Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 4, 2011 - "Don't Be Afraid" - Adent 2

Isaiah 40.1-11

A minister asked a little girl: “Do you know what's in the Bible?”
She replied: “Yes. I think I know everything that's in it.”
“You do?” said the minster, “Well tell me.”
“Okay,” she said. “There's a picture of my brother's girlfriend, a ticket from the dry cleaners, one of my curls, and a Pizza Hut coupon.”

Well, there is a lot in the Bible, that’s for sure.
Many years ago, a Sunday morning Bible Study - I recounted the story of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba … and David’s plot to murder Bathsheba’s husband so David could marry her.
One of the class members suddenly slammed her fist on the table and shouted at me, “Where did you get that filthy story?”
She had never heard it, either in Sunday School or in preaching … she was shaken when she learned that it’s in the Bible.

The Bible is a big book, big stories, big ideas … the story doesn’t get any bigger than that of Isaiah - a book of multiple writers spanning at least 200 years of rough and tumble history.

In the 40th chapter, we hear the immortal words, Comfort, O comfort,my people, says your God.
Comfort - Israel’s time of suffering in Babylon has come to end … the days of exile are done … Israel is homeward bound.

Comfort, O comfort, my people.
The text begs the question, “Why comfort?”
So that Israel can be comfortable?
Kick back and relax?
At ease in Zion?
Comfort for the sake of courage! 
There’s a road to be built -
A world to be shaped.

God’s comfort give courage - press ahead, weather the storm, withstand criticism, and even face death.
Israel had been freed from Exile to continue the work it had formerly neglected.
Israel had failed … and paid a heavy price … the land ravaged, the temple destroyed … a hundred years in exile.

Comfort, O Comfort, my people … 
Now is the time to return home.
Pick up the pieces.
Regain your composure.
Take up the task given to your Father Abraham and your Mother Sarah a long time ago - build God’s Highway.
Raise up the valleys and flatten the mountains. 

Is Isaiah talking geography?
A real road, a freeway through Sepulveda Pass?

For commentary on Isaiah, turn to Mary’s song (Luke 1.46ff)
With Jesus in her womb, Mary sings to Elizabeth: God has shown strength with his arm … scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations … pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly … filled the hungry with good things … sent the rich away empty-handed.
Jesus spells out his ministry in his hometown sermon - from Isaiah 61: The Spirit of the LORD is upon me … to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, liberate the oppressed, proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor.

The year of the LORD’S favor is the clue … the Year of Jubilee [Leviticus 25]- every 50 years … the land remains fallow - no sowing or reaping; slaves set free, debts cancelled, land acquired as collateral in loans returned to the original families - the Year of the LORD’S favor, a fresh start for everyone …
When Jesus preaches about the poor, he truly means The Poor - those who have fallen on hard times; with his coming, the inauguration of Jubilee … Good News - a fresh start for everyone, a second chance at life - valleys lifted up; mountains brought down thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.

Release to the prisoners, says Jesus … who are the prisoners? 
In the time of Jesus, prisons were full of revolutionaries, rebels, brigands and thieves - everyone Rome considered a potential theat - two of them were crucified with Jesus, and one of them, Barabas by name, was released by Pilate.
Prisons were also full of Debtors …  
Can we see why Jesus uses the word “debt” and “debtors” in his Prayer?
Some English traditions use the word “trespass,” but the Greek language of debt is clear … a double meaning for sure - the debt of  sin, of course, but also “financial debt” - incurred in the unjust systems of the day - when the income gap widened, folks on the bottom didn’t have a chance - debt grew rampant in Palenstine - the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.
100 years after Jesus, a revolt against Rome and the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem; rebels stormed the temple, burned all the financial records of debt and ownership.
Because the temple was the center of Judah’s banking system - records of ownership and debt were kept in the Temple; commodities-trading - thousands of sheep, lambs, bulls, goats and doves and tons of grain - only a little was sacrificed - the rest was food for the thousands of Temple employees, and the rest was sold in the markets - the Temple was big business.

When Jesus overturns the money-changing tables, calls them a pack of thieves, he disrupts the financial system of the day - especially during the season of Passover - tens of thousands from all over the Mediterranean world - their money had to be exchanged for Temple currency, so that animals and grain offerings could be purchased.

When Jesus overturns the tables, he makes a clear statement - Israel’s financial system is corrupt - and worse, it uses religion as a cover for its greed - the legal experts who cheat widows out of their homes parade around in long robes and say long prayersthey love to be greeted in the markets and have the best seats at synagogue and banquet [Luke 20.4ff].

Jesus seals his fate … no more tolerance from the authorities - they put up with his preaching and healing, but “don’t disrupt our financial systems.”
Were Jesus to overturn money-changing tables today, where would he do that?'

Would Jesus go to a church and overturn the rummage-sale tables? Would Jesus put the kibosh on a church raffle or a bingo game?
Where would Jesus go to overturn the tables of the money-changers? 
The local bank?
Wall Street?

Isaiah offers comfort; so does Jesus … not to put us to sleep, but to awaken us … comfort for the sake of courage.
The courage to walk with Jesus and build God’s Highway!

Who are the Highway Builders?
I think of England’s Wilberforce - in his conversion, he found the comfort of God, then he met a group abolitionists - and the comfort of God became the Courage of Christ.
Wilberforce took up the cross and began the good fight - great cost, much sorrow, but Wilberforce was a force to be reckoned with, because he had the comfort of God and the courage of Christ …  26 years it took, but in 1807 Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act - ending a brutal, horrible, sin against humanity.
In our own time, Bonhoeffer and Barth stood up against Nazi Germany and called it what it was - an idolatry of nationalism, and the corruption of the church … Nazi flags were raised high in congregations across the land; pastors ended worship with sieg heil and heil Hitler. 
Barth and Bonhoeffer said Nein! No!
We will have none of this.
Barth lost his university job and was sent home to Switzerland; Bonhoeffer lost his life.
Bishop Tutu of South Africa proclaimed the gospel to the high and the mighty, the rich and the powerful, to pastors who didn’t have courage, and to congregations who didn’t want their pastors to have courage … the Bishop proclaimed, and one-by-one, Christians became courageous, stood up tall, to challenge the government, call for justice … the price they paid was steep and serious, but the day finally came when Apartheid ended and a new day dawned for the nation of South Africa.
For decades, churches in the Soviet Bloc bided their time, preached the gospel, broke the bread, and then one day the light of Christ began to dawn powerfully, people picked up the dream of a better world, found their courage, and the Berlin Wall, like the walls of Jericho, came tumbling down.
Just recently, a note from our own Presbyterian World Mission - for 30 years, mission co-worker Doug Baker has been working in Northern Ireland to help local pastors build bridges between the pro-British and pro-Irish factions.

