Daily Reflections is published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday as a part of spiritual formation during this time of CoVid-19. May you be encouraged that God is with you!
Life and Faith and God in the Extremity
Sermons and Reflections on Job, Acts, John and Matthew
|Monday, June 1, 2020 – Peace|
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This third appearance of Jesus, after his resurrection, happened while the disciples were gathered in a room locked from the inside. They were afraid; fearful they might be apprehended and arrested for having been associated with Jesus. We can only imagine what they were talking about as they met together in that room.
As the passage begins, they have heard from Mary Magdalene that she had seen and spoken with the resurrected Lord. They have also heard from Peter and John that the tomb was empty. For them, the death of Jesus must have seemed final; thoughts of any promised resurrection must have dissipated after they had either watched or heard of Jesus’ final breath and burial.
Suddenly, while the disciples are conversing that Sunday evening, the resurrected Jesus comes and stands among them! This would have caused a whole new set of fears. They are well aware of their own failings as his closest friends. They have seen the consequences of their denials, betrayals and their fear of being associated with Jesus. What would Jesus’ first words to them be?
Jesus says to them: “Peace be with you.” These words were exactly what this fearful band of followers needed to hear as they approach the next chapter of life and ministry. It’s what we need to hear as well. Peace, given to us by Christ, is certain. It is peace that renews our hope and confidence in the future. It is a peace assured between God and us; a peace within ourselves; a peace between us and neighbor.
It is the peace of Christ that we carry into our homes, communities, churches, businesses and schools. It is a peace that calls us to work to resolve racial injustice. It is a peace that will break down walls of division and hostility. It is a peace infused with the courage needed to heal wounds, to build bridges, to forgive and be forgiven, and to establish justice, equity, unity and equality for all in our communities, nation and world. Peace is a gift. Peace is now our reality because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Let us pray,
Lord Jesus Christ, you told your fearful followers, “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Lord, you give to us peace. Guide us today toward the perfect unity you share with the Father and is established in the realm of your kingdom forever. Enable us to share with one another a sign of that reconciliation and peace in the ways we speak and act toward one another. Remind us today that it is as we love one another that we love you. Amen.
Peace in Christ,
Sr. Associate Pastor
|Friday, May 29, 2020 – The Spirit Finds Us Wherever We Are Scattered|
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
I’ve never noticed before how Luke begins this account of Pentecost. “They were all together in one place.” That hasn’t mattered much to me until this year. Don’t we wish we were “all together in one place”—particularly in our LPC sanctuary!
It started me thinking about times through history when these same words might have leapt off the page for Christians who were scattered. A few years ago we saw pictures of bombed out Christian churches in Syria. Only a handful of members remained and worshipped in the midst of the ruins, while most had joined the long lines of refugees fleeing the violence. In every war, displaced civilians, soldiers, and prisoners of war have wished with all their might to be home—all in one place with those they loved.
Over the past weeks, we have been looking at some of what Jesus told his disciples at his Last Supper. Again and again he promised that he would not leave them “orphaned” or alone, that he would come to them. On Pentecost Jesus fulfilled that promise, by sending his Holy Spirit who would be with them all when they are gathered, and also with each of them when they are scattered.
The wind of the Holy Spirit is not bound to any one place. The Spirit finds us wherever we are scattered. Some of you are reading this from your makeshift “working at home” desk. Others from your hospital room or from behind the closed door of a senior living apartment. The only time you see another person is when your meals are delivered to your room twice a day, but the wind of God’s Spirit finds you anyway.
This week our Session established a task force to consider how and when we can safely begin to regather. It’s not as simple as it sounds! Our staff has been gathering wise advice from Hoag Hospital’s Parish Nurse program and from other churches and pastors in our community and in our presbytery. This week I found myself envying churches who have a regional bishop who sends out a list of regulations for regathering. In the Reformed tradition, we believe that the Spirit often speaks through a multitude of voices, so we aim to listen to the Spirit speaking through one another. It is slower and messier, but it is often wise, and it is a way which I cherish. June 7, a week from Sunday we will have an online Zoom Congregational meeting and town hall discussion with Q&A. Join in and listen to this same Spirit of Pentecost speaking in you and through one another.
Holy Spirit, Breath of God,
Thank you that you do not leave us orphaned, but that you are with us even in these scattered days. Give us each and all together your wisdom. Amen.
|Wednesday, May 26, 2020 – “In Tragedy, Care for the Vulnerable”|
“Surely one does not turn against the needy, when in disaster they cry for help. Did I not weep for those whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the poor? But when I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came.”
As we have seen in our recent examination of Job, he was a very successful and well-respected leader who lost everything: his wealth, his family, his health, his friends, and his reputation. He is barely holding on to life. He has spent his life invested in the goodness and justice of God, but now God is silent and he has no clue why.
We live in days when tragedy is striking millions around the world and close to home. Some of us feel like we are at the end of our rope, but there are some nearby who may be in far worse shape. Job, in the midst of his own mess, articulates an ethic he practiced when life was good. He believed that the care of the vulnerable during their hard times would lead to his continued blessing and success. But he has discovered this is not true.
He did help those in need, especially in disaster. He did weep for those who were having a hard time. He did grieve for the poor. But in doing so, life did not get better for him. Life got worse. “When I waited for light, darkness came”.
Jesus becomes the New Testament response to Job: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend (even for an enemy)”. Jesus experienced the eclipse of God in his life at the end – forsaken by God, his own father. He descended into total destitution and a criminal’s execution. He was paraded before the world as a despicable human being and then killed.
Job is now being publicly humiliated, having been a rising and shining star of his world. But he has decided, “even if God kills me, I will trust him” (Job 13:15). And in trusting God he will continue to help those in need, weep for those having a hard time, and grieve for the poor.
Job discovered what Jesus knew: the big payoff in caring for the vulnerable is not success in life, but the profound experience of loving other human beings, especially when life is hard. Loving God, even when apparently absent, and other human beings, is what can lift us in the darkness and carry us into Heaven.
The greatest wisdom in life is discovering God is love even during great pandemics. The greatest proof of our trust in God during these terrible days is that we care for one another, and more so, for the vulnerable. We can lose everything, but if we continue to love – to lay down our lives for others – love will carry us through to the end and into a new beginning.
Service to others is no guarantee of health and wealth but it is living proof God is alive and loving when there are no other visible signs of goodness, and the world seems full of darkness. Bring a little light to where you are isolated – call a friend. Better yet, zoom an enemy and say you are thinking about them and want to know how they are.
God of Loving-Kindness, Lord Jesus of Compassion, Holy Spirit of Consolation, in our isolation and frustration, help us to trust you, like Job. Even when we are barely hanging on, help us to be concerned for others. Deepen our resolve to love all the way to the end. Amen.
Monday, May 25, 2020 – Remembrance
Today is a day to remember and honor. As I took my walk this morning I looked around at all of the American flags flying to give respect and thanks on this Memorial Day. I came home and did some research on the origination and development of this holiday. It started out with the name “Decoration Day” after the U.S. Civil War when over 625,000 Americans lost their lives. After WWI and for all wars and conflicts following, the day was observed to remember and “memorialize” military personnel who died in all wars. In 1968, Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” to make “Memorial Day” the last Monday of May. Our country has put this day aside to honor and give thanks for those in our military who paid the ultimate price for our liberty and freedom.
Last year, I had the privilege to preside at a graveside service for a U.S. Marine at Riverside National Cemetery. As I walked with the family, we passed by gravestone after gravestone. It was humbling. I took my time as I read the names and dates. There were some who had fought in multiple wars. One read “WWII, Korea and Vietnam”, another “Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq”. Then there was a young man at the age of 18 who gave his life in Afghanistan. A young woman at the age of 25 who gave her life in Iraq. It stopped me in my tracks as my eyes welled up with tears with appreciation and respect. I thought about how much I take for granted living day in and day out in the United States of America. I made a pledge to always remember.
I encourage you to stop in your tracks sometime today. Take some time to reflect upon all that you appreciate and enjoy about this country that was made possible by their sacrifice. Take some time to give thanks for the freedoms that we experience each and every day. Take some time to pray for those families who have lost a loved one who has served in the military. Lastly, pray for our country, that the same spirit of sacrifice we honor this day, may carry over to how we live, treat and bless others for their good.
In remembrance and with gratitude,
|Friday, May 22, 2020 – “God Is with Us”|
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
|The Parthenon, Athens, Greece. Dedicated to Athena Parthenos and built from 447-438 B.C. The sculptural compositions were completed in 432 B.C. (Photo credit: Beth Pinney, May 2019.)|
|It was just a little more than a year ago that 42 of us were in Athens at the conclusion of our 2-week trip through Greece. The very last thing we did together was to climb the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and to stand on the Areopagus (Mars Hill)—the very spot from which Paul spoke in this Scripture. |
Almost every ancient Greek city had an acropolis—a hill fortified for protection from enemies. In Athens at the time of Paul, the great Acropolis was topped with temples to several Greek gods. The largest of these temples was the Parthenon—the temple of Athena, the namesake goddess of Athens—with its 40’ gold and ivory statue of Athena which would catch the sunlight and reflect it over the city.
The Areopagus where Paul spoke is a rocky outcropping part way up the climb to the top of the Acropolis. Paul had been talking about Jesus with the philosophers in the agora (market place) just below that outcropping, and they invited him to come up to the Areopagus where he could more formally present his arguments for his faith in this “foreign god,” Jesus.
When Paul said he had observed their statues to so many gods, he wasn’t kidding. They were everywhere, and right above Paul and his audience was the most magnificent of them all, the Parthenon and its shining statue of Athena. How bold of Paul to stand in its shadow and declare that the true God does not live in shrines made by human hands, like gold, or silver, or in an image formed by the art and imagination of people. No, the God we seek then and now in all the wrong places has come to us in Jesus Christ, God’s own son.
In these days when we can’t be together in our sanctuary to worship, we can trust that God is not confined to living in any building, even in our beloved LPC sanctuary. He lives right with you and in you by his Holy Spirit. When I was a child we sang, “The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is the people.” Yes, and that is where God lives now. Trust his presence in you today. Check out some ways to be more aware of God’s presence in our mindfulness spiritual practices, posted each Thursday on our website.
Let’s pray together,
Lord Christ, we are grateful for your presence with us by your Spirit. Give us eyes to see you and hearts to know you even in the midst of these days. Amen
Grateful for you,
|Wednesday, May 20, 2020 – “Hot Hard Winds of Wisdom”|
Job 15-21, excerpts
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: 2“Should the wise answer with windy knowledge, and fill themselves with the east wind? 3Should they argue in unprofitable talk, or in words with which they can do no good? 4But you (Job) are doing away with the fear of God, and hindering meditation before God. 5For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty. 6Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; your own lips testify against you…
Then Job answered: 2“I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all (so-called friends). 3Have windy words no limit? Or what provokes you that you keep on talking? 4I also could talk as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you, and shake my head at you…
7Surely now God has worn me out; he has made desolate all my company. 8And he has shriveled me up, which is a witness against me; my leanness has risen up against me, and it testifies to my face. 9He has torn me in his wrath, and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me; my adversary sharpens his eyes against me… (Job 15:1-6; 16:1-4, 7-9)
The book of Job is about tough conversations in heaven and on earth. It concludes with a conversation between heaven and earth, between God and Job and friends. But here we find ourselves in the longest interactive section where Job and his friends are having a series of big arguments about who has grasp of the best wisdom – who really knows how God and the cosmos work?
