Sunday, December 21, 2014

Santa or Savior?

The countdown begins as we draw closer to Christmas day. Many are waiting with expectation to unwrap their gifts and see what's inside. Both adult and child alike are gripped with excitement. But what are we really waiting for? We begin to educate our children early on that the giver of good gifts at Christmas is Santa Claus. We tell children that Santa, the "gift giver" is watching them throughout the year. In particular he is focused on their behavior. Were they naughty or nice? We even have a song to sing, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." The title of the song anticipates the "advent" of Santa's coming. The one who when he comes will bring us joy with the fulfillment of our wants and desires. However, at some point in our lives the Santa illusion is shattered. We realize, the real gift giver is our parents or other relatives who place the gifts under the tree. We come to depend on other human beings to make our holidays bright or miserable if we don't receive what we have asked for on our Christmas list. Moreover, our "gift givers" can become easily stressed out when they don't have the capacity to purchase gifts. Some are even willing to fight openly in the stores for a particularly popular toy/gift. While others will bypass the rules of morality and the law altogether to steal their gifts. However, at the end of the day the gifts we receive are temporal and perishable. Furthermore, our interest tends to wane over time until the next new toy or the next big thing comes along. In contrast, there are those who enter into the Advent season waiting for the true gift given by the real Gift giver. Jesus is the greatest gift ever given to humanity. Unlike Santa Claus, Jesus coming was not based on whether we are naughty or nice but on God's love, mercy, and grace. We therefore don't have to be afraid of His coming because Jesus brings a gift that is far greater than anything we can receive here on earth. Jesus brings us eternal life through His death and resurrection. Moreover, Jesus gift to us doesn't change as we get older so we don't have to become disillusioned. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Sadly, many people see Jesus as a heavenly Santa Claus. They want Him to fulfill their selfish wants and desires. When God fails to deliver the goods on their wish list, they can become bitter and angry. However, God is sovereign over all of creation. The Psalmist declares, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters." (Psalm 24:1-2) God's gifts to us flow from grace, not from greed. His gifts are based in love, not longing after material things. His gifts are based on mercy, not merit. We cannot deny that each of us has our own personal struggles and the world appears to be on a downward spiral. However, Jesus told us this would be our reality. (John 16:33) But God in Christ has done something Santa Claus will never do. Jesus has overcome the world and conquered sin and death! (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57; Revelation 11:15,17) Moreover, God is in the process of making all things new. (Revelation 21:5) I don't know what your circumstances are but as Christmas approaches each of us needs to ask the question, "What gift do we want for Christmas and who are we waiting for to deliver it?" Do we want Santa who can only satisfy our temporal, material needs once a year? Or do we want a Savior whose promises are trustworthy and true and whose gift is eternal? My prayer this Christmas is that you will choose the greatest gift ever given----choose Jesus!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Pastor Sheree

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Enduring Thanksgiving

"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever." (Psalm 136:1)

It is that time of year again when we are encouraged to give thanks. In fact the very word "Thanksgiving" doesn't leave much room not to be grateful. But every year there is that nagging question, "Why should I be thankful?" For some folks Thanksgiving evokes feelings of ingratitude because of a difficult situation. Some are unemployed, others have lost loved ones, many are homeless and there is chaos going on all over the world. Yes, these situations are real and a reminder of the sadness that came into the world because of the Fall. (Genesis 3) In spite of the pain and discord, we can always give thanks to God and who He is. The Scripture verse from Psalm 136, exhorts us from the outset to "give thanks." There are no words proceeding this command. The psalmist then goes on to point to the object of our thanks, which is the Lord. There is no mention of any other material goods. There is nothing about giving thanks for what we own, what we do, or what others think about us. The only one worthy of all our praise is God. The psalmist then focuses on the reasons to give thanks to God. He first points to the fact that God is good. Many continue to question how God can be so good given the suffering in the world? God is not oblivious to our pain and suffering nor does He delight in the consequences that are a result of a fallen world. Others might say that Jesus never had cancer, so how can He understand the suffering my friend or loved one experienced? My understanding is that in the end stages of cancer the pain is intense and the person is kept comfortable with medication, typically morphine. God in His goodness has equipped doctors/scientists with the knowledge to develop pain killers to ease suffering. Jesus had none of these medications as He hung on the cross. He felt everything with each painful breath as He struggled to ease His physical suffering. In Christ, God knows what agonizing pain feels like. Moreover, God's goodness is not measured by worldly definitions. We tend to judge "goodness" by what we perceive people have done and how it fits into our measure of what is good. God is not good because of what He does but rather because of who He is. John tells us, "God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5b) God is the only one who is good all the time. Can we honestly say we, our friends, or family members are good all the time? Many of us can look good from the outside but what happens behind closed doors when no one is looking? If God's goodness is not enough to celebrate, the psalmist gives us an even bigger incentive, God's love endures forever! His love is not limited to a few days or years or even a 24 hour period. It is limitless! In these days when few are inclined to demonstrate love consistently whether that be in marriage, friendship, or any other relationship we can rest assured that God's love endures forever. John tells us very simply and directly, "God is love." (1 John 4:16b) Furthermore, "This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:9-10) So, this Thanksgiving as you sit around the table with family and friends and someone asks, "What are you thankful for?" I encourage you to take the psalmist's words to heart. "I give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever."
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Where Is God?

