“For this son of mine was dead and alive again; he was lost and is found.”
There are times when the gifts we have received are not fully appreciated until we think they are lost. The story of the Prodigal Son is a familiar one which tells of a man who took the inheritance that his dad set aside for him even before his father died. He then squandered all that he was given and realized just how wonderful and valuable the gift was that was freely given. But here is the even greater gift; when he “came to himself,” he returned home and found his dad running toward him with open arms and tears streaming down his cheeks. His dad was so consumed by his love for his son that despite what the son had done with the hard-earned inheritance that was given, he was welcomed home. We have been given an inheritance as well, an inheritance that is freely given but bought with a heavy price. Sometimes what God has given is squandered just by the busyness of our daily lives. Chris Tomlin sings, “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my king would die for me.” It is true, Jesus died so we can live again, so we may have another opportunity to celebrate the amazing love that will never let us go. No matter how much we squander the gift, God is reaching out towards us with open arms to celebrate our return. You are redeemed and forgiven by our loving and gracious God. Consider all that you have been given by God, and consider the grace that is offered when you have forgotten or take for granted the gift that was given. Donald Barnhouse wrote that “love that goes upward is worship, love that goes outward is affection, love that stoops is grace.” God is running to you, stooping down to pick you up, clean you up, and is celebrating your return. Turn back to God, and you will know the love that is eternal, a love that will never let you go. You are blessed by a gracious and merciful God. You are loved more than you will ever know. Celebrate God’s love with every breath. Thank you Jesus for the gift.
“Go and do likewise”
It is said that “the devil is in the details.” The truth is, the more the detail the more we feel lost. On the other hand, the more the details, the more we can pick and choose which details can be used to suit our own agendas. So the age-old question is who is my neighbor? Who is it that I need to talk to, care about, or even consider in my daily walk? The more the definition of a neighbor is narrowed, the more latitude is offered as to who needs attention and who does not. Then there is the cry, “we need to take care of our own!” At this point, Jesus steps in for some clarity. The question no longer is, “who is defined as my neighbor,” rather it becomes “how are we defined as a neighbor?” The Christian journey is not about trying to figure out who is worthy or unworthy of our attention; it offering the hand of Christ to someone in need regardless of who they are or what they have done. The bottom line is that no one deserves God’s mercy but it is offered; that is what grace is all about. Jesus does not narrowly define who we should be a neighbor to or how we are to be a neighbor to another, he just says, “go and do likewise.” Go and offer Christ to another. God, through our living Savior Jesus Christ has offered you grace, mercy, and peace; go and do likewise. Thank you Jesus for the privilege of serving all for whom you suffered, died, and was resurrected to transform. So, who is my neighbor? Everybody.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all”
There is a feeling in society that the church is losing its relevance that this thing called the “Body of Christ” no longer is in touch with the post-modern world. The question is where is the starting point of the conversation? If the starting point is defined by personal agendas, then yes, the church is irrelevant. God sent Jesus the Christ into the world to redirect our attention from ourselves and establish a relationship first and foremost with God. The Christian faith, the church, is all about relationship; first with the way, the truth, and the life which is Jesus Christ, then with one another. St. Paul lays out the very definition of the Christian faith, which is all about how we relate to and love those around us just as Christ loves us. When Jesus walked on the earth, he ate, drank, and related to people, most of whom did not share his commitment to God. Yet he loved them, and cared passionately for them. Jesus did more listening and celebrating than he did judging and preaching. In other words, Jesus, in all his relationships, shared the amazing grace of God to all people; he listened a lot, laughed a lot, and loved the people more than they were ever loved before. The people who met Jesus were transformed because Jesus cared about them enough to witness the love of God through his commitment to the truth grounded in God’s grace. So what happened to the people that were touched by Jesus? Did their lives change? Yes! Did they come to know Jesus as their Lord? Yes. Was the Word of God relevant to how they lived prior to meeting Jesus? No. The Christian journey begins with turning back to God, confessing who we are and seeking to live a life of grace through Jesus, and witnessing a faith that offers hope, peace, and the grace that only God can offer. When relevance is based on God’s grace, then every relationship we have depends on our abiding relationship with God and our commitment to share the grace of God, even with those who may not look like us, think like us, or act like us. Bottom line is, it is all about God, and God’s grace shared through Jesus Christ. Open your arms and your heart to those around you; you will be blessed as you will be a blessing. Thank you Jesus for the privilege to serve.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
Jesus has a way of calling people to witness the incredible message of grace to a world sorely in need of God’s grace. Did you know you have been called? It is true; you have been called by God to witness the good news of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Is your response to the previous statement, “wait a minute, I have not been called by anybody and even if I were, I am not equipped. It is not me, Lord, it is not me….” If that is your response, you are not alone; anyone who humbly accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior feels humbled by such a statement. It has been said the “Jesus does not call the equipped, but equips the called.” The original disciples of Jesus were hardly bastions of righteousness or educated about God in any way. Yet Jesus called them and equipped them to do amazing things for the Lord. Jesus used the gifts the disciples were given to further the ministry in spite of who they were, and Jesus uses us in the same way. Our church is blessing a mission team to be the hands of Christ to the people of West Virginia, and down to the one of them, have doubts about what can be done, especially in a non-familiar part of the country and using tools sometimes alien to their everyday life. But God sees the team differently; God has called each of them to serve, to follow, with the gifts they have been given. The amazing thing about the Holy Spirit of God, it does equip those responding to the call, and not only transforms the lives of those served but also of those serving. You are filled “all in all” with the presence of God; you just need to accept the call that is being placed to your soul. Follow Jesus and be blessed, as you are a blessing to others. Thank you Jesus for privilege of serving in your name. Go, and affirm as the old hymn sings, “I will go Lord, if you lead me; I will hold your people in my heart.”