Here Job’s friend Eliphaz, and Job, both accuse each other of “hot windedness” (being full of hot air that blows – sound familiar in contemporary terms?). Eliphaz argues that Job’s “own words condemn him”. Job must have done something terrible to reap such terrible consequence in his now miserable life. Job responds by saying “God has worn me out”, but not because he sinned.
Here is a collision of two conflicting world views: the ancient traditional wisdom was that God only beats up on the wicked, but gives blessing to the righteous. If God is wearing Job out, it must be because Job did something bad to deserve it. The new wisdom of Job is that God rains wrath on both the good and bad, while also blessing both the good and bad (for no apparent reason). Job’s new perspective is that God is not just. Job has not received justice for being a good man, while some obnoxious people around him have been blessed by God. Job is a hot mess trying to figure out how the world and God work. But his friends are stuck in a paradigm that can only blame Job for the mess he is in.
Neither world view is sufficient to explain what happened to Job. Only God knows. Job had to struggle and question and wait for God to speak and make sense of it all.
There is a lot of hot air to go around. But here is the thing: it is in this crazy confusion and contention that new insight and wisdom emerges. Jobian wisdom, and the willingness to listen for God to speak, only blooms in the midst of the wilderness of loss and disillusionment. God’s wisdom does not come cheap. Job pays a big price to gain a deeper awareness of the true nature of God and the complexity of the universe. He is rejected by his family and friends. To discover the truth of God, he is very alone and poor and sick. Only God can help him understand what the hell is happening.
But while Job may give up hope his friends will ever understand, he refuses to give up hope in God’s eventual solution: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold” (Job 19:25-27).
We are living in a great time of craziness. Almost nothing is like it used to be. We are no longer certain how the system works, or how God works beyond our systems. But, no matter how much hot wind is blowing through and from human beings, we can still stand with Job and assert in the calamity, “I know that my Redeemer lives” and when this mess is all past “we shall see God on our side”. God is faithful to make sense of it all and bring it to an eternally magnificent place.
Let us pray:
God, our Lord, you live in this mess and beyond it. Help us trust you to bring us to a good place, even if it is the last thing you do. Help us live in the hope of your resurrection while we struggle in the hot winds of debate and despair. In the meantime, help us not destroy each other. Give us the faith of Jesus to trust you, and the love of Jesus to care about the people around us. Amen.
Grace and peace of Christ be with you,
Image credit: Job is rebuked by his friends from William Blake‘s Illustrations of the Book of Job (1826).
|Monday, May 18, 2020 – “Listening In”|
John 17:1-11, 20-24 (excerpts)
1After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
7 “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
22 “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
In all of history, if you could listen in on one specific conversation between two people, what would it be? In our passage for today, we are invited to listen in on a conversation, a prayer, that Jesus is having with the Father. Think about it, we have been given access, in a sense, into the “Holy of Holies” to hear God the Son speak with God the Father, two persons of the Holy Trinity. Yes, we can be assured that the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is present as well.
Let’s remember, this prayer took place on the same night as the Passover, the Last Supper and the foot washing. After those events, Jesus lifted up this prayer right before he made his way across the Kidron valley down into the Garden of Gethsemane.
We know from Jesus’ previous teachings that he was well aware of what was before him that night—betrayal, denial and desertion by his own disciples; he would be arrested, placed on trial for blasphemy and sedition, mocked and ridiculed, and crucified upon a cross. The Apostle Peter would later testify that it was on the cross that Jesus bore all of our sins in his body, and now by his wounds we are healed (1 Peter 2:24)
With all of this on Jesus’ mind, Jesus prays to the Father. What would he ask for? Would he ask to be immediately whisked away back to heaven or, ask to be relieved of his impending pain, or request revenge on those who have wronged him? No. What does Jesus ask? Listen in: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).
Jesus then prays for the disciples, for every disciple who will follow him in every age. Listen in: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11b).
There is much I could say on this prayer, but I want to focus on one thing today and for my sermon this coming Sunday. Jesus prays for us, the Church. Jesus is praying for every church that gathers in his name. Yes, he is praying for Laguna Presbyterian Church. That should give us an incredible, life-changing and future-looking hope! Jesus prays that the Father, by the Spirit, will protect, sanctify, promote truth and use us to bring words and actions of life eternal. In his prayer Jesus asks the Father to give us unity as we move forward together.
What might that look like for Laguna Presbyterian Church as we live in these challenging times? For next month, next year? God only knows. But we have such hope–Jesus has prayed, no, is praying, for us!
Let us strive for unity, to be in prayer for wisdom and discernment for direction and to thrive in mission. We can pray that the Spirit will keep us centered in Christ and that, as the days unfold, we seek to live into the fullness of God’s will. Always, and in the meantime, today, encouraging one another to love Christ, to love one another, and to love neighbor as self–all to the glory of God.
Would you pray this prayer with me today?
Faithful God, sanctify your church in your truth, for your word is truth. Protect and guide your church through these challenging times. Provide your church with wisdom, discernment and vision into the future. Continue to move your church with love to care for the needs of others. Keep your church filled with hope, with eyes set on Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith. To the glory of God, Amen.
In the Hope of Christ,
Sr. Associate Pastor
Image credit: Church of All Nations, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. Mosaic of Jesus praying on the night of his arrest.
|Friday, May 15, 2020 – “Promised Advocate from the Heart of Love”|
John 14:15-21, excerpts
Jesus said to them: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever….the Spirit of truth….I will not leave you orphaned…. in a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you….those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Wow. Just sit with these verses for a moment and take them in. On the night before his death, knowing that all of his dearest disciples will flee in fear, only John (who writes this Gospel) will be at the cross with Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary’s sister, and Mary Magdalene.
And yet, Jesus loves them to the very end, in his suffering, and death. Jesus speaks to them now for one last time in this lengthy discourse in John 13-18.
Jesus says, “When you love me, you will be keeping my commandments.” Jesus promises them a forever faithful friend, the Advocate, One who Comes Alongside to be with them/us forever. And Jesus promises that though he will be no longer in the world they will see him again. Imagine taking all that in at the dinner table?
Faithful Savior, Promise-Maker, Promise-Keeper. Jesus, who knows us intimately, all of our strengths and our weaknesses, our successes and failures, promises that a relationship with our Lord is an invitation into the relationship Jesus has with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” or the one who is the ‘real deal.’ It is the Spirit that gives to us the very mind of Christ here on earth. It is the mind of Christ to be loved, and to love, to hear God say, “You are my beloved.” Out of the well of God’s overflowing love, love pours out from the heart of the Church into the world.
The Holy Spirit gives to us the very heart and mind of Christ. I say, “us” intentionally. The Holy Spirit falls upon the community at Pentecost. Jesus speaks to the disciples as a community at Passover. “I will ask the Father, and he will give to you all (plural in the Greek), and Advocate to be with you all (again in plural) forever.
I find this so comforting during this time of CoVid-19 when I’m spending so much of my time physically alone, I’m reminded that I’m not alone. I am a part of the body of Christ, the community of disciples of Laguna Presbyterian Church. While we have not been able to meet physically, we have been sending cards, letters, and holding Zoom Bible Studies, session and deacon meetings, worship continues online, and we are praying for one another and we are growing together.
It’s not the path we would have chosen for this time, but it is where God has us. How can we continue to build one another up and spur each other on to greater Christ-likeness? How is the Spirit at work in us and through us at this time? How are you growing during this time in ways that you would not have otherwise?
The disciples would not have chosen the next step to the Garden of Gethsemene, but in that Garden, under the olive trees, God is at work bringing healing and wholeness. Resurrection is ahead, Pentecost is coming, the Church is birthed to life, and we are invited to partner with God in the healing of world.
Let us pray:
Lord, you are the Promise-Maker and the Promise-Keeper. Thank you for leaving us your Holy Spirit to keep us centered in Christ, that we might love the Lord with all our being, and love neighbor as self. Amen.
In the Grace of Christ,
Director of Worship
|Wednesday, May 13, 2020 – “Beware of Arrogant, |
Superficial and Narrow Theology and Wisdom”
Job 8, excerpts
Then Bildad the Shuhite answered: “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind? Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
“If your children sinned against him, he delivered them into the power of their transgression. If you will seek God and make supplication to the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore to you your rightful place…Such are the paths of all who forget God; the hope of the godless shall perish.…a spider’s house their trust. If one leans against its house, it will not stand; if one lays hold of it, it will not endure.
“See, God will not reject a blameless person, nor take the hand of evildoers. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy. Those who hate you will be clothed with shame, and the tent of the wicked will be no more.”
Job 9, excerpts
Then Job answered: “Indeed I know that this is so; but how can a mortal be just before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength—who has resisted him, and succeeded? — he who removes mountains, and they do not know it, when he overturns them in his anger; who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea.
“How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser. If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice. For he crushes me with a tempest, and multiplies my wounds without cause; he will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness. If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
“Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse. I am blameless; I do not know myself; I loathe my life. It is all one; therefore I say, he destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
“For he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no umpire between us, who might lay his hand on us both.”
There is an old Bible trivia question many of us have heard: “Who is the shortest person in the Bible?” Answer: Bildad the Shuhite. Bildad is not a person of stature among the heroes and spiritual giants of the Bible. In fact, along with Job’s other two friends, Eliphaz and Zophar, he is a spiritual wimp – arrogant, opinionated, superficial and narrow. He voices the popular theology of his day. But in doing so he blames Job.
“Job and His Friends” by Ilya Repin (1869).
Job’s three friends, while meaning to come alongside him to condole and console him, quickly suggest the reason for Job’s mess is Job himself. Job and/or his children committed unconfessed sins and this is the reason God has poured out wrath upon them.
Does this sound familiar? There are self-affirming Christians speaking today, saying the reason for the COVID-19 Pandemic is the Judgment of God upon the sins of the world, especially certain sins in the USA. If we would just repent and turn to God (especially some heretical Christians), God would forgive us and take away this disease of Judgment.
Job, if you would just recognize and confess your sin, God will restore your health and wealth. Bildad says: “If your children sinned against [God], he delivered them into the power of their transgression. If you will seek God and make supplication to the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore to you your rightful place” (Job 8:4-6).
Bildad and the other two friends are stuck in a time-warp of theological hard-lining. From their perspective, the only reason God would take away protection and blessing from Job, is that he sinned against God. Bad things don’t happen to good people. “So Job, repent and God will come to your rescue. If you don’t repent, you will die in your sins and ruin.”
Not recognizing himself and not understanding God, Job says, “Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse. I am blameless; I do not know myself; I loathe my life. It is all one; therefore I say, [God] destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent” (Job 9:20-23).
Job knows enough about himself that he asserts his innocence. He has not sinned. This trouble is not judgment against him, but a discovery that “God destroys both the blameless and wicked.”
That simple but profound theological assertion that God brings trouble on the good and the bad, cannot be accepted by the three friends. It does not compute on their theological abacus. It defies their belief system. It does not fit into their wisdom framework. Job has to be wrong, because, if he is not, they are wrong and they must let go of hundreds of years of faith assumptions
This is the heart of the purpose of the Book of Job: the assumptions many faithful people have about how God works in the universe are inadequate to reality. They (we) need to wake up and let go of their (our) limited, narrow, tight, arrogant, ignorant belief systems and allow God to be bigger and more mysterious than they (we) can know. They (we) need a heavy new dose of humility in the struggle to know God.
