In Memory of Stanley Niven Keller

Meditation on John 14:15-27

Jan. 12, 2017

Merrit Island Presbyterian Church

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If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

    ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

     Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

***

One day last October, I was working in the church office when there was a knock at my back door. I opened it and was surprised to find Stan and Dorcas come to visit, unannounced, bearing gifts. The occasion was my one-year anniversary at MIPC. The gifts–and the kindness of those who brought them to me– gave me a warm feeling inside. One of the gifts was a beautiful, peaceful, snowy scene Dorcas had painted, complete with a little white, country church. Moving from rural Minnesota, I felt welcomed and appreciated. The other gift was for the church; their daughter, Faye Margaret, who had brought it back from Italy for them. It was a wooden statue of St. Frances, a friar and founder of religious orders, a peacemaker and animal lover who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries. He took a vow of poverty and led a humble, simple life. The statue of St. Frances features him lovingly holding a bird in his hand; he was known to occasionally preach sermons to the birds.

Stan carried the gifts and helped Dorcas out of their car and up the tricky step into my office. He was gentle and patient, not in a rush. He was apologetic that they had come unannounced and that the gifts had come a couple weeks after the Sunday that was my official anniversary. They had been unable to make it to church that day. They weren’t feeling well.

I knew of Dorcas’ battle with cancer. I didn’t know about Stan’s persistent hip pain and his sciatica. But I knew the pew where they always sat together in church for the 11 o’clock service, week after week, in spite of their health challenges.

He, Dorcas, and 9-year-old Faye moved to Merritt Island in 1972 after Stan retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service. They joined MIPC in 1973. Stan was ordained an elder in our church and served on session from 1974-77. He and Dorcas taught Sunday school.

Stan was stationed in Newfoundland in the Air Force when he met and fell in love with Dorcas, a Newfoundland native. She wasn’t interested in American men, she says, especially those serving in the military. Her parents didn’t approve. He managed to charm her, picking her up in his black Ford and taking her to the Paramount Theater, then dancing at the clubs–the Piccadilly, Crystal Palace, Old Mill, Old Colony–and at the base, though he didn’t like to dance. Oh, he could manage the Fox Trot and the Waltz, but really it was just about being with Dorcas. He persisted. Finally, she agreed to marry a man who would, inevitably, take her away from her family and all that was familiar and comfortable. They married in 1955 at the oldest church in North America–the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s, Newfoundland. As Stan continued to serve in the Air Force, they lived in California, Pennsylvania, Japan, and Patrick Air Force Base on Merritt Island. Dorcas lived in base housing at Patrick when Stan went to Vietnam, earning a gold medal in ‘69 and a bronze star in 1970.

With all that Stan endured in his years of military service and with the years of persistent pain in his hips and legs, the most difficult trial of his life was still the loss of Faye Margaret, their only child, in 2014. She was 51. Nothing hurts us more than the suffering and loss of our loved ones. But surely nothing in this world prepares us for the loss of our own child! It is only by trusting in God’s loving, everlasting presence with us in the Body of Christ that we are able to deal with the pain of such a loss and continue on, walking with the Lord, clinging to Him! Moment by moment. Day by day.

***

Jesus’ disciples are confused and more than a little distressed when Jesus tries to explain in the gospel of John, chapter 13 what will happen to him and to them. He is leaving them, he says. Where he’s going, they cannot come. He’s talking about the cross and the work of salvation that only he can accomplish for our sakes. He will later assure them of the dwelling places he will prepare for his disciples in His father’s house in the world to come. But first He gives them a “new commandment” to live by. Really, it’s just a new twist on an old commandment. For “love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as your self” are Old Testament laws. The new thing is for the disciples to love one another as Christ has loved them. The love Jesus has for the world is revealed by his obedience to God and willingness to give up his own will and his own life so that others who believe on Him may have everlasting life. This self-giving love is how the world will recognize Christ’s followers–and more will come to know Him and His salvation.

So now, in John 14:15, when Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he is talking primarily about the new commandment –this self-giving love in what the Apostle Paul will call the Body of Christ. The problem is that it isn’t humanly possible for us to love that way. Not without God’s help. So what does Jesus do? He promises to send help–the “Advocate,” the “Spirit of Truth” to His disciples. When the Spirit comes, Christ Himself will live in them and they, Christ says, will be able to see Him and know He is with them FOREVER.

“I will not leave you orphaned,” he says to them. “I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.”