For all of us:
Choose the ways of Christ, a gentle word when tempers flair, yet we must never be afraid of overturning unjust tables.
An apology when we’ve misspoken ourselves … but we must never be afraid of the powers-that-be when they tell us to be quiet, to keep our faith private, and say our prayers like good little boys and girls.
A positive word in the face of negativity, but we must never be afraid to speak up for what’s right … and we learn what’s right when our lives are filled with Jesus.
Growing, learning, serving … to walk with Jesus intelligently, faithfully, truly.

If we’re not striving for the world of Jesus, we’re not living for Jesus - no matter what we believe; no matter what we say … sure, we’ll go to heaven, because God is generous, but here on earth, we’re of little value to the Kingdom of God! If we fail to live what we claim to believe.
The Christian faith is a walk of life, not a book of beliefs.
The Bible says, even Satan believes.
We speak of God, say our prayers, go to church, live a moral life, but unless we build God’s Highway, God says of us: your lips are moving, but your heart is far away from me … 
James writes: Faith without works is dead.

It is our task to prepare the way of the LORD; build God’s Highway - with prayers, personal piety, spiritual discipline, going to church, all of that and more; but what we do on Sunday has to be connected to what we do on Monday - letters written to our representatives, conversations with neighbors; study groups, social-action teams - fill our minds with Jesus, with Isaiah, with God’s call, raise up the valleys; lower the mountains, overturn the tables, name the thieves who steal widows’ homes and amass wealth at everyone’s expense …  the Bible in one hand; the newspaper in the other.

And that’s why God offers us comfort.
For the courage of Christ … the courage to build God’s Highway! 
Are you with me on this?
I know that you are!
Because you are Calvary on the Boulevard!
Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November 27, 201, "The Long Road"

Isaiah 64.1-12

Advent is a time to search our souls, take a deep breath, think long and hard about the values we hold, the lives we live … a time to ask big questions, to ponder the nature of God, who is God really like, what God is up to, and what is it that we truly want out of life.

Advent is a Long Road … a four-week journey into the heart of God’s purpose and plan … a time to think deeply.

If ever there were a need for deep thought, it’s now … the world is changing … upheaval everywhere … people are afraid … and frightened people always make dumb decisions … and I fear that we’ve been making a lot of dumb decisions lately, and maybe God can raise up others to lead the way, but surely it’s our task, those who know the love of God, who have Christ in their hearts - it’s our calling, isn’t it, to lead the way?

As I survey the Christian scene in America, I’m mostly troubled.
Too many people scratch the surface of things and claim to have the wisdom of the ages.
Too many preachers without training, and too many churches without guidance.
Too many Christians who don’t know how to keep their nose out of other people’s business.
Too much judgment and not enough love.

We need the vision of hawks … hawks fly high, see the big picture, all the detail - how it fits, how it works, find the right target, be patient, don’t waste time going after the unimportant.
The world needs Christians with the vision of hawks on high!

Advent is a time for us to receive Jesus all over again.
Jesus is like a book - the first time we receive Jesus, it’s only the first chapter - maybe as a child, or a young adult at a revival service, or in the quietness of our home, but receiving Jesus is only the first chapter.
We need to keep on reading Jesus all of our life … chapter upon chapter … a never-ending story, because God’s love is infinite … Satan tempts us to stay in the first chapter; Jesus beckons us onward - Come, follow me … it’s a long road … we have miles to go, and promises to keep.
We never reach the end of Jesus.
We never explore all of God’s love.
We never become a Christian entirely … we just keep on growing and going … that’s what faith is all about.

My Hebrew professor came into class one morning, smiling and chuckling - Dr. Lester Kuyper said to us, “I’ve solved a translation problem I’ve been working on for 20 years” … we called him The Student - he was always learning, and what he learned, he shared with us - his lectures were solid and fresh.
At the same time, there were professors who lectured us from notes yellow with age … they said to us what they said ten years ago … it was good, but it wasn’t fresh.
Faith needs to be fresh!

Donna and I had a seminary summer assignment in a Miami, Florida church.
When the pastor and his wife went on vacation, he told me, “Use my office, and whatever books you want.”
I took a good look at his library; there were very few books purchased after his seminary graduation twenty years earlier … the books he had were good, but the man had stopped reading … and I think he had stopped growing.

Advent is a time to grow … a child stands in a doorway; Dad or Mom take a pencil, mark on the doorframe the child’s height, a date is written … a few months later, lo and behold, the child has grown all the more.

Old clothes no longer fit … a new wardrobe is needed - new clothes for the growing child … new faith for the growing Christian.

No one here wears clothes they wore twenty years ago … and none of us should be wearing the same faith we had twenty years ago … God doesn’t change, but we’re creatures of change, and only when we change, can we grow.

In Tuesday’s LA Times, Stephanie Bryson - a disheartened high school student, bad grades, ready to drop out; she wanted to become a professional surfer … but she didn’t drop out; she pressed on, entered Cal State, Long Beach; last May, she graduated summa cum laude and class valedictorian. 
She’s now a graduate student at Georgetown and was named a Rhodes Scholar - making her only the second Cal State graduate to receive the honor, and one of four students from CA, among only 32 from the entire US to be named a Rhodes Scholar.
Stephanie Bryson chose to grow!