How many times have we asked the question, "Where is God?" We typically tend to ask this question during times of difficulty. We will say things like, "Where is God now that I've lost my job?" "Where was God when I had that car accident and broke my arm?" "Where is God when tragedy is happening some where in the world?" There will be times when there won't be an easy answer for the situations that take place in our lives or in the world. However, the answer to the question, "Where is God?" is the same, He is right here with us. I recently saw God at work in a most difficult situation in my life. My mother had sustained a significant fall in September which fractured her hip and collarbone. It was just the latest in a series of falls which occurred this summer. Following hip surgery she was discharged to a rehabilitation center. We were hopeful she could overcome this latest fall and return home in time for the holidays. However, after a month and a half of physical and occupational therapy, the treatment team recommended transition to a long term care facility. It was not the outcome we desired and my brother and I researched every possible alternative for in-home care. However, due to the fact my mother required 24/7 care, there were no in-home agencies that provided overnight coverage. So we had to make the hard decision to transition our mother to a long term care facility. It would have been easy as we were walking this difficult road to ask, "Where is God?" He could have easily made it possible to find an in-home caregiver that provided overnight coverage. What I came to experience was watching God provide exactly what my mother needed for her safety and well-being. The facility where she is currently residing also has a long term care section. This means she will not have to leave the current facility. God had also provided my mother with roommate that was instrumental in watching over her when she initially arrived at the facility for rehabilitation. I saw this woman as one of God's "guardian angels." I also met a women who had been a resident in the long term care section for over a year. She was able to tell me what it was like to live there and overall she was very content. This woman also happened to be a retired nurse, so she could speak intelligently about the adequacy of the level of care. (another "angel?")  The reality is when we ask the question "Where is God?" what we are really saying is, "God why didn't you do things my way?" "I had the better plan, God. All you had to do was cooperate." However, the pastor of my church recently reminded us that we serve God, He doesn't serve us. The Bible repeatedly tells us that God is with us. In the Old Testament, God told Moses that He would go with him as Moses was sent to free the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. (Exodus 3:12) After Moses' death, God told Joshua to go in and take the land that was promised to the people. God told him, Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) In the New Testament Jesus' birth was an up close and personal encounter with the living God. In fact Joseph was told that Jesus would be called "Immanuel" which means God with us. (Matthew 2:23) After His resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to take the gospel message into the world, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) In the gospel of John, Jesus promises His Holy Spirit to be with us until Jesus returns. (John 14) In a very familiar often quoted verse in Hebrews God promises, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) And if these verses weren't enough, God has given us an entire Psalm that describes just how close God is to us at all times. (Psalm 139) I cannot say that some of what we experience is not painful, sad, and even depressing but I can say that I have a new appreciation of God's presence. If in the midst of struggles we are willing to look for the movement of God even in the smallest ways, we will see Him right there with us. 
To God be the glory!
Pastor Sheree   

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sorrow In Celebration

Lately, I have been faced with many ministry challenges. Once again I find myself at a crossroads where I have to make a decision about the future of serving the Lord in a pastoral role as I continue to run into endless roadblocks in my efforts to fully use my gifts. The Lord has allowed me to process such issues through meditations on art work in which I can express my thoughts through my journaling. I confess that initially I did not want to journal in the midst of my pain but by the end of my writing I sensed  a grace given relief. Today I share with you a meditation on Pieter Bruegel's "The Elders Wedding Dance." The picture is somewhat on the small side so some of the details I describe are hard to detect. I recommend googling the picture to get a closer look.









"I feel joy. I am drawn to the joy taking place in the picture. It is a celebration! A celebration of life , of relationship, a celebration of union between two people and to me a union with God. The colors are bright and festive. The couple kissing may be the bride and groom, delighted that their friends and family are sharing in their joy. There seems to be no real distinction between who may be wealthy or poor. I notice two men standing with their hands behind their back. The man in black looks somewhat sad. The man in orange seems to put on a slight smile. Yet they both seem disconnected from the circle. I wonder what they may be thinking. Do they feel they don't deserve to be a part of the festivities? Are they waiting for someone to recognize them and invite them to participate? There appear to be other instances where folks around the nearby trees are being invited to participate somehow. I identify with those standing outside the circle. Somehow not feeling like I fit in. A part of the community but not really being recognized. Waiting, hoping, longing for the invitation that doesn't seem to come. Participating from the outside. Jesus, You are the Lord of the dance. You want everyone to come to the celebration just as they are, bringing only themselves. I notice the musician and ironically by his side is a weapon. It is interesting that amidst this celebration there is the potential for danger. It reminds me that the enemy is ever lurking near, especially when you are being celebrated. The need to always be ready, to put on "the full armor of God" as Paul states. The reality that there is joy mixed with sorrow in this world. There are so many different people doing so many different things. The surrounding landscape is green and full of life. The picture itself is bathed in light. It is symbolic of Your church where men and women come together without distinction, without being less than but united in Christ. But sadly there are those who remain on the outside because the church has not invited them in. That's where I remain Lord, on the outside because the church has not invited me in. There appears to be another musician in blue with eyes closed. Is he lost in the joy of the moment? Thankful that his gifts are contributing to the joy of this occasion? I know the gifts You have given me have contributed to the joy of many occasions. Even in the midst of sad occasions people have been joyful over Your word spoken. As I look again, perhaps the bridegroom and his bride are the couple in the middle of that circle of dance. Whether they are the kissing couple or the couple in the middle, there is love demonstrated on top of the joy. Are those not the first two fruit of the Spirit? (love & joy) I see You, Jesus, in the face of that couple in the middle. With tenderness, You hold the hand of Your bride, the church, joyful to be united with her. I feel Your Spirit bidding me to see myself as that bride whose hand the Savior delights in holding. Communicating that I belong in that circle of love and joy with Him, despite the other's efforts to exclude me. The bride almost seems to have a look of wonder and amazement on her face. Me, Lord? You see something in me? You see beauty? You see gift? You delight in being with me? In the midst of the joyful celebrants there is a moment of intimacy between the bridegroom and his bride. It is as if the bridegroom says, "I am surrounding you with joy because my heart for you is full of love." I am special to Him and He wants me to know it. Where Oh Lord will I find the community that invites me into the dance? Where Oh Lord is the place where the gifts we share are celebrated? Where can we be united and not divided? Yes, this painting reminds me of what the church can be, a foretaste of heaven albeit an imperfect one. Yet this is the foretaste I am drawn to, the one I delight in, the one I desire to experience. "You (Lord of the dance) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23:5-6) Amen. (italics mine) 
Pastor Sheree