We can say we think we understand, we want to understand, we are on the way to understanding, but we can’t say we have the final word on who God is and how God works. Humility allows God the freedom to work outside our comfort zone, above our short-statured wisdom.
Today, in this pandemic, we need to rise above our arrogant littleness of judgment, blame and attack on “who caused this mess?” to ask ourselves “who is God pushing me (us) to become while going through the mess?”
Jesus had very little good to say about the tight, rule-centered, theology and wisdom of the Pharisees. They did not like him and wanted a way to get rid of him. The real motive of high-control people is not to love people but to manipulate them for their own purposes and convenience, to validate their own small view of reality
Job has discovered the predominant theological assumptions of his tradition are not adequate to the bigger purposes of God. During this time of trouble and trauma, are we willing to look outside our comfort zones to discover a bigger universe, a grander heaven and earth, a more wild, dangerous and passionately loving God, whom we dare call Lord (Yahweh)?
Let us pray,
Majestic and Gracious God, help us to let go of our theological arrogance and sagest ignorance, to walk in humility after you, loving mercy, seeking righteousness and doing justice, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
|Monday, May 11, 2020 – “The Perfect Promise”|
|John 14:1-3“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”|
|I can vividly remember sitting on the edge of my seat at the Regal Theater watching the ending of the movie, The Perfect Storm. There was this tiny fishing boat, the Andrea Gail, attempting to climb a gigantic rogue wave, right in the middle of what has been called, the perfect storm. This perfect storm was the result of a rare and dangerous combination of two different weather fronts and Hurricane Grace. It was a storm that was tripled in size and strength!|
As the boat begins to ascend the daunting wave, the moviegoer is aware that it’s to no avail. There’s not enough power, size of vessel or time to get over that wave. No one alive knows what ultimately happened to that boat during its last hour, but one thing is for sure, the crew didn’t survive.
I’ve heard this term, perfect storm, used frequently over the last two months as people share the struggles they have been experiencing. Already, there was one or two challenges on the plate, then along came the third with the CoVid-19 pandemic. The experience has become overwhelming for many.
As we know, there will never be a time in life when we will not be challenged by a problem. But, when we have more than two problems on our plate at any one time; be they financial, work, relationship, health, and then add to it a pandemic (and all that’s related to it), we can begin to feel like that tiny fishing boat attempting to navigate an oncoming gigantic wave.
I remember in 2007 one of those times. Jennifer and I still look back on that year with trepidation. The recession was starting, Jennifer lost her beloved grandfather, we had a health issue in the family and there was a school issue for one of my sons. Just as I thought there would be a pause, life threw us a hurricane. I had visited my grandmother (who was like a mother to me) at her nursing home, got in my car and headed to a presbytery meeting. Just as I walked into the church, my brother called me with the news that my grandmother had just gone to be with the Lord. I turned around, walked out into the church parking lot, looked up at the sky and said out loud in grief, “Seriously?” A pastor had just gotten out of her car, asked what happened, and without any “advice”, she put her hand on my shoulder and prayed for me. In her prayer, she reminded us both of God’s perfect promise made secure by Christ’s resurrection. Not a bad place to be in a perfect storm.
In our passage, Jesus was aware that his disciples were about to enter into a storm of their own. After his death, they would scatter and suffer persecution for their faith. Jesus was also well aware that he himself was soon about to enter into his own perfect storm as he entered Holy Week; his arrest, trial and crucifixion. He doesn’t shy away from speaking to the reality of troubled hearts. Out of his love for his disciples, and us, he provides us what I will call the threefold perfect promise.
First, that he will always be with us, dwelling within us by his Spirit—in the perfect storms of life, Jesus is with us. Second, Jesus is preparing a place for us—we are now brought into the household of God. Third, Jesus promises that he will return—we can have hope both for today and for the future. Jesus invites us to trust that all of these promises are held secure by his resurrection.
On my walk this morning, I was listening to the song, Your Love Never Fails” by Chris McClarney. I offer it as the prayer this morning for a time such as this—a reminder that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“When the oceans rage, I don’t have to be afraid, because I know that you love me, your love never fails. The wind is strong and the water’s deep, I’m not alone in these open seas, because your love never fails.” Amen.
Thanks be to God,
Steve Sweet, Sr. Associate Pastor
|Friday, May 8, 2020 – “Liminal Space” |
Reflection on Psalm 139:7-12
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
This Sunday, I am going to preach about the liminal space in which we find ourselves and in which the early church formed. I thought it might help to give you an introduction to the concept.
The word “liminal” comes from the Latin for threshold. It is a time of transition when you have left the tried and true, but are not yet able to replace it with anything else. It is between your comfort zone and a possible new answer.
Think of it as a trapeze artist. You’ve let go of one trapeze, and you are flying through the air waiting for the next trapeze to swing into sight. Talk about anxious! You are out of control!
Liminal times are normal in everyone’s life. Coming-of-age—you are no longer a child, but not yet an adult. Graduation—leaving studies and tests behind and heading for where? Pregnancy–leaving behind the childless life and not yet really understanding what is ahead in parenthood.
In our study of Job, he is in a liminal place—between his former prosperous happy life and not yet knowing what the future holds.
At least some of the turmoil we feel in this pandemic is because we are in such an uncertain place, and we can’t seem to see the next trapeze. While it is an anxious time, we can also choose to allow it to be a creative time, open to God.
The Psalmist assures us that there is no place we can go outside of God’s loving care—even the darkness and confusion of these days.
Let us pray:
Lord, Quiet our fears. We have no idea what the future will bring, but we do know you will be in our future to hold us there. We cannot quiet ourselves. We cannot comfort ourselves, cannot heal ourselves, cannot help ourselves. All we can do is wash our hands, wear masks, and keep our distance. Give us grace for the living of these days.
In my sermon I will be referring to a book by Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence. You might want to check it out. (click here)
|Wednesday, May 6, 2020 – “Waiting in Silence with Friends” |
2:11Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him.
12When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. 13They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Much has been said over the years about the “patience of Job” but not much about the patience of his friends.
An ancient practice of eastern society was the art of sitting in silence with someone in great grief; a discipline not held in high regard in our fast paced world. Oh, we might sit with a friend for a couple of hours, but rarely will we stay silent. Job’s friends sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights, in silence, for “they saw his suffering was great.”
This is a raw, primal and amazing scene of radical friendship. If you were in great grief, which friends would you want to sit with you for 168 hours in total and complete silence?
Eventually Job breaks the silence, and his friends react to his situation – all in pungent poetry, carefully composed to rattle the rafters of heaven and dig deeply into the darkness of hell. The meanness of this small group ministry has been seldom re-enacted since.
But let us go back to the striking commitment of a few good friends who sit in silence with their friend, Job, mindful that he is in near suicidal disillusionment and extreme physical pain.
One writer said, “It is odd to say the most long-winded book in the Bible is about silence. Yet accurate speech about anything, and especially about God, is in fact a rhythm about silence and speech, speaking and listening.”1 The abundance of silence, interwoven with conversation, is at the heart of the discovery of ancient wisdom and modern mindfulness. Quakers continue to practice this spiritual discipline today.
Job is not alone in his silence, his quiet musing over the trauma of his life. His friends sit and feel and think and wonder about the health of their friend and the meaning of his terror.
This ancient Jewish practice of “sitting shiva” – seven days of mourning – is still practiced today. It is the long moment of shared grief that seals a common faith and a common love. Is there another symbol of shared loss, of shared tragedy, that can compare?
During this extended time of self-isolation, some of us have much time alone on our hands. Others are confined with family and friends with little quiet.
Maybe we could develop the “silence together” discipline of discovering wisdom – shared mindfulness – allowing artistic space to develop for thoughtful and careful reflections about what is happening, how we are reacting or responding, and what we might say and do in the chaos of calamity.
Maybe we could write some poetry, frame some life questions, muse about the meaning of life, or just sit in silence with those we love?
Maybe keep individual and group journals?
Valiantly, out of silence, Job curses his life, not God (more about that later), but sadly, his friends turn to blaming Job for the mess Job is in. Silence could lead us instead to Wisdom. Wisdom is about discovery, not about condemnation – closed-ended cheap shots at the darkness of life.
Silence is golden. It can buy much wisdom about who we are and what life really means. It’s time to invest in solo reflection and common (together) still stock.
O Lord God, Creator and Savior of humankind, as we find ourselves in this troubling time and confusing space, help us value silence and mindfulness. Help us be alone and together in the quiet so that we might gain wisdom and discover the depths of your love and your invitation to love each other more, through the ancient way of Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Ellen Davis, Episcopal preacher, Getting Involved with God – Rediscovering the Old Testament, Cowley Publications, 2001:126.
|Monday, May 4, 2020 – “Living without Fear”|
John 10:1 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
John 10:7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
The summer after second grade my grandparents took me on trip to Alisal Ranch. It was the right trip at the right time. Second grade was pretty stressful; papers, quizzes, finishing the golden key reading challenge, retaining my King of the Handball Court title and there was that tough break-up of a relationship that lasted approximately…three days.
I needed to unwind and recharge my batteries before the third grade. Alisal Ranch was the perfect place; horseback riding, wilderness hikes, and nights by the campfire. But nothing compared with visiting the snack bar and sitting poolside with new-found friends.
Then a disruption took place in the space-time continuum. A fifth grade boy showed up on the third day and decided he wanted to take control of the pool area. He started right in bullying anybody and everybody who was younger. By the afternoon, I’d had enough. I walked right up to him and said something along the lines of “That’s it, no more #%@!” Yes, I ended it with a sentence enhancer. Just as he appeared to be rearing back to throw a haymaker, he abruptly stopped. He had a look of total and complete fear. He then backed up two or three paces. I thought my sentence enhancer must of really thrown him. Then I noticed something, he wasn’t looking at me, he was looking above me. I turned around and there was my 6’4” grandfather standing right behind me.
Let me remind you, my grandfather grew up on a farm in Texas, lost two siblings to the Spanish influenza, worked repairing railroad tracks for his high school summers and dropped out of college during the depression to help support his family. You’re getting the picture. All he ever had to do was give “a look” and that took care it. The pool area was restored. We all had freedom to live and swim without fear!
There is a sense of freedom and security you feel when there is someone promising to protect you. It’s an assurance that enables one to live, or as Jesus said, to live “abundantly.” I’m so thankful for my grandfather.
In John 10:7, Jesus said that he is the gate for the sheep. It’s the imagery of the caring shepherd who prepares a shelter in the wilderness for the sheep to sleep peacefully at night. The shepherd becomes the door guarding the sheep from any and all danger. During the day the shepherd leads the sheep to the pasture to graze, all the while protecting their very lives.
Jesus as our shepherd promises that he is our protection, providing us with confidence to live with boldness. It doesn’t mean there will never be difficulty or crisis, illness or death. It doesn’t mean that we will be free from encounters by bullies, but it does mean that because we belong to Jesus nothing can ever separate us from him and his love for us.
So we are free to love and risk and care for others, because we belong to him. You may not see him standing behind you, but be assured, he’s there. Jesus is the Promise Maker and the Promise Keeper.
Let us pray:
Lord, thank you for your promise: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Is. 41:10) For you have said: “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
|Friday, May 1, 2020 – “Turn Around!”|
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
3000 people! Can you picture it? Christmas Eve at LPC times 3. Or more. People whose lives had been turned around to follow this risen Jesus. And the baptisms—3000! Do the math. If the 12 disciples were the ones baptizing, they each baptized a long line of 250 people that day. The number of Jesus’ followers has exploded!
