During the month of November, we looked at what God has to say to people of faith about how to live our lives on borrowed time and using God’s stuff. On 26 November we finished up Stewardship month with a message on what God has to say about stewarding the agape love that he lavishes upon his believers. We turned to the Gospel of Mark 12:28-34 in which Jesus was asked which is the Greatest Commandment. It was a raging question at the time; the answer could have been so many different responses. Jesus answered from the Shema (beginning at Deuteronomy 6:4): Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength. Jesus then provides an additional, unsolicited answer; he tells everyone what the Second Greatest Commandment is. For this Jesus borrows from Leviticus 19:18: Love your neighbor as yourself. In Jesus’ answer, it is always agape love that is being mentioned; it is always that love which we must receive as gift from God. Jesus does not reference any of the other types of love that have a common, earthly origin. In Jesus’ answer, the people of faith are given instructions on what to do with God’s agape love that they receive as a gift.
Jesus’ commands are both clear and challenging. What seems most difficult, is the implied commandment to love ourselves with the agape love that God puts into our care. We must cast off the narcissistic self-love, that society promotes and the Bible teaches to be sinful. In its place, God beckons us to see ourselves as God sees us: made in his image and likeness; adopted daughters and sons; friends of Christ; intended for glory and fellowship with our Triune God forever. This may not be easy, but it is part of what Jesus calls the Second Greatest Commandment. With the guidance of his Word and the Holy Spirit, may we come to an improved understanding of and obedience to these commands.
The month of October is Missions Month in our denomination. It is good to focus on this broad topic for an entire month. On 15 October we dug into Luke 10. In that text, Jesus sends out the 70 (or 72) unnamed disciples to prepare the way for his arrival. They are travel without provisions; they are to heal the sick; and everywhere they go they are to announce the Kingdom of God has come near. I love that these disciples are unnamed and their identity is lost to history. That makes them a lot like us. I believe that we, the Church, are to live without a safety net of provisions; we are to heal the sick in Jesus’ Name; and we are to make a winsome announcement that the Kingdom of God has come near. May God bless us, everyone, in this endeavor.
Christians usually focus on the gift of an assured inheritance, looking toward the present and the eternal joy of communion with God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). On 27 August we reflected on the Romans 11 passage relating to the Gentiles being grafted into the Jewish heritage. Paul uses the imagery of wild olive shoots grafted into a mature olive tree to “share in the nourishing sap.” It is a wonderful gift God has given us; he has given us the gift of a heritage. All that God spoke to the Hebrew family of faith, God spoke to our family faith. This is what it means to be grafted in, two becoming one in Jesus, in which there is not Jew or Gentile (Galatians 3:28), nor circumcision or uncircumcision (1 Corinthians 7:19).
On 13 August we had a message that was grounded in Romans 9. The chapter is long and somewhat difficult. I was having second thoughts about reading the entire chapter. I did read the entire chapter, but had a feeling of uncertainty about whether or not this was the right this to do. On the Tuesday following the worship service, one congregant told me she was deeply impressed by the verses that came towards the end of the chapter (Verses 30-32). These are verse that I would not have been read had I focused only on the preaching text. It is a reminder that the Word of God is powerful all unto itself. Charles Haddon Spurgeon had this to say about the Word, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. Unchain it and it will defend itself.” I am grateful that the power of God’s Word does not rest on the gifting of the preacher.
On 6 August we enjoyed joint worship with four other Presbyterian Churches, hosted by Andover Presbyterian Church.
On 30 July, we completed Romans chapter 8 with a very encouraging message from God’s Word. In Romans 8:26-39, we find God is forward leaning in expressing love and care for Jesus’ brothers and sisters of faith. We find that the Holy Spirit intercedes for God’s children (8:26), a promise which is restated in the next verse (8:27). Jesus Christ, who is “at the right hand of God,” is also interceding for us (8:34). The promise of this text is that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God (8:37-39). These verses really bring home the point that the children of God are free of condemnation (8:1),able to live our lives with inner peace (8:6) and free of fear (8:15), and assured of a glorious inheritance (8:18). It is a joy to be in a relationship with such a wonderful and gracious God.
On 23 July, we looked at Romans 8:18-25. We explored what it means to live in the time between Jesus’s first and second comings. Because Christians in this age enjoy a significant but incomplete foretaste of heaven through the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we sometimes refer to this age as the “already but not yet times.” In this age, the Church is blessed to serve and glorify God through the many opportunities that will not exist in heaven. In the age of already but not yet, the Church is called to visit the lonely, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and defend the oppressed among many other expressions of God’s love for a broken world. None of the opportunities will exist in heaven. We live in truly sacred times.
