Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Be Thankful!

When I was a child I was taught that I needed to say "thank you" for any gift that I had received from another person. Furthermore, if it was a close relative I would have to send them a "thank you" note. If someone performed a nice gesture towards me, that would require another verbal response of "thank you." I have noticed that nowadays the word "thank you" is rarely heard and it is considered odd and even old fashioned to send someone a "thank you" note. It is just taken for granted that one is grateful and no words need to be spoken. When I say "thank you" to someone for a kind gesture, at times I have noticed varied reactions from utter shock and disbelief to a smile of delight that there are still folks that demonstrate some manners. It seems when Thanksgiving rolls around, that is the time that you here the word "thank you" uttered by everyone as a response to "I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving." There are even Thanksgiving cards that people purchase and send to friends and loved ones. The question is why do we set aside one day out of the year to be openly thankful? Is there not more we can be thankful for every day of the year? The Bible's response is a resounding "YES!" and God sets the expectation for us. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we read, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (NIV)


Give Thanks

In the Greek the words, "give thanks" are in the present tense. The present tense indicates a continuous action. Paul is in essence commanding us to continually give thanks in all circumstances. Some may struggle with the idea of giving thanks in certain situations and under certain circumstances. Many times we tend to overlook the word "in" and substitute the word "for" in this verse. Paul is not suggesting that we need to be thankful for people suffering, starving, being unemployed, or whatever tragic situation an individual may experience. Paul is trying to communicate that in those desperate situations we can still foster an attitude of thanksgiving because our God is with us. He sees, He hears, and He cares about what is going on in our lives. Although the outcomes may not be what we desire or expect, God has promised that there will be a day when all the wrongs will be made right. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4 NIV) 


Jesus knows our suffering

We have that guarantee because Jesus Christ knows our suffering and He died and rose again so that sickness, suffering, and even death do not have the last word in this world. Paul tells us that rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks on an ongoing basis is God's will for us in Christ Jesus. God's will is always for our good and His glory and is never meant to punish or harm. 


We are the recipients of many blessings

 Although every individual's situation is different and our struggles varied, we can never exhaust the list of things to be thankful for because we are the recipients of many blessings. I pray that we will not relegate thanksgiving to one day but seek every day to find something for which we can give thanks no matter how great or small, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary for James reminds us, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17 NIV)

May you enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving!
Pastor Sheree


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Brush Strokes of Grace

I wonder what comes to mind when you hear the word "grace?" Those who are followers of Jesus Christ will often times respond with the standard theological answer that we have been taught or heard preached from the pulpit. "Grace" many will tell you is God's free gift to us who don't really deserve it. We have even developed an acronym to help us remember G.R.A.C.E. (God's Riches At Christ's Expense.) Those believers who have studied Greek will tell you that "grace" is from the Greek word "charis" meaning grace, favor, and kindness. None of these responses in and of themselves is wrong yet we at times can limit "grace" to these stock answers. 

Grace


The reality is grace is so much bigger and can be seen in so many other ways. My husband and I recently attended a wedding in New Hampshire for one of his nieces. The wedding took place near Mount Washington. The colors of the leaves as we drove up through New Hampshire against the backdrop of the mountains was absolutely spectacular! 

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands, day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world." (Psalm 19:1-4 NIV)

This is a brush stroke of grace! This is the favor and kindness of God that creation without words displays a magnificence that is a reflection of God. During that same trip, on our way home, we were within feet of becoming involved in an accident. We did not clearly see what happened but saw the aftermath as we noticed plastic from the body of a car suddenly flying through the air as several vehicles were rear ended. We were able to stop in time and not become part of the pile up.

"You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." (Psalm 32:7 NIV)

This is a brush stroke of grace! The Lord's hand was upon us in that moment and we are grateful. This incident is not to imply that God will rescue us from every dilemma or difficulty we experience in this life, however it's in the difficult moments that we can still experience a brush stroke of His grace. The greatest brush stroke of grace is the salvation we receive through Jesus Christ.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith---and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God---not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV)

We are a brush stroke of grace


The word "handiwork" can be translated as "work of art." In essence we are a brush stroke of grace! When we commit our lives to Christ through placing our faith in Him, we are inviting God to use us as a pallet to paint the world with His grace. How awesome is that! I pray that you will keep your eyes open to every brush stroke from the Master's hand and then go and paint the world with His love!
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Be Free!

There has been much controversy in the news lately about the President's statement regarding NFL football players who choose to take a knee in protest during the national anthem. What started out as a single football player's desire to call attention to what he perceives as police brutality against minorities has now escalated into division among Americans who have strong feelings both positive and negative about the country. One thing is certain, this is most likely the beginning of a ground swell of discussion about what it means to exercise freedom. Webster's dictionary gives a rather lengthy definition of the word "freedom." "Freedom" is defined as "enjoyment of personal liberty, of not being a slave or a prisoner, the enjoyment of civil rights generally associated with constitutional government, the state of not being subject to determining forces, liberty in acting and choosing, immunity to or release from obligations, undesirable states of being, etc., ability to move with ease, excessive familiarity, unrestricted use or enjoyment, an absence of freedom from controls, spontaneity unfettered by rules and conventions, a privilege conferred on someone to do him/her honor." No matter what stand a person may take either for or against the actions of any particular athlete in any given sport, there is still a bondage that continues to exist. This bondage is a spiritual bondage rooted in the fallen world where every human being is a slave to sin. Freedom as defined by Webster's dictionary will never be actualized in this world regardless of race, religion, economic status, etc. When sin entered the world after the Fall in Genesis chapter 3, fear, shame, and guilt became the core elements of our wounded souls and has carried on and will continue to carry on as long as humanity exists. All struggles that we face have their roots in fear, shame, or guilt. Those who lash out with ugly words towards others are often masquerading their sense of patriotism to cover up the fear of a perceived threat to power. The reaction by those at the receiving end of the ugliness in banding together to show solidarity is meant to counter the core feelings of shame and guilt that may be triggered by the disparaging remarks. However, there is a real freedom that can be experienced by each and every human being, regardless of their situation or circumstance. It is not the false freedom our culture offers but a spiritual freedom that is found in Jesus Christ. In the book of Galatians, Paul admonishes the Galatian Gentile believers for starting to forsake the freedom they had experienced from believing in the gospel and falling back into a bondage that a legalistic group of Jewish Christians wanted to impose on the Gentiles. Paul states, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1-2) Jesus in His death and resurrection brought true freedom from the aftermath of the Fall. As a result of Christ's work "being free" means 5 things. First, "being free" is having a relationship with God. Second, "being free" is the result of the death of Jesus Christ. Third, "being free" is life in the Spirit. Fourth, "being free" liberates individuals to be and to do what God wants us to do. Finally, "being free" through Christ and in the Spirit allows us to live out this life of freedom by loving others and by developing relationships that are marked by such things as kindness and goodness. So in summary "being free" is the liberation of a person's spirit from everything that shackles it to sin and ugliness. It is the liberation of a person's spirit to do what God wants, to be what God wants, and to enjoy the life God gives us on earth. Apart from the true spiritual freedom found in Christ, we will be slaves forever in bondage to our fears, guilt, and shame. However, "..there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2) There will always be a struggle to obtain freedom as the world defines it but when we come to God through Christ and in the Spirit, we are free at last because following Christ means living in freedom. So, be free!
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Sheree

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