Pastor: The Rev. Maurice Mitchell
201 East Main Street, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133
I was reading my morning devotion the other day and ran across a timely meditation for myself, as well as for others. So, I thought I’d share part of it. You should read Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 first.
“As we live through the different seasons of life sometimes we are faced with unexpected changes. Accidents, natural disasters, children going off to college and/or getting married, job transfers (pastors being called elsewhere or retiring) and the like – take us by surprise and change our perspective for better or worse. Perhaps you’ve been fortunate enough to have seen a difficult situation turn around for the better. Or maybe you’ve gone through a sudden change in your life, a time when things went from good to bad or from bad to worse.
“It’s easy and natural at times to wonder why God allows certain events to happen. In what has become the best-known portion of Ecclesiastes, Solomon lets us know that, this side of heaven; we’ll never fully understand why such things occur.”
As you look back on your life, can you see any events or experiences that at the time seemed useless – or worse, even harmful? Over time, good can result from those experiences. Perhaps you’ve had experiences for which you can see no positive benefit whatsoever? That’s when faith enters the picture. Because we read that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who has been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), we can believe and rely on God to keep His promise to us. Change is part of life, all we need to do is keep close to God as these changes come along.
I am closing one chapter of my life and looking forward to a new one. That change affects this church and community. My prayer is that after some uncertainty, the change will be a blessing for all of those affected. God bless!
Five loaves + two fish = plenty for everyone + 12 baskets of leftovers.
What sort of math is that? It’s God’s math, of course. In God’s way of tallying, things always come out better than our school mathematics classes would lead us to believe. Read Matthew 14:13-21
Here are some more examples of God’s math:
• 100% - 10% = 100% (see Malachi 3:10)
• 1 wrong + 1 right = enemy into a friend (see Matthew 5:44-45)
• 7 x 70 > 490 (see Matthew 18:21-22, RSV)
• 99 + 1 = great joy (see Luke 15:3-7)
• 1 Christian + the Holy Spirit = 3,000 converts (see Acts 2:14-41)
God’s math doesn’t simply make do, or provide just enough. God’s math provides super abundance.
The account of the boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish wasn’t much for a multitude, though Matthew doesn’t tell us where the food came from. But the boy shared what he had. Then Jesus took charge, blessed what they had, gave it to them and it was enough, and more. After everyone had eaten “and were full,” there was enough left to fill “twelve baskets.”
There was healing for the hurting and food for the hungry. Jesus took care of the people. He provided for their needs.
Now we are the disciples. We look at the vast needs of the world and are at a loss. Jesus can still work a miracle. He urges us to take what we have, share it, and give it away. And it is enough and then some.
Here is one more example of God’s math: One sinner + God’s grace = a forgiven child of God. Oh, yes, and it comes with a mansion!
We can’t out give God! What will you share to build the kingdom?
This month, I am writing this article with a different purpose. As most of you are aware by now: on Sunday, May 20th, I announced my plans to retire this fall, effective the end of September. It has been a privilege to serve as your pastor for what has now been 25 years. This May I celebrated my 68th birthday. While I have never thought of age as a deciding factor, and still don’t, it simply feels to Debbie and I like the right time for us to move into a new chapter of our lives.
The decision hasn’t come easily, but the timing seems right. We knew that one obstacle to my retirement was a place to live. After a little while of searching, we found, what we think, is the ideal home for our retirement years. It is in Wilmington, not too far away.
I have been in conversation with Rev. Dr. Nancy Kahaian, our Presbytery’s General Presbyter. She and a representative from the Committee on Ministry will be meeting soon with the Session to outline the steps in the search process for a new pastor.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, while this may have come as a bit of a shock, it is not something totally unexpected. If you really considered it, you have known that I was approaching that time in my life and ministry. As the transition takes place over the next few months, I ask you to remember this above all else: while I am moving on, God is staying put. In the words of God’s prophet, Jeremiah:
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NIV).