Not only will Christ’s followers be able to see Him, they are promised resurrection –eternal life with Him. “Because I live,” Jesus adds, “you also will live.”

Friends, the world is crying out in fear and sorrow for help and hope. The answer is almost too simple and straightforward for some. God is ready to give the gift of Himself–His loving Spirit–to all who desire to receive Him. We are obedient to God when we love one another, putting others’ needs before our own. Christ is revealed to the world by our love. When we seek to be obedient to the Lord and live in love, the Spirit will guide and strengthen us to carry on, persevering through trials and suffering, trusting in His everlasting, loving presence with us in the Body of Christ. Walking with the Lord. Clinging to Him! Moment by moment, day by day.

Trust in the One who has made his home with us. The One whom we will see, someday, face to face.

Jesus says, “The … Holy Spirit… will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. … Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid.”

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, thank you for sending your Son to take all our sin upon Himself so that we may be forgiven not by our works, but by your love, mercy and grace. Thank you for your Word that reveals our Savior and shows us how you want us to live, trusting in you and persevering through trials, moment by moment, day by day. Thank you for Your loving Spirit that dwells in and with us, the Church, the Body of Christ, empowering us to love one another in a way not humanly possible and be strong–and not afraid. Help us to keep your commands and be obedient to your Word. Thank you, Lord, for granting us your peace that is so unlike what the world gives. Lord, we long to see you, face to face. In Your son’s name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

“Remember Your Baptism”

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Meditation on Matthew 3:13-17

Baptism of our Lord Sunday

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

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     Did you all take down your Christmas decorations this week? What is the tradition for your family, if you are still putting up Christmas decorations? Put them up Thanksgiving weekend and take them down on New Years or the day after? I really liked taking walks at night throughout Advent in our neighborhood and seeing all the lights.

 

 

We didn’t have a lot of Christmas decorations outside–just a small Nativity scene, a fresh wreath for the front door and the lights from our Christmas tree shining through the window.

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Any of you still have your Christmas tree up? I do. I love to see my Christmas tree all lit up in my living room at night, and the Nativity scenes make me feel all warm inside. They are a sign to us that God is still with us!

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God loves us so much that he became one of us; he emptied himself of his divinity for our sakes (Phil. 2:5-8) — to experience all that we experience as human beings, and become a slave for us. When we were perishing in our sins, God came to save us! God came in an unexpected way — as a humble baby in a manger.

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During Advent, we have the freedom to boldly witness to our faith, without seeming like religious fanatics. Lots of people display their Christianity for all to see during Advent by decorating their homes and yards, giving gifts, writing cards, and coming to worship the Lord on Christmas Eve and sometimes even Christmas Day.

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January can be a hard month –is it a hard month for you? Not just because of the cooler temperatures and relative darkness of winter. But because the outward beauty of the Christmas season and the freedom to openly share our faith disappears. If you are still talking about Jesus in public in the middle of January, people think you are weird–or you are just trying to get them to come to your church. When we go back to the ordinary routine of our daily lives after Christmas, and without the outward signs of the Christmas season, we may forget the wonder of God’s love and the beauty of our salvation. We may forget to keep looking for signs that God is with us. Every day, there are signs of His love and tender care–and the newness of our lives in Christ– our redemption from our sins.

One of the most important signs of God’s covenant with us in Jesus Christ is something we encounter and experience every day. That sign is WATER.    

 

***

Today, as we recall John’s baptism of Jesus, we encounter all 3 persons of “the Trinity” — Father, Spirit and Son, just as we are baptized in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is part of God’s plan for salvation as Jesus teaches in Matthew 28. He makes it clear that baptism is necessary for Christ’s followers and to grow the Church, which is open to all people in every land. And that baptism is a reminder of Christ’s everlasting presence with those who believe on him and seek to be pleasing to him.

In Matthew 28:18-20 , the risen Christ comes to his disciples, some of whom are having doubts, and he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Immediately after Jesus is baptized in Matthew 3, God responds with blessings for Jesus, John, and all who are there to witness the theophany — the supernatural happening. The heavens open, the Spirit descends like a dove on Jesus, and God proclaims Jesus to be God’s Son, “the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

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The significance of the Jordan as the place where Jesus is baptized is that Joshua led the ancient Israelites across the Jordan River into the land of the Promise.

