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Waiting ... In Love (December 22, 2020)

CREDIT: Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

Dear Friends and Family,

“Love” is – growing up I remember these cartoons with a man and woman and a statement about love. “Love is …” was followed by description of an act of love – often describing one of love’s chief virtues, self-sacrifice for the benefit of another. This is “αγαπη (agape)” love, the most frequent kind of love found in the Bible.

On the fourth Sunday in Advent, we light the final candle on our Advent Wreath. The Love Candle completes the ring of light as we wait for Christmas Day, when we celebrate Jesus’ birth. His birth was the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring salvation to His creation. Psalm 89 sings out, “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever.” (Psalm 89:1) And God promises to deliver this love by sending His Son as the fulfillment of a promise He made to His servant, King David as David continued his reign on Israel’s throne. “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.” (Psalm 89:3-4) 

A thousand years later, God delivered His promise into the world through Mary and the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel tells Mary, “You will … bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus … He will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David … and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:31-33) With this act of true love, God brought the means for all mankind to receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life through faith in Jesus.

True “agape love” is more than a “nice feeling.” It is the sacrificial love for another which requires no payment in advance to receive. At Christmas, we celebrate this love from our Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. We wait for His return to bring us into true love’s light before His eternal throne in the kingdom of heaven.

                                                                                        Waiting in Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Waiting ... Joyfully (December 19, 2020)

CREDIT: Kolby Milton on Unsplash

Dear Saints,

Some people have a name which describes them perfectly. My Aunt Joy was such a person. I’m sure she had her moments, but whenever I was around her, her name was perfect. She was a joy to be around because she always seemed to rejoice in the gift of life she had received from God. 

On the third Sunday of Advent, Paul encourages us to “Rejoice always!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) Don’t limit rejoicing to just before Christmas – or to times when good things happen – but always! However, in a year like 2020 that’s hard to do. I won’t recap all the reasons – we all know why it’s been such a difficult year for so many of us. Yet Paul calls us to “rejoice” – even in these times of great difficulty. 

The reason we can rejoice, despite the many challenges we’re all facing, is “who” we rejoice in and “why.” Unlike many in the world who are walking in darkness without faith in Jesus Christ, we are filled with rejoicing because of faith in Jesus. The Son of God came to dwell among us when He was born in Bethlehem. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection to new life we rejoice in knowing that our sins are, in fact, forgiven. We rejoice in knowing that, thus forgiven, we also receive the gift of eternal life in His kingdom. In His eternal kingdom there will be no 2020s or any other times fraught with struggle and sadness, intolerance and isolation. Our faces will be uncovered as we come face to face with our Creator, God Himself.

The reality of our lives as we approach Christmas 2020, is this – it’s hard to rejoice always. But we can because God promises to keep us “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ … He will surely do it!” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). I’m sure this is how my Aunt Joy could “rejoice always.” And one day, I long to join her and all the saints as we rejoice in God’s presence forever.

                                                                                        Rejoicing in the Lord,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Waiting ... Peacefully (December 16, 2020)

CREDIT: Jonathan Meyer on Unsplash

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Many of my sermons start with “Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  These aren’t my words. They’re Paul’s – used as he wrote to greet the churches and leaders. With all the conflict we see between politicians, races, nations, religious groups, and even sports rivals I truly pray God’s peace comes to each of us as we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace this month and throughout the year. 

Conflict isn’t the way God wanted things. The word “peace” comes from the Hebrew word “shalom (שָׁלוֹם).”  “Shalom,” in its original meaning, has a sense of “completeness, intactness, and unity.” It’s much more than a “lack of conflict.” Entities at “shalom” lack nothing … they’re complete, intact, and unified – each supplying whatever the other might need without concern for any future needs. This is the way God created all things (Genesis 1:26-2:3).

During Advent we spend time preparing to receive the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. God sent His Son into the world 2000 years ago. He has already come into the world. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has already set the stage for true peace to reenter His creation. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe in Jesus’ promise of forgiveness and eternal life. Through this forgiveness, Jesus has made peace between us and God. However, we know that not everyone is at peace with our Father. Many still can’t believe in His gift to us. 

But God is patient; “He is not slow to fulfill His promise … He is patient … not wishing that any should perish, but all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) As our Father waits, we also wait in faith for the Prince of Peace’s glorious return, when He will fully and completely restore “shalom.” While we wait, He calls us to break the vicious cycle of conflict by spreading His peace in our words and deeds to any and all we meet.

                                                                                        May the Peace of God be with you always,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Waiting ... Hopefully (December 9, 2020)

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

Dear Saints,

Waiting … it’s been a long year. I’ve heard from many of you, “I can’t wait for 2020 to end!” We say that because we’re also “hoping” 2021 is better than 2020. A definition of “hope” is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” And there are some reasons for a hope-filled 2021 – three vaccines are on the way, the market continues climbing, and we’re all more experienced dealing with the things that happened in 2020. So, we hope 2021 will be better. While oftentimes our “hopes” come to fruition, oftentimes they also fizzle and fade. 

According to the church calendar, it’s Advent and the church’s new year is here! It’s Advent, the church season of waiting and hoping. But, as Christians, our hope is different than the hope expressed by the world around us. We do in fact hope 2021 is better. We do in fact hope that vaccines will make COVID a thing of the past so we can resume something resembling the “old normal” we long for. There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of hopes. But, as I stated, our hope is also different … we have a hope that is firmly grounded in the reality of God’s promises found in His Word. 