The writer of Hebrews says: Let’s press on to maturity … 
Paul writes, Let’s grow in every way into Christ …
Peter writes, Grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 64 gives us some clues about growing …

First of all, how not to grow: Isaiah wants God to do something … Come on LORD, get with it - do something splashy - flashy and big; let the world know.
Like the Devil in the wilderness tempting Jesus - “Jump off the Temple pinnacle … something splashy, flashy and big -you’ll have the people eating out of your hand.”
Jesus refuses to go for the show, and God doesn’t show up with quaking mountains and roaring fire … Isaiah learns as Elijah learned:
The LORD isn’t in the wind. The LORD isn’t in the earthquake. The LORD isn’t in the fire. But in a still small voice … 

As the story of the Old Testament unfolds, God is learning right along with us - not by might, nor by strength, but by my Spirit … and when we finally reach Jesus, no legions of angeles heavily armed, just a heavenly choir; no displays of power, just healing and feeding and welcome and kindness … not power, but peace … and sacrifice and mercy … a lot of people looked at Jesus and said, “Not big enough; not powerful enough. We expect fireworks!” … but no fireworks, just the fire of faith, and the invitation, Come and follow me!

If we want to find God, we need to look in tiny places - in a tiny little manger in a tiny little town in a tiny little country.

What’s next for Isaiah?

Isaiah struggles with Israel’s story, then confesses - “We’re a chosen people, yet rebellious - we prefer our own counsel to that of God, even as we worship God and declare our trust in God … “LORD, we have done wrong” - not what the other guy does, but our stuff; not how bad other nations are, but how bad Israel has become; not about the defects of other religions, but how Israel fails to live up to its own faith … 
It takes a brave soul to see the severity of sin we call it Confession

Isaiah then asks God to relent … don’t punish us as our sins deserve … “our cities are in ruin, our temple has gone up in flames … all is lost” … it takes a faithful soul to ask God to go lightly - especially with others.
A bit light the LORD’S Prayer here - Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil … and we might be very good at asking God to go lightly with us, to give us the second chance, and the third and the fourth … yet how easily we turn around and look at the neighbor, and hope they get what’s comin’ to them! “Go hard on ‘em, LORD; they have a lot to learn,” and then we pray, “Oh LORD, go easy on me; I’m trying my best.”
To stand in the breach for others … even the enemy as we learn from Jesus … who cries out from the cross, Father, forgive them.”
We call it Intercession.

The last piece of faith: we are the clay, God is the potter.
We cannot fathom all of God’s doings - we have two choices: live in bitterness or put ourselves into God’s hands.
Job learns that surrender is the only key to peace … in the midst of his suffering and loss, his friends blame him, and Job blames God … and then one day, Job is too tired to blame anyone, and Job surrenders - “I don’t understand, but I trust God, and God will work it out - no matter how long, no matter how hard, I know that my Redeemer lives, and God will work it out” - from that moment on, Job has peace in the midst of the storm.
We call it Surrender.

The Long Road of Advent - Confession, Intercession, Surrender - not always an easy road - but if stay with it, if we keep on keepin’ on, one step at a time, the Long Road of Advent leads us, all the way, to Bethlehem.
Even from afar, if we hush the noise within us, and pay no attention to the noise around us, we’ll hear the cry of the Child and the song of angels in the midnight clear.
The Long Road Advent!
All the way to Bethlehem.
Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011, "God Takes Responsibility"

Ezekiel 34.11-16

Welcome to the last Sunday of the year … the Church Year, that is. 
Our year began 12 months ago with Advent … what a journey it’s been for us … we’ve seen death; we’ve seen life; our souls have been dark; our spirits bright.
Times when we didn’t know God, and times when God was crystal clear … times when trust was hard; times when trust was easy … we’ve all grown in Christ, and we’ve stumbled in our sins, as well … we’ve been faithful to the LORD, and sometimes we’ve been a lot like Peter or Judas … sometimes we got it wrong, and sometimes we got it right.
What a year it’s been for us.
A year that ends today, ends with Christ the King.
And so it ends well … alls well that ends well … because everything ends with Christ … the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End … the Eternal Shepherd.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want … 
Jesus says to his disciples, I am the Good Shepherd … when others run, I don’t … when others think only of themselves, I think only of you … when others take, I give, and I lay down my life for you!

In Ezekiel’s story, who are the shepherds?
They’re the leaders: priests, prophets … kings, queens … scribes, Levites.
For us here, - pastors, deacons and elders - shepherds of the flock, if the elders and deacons would please stand … congregation, put your hands together to honor them … extend your hands toward them, as I pray:
These are your shepherds, O God, the shepherds of your people … your people here at Calvary on the Boulevard.
We pray for them, O God.
Their tasks are many; their burdens heavy.
Stand by them, we pray, in every way.
Give them grace, mercy and peace … faith, hope and love … and the joy of Jesus Christ.
That they may lead us, and lead us well.
In Jesus’ name. Amen!

Part of Ezekiel’s story is sad - Israel’s shepherds failed.
Sometimes shepherds fail … and every shepherd knows it when it happens … we all know when we fail.
And why did they fail?
They forgot their central purpose: to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays or seek out the lost.

I could fill a book with my failures …  things I’m not proud of … decisions that were wrong … when fear and anger took control.
We all fail more than we care to admit … 
Reality check: failure is a part of the program … that’s why we need to keep our expectations in check - what we expect of ourselves, and what we expect of others.
There’s nothing wrong with high expectations.
But expectations have a way of getting out of hand, and nothing worse than expectations out of control.

Many of us live with a psychological mommy or daddy still scolding us, wagging their finer at us, grounding us and sending us to our room without dinner - years later, we’re still feel small and resentful.
And to compensate, we expect too much of ourselves, still trying to win the love of mom or dad … we push ourselves too hard, and judge ourselves too harshly … and we only feel worse for the effort.
Or we turn it around, and we expect too much of others … and when others fail to deliver what we want, what we expect, we get all over them - we confront them, we wag a finger at them just like some angry parent did to us, we send nasty emails, and carry grudges.

We can rightly expect a lot of ourselves, but we’re not God, and we’re not perfect … no one can deliver all the time … not you, not me, not the baker, the butcher or the candlestick maker.
That’s why, at least in the church, we try to live by grace.
We practice forgiveness and acceptance.
We’re gentle with one another … because we’re all in this together … and we’re all carrying heavy burdens.
We watch our tongues and our emails … and when we overstep ourselves, we practice the needful art of apology, apology pure and simple, “I’m sorry! Please forgive me.”