Pastor Maurice Mitchell
When we moved into the manse on Walnut St, there was a little pine tree next the driveway. It was about five feet tall, a nice little round tree. It’s still there, but it’s not little anymore. At first, I trimmed it to shape it. After three or four years, it was too big to reach the top branches, so I let “nature take its course”. It’s probably close to 30 feet tall (and no I didn’t climb up and measure it!). After all, God designed it to grow strong and tall, reaching for the sky.
I am amazed at how fast my grandsons, Caleb and Austen, have grown, just like that tree. They will soon be as tall as their grandmother!
It’s important for us to grow closer to God. How do we do that? By carefully tending our hearts and souls to seek out God. We do that by spending time with God in prayer and worship. Read Mark 6:45-46.
It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus’ effectiveness in ministering to the needs of others was borne out of His times of communion with His Heavenly Father (read Luke 5:16-17).
Each one of us has the opportunity to cultivate a daily devotional life. Time spent alone, in the scriptures and in prayer each day, will bear fruit in our lives as we experience an ever-deepening relationship with our heavenly Father.
Those who are willing to shut out the clamor and demands of each day’s activity, in order to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words, will experience a closeness that most believers long to achieve.
Let God grow you into the best person, the best disciple, you can be. Study His word and spend time in His presence.
It seems odd to me that Easter falls on April 1st (better known as April Fools’ Day). In the last century this has occurred only 4 times. You may remember a couple of them. It has happened only once in my lifetime, but I hadn’t started school yet, so I don’t remember. It occurred in 1923, 1934, 1945, 1956, and will again in 2029.
In Western Christianity (including the Roman Catholic church and all Protestant churches), Easter Sunday always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after Spring Equinox [or the Pascal (Passover) moon]. Easter can fall as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th.
Now, a little history about April Fools’ Day. April Fools' Day is an annual celebration in some European and Western countries commemorated on April 1st by playing practical jokes and spreading hoaxes. The victims are called April Fools. Some newspapers, magazines and other published media report fake stories, which are usually explained the next day or below the news section in small letters. Although popular since the 19th century, the day is not a public holiday in any country.
When real events happen on April 1st, folks tend to not believe the news. For example: On April 1, 1946 there was a warning about the Aleutian Island earthquake's tsunami that resulted in the deaths of 165 people in Hawaii and Alaska.
In the Middle Ages, New Year's Day was celebrated on March 25th in most of Europe. In some areas of France, New Year's was a week-long holiday ending on April 1st Some writers suggest that April Fools' originated because those who celebrated on January 1st made fun of those who continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1st.
According to Old Testament scriptures, a fool is the opposite of a wise person. The early Christians, therefore, were considered fools because they believed in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul testifies: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-23).
It may seem foolish, but we have God’s word as proof! No fooling, Jesus is alive!
* * * * *
I have heard people say, and at times I’ve said it myself, that they just can’t understand parts of the Bible, or that they don’t get anything out of it. In my experience, one of the biggest reasons the Bible remains a mystery to people, is because they simply don’t read it.
You and I are not the first to feel overwhelmed or confused by the Bible. In one of his books, Robert Farrar Capon says that when human beings try to describe God we are like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. We simply cannot comprehend something so utterly beyond us. Our brains are simply not adequate to understand God in His fullness. The best we can do is point a trembling finger toward Jesus and declare, “If you want to know what God is like, look at this Man. Look at how He lived and how He died. This is what God is like.”
As you read God’s Word, ask Him to give you understanding. Ask Him to make those portions of Scripture that are difficult to grasp, clearer to you. Ask Him to make the familiar passages fresh and alive. Ask Him to reveal Himself and His ways to you.
As I write this article we are about 10 days into the season of Lent (a period of forty days before Easter, not counting Sundays). I challenge you to read at least one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) between now and Easter. That would be only about a chapter a day. There is a total of 89 chapters in the four Gospels.
