“A Life well-lived in Joy” Nehemiah 8:9-10

“For this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8:10

 

For the past few weeks every news outlet was fixated on the “eye of the storm,” where it will hit and the damage it could cause to people and property.  It is as if nothing else was going on in the world except the “eye of the storm” and its consequences.  Life can be like that sometimes; when disaster strikes, either natural disasters like hurricanes, or disasters that strike to the core such as illness, loss of a loved one, or economic uncertainty, everything else seems to just disappear around us.  In the eye of the storm, nothing else matters but the storm.  A life well-lived in joy is one that draws strength in seeing beyond the storm and understanding that our Lord will provide all that is needed to weather the storm, that the peace of God,” which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) The joy of the Lord celebrates the presence of God in the midst of the storm and sets our eyes hills of God’s never-failing grace, the one who promises to “keep you from all evil; he will keep your life…from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 121) A life well-lived in joy is not giddy all the time but is confident that God will provide the strength, the hope, and all that is needed wherever the “eye of the storm” may hit.  A life-well lived in joy knows and witnesses a faith that is contagious, especially to those caught up in roaring seas or shattered dreams.  Joy is all about knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt the mighty hand of God will offer strength when ours grow weary and that,” although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9) A life well-lived in joy has “thank-you Jesus on their lips in good times and in bad, in uncertain times and tough times, and just all the time.

Pastor Tom

“A Life Well-lived in Love.” Mark 12:28-34

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:30-31

 

In an age of lightning-fast judgments and impatience with those whose ideas are very different than our own, these words of Jesus can be unsettling, if not counter-intuitive. The 2 greatest commandments sound good on paper, especially the first, but to love our neighbor is sometimes a bit of a challenge to be sure.  When Jesus says to “love our neighbor,” he is not just talking about those who live near us, rather he is referring to everybody on earth for whom he died on the cross to save.  A life well-lived in love is one that sees the good in all people and values them as children of God.  It may not mean that we understand what they are doing or why, and certainly does not mean we need to approve of their actions in our minds, but it does mean that our judgment takes a back seat to God’s grace and mercy.  While on a mission trip in Joplin, Missouri I happened upon a book in the library of the church who was hosting us with this opening statement; “be kind. Everybody is fighting a battle.”  Loving our neighbor is understanding that someone’s reaction to us or the world around them may be about unseen struggles that are impacting their outlook on life.  A life well-lived in love offers kindness and compassion towards all people and understands that everybody has challenges to one degree or another which impacts their worldview.   We are called to share the love of God, which is nothing less than grace.  There is also a blessing with a life well-lived in love; the freedom from the need to judge anybody and just enjoy the life that has been given by God.  A life well-lived in love celebrates the blessing of those around them, offers grace instead of judgement, shares the peace of Christ in all circumstances, and seeks wisdom from the very heart of God.    Thank you Jesus for the love you have poured into us by your Holy Spirit!

 

Pastor Tom

“Life well-lived in Hope” Romans 5:1-5

“and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Romans 5:5

Hope may be a gift but at times hope can seem like a distant memory.  Our nation has been struck by a powerful hurricane putting hundreds of thousands of lives in turmoil.  Closer to home and heart, we have loved ones and friends suffering and struggling with uncertain times and difficult health issues.  Often times there is no answer to the question of why life can be so challenging at times.  Even in the midst of all that can adversely affect our lives, there is hope, hope that our Lord Jesus Christ will strengthen us in our greatest time of need.  There is hope because God will pour into us hope for a new day, whatever that day may bring.  God has never left you, not for a second of your life.  God does not cause your suffering but your hope in Christ is realized by the gift of presence and resolve in the midst of suffering.  A life well-lived in hope is one that knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is with you; this affirmation is made real through the witness of those who offer faith when faith seems to be failing you.  A life well-lived in hope is also one that offers hope to those that are struggling and hurting.  Maybe our hope lies in the promise of Jesus to be with us, “even to the end of the age.”  Jesus did not promise that our lives will always be a bowl of cherries but does affirm God’s presence even in those times of perceived hopelessness.   A life well-lived in hope is a witness of character that is defined by how we react to events that challenge our convictions and our faith, empowered and equipped by our gracious and merciful God.  Thank you Jesus for the gift of hope and the witness of hope that others share with us.