The context of this story is the day of Pentecost when devout Jews from many nations had gathered in Jerusalem for a Jewish feast—the first one after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The power of God’s Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak about Jesus and to be understood by each person in their own language. The Holy Spirit spoke to their hearts, and people responded by the thousands—new converts who would eventually take this message of Jesus back to their home countries all over the known world. Whatever God is doing, it is more than anyone ever would have imagined!
“Repent!” was the message. That word is a non-starter in our day. It brings to mind a deranged street corner preacher or a sign over the door of a skid row mission—exactly the sort of thing that would drive me away. In spite of the baggage it now carries, there’s nothing wrong with the word itself. The Greek word means to turn around and go the other direction. Realize you are on the wrong path and make a change. And that’s what the Holy Spirit did in people’s lives—showed them their need to change and gave them the power to begin to follow a new path—the path of Jesus.
We need that sort of turning around not just once in life, but again and again—in great dramatic changes and in tiny ones. Can you remember some of those “turn arounds” in your life? Stop and think: where would you be now if God had not steered you in a new direction? How would your life be different? Can you name any of the people God has used to call you to turn? Today is a good day to thank God for the ways he has caused you to “turn” and for the people he has used in that process of change.
It’s a good thing the turning is not up to me alone. If it were, I wouldn’t turn. Okay, truth be told: I don’t. When the Spirit of God is at work, the results are far more than I could ask or imagine.
Let us pray:
Holy Spirit, we thank you for your work in our lives and for the people you have used to call us to change. Give us ears to hear your call and courage to turn around toward you, even in the midst of these difficult days. Amen.
|Wed., April 29, 2020 – “Who Do We Blame for the Mess We Are In?”|
During the months of May and June most of the preaching and devotions will find their sources in Acts, John and Matthew. However, I will be studying, writing and preaching from the Old Testament Book of Job. Job is seldom explored by congregations because it is poetically sophisticated, rationally complex, and profoundly deep in the examination of the nature of God, the limited power of humanity and why bad things happen to good people.
In the face of an international pandemic, it seems like a good time to think about life and faith and God in the extremity.
So here we go with an excerpt of Job 1:6-12:
6One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” 9Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Job opens with a heavenly court room scene of God as Judge and a prosecutor called Satan (in Hebrew means “accuser”). Satan roams over the earth finding people to accuse and condemn. God seems to allow Satan to do this, but within certain divine boundaries.
Job is a man of faith in God. He is without fault, but Satan wants to test the depth of his trust in God. God allows Satan to take away his wealth, and then his health. The test is to see if Job will reject God if things get really bad.
Most of the Book of Job is about Job and friends struggling and debating why life has turned sour for Job. Satan shows up in Job’s wife and three friends and a religious prophet Elihu, who all want to blame Job for the mess he is in. He must have done something wrong to lose everything.
Job, the Book, is a lot about who is to blame for the mess in which we find ourselves. “If God is good and you are a person of faith, why do you find yourself in a cluster of troubles?” This is an ongoing question of good people throughout the history of humanity. A lot of us are asking this question today.
Accusation and blame and condemnation are what we often pursue when life goes bad. That is Satan’s modus operandi. In our fear, anger, disorientation and distress, we tend to look for someone to blame. Maybe we blame God or an enemy or a leader. Maybe we blame ourselves.
It is interesting to note that no one blames Satan for the mess of Job. However they do take on the persona of Satan as they blame Job.
One of the main points of Job is that blame, accusation and condemnation are the heart of evil, not the various troubles and losses of humanity.
If we find ourselves blaming others for the mess we are in, we are participating in the core of Satan’s activity in the world. Let’s not become Satan to our spouses, family, friends, enemies or political leaders. Blame perpetrates and perpetuates evil in the world.
Now, for the next few weeks, we will dig more deeply, as to why bad things happen to good people, and who is God in relationship to terrible events.
Let us pray:
O God of the Ancients, help us to know you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, full of forgiveness. You do not condemn us but you do hold us accountable to bring good out of trouble. Give us the guts to do so through the way of Jesus Christ. Amen.
|Monday, April 27, 2020 – Another New Beginning|
Acts 2:22-24, 32
Acts 2:22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
I was recently on a Zoom call with over 20 pastors discussing the future of the church and of our presbytery with regard to the CoVid-19 pandemic. In light of the multitude of challenges, the question came up concerning what everyone was choosing to preach on following Easter.
Several of the pastors said the Book of Acts. One of the pastors chimed in with a comment I thought was very poignant. He said, “The Book of Acts explains the early emergence of the church after the resurrection of Jesus. I believe we are approaching such a pivotal time – the re-emergence of the church through, and after, this crisis.”
This comment stirred my thinking. I started to write down questions as they came to me. I’ve listed a few of them here, and I wondered if we could ponder them together? Perhaps you have more questions too? I’m coming to see them as possibilities to consider, and be excited about.
1) What might the Spirit of Christ be saying to the church, to our Church at this time?
2) What might we look like after this crisis? How have we been stretched? How have I/we grown?
3) When we are able to gather again, what might that look like for us?
4) What changes might we need to make? Which changes implemented during this time should continue, be adapted or even expanded? What possibilities and opportunities are before us?
5) How have people’s spiritual hunger been stirred during this crisis? How can we dialogue about our experiences so that together we can heal, grow, and deepen in our faith?
6) How might we explore the questions of our relationship with God being re-shaped generationally?
7) How is God calling us to care for our communities, to engage in the issues of the world as the Spirit of Christ may be leading us?
8) How might we respond both individually as disciples of Jesus, and together as the body of Christ, the church?
In our passage today, we see that Jesus has accomplished the plan of God through his life, death and resurrection. Yes, Jesus has been raised from the dead and now is seated at the right hand of God, the Father. Now the Holy Spirit is sent to equip and to empower the Church in every age. We are ambassadors for Christ, entrusted with the message of God’s forgiving love, pressing forward until the day we see Christ face to face. That is our living hope! We pray that we will be a church that is resilient. We pray for the wisdom and the spiritual discernment needed to meet the challenges before us, and the faith to trust God, that we may rejoice as we see God at work among us!
I encourage you to pray for the body of Christ around the world, pray for our church, for our presbytery, for our communities and for our world that the love, grace and peace of Christ would flow into every challenge and crisis to bring reconciliation and new life everywhere!
Gracious God, give us hope, wisdom and creativity. May you guide us into the future, as we look to you in all things. Amen.
Thankful for you,
Sr. Associate Pastor
|Friday, April 24, 2020 – Grateful for Your Partnership|
In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress. You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.
In the last 10 years of my dad’s life, he fell for a few “elder abuse” scams, calling or mailing him to get money for causes that sounded good, but were really just cheating him out of money. When he realized how vulnerable he was to scams, he put me in charge of his charitable giving. He sent me one check each month for our church and another for me to donate wherever I saw a legitimate need. I had a wonderful time trying to use his money for causes that I thought would touch his heart, like giving shoes to needy children at Christmas through the elementary school in Santa Ana where I once went to school.
In Paul’s day there were also financial scams–wandering teachers selling their ideas and cheating people out of their money. Paul wants to be sure that no one sees him like that. He sees his relationship with the church at Philippi as a true partnership in the Gospel, and their continuing financial gifts show the warm relationship and trust they have for him.
They have supported him since he arrived there, bringing the message about Jesus for the first time to the continent of Europe. Their continued support meant so much when he went on to nearby Thessalonica which was so hostile to his teaching that Paul was smuggled out of town by night. Through thick or thin, Philippi was the only church whose financial support had continued and had become a habit through the years.
Paul is so grateful that this partnership in the Gospel was continuing even as he wrote from the isolation of prison in Rome. In our own social distancing, you can imagine what such isolation felt like without any email, Zoom, or virtual connections. After months of no contact from Philippi, how Paul must have welcomed the arrival of Epaphroditus as well as the gifts he brought, giving assurance of the continuing relationship and trust with this church of Philippi.
During these weeks of social distancing, we are so grateful for your partnership in the Gospel. Through your generosity, you have shown your trust in us, and together we have been able to continue to reach out to share Christ’s love. Our teams continue to drop off dinners to the Alternative Sleeping Location in the canyon; our virtual worship services, devotions, and Bible studies reach many of our neighbors here and far away; and our financial support continues to local agencies, such as Laguna Food Pantry, and to international ministries, such as International Justice Mission and the work of Gary and Lori Cowman in South Africa.
Through your partnership with LPC, you are making an impact in Laguna and around the world! Thank you.
|Wednesday, April 22, 2020 – “Stay Focused and Positive”|
6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
We live in days when it is easy to be worried and anxious. Most of the Bible is about people who are, or could be, worried and anxious. The Apostle Paul is in a roman prison where he could be driven by anxiety and worry. He is addressing a whole church of people who are bothered by many frustrations and troubles. He concludes his letter to them with an emphasis on two simple truths and disciplines: 1) Be focused on God in Christ; and 2) Be positive about the good stuff of life. These two patterns are reinforced throughout Scripture. They are keys to the Kingdom of God.
In Luke 10:38 Jesus is at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, brother and sisters. Because she has guests to welcome and feed, Jesus says Martha is distracted by many things. She has a lot on her plate. But she is running short of time and help. She complains to Jesus that her sister Mary is not pitching in.
Normally, the guest or head of the house might intervene on Martha’s behalf to encourage Mary to get about the business of hospitality. But Jesus goes the opposite direction. He notes Martha is “pulled in many directions at the same time.” But Mary has chosen a better pattern of life – Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, focused, listening and learning. Mary has chosen the “one thing” that is most important.
This story can drive type A and compulsive and responsible people crazy. What is Jesus thinking?
How we think is the point of both Jesus and Paul. Paul and Jesus urge, exhort, plead with their constituencies to stay focused on the most important thing – learning and practicing the ways of God. Don’t get distracted by the myriad of human voices and demands. This is our ongoing human conundrum: focus or fragment, prioritize or fly apart.
In Philippians 4:6, Paul says “don’t worry about anything.” The Greek word for “worry” means “be distracted, fragmented, broken up, fly apart, go to pieces, become disjointed, run in multiple directions at the same time.”
In this era of multi-tasking, complex communications and constant media, we listen to many voices. We pay attention to the wrong voices. There is one voice we need to attend – it is the voice of God, the still small voice. It is a very quiet voice in the midst of loud noises and opinionated people and demanding authorities.
But this voice is hard to hear. It takes focus and discipline and practice in the midst of the chaos.
Both Jesus and Paul are saying, “Don’t get distracted by the many. Focus on the hard to hear one. Paul gives some hints on how to do this. Pray with a lot of gratitude and pay attention to good stuff: the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, the pleasing and the commendable – the excellent and the praiseworthy.
Gracious God, help us focus on the one core thing of life – You. Help us learn to hear your quiet voice. Help us practice the disciplines of prayer, giving thanks and focus on the good. Move us away from addiction to the many and the much. Now that many of us are sheltered at home, help us learn and practice these life-giving disciplines, through Christ. Amen.
|Monday April 20, 2020 – “Should I Work It Out?”|
Phil. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
This Sunday, I will be preaching on Philippians 4:4-13. I didn’t want to pass up on looking into these first three verses of chapter four. Evidently, there was a conflict between two women at the church in Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche. Can you picture it? Two people at odds? A conflict at a church? That seems unheard of (yes, I’m being sarcastic). It’s not clear what the issue was, but the obvious is certain; they didn’t agree on something. So much so, that it caused division in their relationship and they suffered the consequences. This division had spilled out into the church, causing the church in Philippi to grieve.