As you read, pause frequently to meditate on the meaning of what you are reading. Absorb the Word by dwelling on it, pondering it, and going over it again and again, in your mind, until it becomes a part of you. As we prepare for Easter, let us give thanks to a God Who loves us in spite of our sins, and freely offers us mercy and grace.
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February is a short month, but full of special days: Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, and this year, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
One of the predominant messages of the Bible is that “God is love” (Read 1 John 4). Some folks might say something to the effect of, “Really? God is love? Well, if that’s true, then how could He have allowed…?” – and out comes a painful story.
Maybe something happened to you. Something was done to you. Something devastated you, and you cannot accept or understand that pain with the message that God loves. Paul had a major physical affliction, the nature of which we don’t really know, but the severity of it is not in question (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). But God was able to use it for His kingdom.
You need to know that the way out of your problem is not to deny God’s love or run from God, but instead, to embrace His love. Too often we define God’s love only as protecting, caring, and blessing us.
Most people would agree that when you love someone, you protect them. God’s love is a protecting love, but it’s not always a preventing love. God doesn’t always keep back things and trials from happening. I always want to protect my grandsons, but sometimes, as grandparents and parents, we have to let them learn from their mistakes. But we are there to help them up when they fall. Like a parent, God can tell us how we should live, but He won’t stop us from making mistakes. We learn best from our mistakes. Don’t we? I do!
For me, here’s the single best way to describe God’s love in my life: He loves me with a perfecting love. You, too, are under construction, my friend. God is working on you. There will be difficult times, but you can trust Him. He loves you with an everlasting love.
The ultimate sign of love is seen when God was willing to send His Son to die for us. This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. What greater Valentine could we receive then the reminder of God’s redeeming sacrifice for us?
My grandparents paid attention to the moon signs, and they read the “Farmers’ Almanac” regularly. They tried to plant potatoes on Good Friday, and other things by the moon signs. This comes to mind, because the last few months have been a busy time for astrologers. Last August 21st a total solar eclipse traveled across the United States. Many people traveled miles and miles to witness the event. Our eclipse was about 90%. If you want to plan ahead, there will be a total solar eclipse near us on April 8th, 2024. The total eclipse will be in Fairfield, Dayton, and extend to most of northwestern Ohio.
This winter another unusual event takes place in the skies above us. I assume you have heard of a “blue moon.” (A “blue moon” occurs when two full moon phases occur in the same calendar month.) It is fairly rare, often happening only once a year, if then. We didn’t have a “blue moon” in 2017. This is where the phrase “Once in a Blue Moon” comes from.
This winter we will experience two “blue moons”. One in January (on the 1st and on the 31st), and again in March (again, on the 1st and the 31st). This January/March event took place back in 2010 and will again in 2024. There can never be a “blue moon” in the month of February, because the cycle for the moon is 29½ days.
This also causes Easter to be on Sunday, April 1st this year (no April fooling!). Easter hasn’t fallen on April 1st since 1956, and won’t again until 2029.
Now most of us don’t pay much attention to the sun and moon, unless the sun is hidden too long behind clouds, but that is how the Israelites counted time.
The reason for all this info on our solar system and moon signs is not that they are rare, but it is all on God’s schedule, and part of God’s plan. How about you? Did you realize that God has a plan or you and your life? Read Jeremiah 29:11. Are you following God’s plan for your life?
This is the time of year when much of the world comes to a standstill in recognition of the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s also a time when peace and goodwill are rather glibly talked about, but though wonderful sidebars to the birth of Christ, they are not the reason why Christians celebrate Christmas.
To Joseph, the angel of the Lord said, “She (Mary) will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 – read all of Matthew, chapter 1). And to the shepherds, the angel said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Through Adam, we were born spiritually dead and incapable of behaving as we were created to behave.
