“Let your light shine before others, so that your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
You are the most important person in the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ in the world. You may not believe it, but people depend on you to live out this Good News called Jesus Christ, especially in a world that seems to be full of one-sided conversations and adversarial relationships. People yearn for more than what they see, and desire to live a life of pure joy but often times have difficulty finding the peace that comes through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the past few days, the lyrics from Jeremy Camp’s “Give me Jesus” have been ringing in my ears, “you can have all this world, just give me Jesus.” Just give me Jesus; that desire can be fulfilled through our faithful witness of the grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus is amazing; he reached out and touched those others would not even consider worthy their time. Jesus saw people, all people, as God’s beloved worthy of Jesus dying for on a cross for them. When others saw someone as unworthy, dirty, and soiled with the cares and bitter crosses of the culture or sullied by the judgments folks cast upon them, he looked beyond and saw a soul worthy of being saved. When your witness is a witness of grace, there is rejoicing in heaven, because someone has found what their soul has been seeking. Our witness of God’s grace is not about rules or regulations or making sure the way we believe is how they should believe, it is about sharing the same love that God has shared with us to another. It is offering the gift of eternal life; it is knowing that when somebody turns back to the mighty and loving arms of Jesus, their life will never be the same. Your words or actions may be the only hope they receive when they need it the most. The light of Christ can only be seen when it is not hidden. Faith needs to be shared. You have been given an incredible gift not to be tucked away but to be celebrated. This thing we have received called grace is amazing, it reaches beyond what is seen and extends not judgement or pain, but shares hope, compassion and understanding. We offer grace through our witness not for our glory but for the glory of God. As St. Paul writes, “Yes, everything is for your sake so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15) May your words and your deeds give glory to God as you extend the love of Christ to somebody that is waiting and hoping for a transformed life in Christ. You are the witness of Jesus that is so important. Think about it this way, the soul of another just wants Jesus and is crying out, “just give me Jesus,” just give me Jesus to the glory of God. Thank you Jesus!
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Christian conversation, or as our Methodist tradition calls it “Christian Conference,” involves the art of getting along with one another and understanding the incredible value of sharing our life with other Christians. It does not mean we need to always agree but does call for us to, in the words of St. Paul, “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Worship is imperative for a vital church community, as is prayer, Biblical understanding and attending opportunities to better experience the grace of God, yet there is a need to take the time to talk about our faith as we journey with other Christians. The bottom line is that our faith is not intended to be lived out in isolation from other Christians or the world around us. We were created by God to be in community for the dual purpose of nurturing our souls and equipping ourselves and others to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ beyond the walls of the church. When Jesus taught us to pray he instructed us to begin, “Our Father…,” not “my Father.” We are baptized into one body, with a variety of gifts to share with each other for the purpose of equipping “the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12) “Christian conference” is a means of grace by which we more fully understand how God has called us, nurtured, and equipped us to celebrate the joy of living out our faith in our everyday lives. God never intended for you to live out your faith alone, rather God has placed folks along the way and opportunities to nurture what God has given you. More than a “means of grace,” Christian conference (talk) is living out your faith to the fullest; it is God’s precious gift to you. Thank you Jesus!
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
It is hard to imagine what the presence of God would be like, yet Jesus offers a taste through calling us to worship “in spirit and in truth.” “Attending to the Ordinances of God” is a way which we can truly be caught up in God’s grace, whether through partaking of the Lord’s Supper or celebrating worship. If we believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in worship, that God comes to us in Spirit when we raise our hands to truly give honor and praise to the creator of the universe and the author of our salvation then we will truly come to know even more completely what an incredible gift God has offered to us. To worship in “spirit and in truth” is to come to worship with an open heart, an open mind, and a soul longing to be drawn closer to Jesus. To some, worship may be the thing to do on Sunday. For others, a chance to sing familiar tunes; and for others worship is a time to just get away from life for but an hour. So what if we saw worship as a celebration of the presence of God, no matter our circumstances or our disposition at the time. What if we came to worship to do nothing more than to give thanks to the Lord our God? When we worship in spirit and in truth we recognize our absolute dependence on God and our need to come into God’s presence with a spirit of humility, openness, and joy. Worship out of a sense of duty or tradition is no worship at all; worship becomes then only something to do, not to experience and celebrate. As a “means of grace,” corporate worship is crucial to feeding our souls and living a transformed life. When we worship in “spirit and in truth” as Jesus calls us to do, we experience the amazing grace and incredible joy that can only come from God’s Holy Spirit. As the Psalmist writes, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God…O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.” (Ps. 84) Thank you Jesus!