Paul, writing from a prison cell, asks a loyal companion in Philippi to help them to work it out. Notice how he encourages his co-worker to help them. First, they were to remember where they came from; they were friends together with Paul in sharing the Good News about Jesus. Second, they were to remember to whom they belong; children of God with their names written in the Book of Life, realizing those two realties make all the difference in healing a friendship. The hopeful reconciliation of these two women did not just have implications for the church, and the churches example to the community, but also for the health and spirituality of Euodia and Syntyche. Paul was jealous for their joy.
If you’re like me, you’ve been doing some deep thinking during this crisis. We’ve had time to pause and look back on the last few years, even the last few decades and take account of our relationships. We’ve found that we were so busy before, we didn’t have the time to reflect on the past, but here we are. Some of our friendships have grown deeper and more meaningful and for that we rejoice. Others have dissipated, maybe as a result of an unresolved conflict or issue. Of this second group, maybe you’ve thought about the what ifs? What if I reached out to them? What if we could really talk? What if we could mutually forgive one another? What if we could reconcile? What if I don’t do anything at all and just let it go?
30 years ago, before I moved to Laguna Beach, there was a falling out with a friend. Nothing major, but it was enough that once I moved to Laguna, we didn’t take the time to follow up, and the relationship suffered loss. Five years ago he came to the forefront of my mind. I saw it as a nudge from God. I lifted him up in prayer and sought what this might mean for our future. A year later he came walking into a restaurant at Dana Point. We caught each other’s eye, immediately approached each other and at the same time said we had both been praying for an opportunity to talk. The next week, we were at the Lumberyard restaurant catching up, confessing our part in the falling out, forgiving each other, praying and reconciling. The joy was immense. We both asked, “Why did it take us so long?” I don’t know, we’re both human, we both found our lives moving us in different directions. We admitted we were silly, prideful and stupid, then we laughed together. We had both grown up a lot since then.
I ask again, is there someone who comes to your mind during this crisis with whom you long to reconnect? Perhaps it’s an old friend, a co-worker, a family member, neighbor, or even a church member? I’m certain of three things: it’s probably not a coincidence they have come to mind; prayer is always the best place to start; and God can bring to life that which was dead.
On my walk this morning I was listening to the song, “Way Maker.” I will close with this song as our prayer.
Let us pray:
“Way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness, my God . . . that is who you are. You are here, touching every heart. You are here, healing every heart, turning lives around. You are here, mending every heart.” Give us your mind O Lord, healer of our hearts.
Working it out,
Steve Sweet, Sr. Associate Pastor
Song, Way Maker, words and music by Osinachi Okoro
|Friday April 17, 2020 – “Pressing Forward”|
Phil. 3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
When we were in Greece last year, we spent a day in Olympia, touring the site of the ancient games. It is an extensive site where the athletes not only competed, but also trained and hung out together. The track is still there, and we all lined up on the starting line for a picture, leaning forward, trying to look like real runners waiting for the starting signal. A few of the group actually raced one another on the track, and came home with the vivid memory of running in the steps of the ancient athletes.
We learned that when Paul was at Corinth he probably attended the nearby Isthmus games. The athletes would arrive months in advance to train, but they had to provide their own tents as housing. As a tent-maker, his skills were in great demand and opened the door for him to share the good news of Jesus with athletes from far and wide. He watched training and races. He knew how the athletes thought and talked.
In this passage he uses runner’s language. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” “Pressing on” is how athletes described running for victory, running through the cramping muscles and the labored breathing; running through pain with their muscles straining to the finish line. The winner would be “called up” onto the winner’s platform to receive honor.
Paul focuses all his effort into knowing Christ in a life-shaping way, even in the midst of painful experiences along the way. Through the suffering, he continues to “run”, looking forward to the goal of being called heavenward at the end of his race. The result of the race is not in doubt; Paul, and we, WILL be called heavenward, not because of what we are able to achieve, but because of what Christ has already done in his death and resurrection.
Paul is clear that he has not already arrived, but that God is still at work bringing him to maturity and wholeness. One mark of maturity is our ability to accurately see our own need for growth. Paul invites us to follow his example of pressing on to maturity in Christ.
The confinement of these days offers new opportunities for us to allow God’s Spirit to do such work in us—whether it is through additional time for prayer and reflection or through the challenges we encounter while living in close quarters. Paul has come full circle to the words with which he began this letter, Philippians 1:6, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
Let us pray:
Lord, by your Spirit, be at work in us during these days. Bring us to know you more fully and to be shaped more and more into your ways. Amen.
|Wednesday April 15, 2020 – “Jesus Invites Us to Follow and Grow”|
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the sharing of his sufferings, by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I might attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)
Jesus to Ananias about Paul: “I will show [Saul=Paul] how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:16)
Before Paul met Jesus, he was Saul the Pharisee who had been commissioned by the chief priests of Jerusalem to persecute, imprison and kill the followers of Jesus. Jesus stopped him in his tracks and turned his mission upside-down. The persecutor became like Jesus, the persecuted. Paul continued the suffering of Jesus in his stead.
In choosing to follow Jesus, Paul gave up everything he valued: status, wealth, position, privilege, safety, security and power. He went from Attorney General of Judah to top of the Sanhedrin’s “most wanted” list. Whatever gains he had made in his budding career as a head prosecutor, he now considered “trash”. He gave up law to become an itinerant preacher and maker of tents because he wanted to “gain” Christ. Paul wanted to know everything about Jesus, the one he had come to know as “Messiah” and “Lord.”
We have just journeyed together through Holy Week, remembering the suffering, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Paul collapses the whole life of Jesus into one thought – pain, death and resurrection – and says that is the life he wants to fully know.
I doubt many of us share Paul’s consolidated passion to know and imitate Jesus so completely. Most of us don’t have his intensity of absolute commitment. And that’s okay.
Jesus has invited us to follow and grow in our knowledge of him, our trust in him – to let things go that used to be important to us – productivity, success, money, status, position, fame. Then, as we mature, other things become more important – people, humility, grace, service, love, sacrifice
Especially around mid-life, our life tends to re-prioritize, re-frame, renew. We let go or throw away the old agendas, and embrace our vulnerability, mortality, and wonder about our eternality. As we move toward the end of life, we desire to attain the resurrection.
Paul knew his trust system had to change. He had to stop trusting in what he could decide and do, control and constrain. He had to let go and embrace what only God could go – forgive, redeem, restore, heal, and resurrect.
Let us pray for God’s help to let go the stuff of the past and attain the mystery of God’s beautiful eternal future. Each day, then, is part of the life transformation of giving up and embracing the Kingdom of God and eternal life.
Gracious God, help us let go of the values and ambitions of short-term success, and invest in the practices of life together for the redemption of all humanity through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
|Monday, April 13, 2020 – “After-Thoughts of Joy”|
Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.
As Paul works his way through his letter to the Philippians, he transitions from one treaty to the next as we move from chapter 2 to chapter 3. Paul pauses for a moment, he want us to stop, to rejoice – to have joy in the Lord.
Joy, true everlasting joy, is found in God and in God’s goodness and mercy. Joy differs from happiness. “Being happy” comes and goes with the winds of life’s circumstances, but joy is able to sustain and even deepen through the storms of life. Why? Because the foundation of joy is God, and God is our unshakable rock. Joy is the delight we have in God, and in God’s promises and God’s blessings. Easter brought so much joy, even in the midst of difficult circumstance, we rejoiced. What has not changed is the victory over sin and death secured for us in Christ.
Throughout the day I found myself caught up in moments of joy—after-thoughts of joy. I wrote them down as they came to mind and I wanted to share them with you this morning:
I rejoiced that even though we have been isolated, nothing could stand in the way of the arrival and celebration of Easter. The darkness of Good Friday was lifted and the light of the resurrection has arrived in Jesus.
I rejoiced in the many family, friends and neighbors that checked in on us today, with Easter blessings.
I rejoiced that our church and staff quickly adjusted during this crisis to work in creative and collaborative ways to minister through worship services, pastoral reflections, Zoom Bible studies, fellowship groups, Deacon calls, and so much more!
I rejoiced that church members and friends were reaching out with extraordinary vision and thoughtful ways to care for the needs and challenges of our neighborhoods and communities.
I rejoiced that members and friends have continued to sacrifice and stretch financially to support LPC’s ministry, so that we may continue to share the love, goodness and compassion of God.
I rejoiced and gave thanks for the countless pastors, writers, theologians (past and present) who have provided me with spiritual wisdom, insight, inspiration and encouragement during a time such as this.
I rejoiced as I watched my son, Nathan, working into the late hours of the night to share his gifts as he edited the videos for our online services: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.
I rejoiced that it doesn’t matter how old kids are, they will always love an easter egg hunt (especially if there’s cash involved).
I rejoiced in watching my wife, Jennifer, placing Easter decorations in our yard. I rejoiced when neighbors and children expressed gratitude for those decorations, and how encouraged they were by them…how it made this time seem just a bit more “normal.”
On my walk Easter evening a song kept going through my head. This song, Glorious Ruins, caused me to stop and rejoice in my Savior and King. The words are, “So let the ruins come to life, in the beauty of your name. Rising up from the ashes, God forever you reign.”
I wonder if you have an “after-thought of joy” you might want to share by email? I would like to share these at our Zoom staff meeting tomorrow, Tuesday April 14th. I know your “after-thoughts of joy” will encourage the staff of LPC. I know they will serve to keep our spirits strong and empower us to move forward, upward and onward in the days ahead.
Rejoicing in the Lord,
Senior Associate Pastor
Wednesday, April 8, 2020 – How Is Your Soul?
John 13:21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
I once had someone ask me, “How’s your soul?” I will say it caught me off guard. I’m so used to people asking “How you doing?” or “What’s up?” or “What’s on your mind?” Most of the time the question is just a form of Hello without really expecting, or maybe not wanting, an answer. To ask, “How’s your soul?” is taking the question to a whole other level. A deeper level. A spiritual level. A question that begs the answer of one’s joy, sorrow or hopefulness.
I’ve always found great comfort when the Scriptures give us commentary of the state of Jesus’ soul, his spirit. For instance, if one reads through the Gospels, we are given the extra commentary that he was joyful when he healed someone, angry when he cleared the temple, sad when he arrived at the tomb of his close friend Lazarus, or in anguish when he was praying in the garden the night before his crucifixion.
Our passage for today begins with explaining that Jesus was troubled in spirit. This is the third and last time we read this in the Gospel of John. We read that Jesus saw Mary weeping over the death of her brother Lazarus (John 11:33); Jesus spoke of his impending death to Philip and Andrew (John 12:27). And now, Jesus is speaking of the impending betrayal by Judas and the abandonment by his closest friends as they will flee out of fear. Had someone asked Jesus at that moment “How’s your soul?” I imagine they may have learned far more than they had anticipated.