On 16 July, we looked at Romans 8:1-18. It is a magnificent text that is full of promised blessings from the Lord. Those who are in Christ (i.e., Christ is in them) enjoy incalculable spiritual riches on this side of glory, as well as on the other. The mind controlled by the Holy Spirit is “life and peace (v6).” It is possible (I would say natural) for the Christ bearer to please God (v8 – implied by contrast). We are the adopted sons and daughters of God (v14). We need not live in fear (v15). God’s Spirit talks to our spirit (v16). We are co-heirs with Christ in his glory (v17) and the glory of our life story will be revealed (v18). Verse one (v1) started with the Christ-bearer’s freedom from condemnation. God’s grace so very much more than freedom from condemnation. We are part of His kingdom. May we live as kingdom people and participate in God’s grace towards all Creation.
On 25 June, we looked at the Jeremiah 20 passage. It is a very raw passage, in which Jeremiah nearly curses his very existence. It is a reminder that depression is a common affliction. Even God’s powerful servants are not shielded from its oppressive power to dishearten, distort, and discourage. Let us consider two responsibilities Christians have in fighting depression. The first is stewardship and the second is fellowship. Let us be good stewards of our own spiritual and emotional health. Stewardship calls us to be intentional in preserving and nurturing the gifts of God, including our physical health, our emotional health and our spiritual health. Stewardship of these gifts require that we learn about ourselves, our fragility and our needs. Stewardship requires that we do the work of preserving and nurturing. We also have the responsibility of caring for others through deep fellowship. Communion with the Body of Christ is a means of significant grace.
On 11 June we took a valiant stab at coming to grips with the Triune nature of the Godhead. The Trinity is a very difficult concept (reality). We can be assured that understanding the Triune nature of God is worthwhile, because the self-revealed God of Scripture has repeatedly informed the people of faith about his Triune nature. So, even though the Trinity is a mystery, we ought to wrestle with the biblical material we have. Surely God wishes to bless us with knowledge that will aid us in our spiritual journeys. In our Children’s Message, we looked at a hard boiled egg that had been cut in half – one egg with three separate and easily identifiable regions: shell, white, and yolk. We then made Kool-aid from water, sugar, and flavor packet. It was a single beverage that could not be properly called Kool-aid without all three parts mixed into one. In the Trinity, both metaphors (i.e., the egg and the Kool-aid) are true at the same time. If this last thought is comfortable to you, you are well on your way to understanding the Triune nature of God.
On 7 May 2017, we had a children’s message based on John 10, where Jesus refers to himself as the sheep gate. I was delighted and encouraged by the engaging attitudes the youth brought to this time of worship. They were eager to demonstrate their own understanding of the text. They were not self-conscious that another 60 adults were listening in on our conversation. Everything that they said was solid and orthodox. In my heart I was praising their parents. Since the church family is a team, I am also grateful for Sunday School teachers and Vacation Bible School teachers and all who have helped shape their awareness of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
On Easter Sunday we explored the credibility of the empty tomb. My intention for the sermon was “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15).” I reflected on the martyrdom of the those who claimed to be eye-witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The tradition of martyrdom for the Apostles stands up to historical scrutiny, at least for several of them. What did they gain by proclaiming Christ and his resurrection? Not wealth, not leisure, not security. They suffered and were abused the rest of their lives and (at least some) died hideous deaths. Chapter 5 of Josh McDowell’s book, More Than A Carpenter, is entitled “Who Would Die for A Lie?” The reasoning behind this chapter was rooted in my head over 35 years ago. I have examined it ever since. The argument does not unravel with additional research; it only gets stronger. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
It seems that our website had some technical difficulties but we are back. It is good to be back. On 2 April, we looked at the Goodnews contained in Romans 8:5-11. Verse 11 contains a tidy encapsulation of the Easter story and its meaning for us. A promise was made to the followers of Christ that the death of their mortal lives would mark the beginning of their eternal lives with resurrection bodies. Through the Apostle Paul, God points to the resurrection of Jesus as proof that he is able to fulfill his promise. God then rassures Christ followers that a down payment on this promise has already been made; we have the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is a really good news story! May you have a spiritually prosperous Lenten season.
On 19 February, we looked at the amazing truth of God’s design of the human race. We are told in Genesis 1:26-27 that God chose to make us in his image and likeness. This is so incredibly, outrageously awesome, that no man-made religion had ever previously made such a claim. God made us in his image because he intended to adopt us as daughters and sons and to love us most deeply. Our truest identities have been revealed in the Word of God, in the very beginning, as if it were of first importance. God’s identity, our identity, and our relationship with each other and with God are of primary importance every day of our lives.
On 12 February, we opened up Philippians 4:4-7. It is an amazingly dense text, rich with guidance on living in spiritually wellness. The key to the passage is that the Lord is near (4:5b). Practicing the presence of God changes everything around us, by first changing us. It may be unexpected, but at the core of it all is this truth: God wishes to bless those around you by first blessing you. You and I must be open to the idea that, like Jesus, a life lived well has a balance between time spent with the Father and doing acts of compassion.