Saturday, December 16, 2017

"Presents or Presence?"

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

The Joy of His Presence

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

The Promise of His Presence

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

The Presence of God In Our Midst

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Be Thankful!

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

Give Thanks

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

Jesus knows our suffering

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

We are the recipients of many blessings

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

May you enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving!
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Brush Strokes of Grace

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

We are a brush stroke of grace

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Be Free!

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

What are you waiting for?

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Intimate Knowing

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

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Through the Eyes of a Child

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

New Life

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Lenten Meditation: The Body

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

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

This Is Love

Today is Valentine's Day and I have been meditating on a verse from 1 John 4:10, "This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." I have been drawn to those first three words, "This is love." In our culture we define love in a very conditional way. People spend a lot of money and figuratively speaking "go overboard" to demonstrate their love to another person. But what happens after the day is over? All the tokens that mark Valentine's Day do not last. Flowers wither and die, greeting cards may end up in the trash or a recycling bin, and chocolates disappear eventually ending up around our waistlines. If greeting cards are saved, they often end up in a box on a shelf or in a closet only to be looked at as one is downsizing their living space or a relative is cleaning out a home after someone's death. Then, there are all those who have no one to share love with them. They may be homeless, or perhaps they are not involved in a relationship of any kind. Some may be divorced or have lost a spouse or significant other to death. The Scriptures define real love in the purest and truest sense of the word. It is the unconditional love of God demonstrated in the ultimate sacrificial gift, the life of His Son. God's love is for all people regardless of race, creed, color, or ethnic background. There are no expectations or pre-requirements on our part. We can be rich or poor, healthy or ill, employed or unemployed. We can live any where in the world under good conditions or difficult circumstances. We can be law abiding citizens or sitting in a jail cell for a crime. The bottom line is that Christ died for all and God loved us with a love that is everlasting and does not change or end. We as humans can never really love well enough. Even after Valentine's Day we are still constantly trying to prove our love in one way or another. Our love can even fail us at the time of death. Doctors have observed a phenomenon referred to as "broken heart syndrome." When two people are strongly emotionally bonded, the death of one individual can then trigger the quick demise of the other sometimes within weeks or even days. People are still shocked over the death of actress Debbie Reynolds two days after the passing of her daughter Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynold's son shared that after his sister Carrie passed away, his mother reportedly stated she wanted to "be with Carrie." Bereavement experts report that the first stage of grief after someone dies is anger. Perhaps there is an underlying feeling on the part of the surviving relatives that the person didn't love them enough to stay alive and not leave them abandoned. God has promised He will never leave or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5b) Indeed, God has kept His promise because Jesus did not remain in the grave but He was raised from the dead and one day will come back for us. (Revelation 22:7,12,20) Furthermore, in His absence Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to not only be our strength, comfort, and support but also our guarantee of what is yet to come. (John 14:16-18; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14) This indeed is love! It is a true, pure, and unadulterated love. So for all of those who are feeling left out or abandoned on this Valentine's Day, know this, You are loved and always will be! From the Father's heart to yours, Happy Valentine's Day!
In His Love,
Pastor Sheree

Monday, February 13, 2017

God Is A Patriots Fan!

February 5, 2017 in the sports world will be a day not soon forgotten. It was Super Bowl Sunday and one of the most historic comebacks in the game of football. The New England Patriots faced the Atlanta Falcons in the final showdown of the football season. Both teams were in pursuit of the coveted Lombardi trophy as well as bragging rights of being the best team in football. There was a lot on the line for both teams. This was Atlanta's second attempt at trying to win the Super Bowl and the young team lead by quarterback, Matt Ryan, was on a winning streak. Their opponents, led by quarterback Tom Brady were on the verge of making history as the team sought to clinch their fifth Super Bowl title after a very difficult season. The game was the talk of the sports world as commentators and pundits placed their bets on who would emerge victorious. New England already had the reputation of being known as "Patriot's nation" and fans of the team are at times characterized as "fanatics." Many agreed that the Falcons would pose a great challenge to the Patriots and the final score would be close. However, there was no doubt in Patriot's nation that their team would emerge triumphant. What was unexpected was the manner in which the Patriots won the game. After the first half, the outcome was looking fairly bleak as the Falcons appeared to be running away with the game. At half time the Patriots were down approximately three touchdowns and many became pessimistic that the Patriots could come back and win. In fact no team in the history of football ever came back to win in the second half after being so far behind in points. However, when all was said and done, the Patriots mounted an unbelievable comeback to clinch the win, go down in history, and leave many shaking their heads including the Atlanta Falcons as to what had just happened. I must admit I was one of those head shakers. It felt like I had just witnessed a miracle. Yet there are times when I doubt God's ability to answer a specific prayer in a seemingly impossible situation. On Thursday, February 9th, New England experienced its first major snowstorm of the winter season which dumped over a foot of snow in many areas. It happened to be my day off and I had the daunting task of clearing our driveway of snow so that my husband could get in after he came home from work. Our driveway slopes slightly upward and shoveling can become a challenge, especially with each year that I grow older. Although we own a snowblower, it is often difficult for me to get it started and it is very heavy and awkward to manage. I happened to be texting with one of the lead pastors at our home church and telling her about my dilemma. She responded by saying she had just prayed for a snowplow to come along "in Jesus' name." I must confess I was skeptical about her prayer. As I began shoveling, I kept thinking to myself, "that was a nice prayer but it's never going to happen." I was almost to the end of the driveway, when my husband came home and said he would take care of the rest with our snowblower. Just as he was about to get the snowblower from our shed, a man drove up in a truck with a plow attached. He asked us if we were all set and my husband responded,"Yes!" In my mind I was thinking to my self, "No, we're not all set. Our answer to prayer just rolled up!" What was even more unbelievable was the snowplow driver's truck had the Patriot's logo on the passenger's side door. It was as if God were reminding me to believe in the impossible! Realistically, I know that God did not favor one football team over the other as Deuteronomy 10:17 states, "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes." However, He is God of the impossible. When Abraham's wife, Sarah, laughed at the idea of having a child in her old age, the angelic messenger God had sent to deliver the news responded, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14a) Jeremiah affirms God's greatness as he prayed, "Ah, Sovereign Lord, You have made the heaves and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You." (Jeremiah 32:17) The Lord responds to Jeremiah's prayer, I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27) Jesus states that ".....with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26) Furthermore, in addressing a father who was desperately seeking Jesus to heal his son, the man confesses he is struggling to believe that boy can really be healed. Jesus responds, ".....everything is possible for one who believes." (Mark 9:23) Additionally, it goes without saying that the greatest miracle, the greatest "comeback" from seemingly impossible odds was performed by God when He raised our Lord, Jesus Christ from the dead. I have to admit when I think of that snowy day, I often smile at the way God chooses to communicate His point in interesting ways and once again I am left just like with the Super Bowl game shaking my head and declaring with the psalmist, "Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom; The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does." (Psalm 145:3;13b)
Pastor Sheree

