Saturday, December 16, 2017

"Presents or Presence?"

If you were to ask a child, what is one of your favorite things about Christmas? I believe one of the popular answers would be--the presents. It is no surprise and pretty much expected that most children equate Christmas with getting lots of presents along with maybe a visit from Santa. If we are honest, many of us would probably agree with the children that we get just as excited about the presents and once in awhile it's fun to take a selfie with Santa at the mall. However, what would happen if there were no presents, no Christmas trees, no tinsel and lights, no Christmas carols and perish the thought not even Santa? What would we do? How would we feel? Well, the reality is there was such a time years ago. However, despite the circumstances there was joy.

The Joy of His Presence

 We read about it in a familiar passage from Luke 2:8-21. It's the passage where the angel appeared to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. The angel announced the good news of Christ's birth in Bethlehem. The angel did not bring any presents wrapped in pretty bows and colorful paper but the angel came to announce a presence. The presence of the long awaited Messiah. When we awake to see those presents under the Christmas tree we are filled with excitement. On the other hand the shepherds were terrified. So much so that the angel had to tell them not to be afraid. After sharing with the shepherds the details of where they would find this presence of God, a host of angelic beings joined in a song of praise, their version of a heavenly Christmas carol. When the angels left, the shepherds were motivated to go and see with their own eyes what the angel had declared. In Luke 2:15 the shepherds state, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." (NIV)

The Promise of His Presence

 There were no flashing lights pointing the way, no neon signs, no Santa in his sleigh being pulled by Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer encouraging them to follow him. All they had was a promise from the angel of what the shepherds called "this thing," an event, a presence, a Messiah they had perhaps heard about in stories told as they moved their flocks from place to place. For you see as outcasts in that society, the shepherds would have no other way of learning about the foretold coming of the Messiah except through stories told by others as the shepherds would not have been allowed to keep company with the religious Jews nor have access to the temple and the teachings of the Rabbis. When the shepherds arrived at the manger there were no Christmas trees, tinsel, or decorations. Mary and Joseph did not offer them a gift with shouts of "Merry Christmas!" However we are told that when they had seen Him, they began to spread the word about Jesus. Jesus was only a newborn and He did not say or do anything, yet His presence was so powerful that the shepherds had to tell the story and as a result people were amazed and their hearts were stirred to believe. The shepherds didn't have any smartphones or tangible objects to show others. What they had was His presence carried along in their hearts. 

The Presence of God In Our Midst

As a result of the shepherds having been in the presence of God, there was an out pouring of praise for the gift they had received, not a gift wrapped in bows and colorful paper but the gift of the presence of God in their midst. Jesus grew into a man and by the power of His presence went on to deliver and save many people from their bondages. So, as we complete another Christmas and stand on the threshold of a New Year, people once again have spent hundreds of dollars filling their lives with presents--material things. There is a sense of contentment and self-satisfaction that they have purchased everything they need. However, just like the newness of Christmas toys fades for children as time goes on, we too grow tired and weary of our "toys" and seek something new and different. Think about how many people line up every year to purchase the newest iPhone! I am not implying that the giving and receiving of gifts is a bad thing but it is easy to get caught up in the presents and miss His "presence" which is at the heart of Christmas. All our material presents will only be enjoyed for a season but the presence of Jesus Christ in a life committed to following after Him is a gift that will not tarnish or fade for it is eternal. The good news is that His followers will dwell in His presence after their life on earth is finished. That is the message of Christmas and the true joy we are to celebrate and ponder in our hearts just like Mary did that first Christmas night. So have a Merry Christmas and enjoy your presents! The question that remains is will you accept the gift of His presence in your life? If so, you will experience the overwhelming joy those shepherds felt that first Christmas night. The overwhelming joy of kneeling in the presence of God Almighty and that is the best gift one could ever receive at Christmas!
Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!
Pastor Sheree

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. 


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!
Pastor Sheree