“…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
In a world that demands our time, seeks our devotion, and can drive us crazy, God offers an alternative. The church is no stranger to making things more complex than they need to be; Micah wrote these words during the 8th century BC so folks have been struggling a long time about this thing called faith. The Christian faith has its essence in the pure love of God. It is not hostile towards those who do not believe rather God goes to the extreme, even death on a cross to redeem even those considered unredeemable by those in the habit of judging others. “Doing justice” is about sharing the grace of God, actually living the faith which calls us to see others as God sees them; souls worthy to be saved. What Jesus Christ offers us is the incredible freedom to serve not out of fear or obligation but in the pure joy of serving. To “love kindness” is to fully live the gift of faith and joyfully witness Christ through the joy we share. The essence of faith is not what we do, but what God has done in us, it is about God’s grace transforming lives through the gifts we have been given. When we walk humbly with God we are confident that we can do all things through him who loves us as we begin to more fully comprehend this amazing God we serve. Thank you Jesus for the gift of faith and new life!
“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, what does this mean?”
The day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, amazed those gathered together trying to figure out what Jesus was all about. The coming of the Holy Spirit definitely shows who Jesus is not: Jesus is not an exclusive God to one nation, race, or ethnicity; Jesus does not seek to destroy or blow up people because they may not agree with God’s Word rather loves them even more and offers opportunity upon opportunity with redeeming grace, mercy, and power to transform hearts and souls. The people on the day of Pentecost did not begin to understand other languages as an academic exercise but to show the power of God through the Holy Spirit to redeem and transform lives no matter the language, race, or ethnicity. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to see God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are given the ability to be the hands of Jesus the Christ to the world around us. The Holy Spirit is a gift that is given by God that offers wisdom, understanding, hope, faith, and the resolve to celebrate the joy of knowing that the Lord is our strength and our light no matter what life may send in our direction. Jesus seeks all who accepts his saving grace and goes to the end of the earth to find those who have yet to accept him as Lord and Savior, because he also and especially seeks the lost. The Day of Pentecost offers each of us the very power of God through our Risen Savior to transform our world, and all we need to do is accept that fact! God fills us with gifts “as the Spirit gives [us] ability” to do incredible things through the common language of God’s grace, mercy, and power. May you be empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to be the hands, feet, and voice of our loving and gracious Lord. Thank you Jesus for the gift of the Holy Spirit and the privilege to serve your children with all we have received. Thank you Jesus!
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”
“When all else fails, there is still God.” When the end of the road seems immanent, another road suddenly appears; a way out of a situation that by earthly standards was hopeless. It has been said that there are no coincidences in life, and that seems to be the case especially when life is viewed through the lens of faith. You have been given a gift, so amazing a gift that God had to go through a cross and empty out a tomb so it could be delivered. Take a hard look at your life; the good, the bad, and the…well you know. With eyes of faith you can see God making a way out of no way. You see God putting the complex puzzle of your life together as a master builder constructs a house out of a pile of lumber and a few nails. Thank God we are not left on our own; God loves us far too much for us to be alone along life’s journey. What does God require from us as a payment for all that has been done for us? “To seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) But to fulfill this simple requirement is to love, just as Christ loved us, to fulfill all the law and prophets by, “loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.” We thank God by living a life that witnesses eternal thanksgiving, by loving those that God loves which by the way is all for whom Christ died. We love others even when they may disagree with us. We love others when we cannot understand their actions. We love others when their politics or theological understanding is different from ours. In other words, we give thanks to God when we “have the same mind as was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) Maybe all God wants from us is for us to offer the same grace as we have been offered, and be thankful not only for the gifts we have received but also for the opportunity and privilege to share those gifts with those around us. How is this possible? “Call on the name of the Lord” and you will see the glory of God in every part of your life. Celebrate the Lord in all that you do and “lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” Thank you Jesus!
