Sunday, August 27, 2017

What are you waiting for?

I wonder, how do you feel when you need to wait? The word "wait" these days has become one of those "four letter words" that people avoid saying out loud, let alone desire to hear from another person. However, waiting in and of itself is not always seen as a negative experience. We will happily wait for something that we know is going to provide a big pay off. For example, a yearly bonus at work or a promised gift that we expect to receive for a birthday or Christmas. Then there are those times when our expectations can get the best of us and any delay that interferes with the timetable we set for receiving what we are waiting for can result in anger and frustration. There are also situations that are painful when we are in the midst of waiting. For example, a loved one who has a terminal illness and is slowly declining towards death or the phone call from the doctor revealing test results that are shocking and unexpected. For followers of Jesus Christ, the "waiting game" can be even more challenging when we know that God is well aware of a particular situation yet it seems that He is either slow to respond or altogether silent. I recently finished reading the second of two books that I purchased on the subject of waiting on God. One book, "Waiting on God:What to do When God Does Nothing" by Wayne Stiles, looked at the perspective of waiting on God through the story of Joseph. The author did an excellent job of filling in the gaps on what the characters in the story may have been thinking or feeling at different points in the narrative. The author's approach seemed to breathe new life into a story I have read countless times in the Bible. The second book, "When God Says "Wait":Navigating life's detours and delays without losing your faith, your friends or your mind." by Elizabeth Laing Thompson, took on a perspective which was a bit more personal. The author looked at the stories of 12 Biblical characters who waited for God to move in their individual lives and/or the lives of His people, Israel. The author then went on to relate her own personal struggles which paralleled what the Biblical characters may have been experiencing. In both cases, I felt I could relate to what both authors were ultimately trying to convey which was waiting on God is not easy and we may experience some bumps and bruises along the way but in the end it is well worth the wait. There are many verses in Scripture that encourage and exhort us to wait for the Lord. There are quite a few Psalms about waiting (Psalm 27:14; Psalm 130:5; Psalm 40:1) to name a few. Even in the New Testament we are encouraged to wait for various situations to take place. After His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus gave His disciples these final instructions, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about." (Acts 1:4 NIV) Paul talks about all of creation groaning with expectation as well as the Spirit within us inwardly groaning as we wait for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23) Paul likewise encourages Titus, one of his converts who was a valuable asset to Paul in ministry, to wait for our ultimate desire, the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ, "For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope----the appearing of the glory of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good." (Titus 2:11-14 NIV) There's not a human being on the face of the earth who has not experienced the agony and the ecstasy of waiting for something or someone. However, apart from God, waiting can result in depression and hopelessness because human beings like to believe we have more control over life's circumstances rather than the reality that we cannot dictate or expect certain outcomes. If you were to question any person who plays the lottery when the jackpot is in the millions, each one would most likely respond that they hold the "winning" ticket. However, when someone else claims the prize, feelings of anger and jealousy often rise up within us. We justify our feelings by thinking we deserved the jackpot rather than the winner, especially if the winner possesses qualities or characteristics we don't like (i.e. they are a minority or overweight, or elderly or from another country) When we choose to follow Christ we come to understand that the times of waiting are not a punishment, attack, or rejection, on God's part. During those waiting periods God is preparing us for what lies ahead, assuring that we will be well prepared for the outcome. God always has our best interest at heart even when the situation surrounding us seems to indicate the opposite. Please, don't get me wrong, waiting does not mean we will always do so patiently or with a smile on our face. There are plenty of Biblical examples of those who failed to wait for God to fulfill a promise and ran into trouble as a result of their impatience. (i.e. Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 16) If we remember that God is seeking to conform us closer to the image of His Son, it may help us to tolerate the need to wait. James reminds us, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4 NIV) James was addressing fellow believers under significant persecution unlike anything that we may have experienced in our lives. So what are you waiting for? Are you waiting for circumstances or situations to work out according to your plan? If so, you will more than likely be disappointed. God in Christ offers us the strength and comfort of knowing that He has "our back" and you may be surprised at the outcome!
"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Intimate Knowing

"The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend." (Exodus 33:11 NIV)