Several years ago, I had a student share a very painful story with me. I listened with much empathy. As she finished she said, “I don’t think Jesus can understand the pain and sorrow I felt and that I am still experiencing now.” I paused for a moment and then shared from John’s Gospel about Jesus’ pain, emotions and troubled spirit. Her whole demeanor changed. Years later she said her whole perception of Jesus had changed from that conversation and, as a result, she knew she could go to Jesus with her joys, sorrows, pain, and even her temptations and sin. She was confident that he would hear her and understand her pain.
As we move into the night of Jesus’ betrayal at the Last Supper, and his death on the cross on Friday, I encourage you to go to him. Go to our Lord with your troubles, your joys, your hopes, your questions, your anger, your burdens and sin, and know that he hears you, understands you, forgives you and loves you. Tell him today how your soul is doing. He is the one asking, he is the one who is able to listen.
Let us pray:
Lord, we are reminded today that you are more than able to sympathize with our weaknesses, for in every respect you have been tested as we are, and yet, without sin. Give us the courage today to approach your throne of grace with boldness, for it is there that we receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. Amen.
Peace be with you,
Senior Associate Pastor
Tuesday, April 7, 2020 – Which Jesus Do We Seek?
John 12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus…”
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…”
It was the Passover in Jerusalem. Thousands of people from all over the Holy Land and the world had come to Jerusalem to visit the Temple and celebrate these high Holy Days. However, at this time in history, many had also heard about the reputation of Jesus and wanted to see him and hear him.
The popular crowd, whom these Greeks represented, was not aware of the undercurrent and intrigue that threatened Jesus’ life. They probably wanted to encounter the powerful Jesus who turned water into wine, healed people and resurrected Lazarus. They wanted to feel his charisma and hear his good teaching. They wanted to tell people back home they had seen the now famous Rabbi.
They were, most likely, part of the great cloud of visitors the Pharisees noted when they said, “You see. We can do nothing. Look. The whole world has gone after him.”
These Greeks were probably merchants with wealth and used to attaining their goals. Their inquiry about Jesus was more than a request. It verged on command and demand. They were not likely to take “no” for an answer.
Evidently, Jesus does see them and speak to them. But the person he describes and embodies is not the powerful miracle-working Messiah they were hoping to hear and see perform. He delivers an unexpected message: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it. Those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life…”
The Greeks are the epitome of Type A success. They are seeking an inspirational message from a winning leader at the top of his game, but Jesus invites them to give up their lives and become servants.
Which Jesus do you seek? The glory of a powerful victorious winner or a declining star, a humble servant willing to give up everything to serve all?
For those of us who are winners, who are successful, with status, power, wealth and influence, the servant Jesus who gives up glory to die as a criminal is a shocking alternative universe, a long way from Greek influence and stature.
Passion Week is when we see the full glory of Jesus – the one who dies for the sin and misery of the world.
That is the Jesus I want to follow, but I have some Greek, Roman and Jewish resistances and hesitations.
Let us pray:
God, help me to see and follow the real Jesus! Help me be the servant who honors God. Amen.
Gareth Icenogle, Interim Pastor
Monday, April 6, 2020 – Generous Gratitude
“12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Six days before the Passover feast, Jesus has arrived to stay just a mile and a half outside Jerusalem at the home of good friends. This party is the night before what we know as Palm Sunday; tomorrow he will ride a donkey into Jerusalem and by the end of the week he will be on a cross.
After so much social isolation, it feels strange to read a story of a dinner party. Don’t you want to peak in the door and join in? Lazarus and sisters, Mary and Martha, are the hosts. We know Mary and Martha from a story in Luke in which they argued over household tasks when Jesus came to dinner. As in that story, tonight Martha is serving dinner and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, but this is not a night for squabbles. This is a night for celebration, because Jesus has brought their brother Lazarus back from death.
In the midst of this pandemic, some families are having that sort of celebration of a loved one rescued from the cusp of death. How do you even begin to express such gratitude? Boxes of chocolates for the doctors and nurses just don’t do it. Maybe it’s donating a new wing at the hospital if you have the resources.
I think Mary had pondered how to show her gratitude to Jesus. She had probably considered several possibilities. From her closet she had taken down her most precious possession—that long-saved box, from its special hiding place. Mary was ready for just the right moment to pour out her gratitude to Jesus. Gratitude shown as generosity.
This final week of his earthly life, how can you show your gratitude to Jesus? Perhaps it is a long-saved treasure or one that you have shared sparingly before. For me it is time–time with Jesus, not “doing” for him, but “being” with him more generously than I usually am. What might that look like for you? Join me each day this week in keeping company with Jesus on his way to the cross.
Let us pray:
Dearest Jesus, we have walked with you; we have heard you teach; we have watched you heal; we have known your love. With deep gratitude, we step into this week with you as you give your very self. Amen
Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor
|Saturday, April 4, 2020 – Giving a Shout-Out!|
“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.“
On my walk this morning I was continuing to perfect the practice of walking and checking my emails at the same time, without running into anything, and I came across an email of thanks. One of our church members sent me an email thanking me for one of the reflections I wrote last week. It literally made me stop in my tracks. It was so positive and encouraging, it was what I needed to hear at just the right time. It really lifted my spirit. I thought about all that we are each going through, that this person paused and took the time to send such an uplifting note.
It led me to think about the Apostle Paul who, while sitting in a jail cell, took the time to write this letter of encouragement to the Philippian church. Paul even takes the time to give thanks for a certain man, Epaphroditus. A man who was clearly a beloved member of the Philippian church.
Paul is thankful that the church sent Epaphroditus to be with him. He wants them to know that Epaphroditus has become like a brother to Paul, ministering to his needs and, even more than that, has become a partner in ministry and a co-worker in the work of the Gospel. The fellowship of Epaphroditus is what Paul needs at just the right time. He’s obviously thankful that Epaphroditus survived a near death illness. Instead of keeping that thanks to himself, he writes it down for everyone to see. It’s what we may call today a “shout out”.
So I want to give a shout out today.
I want to give a shout out to our entire church staff, our preschool staff, our elders and deacons, to every member and friend of LPC. Thank you for finding new and creative ways to minister to our church family and our communities during this uncertain and challenging time. I could name names but that would just be impossible, there are just so many. So this must suffice: “To you, and for you, I give thanks to God!”
I want to give out one more shout out. I was watching my wonderful wife, Jenn, help one of her fifth grade students online to work through a math problem, to keep him up with the rest of his class. My shout out is to all the educators out there who are having to adjust their teaching style, lesson plans and goals to help keep their students engaged and educated through this crisis. I know you have a lot on your plate, and I just want to say, “Thank you!”
Who can you send a shout out to this weekend? Take the time to make it meaningful and make them stop in their tracks. It may just be what they need to hear, at just the right time.
Let us pray:
Lord, open our eyes, that we may see you in our brothers and sisters. Lord, open our ears, that we may hear the cries of the hungry, the cold, the frightened, the oppressed. Lord, open our hearts, that we may love each other as you love us. Help us to express that love, that we might be an encouragement to lift one another up, at just the right time. Amen.
Thanking God for you,
Steve Sweet, Sr. Associate Pastor
|Friday, April 3, 2020 – We Hope|
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy proved himself, because as a son with this father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.”
“I hope.” Those words roll off our lips rather easily at various times and seasons in our lives, especially now. “I hope” becomes a prayer, doesn’t it? A prayer for a different outcome, a change in circumstances, a return to something familiar, a prayer to get back to a time when things were different than they are now. In that context, “I hope” can be the expression of the difference in time between now and then. But is it more than that?
Paul hopes, as he awaits his trial, that Timothy will arrive in time so he can be dispatched to the Church at Philippi. Paul hopes that Timothy will be able send word back that all is well. Paul hopes that the church there will receive his trusted servant and partner in the work of the gospel so that work can continue on. And Paul hopes to win his freedom and visit the church there in person. Hope—the difference between now and then? As we read the text again, we pick up the subtle and yet profound difference in Paul’s prayer—the predicate becomes inexorably linked with the noun—”I hope in the Lord Jesus…” For certain, he wants all those things mentioned to happen, but it is how the sentence begins that caught my attention and perhaps yours as well.
“I hope in the Lord Jesus,” is a radical departure from our conventional wisdom and even with “faith” itself. What if, in hope, we are being invited, beyond time and the circumstances of the now, including the wish to return to then, but instead into the loving arms of our Lord and Savior who holds our lives in love beyond all time and there let go? Thomas Merton once said, “Without hope, our faith gives us only an acquaintance with God…for faith only knows Him as a stranger. But, hope casts us into the arms of His mercy and of His providence.”
When I was a younger man, I hoped in the Lord for something in return. (You have to start someplace.) Of course, I hoped for salvation and a right relationship with God. Of course, I hoped for an end to the chaos that reigned supreme in my life. Of course, I hoped for security, acceptance, and safety. But over the years, something stirred within me that only later I began to understand and struggle to bring into awareness every day: I hope in Him who loves me, in and of itself. Or as Merton puts it, “If I believe that He can love me, I must believe that I can love Him.”
Therefore, we hope, especially in times like these.
Let us pray:
We hope in you, Lord Jesus. We hope in your love and mercy and providence for our lives. And in the meantime, we hope to receive Timothy or Lydia, as we continue the good work of the gospel here in Laguna Beach. We hope to work for an end to the chaos of the present time, to embrace the gifts you have given us, to find a cure for this virus that has turned our lives upside-down, to bring us back together again, in one place, to sing your praises and tell our stories of your love and our love for you. Amen!
Reverend Gary Mills, Honorably Retired, PCUSA
|Thursday April 2, 2020 – Poured Out|
“But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So, you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
I trust this mediation finds you and your loved ones in good health and safely secured.
“I am being poured out,” Paul says to those who are struggling with his present circumstances, who feel the tension and isolation of his prison cell. Poured out, an interesting choice of words, that’s for sure. The mental images come to mind; broken, forsaken, lost, abandoned, discarded…it’s all there – poured out.
What a place to be. Something we wouldn’t choose, that’s for sure—poured out in that way.
But what if being poured out has another purpose altogether, where the images of brokenness and discard, isolation and rejection, give way to something wonderful, magical, and transformative in another way?
We read in scripture where Mary, full of faith and love for our Lord, poured out the expensive perfume on our Lord’s feet—poured out without regard to its cost—poured out so the house was filled with its fragrance—poured out without regard to the criticism she would receive.
So, what if to be poured out is the secret to spreading the fragrance of the Lord’s love through our life together in our church and in our lives outside its doors? Maybe that is why Paul says, “I’m being poured out, like a drink offering upon the sacrifice coming from your faith.” Or in other words, “I’m not forsaken here in this prison cell, forced into isolation or abandon to the refuse heap of discarded humanity gone astray. No, I’m rejoicing with all of you and want you to rejoice with me as I’m being poured out in service of your faith.”
Let us pray:
Lord, give us the strength to trust in you, to allow ourselves to be poured out in service of each other’s faith and to bring the sweet fragrance of your love to a world that lives in fear, brokenness and isolation. Amen.
Reverend Gary Mills, Honorably Retired PCUSA
|Wednesday April 1, 2020 – Shine Like Stars|
Phil. 2:14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.
One day, when I was a sophomore in high school, I can remember complaining to my grandparents about something. I guess I had been complaining quite a bit during that time in my life. I know, that’s hard to believe. A high-schooler grumbling and complaining about something, anything. My grandfather said to me, “Steve, can you try and go just one day without complaining?” I recall replying, “Looks like you couldn’t go today without complaining about me.” Let’s just say that didn’t go over very well, especially with a man who grew up in Belton, Texas, on a farm, working on railroad tracks during his high school summers!