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Crossing the river, with the priests and the ark of the covenant leading the way, they leave behind their old identities just as we die to ourselves in baptism so we may live as Christ. Crossing the Jordan, the Israelites are no longer slaves of the Egyptians, just as we are no longer slaves to sin but by faith new creations in Him.

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The Israelites are no longer a wandering, homeless band of aliens; they are heirs to the land God has given them– “children of the Promise.” Some theologians believe that Jesus–which came from the Hebrew Yeshua or Joshua in English — is the “new Joshua”– leading the people of the New Covenant to eternal life in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.

We discover John’s reluctance to baptize his cousin, God’s Son, in this passage. Does that surprise you that John didn’t at first want to be obedient to the Lord’s request? It brings to mind the scene in John 13 when Peter refuses, at first, to allow Jesus to wash his feet. And Jesus answers in verses 8-9, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” And Peter responds, “Then Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!”

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Before Jesus asks him to baptize him, John expresses his unworthiness to the crowd. He says in Matthew 3:11, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John’s humility comes from his understanding that he is in the presence of holiness, and he, like all human beings, is sinful, no matter how good he tries to be. But Jesus insists, for this is God’s way — to “fulfill all righteousness.” John relents.

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Baptism in water is key. Water has been a symbol of life since ancient times. Modern science tells us that human bodies are about 70 percent water, but even the ancients knew that one could not survive long without drinking water, especially in the arid climate in which Jesus lived.

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What’s more, water is the symbol for God in ancient Judaism. God is “the spring (or fountain) of living water” in Jer. 2:13 and 17:13. In Isaiah 55:1, God invites all to come to Him with, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” Isaiah also speaks of salvation using the language of water in 12:2-3, saying 2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

David uses the metaphor of God supplying water for the soul in Ps. 63:1 when he prays, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” The psalmist in 42:1-2 also sings, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”

 

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After Jesus is baptized, he will beckon others to come to the Father through him to satisfy soul thirst. Jesus, in John 4, asks a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well to give him a drink. Surprised, she asks, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”… 10 Jesus answers, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

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11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?… 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Jesus professes to be the living water, again, in John 7. After the officers are sent to arrest Jesus, he cries out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

***

Today, we, too, will come to the living water, in response to Christ’s invitation. We are coming to remember our baptism, though for some of us, it was long ago! We come to remember that we were baptized and what that means–how the Spirit claims us and fills us with spiritual gifts –and still fills, refreshes and equips us for God’s work today. How the Church has welcomed us and promised to nurture us as a child of God, a brother or sister in the faith. We come to remember how our gracious God forgave us for all our sins and still forgives us. Through one baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God forgives the sins of yesterday, today and forever!

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We come to the living water to be strengthened and united as the Body of Christ, made one in Him. We come not because we are worthy, but because we understand, like John, that we cannot make ourselves worthy for God. We come because, like the Samaritan woman, we thirst for the living water to nourish our souls to eternal life, because salvation is a gift from God by faith in Jesus Christ, not something we could ever do for ourselves. We come not just to receive God’s blessings but to be a blessing to one another and be pleasing to Him. We come with joy as God’s beloved so that we may be inspired to tell the world that God loves them, too!

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Let us pray.

Holy One, our Living Water, we thank you for leading your Son, Jesus Christ, to the Jordan River to be baptized by John and show us the way back to you. Thank you, Lord, for beckoning us, even now, to come to you and remember our baptisms. Stir us to recall today and always that we belong to you–NOT the world! Move us to joy at the thought of what you have done for us every time we see water of any kind– that we have been cleansed from our sin. Help us to recall each day, especially when we might be tempted to be discouraged or doubt, that we have received the gift of your Spirit, equipping us for every good work you have ordained for us to do. Teach us to be obedient to you. Reassure us that we are your beloved–now and forever. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

 

“Give Yourself Away”

 

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Dec. 4, 2016

     For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,  so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’; and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

***

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I am happy to see the children and families from the childcare center today in worship! We are so blessed that the 3 and 4 year olds came to sing and share your joyful spirit and energy with all of us! We love you! We pray for you! We want to be a blessing to you! If you are not a member of a local congregation and you are seeking a place to worship and have friendships with other Christians, we invite you to join with us. You are already one of the MIPC family!

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We were so pleased when some of you came to our Rally Day activities in September.

 

 

Then, more of you came to our Fall Festival in October, dressed in costume and ready for more games, food, fellowship and crafts!     

