Sunday, January 25, 2015

Growing Like Jesus

“…And Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people” (Luke 2:52)

Many years ago, I remember a children’s church song based on the verse above that went like this: “And Jesus grew in wisdom. And Jesus grew in stature. And Jesus grew in favor with God and man.” I remember our daughter singing this in children’s Sunday School years ago at our church in Augusta, GA. And now, having a new grandchild, I can watch with fondness as she, too, grows.

If you think about it, all of us are interested in growth: the mother weighing her child; the farmer watching his fields; the child wanting to become “big,” the town boasting of its population or importance in a region; and even a church reporting its statistics. All such growth can be measured -- in ounces, pounds, inches, figures, etc.

Although spiritual growth does not lend itself to the same sort of measurement, it is nevertheless just as important these -- in some cases, arguably more so, for without spiritual growth we can actually die spiritually. The problem I see in many people is that our spiritual growth often ceases long before we recognize that that is happening, leading us to think we are spiritually strong when, in fact, we are not.

Consequently, what’s needed to prevent this is a frequent checkup. For example, if we are still praying in the words of little children, or if our knowledge and understanding of the Bible remains elementary, or it we can testify to no spiritual experience beyond conversion (or can’t even testify to that!), or if our worship has become routine, or if our awareness of the line between right and wrong has become blurred, or if we yield with greater ease to temptation, then these are signs/symptoms that we have ceased growing in our spirits, and that something must be done about it, whether its to join a Bible study, begin doing daily devotions, attending worship more often, having a more positive attitude about life and the church than before, etc.

The point is that we’re not made always to stay the same in our human bodies. So why should we think our spiritual bodies should do so, either?  As the scripture above reminds us, the report that Jesus grew and matured is one of the most important insights in the Bible. It reminds us that there is no such thing as standing still with God or in our understanding of His holy scripture. If we are to remain Christian, then we must grow. Are you growing in understanding, faith and trust? Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Let Peace Begin With Me

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)

The biblical story of Pilate asking the crowd to choose between releasing either Barabbas or Jesus metaphorically also asks them to choose between the way of violence and hate (represented by Barabbas), and the way of love and compassion (represented by Jesus). (Read this story in Matthew 27:15-23, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:18-25, and John 18:39-40)  In many ways, this choice haunts us today, and challenges each of us to ask ourselves, “What part am I playing in enabling peace and love to win out over violence and hate?”

The plot of the 1986 movie The Mission highlights this choice between choosing the way of love or choosing the way of violence, and how – just as with Jesus – too often we choose the latter. The very last scene of the movie shows a 18th-century religious leader in Paraguay who had ordered the removal of missionaries by force questioning those who carried it out why the brutality and slaughter that ensued was necessary. One of them replies, “You had no alternative, your Eminence. We work in the world, and the world is thus.” The religious leader replies, “No, SeƱor Hontes. Thus have we made the world…. Thus have I made it.”

So, before we go around complaining about what someone else is not doing to bring peace, we need to first look deep inside ourselves and ask what we are doing to help foster it, and to make sure our actions are not the inadvertent cause of strife and hatred. The words of a famous hymn say it well:

"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me;
 Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
 With God our creator, children all are we.
 Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
 Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.
 With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow:
 To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
 Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
[--Words by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson (1955), cited from the United Methodist Hymnal #431]

May this be our prayer as we struggle in our world to choose the ways of Jesus (the “prince of peace”). Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Bible in 50 Words

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105)

God made
Adam bit
Noah arked
Abraham split
Joseph ruled
Jacob fooled
Bush talked
Moses balked
Pharaoh Plagued
People walked
Sea divided
Tablets guided
Promise landed
Saul freaked
David peeked
Prophets warned
Jesus born
God walked
Love talked
Anger crucified
Hope died
Love arose
Spirit flamed
Word spread
God remained.

Some of you didn’t think I could be this short, did you? Truth be told, I found this in an old newsletter from my home church, Fayetteville First U.M.C. (GA), date and author unknown. And even though this is really an oversimplification of holy scripture, it still reminds us of the fact that the Bible is God’s tool, given to us to find our way to Him through a relationship with Jesus, and to be our source of hope and strength for life.  

I hope you’ll be present as we begin our new sermon series “Making Sense of the Bible” January 11 - February 1st.  And if you don’t already, I invite you to join me in reading the Bible daily and lettings its words form you in God’s will and ways for your life.  A good place to start are the daily readings shared in The Upper Room devotional guide -- pick up a paper copy of the January/February issue in the Narthex or Crossroads, or read it online and/or sign up for the daily email edition HERE

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

O God, Our Help In Ages Past

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations…” (Psalm 90:1)

1.         O God, our help in ages past,
            our hope for years to come,
            our shelter from the stormy blast,
            and our eternal home.

2.         Under the shadow of thy throne,
            still may we dwell secure;
            sufficient is thine arm alone,
            and our defense is sure.

3.         Before the hills in order stood,
            or earth received her frame,
            from everlasting, thou art God,
            to endless years the same.

4.         A thousand ages, in thy sight,
            are like an evening gone;
            short as the watch that ends the night,
            before the rising sun.

5.         Time, like an ever rolling stream,
            bears all who breathe away;
            they fly forgotten, as a dream
            dies at the opening day.

6.         O God, our help in ages past,
            our hope for years to come;
            be thou our guide while life shall last,
            and our eternal home.

            [--Isaac Watts (1719), UMHymnal #117]

As we begin a new year, always remember that the same God who has been with and for you in your past will guide and direct you in your future!  And never forget that God loves you and I do, too!