Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"Chosen"

I have a friend who is a writer and speaker focusing on women's issues. Every year she chooses a word from Scripture that she meditates on throughout the year observing how God brings the particular word to pass in every day life. I thought it was a good idea so I decided to pray about a word for 2017. The word that came to me appeared in a devotional I am reading called "Dwelling Places" (Words to Live In Every Season) by Lucinda Seacrest McDowell. The word I selected is "chosen." The author talks about how Mary was chosen by the Lord to bear the Messiah even though her circumstances made it appear that she was an unlikely candidate. A poor young woman around age 14 that was already betrothed in marriage to Joseph. Yet Mary did not question what qualifications made her a suitable choice rather she humbly offered herself to the Lord's service. Towards the end of the meditation, the author quotes from a novel entitled "Two Steps Forward" in which a spiritual director responds to the woman she is mentoring after the woman tells her director how she feels inadequate because she is not perfect. The director responds, "None of us are. That's what grace is all about. But like Mary, you've been chosen to be the dwelling place of the Most High. By God's grace, God's favor." (italics mine) I was overwhelmed as the words of that spiritual director resonated in my soul. The notion that like Mary, I have been chosen to be a dwelling place for God's Holy Spirit to accomplish His will through me even as He did with Mary. As a child I was not very athletic and I remember the countless number of times I was one of the last to be chosen for a team sport during gym class. However, God does not require any prerequisites to be chosen to serve Him. In fact Jesus makes it clear to His disciples in John 15 that God does the choosing, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit--fruit that will last--and so whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you." (John 15:16) Each of us has been given the free will to make choices both good and bad in our lives. God Himself also makes choices which are always good and among His greatest is the reason we will be celebrating on December 25th. God chose over 2,000 years ago to send His Son into the world to save us and restore the broken relationship between God and humanity. Mary wasn't thinking about gifts or parties when the angel Gabriel came to her. She was focused on a decision to choose to do something that would change the rest of her life. In choosing to accept God's gift to her, all humanity has been blessed. This Christmas season may we take time to refocus our hearts and minds on choosing to receive once again the greatest gift given to humanity, our Lord Jesus Christ. In accepting God's gift to us, we are choosing to be the "dwelling place of the Most High. By God's grace, God's favor." I am chosen, appointed, a fruit bearer. All glory to God!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Pastor Sheree

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Where's The Hope?

Another Thanksgiving is upon us and soon to follow, the first Sunday of Advent. However, it doesn't appear these days that many are very hopeful. Since the election I have experienced an overall increase in fear and distress from many of the clients who come for counseling. I am especially dismayed when I hear hopelessness from those clients who profess faith in Jesus Christ. During the whole long ordeal of the campaign and the negative rhetoric from both sides, I have been consistently reminding clients that God is sovereign. He already knew who would be occupying the White House and He is not upset or dismayed. Whatever the outcome it all fits into God's overall plan. Yet, when the results of the election started to pour in, many people were shocked and disappointed at what they had perceived as an easy victory for one of the candidates. What was even more disturbing is the apparent division that seemed to occur between brothers and sisters in Christ. We as the body of Christ did not necessarily provide a good example to the world of offering hope in the midst of despair, of demonstrating peace in the midst of chaos. Lest we forget that the political struggles that we have experienced and its aftermath are nothing new in the history of humanity. Centuries ago, a nation and a people were in turmoil. The Jews were being occupied by a government that they did not like which forced them to comply with laws that at times were contrary to their belief in the one true God. Furthermore, the ruler at the time happened to be a narcissistic, insecure man named Herod (Matthew 2) who was so paranoid that scholars state he actually murdered members of his own family who he thought were plotting against him. It was this same Roman government that decreed a census to be taken of the entire Roman world, necessitating that Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to comply with the law. (Luke 2:1-7) Furthermore, upon receiving the news that the King of the Jews had been born, Herod in his fear of losing his rule, ordered the death of all the boys in Bethlehem that were under two years of age. Can you imagine the horror and devastation experienced by those families who lost their children? The grief and agonizing pain of watching your child murdered and the helplessness of being unable to stop it. (Matthew 2:16-18) If that weren't enough Mary and Joseph had to go on the run with their child not back to their home in Nazareth but to another country all together which was Egypt.(Matthew 2:13-14) How long Jesus and his parents were in Egypt is not known, nevertheless their world had been turned upside down. It was overwhelming enough for Mary and Joseph to be told that she would carry and bear the Savior of the world but now this child's birth was changing everything! Therein, lies the point. Jesus' birth changes everything and those who call themselves His followers are the bearers of this good news to the world. Followers of Christ need to be the standard bearers. We need to bring the hope of the world to the reality of the situations and circumstances over which we have no control. God did not wake up on November 9th surprised by the outcome of the election. Instead, God is calling us to remember that He is the One who alone is trustworthy. He alone knows the beginning and the end. He writes the story and has already let us in on the ending. For God has provided us with the answer to our deepest longings and our darkest fears. His name is Jesus. So as we gather around our Thanksgiving tables, let us "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever." (Psalm 107:1)  Some may think that what I am proposing is unrealistic and idealistic. Believe me, I understand the anxiety as a black woman that some may be experiencing. However I have a choice to make about how I will respond whether it be in fear or in faith. As Advent draws near I am reminded of the words of an old hymn,The Solid Rock, that remains as true today as when it was penned years ago, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus' Name. On Christ the solid Rock I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, All other 
ground is sinking sand."
May you enjoy a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving!
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"It's The Great King Charlie Brown!"