Monday, September 29, 2014

A "Holy" Hare

The month of September has been very difficult spiritually and emotionally. My mother has spent the entire month in and out of the hospital. Even as I write this blog, she remains hospitalized and very ill. Many friends and family members have been in prayer for her recovery. However, I have to admit that my faith has been slipping and my hope fading. At the same time during this month, there has been a rabbit that has been visiting just outside my kitchen window. He has been sitting by the steps, at times resting and at other times eating clover. There were a couple of instances where he appeared to be looking right at me and responding by jumping closer when I spoke to him. I asked the rabbit a few times, "What is it that the Father is trying to tell me? I know from past experiences that God will often speak to me through nature. I assumed this was another instance of God communicating through His creation. Over time this rabbit kept showing up every morning and also in the evening just before sunset. I grew increasingly impatient trying to figure out what was going on. Then, as I was reading through one of my devotional books, "Our Daily Bread" the meditation focused on the language of whistling. The author quoted from Zechariah 10:8, "I will whistle for them and gather them, for I will redeem them." The author went on to talk about meeting a goat herder whose flock recognized his whistle for them. Likewise, God's people are often referred to as sheep with God as their shepherd. (John 10:27; Psalm 100:3) The author of the meditation goes on to say, "God has ways of signaling us, even without words. By events that can be alarming or encouraging. He reminds us of His guiding, protecting, and reassuring presence." After reading this meditation I began to realize that I have been experiencing exactly what the author spoke about regarding hearing God. My mother's illness has been the "alarming" event and the rabbit has been the encouraging event. God was "signaling" me through this rabbit's appearance each morning and evening. Even the rabbit's attentiveness to me and seeming to look at me, drawing close, was God speaking. Instead of trying to figure out some high and lofty reason why this rabbit appeared, God was in essence showing me His guiding, protecting, reassuring and abiding Presence through tragedy and triumph. Many people focus on the bunny as the symbol of the Easter season. However this "holy" hare reminded me of Easter and the resurrection. Hope in the midst of despair and sorrow. As of this writing, I have not seen my rabbit friend for a while. Perhaps God has made His point to continue to trust even in the midst of the unseen. For He has promised, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) Even when that promise comes in the form of a faithful rabbit.
Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Sheree

Monday, September 15, 2014

Trust and Obey

There's an old hymn entitled "Trust and Obey." The chorus tells us, Trust and obey, for there's no other way. To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey." I have to admit I have sung this hymn many times with all the enthusiasm I could muster. I sincerely believed what the lyrics and chorus were saying but somehow that did not translate into real life. There have been situations where I haven't trusted nor obeyed, not out of outright rebellion but out of fear. Somehow I didn't believe God was going to do the "right" thing. Recently my mother had a bad fall and ended up fracturing some ribs. The result was a 4 day hospital stay and then discharge to a rehabilitation facility. Before her discharge from the hospital it was necessary to find an open bed in a local rehab facility. Five years ago she had stayed in a rehab after another fall that I really liked and wanted her to return to that same place. However, they had no beds available. The only available bed was at a facility that five years ago I had heard was not a great place. I told the hospital social worker that I was concerned about this particular facility and to keep looking. I went on line to check the ratings of some other rehab centers and found a couple of others that were rated "above average." The facility with the open bed was only rated "average." Of course I wanted my mother in an "above average" facility but it seemed like all the beds were full at other places. I became frustrated with God and asked Him why He wasn't helping me. Wasn't He supposed to be my loving Father who was there in time of need? I was determined that I would hold out until my mother was able to be placed in a facility of my liking. However, I did not have the luxury of time as after 4 days no other beds had opened and my mother was medically cleared for discharge from the hospital. The hospital social worker informed me that if my mother stayed in the hospital beyond the date that she was medically cleared, the insurance company would bill her for the expense. I made a few phone calls to some colleagues who put me in touch with others who knew the ins and outs of the rehabs where I was looking to have my mother placed. To my surprise I began to hear good things about this so-called "average" rated facility. I decided I had no choice but to take a look at the place. When I walked in I was very shocked to see it was beautifully decorated. The Director of Customer Relations greeted me warmly and I shared my concerns with her. She listened and reassured me that they would take the best care of my mother. She then proceeded to give me a tour. The staff were very friendly and the patients looked happy. After I left, I called the hospital social worker and agreed to allow my mother to be discharged to this facility. As promised the staff took good care of her and my mother was happy with her treatment. Once again, I had to learn the lesson that God knew what was best. As hard as I tried God would not allow my mother to be placed any where else. It was amazing that even after my mother's 4 day hospital stay, this particular rehab facility still had an open bed! I am often telling my clients that if God wants something to happen in a particular way or at a particular time, He will block all our efforts to do otherwise. This is not because God is mean or wants us to "suffer" but because of His great love for us. I have been through similar experiences in the past where God has protected me from myself! Scripture is full of promises that call us to trust in God. A popular quoted verse is Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Even in the Lord's prayer we are called to trust God, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." God's will not mine. Trust requires vulnerability and that can be a scary thing, but we serve a Lord who does not change. (Hebrews 13:8) Moreover, Paul reminds us in Romans that we have a God who uses all circumstances for good no matter how uncertain a situation may seem. (Romans 8:28) By the way, prior to my mother's discharge, God was still teaching me a valuable lesson on trust as an acquaintance of mine told me that the facility where my mother stayed was known as the top rehab facility in the area and many of the patients desire to go there. I will think a little differently now when I hear the words to that familiar hymn "Trust and Obey." For there truly is no other way to be happy in Jesus.
Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wrestling Match

Lately I have been struggling in my Christian walk. During my time away on vacation I was captured by a verse from Genesis chapter 32:24, "So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.'' According to the text, the so-called "man" with whom Jacob wrestled was God Himself which Jacob came to realize after his struggle. (Genesis 32:30) A question that popped into my mind was, how can one wrestle with God without being totally destroyed? Yes, Jacob was left with a dislocated hip, so he did not come away unscathed. (Genesis 32:31-32) However, God also gave Jacob a new name, "Israel" which means he who struggles with God. (Genesis 32:28a) Moreover, the passage tells us that Jacob struggled with not only God but also men and was an overcomer. (Genesis 32:28b) I wondered what did it mean that Jacob was an overcomer? Jacob in his struggles was clear that he would not release the individual whom he was struggling with until the man blessed him.(Genesis 32:26) In a way I can identify with Jacob. I sometimes get focused on the struggles in life and feel like I'm "wrestling with God" to try and understand what's happening amidst the daily challenges I experience. Sometimes I feel like the Christian life is just too hard. But deep in my spirit I know that I will not let Jesus go until I receive that ultimate blessing, the eternal life He has promised. Please don't misunderstand, I receive daily grace from God just in the fact that I am alive and well. But my ultimate reward lies with seeing the Lord face to face and dwelling with Him forever. The Lord has also promised that like Jacob we will receive a new name. (Revelation 2:17) I don't know what that new name will be but more than that I long for the day when my Lord says, "Well done good and faithful servant. You have wrestled on this earth with the things of God that were unknown or not understood. You have wrestled with the sins of men that have come against you and you have overcome." The Lord has promised to all who overcome they will receive a crown of life. (James 1:12) The truth is the only way I can declare victory is because of Jesus. I can "wrestle with God" and not be totally destroyed because Jesus has opened the way to the Father's throne of grace. Jesus has walked the road before me. He wrestled with men in His ministry on earth and struggled emotionally with the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and ultimately on the cross. Like Jacob, Jesus was literally wounded in His struggle but He overcame in His resurrection! Now Jesus reigns with the Father and has many Names by which we have come to know Him and describe His glory (Savior, Redeemer, Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, etc. and the list goes on and on!) Even though I may struggle on any given day, I know that I do not do so in vain. For as James tells 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 develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4) 
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Sheree

