Your attitude is SO important. It takes faith to listen for God’s voice and commit to the Spirit’s work, to have your own identity and calling as a child of God–loved by God, used by God for God’s glory– confirmed. It feels like magic when you’re there; I don’t know how to explain it, except that it’s the Spirit of God that draws us, embraces, refreshes, heals and challenges us in our comings and goings, year after year.

The theme was “A World of Difference”–emphasizing the acceptance and embrace of differences in the Body of Christ and the great diversity of the world! It was also a call to discover and live out our different callings–every one of us, but most of all, the youth–and Make a World of Difference TOGETHER, loving and serving God and people in new, creative, and bold ways.

“Prophesy!” one speaker urged us. “Prophesy to the Church!”

We only had 1 youth from MIPC go this year–a young man who has attended youth group faithfully and has happily gone to Montreat several years in a row. But we all proudly claimed Jacob as our own! At times, I think Jacob looked after us as much as we looked after him. Since this was my first Montreat Youth Conference, I was always asking Jacob questions–especially how to get to where we were going. He led me and his mom, Leslie, on footpaths (shortcuts) we would probably not have found on our own! He’d walk ahead of us with his long, youthful strides up and down steep slopes–grassy–rocky and sometimes paved, but usually not. We would follow, more slowly and carefully, behind him, sometimes struggling a little to keep up. He’d smile and toss helpful phrases back at us: “Don’t fall!”

We had a zillion jokes about how there were 4 adults to watch over 1 youth–5 if you count Elizabeth who went as a small group leader and stayed in different housing. Larger youth groups filled up entire pews during worship and keynote. We had plenty of space to spread out on MIPC’s pew!

 

Cindy, our back home leader, organizer, and driver, would say, as we prepared for worship or another activity, “Let me check and see if everyone is here.” She would pretend to look around, before pointing to Jacob sitting right in front of us.

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“One!” she’d call out. “OK, we’re all here!” But sometimes we’d get overconfident about Jacob, who is really a young adult. He graduated from high school this spring and works full time. Sometimes, we would be talking to each other and we’d suddenly realize that Jacob wasn’t with us. We’d look at each other and say, “Where’s Jacob?” And laugh–because here there’s 4 or 5 chaperones–and we’ve lost track of our one youth!! He was usually ahead of us and we’d meet up with him soon after. He has the confidence of one shaped by Montreat experiences and the Spirit of nurture with his family and his church!

Worship happens every morning and evening at the conference. Worship is active, begins with something called “Energizers!” which are difficult for uncoordinated, middle aged people like me! But they get us all up and moving and bring smiles to our faces. I loved that worship was packed with visuals, such as video clips, photos, and skits. Youth are involved in every aspect of worship –flying banners, carrying lit candles, bearing pieces of a heart that come together and other symbols of the Spirit’s presence and uniting, healing, power among us!

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Worship leaders played piano and guitar with traditional and contemporary pieces, including original compositions, such as the theme song for our week, “A World of Difference.”

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The words to every song–original, modern and traditional– were projected on two large screens on either side of the stage.

 

Twice a day, youth and some adults led or participated in small groups. We studied scripture and discussed serious topics relevant to teenagers raised by the keynote speaker or evening preacher. One teen shared how she had stayed up late the night before listening for 2 hours as another teen shared a problem he had, a struggle he had never shared with anyone else. She had tears in her eyes as she described how they prayed God would heal him–as God had healed her, when doctors and counselors could not.

I celebrated my birthday at the conference with my back home group that gave me, among other gifts, a Montreat T-shirt and an adorable card with kitty voices meowing “Happy Birthday.”

And I celebrated my birthday in my small group, bringing cookies to share. They made me a beautiful card and signed my Montreat shirt–so that I would remember them by name and pray for them by name. I promised I would! :o)

 

They let me take their pictures. Here are some of my new friends!

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The Jeremiah reading fits perfectly with the day we celebrate youth and share about our annual trip to Montreat. What a powerful passage this is–the call of Jeremiah, coming just a few years before Jerusalem is destroyed, and Israel is captured and exiled to Babylon, about 600 years before the birth of Christ. The call is more like the call of Moses than the call of Isaiah, who has an elaborate vision.

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The call of Isaiah

Moses, who has a speech problem, hears God’s voice plainly, but like Jeremiah feels unworthy and unable to do what God wants him to do.

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The call of Moses

Jeremiah protests, “I’m just a boy! I don’t know how to speak!” But the Lord doesn’t say, “Oh, yeah, you’re right. You’re just a boy. What was I thinking?”

God says, “You’re the one I want. No one knows you better than I! I have known you since before I formed you in your mother’s womb! I’ve been planning this all along; you are consecrated–set aside as holy–to be my prophet to the nations!!”

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The call of Jeremiah

The call of Jeremiah brings to mind the call of Abraham, as well, for the Lord doesn’t specify Abraham’s final destination. He says, “Go, to a place I will show you!” The Lord assures Abraham that He will be with him wherever he goes; he needn’t be afraid!

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The Lord, in a similar way, assures Jeremiah, “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” God’s mighty word will lead to the “plucking up, pulling down,” and destruction of nations. But the promise is there for God’s people, though they will suffer greatly in their captivity and exile of about 50 years. Our God of mercy will also “build” and “plant.” In Jeremiah 29:11-13, we are assured of God’s wonderful plans that are still true for us today! “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.”

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Someone asked me what I liked best about Montreat. “That’s easy,” I said. “Getting to know the people from my own church!!” We had lots of uninterrupted time together, in between scheduled conference activities. We stayed in a 100-year-old house without a/c, TV, radio, or Internet.

 

It was a simple life, except you had to go outside and down a flight of stairs to go from the bedrooms to the kitchen, dining and family room

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Mike in our downstairs dining room

where we ate meals, played Uno, and snacked endlessly.

 

The bathrooms were interesting. Glad we didn’t have to use the heat; it was ancient!

 

Also for entertainment, Jacob and Mike played a rope game on the back porch.

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And an orange kitty came to visit one afternoon.

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I was sad when I had to leave a day early. I needed to get back to prepare for Sunday worship and a funeral Sunday afternoon. I was sad to leave Montreat, at all. For at Montreat, our group was united and renewed in faith; we had our callings as children of God, loved by God, used by God for God’s glory, confirmed! We grew to know and love more the Lord and one another. I missed the last night when Jacob and all the other high school seniors gathered around Lake Susan. They lit candles.

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Then the adults and other youth laid hands on them and prayed for God’s blessing.

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That Friday night, I was with them in spirit. And I continue to pray for Jacob and the youth I met at Montreat, the youth of our congregation, and the youth of our community we haven’t yet met. My prayer is that they will seek the Lord and hear God’s voice as clearly as Jeremiah heard God calling to him when he was “just a boy.”

I pray the Lord will continue to lead us and all our young people to make a WORLD of difference, as we sang in our theme song at Montreat.

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Click below to hear “A World of Difference”

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Will you pray with me?

 

Holy God of mercy, thank you for claiming us, calling and equipping us to love and serve you with our lives! Refresh and renew us by your Spirit, filling us with the gifts we need to do your will. Awaken in the hearts of every believer a better understanding of your plan and purpose for them, a plan that you have had for us since you formed us in our mother’s womb. Restore unto all of us the joy and peace of our salvation. Lead us to boldly and creatively reach out to the children and youth in our community with your love. In Christ we pray. Amen.

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