We live in a world dominated by corruption, greed and prejudice, so it’s easy to blame things on the state of the world. But the problem is that the world is made up of people like you and I. Unless we understand that Jesus came into the world to save us from our sin, Christmas will not be much more than a sentimental occasion for celebration. To understand His birth, we need to leave Bethlehem behind and go about a little over six miles up the road to Jerusalem. It is there, at the cross of Jesus, the penalty for our sin was paid, and it was the only way our relationship with God can be restored.
The greatest need of every human being is to be saved. Christmas is the beginning of the story of our salvation; a Baby was born in Bethlehem, sent into this world by a loving God to become the pure and flawless Lamb to die in our place. As Christians, we celebrate the birth of our Savior, because as the angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “He will save His people from their sins,” we know – we are the sinners He came to save.
Celebrate the true reason for the season – the Gift of God’s Son!
Christianity is not a solo sport. It’s not like skiing, golf, archery, or bowling. My point is: it’s a team thing, that God has designed. We’re part of a team. You were never meant to get this done by yourself. That’s why Paul prays in Ephesians 3:18-19 (read Ephesians 3:14-19), “That you … may have strength to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”’
We need to remember that “you” in English can be singular or plural. The folks in the southern regions of our great land have a great expression – y’all – meaning ‘you’ plural. Read that passage again, but replace each “you” with a “y’all” and each “your” with a “y’all’s.” Now y’all are getting the picture!
When Paul was praying for the Ephesian church (and the rest of us), he was praying for us as a group, made up of individuals, who are redeemed sinners, or saints. God sees you (yes, you!) as part of His Church, part of His Body – not some lone ranger or superhero living for Him.
November 1st is All Saints’ Day. For centuries it has been a day set aside to thank God for all the believers who lived faithful lives, as examples for us all.
During November we tend to remember our blessings and pause to give thanks. So, this month remember to celebrate the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1-2), who serve as examples for us. Also remember: we are called to be examples of faithfulness for the next generations. The question is: Will future generations give thanks for you? Now is the time to make a choice. I take a stand with Joshua (read Joshua 24:15). How about you?
“We Remember the Reformation”
This month we celebrate the 500th anniversary of a pivotal event in the life of the Christian Church. Martin Luther came to reject several teachings and practices of the institutional church (the Roman Catholic Church). He strongly disputed the Catholic view on indulgences as he understood it to be, that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money.
Luther proposed an academic discussion of the practice and efficacy of indulgences. On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences", which came to be known as the Ninety-Five Theses. Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices. Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: "Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?"
Luther taught that salvation and, consequently, eternal life are not earned by good deeds, but are received only as the free gift of God's grace through the believer's faith in Jesus Christ as Redeemer. His theology challenged the authority and office of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God.
The Reformation marks a time when some in the church felt there was a need to get back to the foundation of the Christian faith. (Remember, the common people couldn’t read, and if they could, the Bible was only available in Latin). The people could only believe what they were taught.
There was talk of Christ and faith, of sin and grace, but the foundation was not quite right, because along with that came more talk, calling for a need to do something to guarantee one’s salvation. This was not some crude salvation by works, but rather a more subtle salvation by faith finished with or supplemented by works. It sounds good, but it is a little off the mark. But in fact, the message of faith, plus works, left people groping for certainty.
“How much is enough?” the young monk Luther asked himself. Only when Luther understood that the “righteousness” God required was not a quantity Luther had to achieve, but rather a quality God gives in and through Christ. Only then did Luther know the assurance of his eternal salvation. As the saying goes: “It’s not what you know, or do, but Who you know that makes the difference.”
The salvation God gives is through the gift of Jesus the Christ with His grace and love, through His life, death, and resurrection. In a sense, the Reformation was refocusing on the grace, freely offered through God’s Son. Read John 8:31-36.
Salvation is nothing fancy, or demanding. The promise of God’s love is sure.