Monday, August 4, 2014

Believing Is Seeing

I was reading a meditation from one of my favorite devotionals, "Streams In The Desert." A particular line jumped out at me, "believing is seeing." I thought about this concept for awhile and recognized that the world is wedded to the notion that "seeing is believing". The question occurred to me, what do people really see? Is seeing relegated to that which is tangible and visible? If I can put my hands on it and experience it with all my senses then I can know it's real? However, our so-called "knowledge" can be oh so flawed. Our knowledge is usually tainted with pride. I began thinking about the account in John 20:19-31 where the resurrected Lord appeared to the disciples and then to Thomas. I wondered why did Thomas fail to believe his fellow disciples when they reported that they had seen the Lord? Thomas appeared to be operating out of the "seeing is believing" mode. What if he had responded differently to the news and simply accepted with gladness the fact that Jesus had risen? Would the Lord then have reappeared in that moment as Thomas believed and thus could see? I noticed that Jesus waited one week before appearing again to confront Thomas. Why? Did the Lord want Thomas perhaps to wrestle with what he had heard from the other disciples? When we believe first, then we become so much more open to seeing God manifesting Himself in so many different ways. If we insist on seeing first, we close ourselves off to God's Presence right in front of us. I believe this was a part of Jesus' point to Thomas when He told him, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29b) These are the people who open themselves up to truly seeing the Lord moving in their midst. One of my favorite contemporary Christian artists is Steven Curtis Chapman. Several years ago, his young adopted daughter, Maria, was killed in the family's driveway when their son accidentally ran over her. It was a devastating time for all involved especially their son who was behind the wheel. Out of that painful experience, Steven's wife, Mary Beth Chapman wrote a book entitled, "Choosing To SEE." In the book she shares intimate details of the family's life before and after the death of their daughter. The book allowed her to work through her own personal grief while her husband produced a CD entitled, "Beauty Will Rise" as his way of working through the trauma. After the funeral and the family's attempt to live with a new "normal" Steven and Mary Beth were looking through Maria's toys. They found a piece of paper with a flower drawn in crayon. There were six petals which they surmised represented the members of the family. However, only one of the petals was colored in blue. Next to the drawing, Maria had written the word, "SEE." The Chapman's believe this was their daughter's way of saying goodbye and uniquely telling them to see beyond their grief. To believe that all is well in the presence of her Heavenly Father. That one simple word, "SEE" was the healing balm they needed for their souls. I feel this is God's word to me. Believe so you can "SEE." I pray that you will move beyond the limitations that this world places on us and believe in the Lord so that you may truly "SEE."
Peace In Christ, Pastor Sheree







Monday, July 21, 2014

Wren Resurrection

We have a birdhouse mounted on one of the posts on our deck. From our den through the sliding glass door we can watch the birds build their nest. Every year we are delighted to see the return of the house wren. We have come to recognize their familiar call and know step by step the process which ends with new life emerging from the box. This year was no exception. The wrens arrived on time and began nesting. However, a few weeks after they began to settle in, there was an unwanted intruder. A catbird would perch on the roof of the bird box and often times begin battling with the wrens as they emerged from their nest. One morning I noticed we were no longer awakened to the familiar singing of the wrens. I looked out the window of our upstairs bedroom and could see something brown that looked like grass and/or sticks hanging out of the hole in the bird box. Upon going out on to the deck I was horrified to discover that what was hanging out of the bird box was the lifeless body of one of the wrens. My husband carefully removed the remains and discovered the wren's partner also deceased inside. I was sad and angry at the same time thinking of the senseless killing that I attributed to the catbird (although I had no concrete proof). These wrens were just minding their own business trying to start and raise a family. They did nothing wrong to deserve such a cruel end. I mourned the fact that I would not hear the peeping of the new born baby birds nor watch them grow and eventually take flight. I kept looking at that empty bird box day after day continuing to grieve the loss and asking God to heal my heart. One morning after a few weeks had passed, I heard a familiar song. I looked out the window to see a house wren sitting on the railing near the bird box. I couldn't believe it! I thought maybe there would be a new pair nesting. However after that one new sighting I never saw the wren return. I began to wonder why the bird did not return and it occurred to me that what had just played out over several weeks was a "bird's eye view" of the resurrection. Those nesting birds came to "make their home with us" in a sense. They came to bring us joy and delight in watching their relationship bring forth new life. Jesus came and made His home with us (John 1:14) so we too could delight in God's presence as He was about to bring forth new spiritual life for all humanity. The catbird was the "enemy" who came to steal, kill, and destroy just like Satan the enemy of our souls. (John 10:10) It appeared with the death of those wrens that their enemy, the catbird had won, just as the enemy of our souls delighted in seeing Jesus crucified. The One who did nothing wrong, who was without sin did not deserve to die such a cruel death. Indeed his disciples were so devastated they fled and went into hiding. (John 20:19) However, the resurrected Lord appeared to His followers encouraging them and having fulfilled His mission on earth, He empowered them with the Holy Spirit and sent them out to carry on His work. (John 20:19-23; Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 2:1-13) I believe the appearance of the new house wren a few weeks later was God's way of reminding me that although the other birds had perished, there was still new life, a "resurrection" of the birds. Just as Jesus emerged from the tomb after 3 days, that empty bird box and the arrival of a new wren was a reminder that death did not have the final word. Indeed with Christ's resurrection the renewal process has begun in all creation. Paul tells us that "creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." (Romans 8:21) Moreover, we groan along with all creation awaiting the return of our Lord and our redemption. (Romans 8:22-25) Praise God not only for eternal life for all who believe but those little "feathered" reminders that keep hope alive!
Blessings In Christ,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Five Simple Words