Halloween is just around the corner and every year there are television adds as well as television programs promoting Halloween themes. One program that has become a classic is "It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown." I have always enjoyed creator Charles Schultz's Peanuts characters. There are many themes interwoven throughout "It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" but the main focus is the excitement and expectation Linus has at the anticipation that the Great Pumpkin is coming. The Great Pumpkin as Linus understands it, rises up out of the pumpkin patch every Halloween delivering candy to all the good boys and girls around the world that sit dutifully waiting for him to appear. All of Linus's friends including Charlie Brown, think Linus is crazy and waisting his time. They decide they would rather take the guaranteed goodies and go trick or treating. Unfortunately Charlie Brown's trick or treat experience is less than desirable beginning with a botched Halloween costume and then receiving a rock instead of candy which is thrown into his bag at every house he visits with his friends. At the end of the evening Lucy, Linus' sister, goes back to check on Linus in the pumpkin patch. She finds Linus lying on the ground shivering from the cold. Lucy gets her brother up and takes him home to bed. The next morning Charlie Brown and Linus review the events of Halloween night and share their disappointments. However, Linus still believes that the Great Pumpkin will return next year and he will be ready and waiting. I don't know about you but there are times when I feel like Charlie Brown. Life hands me a bag of rocks which can become heavy and weigh me down. I would love to have the "sweet treats"of life on a regular basis. However, Jesus is quite clear in John 16:33 when He says,"In this world you will have trouble." The good news is the second part of that verse, "But take heart! I have overcome the world." The fact that Jesus has overcome death and the grave, giving us new life, is what keeps us persevering. It's the same perseverance that Linus demonstrates waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. Linus is willing to wait patiently and with expectation that the Great Pumpkin will come and fulfill his promise to all the good boys and girls in the world. However, the reality is that the Great Pumpkin is a fantasy of Linus' imagination and will not be appearing any time in the future. Unlike the Great Pumpkin, our Lord Jesus Christ is not a fantasy of someone's imagination but He is alive and coming again. In John 14:1-3 Jesus says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am." Furthermore, in the book of Revelation 22:7,12,20 Jesus says three times that He is coming soon. The promises of Jesus encourage His followers to wait patiently and with expectation for the Lord's return with the same enthusiasm Linus demonstrated towards the Great Pumpkin. (Isaiah 30:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Titus 2:11-13; Galatians 6:9; Hebrews 12:1-3)  Jesus' return will be much more glorious than the Great Pumpkin's appearance and heaven will come down with Him. John puts it this way in Revelation 21:1-4, "Then I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first Heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,"Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe 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." Unlike Linus, we don't have to sit in a pumpkin patch hoping that Jesus will appear. In fact, He is with us right now through the power and presence of His Holy Spirit that dwells with every Christ follower and within every Christ follower. So, if I were Charlie Brown's friend and he was depressed over a fruitless and frustrating Halloween night that yielded only rocks, I would put my arms around him and tell him, "It's the Great King Charlie Brown!" "He is the One who can turn your rocks into riches! We don't need a sugar high when we can experience a "supernatural high" because of Jesus." As we approach the start of the Advent season at the end of November, let us wait once again with expectation for the glorious revelation of the first coming of our Lord and respond with enthusiasm to Jesus' declaration that He is coming again soon. "Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20b)
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who Do You See?