This is a timely reminder for all of us - if we take it upon ourselves to “counsel” a fellow Christian - we have to be sure that we’ve dealt with ourselves first of all.
I’ve learned the hard way: when I’m upset with others, if I really think about it, I’m mostly upset with myself.
When I fail, my first response is to pin the blame on others.
Maybe you do that, too.
But it doesn’t help us, or anyone else.
We have to deal with our junk first.
Jesus said it well:  before trying to take a speck out of a neighbor’s eye, be sure to remove the log in your own.
We all have plenty of logs.
If we work on our log jam, it’ll keep us busy for the rest of our life - and by the time we’ve got the logs removed from our own eyes, the world looks will better to us, and we’ll be better equipped to let our light shine. 
We don’t have to remove anyone else’s speck from their eye … we just let our light shine, so they can do their own log-removal.
In the end, it’s God who removes the logs from our eyes, and the specks from our neighbors’ eyes, it’s God who deals with all the junk of life … by his stripes we are healed!

And that’s the gospel
The good news in Ezekiel.
The Eternal Shepherd takes up where we stop.
The Eternal Shepherd takes responsibility … what we can’t do, God does; what we fail to do, God accomplishes; what we mess up, God restores.

The Eternal Shepherd.
Who repairs, restores and makes all things new.

The Eternal Shepherd leads us to a better place of living.
The sunny side of the street … good pastures and quiet waters.

When our hands grow weak, God’s hand is upon us.
When we lose sight of the big picture, God heals our eyes. 
When we hurt someone, the Holy Spirit disturbs us until we get it worked out.
When we’re tired and wanna call it quits, and just go home and hide our head under a pillow, God give us the energy to keep on going.

For EVERYONE here today, we’re all shepherds, are we not?
Responsible for the care of at least one other person!
Husbands shepherd their wives; wives shepherd their husbands … parents shepherd their children, and when the children get older, sometimes the children shepherd their parents … friends shepherd one another - in school and at work, and all around the town … there is always the need for care, kindness, mercy, love, hope-inspiring words, wisdom, witness and work - the stuff that builds up our world and gives everyone a second chance - Zacchaeus up a tree, the woman at the well, blind Bartimaeus - who doesn’t need a second chance now and then?

We have our work cut out for us.
Business, politics, education, religion - the world needs shepherds - women and men who have the wisdom and grace of God, who live the ethics of the LORD’S Prayer, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The world needs shepherds who are light and salt - light to point the way, and salt to make people thirsty for the love  and justice of God … 
The world needs you and me - shepherds of grace and goodness, shepherds of wisdom and fortitude, shepherds led by the Eternal Shepherd, Christ the King!

That’s how our year ends … it ends well, beloved Christians … it ends on an upbeat note, because it ends with Christ, the Eternal and everlasting Good Shepherd!

He is the Alpha and the Omega, he is the beginning and the end.
Alls well that ends well.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13, 2011, "Downs and Ups!"

Judges 4.1-7

Today, we mark Veterans’ Day … celebrated on Thursday, 11.11.11, with ceremonies at Arlington Cemetary, precisely at 11 AM.
11.11.11 … some folks get excited about numbers - on TV this week, all of sorts of numerologists and fortune-tellers, but days and weeks and months and years are just so much passing time, the rising and setting of the sun … we assign numbers, arbitrary numbers, to help us keep track of time.
Numbers are fun.
My birthday is 7.7 … and that’s the name of a drink, if you will … for years, Doc McCrory and I sent cards to each other - he was 7.7, as well … and then, as is the case with numbers, he reached the end of his calendar.
So I no longer have a 7.7 birthday partner.

When I was in Normandy, France a few years back, we went to the American Cemetery … Ten Thousand graves … powerful, emotional … I walked row upon row and found what I was looking for … the grave of a young man who died on the day I was born - July 7, 1944 … I took a picture and made some notes, but I’ve lost track of them.
I remember standing there … thinking: as I was coming into the world, he was leaving … my family welcomed me with joy; his family wept.

There a lots of ways to write history … and no matter how we write it, war is very much a part of the human story.
We know how to kill one another.
And we never seem to run out of reasons for pulling the trigger.

Sometimes there are good reasons … and sometimes, it’s all too confusing … and sometimes human beings just go to war because we don’t know what else to do.

Israel’s story in the Bible is no different.
Page after page - the spilling of blood … 
From Cain’s murder of his brother Able to this very day, the dogs of war roam the earth devouring us.

As we celebrate Veterans’ Day, we do so with thoughtfulness.
Rightly, we honor our Veterans … 
And rightly, we pray for peace.
And more than prayer, we wage peace.
Because we are followers of the Prince of Peace.

We must always be reluctant to call for arms.
If we must send young women and men to war, then let us do so with sorrow.

If war is part of the human story, so be it.
But let us be mindful:
If America has been in the right at different times, and I believe it has been, I also believe that America hasn’t always been right … if America has been a nation of peace, and we have been a nation great for peace, we have also been a nation of war … 
As Christians, we need to be thoughtful.
And wise, when it comes to war.

Our story this morning is simple … 
Israel failed to live up to its own story of goodness and faithfulness, so Israel, per God’s judgment, ends up under the thumb of King Jaban and his army, a powerful army with 900 iron chariots, commanded by Sisera.

After twenty years of oppression, Deborah the prophet, summons Barak and tells him to marshall the troops and prepare for battle, because now is the time for victory - God will deliver Israel and free her from King Jabin.

And then the fine print: It won’t be Barak who wins the day, but a woman.
Like a fingernail on a chalkboard … a woman?
Yes, a woman, without sword or shield, without chariots and soldiers.
The nations meet in battle, as Deborah said they would … Israel prevails; Sisera flees to friendly territory, or so he thinks, and seeks refuge with a family
After some refreshment, Sisera lays down to sleep; he’s exhausted. 
Jael, the woman of the household, covers him with a blanket.
When he falls asleep, she takes a tent peg and a hammer, and does him in … 

When Barak arrives - was he following chariot tracks? … how did he know? … anyway, Barak arrives, and Jael shows him Sisera’s body … and the story becomes a national story - a great poem of Israel’s struggle - her sin and defeat, her prayers and deliverance … and a women of the tent, Jael, takes the only tools she has, and wins the day for Israel.

With Veterans’ Day and the story of Deborah, Barak, Sisera and Jael, we give thanks for God’s presence in our muddled world, God’s love at work in ALL things.
Bloody as it was.
That day, the tide turned for Israel.
King Jabin was defeated.
And Israel was free of tyranny.