A few years later, my grandparents watched first-hand as I gave my heart to Jesus Christ. Over the months and years ahead, they witnessed the slow but sure way that God was doing his good work on my character, attitude and focus in life. There was less complaining and more an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving. I remember us sitting out by the pool one afternoon sipping some iced tea, talking about our day. My grandfather turned to me and said, “I’ve been watching you, Steve, there’s something about that faith in Jesus that’s doing you right.” It occurred to me that as my words were moving from complaining to encouraging, it was having an effect on those around me – how they were perceiving Jesus and the Christian faith.
Paul speaks about this sort of transformation in his letter to the Philippians. Paul will boast that God’s children are shining like stars in a world that is desperately searching for light. When the world sees and hears a follower of Christ loving and living in the way of Jesus, they take notice of these beacons of light.
Here’s some encouragement. In and of myself, I can’t find the life-sustaining energy to change my attitude or my words. I can’t make myself shine like a beacon to the world. Yet, notice Paul uses the word star. Stars shine because there is a nuclear reaction going on deep inside—at their very core. That reaction gives off heat, and that extreme heat makes it shine. God’s Spirit that indwells us is setting off a reaction that is causing us to slowly shine light into the world. It’s not by our power, but by the love of Jesus that is demonstrated in and through our words and actions.
In these days of uncertainty and isolation, I can find myself gravitating towards grumbling and complaining. How needful I am each morning to ask (to sometimes cry out) for God to set off that chain reaction, to help me to shine with words and an attitude like Christ that will reflect the love of Christ.
I’m aware that my family, friends, and neighbors are watching. Maybe, just maybe, a neighbor may say over the backyard fence, “I’ve been watching you, neighbor, during this time – there’s something about that faith in Jesus that’s doing you right.”
Let us pray:
Lord, when I am filled with anxiety and begin to gravitate towards grumbling and complaining, remind me of your love for me so that I might remind my neighbor of your love for them. I pray for our church family, may our hearts burn with love for you, O Lord, so that we, too, shine like stars. Amen.
Steve Sweet, Senior Associate Pastor
|Tuesday, March 31 2020 – Fear and Trembling (A Hard Call)|
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
This excerpt from Paul’s letter (epistle) to the Philippian church was made dramatically popular by Soren Kierkegaard in 1843 in his philosophical treatise by the same name. The essence of Kierkegaard’s question has to do with the nature of God and human choice to act in faith, even if it is contrary to self-preservation.
Why would a human being sacrifice themselves if they weren’t mentally imbalanced or trying to be a hero? Kierkegaard tries to answer the question by dealing with the amazing transcending power of faith (trusting God).
Paul is here trying to convince the Philippians to live by faith like Jesus, he, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Each is willing to die for the good of others, for the good of humanity.
As we see in the news now, doctors, nurses, store clerks and other service people, even family members, are dying while they try to help us. Some of them are doing it to keep a pay check, but many are doing it to save us from this terrible pandemic. They are working out their (our) salvation with fear and trembling.
When the people around us are threatened, each of us, as individuals or groups, has to make decisions that impact the preservation or destruction of life around us. You and I have to weigh our call in Christ to participate in saving humanity by laying down our lives. No one else can make that decision for us. However, we can and do seek help, wisdom and prayers from faithful people around us.
We might say this call of Paul is an entrepreneurial venture. While we walk together as disciples (individuals, couples, families, teams or churches), there are special moments when each of us has to decide to go the extra mile of self-sacrifice of our time, our money, our jobs, our lives.
Let’s pray God gives wisdom and courage to us when we hear this call.
Merciful God, help us see in Jesus this special love, this invitation to lay down our lives for the saving of others. Keep us from panic, anxiety, hero worship and emotional imbalance. Make our living and lives count for the good of the Gospel like Jesus. Amen.
Gareth Icenogle, Interim Pastor
|Monday, March 30, 2020 – Jesus Is Lord!|
The Faith Confession of the Early Church
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
We have been looking at the ancient Christian hymn quoted by Paul in Philippians 2. In the hymn’s first stanza, 2:5-8, we have seen Jesus emptying himself of divine privilege, fully embracing the human experience, and giving himself as a self-sacrificing servant, to the extent of giving his life on the cross.
Today we look at the hymn’s second stanza, Phil. 2:9-11, which describes God’s response to Jesus’ self-giving.
Although it is in what we now call Greece, Philippi was a Roman colony where status and social climbing were important, and the humility of Jesus would have been seen as a short-coming. Yet Paul claims that God has vindicated the servant life of Jesus by promoting him from the bottom of the social spectrum to the top: Lord over all.
Romans were clear about who was Lord over all: Caesar! In a world where people were made to kneel and call Caesar “Lord,” Paul claims that someday all people—even Caesar himself—would bow the knee and proclaim that this servant Jesus is in fact the highest Lord of all. Fighting words! There is a new king in town, and his ways have little in common with the ways of power politics and intrigue.
Many think that “Jesus is Lord,” may have been the earliest confession of faith of the Church. Today when people become members of our church, the first membership vow is “Do you confess that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” What does “Jesus is Lord” mean to you?
Many years ago, Presbyterian pastor Bob Munger wrote a little booklet, “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” He wrote about life as a house containing many rooms: living room, play room, bedroom, dining room, etc. and asked which rooms of life you had opened up to Jesus and which you had kept closed to him.
These days of pandemic are a good time to reconsider that question. Might there be parts of your life that are closed off to Jesus as Lord? How would your life look different if you invited him to be Lord even in those parts of your life?
Let us pray:
Lord Christ, we open ourselves to you and invite you to come afresh into the closed places of our lives.
The peace of Christ be with you!
Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor
|Saturday, March 28, 2020 – A Love that Descends|
Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
At the beginning of the year, the stewardship committee of our church placed before us the stewardship theme: 20/20 Vision. Central to this theme is asking God for a clarity of vision for LPC’s mission in the next decade. Our hopeful expectation is that God is calling us to a mission that extends into our neighborhoods and communities and into the world.
Several years ago, ok I’ll admit it, over a decade ago, I started getting headaches. It became apparent after seeing an optometrist that I needed to get glasses. I will never forget putting on that first pair of glasses, everything came into focus. The dim and blurry became bright and clear. The thing is, I didn’t realize what I wasn’t seeing until I put on those glasses. Once I did, what a glorious day!
As Paul writes to the Philippians he is giving them new glasses, new lenses. He wants them to put on Christ. Christ is to become the lens through which they view the world. This passage has been called the great parabola of Scripture.
What does that mean? Jesus descends from the highest position in the heavens, enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, to the lowest position in the universe—born as a vulnerable infant, and then to his death on a cross.
Paul goes on to say that Jesus voluntarily humbled himself by revealing to us a love that descends. The creator of all became part of creation as he humbled himself as a human in the form of a servant, obedient to death, even to a painful and humiliating death on a cross.
This is the lens through which we are called to live our lives. Seeing God, ourselves, and our neighbor through the humility of Christ: a love that descends. Every day and night we are called to put on the lens of Christ. As we do, we will see Christ in our circumstances more clearly and follow in his ways more responsively.
What might this look like for us in this time of safe at home? We might secretly bring in our neighbor’s trash cans; check-in on some one who is alone; make “another” meal for someone; help a child with homework or some fun craft; deliver needed items to the Laguna Beach Food pantry; stop and give thanks for someone; stop and pray for someone; send a quick text; make a phone call; give financially to the church; or even think of the next person who goes to the grocery store before we buy that 3rd package of toilet paper, and on and on it goes.
Once we put on Christ-lenses we will see life and neighbor as Christ in our midst. In doing so we grow into a 20/20 vision church and the path ahead is clear: Ain’t no stoppin’ us now! Christ in us, a love that descends!
Let us pray:
Christ, open our eyes to see you. Christ, open our ears to hear you. Christ, open our hearts to love as you love. Amen.
Thankful for you,
Steve Sweet, Senior Associate Pastor
|Friday, March 27, 2020 – Defer to One Another|
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
Before Paul asks them to take the next step in following Jesus, he asks his readers to reflect on how they have felt supported and connected. Have they experienced encouragement, comfort, and connection together in the Spirit of Jesus? Many of you have said how much you have felt that sort of support of one another in these weeks of sheltering in place.
If you have experienced others walking alongside you, Paul challenges you to take the next step—to have the same mind. That doesn’t mean we would agree on everything! Even Paul and Barnabas disagreed enough that they went their separate ways in ministry. The one mind to which we are called isn’t my mind (though sometimes I wish it were!), or your mind, or even Paul’s mind. It is the same mind that Jesus had: of thinking of others as better than ourselves and considering their interests, not only my own.
It flies in the face of our spirit of American independence to defer to one another, but thinking of the interests of other people has become a life or death issue with every decision we make or don’t make about social distancing, hoarding toilet paper, over-buying groceries, sheltering in place. COVID-19 has caused us to realize how interdependent we are.
Some churches are talking about abandoning social distancing to meet together for Easter Sunday worship. As much as we’d like to be together, that’s not the decision we’ve made. It isn’t fear that is keeping us apart, but it is this “same mind that was in Christ Jesus,” to choose not what we prefer, but what will protect the most vulnerable among us. May our own experience of support from one another cause us to extend that support to others, even when it means our own inconvenience.
Let us pray:
O God, we thank you that you walk with us through every season of life, even this one. Teach us to choose the ways of Jesus, even when it means we might have to give up our own preferences. Give us grace and wisdom in these days. Amen.
– Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor
|Thursday, March 26, 2020 – Suffering for Christ|
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:29-30
Paul’s letter to the Philippians turns at this point in verses 29-30. Paul directs his focus from a discussion about how his current situation is serving to actually advance the witness of the gospel, to one of comfort for the church in Philippi that he loves.
Paul affirms them in their suffering. Though they are not in prison as Paul is, Paul knows they are concerned for the future of Paul’s ministry, the church’s ministry, and yes, even for the safety of their own lives. How discerning and compassionate of Paul. Paul’s love is so deep for the Philippians that he doesn’t want them to miss this opportunity to see God in the midst of the current circumstances of life.
I was grateful for Steve Sweet’s writing yesterday. I was so encouraged by the picture of his family together, bumping up against each other, yet committed to growing together in love. I thought about many of you. Though we are not together physically we will be tempted to bump up against one another in frustration and anxiety.
Paul wants us to know that we are called to suffer together. This word suffer is the word, paschal. You have heard the phrase the paschal mystery. This is the mystery of our faith –– in dying to self, we rise to newness of life. In Jesus’s death, there is resurrection and new life. So if we believe in Christ, we will also suffer for/with Christ.
How is the church suffering like Paul? They have to surrender Paul into God’s hands and trust in God’s goodness for Paul and for the church. At the same time, Paul is doing that with them! There’s the mystery! This is how the love of Christ binds us together in suffering. When we love one another, we suffer together.
So, we are suffering together. We are dying to self during this COVID-19 crisis. We have entered into the paschal mystery during the season of Lent. We are called to suffer compassionately on behalf of one another, on behalf of our city, our country and our world.
Maybe you are as surprised by these verses as the Philippians must have been? Be comforted this morning that Christ is in you, and Christ is with you. I’m thankful for the fellowship and love we share in Christ.
Paul’s question for the Philippians and for us is: Don’t you know that if you believe in Christ, you will also suffer for the sake of Christ?