A week does not go by when we are not confronted again with television images of a person of color who has been shot by police officers. Conversely we also see images of police officers who have been ambushed by some angry person out of a sense of revenge. The question that arises in both instances is who do you see? The answer to this question goes to the heart of how we respond to others that we perceive are different from us. This perception is not solely along racial lines but manifests itself in a myriad of different ways. For example, how do we perceive a person who may have a skin disorder which is visible to the outside world? In the Old and New Testaments we read about stories of people who lived with leprosy. The Hebrew and Greek words translated as "leprosy" were used to define various diseases affecting the skin not necessarily leprosy. Nevertheless, the response to those suffering with these skin disorders was ostracism. Additionally the person had to cry out "unclean" so others could be warned that the person who was literally considered "unclean" was headed in an individual's direction. The question who do you see? remains relevant. In the example of the leper, the individual's value and worth was demeaned and swallowed up by their outward appearance. Human nature has changed very little since Jesus walked the earth. In our culture today, we experience the same reactions to the perception that another person who we outwardly perceive as different has a diminished value. Slavery and racism are woven deep into the fabric of the history of the United States and has never truly "gone away" as some would like to believe. There have been attempts to gloss over our history and compartmentalize it to something that happened "a long time ago." However, those individuals like myself who have grown up seeing and experiencing segregation and hatred towards attempts to recognize that "all men are created equal" understand that years of oppression will not remain underground for long. This does not give oppressed people a license to rise up and commit heinous crimes out of a sense of injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the course of history through non-violence during the Civil Rights Movement. His course of action mirrors what God calls us to in the Scriptures regarding how we perceive others. In 1 John chapters 3 and 4, strong language is used by John to point to the standard God expects when it comes to how we "see" others. "For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother....Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him." (1 John 3:12a,15) "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God whom, they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21) (emphasis mine) When we hear words like "keep them out!" "send them back!" "frisk them down!" we are no longer in step with the Spirit of God. We are no longer seeing people, we are seeing objects, less than human, not created by God who clearly tells us that each person is "fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:14a) So who do we see when that Muslim woman passes by wearing a birka? Do we see a possible terrorist or a woman who may have a family and who shares the same hopes, dreams, and fears for her children like other parents? Who do we see when that black person is walking along the street? Do we fear that person may be carrying a concealed weapon and ready to shoot anyone at any minute? Do we see a potential gang member? Do we see a possible welfare cheat? Do we even see a human being or some lesser species? If we fail to see a human being who has value and worth then we are truly blind and the Spirit of God has no place within us. When Samuel tried to judge who it was that God had sent him to anoint as king, Samuel tried to use the visual "litmus test", outward appearance. However, the Lord said to Samuel, "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7b) Jesus also had some things to say about the heart, "Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body," (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: "What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come---sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person." (Mark 7:18-23) Perhaps it's time to stop looking at people according to the broken and fallen standards of this world and get back to "seeing" through the eyes of God. May all who claim to follow Christ, be bold enough to pray this prayer on a consistent basis, "Search me, 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)
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Seeing" Jesus