I was reading this passage not too long ago and two words came to mind, "intimate knowing." How many of us walk around guarded in our relationships out of fear that if others truly saw us for who we are, they would reject us? We constantly wear masks to suit whatever social situation we may encounter in life. We take on the image of a chameleon, changing our expressions and demeanor to keep another person guessing as to who is the "real" me. Intimate knowing comes out of a relationship that allows a person to be themselves without having to wear a mask or pretend to hide our weaknesses and/or faults. There is no need to fear judgment or condemnation. Can you imagine what it was like for Moses to have the Lord speak with him as a friend? We all long for relationships that can be that deep and intimate. Some may say, isn't that the experience one has when they are married? While it is true, marriage is the one relationship where it is safe to be vulnerable with your spouse, if we are really honest we even do some hiding with our husband or wife. We are never quite sure in relationships if at some point we are going to do or say something beyond the scope of forgiveness. However, with God there is no hiding place. Psalm 139:7-12 states, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you." (NIV) How did it feel for Moses to have such a relationship with God? Although God is the Almighty, He reached down to Moses in such an approachable way. Even the place where Moses met with God was called the tent of meeting which implied a relationship. For us, we come to intimately know God in Jesus. Although Jesus is Lord, co-equal with the Father, He came to us in our humanity so we would have an experience like Moses, talking to God face to face as one speaks with a friend. We don't have to pretend with God nor fear judgment or condemnation because of our shortcomings. Moreover, this intimate knowing is made more powerful through the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit serves as the concrete reflection of the intimacy we share with God. I pray we will all long to taste of this "intimate knowing." Dare we open our hearts to Jesus and discover parts of ourselves that have been hidden for so long? I offer this prayer that filled my spirit longing for a deeper relationship with Jesus. "Ah Sovereign Lord, tell me my story! Tell me Great and Awesome Storyteller, the story of my life as You created it to be. The brush strokes of beauty with all the subtle hues of color blending together into one creation. Intimate knowing of You, intimately knowing me." Amen. 
Grace and mercy be yours,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Through the Eyes of a Child

I have been praying lately about the idea of having fun. This may seem like an unusual prayer but I am always at a loss for words whenever someone asks me, what do you do for fun? There are things that I enjoy doing on a regular basis. My husband and I have a date night every Saturday which includes going out to dinner and then watching a Netflix DVD movie. However, I can't really pinpoint many times when I have felt an overwhelming sense of freedom that accompanies really having fun. It's similar to the experience of watching children get really excited over the simplest activities. I grew up as a "parentified child" which simply means that I was overly responsible and functioned more like a little adult than a child. As a result, I did not have the opportunity to delight in the fun typically associated with childhood. On Memorial Day weekend my husband and I went to Maine to visit our granddaughters. The oldest is 3 years and the baby is 6 months old. While visiting, we made a trip to the mall to pick up a few items for the baby. One of the attractions for children at the mall is a play area with various activities of interest. One of the activities that caught the attention of the 3 year old was a carousel. She asked her parents if she could go look at it and they were willing but told her she could only watch "with her eyes" which meant she wasn't going to ride the horses. I watched her standing there somewhat forlorn, holding her daddy's hand while the other children were enjoying a fun ride. Something in my spirit was touched and I felt powerfully drawn to the ride. I offered, with her parent's permission, to take my granddaughter on the carousel. One of the few memories I have of experiencing fun as a child was going to an amusement park and riding the carousel. We bought her ticket and I helped her onto the horse of her choosing. I stood next to her for the sake of safety. As the ride was set in motion, I could sense my granddaughter's delight with the whole experience. For the first time in a long time as an adult I understood what it was like to have fun and become immersed in the joy of the moment. When adults do something extra special for children, the child perceives that adult as "god-like", in essence bigger than life. The Lord seemed to be ministering to my heart and helping me to see that as my granddaughter delighted in me being by her side so she could have fun, so God was delighting being in the midst of my experiencing fun. In that moment I was His child, perfectly free to enjoy the fullness of just being me and not the overly responsible adult. In the gospel of Mark, chapter 10 we read that people were bringing their children to Jesus to have Him touch them but His disciples weren't too happy about it and started to rebuke the people. Perhaps in their minds they were thinking, Jesus was too important and had too much to do to stop and get involved with children. After all He was a responsible adult. However, Jesus responded, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them." (Mark 10:14-16) Jesus was trying to point out that the kingdom of God needs to be received as a gift, with all the openness and receptivity of a child. It's not about how overly responsible one needs to be, but rather how helpless we are apart from the love and grace of God. My granddaughter was helpless to do anything to get a ride on that carousel. She was powerless in that she had no money and no overly responsible act on her part was going to earn her the fun experience of riding the carousel. It wasn't until I extended her the love and grace and empowered her by giving her the ticket she required to ride the horse. All she had to do was receive the gift and enjoy. Likewise, God taught me not to hinder the child within that so desperately wants to experience the Father's joy and delight over her. In that moment, standing beside my granddaughter, I felt like Jesus was taking me in His arms, putting His hands on me and blessing me. May God bless you with the joyful experience of seeing the world through the eyes of a child. I can't wait until my next carousel ride! 😄
Peace Be With You!
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, April 13, 2017