How many times have you heard people taking an oath? Many of us grow up learning to take oaths. Remember as a child hearing another peer say, "I cross my heart and hope to die" when making a promise? Our pledge of allegiance is an oath, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America..." When an individual testifies in a court of law or before Congress, they take an oath to "solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God." Even in marriage we promise to take a man or woman as our lawfully wedded husband/wife. Anytime we take an oath whether as a child or an adult, we trust that the individual is sincere and will honor their pledge. However, we have no way of knowing the real intention of their heart. Sadly, there are too many times when people are paying only "lip service" to their commitments. Last week I was reading chapter 13 of John's gospel. It is a familiar and very powerful passage wherein Jesus demonstrates the full extent of His love and sacrifice. He humbly washes the feet of His disciples. After doing so, Jesus shares a final meal, and talks about His betrayal. Jesus tells the disciples, "I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the One who sent me." (John 13:20) What captured my attention was Jesus' initial words, "I tell you the truth.." For those who cherish the King James version these words are translated, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee.." Those five simple words struck a chord in my Spirit. How many times did Jesus say those five words to His disciples? How many times does Jesus say the same thing to us? Many of us as believers struggle with doubt about God's promises. The challenge for each of us is to ask the question,"How can I doubt God's promises when He is the only One who tells the truth all the time? The truth without deception, the truth without lies, the truth without any hidden agenda. Any truth that comes forth from the mouth of God can be believed and trusted. God's truth is not in need of any embellishment or explanation. Moreover, God's word accomplishes all that He ordains. (Isaiah 55:11; Hebrews 4:12) Doubt is not necessarily an indication of a weak faith but rather a reality that we as human beings experience when we cannot easily have all our questions answered or fully understand who God is. This is especially true when we experience circumstances or situations that are painful and make no logical sense. Faith requires an element of trust in a Being we cannot fully experience with our senses nor can we easily place Him in a box. The beautiful and amazing thing about God is that He loves us without condition and Jesus' five simple words can be placed in front of any truth written in His word. (I tell you the truth), "God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) (I tell you the truth), "Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." (Revelation 22:12)  (I tell you the truth), "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." (Matthew 24:35) I am grateful that all God's promises are punctuated with these five simple words, "I tell you the truth" because in those words I can rest, knowing that although I may never fully understand why things happen as they do, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is faithful.
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Personal Meditation on Psalm 23

It is not often that I share entries from my personal journal but I felt a burden on my heart to share this meditation. I have been discussing with my spiritual director the image of shepherd and how it relates to the gifts God has given me. Aside from the devotional "Streams in the Desert", I also enjoy reading "Our Daily Bread." On Thursday the verse of encouragement that day read, "Follow your Leader into the lives of those around you." This verse touched a special place in my heart that led me to meditate on Psalm 23. So I share with you the journal meditation that flowed from the above verse.

May 29, 2014 From "Our Daily Bread" "Follow your leader into the lives of those around you."
"Lord, all I can think about is the shepherd motif. This gifting that You have placed in my heart. That verse could have easily read, "Follow your Shepherd into the lives of those around you." The Shepherd/Leader. I look at the lives around me whether it be family, friends, or clients and you bid me to walk into their lives because I am following You. I am Your shepherd/leader. A Meditation on Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd.."  He is the example. He is the Shepherd/Leader. He is safe to follow because human beings can lead you astray. Jesus told His disciples, "Follow Me." Powerful words! How interesting that You chose the most despised people of the day to be the image we are to follow. It is easier and perhaps more acceptable to follow an "important" person like a king but David chose to relate to You using an image he knew well. You Lord, connect with us, with me, using the imagery that fits me well. Like You connected with the disciples declaring that You would make them "fishers of men." They were to follow the great "Fisher of men" into the lives if those around them. "I shall not be in want..." Again the irony. The despised shepherds were in want. They were their society's outcasts. No one was going to invite them to the banquet table but You did, Lord. You are the Provider, "Jehovah Jireh." I don't have to be worried that I'll starve. What can a shepherd provide? Not much. What can the Shepherd provide? Everything! I shall not want in any area of my life (physical, spiritual, emotional.) "He makes me lie down in green pastures.." It is not a suggestion. He insists I lie down but not just anywhere. In green pastures, lush and full. Bursting forth with life. Even as I lie there, there is life surrounding me. "He leads me beside quiet waters.." An interesting description. Not still waters or calm waters but quiet waters. A peaceful place wherein I can see my reflection and His. It would almost seem sacrilegious that anything should disturb these waters. "He restores my soul.." Surrounded by this life giving pasture and nourished by these quiet waters I am renewed and refreshed. It is that sacred time, the time Jesus withdrew to be with the Father, the times Jesus called His disciples to withdraw when things became too overwhelming. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His names sake..." It is His Name that is to be upheld. He knows the best path to take, the one that will help me see His glory. If I am to follow the Shepherd/Leader into the lives of those around me, it must be on a path that is right so they too will come to know His Name. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." Not only will I walk there but as shepherd I will lead others there. Yes, my Shepherd/Leader lets me know that those green pastures and quiet waters are necessary to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with others. A place of darkness, a place of anxiety, a place where the soul is not restored but rather laid down. Yet, the Shepherd/Leader also goes with me. "I will fear no evil for You are with me..." As ominous and unpleasant an experience it may be, the Shepherd/Leader whispers, "Do not be afraid, remember I am with you even to the end of the age." "Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.." It does not seem like a rod and a staff would offer much protection. What if the attacker is fierce and overwhelmingly strong? I notice it does not say, "Your rod and Your staff will protect me but rather comfort me." It is not about what He holds but who He is. In His hands there is power and protection. He will defend against any threats and therein lies the comfort. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies..." You care not that my enemies are right there in front of me. You are calling me to come into fellowship with You. To eat as it were from the King's table. Despite what others try to do to stand in the way of Your call on my life, they cannot interrupt the feast. They cannot interrupt the rejoicing at Your table. You prepare that table before me so I can see that there are two sides. The side You are on and the side the enemies are on. You help me to understand that being on the side of the table where we fellowship together is all that matters. Because You will still lavish Your gifts on me in spite of the naysayers. "You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows..." Moreover, You place Your special anointing upon me. To show others "she is set apart for My service." You are the Great High Priest. Therefore, the anointing is sure and powerful. It is not dependent upon an "earthly priest" to determine if I am gifted. And with that anointing is an unending overflow of power that will flow into the lives of those around me. "Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life..." The goodness and love that is who You are. As Your people Israel declared in worship, "He is good. His love endures forever." (2 Chronicles 7:3) So it is with all the days of my life here and in the life hereafter. When I follow the Shepherd/Leader there is a certainty to this verse as David prefaces it with the word, "surely." There is no doubt, there is no uncertainty, it cannot be any other way. "And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." In His sanctuary. In that sacred place never to be removed. I will follow the Shepherd/Leader into the very life of God Himself. He will be the life all around me forever. AMEN.