I was recently touched by a meditation I read in one of my devotionals, "Our Daily Bread." The meditation was written by author Philip Yancey. I have been a long time fan of Mr. Yancey's books. He is very down to earth and transparent about his own personal struggles with Scriptural concepts. In this particular meditation, Mr. Yancey noted how many times human beings both in the Old and New Testaments were told not to be afraid as they were in the presence of some angelic being. For example, Daniel needed reassurance after receiving a disturbing vision. (Daniel 10:12) After Christ's resurrection, the women who came to anoint His body were reassured by an angel after seeing the stone rolled away. (Mark 28:5) Mary's reaction to the announcement that she would give birth to the Messiah required the angel to calm her fears. (Luke 1:30) Even, the apostle John needed a word of comfort when he saw a vision of the exalted Christ. (Rev. 1:17) Before Christ came to earth it was understood that no one could see God face to face and live to tell about it. Moses asked to see God's glory but was shielded in the cleft of a rock as the Lord passed by. Moses was able to see God's back but was told by the Lord that he could not see His face, "You cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live." (Exodus 33:20) God in denying Moses' request to see the Lord face to face was not an intentionally cruel gesture but rather God's merciful compassion, for He knew His glory was too overwhelming for any human being to experience. After the birth of Christ, the angels calmed the fears of human beings, the shepherds in the fields, when the angelic hosts appeared in the night sky. The beautiful grace of God is that with the coming of Christ, for the first time ordinary people from kings to shepherds could look upon the face of God without fear of death. From Christ's parents, to rabbis, to a poor widow, all peoples from all walks of life could touch God's hand, ask Him questions, walk beside Him, hear His voice, look into His eyes, eat with Him, hold conversations, and even debate with Him. Jesus did not have to first announce, "Don't be afraid." Scholars and theologians can debate forever about the reasons God took on human form but the simple truth is that God loved us so much, He wanted to draw that close to us. Do you realize that every experience that Christ had as a human being was a first? Prior to becoming incarnate Christ reigned in glory with the Father. He did not experience need or lack anything. Hunger was not an issue, sleep was not necessary, pain and suffering did not exist, sadness, rejection, isolation were not part of Christ's experience prior to His coming to earth. And some day, when He returns, we will know what it is like for the first time to experience freedom from the difficulties of this fallen world. At the end of the meditation is a quote from F.B. Meyer, "God incarnate is the end of fear." Jesus Himself reassures us, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3) So, fear not!
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Leader or Lord?

It is probably an understatement to say that this election year has been a very strange one. Neither candidate seems to be able to appeal to the masses. As we draw closer to November and the election of a new president, I have heard many people express the fact that they don't know who to vote for or better yet other folks have stated that they just won't vote at all. I have even heard people say that if a particular candidate is elected they plan to move out of the country. Many of the clients that I counsel are also expressing fear and dismay. My standard response to my clients is we have to remember we are not electing a savior to the presidency but a person. A sinful, flesh and blood individual just like the rest of humanity. Unfortunately people continue to believe that if we elect the "right" person with the "right" programs everything will turn out great and all will be well. The reality is that no matter who is elected, we will continue to face many issues that will remain unresolved. Politicians will continue to spout rhetoric about how they are going to change this or get rid of that. However, for all the promises made, a great number of those promises will not be kept. I believe the promises a candidate makes are done so with all sincerity because they feel they really can make a difference. What the candidates fail to understand along with many other people is the issue is not a lack of character but a lack of Christ. It is a heart issue and fallen, sinful human beings no matter how much they try cannot make everything all right. They cannot guarantee that what they are pledging will come to pass. Our government is designed in such a way that there are checks and balances. A president cannot make significant decisions without the Congress and Senate's involvement and vice versa. Yes, there is such a thing as the presidential use of the "executive order" which can bypass House and Senate approval but even such executive orders have their limits. And while having a system of checks and balances is good, as long as there are human beings involved, selfishness and self-centeredness often prevails. When we cast our votes, we are voting for a leader as opposed to seeking the Lord. We are not unlike the Israelites who asked Samuel to appoint a king over them after his sons failed to follow in Samuel's footsteps and became corrupt. "So all the elders of Israel gathered at Ramah. They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have." (1 Samuel 8:4) Samuel was greatly distressed knowing that God was to be their only King. However, God reassured Samuel, "And the Lord told him: "Listen to all the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do." (1 Samuel 8:7-9) Just like each one of us has the individual right and free will to choose the next president as citizens of this country, so God gave Israel the right to choose who would govern them. But God gave them a warning about the consequences of their choices. Similarly, we will live with the consequences of whoever we choose to occupy the oval office. We need to be reminded that there is only One who we can truly trust and depend upon to govern our lives and that is Jesus Christ. When we put our hope and trust in a person or a plan we will wind up disappointed every time. God knows how sinful the heart of humanity can be and that is why Christ came to earth. He came to "seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10) God wants to bless His people, "If my people who are called by my Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14) Our country is in great need of healing on so many levels but it appears we would seek that healing to come from a leader and not from the Lord. I don't know what the outcome will be in November, but I know that come what may I will put my hope and trust in the Lord. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
Peace and Blessings,
Pastor Sheree 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Empty Nest, Emptiness