Conventional wisdom says that Christianity’s best spokespersons are the Chuck Swindolls, Billy Grahams, and James Dobsons of the world, who serve in the public arena. But guess what? Out in the real world – few people have even heard of them (except for Billy Graham), let alone heard their message. These individuals and others are extra-ordinarily effective at speaking to and equipping Christians, but it’s up to us, the men and women in the trenches of daily life, that makes the real difference.
I believe that the most effective disciples of Jesus Christ in the public arena will:
• Have never asked for money on radio or television,
• Not be on the payroll of any Christian organization,
• Through competence and knowledge of their own “secular” profession, have earned the right to be heard,
• Know and love God’s Word, and
• Understand that Christianity is relevant to daily life.
Yes, that means you! Research shows that the vast majority of people (70-80%) come to faith and join a congregation, because of a friend or relative, not some “professional” Christian. Read the ‘Great Commission’ (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus is not only talking to the eleven disciples, but also to you and me in the 21st century.
So, what are you communicating to those around you? Do you help, or hinder, the message of God’s unconditional love?
It’s something you see every day. Everyone, who is 60 or so years-of-age, probably doesn’t remember a time without it. What is it, you ask? Television.
I don’t really remember not having a television, but I do remember going to our neighbors to see their new innovation, colored television (and it wasn’t just the cabinet, the picture was in color!). It’s easy for the younger generations to think television was always around, along with kindergarten, microwave ovens and cell phones (I didn’t go to kindergarten, it wasn’t available at my school until I was too old).
I admit that life without much of the trash on TV would be nice. But television in itself isn’t bad. It’s just that once human beings get hold of something, we inevitably use it to fulfill our own desires. The instrument, or device, isn’t good or bad. It’s what its used for, and how it’s used.
In Exodus 4, Moses had a staff (a walking stick or shepherd’s crook). Moses used the staff in his everyday life. Read Exodus 4:1-5. God had just told the prince-turned-shepherd that he would lead God’s people out of slavery. Moses had his doubts. God asked, “What is that in your hand?” God changed Moses’ simple staff, his useful tool, into a serpent, an example of God’s power. Moses was afraid and ran from it. Moses later used that staff as an instrument to make miracles happen for the Hebrew people.
It’s easy to think, “When the kids get out of school, I’ll be able to do more for the Lord.” Or, “I’ll get involved in ministry after I retire, I’ll have more time then.”
But you can serve God right now! No one is talent-less. You say you can’t sing or teach a class. Do you have a pen? Write a note to a shut-in, or someone you missed seeing. Volunteer at a service agency. Most can always use good volunteers.
God created the world out of nothing. Surely, He can use you with all the talents and abilities you already have. And you never know, you may develop a new talent. Someone has said, “God doesn’t call those who are able, God enables those He calls.” What does God have instore for you?
Former TV political correspondent Tabitha Soren once said: “No matter how secular our culture becomes, it will remain drenched in the Bible. Since we will be haunted by the Bible, even if you don’t know it, doesn’t it make sense to read it?” I’m afraid that seems less and less true. Still the Bible remains the most important book in history. But who wrote the Scriptures? Is the Bible true? Can it be trusted?
Read 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21. The Bible itself makes a fantastic claim about its authorship. The author is God. The Scriptures were inspired and breathed out by God. The Bible is a holy and divine book because it comes from a holy and divine source – God.
How did God do it? The writers of the Bible “were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, NIV), and as God spoke to them, they wrote. This means that God used their personalities, vocabularies, experiences, and culture to record exactly what He wanted written. The Bible is true.
But can it be trusted? Yes, because of its prophecy and unity. The overall theme of the Bible is humankind’s salvation through Jesus Christ. The Old Testament contains over 300 prophecies, many giving specific details of the life of Jesus. Statistician Peter Stoner has calculated that the probability of five major prophecies coming to pass by chance would be one in two quintillion. It’s comprised of 66 books, written by some 40 different authors, over 1,500 years. Yet, it is a unified book about one theme: Jesus Christ.