Pastor Sheree

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Master

I have just come off a very long weekend that was planned yet at the same time unexpected. I was asked three weeks ago to preach at my former church on the first Sunday in May and lead the Communion. At the time of the request I had two weeks to prepare and began looking at my schedule to see how to fit in my preparation time during the work week. Graciously, God lightened my work week so I could put in the extra time. I was very thankful and rejoicing in the Lord that He knew just what I needed. I was feeling rather content and comfortable with my progress in getting ready for the service. Then, one week before I was set to preach, my 100 year old great aunt passed away. The expectation was for me to officiate the funeral service as the family's "resident minister." I remember panic setting in after I was informed that the funeral was scheduled for Saturday, the day before I was scheduled to preach. I had one week to prepare for the funeral service. I struggled to believe this could be happening but decided that God knows what He is doing and would help me as I prepared for the funeral. Funerals are one of the more challenging aspects of pastoral ministry as they are often unexpected and one must be ready in season and out for when someone passes away. Additionally, there is the emotional side of holding the grief for all those who are mourning. It is especially difficult when the person who dies is a relative or a close friend. The Friday before the funeral, the clients I had scheduled to counsel that morning cancelled, leaving me with only one person to see in the late afternoon. I took advantage of that time to spend with the Lord in prayer and devotional reading. I felt a great sense of peace and a feeling that everything was going to be O.K. I must confess that I was anxious the day of the funeral but the power and presence of the Lord was palpable during the service. Those who attended, both family and friends were highly complimentary of the eulogy. The next day, the Sunday worship service also went well. I was reading this week in my devotional, "Streams In The Desert"  when I was struck by these words, "A person who has Christ as his/her Master is the master of every circumstance." As I meditated on that statement, some words jumped out at me. The first little word that stood out was "is." It does not say we will be the master of every circumstance but that we are, right now and always will be because of Christ. The second word that jumped out at me was "every." It does not say we are masters of some, a few, or occasional circumstances but every circumstance. Regardless of whether we experience the circumstance as positive or negative, we are masters of it. The word "master" is a powerful word. As an African-American it can stir up negative feelings and images of slavery. However, in this case it can evoke positive feelings of control over having done something so well we can replicate it. It occurred to me that because Christ is my Master, I was able to master the circumstances involved with both services. Jesus, told His disciples, I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father." (John 14:12) It is an overwhelming feeling to think that we can emulate Jesus. In the midst of any particular situation, we are to be "Jesus" for the people. The heart of mastering every circumstance has its roots in faith in Christ. For God has already prepared those situations and circumstances in advance for us to do to His honor and glory. (Ephesians 2:10) My responsibility is to execute my faith and trust that every circumstance can be mastered even though the situation may be unplanned, like a death, or not turn out as expected. I am humbled when I consider how the Lord has used me to shepherd His people. I praise God for His faithfulness as I remember His words to Joshua when He was faced with an overwhelming task upon the death of his mentor, Moses. However, Joshua went on to master the situation because of his faith in God. So I encourage you, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

True Sacrifice

We are in the season of Lent. It is the time of year in the church when we take the walk once again with Jesus as He prepares to go to the cross. Many folks participate in the Lenten season by "giving up" something that they typically deem as an unnecessary excess. People have given up such things as coffee, chocolate, or watching a certain T.V. show. I tend to fast from my Wednesday evening meal. I have heard comments to the effect that whatever an individual chooses to give up, they will often refer to it as a "sacrifice." I began to wonder about that kind of thinking. Is it a sacrifice realistically or a mild discomfort? It is challenging to watch others eat food on Wednesday evenings when I am fasting. However, I know that on Thursday morning I can eat breakfast. How many people in the world go days without a meal? Webster's dictionary defines the word "sacrifice" as "an offering, to deprive oneself of (something valued) for the sake of another person, purpose, or ideal." It seems to me that true sacrifice is a very painful experience. It is an experience that has profound and lasting implications. Many are aware of the recent deaths of two Boston firefighters a few weeks ago. The loss of their lives was truly a painful experience not only in the manner in which they died but the repercussions for their families, friends, and fellow firefighters. The pain of their deaths will be felt for years to come. So it is with Jesus and the sacrifice He made for our sins. Jesus made a choice to give up His life. He became a sin offering for the sake of others. Jesus' sacrifice was a truly painful experience physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Crucifixion was a torturous and brutal way to die. The person literally suffocated to death as they could not hold their body weight up on the cross to avoid their lungs filling with fluid. That was the physical pain Jesus experienced in addition to the severe beatings He had already received at the hands of the Roman authorities. Emotionally, He agonized in the Garden of Gesthsemane feeling alone and abandoned as His disciples slept nearby. (Matthew 26:36-46) As Jesus was taking His last few breaths of life, He experienced a spiritual emptiness unique to the Godhead when the Father did not intervene and remove Him from the cross. (Matthew 27:45-50) His sacrifice indeed had significant and eternal consequences that have carried forward throughout history. Moreover, His resurrection made His sacrifice all the more powerful. Why did those firefighters go into that burning building? Some would say out of a sense of duty and an oath to protect and serve others. How many would say they did it for love? Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) This is the true definition of sacrifice. This is the love of God the Father extended to all those who would choose to believe in Jesus. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." This is the heart and soul of Easter. So, the challenge for us all is what are we truly willing to sacrifice for the Lord? Are we willing to humble ourselves and acknowledge that we need Him? Are we willing to lay aside those things that the world defines as success? (money, fame, power, beauty, etc.) Are we open to having God guide our steps and giving Him gratitude for all the good and gracious gifts that He provides daily? Or do we only offer God token "sacrifices" that don't hurt too much and help us feel better about ourselves? I believe that many times the intent behind giving up something for Lent is a good and positive one. However, God desires us to go deeper and really understand the heart of sacrifice as witnessed in the very dying form of the One who suffered on Calvary's cross. Are we brave and honest enough to pray the prayer of the psalmist? "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24) May we seek to allow God to see the integrity of our devotion and keep us true to Him.
Easter Blessings,
Pastor Sheree