Pastor Tom

 

“What is right?” Matthew 6:25-34

“But strive first for the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:33

 

So what is the “Kingdom of God” really all about?  Maybe Pilate’s question has even more profound meaning than ever, “what is truth?” (John 18:37) The Kingdom of God is not about hate, violence, bigotry, or any other attitude that diminishes the life of another.  The truth is, the Kingdom of God is about the incredible grace and mercy of God that offers joy, even in the midst of an uncertain world.  If you want to know what the Kingdom of God is all about, check out Jesus Christ, the Word that became flesh and dwelled among us. (John 1:1) Jesus is the Kingdom of God in the flesh and offers an alternative to the worries of day to day living.  The righteousness of God lives out the Kingdom “which has come near.” To strive for the righteousness of God is to be motivated by the witness of Jesus Christ who reached out to those that others had no desire even to give the time of day. To live in the righteousness of God is to do what is right, for the benefit of somebody else, to love your neighbor and above all else love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength.  The truth, as Pilate and all the others who may be asking, is that Jesus is the “Lord your God, the holy One, [and] you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:3-4) To live in the truth is affirming and living out what is right; to hear the cry of the needy, to care for those who are oppressed, struggling, hurting, and alone. Maybe to really know the truth is to live out the Gospel message of grace, hope, love, peace, and forgiveness; to strive for a closer relationship first with God then to one another.  To do what is right is to witness a faith that does not succumb to worry but rather celebrates the miracle of God in everyday living. So, strive first for the Kingdom of God in all your living and you will be a profound blessing to someone else as you have been blessed.  Thank you Jesus.

Pastor Tom

Holy and Blessed I Peter 1:13-16

“Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourself in all your conduct; for it is written, you shall be holy for I am holy.”

I Peter 1:15-16

Have you ever thought of yourself as “holy?” We know God is holy, and we call the Bible the Holy Bible, but to say we are holy sounds like a stretch.  It also sounds like a stretch that the Son of God died on a cross and was resurrected so that our lives may be transformed by the amazing grace of God. It may also sound like a stretch to say that we will do “even greater works” than Jesus ever did in his earthly ministry. (John 14:12) It is all true, the holiness of God is carried on through the gift of God’s presence in each of us; we have been redeemed, equipped, and empowered by the Holy Spirit that dwells in each of us.  Being holy does not mean that we sit around all day and consider everything that God has given us, nor does it mean to think of ourselves as any better than anybody else (holier than thou).  What is does mean is that we are set apart to continue the work that Jesus has begun in each one of us and that we have been called to witness the joy of believing in something far greater than ourselves. To be holy means that your life is prayer lived out and faith proclaimed as “doers of the Word.” (James 1:22) You are a hero to somebody, you may not know it but because you are holy, part of the holy Body of Christ, your presence in the world has made a profound influence in the life of somebody else; that proves you are holy, and blessed.  The call to holy living is a call to action, not to apathy. You are needed because you are holy, set apart to witness the love of God to someone desperately in need of God’s grace in their life.  Never forget how much God loves you and the gifts you have been given to make a difference in the life of somebody else. Never forget that God has also set people apart to reach out the hand of Christ to you so you may know what the joy of the presence of God along the way is all about.  Maybe think of it this way, you are holy as Jesus is holy to truly celebrate the joy and peace of God in amazing ways so you, and all you touch in this life will have life, in abundance.  Thank you Jesus.

Rev. Tom Joyce, pastor

Fields United Methodist Church

“You are needed” I Corinthians 12:14-27

“Indeed the body does not consist of one member but of many.”

I Corinthians 12:14

 

It is incredibly humbling to watch people who have amazing gifts; carpentry, gardening, speaking, singing, athletics, technology, and chemistry just to name a few.  As I see so many with so many gifts I can’t help but think, “where do I fit?”  I cannot do what others can do and not sure what I can do would add anything to the mix.  Have you ever questioned what you are called to do or what gifts you are able to bring to the church?  If the church consisted of those only interested in teaching, how then could we have music in our worship?  Or if the church was only interested in those who could go on a mission trip that could only frame a house or repair a roof, how then would we ministry to those who are going through challenging times in their lives?  You are important to the life of the church, not only important but critical.  Without the gifts you offer to the church, the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ would surely suffer.  St. Paul describes the church as the “Body of Christ,” not a few individuals that do only certain things.  God has blessed you in incredible ways and what you bring to the church is critical to the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ.  We are connected to each other with a common purpose to serve Jesus Christ and all those who are in need of God’s grace in their lives.  We laugh together, cry together, and rejoice together.  Where else can you be a member where you are offered grace no matter who you are or what you have done?  Where else can you serve with what you have been blessed with by God rather than be told to go home because you do not fit in or not have abilities that are sought.  Amazing thing about God, all are accepted and all are offered a chance to serve with the gifts they possess.  Yes, some are teachers, others are not; some are artisans and others have no clue what a carpenter’s square looks like.  And know what, that is ok, because you are offered grace to learn and God offers the Holy Spirit to empower you to do things you never in your wildest dreams would have thought you could do.  You are needed because you are loved and God wants a relationship with you more than anything else in the world.  If you want to know God is with you, you will know God even more fully when you serve the people of God.   You are needed because you are loved more than you will ever know.  Thank you Jesus!