Because the Bible is God’s Word, we should spend time reading it every day and respond to it with humble submission to its authority. I have found a helpful app for my cell phone. It is “YouVersion”; it is a free Bible on your phone, tablet, and computer. YouVersion is a simple, ad-free Bible that brings God’s Word into your daily life (Check it out at www.youversion.com). You may choose short or long-term daily reading, that take 5 minutes or less. There are devotions for adults, youth, and even kids. Give it a try!
The Bible should be our standard of living. Set aside a little time each day to read the letter God has written to you.
The end of this month our nation has set aside a day to remember the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, serving our nation. We thank them, as well as those who courageously served in the armed forces, during times of peace and times of conflict.
Every day, hundreds of Americans receive military honors at their funerals. The Department Veterans Affairs estimate that 372 World War II veterans die every day. There aren’t too many left. At their service a two-person uniformed honor guard folds and presents a United States flag to the surviving family members, followed by a solemn rendition of Taps. To address concerns over a shortage of qualified buglers, the Defense Department has approved an electronic bugle that plays the song automatically when a stand-in places a horn to his or her lips.
Sometimes innovative substitutes will meet the requirements, but nothing beats the real thing when it comes to relationships. Paul rarely passed up an opportunity to meet with believers on his missionary journeys (read Acts 20:1-6). Why was this important to him? God created each of us with a deep desire for relationships with real people. So, God put followers of His Son into a family called “the church” and has asked us to make meeting together a high priority.
I worry about our younger generations, who seem to prefer relationships on their wireless phones or other electronic devices then face-to-face relationships.
As a believer, are you really involved with your church family, where you can share your life, concerns, and blessings with others? Watching worship on television and listening to Christian music may meet a need in your spiritual life. But consider how it compares to real life, face-to-face encouragement, and the opportunity to reach out and serve.
We hope to see you this coming Sunday!
From where I’m sitting, I can see the folder holding my 2016 tax papers. It makes me want to get up and do about anything else. I don’t like preparing, nor paying my taxes. I’m always thankful when April 15th is behind me for another 12 months (this year we have until April 18th). And I assume most of you feel the same way. I haven’t met a person yet who jumps up and down with enthusiasm about paying taxes.
What if you received a personal letter from the IRS that said, “Dear what-ever-your-name-is, someone else has paid your taxes in full, and left an open tab so you’ll never have to sweat April 15th again”? Wouldn’t that be incredible?
That’s a limited metaphor for what Jesus did on the cross. His blood paid the price for our sins, forever. The theme of judgment is very real in Scripture. The Old Testament gives us the Ten Commandments and other laws, to show us how God intends us to live. They really don’t help us live a righteous, godly life; they show us where we fall short. We are also told what we must do to atone for our sins. The problem is we can never do enough, or be good enough, long enough. A permanent solution required the death of God’s Son. Then, and only then, was God’s justice fully satisfied. Our Judge became our Father. Therefore, if we put our faith in Christ, we will never face the punishment our sins deserve. Our debt is paid in full (read John 3:16-17).
I wish I could tell you how to get your taxes paid-in-full forever, but I can’t. I can tell you how to have your sins paid-in-full: accept God’s mercy and grace offered in the atoning death of Jesus the Christ, our Lord.
As the old hymn reminds us:
“Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”
As I considered the subject of my article for this month, it seemed appropriate to consider the meaning of Lent, since it begins on March 1st this year. The season of Lent has not been emphasized in many Protestant churches, largely because it was associated with “high church” liturgical worship, that some churches were eager to reject. Many of those churches are now recovering many aspects of the older Christian traditions as a means to re-focus on spirituality in a culture that is increasingly secular.
Originating in the 4th century, the season of Lent spans 40 weekdays. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the day before Easter. Ash Wednesday’s name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on the worshippers’ foreheads as a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow for the sins of the world. The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry by facing the temptations that could lead Him to abandon His mission and calling. Originally, Lent was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism on Easter Day. And since these new members were to be received into a living community of faith, the entire community was called to prepare.