Thursday, March 27, 2014

In His Presence

As a counselor, I have the privilege of listening to the sacred stories of my clients. Many of those stories are filled with pain and brokenness. Recently, I began counseling a client with a severe abuse history. From childhood right up until early adulthood, this client's life was filled with fear and anxiety. By God's grace she was able to marry a man whose compassionate heart allowed her to be herself and receive support and encouragement. In one of our last sessions she shared with me the story of her near death experience after a horrible car accident. There have been many books written and quite a few T.V. interviews with people who have had such an experience. However, to actually talk to someone face to face about their personal encounter with God was life changing. As I listened intently, her story captured a familiar Biblical pattern experienced by those who had encounters with God. My client remembers being face down and not able to move any part of her body, not even to lift a finger. She then heard the familiar words, "Do not be afraid" as she was lifted up off the ground. She knew in her spirit where she was and that God was speaking to her but it took time for her mind to stop racing and catch up. God spoke to her about her healing and just before she returned to earth, He told her He loved her. She reported that those words, "I love you" poured through her spirit like "liquid honey." I must admit I was awestruck and filled with joy for her. However, at the same time I felt somewhat envious. Here was someone that experienced what I believe we all have a desire for, to be in God's presence face to face. I began to feel sorry for myself and see my life and ministry as having little impact. Last weekend I traveled to New Jersey to officiate the wedding of my cousin. After the service, people came up to me and the comments were overwhelming. One gentleman, a doctor, was particularly impressed and stated he had never heard a service like that in all his years of living. After returning home I began to ponder what had happened at that service. Why were the comments so powerful? What I came to realize was those in the room were in the presence of God. The word of God going forth spoke to their souls. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) It occurred to me that I am always in God's presence and I don't need a near death experience to affirm that it is true. The Lord knows what each of us uniquely needs to experience in our lives to bring healing in those areas that are broken and wounded. I believe the severity of my client's suffering may have required such a supernatural encounter so she could remember that experience during her darkest times of despair. In my case, the Lord needed to remind me of the power of His presence working through me to not only heal my own wounds but allow me to help heal the wounds of another. I am reminded of Jesus' words to Thomas after the resurrection, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed." (John 20:29) My spirit also resonates with Job who in conversation with God after his trials declared, My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen you." ( Job 42:5) I don't know how deep my client's faith was before she "saw" the Lord but I am grateful that God opened my eyes to see that no matter what I am doing I am always in His presence. 
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Learning the Lesson

Sometimes it is easy to get focused on what is not happening in our lives as opposed to what is right under our noses. I have been focused lately on what I perceive as the slowness of God's movement in my next season of ministry. I had committed myself to not forcing anything to take place but rather to,"wait on the Lord" as the Scripture exhorts us to do many times. However, it seems that my spirit grew weary of waiting and I became somewhat depressed. In Mark's gospel, the disciples are distracted by the magnificent architecture of the temple. They are focused on the "big picture." However, Jesus tells them to refocus their attention as He declares, "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Mark 13:2b) The disciples are fascinated and Peter, James, John, and Andrew asks Jesus when this will happen and what signs will herald their fulfillment? Jesus goes on to answer their questions. (Mark 13:5-31) What I found interesting is that many of the "signs" that Jesus presents to them come out of everyday life and recognizable occurrences. Often I find myself looking for something extraordinary to happen to know that God is listening. Perhaps, I think to myself, some unusual cloud formation will appear or something so out of the norm that I know for sure it's from God. One of the signs Jesus spoke of caught my attention. "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door." (Mark 13:28-29) Scholars believe that the "it" Jesus was alluding to was His second coming. What connected for me is related to a poinsettia plant I received last Christmas. If you are familiar with these plants, their leaves are bright red and at some point lose their color and the remaining leaves turn green. I happen to like the vivid red color and had heard that you could restore the leaves to their original Christmas red. I went on line to discover how to do it. Basically, the method involves plunging the plant into total darkness for 14 hours a day. According to the instructions on line, the change in color would occur in about 8 weeks if one was consistent. I decided to use a dark garbage bag to accomplish the task. The project started out with good intentions but within a week became cumbersome. I decided to give up and was frustrated and saddened. I told myself that I would just have to live with the green leaves. However, about 2 months after I abandoned the project during one of my low spiritual and emotional moments, I went into our den one morning. To my surprise, there was one small leaf that was red! I immediately stopped and had to look a couple of times to believe what I was seeing! I felt God affirming that He was with me and the red leaf among the other green ones reminded me of Christ and the sacrifice He made for my sins and those of the world. Ironically this red leaf happened to appear just a week before the start of Lent. I came to understand that these small everyday "signs" were just as significant as some supernatural phenomenon. I had no real hope that the poinsettia plant would yield any red leaves again. Similarly, I was running low on hope that God would move me on to the next season of service for the kingdom. But just as Jesus told his disciples to "learn the lesson from the fig tree", in some way God was telling me to "learn the lesson" from the poinsettia plant. The lesson that the next new season of ministry in my life was near. So I will keep persevering and thanking God for His gentle reminders that the best is yet to come.
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree




Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Recognizing HIS Story

A few weeks ago I was in the Christian bookstore searching for a Valentine's Day card for my husband. As I was walking to the register to check out, I noticed a small table with a "SALE" sign. I am no stranger to being lured to any sign that indicates a sale. What surprised me was what I found on that table. Beside the "sale" sign sat another sign indicating that February was black history month. The table contained an assortment of books that focused on Black Christians. Some of the authors were African American, others were not, but their point was the same. Each book was a reminder that February held more than just recurring snowstorms. One could cynically argue that the bookstore was trying to drum up business through catering to African American Christians. Perhaps that was a part of the motivation but the fact is the bookstore owner took the time to recognize what many Christians overlook. A little over a month ago the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. took place. After the long fight to establish Dr. King's birthday as worthy of recognition, it passes by with little fanfare, save for a few clips on the nightly news. There was more attention given to informing women to wear red during the month of January to recognize the fight against heart disease, the number one killer of women. It seems ironic that other holidays drum up tons of attention. There are special sales that take place for President's Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day, not to mention huge national celebrations for Independence Day (a.k.a Fourth of July). From special discounts at the malls to car dealerships, we are urged to take advantage of and recognize these special holidays. I haven't seen car dealers offer special savings on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. I wonder how many folks even know February is Black History month? Are teachers educating their students about this part of our nation's history? How many people on the street if stopped and asked could name a black individual besides Martin Luther King, Jr. who made a significant impact or contributed greatly to our country's growth? An even more frightening thought is how many Christians if asked could accomplish the same task as the person on the street? Sadly, the church is still in the dark when it comes to addressing racial issues within the body of Christ and movement towards reconciliation. I am currently reading a book by a black evangelical, Edward Gilbreath, entitled, "Reconciliation Blues": A Black Evangelical's View Inside of White Christianity. Mr. Gilbreath draws our attention to his personal struggle with the lack of understanding of the black experience in the church and his attempts to try and "fit in" to the majority view's paradigm. Jesus knew very well how differences divide and it was His mission to erase and heal those differences. He was often seen hanging out with "Samaritans" the so-called "half breeds" despised by the Jews. It was because of Jesus that a Samaritan woman found new life in Christ and she in turn led other Samaritans to Jesus. (John 4:1-42) One of Jesus' most powerful parables featured a Samaritan as it's hero. (Luke 10:25-37) Paul reminded his listeners in Galatians that there are no divisions in the kingdom of God. (Galatians 3:26-29) Finally, Revelation gives us a glorious picture of all the nations of the world worshipping the Lord. (Revelation 5:9-10) I am thankful for that Christian bookstore owner's efforts to educate God's people through recognition of black history month. Our challenge is not to continue to perpetuate the sins of this fallen world and our culture but to be like Jesus in the forefront of showing the world God's heart for reconciliation. Celebrate the One who created heaven and earth through education and recognition of the diversity of people He created and their contributions to the kingdom of God!
Peace In Christ,
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A "Roots" Moment