With the only tools available to Jael, she saved the day.

All of us can save the day.
Little moments … big moments, when God hands us an opportunity to build something good, to help someone, to make this a better world.
Like our story, things are never entirely clear or clean.
We do the best we can … with the tools we have in hand.
And God is at work in ALL of it.

That’s the real story behind every story.
God at work in ALL things.
In the mess and confusion … the sad and the broken … and the wars we fight … 
Our story from Judges is never a warrant for war.
It is our assurance, however, that in a world often violent and dark, opportunity comes our way to win the day and make the best of a hard time.

Hats off to our Veterans … and encouragement to those who seek peace … and three cheers to those who are not afraid to act, like Jael, to cease the moment and win the day for good!
And to God be the glory. Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

November 6, 2011 - "Are You Sure?"

Joshua 24.1-3, 14-25

“Are you sure?” we say to a friend who’s just announced that she’s going to quit her job and take a long trip to Greece.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

It’s a question we’ve all been asked a time or two: “Are you sure?” … “Is this what you really want to do?” … “Have you thought about it?” … “Are you sure?”

There have been times when I’ve decided, “No, I’m not sure.” 
“I haven’t thought about it enough - maybe I should do something else.”

We’ve all been there!
“Are you sure?”

Joshua put the question to Israel:
Are you sure you want to serve the LORD?

I can imagine folks saying, “Josh, what do you mean? Here we are in the Promised Land. We’ve done it; we’ve fought the good fight. Of course we want to serve the LORD.”

Joshua says, “Be careful … if you say one thing and do another, it won’t go well with you.”
“If you say, ‘We’ll serve the LORD,’ and then turn around and serve other gods, and get things all mixed up, a little bit of Yahweh, a dash of Baal, a few fertility gods, it will end badly for you.”

The people protest.
“Josh, this is what we want. We WILL serve the LORD.”

“If that’s what you want,” says Josh … “then do it!”
Put aside the foreign gods that are among you. Focus your hearts on the LORD, the God of Israel.

There is no room for half-hearted faith in the Promised Land.
No room for faith all mixed up with other gods and powers and principalities and half-baked ideas.
The Promised Land requires clear-headed thinking and full-blown dedication.

Joshua calls the people to a serious level of faith.
By the way, when the name Joshua is translated into Greek, it become Jesus … Jesus is our Joshua.
Jesus leads us into a NEW Promised Land, as Joshua did of old … 

Come and follow me, says Jesus to the fisherman in their boats.
To Zacchaeus up a tree, Come on down; I want to have dinner in your home tonight.
To Lazarus in the tomb, Come out from among the dead and live.
To Saul on the Damascus Road, I have plans for you - to be my missionary to the Gentiles.

Yet Jesus offers words of caution to those who would sign on too quickly:
Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but I don’t have a place to lay my head. In other words, I won’t give you a rose garden; I don’t promise an easy go of it. They will do to you what they do to me. Think twice about it; don’t jump in too quickly. If you put your hand to the plow, don’t look back. If you want to build tower, first figure out what it will cost.

Several things to keep in mind:
Our walk with Christ is no Halloween Party.
As I write these words, I’m watching Head Start kids all dressed up for Halloween - Darth Vader and Lady Gaga and Spider Man … for a few hours, they are the costume, and the costume is them.
But when they get home, the costume comes off and into the closet with it.
And then they are what they are - little kids by the name of Johnny and Heidi and Amy and Jimmy.

We have to ask the question: Are we clothed in Christ, or just wearing a Christian costume? 

There’s a costume store on nearly corner of every town across the country … we call them churches … go to church, and someone will put a costume on us … it may even fit real good … we look at ourselves in the mirror and are pleased.
Sing the hymns, say some prayers, do a few good deeds.
But then we have to ask the Joshua question: “Are we sure?”
Are we clothed in Christ, or merely wearing a Christian costume?

How do we know?
If it’s a costume we’re wearing, we’re proud of it, and like to show it off.
The sign of the costume is the pride with which it’s worn … the pride that puffs us up and the pride that judges others: “My costume is better than your costume.”

Hear what Jesus says:
Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention.
Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet.
When you fast, don’t put on a sad face.

In other words, don’t call attention to ourselves.
Whatever we do, do it quietly, without fanfare, without pride, without judgment of others … do it well, do it with love.

Are we wearing a costume or are we clothed in Christ?

A good question to ask on St. Andrew’s Day … Andrew died a martyr at the end of the First Century … Peter’s brother, one of the disciples, he became a bishop, a leader in the early church.
Andrew lived in a world where there was no room for pretending. 
At the point of a sword, or on a cross, a costume simply won’t do.
Andrew had to be real.
That’s why we call him a Saint.
And we have to be real, too.
And when we’re real, then we’re saints, just like Andrew.

Joshua’s question to the people is a good question.
“Are you sure?”

Dear Christian friends, with the people of the Promised Land, with one voice, heart and mind, let us swear allegiance to Jesus Christ our Lord. 
No costumes here; only saints, who love the LORD! Amen and Amen.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October 30, 2011 - "And Why?"

John 3.16

Today, Consecration Sunday … to put before the LORD a financial promise for 2012.

Today is also Reformation Sunday … when we remember the work of the Reformers - Luther in Germany, and the Swiss Reformers, Calvin in Geneva and Zwingli in Zurich … from Calvin comes theological currents in which we still swim today - the sovereignty of God, the covenant, a high regard for science and the arts, and a just society.
From Calvin’s Geneva to Scotland’s John Knox … and from Scotland through the British Isles … and from the British Isles, to the New World … 

Today, Reformation Sunday … we celebrate the Reformed/Presbyterian Tradition … just the other day, off of El Segundo, to the east of Hawthorne Blvd., a Hungarian Reformed Church … 
Churches in Europe that adhered to the vision of John Calvin came to be called Reformed … and they came to the States here - German Reformed, French Reformed, Dutch Reformed, and Hungarian Reformed.

From those churches, here and in Europe, missionaries spread out across the globe … that’s why we find Presbyterian Churches all over the world … Presbyterians are never content to simply enjoy God; it is our spiritual DNA to share God … to move into the world, build churches, hospitals and schools - spread the gospel … to make this a better world.