It is my desire to try and blog at least once a month. However, here I am desperately trying to meet my "deadline" before July 1st. I have struggled all month to try and feel inspired by some situation or circumstance that would move me to share. However, the reality is this month I have not felt moved to blog. As I was sitting in my den looking out at our deck where we have a bird house, I was symbolically reminded how sometimes our spirits go through dry seasons. I look forward every year to the birds nesting in the bird house. Typically the resident visitors are house wrens who loudly announce their presence whenever they come back from a foraging mission. However, this year to my delight we had black-capped chickadees lay claim to the free lodging. Unfortunately the resident chickadees were constantly harassed by robins who were nesting in nearby trees. As a result what started out as a promising hope for new life ended up with the chickadees "flying the coop." Our church is currently undergoing a difficult season wherein we may be forced to close our doors this fall due to financial constraints. That empty bird house reminded me of the emptiness I may feel if we no longer have a place as a church community to call home. I am convinced that those black-capped chickadees were able to find a new place to start over. Likewise, God is faithful and will lead us to our next "nesting place." In Psalm 42, the psalmist laments that his soul is earnestly seeking God for deliverance from the oppression of his enemies but he is having trouble finding God. "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng." (Psalm 42:1-4) I pray that our church will not have to reminisce about how we once used to worship God joyfully together. There may be some outside the church that question, "Where is your God?" However, despite the struggle the psalmist yet has hope. "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God." (Psalm 42:5) The psalmist repeats his hope at the end of Psalm 42 and again at the end of Psalm 43, which scholars believe were created as one single prayer and later separated. The point the psalmist seeks to emphasize is despite the fact that there is an emptiness in his soul, that does not take away from the fact that God is still faithful and he can rejoice and trust in the One who is both Savior and Lord. Likewise, our church family will continue to believe and trust in God to move in the midst of our situation for His honor and glory. 
Thanks Be To God!
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Memorial Day"

Next Monday, May 30, 2016, hundreds of people will flock to cemeteries to remember and honor their deceased relatives and friends. Memorial Day was established first and foremost to remember those who died serving this country during all wars. However, it is also a time when people take a moment to visit the graves of those whom they knew and loved who have passed away. If the individual was in the military, many times an American flag will be placed at the gravesite. Some people will place stuffed animals or small tokens that remind them about something that was special or unique about the deceased individual. Following this officially recognized "day of mourning," people will return to their routine activities. Memorial Day weekend has also been recognized as the "official" start of summer vacations and travel. Subsequently, gas prices begin to rise, the internet is flooded with people furiously looking for cheap flights, and hotel reservations are quickly booked up. Memorial Day fades into the background until it comes around again next May and people move forward with their mindsets focused on fun in the sun. However, there is another time of "remembrance" that is not easily forgotten. It is repeated day in and day out in some churches and celebrated less frequently in other church communities. It is referred to by many names, the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, and Holy Communion but it is a pivotal experience for believers in Jesus Christ. Jesus on the night He was betrayed transformed the traditional Passover meal, giving it a new meaning that was to be carried on through the rest of time. Paul, shares with the Corinthian believers, "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper He took the cup saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) What Jesus established that night was not something to be easily dismissed or only acknowledged once a year. It was to remind us in a very tangible and symbolic way of His great sacrifice for the sins of the world. Those who lost their lives in combat are often said to have "sacrificed" their lives. Yet, despite their sacrifice, wars continue to rage on all over the world and the shedding of a soldier's blood does not redeem or stop wars from ever happening again. On Memorial Day we honor the dead but Jesus rose from the dead. Thus, we remember a living Lord when we celebrate communion. Jesus told us to remember Him until He comes again. His sacrifice on the cross does guarantee that one day wars and strife will cease because when He comes again there will be a new heaven and new earth. (Revelation 21:1-4) The psalmist declares, "Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy! Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest." (Psalm 126:3,5-6 NLT) This will be the first Memorial Day since my mother's death in September 2015 and there most likely will be tears shed and little rejoicing. However, every time I celebrate the Lord's Supper I am filled with joy, expectation, and a living hope rooted in the promise of our Savior to His disciples, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3) One day we will all join our loved ones in death but the ending will be different for those who are followers of Jesus Christ as the writer of the book of Hebrews states, "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him." (Hebrews 9:27-28) I encourage you this Memorial Day in the midst of bittersweet memories of deceased loved ones to remember with joy the One who is coming again to make all things new. "He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)
May God's peace be with you,
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Heaven Came Down