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It's The Little Things

I recently celebrated another birthday. As we grow older there is a tendency to reflect on our lives. Sometimes I wonder what difference I am making for the kingdom of God. In my counseling practice and pastoral ministry at my home church I am in a position of authority and constantly pouring out and pouring into people. After awhile I begin to feel emotionally exhausted and wonder if what I am doing really has any significance. Every year I choose a different devotional to work through in addition to "Our Daily Bread." This year I am working through "Dare To Journey" which is a collection of meditations written by Henri Nouwen. One of his most recent meditations was entitled, "The Call of the Small." The focus of the meditation pointed to the fact that many small acts make us into the people we are becoming. Many of us, myself included can get caught up into thinking that only great acts of sacrifice or things that are recognized and held up for all to see are more important. However, Nouwen pointed out that, "Sometimes we are called to do great acts of kindness or make great sacrifices. But this is seldom normal. Usually we have the opportunity for many small acts of love and service and are called to make many small sacrifices." He goes on to state that there is power in these small acts towards others. He calls it the "mystery of small acts of faith." In Matthew 8:5-13, it was the small act of faith of a Centurion that yielded great reward. The Centurion came to Jesus seeking His help in healing his servant who was paralyzed at home and greatly suffering. Jesus offers to come to the Centurion's home. However, the Centurion in humility believes that Jesus can heal his servant and doesn't need anything more but Jesus' word. Jesus goes on to point to the Centurion as an example of great faith and subsequently pronounces the servant healed. Here was a man in a position of power, most likely despised by many because he was a Roman soldier. Yet, he made no public display about his position but humbly in a small act of faith trusted that Jesus would do what He asked. It appears that Jesus was trying to impress upon me the same truth, that the small acts of faith that He sends me to do carry as much power or in some cases even more power than truths that I can declare from the pulpit. Nouwen goes on to state, "Some acts of faith produce unexpected results, others are more predictable, and some, downright disappointing. But all--and herein lies the mystery--weave a pattern for our being, thinking, responding, and acting. This pattern thus becomes an expression of our truer self. It makes us what we want to be." In essence Nouwen is helping us to understand that the big acts of faith that are applauded by many are not in and of themselves wrong but rather can feed into our ego and a false sense of self. When we operate in the ordinary of everyday life, we demonstrate who we really are without hiding behind a mask of seeking to impress others. We also need to be aware of small acts of faith that we receive from others. It is God's way of loving us back. For example, I have come to befriend an elderly gentleman that bags groceries in the supermarket where I regularly shop. I can't quite remember what initiated the conversation between us. Perhaps I was wearing jewelry or a shirt or maybe my key chain which says "I Love Jesus" indicating that I was a Christ follower. Regardless, this gentleman took note and began speaking to me. Last summer God arranged a "holy encounter" wherein my husband and I ran into this gentleman and his wife at our favorite ice cream stand in Connecticut. From that point forward I always look for him whenever I am in the grocery store. Every time he sees me, he makes it a point to encourage me by saying, "Just remember Jesus loves you." Sometimes he will also express his desire and excitement for Jesus to return soon. I have come to accept this gentleman's words as a small act of faith that God is speaking into my heart. As a result, it has motivated me to increase my awareness and sensitivity to God speaking to me in small ways as well as working through me to bless others. I close with this encouragement from Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, "You are the salt of the earth....You are the light of the world....Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify Your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:13a,14,16) Don't overlook the little things and miss the opportunity to bring glory to God!
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Sheree