Today, Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord. Since Sundays celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days, and are referred to as the Sundays in Lent.
Christians today focus on it as a time of prayer, especially penance, repenting for failures and sin as a way to admit our need for God’s grace. It is a time of preparation to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption made possible by our Lord’s crucifixion, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians.
An appropriate prayer to pray during Lent is the prayer of the publican in the Temple (Luke 18:13). “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Did you make a New Year’s resolution to start a diet, or join a gym or the YMCA?
If you watch any television, you have seen advertisement after advertisement for diets and gyms. And of course, they all promise great results. After the holidays and facing a new year, people want to be healthier in the new year. So, they resolve to start a diet or exercise program.
It is reported that 16% of new health club members join the 2nd week of January. Only 1 in 5 who sign-up, actually use it. That’s only 20%. 80% of those who made New Year’s resolutions drop off by the 2nd week of February. And by the end of February only 1 to 2% remains.
We easily give up because it takes too much effort. But the old saying holds true – “No pain, no gain!”
To achieve strong muscles, you have to use them. If I needed to move a cement block, I could do it, as long as I didn’t have to take it too far. But if I moved a cement block every day, I would soon be able to move it easier or farther.
The same goes for our faith. Maybe that’s why we have trials, to prepare us for bigger trials. Or to be able to support a brother or sister, as they endure a trial. If our faith isn’t tested, we may lose it. We slip into thinking that we can handle whatever comes along on our own. Consider James 1:12: “12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (NIV).
Now I’m not saying that we should look for hardships, but we can lean on God and one another, whatever the new year holds.
“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… 27 So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them” (Genesis 1). Read all of Genesis, chapter 1.
If you and I are to truly believe that we’re made in the image of God, shouldn’t there be evidence that we are indeed godlike? Dare we even be so presumptuous, knowing that our first forebears were made from the dust of a tiny planet in a remote corner of a vast universe by a creator God whose intelligence and power defies imagination? How is it remotely possible that we could be like such a God? God is spirit and we are but dust. Then again, we’re not just any old dust. We are dust that breathes … and dust that dies. And – if the end of the story be told – we are souls made for eternity.
Is it possible that we have overlooked the obvious – that we too are creators? No, it doesn’t mean that you and I are purposed to create a cosmic universe from nothing. It simply means that, like God, we too can dream big dreams and have the creativity to make them happen! In crafting this intricate universe, God was a genius engineer, architect, scientist, musician, mathematician, and artist. And all to His glory. To be made in the image of the Creator is to be a creature who creates! Whether it be breathtaking beauty in music or art, sheer genius in math, or molding a child into a precious person of faith, God has gifted us all with a tiny touch of His own creative spark. In the new year ahead, how can you use your creative abilities to benefit your community and the world?
Do you think you could capture Niagara Falls in a teacup? How can a helpless baby contain the Creator of the universe? Does anyone pretend to understand the awesome love in the heart of God, that inspired, motivated, and brought about Christmas?
God entered our world not with the crushing impact of unbearable glory, but in a vulnerable Child. On a lonely night in an obscure cave near Bethlehem, the Son of God became a humble, naked, and helpless infant. God has come to us and allowed us to get close to Him.
Take a moment and read Colossians 1:15-20 (especially verse 19).
The Bethlehem mystery will always be a scandal to those who seek a triumphant Savior and a prosperity Gospel. The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances. His parents were of no social significance, and His chosen welcoming committee were all losers – dirt-poor shepherds.
Pious imagination and nostalgic music rob Christmas of its shock value, but the “poor in spirit” tremble at the stable in adoration of the in-breaking of God Almighty. All the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, 30-foot trees, and thundering church bells put together create less chaos than the infant Jesus, when, instead of remaining a statue in a manger or a crib, He comes alive and delivers us from ourselves. He opened the door of Heaven to let us in.
Don’t forget the reason for the season! Merry Christmas!