As we enter this Advent season of waiting – we do wait, “Not lacking any spiritual gift, as (we) wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain (us) to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:7b-8) 

As we wait hopefully, God promises two things. He promises to sustain us, to strengthen us through spiritual gifts that enable us to see through the fog of our current troubles to the day of Christ’s return. We wait hopefully knowing – for certain – that on account of Jesus, we will be guiltless when He returns. And guiltless, He will bring us with Him into His eternal kingdom where we will dwell forever without any fear of anything which fizzles and fades on us here in this life.

                                                                                                        Waiting Hopefully,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Feasting with the Lord (November 24, 2020)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As the days grow shorter and a chill hits the air, we’re entering that time when some of our thoughts turn to harvests and feasts – Thanksgiving and Christmas. While I know many of us are going to be celebrating in different ways this year, I pray you’ll remember to give thanks to God for the many blessings He's entrusted to you in the past year. And whether the celebration is the traditional huge feast or a downsized 2020 model, please remember - our God promises, "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)

It's no accident food is often central to special events. God’s word is filled with images of feasts and rich food over which His people celebrate. The word “feast” appears almost 200 times in scripture – most often as His people come together in His presence to celebrate. Isaiah provides a sneak peek at the ultimate feast, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine … He will swallow up death forever … wipe away tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:6,8) These words foreshadow ultimate rejoicing in the new creation, “Before the throne of God … They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore …and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17)

We live in between Isaiah and Revelation. And, it’s easy to become spiritually malnourished while consuming the world’s offerings. Knowing this, God provides each of us with a regular feast which nourishes our faith – Holy Communion. This feast joins His people together in a foretaste of the feast to come. At His table we receive God’s nourishing gift which strengthens our faith leading to eternal life through the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood under the bread and wine. He reminds us that He is with us wherever we are. So, as we gather in our “COVID Cohorts”, let’s remember Who is also with us and give Him thanks.

                      In Christ’s Love,

                      Pastor Jim 

Look Forward (November 10, 2020)

Dear Friends in Christ,

If you’ve played golf, you understand “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” I’ve had several beautiful Fall day’s walks spoiled hitting balls into the woods, ponds, and deep grass with equipment ill-suited to hitting a small ball in a fairly straight line. As I walk, I think back on my last errant shot. What could I change? What did I do wrong? And then my next shot – into the trees. Dwelling on past mistakes seems to make future mistakes more certain. Sportswriter Grantland Rice once said, “The quicker the average golfer can forget the shot he has dubbed … the sooner he begins to improve … Little good comes from brooding about the mistakes we've made. The next shot … is the big one."

Mr. Rice’s words are a practical example of Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) Trying to live while constantly focusing on the past can lead to problems. Too much focus on past glories can make us overconfident in our abilities. We can grow comfortable while forgetting God calls us to live our lives – past, present, and future – focused on Jesus. And too much focus on past shortcomings and sins can lead to discouragement as we wallow in the effects of our sin. 

Paul isn’t telling us to abandon our past. It’s helpful to be reminded of how God has entered our lives, strengthening and carrying us through challenging times. It’s also instructive to look back on how far the Holy Spirit has brought us along as He drives bad habits away while drawing us closer to Him. He’s telling us to remember God’s promise to forgive (1 John 1:9) – and forget (Psalm 103:10-13) – our sin. Our past sin – gone! Free from past sin, we look forward while following Him in faith – confident in God’s mercy and grace, assured of His constant presence – as we journey toward eternal life!

                                                                                                         In Christ,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

A Giant Leap (October 29, 2020)

person jumping on big rock under gray and white sky during daytime

Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When I was about 6-years old, we got our first television – a black and white with knobs you had to get off the couch to turn to change the channel. One of my earliest memories was of Neil Armstrong taking the first walk on the moon. He famously said, as he jumped to the moon’s surface, “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong, in a sense, took a 238,900-mile step. Indeed, a giant leap, made with aid of several powerful rocket engines, from one part of God’s creation to another.

NASA’s giant leap is impressive, but there are some chasms not even rocket engines can cross. Adam and Eve caused an insurmountable abyss through their fall into sin. Sin leads to infinite separation between God and His crowning creatures, mankind. The void is insurmountable for mankind, but not for God. God’s Word (Philippians 2:5-8) tells us He sent His Son, Jesus from His throne in heaven to earth to become one of us – a human being – while also maintaining all His divinity. Fully God and fully man, Jesus overcame the infinite chasm of sin, for all mankind, through His death and resurrection. Because of Jesus’ obedience to His Father’s will, all who confess their faith in Him cross over the abyss of sin from death into life. 

And Jesus continues enabling people to make this infinite leap. Through us, He works to bring all those who live in death’s darkness into the light of new life. St. Paul writes, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) God calls each of us to use our many gifts to serve Him in His creation. He calls us to “shine as lights in the world, holding fast to (His) word” (Philippians 2:15-16) so that others may believe in Jesus by the power of the same Holy Spirit. And through this faith, make the giant leap into life in God’s eternal presence.

                                                                                                                In the Love of Christ,

                                                                                                                Pastor Jim

                                                                                

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