In the British Isles, the Reformed Churches came to be called Presbyterian - because of our form of government - we are governed by Presbyters - from a Greek word that means “elder” - an older one, literally, and figuratively, one charged with the task of oversight, caring for the community of faith.
I’m a teaching elder … Ann Marie is a ruling elder … and together, we form the Board of Elders - responsible for the spiritual and material welfare of Calvary Presbyterian Church, Calvary on the Boulevard.

A part of our care for the welfare of Calvary is the teaching of stewardship - to manage the affairs of our lives, to the honor and glory of God, in such a way, that we can be good and faithful givers.

Two weeks ago, we turned our attention to the question, “To Whom do we give?” 
Last week, the question, “How much?”
And today’s question, “Why?”

Why do we give?

There are several good answers.

Number one, we give because God gives … created in the image of God, it’s our nature to give.
We give to our parents.
We give to our children and grandchildren.
We give to worthy causes and we give to the glory of God.

We are, by nature, givers.
Sure, there can be selfish streak in all of us, but our deepest nature, our truest character - we are givers, because we are created in the image of God.

Number two, we give to support the work of Christ through the local church, and through the local church, to the church around the world.

Let me underscore something very important - the efficiency of the church - dollars given are carefully used and guarded for the work of Christ.
The church is primarily volunteers … and even at national headquarters, and with our missionaries, no one is making a big salary, no one gets rich with our money.
Monies given to the church are monies well-given … and because our overhead is small, better than 90% of our monies go for the actual work of mission. That’s about as high as it gets, and better than most charities. If we want to fund a cause that uses money well, there is no better cause than the church of Jesus Christ.
When we pay our per capita, we’re underwriting the administrative costs of the church - with per capita, we pay for paper clips and pencils.
So that our mission money all goes to mission.
The church is a very efficient steward of our monies.

Number Three - we give to free ourselves from the power of money.
Money’s a big deal - always has been, and will remain so until the end of the age.
Money can take us by surprise, and before we know it, money takes center stage … like the Bible says, it’s the LOVE of money that’s the root of all evil … and if we’re not careful, we lose control of our money, and our money gains control of us.
Every time we give, we declare our freedom from the power of money.
Every time we give, we celebrate our trust in God - that God will provide … like seed scattered in good soil, an abundant harvest is promised.
Giving declares our freedom from the power of money.

At most, God asks only for the Tithe … only in the rarest instances does God ask for more.
Jesus asks the wealthy young man to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow him. Such a radical demand is the exception, not the rule.
Yet for all us, God invites us to be good stewards.
Paul says, set aside a reasonable amount every week … the tithe can be our guide, the half-tithe our goal … whatever we do, choose a percentage, and then put pencil to paper, and calculate the amount.

God ask a few important things, one of which is faithful giving of time, talent and treasure.
We can do it.
It’s in our nature to give.
All we need sometimes is a gentle reminder … or maybe a firm reminder - giving cleanses the soul and frees the mind … a person who gives is healthier, happier and stronger.

Good giving is good living.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 23, 2011 - "How Much?"

1 Corinthians 15.57-16.4, 2 Corinthians 8.1-15

Whatever the call,
Whatever the cause,
We sit down and calculate.
How much can I give?

Time, talent, treasure.

When it comes down to it, time is probably the most  precious thing we have … we can’t save it, we can’t over-spend it … we can’t hurry it on, and we can’t slow it down … time marches on, at its own pace, and we only have so much of it, and then, the clock ticks its last second away, and we’re gone … dust to dust, earth to earth - still the simple reality of life … yet in between, the dash.

Have you noticed the dash in obituaries?
The date of birth; the date of death … and the dash in between.
The date of our birth; the date of our death - not much we can do about beginnings and endings. But in between, the dash; the dash belongs to us! Or at least a part of it does.

Most of the time, we don’t have much choice - we have to sleep, we have to eat, we have to go to work.
But there’s time in there that demands a choice.
There’s time that will be spent one way or the other - wasting time, which is a good idea now and then, and using our time to make this a better world.

How much time can we give to the cause of Christ?
Like anything else, we have to figure it out.
Surely Sunday morning is one of our commitments … can’t always make it here, I know that, and some of us have difficult work or school schedules.
But steadiness on Sunday is vital … choosing to arise in a timely manner, getting ready without undue delay, a thoughtful drive to the church, not harried and hurried, so that we’re ready to engage in worship - to greet others with a smile and open arms … 
Sabbath time.
Sunday time.
Time to worship the LORD.
How much time can we give?

During the week as well … every church has its meetings … sometimes too many. But face-to-face time is essential. 
Email and phone calls are great … but time together is vital.
Hearing and seeing and watching others.
The sound of the voice.
The cast of the head.
How the body is held.

How much time can we give to the cause of Christ, and how much time can we give to one another in the fellowship of Christ?

If time is precious, talent is powerful.
Putting our shoulder to the grindstone, our hand to the plow, our feet on the ground.
To get the job done.
Sunday school teaching.
Leading the liturgy.
Cleaning up after worship, putting things away, hanging around afterward to see what needs to be done.
Answering the call to be a Deacon, and elder, or a committee member … putting our talents to work.
Show up to help … join in … make things work.
We all have talents.
Some of us are good with money management.
We know how to make plans.
Carry them out.
Some of us work well with others, and some prefer working alone.
Some of us like to speak in public.
Some of us are prayer-warriors.
Some of us share our faith effectively with others.
Some of us have the gift of hospitality … we like to have people in our home, and we like to visit with others.
Some of us like to cook.
To find those places where our talent can make the difference.
If time is precious, talent is powerful.
How much talent can I give?

And then treasure.
Treasure goes where we can’t.
The dimes we give here end up in places all around the world … missionaries, hungry children; build a school, a hospital, or a church; dig a well, encourage peace-making; train nurses, community development, fair-trade practices … treasure goes where we can’t.

Treasure, or money, as I said last week, IS a big deal.
A big deal for all of us.
And a big deal for the church.

How much can we give?
10%, the tithe.
5%, the half-tithe.
2 or 3%
Whatever we give, it’s important to put pencil to paper - calculate - what percentage do I wish to give? That’s the best place to begin.