 

  Then, we invited you and some of you came to our Thanksgiving Dinner a couple of weeks ago! It was so nice to share in that very special meal with you!

 

If you have 4-year-old children or grandchildren in VPK, we are blessed when they come to our church for chapel twice a month.

 

 

We are so glad when you join us for Tuesday night suppers! I

 

am looking forward to getting to know you better in the months to come. Our suppers will start up again January 17 with macaroni and cheese and fried chicken, thanks to the dedicated, hardworking volunteers on our Fellowship committee!

***

 

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Rome, is concerned that some Jewish Christians don’t want to eat with or associate with Gentile Christians who don’t observe the Old Testament food laws. He says in Romans 14:14, “Nothing is unclean in itself” and that the important thing is to not let your convictions about diet stir you to judge others and disturb the peace of the community. Paul says in Romans 15:5, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,  so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul quotes Old Testament Scripture to show that it still shapes and unites the community of faith–Jew and Gentile–that seeks to worship and obey the same God. In the new covenant, the food laws and circumcision are not necessary. For love of the world, God graciously sent His Son, our Emmanuel, to give up his life so we may be forgiven from our sins and have everlasting life with Him. Paul emphasizes that Scripture is the source of our hope and comfort, to help us endure suffering and remain faithful to our faithful God. He quotes from Deuteronomy 32:43, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” and Psalm 117:1, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.” He quotes the prophet Isaiah with the verse about the Root of Jessie who will rule over the nations and be the hope of the Gentiles.

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Paul encourages Christians to eat together as a sign of their unity in Christ and their love for one another. He says in 15:7, “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God!” The word “welcome” may also be translated, “accept” and “receive.” This kind of welcome isn’t just, “Hello, how are you?” and shaking hands with a stranger or neighbor. This kind of welcome is the one where you open your heart and your home and you put the needs and desires of the other person before your own. This kind of welcome means you give yourself away, as Christ gave himself for us.

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Paul using Jesus as the perfect model of hospitality–giving and receiving it–fits the Jesus we know from the gospels. Jesus liked to eat and drink at other people’s houses. His ministry was intimate and personal and often involved food. He didn’t wait for an invitation to supper at the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector to reward and encourage him for his faith.

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He ate with his friends, Mary and Martha, who didn’t always agree on who should do the work.

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He ate with people who didn’t like or trust him and would oppose him–Pharisees and Scribes. He asked for water from a Samaritan woman not respected in her community and offered her living water so she would never thirst again.

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He ate with rich and poor, powerful and powerless as he drew others nearer to God through belief on Him and preached life in the Kingdom.

He taught his disciples to follow his example for personal and intimate ministry. He sent them out to stay in people’s homes and accept their hospitality. Those who opened their homes and fed them would be blessed. He told the 12 in Matthew 10:40-42: 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.  42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Jesus, sending off the 70 in Luke 10:5-9, says “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

Jesus welcomes people by feeding them–body, mind, heart and soul. When his disciples are going to send away a crowd who have listened to Jesus teach all day, he feeds the multitude with a few loaves and a couple fish, given by a child and multiplied by God.

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At the Last Supper, Jesus blesses the bread and breaks it, giving it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you.” He encourages them to continue to gather to eat and feed one another when he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

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In Luke 24, two disciples walk along a road with the risen Christ, not knowing who he is. They invite him to their home and don’t recognize him till they sit down to eat a meal and he “breaks the bread.”

 

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Jesus doesn’t shy away from cooking, either. The risen Christ is on the seashore cooking bread and fish over a charcoal fire in John 21, while his disciples are out fishing one day. They don’t know who he is until a miraculous catch opens their eyes to his identity. He says to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught’ and  ‘Come and have breakfast.’  After the disciples’ bodies are nourished, he feeds their hearts and souls, too, offering Peter, who denied him 3 times, another chance to get it right–to give of himself, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Then he charges him to minister as He did–nourishing heart and mind, body and soul of others.

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Jesus says to Peter, using his formal given name and not the nickname that he had given him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Peter says, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16A second time Jesus says to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter says, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus says, ‘Tend my sheep.’17Jesus says a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter feels hurt because he has asked him three times if he loved him. And Peter says, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus says, ‘Feed my sheep.’