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”
As someone who enjoys the life necessity of eating, I typically have mapped out when I will be eating and what will be on the menu. It is fun to consider new recipes and tweak old ones! Fasting, or abstaining from food for a period of time averts our attention from our human needs and focuses our soul on celebrating God, the author of our lives as well as the giver of the sustenance to keep our life moving. As a “means of grace,” fasting redirects our spiritual journey and deepens our relationship with God. Consider this, when Jesus was baptized, he immediately fasted and in the midst of his fasting he was certainly tempted to veer away from the journey God intended for him to make for all humanity. Food is perhaps the most tempting thing in our lives. We are tempted to overeat, under-eat, eat foods that are not the healthiest for us, and just plain eat out of habit. Fasting is for a few hours taking our devotion to food and instead concentrating attention on our spiritual need to be fed by God’s Holy Spirit. It is not a statement of will to be on display rather it is a gift to God between only you and God. In a sense, fasting is putting our spiritual needs ahead of our human need of food consumption. Some medical conditions make fasting out of the question, but even in those instances, simply giving up for a day something that is consumed for more devotion to the love of God will greatly enhance our relationship with God and offer spiritual nourishment to the soul. Abstaining from food as a Christian is a spiritual discipline which allows God’s grace to be clarified and strengthened. Fasting is a reminder “of our dependence upon God and God’s grace.” May God’s grace strengthen you in your devotion to God and dedication to God’s calling on your life. Thank you, Jesus!
Rev. Tom Joyce, Pastor
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Perhaps the grandest love letter in the history of the world is the Holy Bible. It may seem odd to some that a book that includes war, anguish, and even a pretty gruesome crucifixion could even be considered in the category with the words of Elizabeth Browning, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways…” Yet contained in this sacred text is the story of humanity and ultimate redemption offered by God who refused and continues to refuse to let us go. There is comfort, healing, presence, spiritual direction, peace, and joy; all the elements that will transform lives. Reading and studying the Bible is a “means of grace” in that understanding God’s Word opens up a whole new understanding of what it means to be a child of God. It is not a book of rules rather it is the affirmation of the amazing love (grace) that God shares with us. Over the course of centuries, the Bible has been used and abused. But the true intent of this precious thing we call the Word of God through Scripture is to be a transformative witness of the pure love of God made real and alive by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So where is the love? How about Jesus’ promise at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Or how about when all seems lost and loneliness creeps into every part of your being; to hear the words, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers…nor anything else in all creation will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:38-39) God’s love will never let you go, no matter who you are and no matter what you have done. You are redeemed through this “Word that has become flesh and dwelled among us.” (John 1:14) The Bible is God’s eternal love letter to you and is there for the reading, and the living. The Word of God as witnessed in the Bible is an incredible gift from an amazing God. Thank you Jesus!
“Pray then in this way…”
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement, witnessed that Christians should “pray without ceasing.” Our parents may have prayed with us before bedtime or taught us to pray before a meal. The church prays for the people, nation and world during worship and before each meeting. Some of us have been praying for a long time. Still others believe prayer is only appropriate at certain times and in certain places. Consider this; prayer is our lifeline, our communication and communion with God that opens the door to the amazing grace that God offers. Prayer is a “means of grace.” In other words, through our prayers, we experience God’s grace, mercy, and power. Jesus’ disciples saw the relationship Jesus had with God the Father and wanted the same thing. The only request Jesus answered without explanation was this, “teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) The Disciples saw the fundamental power of prayer and rightfully so; the gift of prayer is our communion with God. When we start talking with God (after-all we talk to our family, friends, neighbors, and others we cross paths with so why not God?), we begin to think not from a human point of view, but from a spiritual dimension; prayer is our “holy link.” Sometimes prayer is conditional as in the case of prayers for our own forgiveness; our forgiveness is conditional on our willingness to forgive others. The key to prayer does not consist of flowery wording or circumstance, rather the key to prayer is trust, trust that hands over control of our own lives and the lives of others to God’s never-failing grace. When we pray, we claim our undying faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The greatest gifts we can offer to someone else, our leaders, nation, and world are our prayers and our faith. Pray with boldness and with the confidence that you are a child of God, loved more than you could ever conceive or know. Because of your prayers, and the prayers of others, you are never alone and the lives you touch through your prayers will be blessed beyond measure. Prayer is all about God’s grace; never miss the privilege of praying for somebody else because your prayers could be the hope they desperately need. Thank you, Jesus. Amen
“And a voice from heaven said, ‘this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Promises are those commitments we make not only to those we love but to society in general. Those who are married promise to love and cherish each other, “until we are parted by death.” Friends promise to “be there” for each other, in good times and in bad. We promise our employers to show up to work on time and to do at least what is expected of us. Employers promise to pay what has been agreed upon. As members of society, we promise to treat others with dignity and respect. We promise not to violate the law, drive on the right side of the road and come to a complete stop at a stop sign or traffic light. Living up to the promises we make, implicitly or explicitly, help define our character and make the world a better place to live and our relationships more fulfilling for everybody. The promises we make to God are profoundly different from any other promises that we make; they do not end with life or a closing of a chapter of friendship or membership in an organization. Eternal promises are those we make at our baptism that celebrate the grace God has given us from our conception and our commitment to live a life and faith as a member of the “Body of Christ.” Baptismal promises are those that commend a person to God’s eternal care and celebrate a transformation of life that lives out God’s call to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world. Do you know you are “God’s beloved” and that the gift of baptism is the recognition of just how much you are loved? Sometimes we forget we can live the miracle of salvation now; so we just need to be reminded. Remember who loves you unconditionally whoever you are and whatever you have done. Remember the One who offers you a life of joy and peace if you only turn to God’s never-ending grace and mercy. The eternal promises you make to God are not temporal, they are eternal. And God’s promise to you is, “I am with you even to the end of the age.” That promise of God transcends life itself. Renew your faith and refresh your soul; accept a life of joy and peace and witness to the world God’s eternal promise. Remember your baptism. Let go and just let God take hold of your life. You have been called because you are loved.