I have begun working through and meditating on a book a colleague of mine recently recommended that I read. The title of the book is "Shaped By The Cross" Meditations on the Suffering of Jesus by Ken Gire. In his book Mr. Gire focuses the meditations on one of the famous sculptures created by Michelangelo called "The Pieta." It is a beautiful sculpture depicting Jesus after His death cradled in the arms of Mary. In the book the reader is shown pictures of the sculpture from various angles with the meditations focused on various aspects of the sculpture such as the "Body of Christ" and the "Wounds of Christ." As I completed the first meditation which was focused on the "Image of God" it served as a powerful reminder of Christ's humanity and how He came down from glory to be with us. I have had a desire to draw closer to God and at times struggle with the reality that Christ is very near to me every day. It is easy to think of Him as very distant or not recognize His presence as I go about my everyday routines. It is also hard sometimes to experience His love for me on a deeper level. The meditation on the "Image of God" brought me to a new awareness of His humanity and vulnerability as Christ's lifeless body is held tenderly and compassionately in the arms of a human being---His mother, Mary. It made me realize how much Christ longs to hold me, compassionately and gently in His loving arms. Moreover, I felt the Lord bidding me to draw closer to Him. That it was O.K. to be in an intimate relationship with Him, to hold Him and touch Him. After I finished journaling my thoughts and reactions to this aspect of the Pieta, the "Image of God", I sat for some time with the image and was able to visualize myself holding the broken body of Christ. However, the Christ I held in my visualization was not the "sanitized" marble sculpture of the Pieta but rather the bloodied and beaten body of Jesus. I felt at first uncomfortable and did not want to think about it. However, the Spirit was impressing upon my heart and encouraging me to hold onto the image I was seeing and rest in it because this is how close the Lord is to me. The compassionate, merciful image of God that we experience as His children gives us permission to express those feelings and actions towards others, even the Lord Himself. The expression "heaven came down" took on more significance than in the past. God reinforced His nearness to me through an encounter with nature the following day. The Lord often speaks to me through nature. One of the powerful symbols He frequently uses is red-tailed hawks. Many times when I need encouragement I will see one perched on a lamp post, in a tree, or soaring high above. This is God's way of reminding me of His strength and power in the words of Isaiah 40:29-31, "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." As I was on my way to work I saw a red-tailed hawk but this time he was on the ground in a field. It was as if God was reminding me not to forget how close He is to me. This powerful and majestic bird came down to be among humanity. God's winged messenger serving as an encouragement my heart. 
Glory be to God!
Pastor Sheree
              
                                                          "THE PIETA"
                                                 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Meditation For Easter