It has been some time since I have written. My life has been consumed basking in the afterglow of the Advent season, the birth of our first grandchild and how God pulled all the symbolism of those two events together in my life. Following Advent, the pastor of our current church began a new preaching series entitled, "Big Life." The heart and soul of this series is focused on deepening and understanding our relationship with the Creator of the universe. At one point during his first sermon in the series, the pastor was talking about the experience of welcoming his son into the world. He said it reminded him of the recurrent scene in Alex Haley's miniseries "Roots." For those too young to remember, "Roots" was a powerful and groundbreaking series. It chronicled the historic family background of author Alex Haley adapted from his book, "Roots." The movie looked at Haley's family tree from the horrors of slavery to freedom. The main character of the series was Kunta Kinte, the African slave forcibly brought to America. The series then followed the generations that came after him. The recurrent scene that our pastor found so powerful had to do with birth. Each time a child was born, the tradition that began with Kunta Kinte was to take the child outside on a dark starry night. The parent lifted the child up and declared, "Behold, the only thing greater than yourself!" The reference of course was to God being that "Greater thing." Following the pastor's sermon I began to hear the echos of Kunta Kinte's words resonating in my spirit. I was drawn to Psalm 8. Psalm 8 is a praise from the lips of David in celebration of God's greatness and ordering of creation. It dovetails in many ways with Genesis 1:1-28. The NIV note of introduction to this Psalm captures that "Kunta Kinte" experience. The note references the Genesis passage but goes on to state, "David speaks out of his present experience of reality (perhaps on a bright, clear night when the vast host of the heavenly lights, stretching from horizon to horizon, erased from his musings small everyday affairs and engaged his mind with deeper thoughts). Two matters especially impressed him: (1) the glory of God reflected in the starry heavens, and (2) the astonishing condescension of God to be mindful of puny man, to crown him with glory almost godlike and to grant him lordly power over His creatures." This is the "Roots" experience. This is how Jesus holds up those who love Him, His children, before God the Father. Imagine Jesus holding you up under a star lit night and declaring, "Behold, the only thing greater than yourself!" What a privilege and honor God has given us! What mercy and grace we have received! Take the time to read Psalm 8 and fix the image of being lifted up before the Father in your mind. You were born for "greatness" in Jesus Christ. It is not a greatness that comes from pride or arrogance but rather humility and love. It is the love of God the Father who knit you together in your mother's womb (Psalm 139:13) and placed you on earth for His glory. Ephesians 2:10 puts it this way, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." If you have an experience like mine, you will be humbled and overwhelmed and declare with David, "O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:1,9)
To God be the glory!
Pastor Sheree 


                                                                                                         



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Expect The Unexpected

Everyone has their particular way of spending New Year's Eve. Some people like to pass the night partying away the final hours of the old year. Others treat it just like any other day and go to bed before midnight. And still others may share in a movie or Netflix marathon of their favorite show. I have always enjoyed watching Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve and seeing the ball drop in New York City's Times Square. Years ago my husband and I would spend the evening with our good friends who live in R.I. We would alternate going to each other's home, order Chinese food, watch a movie and then watch the ball drop. Unfortunately my friends and my husband can no longer tolerate staying up until midnight. So, now we get together for dinner on New Year's evening. However, I still carry on the tradition silently at home staying up by myself to watch New Year's Rockin' Eve. One of the things that motivates me to continue to watch is this fantasy that one New Year's Eve, Jesus is going to unexpectedly show up at the stroke of midnight. I've often wondered what Times Square would look like if Jesus suddenly came breaking through the dark night sky. Realistically I don't think Jesus would be that obvious as to come on New Year's Eve. Jesus told His own disciples, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father....Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." (Matthew 24:36,42) In other words, Jesus is telling us to expect the unexpected! Throughout Scripture the theme of expecting the unexpected resonates. I have been pondering some of the stories in the Old and New Testament and wondering about the feelings of those involved in these "unexpected" events. Israel had been in bondage for over 400 years in Egypt before Moses came along to free them at God's command. Who were they expecting to release them from bondage? When Moses showed up what were they thinking? Moreover, Moses himself was shocked that God told him to be the "hero" for his people. (Exodus 3) And who knew that Rahab an alleged prostitute who helped Joshua and his band of spies would end up as part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ! (Joshua 2; Matthew 1:5) The Old Testament prophets foretold of Christ's coming, yet many remained surprised when Jesus came and fulfilled those prophecies. And what did the Magi expect when they came to the house where Jesus was staying some months after His birth? (Matthew 2:1-12)  As I look back on 2013, I never expected God to move in the way He has in my life. It has not been an easy year. I had my expectations about how my husband and I would move forward with planting a church but God has added some different possibilities to the mix. It has brought me to a place of truly standing back and watching God unfold things according to His plan as we go along. Similarly, I never expected how my life would change with the birth of our first grandchild during the time of Advent. Her birth definitely pulled together all that God had been doing in my life during the year in a unique and symbolic way. People often enter a New Year with great expectations only to see them fade away after the silence of the bells and whistles on New Year's Day. However, believers in Christ live in a constant state of expectation. It began with His first coming and will end with His second coming. In between time we get to see God work in our lives in unexpected ways. We have an "everlasting resolution" that doesn't end when the ball drops. "Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him. So shall it be! Amen." (Revelation 1:7) "Behold , I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." (Revelation 22:12) So what kind of resolution will you make in 2014? How long will it last? Jesus invites us to come to Him and resolve to expect the unexpected. What an exciting year it could be!
Happy New Year!
Pastor Sheree