New Life

This Sunday we celebrate the foundation of our faith which is Easter or as some refer to it, Resurrection Day. It is the day when we acknowledge that Jesus Christ rose from the dead after His crucifixion and three days in the tomb. His disciples had been scattered after His death and had lost all hope of anything ever being different in their lives. However, Jesus appearance to His disciples after He rose changed everything! As I was meditating on the idea of Jesus' resurrection infusing us with the spiritual hope of new life in Him, I was reflecting on a recent health crisis of a brother in Christ whose infusion of new life changed everything. For the sake of privacy I will call this brother, Sam. Sam had been having some trouble with his blood count for awhile and doctors were monitoring him closely. Finally, in January of 2017, Sam was diagnosed with leukemia. The medical plan was for Sam to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments to stabilize his cell count and bring him to a point of remission. Once remission was achieved, Sam was to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Sam, communicated his progress via e-mail to those who knew him well. The chemotherapy and radiation took its toll on Sam's body and he was praying that the treatment would be successful enough to move on to his bone marrow transplant. If the initial round of treatment failed to achieve remission, Sam would have to undergo another round of chemotherapy and radiation. By God's grace, the first round of treatment was successful. Sam achieved remission and underwent his bone marrow transplant in March. The transplant required that all of Sam's existing bone marrow be destroyed rendering his immune system non-existent. The new bone marrow would then be transplanted into his body with the expectation that it would regenerate and rebuild his body with healthy new blood cells. He would have to remain hospitalized to avoid coming into contact with any germs. Visitors would also have to be healthy and wear protective clothing and a mask. I sent Sam an e-mail describing what he experienced as a small "resurrection." Sam had hope that he would be able to get well but he expressed some uncertainty that the treatments would be successful. The chemotherapy and radiation coupled with the destruction of his bone marrow brought Sam to the point of death. His only hope was the new life that this bone marrow transplant promised to bring. The infusion of this new life, figuratively speaking, raised Sam from the dead. What a blessed Easter gift from the Lord! All around us new life is taking place as we step into spring. At our bird house attached to our deck, a male sparrow has been courting females for a few weeks seeking a "bride" who would share with him in creating new life. The sparrow finally found a willing partner and the two birds have begun building their nest. We as followers of Jesus Christ are called His "bride" and He is seeking those who would willingly join with Him in experiencing the new life He promised and with which He wants to infuse us through the shedding of His blood. Isaiah tells us, "I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels." (Isaiah 61:10) We have much to rejoice in this Easter. I encourage you to enter in, commit to following Him, and celebrate the new life that is yours because of Christ's resurrection. There is an Easter tradition commonly found in the Eastern Orthodox church. It is called the Paschal Greeting or the Easter Acclamation. It is based on the story in Luke 24 when two men encountered Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. After revealing Himself to the two men, they return to Jerusalem and find the eleven disciples. The two men then declared to the disciples, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." (Luke 24:34) The traditional Easter greeting involves one person declaring, "Christ is risen!" The response declares, "He is risen indeed!" I invite you to greet one another this Easter with all the joy and hope that this Paschal Greeting brings for CHRIST IS RISEN!
HE IS RISEN INDEED!
Pastor Sheree   