As Easter approaches I have found myself feeling a mix of emotions. The primary feeling is one of sadness. I have experienced a number of losses in a very short period of time. It began in July 2015 with the unexpected passing of my godfather, followed by the death of my mother in September and the loss of my great aunt in January 2016. In addition to those losses many of my clients that I counsel were also grieving over the loss of either a family member or a pet. Moreover, a very close friend lost her father two weeks after the passing of my great aunt. Death seemed to surround me on all sides and I was feeling disillusioned as the Lenten season began. I always desire to celebrate Lent and all that it signifies to believers in Christ. However, this Lenten season I wasn't "feeling it." I couldn't understand what God was doing with all these tragedies occurring one right after the other. When I began to process these feelings with my spiritual director I had an "epiphany." The Lord was bringing me to and through the Easter season in a very real and unique way. In a sense I was experiencing the steps that Jesus and His followers were facing those last few weeks of His life. This meditation flows from that experience. Jesus said, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise." (Mark 10:33-34) Jesus predicted His death to His disciples more than once before they entered for the last time into Jerusalem. Did the disciples hear Jesus say that He would rise again or were they shocked and focused on His death? As I watched my mother slowly deteriorate I was aware that her death was coming. Despite that awareness, there is a feeling of disbelief. I had read all the materials on the physical signs of death and heard the doctor's prognosis yet there was no way to prepare for the reality of the death process. But the Lord was impressing upon me that death must come first with all the heaviness and sorrow that accompanies it. After sharing one final Passover meal with His disciples, they left and went to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death..."Abba, Father," He said, "everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will"...And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (Mark 14:34,36; Luke 22:44) The reality of knowing that death for my mother was inevitable once she was placed in hospice care was overwhelming. I knew that the Lord could still provide a miracle and I fervently prayed but I also had to come to the point of saying, "Your will be done." During my mother's final days, she had developed congestive heart failure and was laboring to breathe. Jesus as He hung on the cross experienced a similar phenomena as He struggled for oxygen hanging in that unnatural position. Jesus said, "I am thirsty." A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of a hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. (John 19:28b-29) The wine vinegar was often used to help ease the pain a crucified person was experiencing. After my mother was placed on hospice care she was given morphine to make her comfortable. Hospice patients can no longer safely receive solid food or water. When I went to visit with my mother the day before she died, she was unresponsive yet comfortable. I noticed a container with tiny sponges on the end so they could moisten her lips. Jesus said, Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit." When He had said this, He breathed His last." (Luke 23:46) It is said that the sense of hearing is the last to go before someone dies. Before my visit with my mother ended, I leaned over her and whispered into her ear releasing her to the Heavenly Father saying, "I have to go now but if you see your mother or your sister or Jesus, go with them because your time here is finished. I love you." I received the phone call the next morning that she had passed away. After Jesus' death Luke tells us, "When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew Him, including the women who had followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. (Luke 23:48-49) I imagine many people but especially His disciples were shocked and disillusioned. I experienced similar feelings now that the reality of death had come to pass. My brother and I had the sad task of choosing a coffin and making funeral arrangements. Luke tells us that a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea had the same task, offering his own tomb for Jesus' burial. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph to see the location of the tomb and see Jesus being laid to rest in it. They were prepared to return the next day with spices for the body. (Luke 23:50-56) My friends and family members accompanied me to the cemetery but my mother's final committal had to take place in the cemetery chapel as another interment was taking place near the plot of ground where my mother was to be laid to rest. When my brother and I returned to the cemetery a few months later, the marker had not yet been returned from engraving and we could not find the plot. The cemetery owner pointed the spot out on a map and stated that the grass has not yet covered it so it should still be fresh soil. We believe we found it but are unsure. I was going to wait until warmer weather to go back but the Lord appeared to impress upon my heart that I needed to return before Easter. I had to finish the Lenten journey. When Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb to find it empty she began weeping. Jesus said, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" (John 20:13) When I returned to my mother's grave I was deeply disappointed to see the marker had not yet been placed as according to the cemetery owner the ground was not yet soft enough to put the marker into place.  The fresh soil remains visible at this present time yet without a marker. I felt a little like Mary after she discovered Jesus body was no longer in the tomb, "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put Him." (John 20:14) Even though I know where my mother's plot is located without the identifying marker, there is still a bit of uncertainty. The angels at the tomb said to the women, "Don't be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him." (Mark 16:6) The angels words resonated with my spirit, "Don't be alarmed, you are looking for your mother. She is right here. See the place where they laid her." The cemetery administrator assured me that the marker should be laid by the end of April. The cemetery tries to ensure that women's markers are in place before Mother's Day. As I think about it, what a wonderful gift! By the time Mother's Day comes around, all of nature will most likely be in the process of awakening from it's winter slumber to be "resurrected" in the newness of spring. One day when our Lord returns my mother's body will be resurrected to the newness of life eternal as Paul states, "For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." (1 Corinthians 15:52b-54) I am encouraged by these words because the resurrection is what Easter is all about. "Jesus said, Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3)
Even so, come Lord Jesus! Have a blessed Easter!
HE IS RISEN!
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Power of Love