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
This is the season for graduations, new beginnings not only for the graduates but for their families. For some, this is uncharted territory where there will be challenges, grand accomplishments, and seeing life from a whole new perspective. For others, there may be times of loneliness, or maybe hopelessness as this new adventure unfolds. God knows that every once in a while life can be a challenge to say the least. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you be name and you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) You are not alone, and you are not without God, because you have been blessed by the promise that God has made to you to be with you always, “even to the end of the age.” The greatest blessing is received at the point where you accept the fact that the God who loves you will give you the strength, the wisdom, and the peace to “do all things,” no matter how difficult the task or circumstance. Louis L’Mour once wrote that, “There will be a time when you believe that everything is finished; that will be the beginning.” Put God, through our Risen Savior Jesus Christ at the very core of your being, and understand that all the strength and courage you need comes from the Lord, especially at times of new beginnings. God does know you by name and has loved you unconditionally from the time of your conception. May those who are graduating as well as their families and friends know that their strength comes through the Lord and that all have been incredibly blessed. The true celebration of the graduation season is the presence of God, who has been there throughout the journey, and will continue to be especially on the new adventures that lie ahead. It is by faith that mountains are moved and dreams achieved, because you “can do all things through him who strengthens you.” Celebrate the adventure; celebrate God. Thank you Jesus!
“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
I Corinthians 13:7-8a
St. Paul, in his note to the Church of Corinth, defined for the people the essence of the love of God; grace. Grace is all about loving even when a person by all worldly definitions of love does not deserve our time let alone our love. Yet, unconditional love looks beyond what is perceived and hopes for what is possible. As a nation we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday. Perhaps for some it is a time to make a few extra bucks, but for us it is an opportunity to thank those women in our lives that have loved us through good times and through bad, challenges and joys, as well as those times that we just don’t feel like showing our face in public. A mom is not defined by the biological ability or reality of giving birth, rather a mom is someone in our lives that no matter what looks beyond our shortcomings and was, and is, always there for us, seeking nothing more than what is best for us. To me, a mom is someone who looks at another and shares the grace of God and undying hope and devotion. So the question is, “what does it take?” The love of a mom is beyond words, just as the love of Christ is without definition. Love takes believing beyond what is seen; hoping for what may seem unreachable, and enduring through the challenges along the way. To have the love of a mom requires the love of Christ in their heart, a love that has no bounds and the commitment to those God called them to nurture, support and “be there” no matter what life has dealt them and the choices they have made. What does it take to be a mom? It takes a love that “bears all things, believes all things, endures all things;” a mother’s love never ends. Thank you mom! Thank you Jesus!
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
As I pray over these words of Jesus, the pile grows down the hall in anticipation of our church’s annual rummage sale. There is a lot of stuff accumulated for the sale that will help support our mission team and the work of the church beyond our walls. We all have stuff, some more than others, but we all have stuff, enough that we can drop some of our stuff off for the sale and never really miss it. The celebration of life in abundance given by Jesus has nothing to do with the accumulation of stuff, wealth, or even the maintenance of good health. What Jesus offers to us in abundance is grace; the eternal presence of God in our lives whether we have much stuff, or no stuff, live in wealth or impoverished, healthy or struggling with illness, or caring for a loved one going through a difficult time. Abundant life is the celebration of God, through our resurrected Savior Jesus Christ, that makes real the promise of God to be with us, even to the end of the age. Our task, sometimes difficult, is to trust that God is with us throughout our lives offering abundance of living. There may be times that we do not feel the presence of God, just as Job felt; “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.” (Job 23:8-10) There are times while on the journey we are blinded to God’s presence, even though it is there in abundance. We cannot see God as we build walls around our souls, but God is there, offering grace in abundance. We are frustrated by life’s twists and turns and consumed by day to day challenges, but God still is offering grace in abundance. We may even turn to God in despair and ask, “why God, how could you do such a thing,” and God is especially there, in abundance. God knows your journey, and God knows your challenges. Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and live in the abundance of God’s grace. Celebrate the Lord and you will be blessed, in abundance. Thank you Jesus!