The tithe is no longer a requirement, but it’s a worthy goal.
The half-tithe is probably where most of need to be.
If hard times come upon us, then maybe less.
But we need to put pencil to paper, and figure it out.
The percentage, and then make a promise, fill out the pledge card - “LORD, this is my faith promise. As you have provided in the past, so I believe you will provide my daily bread today and tomorrow. And here’s what I plan to give,” and then name the amount, and sign your name!
It’s between you and God, and just a few people here who are delegated with the task of overseeing our financial life together. I don’t know what anyone gives; never have and never will. It’s a private thing, and it’s always handled with great discretion by those who are charged by the church to be good stewards of what God’s people give.

Time is precious.
Talent is powerful.
Treasure goes where we can’t

How much can we give? Amen and Amen

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16, 2010 - "To Whom?"

Psalm 116

Starting today, and for the next two weeks, it’s Stewardship Season … a time to review the whole business of giving … with a special focus on our money.

Who doesn’t think a lot about money?
We all think about it.
And we think about it a lot.
How much we have, or how much we don’t.
Every day, a lot of time is spent dealing with money.
Making it.
Spending it.
Saving it.
Investing it.
Paying bills with it
Wondering if we’ll have enough.

Money is truly a big deal.
And it’s a big deal for the church, too.
We have a building to keep up.
A staff to pay.
We buy music for our choir.
Curriculum for our Sunday School.
Paper and pencils for the office.
Soap and paper towels.

Money’s a big deal.
And we need to be thoughtful about it.

Three questions guide us for the next few weeks:
To whom do we give?
How much do we give?
Why do we give?

This morning, To whom do we give?

Someone might say, Well, pastor, that’s easy enough to answer. We give to God!

True enough.
We give to God.

The God who created the heavens and the earth … and breaths the breath of life into each of us every day of our life.

Genesis 1 - the whole universe - the big picture - the sun, moon and stars - every creature, great and small, including the creepy-crawly things.

And Genesis 2 - God and a handful of dirt, and a puff of God’s breath, and the dirt becomes a human being … 

The God of many journeys … who walks with us and talks with us and guides us through the day.

It’s helpful now and then to take stock of such things.
To count our blessings, and name them one-by-one.
To remember the LORD our God who gives us life.
This God of many of journeys.
God big enough to create the heavens and the earth.
Small enough to fit into Bethlehem’s cradle.
Strong enough to die for the sins of the world.
Gentle enough to live within our heart.

The Psalmist celebrates deliverance.
The Psalmist writes an honest story.
No fairy tale here … there’s heartache and trouble … tears, stumbling, grief, and betrayal … life is no bed of roses for the Psalmist.

We don’t know the details.
We don’t know the story.
We don’t know when, what and where.
But something bad happened.
And the Psalmist cries out for help.

Did help come immediately?
We don’t know.
How long did it take?
Days, months, years?
But deliverance came at the right time.
And now the Psalmist writes with gratitude.

The LORD hears my requests for mercy.

In the end, things turn out all right.
The dark night of sorrow passed.
The sun rises.
The clouds have departed.
A new day dawns for the Psalmist.

Because of God’s goodness.
God’s mercy and love.

The underpinning of our life.
The source and the destiny.
The Alpha and the Omega.
The beginning and the end.
And everything in between.

When we sit down to consider our Pledge Card for next year.
When we pray about what we might be able to give.
When we look ahead to the future, it is right and good to remember how the LORD’S hand has been upon us … leading and guiding us, through thick and thin, sick and sin … in the middle of the night, and in the light of day … 

The God of gracious presence:
I am with you always, to the end of the age.
I will never leave you or forsake you.
Where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there.
And when everything is done, you’ll be with me forever!

Stewardship begins with praise and thanksgiving.
With confidence in the LORD, because the LORD is good, and the LORD’S sees us through to the end … the One who gives us Jesus Christ, gives us all that’s necessary for the needs of the day … our daily bread - for body and soul, in this life, and in the life to come.

To whom do we give?

We give to the LORD our God, ever-faithful to us, and loving us forever. Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 9, 2011 - "Prayer, Practice, Peace"

Philippians 4.1-9

Jim and Susie invited three couples over for dinner. At the table Susie turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?"
"I wouldn't know what to say," the child replied.
"Just say what you hear Mommy say," said Susie.
The little girl bowed her head and said, "Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"

Well, that’s one way to pray.

There are lots of ways to pray, and there’s no better teacher than the Apostle Paul … a man who prays often … 
Much of the Bible is prayer … most of the Psalms are prayers - prayers of praise, lament, thanksgiving and doubt.

The shortest prayer in the Bible - Peter sinks into the raging waters … he cries out, LORD, save me.”

Writer Anne Lamott says she has two prayers: “Help, help, help,” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Several things about prayer:
  1. Prayer is positive … prayer is a confession of faith … we believe in God … the God of creation who called everything good and took off a day for rest, and told us to take some time off, too.
  2. Prayer is the practice of trust … that God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good … and God hears and answers every prayer!
    1. God says Yes, or No, or Maybe … but every prayer is heard - every prayer is answered.
    2. When we talk about “unanswered prayer,” what we really mean is an answer different than what we wanted.
    3. There is no such thing as “unanswered prayer” … every prayer is heard by a loving God, and a loving God answers every prayer.
    4. Prayer is the practice of trust.
  3. Prayer is a confession of humility … we’re not God, and while we might passionately desire something that seems truly good to us, prayer recognizes our limits of understanding … we’re not old enough or wise enough or big enough to understand the universe and how life works itself out … we do the best we can, and when we pray, we put it into the hands of God, and we trust the promise of God - to be at work for good, in all things. We don’t know very much, but God does. Prayer is a confession of humility.
  4. Prayer is hopeful … because this our Father’s world … and though some proclaim doom and gloom, we cry out hope and peace.
    1. Those who predict the end of the world and threaten people with punishment misread the Bible and fail to proclaim the gospel.
    2. Those who rummage around in the past, thinking that yesterday is better than today, miss the point of the Bible. There has never been a golden age anywhere - it does us no good to put on rose-colored glasses when we look at the past. It does us no good to yearn for what was. And what was is never as good as we might think it was.
      1. Remember, God put angels with flaming swords at the Garden border - there is no going back to Eden; only going forward.
      2. Paul says, I forget about things behind me, and so does God.
      3. When the disciples meet the risen Jesus, they ask him if he’s going to restore the kingdom - King David and all of that … but Jesus doesn’t rummage around in the past … Jesus knows there’s no golden age, there’s never been a time better than right now, never a time more opportune, more important, than right now … because God is at work, at work in all things, right now, for good … prayer never looks backward, but always forward.