 

***

 

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The bake sale after worship today will feed your body and bless the souls at the childcare center, which is in need of trikes and a stroller that would hold 4 or more babies. Thank you to all who made cookies and other sweets to sell at the sale! But before you shop for goodies, please take some time to enjoy fellowship and refreshments in our Narthex, the lobby of the church. It will be a perfect time to “welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you.” But remember, “welcome” means much more than just saying, “Hi, how are you?” It means opening your heart and home.

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It means putting the needs and desires of your neighbors before your own. It means give yourself away as Christ gave himself for us.

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Let us pray.

God of Hope, we give you thanks for the welcome you have given us, receiving us through the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ, and every day, holding out your arms to us and beckoning us to come. Thank you for your love and grace, covering all our sins, and for providing for our needs each day–body, mind, heart and soul. Help us, Lord, to minister as Jesus did–to seek to be welcoming to one another and to the stranger in need. Teach us to open our hearts and love without fear–to give ourselves away, as your Son gave Himself for us. In His name we pray. Amen.

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“Put on” Christ

First Sunday in Advent, Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in immorality and shamelessness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

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Just two days before Thanksgiving, the girl with ringlits spilling out from underneath a black cap shook her head when asked if she had a celebration or prayer concern to share during circle time. Elly is one of the few quiet ones. Most children in Kids Klub are nearly bursting to share about their chickens and bunnies, dogs and cats, loose or lost teeth and getting braces, having birthdays and family vacations, trips to grandma’s, good grades and college-age siblings coming home for the holidays.

 

They request prayer for brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, and friends who are sick and healing for their own colds, stomach bugs and scrapes and sprains from falling off monkey bars and bicycles. On Tuesday, after children had shared their celebrations and concerns in our circle time, I was amazed when 7 of them volunteered to lead the prayer for the group! Their prayers were simple and brief, but came straight from the heart.

Dress rehearsal for their Christmas program is Friday afternoon, but some of the kids have been wearing cowboy hats and boots and practicing their “Western” accents since August, when they began rehearsing for “The Loaned Manger.” Putting on the costumes–dressing up like characters in the Old West– helps them learn their parts and brings them joy.

 

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At the same time, they are encouraged to be themselves– their best possible selves. But when the costume goes on, they must let go of fear, anxiety and doubt and trust that others will love and accept them as they are–and not ridicule or reject them. . In this creative, affirming, Christ-centered environment, I have seen the children bloom and grow.

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***

Paul’s language in the first two verses of today’s passage in Romans–the imagery of a person waking in the morning and getting dressed, putting on the “armor of light” or “weapons of light,” as some translations say–comes from an early Christian hymn. The Christian must prepare for battle, just as naturally and routinely as we get dressed every morning to prepare for the weather and activities of the day. The battle is not with other people; it is a spiritual battle with our own “flesh” and temptation to sin. What we put on is for our protection and strength–overcoming evil with good, as Paul says in 12:21. What we put on helps bring about the inner transformation needed to change our sinful behaviors. Paul tells us in his own words in verse 14 that the “armor of light” is, in fact, Jesus Christ.

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When Paul says “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers,” he wants us to live as if the Kingdom of God–a glimpse of which we have when we celebrate communion– has already come to fruition. The “day” that is “near” that Paul speaks of is not just the day of Christ’s return as he promised but the new era that dawned with the cross and resurrection. The age of Adam and the fall of human beings is the “night” that is “far gone.” The age of Redemption is here–when sinners are saved by grace and no longer live for themselves, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:15, “but for him who died for them and was raised again.” And, again, in Romans 14:7-8, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

But like those who are sleeping, we may not be aware of what is going on in the spiritual realm. The Holy season of Advent falls in one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. TV commercials tell us we need to spend, spend, spend! We need expensive cars and bigger TVs; the good news is that Black Friday sales are extended till the end of the month! Some people are making lists and muttering to themselves, “I have shopping to do. Presents to wrap. Cards to write. Cookies to bake. Holiday meals to make. A tree, house, and yard to decorate.”

 

We might forget that now, more than ever, is the time when we cannot wear ordinary garments. We cannot live ordinary lives.

“Be not conformed to the world,” Paul tells us in Romans 12:2. Choose transformation by the renewing of our minds. It doesn’t just happen. We don’t have to give in to what the world demands of us. We choose to discern the will of God–“what is good and acceptable and perfect,” Paul says, and we choose to obey, as we promise in the prayer Jesus taught us, “Thy will be done.”