In a few days it will be Valentine's Day. I find it quite interesting that one day out of the year is set aside to celebrate the concept of love. It's almost as if the rest of the year one can be as unkind as they choose to their spouse or significant other but on Valentine's Day, all bets are off. Animosity is to be set aside and exchanged for a token or trinket that symbolizes love. Stores launch into their full "love" mode displaying their wares of sweet treats and flowers. Jewelry stores communicate the message that in no uncertain terms if you truly love that special someone its time to upgrade to a bigger cut of diamond ring or perhaps a diamond necklace or bracelet. For that one day in time people who have felt rejected or unnoticed can feel special. However, like most holidays we celebrate during the year, once the day has come and gone its back to business as usual. The warm fuzzies of Valentine's Day become a faded memory as we return to our every day routines and stores place Valentine's candy on sale at a deep discount. It almost feels like love isn't as valuable the day after so take advantage of the sale. Besides, the stores need to make room for treats and stuffed toys for the next big holiday, Easter. Since when did love become a commodity? For God, love is not something celebrated with fanfare once a year. For God, love is eternal and never fades, dies, or grows cold over time. There is a power in the love of God that cannot be matched, surpassed, or measured by anything on earth. Ironically, God's love is demonstrated in death, the death of His Son. From the first word in the book of Genesis to the last word in the book of Revelation, God has written His love letter to the world. In the pages of that letter God demonstrated how He loved the world into existence (Genesis 1:1), redeemed the world in love through His Son (John 3:16), and loved the world enough to one day create a new heaven and earth where God will personally dwell with us (Revelation 21-22) Furthermore, the power of God's love is so strong that nothing can separate us from it. (Romans 8:37-39) How is this possible? John tells us, "God is love." (1 John 4:16a) God is pure, unadulterated, perfect and holy love. Therefore, we can count on God's love 24/7/365. The Song of Songs is the book of "romance" in the Bible and describes the passion and power of love as expressed by the female voice (Beloved) to the male object of her affections (Lover). However, her words also speak to the intense love between God and His people. "Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned." (Song of Songs 8:6-7) God created us to be in relationship and to love one another but not merely following the cultural practices of giving material gifts one day a year. God calls on us to love sacrificially, from our inner most being reflecting His love that is ours in Christ to a hurting and broken world. John tells us we love not out of obligation but rather, "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19) Jesus came to reveal the Father's heart and when asked by one of the teachers of the law of all the commandments which was the most important? Jesus responded, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31) There is no power on earth greater than the power of love and nothing we give or receive on Valentine's Day is worth more than the love of God.
Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Meditation on Natalie K. Nelson's "Millennials"




I see a diversity of cups. Some of them draw me in, others push me away. Some seem so empty and lifeless, while others hold promise and hope. I feel that the Lord wants to fill all of those cups to overflowing, to make them complete. Yet, some of those cups would rather settle for mediocrity. Settle for a life half lived or a life not sufficient enough to last forever. This I see symbolized by what appears to be three small shot glasses. I am drawn to the cup at the top with all the colorful stripes. It seems to surpass the others. It is full, its colors represent diversity and not the status quo. It invites whosoever from every race, nation, and tongue to come and drink deeply from it. Its colors are uniform and there is no indication of emptiness. I look at the word "millennials" and I think about the millennial reign of Christ rooted in the various end times theological positions. I ask myself, "What cup do you want to represent your reigning with Him forever?" The cup I am drawn to indicates a peace amidst the chaotic feel of the other cups. Some are too big, some are too small and some are too thin. False imitations of the true "life-giving" cup. I want to reach out and take that cup. But I am reminded that recognizing that "life-giving" cup is recognizing Christ in the midst of all those counterfeits this world presents. Can I recognize Him among the many choices set before me? Yes, as my eyes keep coming back to that one cup, that cup of communion, holding the blood of our Lord for all peoples who would choose to drink from it. I am reminded of Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14) The choices are many, the offers are varied but only one cup contains the truth and brings all the colors together in a unified manner. This is what the Trinity represents, unity in diversity, all pointing back to that great sacrifice, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me." (1 Corinthians 11:25) Even so Lord Jesus, let me drink deeply.

Shalom,
Pastor Sheree