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Lenten Meditation: The Body

"While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is My body." (Matthew 26:26)

These words are what we refer to in the communion service as the words of institution. The words that were spoken by Jesus on that last night as He shared the Passover meal with His disciples before His betrayal and crucifixion. These words are repeated by followers of Christ on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly basis. Along with baptism, the Lord's Supper is recognized as one of the two observances that the church was to follow until Christ's second coming. Often times the rituals and liturgies of the church can become for some over time just another routine. We repeat the words by heart and know all the procedures that go along with observing the particular sacrament. I am currently reading a book entitled, "Liturgy of the Ordinary:Sacred Practices in Everyday Life." by Tish Harrison Warren. In the book she points out how activities of daily living can become opportunities for worship. So it is with the body. Have often do we think about our bodies in a way that opens up our hearts to worship God? Many of us have been raised to think about our bodies from the perspective of our the culture. What we do to take care of our bodies is seen as part of the mundane routine of our daily existence. (i.e. brushing our teeth, taking a shower, etc.) However, what if these so called "mundane activities" were seen as opportunities for worship? We tend to believe that our bodies exist according to our culture to engage in activities that we define as either good or bad or see as something imperfect that needs to be changed or fixed. How many advertisements do we watch on television for cosmetic surgeries that will give you the perfectly sculpted body? How much money is spent on cosmetics that are designed to ward off the effects of aging? How many of us can stand in front of a mirror and be totally satisfied with the appearance of our bodies? Sometimes the bodily functions that are a part of our humanity are not seen as acceptable and often downright embarrassing. Yet, Jesus came in a body. It was a human body with all the functions that define and set us apart from the rest of creation. God in the beginning fashioned the human body out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into the man. (Genesis 2:7) God declared all that he had made "good." In fact it was so good that God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone and He created another human body, a woman, to be the man's companion. (Genesis 2:18-23) At no time did God see the need to improve upon what He had created or fix some perceived defect. How often do we take the time to meditate on the complex nature of the body from the inside out? The uniqueness of our internal organs and the blood that sustains our life, not to mention the skeletal frame which holds everything in place. Furthermore, the outer layer of skin which protects our internal organs from harm. In fact the imagery of the body is so powerful that God calls it a temple and that temple is so sacred that negative consequences will result from anyone destroying our bodies. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) When we seek to bring physical harm and destruction to another human being we are desecrating the temple of God. God always sought to be close to His people, to dwell or abide with them. Prior to the construction of the physical temple by the Jewish people, the Lord met with His people at the Tent of Meeting or the Tabernacle which God commanded Moses to construct according to a specific set of plans. (Exodus 35-40) God's glory dwelt within the Tabernacle. After the construction of the physical temple, by Solomon, (1 Kings 6) the Jews set the temple apart as the sacred "residence" of Yahweh. However, God wanted to be even closer to His people and God used a human body to accomplish His purpose. Jesus declares it so in the Gospels when His accusers testify that Jesus stated, "...I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days." (Matthew 26:61) What Jesus' accusers failed to understand is that He was speaking about His physical body which was going to be crucified and rise again as guess what...a body! Although Christ's resurrected body was unique, with new capabilities and properties, He was still recognizable as a human being, bearing the scars of crucifixion. And when Christ returns He will come as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in a body! Paul emphasizes the sacredness of the body, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (1 Corinthians 6:19) If this was not enough, Jesus did not call His people a group, a committee, or a gang. He calls us His body of which He is the Head. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) So sacred is the body that Christ offers us His own body using the imagery in describing the bread of communion. So during this time of Lent when so many "give up" certain practices or behaviors, let us commit to "giving up" the world's definition of the body and seeing our bodies as God sees and has created them--holy and sacred vessels for His honor and glory. My prayer is for all of us to be able to look in the mirror and meditate on our bodies, the temple which is inhabited by the Spirit of the living God and to humbly bow down and worship!
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God---this is your true and proper worship." (Romans 12:1)
Shalom!
Pastor Sheree