Paul’s teachings are not just for this church in Rome that he hadn’t yet visited, a church he wanted to support him in a new mission to Spain; it is for the Body of Christ, who are “many,” he says in Romans 12:5-6, with different gifts “according to (God’s) grace…” He urges unity for Jew and Gentile believers, who often did not agree on how Christians should live. The important thing was to not do or say things that would cause another brother or sister to “stumble” in their walk of faith. Paul writes in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” “Live in harmony with one another,” he says in 12:16. In 12:18, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

After quoting from the early Christian hymn and reminding us to be clothed in Christ in our war against sin, Paul says, “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in…” and he lists certain sins that are “works of darkness” that must first be put off before putting on the “armor of light”– Jesus Christ. William Barclay (The Letter to the Romans, p. 210- 211) has this to say about the sins… Reveling or revelry (komos) was “originally the band of friends who accompanied a victor home from the games, singing his praises and celebrating his triumph.” Later, it came to mean a noisy band of no-goods creating havoc in the city streets at night. Drunkenness (methe) “was a particularly disgraceful thing to the Greeks,” surprisingly, since they were “a wine-drinking people. Even children drank wine.” Breakfast was a piece of bread dipped in wine. But the wine was diluted and drunk because “the water supply was inadequate and dangerous.” Immorality (koite) means literally “a bed” and “has in its meaning the desire for a forbidden bed.” Shamelessness (aselgeia) describes those who are not only immoral; they don’t care who sees them doing their evil deeds or what people think. The last two sins, given their position at the end of the sentence, are the ones of which Paul is most concerned for the Body. The sin of contention or quarreling (eris) “comes from a desire for place, power and prestige and from the hatred of being bettered. It is essentially the sin which places self in the foreground and is the entire negation of Christian love.” Jealousy (zelos) “describes the spirit which cannot be content with what it has and looks with jealous eye on every blessing given to someone else and denied to itself.”

For Paul, love is the most important thing. In Romans 12:9-10, he says, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection.” And in the three verses that precede today’s reading, Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…” He names several Commandments, before concluding the sum of which are, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He adds to Jesus’ teaching on the Greatest Commandment, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

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Friends, now more than ever, in this season of hoping and waiting for our Savior, but also too much busyness and materialism, we cannot wear ordinary garments. We cannot live ordinary lives. Choose to be transformed! Cast off fear and doubt and other sins that get in the way of healthy change in our lives as individuals and in our life of faith together. Love one another. Accept one another. Live in peace. Put on the armor of light. Put on Jesus Christ.

***

I want to make sure you know that Kids Klub isn’t just about preparing children to put on a Bible show twice a year. It’s about love and acceptance. Elly is only 5–and one of the youngest children in our after school program. She came because a friend invited her. When her grandma picked her up at the end of the first class, she started to cry–and I was worried that something had happened that first day. I went over to comfort her. But her grandma assured me that nothing bad had happened. She was crying because she didn’t want to leave.

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But why does she always wear her black hat? her grandmother asked. She tells her to take it off when she is inside for respect. I think Elly wears it to be like the others in their cowboy hats–and putting on the “costume” gives her confidence to be someone she hasn’t been before. Someone new. But also the best possible self she can be–if she can cast off fear and doubt and trust that she will be loved and accepted for who she is.

On Saturday, I hope you will come and support the children as they share the love of Jesus with the community through drama, movement and music, such as this beautiful song by Rob Howard: “Everlasting Light.” For God so loved the world that he gave his only son and if we believe in him we will have life everlasting. Life everlasting. Jesus, everlasting light, shine through my darkness with hope so bright. Jesus, everlasting light, shine through my darkness tonight. I am the light of the world. He that follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. The light of life.

 

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Let us pray…

 

Holy one, thank you for sending Jesus to be the light of the world, shining in our darkness. Help us, Lord, to let go of the sins that keep us from being our best selves or even someone altogether new, if you lead us. Stir us to remember each day when we get up and get dressed, that we also need to pray and put on the armor of light. We need to put on Jesus Christ! Lead us to be not conformed to the world during this Holy season of Advent and not feel the pressure to keep up with everyone else in our spending and doing. Teach us to love one another, Lord, and to live in peace. And we seek a blessing of joy for the children, staff and faithful volunteers of Kids Klub as they prepare to shine your light to the families, community and congregation. Keep them all healthy and safe. Help them learn their lines and songs and to remember always the love and grace of Jesus Christ. In His name we pray. Amen.

“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.’

***

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!

***

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.”

***

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.

 

 

 

 

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