Read Ezra 3:10-13.
On October 3, 1863, at the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Thanksgiving, calling the nation to observe a “day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” This proclamation eventually led to the establishing of our national day of Thanksgiving.
The document began by listing multiple blessings the nation had experienced through the course of the year, even in the midst of a severe conflict. It called the American people to recognize the Source of those blessings and to respond collectively to the Giver in gratitude, repentance, and intercession. Here’s an excerpt:
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
“And I recommend to them that… they do also with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience … fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
Set against a background of divisive conflict, our nation’s leader in the 1860s was humble enough to know that our nation needed God and needed to be grateful. This kind of heart is no less needed in our nation today than it was then. Our nation isn’t in physical combat, but there is an ongoing war of words that has become more heated by the day.
The call to gratitude goes beyond the church and into every avenue of life. Pray today for a humble, grateful, repentant spirit to be born in our own hearts, and among our leaders at every level.
Remember the old Verizon Wireless commercial, where the actor walks all over the place and keeps asking: “Can you hear me now?” Of course, Verizon wanted consumers to know that their cell phone coverage was everywhere.
Now the same actor is working for Sprint. He tells his fellow actor that he now promotes Sprint, because their coverage is within 1% of Verizon’s and it costs much less.
Let’s admit it, we all want to be heard. As a parent, or a teacher, have you ever said, “Listen, you need to hear this?”
Listen to the message God sent to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah: “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life (Isaiah 55:3). Read the larger passage Isaiah 55:1-6. God wants our attention. He wants our ears wide open – and our hearts wide open too. In other words, we could pray our prayers and then just walk away. But suppose we learn to wait in His presence, listening for His response? Isn’t prayer a two-way conversation, after all?
I’ve probably shared this before, but praying without pausing to listen is like stopping to ask for directions, and then speeding off before the person has a chance to actually give you directions!
Sometimes I think I have God all figured out. I’ve been a pastor for 40 years and a Christian longer than that, and it’s easy for me to “assume” that I know what God wishes to say. How silly! How arrogant! I am a finite creature, and God is infinite. I must listen, if I am to know even a tiny fragment of God’s full reality.
And while I can know God to the extent His self-revelation allows, it all depends on the level of my listening. Ears open; heart open. That’s how I want to be today. How about you? Let’s pray and listen…
In times of crisis it’s difficult to know whom to trust. Put your trust in the wrong people, and you could end up in serious trouble. Consider a civil war, for example. Who among your neighbors is a secret informant, and who is on your side? Because we can never be completely sure, it’s not surprising that normally we would turn to trusted friends for advice and counsel. But what if those friends are wrong – or not as loyal as we thought? That was the problem with pitiful King Zedekiah (read Jeremiah 37-38, especially verses 38:20-28). In the time of siege, he ended up trusting the wrong source. King Zedekiah sought Jeremiah’s advice, but went with the wishes of the princes of the land. Why anyone would take another person’s word over God’s is a mystery. Even if the truth is ugly, it still remains the truth! One can live in denial only so long before running headlong into the truth. Just ask Zedekiah!
Because there’s no way we can be totally sure of any human advice, our safest course of action is to seek God’s counsel.
I’ve heard stories of churches in China that have had only one Bible for an entire congregation. They take that Bible, tear out pages, and give them to individual members of the congregation to memorize. For many of these underground Christians, Bibles are as valuable as gold – even more so. We need to see that same value in God’s Word and not take it for granted. As Psalm 19:9-10 states, “The laws of the LORD … are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold.”
Do you look for a quarter if you drop it? I do. Let’s say that you somehow misplaced one million dollars. Do you think you would search for it? My point is that there is buried gold in the pages of Scripture. When you’re reading through the Bible think about it as though you were mining for gold. You need to get into it, search it, and find all the treasure that’s in the Bible for you. Don’t know where to start? Start with the Gospel of John, or join the Adult Sunday School class, or our upcoming Bible study.