“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”
Overwhelmed; how else would somebody feel standing in the presence of God. When God shows up in our lives, when we see God at work, we tend to start heading in a new direction. A new year begins with high hopes, leaving the previous year behind and looking forward to a fresh start. Have you ever felt the presence of God? We do not have the privilege of visiting the Christ child but we are privileged to have Jesus the Christ as our savior! Talk about fresh starts and new beginnings; when we feel God’s presence in our lives life takes on a whole new meaning. New Year’s resolutions come and go because they usually are only “skin deep.” We stick with them for a while then go back to how we always have lived our lives. The prophet Isaiah proclaims, “Arise, shine, for the light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” God has a way of lighting up our soul, renewing our life and opening up our eyes to the eternal presence of God. Faith is not just a passing thing or number 3 on our new year’s resolution list; it involves lasting transformation and trust in something far greater than anything we could imagine. Sometimes we see God through our doubts and uncertainties. Other times we see God in the witness of others. And sometimes we see God when the rest of our life seems a blur. The manifestation of God comes when we least expect it, which makes the encounter even more profound. Maybe that is why when we experience God’s presence, all we can say is, “thank you, Jesus.” May your 2017 be a continuous series of “thank you Jesus” moments!
“But the angel said to them, do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
In the final days of Christmas preparations, people usually have just a few more things they are seeking for their friends and family. Perhaps what is being sought is not even a tangible gift but rather peace of mind, comfort, wisdom or anything else that cannot be boxed or bagged. Sometimes what is being sought cannot be explained, we just know it is needed! On Christmas, it seems the real gift that is given is that God loves us so much that we have been sought. Jesus was born so we might know that it is God that is doing the seeking, finding us where-ever the path of life may lead us. Sometimes we are found on the outskirts of life, sometimes in the uncertainties of life, but all the time where our life is today. The birth of Jesus is truly the gift of hope that God wants us and is seeking us out. It is because of Jesus that we have hope for a new day and the joy that comes with the real gift of “God with us.” The birth of Jesus is for the world, for those who seek him and for those who reject him, for those who at times feel lonely, unappreciated, hated, forgotten, or just burdened with the cares of life. Christmas is for those who mourn and for those that celebrate. Christmas is the affirmation that God cares and that your life truly matters to God; you are loved. Here is the supreme gift and joy of Christmas; “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Merry and blessed Christmas to you.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
As we come closer to Christmas, my mind keeps going back to the words of Isaiah when he says the child (Jesus) we celebrate on Christmas is Immanuel or “God is with us.” This profound statement gives great comfort as much as great pause. There is great comfort with this eternal statement in that God promises to be with each of us all the time, no matter how good or how bad the times may be. God promises to be with us always to the end of the age. “God is with us” cannot be wrapped up with pretty paper and bows that always fall off rather “God is with us” is God given. God enters our lives where we live and sometimes where we find ourselves is a place we may try to hide from God. Fortunately for us God is bigger than our perceptions and understands our shortcomings. God offers something so profound, so incredible that it could only be offered through the gift of Jesus, who is “God is with us” in the flesh. God does understand and thankfully God offers grace and mercy to those who seek him and even reaches out to those who have turned away. All this sounds great and certainly provides reassurance along life’s journey, but what about those times when God seems distant; those are the times when faith can be challenged. If God is with us, then why is the path seemingly more difficult than it should be if God is truly with us? God’s promises do not include a care-free existence or a life free from loss or disappointment. What God did promise is to be with us “always, to the end of the age” and the birth of Jesus confirms God’s commitment to be with us always. Christmas is the celebration of God’s eternal love for us and promise to be with us especially in our time of deepest need. Someone once said that when “God seems so distant, that is when God is most near. Our Savior’s birth is a gift to be received, cherished, and shared. Celebrate Christmas as the gift that has no end. God is with you, loves you, and will never forsake you. Merry joyous Christmas.