Yesterday I found out that my friend Leanne is in the ICU at Mission Hospital. She is a pastor in our presbytery. I’m suffering with her because we are bound together by the love of Christ. This crisis suddenly got real for me yesterday. We were planning to lead a women’s retreat together in early May.
Pray for my sister in Christ, Leanne, her husband, Kevin and their son Noah. Pray for Community Presbyterian Church to our south. This crisis touches all of us because each of us is called to enter into the paschal mystery where, in dying to self, we are raised to new life and we see God in ever deeper, more truthful ways and we are transformed to love God and to love neighbor even as we love ourselves.
Let us pray:
Lord, we lift up to you all who are suffering this day with this virus and ask for your healing and sustaining love. We pray for Leanne and her family, for our sister church, and for all the churches within our presbytery. We pray for our families, our neighborhoods, the places where we live, that we might show the compassionate love of Christ so that all may come to know the love of God in Christ. Show us ways to nurture your presence in us, to see your grace around us, and to trust in your faithful love towards us in Christ. Amen.
Christ be with you all.
Beth Pinney, Director of Worship
|Wednesday, March 25, 2020 – Side-by-Side|
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel. – Philippians 1:27
Like yours, my house has changed drastically over the last few weeks. My two college sons are now at home doing all their schooling online. We went from three of us at the house to five in just a few days. Three daily routines, existing side-by-side, are now five routines all happening at home! School, work, meals, exercise, loud voices, video games, music that’s not my jam, co-existing, as the Sweet family does its part in social distancing by staying at home. Talk about a challenge.
In just a few days we quickly realized that we needed to work as a team if we were going to still like each other at the end of this quarantine. As a result, we decided that we will do whatever it takes to stay strong together. We now have a common goal to stay strong as a family. But how? We realized the importance of communicating issues regularly, eating and praying together and sharing common responsibilities. We’ve had our ups and downs, but so far, so good. In that, I rejoice.
As we read through Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are becoming aware that there are certain aspects of church fellowship that cause Paul to rejoice. In verse 27 we see three of them: living a life worthy of the Gospel, standing firm in one spirit, and standing side-by-side with single-minded faith for the gospel.
Do you notice the one thing they all have common? The community of faith is living together with a common goal. They are committed to working together for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ
Yes, there is much that can cause division in a time of crisis, but a family and community of faith can endure and thrive as they keep their eyes on a common goal. Laguna Presbyterian Church is committed to a common goal. We are committed to standing side-by-side as we share together one faith, one hope, one baptism, one Lord. We are standing together, side-by-side, committed to proclaiming the hope of the good news of Jesus Christ in every season of life.
Standing side-by-side with you in Christ,
Steve Sweet, Senior Associate Pastor
|Monday, March 23, 2020 – I Will Continue to Rejoice|
|Philippians 1:14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear. 15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.|
|Paul’s imprisonment, rather than discouraging the Christians in Rome, has had the opposite effect. While Paul can’t be out and about telling people about Jesus, they have picked up the mantle and are doing what he is no longer free to do. There is a rival group also talking about Jesus. Some people believe it is a Christian group whose teachings are different than Paul’s. Paul doesn’t resent this other group, because the word about Jesus is getting out one way or another.|
One way or another seems to be the way the word of Jesus is getting out in these days. Have you watched or listened to the online services of other churches? There’s a huge variety out there. Some of it feels comfortable to my style of worship; some doesn’t. Some proclaim Jesus as I understand him; others not so much. But who am I to stand in the way of their ministry? God is at work through them all. It’s not about competition, but cooperation. It’s about trusting that God is at work to bring about his purposes as Jesus is proclaimed everywhere.
He’s got this.
Let us pray:
Lord, we thank you for the many ways your people here and around the world are responding to this virus. Bless their ministry. Give creativity and courage to them and to us as we seek to serve you in these days. Amen.
Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor, LPC
|Saturday, March 21, 2020 – Truthfulness and Hope|
|Phil. 1:12 I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.|
|The church of Philippi was curious about the Apostle Paul’s condition in prison. Rumors were spreading rapidly. Questions were being asked. With each rumor and each question, there was the potential for increasing either their joy or their anxiety. Would Paul be released to continue God’s mission of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ or was Paul still in prison? Would they ever see him again or had Paul been executed? If so, what would this mean for the church in Philippi? |
In Paul’s day it could take months, if not years, to get a report. How different from today! Think about it: we learn within seconds what is happening on the other side of the world. Can you imagine the church’s response when they finally received Paul’s letter?
Paul never shied away from truthfulness –”telling it like it is.” As a leader, he made the decision to be honest about his condition and how he understood God’s purposes in every situation. Yes, he continued to be in prison. Yes, he was still under guard constantly (probably chained to a prison guard 24/7). Yes, he was in fact suffering. And yes, he was missing community tremendously. Yet Paul is fully confident that this condition will lead to God’s greater good. Fellow prisoners were hearing about Jesus. Prison guards were hearing about Jesus. The entire Imperial Guard was hearing about Jesus, the only life-giving Lord. Because of Paul’s example, the church could be encouraged to walk through fearful times with boldness and faith. Paul’s leadership brought truthfulness, saturated with hope.
How do you pursue truthfulness? What gives you hope during this time of crisis?How can you and your family speak both the truth of the current situation, while living in the hope of our life-giving Jesus?
Psalm 121 came to mind as I was walking this morning. While we can’t meet together, we can make this our prayer today as a church.
Let us pray:
I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore. Amen.
Steve Sweet, Sr. Associate Pastor, LPC
|Friday, March 19, 2020|
How can we help others when we are self-isolating at home?
Phil. 1:9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Many of you have asked how you can help others when you are self-isolating at home. Some of you have more time on your hands than you usually would. How about being intentional about setting aside time to pray for one another and for our world? What will you pray? Healing, health, protection, containment of COVID-19, for sure. You could also pray as Paul did here for the church in Philippi
When Paul prays from the isolation of his prison, he prays for their growth in the ways of Jesus – that they will overflow with his kind of love — agape love which is not based on only affection or attraction, but which is love in action; self-giving love. He prays that this love will lead to discernment, so they can wisely sort out and choose God’s ways in the midst of a world full of choices which look like shades of gray. The purpose? That they might grow more and more to become mature in Christ.
What a great way for us to pray for one another, that in these strange days, God will use this time to grow us in love and discernment—that we may emerge from this time more mature in walking in Jesus’ ways. I like this poem which I’ve adapted from the work of poet Lynn Ungar.
What if you thought of this time
As the Jews consider the Sabbath—
The most sacred of times?
And when your body has become still,
Reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
In ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
Are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
Of compassion that move, invisibly,
Where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
For better or for worse,
In sickness and in health,
So long as we all shall live.
And one of my favorite prayers adapted from St. Augustine of Hippo:
Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep today.
Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest your weary ones.
Bless your dying ones.
Soothe your suffering ones.
Pity your afflicted ones.
Shield your joyous ones, and all for your love’s sake.
With love and discernment,
Rev. Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor
|Thursday, March 19, 2020 – Confident that God Is at Work|
Phil. 1:6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
How is your confidence today? It’s really striking to me that Paul can be so confident in his current situation, in prison. Paul is confident that God, who started the Philippians on this journey of faith will complete the good work among them—fully and completely by the day of Christ’s return. Honestly, it takes faith to say something like that! Especially when it doesn’t look like it!
Paul knows what we’re thinking: “Oh Paul, can’t you see what’s happening? You are in prison; we are struggling!” We could add our own thoughts to this too: “Oh Paul, how can you say that? Are you the only one not watching the news?” Paul says, “It’s not crazy for me to think like this because I know you love me! I know that you and I are bound together by the grace of God in Christ. I can see the gospel at work in your lives. Yes, even right now!”
Paul’s greatest desire is to be with them again. Can’t you just hear the emotion in Paul’s voice: “it is with all the compassion and affection of Christ Jesus that I long for your friendship and for the fellowship of the church.”
It’s when we are without someone or something that we really sense its true value. I long to be back in worship and fellowship with each of you. I want to have the faith of Paul to trust that God who began a good work among us is at work in the now to bring it to completion: yes, even in our inability to physically gather together.
Just writing this short devotional has given me confidence. So with confidence I ask: How is God encouraging you today? Is there a word or a phrase that speaks to your heart in these few short, but powerful verses from Philippians 1:6-8?
Here is a prayer that was shared by our presbytery yesterday:
May we who are merely inconvenienced
remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
remember those who must choose between
preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children
when their schools close remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money
in the tumult of the economic market
remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot
physically wrap our arms around each other
let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God
to and from our neighbors. Amen.
Confident that God is at work among us,
Beth Pinney, Worship Leader
Prayer for Pandemic by Cameron Wiggins Bellm of Seattle, WA
|Wednesday, March 18, 2020 – Constantly Praying|
Phil. 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.
I had a seminary professor remind our class every day that it “all starts with prayer.” He emphasized how prayer reveals our dependence on Christ for life and ministry. We started and ended every class with prayer. He challenged us to make that a pattern for our lives, starting and ending every day with prayer.
Paul begins the letter to the Philippians saying that he is constantly in prayer. How can that be possible?
Today, I will be driving one of my sons, Joe, down to San Diego to clear out his dorm room. All of the students have been asked to clear out their rooms by Friday as the college will go completely online during this crisis. It’s going to be a big job. We have our work cut out for us! Can I just sit back while Joe packs up his stuff and loads up the car and say, “Joe, I can’t lift that box, I’m in a constant state of prayer?” That would not go over well with him.
Paul is saying that whenever he thinks of the Philippians he is constantly in prayer, praying with joy. That makes more sense. Whenever God brings someone to mind, we pause, we pray, we lift them up with joy and entrust everything to God. Paul was experiencing joy because the people of Philippi were sharing together in the fellowship of Jesus.
I was talking to a pastor today and he said, “We may have suspended our Sunday worship for a time, but we have not suspended our community, our hope and our mission.” Then with joy, we paused and prayed for our churches.
Who or what are you being drawn to pray for today?
What do you need prayer for today?
Who can you reach out to with a call, email or text, to let them know you are praying for them?
Lord Jesus, we pray constantly with joy for our church in such a time as this, empower us to continue to find new and innovative ways for us to be the community of faith you have called us to be. Amen.
Steve Sweet, Associate Pastor
|Tuesday, March 17, 2020 – When Confined, Choose to Serve|
Phil. 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is widely believed the Apostle Paul wrote the Philippian Letter from a Roman prison (with Timothy his disciple) where he was waiting trial or facing death. He had limited and narrowing options. But he used what freedom he had to reach out to others and care for them. It is quite likely he made friends with the jailers and guards and court personnel. He prayed for his friends and the churches he founded around Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He and his colleague Silas established the Church in Philippi as the first church in Greece (Acts 16:11-40). He had a long term relationship with them and loved them deeply.
Paul’s first desire was to use all his resources, time, skills, mind and relationships, to be a servant of Jesus. He spent all he had reaching out to the people around him in whatever means possible. He was disciplined in his focus upon Christ and every human being he knew. This letter is the act of a servant leader reaching out to the church and any who would read it. He prayed for them and wrote to them.
How are you using your increased confinement to reach out to the people you know?
Gracious Lord Jesus, help us to continue to reach out to those we know and love as well as those we barely know. Help us to use technology to touch others. Amen.
From My Home Self-Isolation
– Gareth Icenogle, Interim Pastor
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