Practice these things, writes Paul.
Try ‘em out every day … make some mistakes, and keep on learning … like a tennis player, a pianist, or a teacher … the art of teaching is never fully achieved … nor that of the Christian life … we don’t arrive; we practice.
Practice what is true, says Paul, because the truth is what sets us free.
Practice what is holy, and there’s no greater holiness than loving God with all of our heart and soul and strength and mind.
Practice all that is just, and there’s no greater justice than loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Practice all that is pure, and there is no purity greater than doing God’s will, and no expression of God’s will more clear than the Beatitudes.
Practice all that is lovely, and there is no greater loveliness than a life lived in devotion to God - a life as Micah proclaims: do justice, embrace faithful love, walk humbly with God.
Practice whatever is worthy of praise, and there is no praise greater than loving God’s good earth, taking care of all God’s creatures, great and small, and helping the widow, the orphan and the stranger at our gate.

Practice what you learned, received, heard, or saw in us, says Paul. A cloud of witnesses, worthy examples.
No better examples than Paul, Jeremiah, Joseph and Moses, Deborah and Lydia and Mary … we do well to steep ourselves in their lives … 
The cloud of witnesses is large … Calvin and Luther … Martin Luther King, Jr., William Sloan Coffin and Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks who refused to move to the back of the bus, because Rosa knew that Jesus would never ever ask her to do that, but only the devil!
The LORD God has given us a bounty of women and men who embody the grace of God in special measure, who call out of us our best instincts, who remind us of our better angels.
Find a good example, and follow it.
Pay attention to the cloud of witnesses; learn from them.

Paul says, The God of peace will be with you.
Jesus says, Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives.

The world gives peace, all right - at the point of a sword or with a hangman’s rope … the world seeks peace through violence, power and control … 

Jesus says, You know that those who rule the Gentiles show off their authority over them … but that’s not the way it will be with you.

‘Tis the God of Peace we worship, the Prince of Peace we follow. 

So, there we have it, dear friends.
The news from the church of Philippi … prayer, practice and peace.

And may it be said of us here at Calvary:
We are a people who pray well.
Who practice the good things of life.
And walk in the ways of peace.
Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October 2, 2011, "Bragging Rights"

Philippians 3.4b-14

I love to watch old TV westerns … 
Beautiful horses, beautiful women, and gunslingers …

And always the showdown in town … the camera angle at hip-level, so we can see the guns slung low, ready for action.
A slow walk toward one another … one of them draws, and then the other - boom, boom, and someone drops.
The mortician steps out of his office, gathers up the body; the winner steps into the saloon for a drink with the boys … just another day in the Old West, or so the movies would have it.

Paul the Apostle is challenged by spiritual gunslingers … 

Paul says, “You wanna fight with me? You wanna draw on me? Ya’ better be careful. I’m well-armed, and I can draw fast. You think you can brag? Listen to me!”
I was circumcised on the eighth day.
I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin.
I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee.
With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church.
With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless.

Paul wins!
He’s king of the hill; top of the heap … the fastest gun in town.

But Paul asks us a very important question:
Is this what we really want?
A bragging society?
Everyone trying to outgun the other?
Playing the game: Who’s bigger, better, brighter?

It’s a game that hardens the heart, and ends badly … 

Before Paul is Paul, he was Saul - a hard-hearted man.
Saul holds coats while the crowd executes Stephen for blasphemy ...
Saul orders lashes without a moment’s hesitation … 
Saul throws people into prison … 
Saul’s proud of it … I’m bigger, I’m better, I’m brighter.
He’s a hard-hearted man!

On the Damascus Road, an explosion of heavenly light … Saul falls to the ground.
He knows it’s the LORD.
His confidence melts away.
Who are you, LORD? Who are you?
The LORD answers Saul … 
The LORD says, I am Jesus.
And you’re harassing me.
Get up and go to Damascus, and you’ll be told what you must do.
Saul meets the ultimate gunslinger … whose draw is lightening-fast - who never kills, and always heals … whose love for us wins the day!

What do we learn from Paul?

Sometimes what we value isn’t valuable at all. 
Paul describes what he once valued as skubala (skubala) … Greek for garbage, or dung … the Common English Bible translates it, sewer trash.
Paul lists the things he once valued: we can summarize:
Race, religion and his record of personal accomplishments.
Human temptations:
My race is better than your race … my religion is better than your religion … my personal record is better than your personal record.

Paul has bragging rights on all of this.
But when it comes to the gospel, none of it counts.
God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our LORD Jesus Christ.
Everything Paul formerly valued is nothing more than sewer trash.

Things have to be left behind to move ahead with Christ.
Paul had to leave behind his bragging rights.
The disciples had to leave behind their nets.
Abraham and Sarah had to leave behind their land, their families and their father’s household.

God replaces what is left behind.
For Abraham and Sarah: I will give you a new land … new names, and new family.
For the disciples, I will give you the skills to fish for people.
For Saul on the Damascus Road - You will be my apostle to the Gentiles.

The light of Christ clarifies what’s important.  
In God’s light we see light.
That’s why we’re here today … that’s why we study … and share with one another … where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, Christ is there … in his light, we see light.

Christ becomes our life.
To be found in Christ, says Paul.
His righteousness ...
His sufferings …
His death ...
The power of his resurrection …
Leading to the hope of our own resurrection from the dead.
Growing in Christ takes time.
I’ve not yet reached the goal, says Paul.
I work at it every day.
I forget what’s behind.
I reach for what’s ahead.
The goal I pursue - the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

Christ, the bright morning star; the lilly of the valley; the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Dear friends, we are all tempted by the same base sins: race, religion and personal record. On the Damascus Road, the light of Christ reveals to Saul how wretched these temptations are, and what evils they create. 
Saul said, “No more of this!”
And Saul became Paul - the great evangelist of faith, hope and love.
It is our calling, and our joy, to be co-workers with Paul, and lead others to the bright light of Christ. Amen and Amen!