Pastor Tom

“In God’s Eyes” Matthew 20:1-16

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:1-16

 

To our human minds, Jesus makes little sense.  We make contracts. We have job descriptions that indicate very specifically what we are to do, and how we are to be paid. And if we work overtime or are called to something above and beyond, the expectation is additional payment for services rendered.  The more time one gives to the job, then the more recognition is given and in some cases tenure is offered so the position is permanent.  When Jesus describes the Kingdom of God, suddenly our ideas of workplace fairness are turned on their head.  In the parable of the “Laborers in the Vineyard,” Jesus describes God as one who simply celebrates those who respond to the call to be transformed and does not base a seat in Heaven on years served or duties performed.  No matter how long or short the list of good deeds and no matter how long one has lived on earth celebrating Jesus, all are welcome to the Kingdom.  In God’s eyes, we are all equals.  By God’s grace and mercy, everyone who turns back to God and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior is welcomed.  Like Jesus affirmed to Martha when she asked Jesus about her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die,” (John 11:25, 26) all are welcome who live and believe, no matter when they turn back to God.  It is all about grace, all about Jesus.  God’s grace may sound a bit strange at times, but it is an incredible gift offered by an amazing God.  In God’s eyes, you are amazing and loved more than you will ever know. Thank you Jesus for the gift of everlasting life.

Pastor Tom

Mercy Luke 15:25-32

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Luke 15:32

 

The kingdom of God is a strange world to be sure.  It is a lifestyle not of condemnation but of commendation. It is a life-view that sees hope even in the most hopeless and new life offered to those that do not seem to deserve a second, let alone third chance.  Our humanity doesn’t react well to folks that appear to have turned their life around.  In fact, we often times see those lives trying to hide their true nature, plotting to return to the life they once embraced.  Somehow we may even think we are superior since we did not live such decadent lives.  So along comes Jesus who offers a new thing, a whole different way to see the world which actually encourages and celebrates relationships with people who may in our opinion have a sullied past or even a different way of seeing the world.  Jesus proclaimed that, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)  In other words, Jesus offers hope and renewal even to those that we feel are undeserving.  The heavens celebrate those who have turned their lives around. Maybe God is waiting for us to see people a bit differently as well.  Maybe Jesus was sent by God to offer us an alternative way to base our opinions of others as well as to offer the “way the truth, and the life.”  When the basis of our lives is Jesus the Christ and not ourselves, we will “know the truth and the truth will make [us] free.” (John 8:32)  Offering grace and mercy is not an option, it is a lifestyle; it is accepting the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ and the message of hope even to the most lost.  Nobody is too dirty for Jesus to clean up; that is the celebration, and that is our hope as well.  Bottom line is that we are all in the same boat and just as grace and mercy is offered to us, it is offered to all.  The joy, and the challenge, is in the acceptance of the gift.  Thank you Jesus for another chance to get it right.

Pastor Tom

Mercy Luke 15:25-32

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Luke 15:32

 

The kingdom of God is a strange world to be sure.  It is a lifestyle not of condemnation but of commendation. It is a life-view that sees hope even in the most hopeless and new life offered to those that do not seem to deserve a second, let alone third chance.  Our humanity doesn’t react well to folks that appear to have turned their life around.  In fact, we often times see those lives trying to hide their true nature, plotting to return to the life they once embraced.  Somehow we may even think we are superior since we did not live such decadent lives.  So along comes Jesus who offers a new thing, a whole different way to see the world which actually encourages and celebrates relationships with people who may in our opinion have a sullied past or even a different way of seeing the world.  Jesus proclaimed that, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)  In other words, Jesus offers hope and renewal even to those that we feel are undeserving.  The heavens celebrate those who have turned their lives around. Maybe God is waiting for us to see people a bit differently as well.  Maybe Jesus was sent by God to offer us an alternative way to base our opinions of others as well as to offer the “way the truth, and the life.”  When the basis of our lives is Jesus the Christ and not ourselves, we will “know the truth and the truth will make [us] free.” (John 8:32)  Offering grace and mercy is not an option, it is a lifestyle; it is accepting the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ and the message of hope even to the most lost.  Nobody is too dirty for Jesus to clean up; that is the celebration, and that is our hope as well.  Bottom line is that we are all in the same boat and just as grace and mercy is offered to us, it is offered to all.  The joy, and the challenge, is in the acceptance of the gift.  Thank you Jesus for another chance to get it right.

Pastor Tom