Do Not Stop

Read Acts 5:27-32

One of the challenging lessons for parents to teach their children is not to succumb to peer pressure. This is a lesson which must be learned because throughout our entire life we will encounter people who try to pressure us into a variety of actions and situations. There are also times when we pressure ourselves to conform to the desires and priorities of others. A person needs to learn to stand for their own convictions and beliefs while being open to learning from the perceptions of others and possibly adjusting when appropriate.

The followers of Jesus are trying to understand what it means to continue to follow even though Jesus is no longer physically present. Meanwhile, The Jewish leadership is trying to eliminate any further following of Jesus. The leaders in Jerusalem had instructed the apostles to cease doing acts in Jesus’s name or share his teachings with others. Yet the apostles continued to do as Jesus had told them to do. In today’s passage the apostles are brought before the leadership to answer for their disobedience. The apostles tell the leaders that they cannot and will not succumb to the pressure of the leadership. They declare that they must do what Jesus, who spoke God’s instructions, told them. The Holy Spirit has affirmed this to them.

We are to be like the apostles in what we read here. There are people who tell us to not speak of Jesus. We are told to no longer share the stories of Jesus and how Jesus has worked in our lives. Some mock us when we attribute the works of compassion, mercy and grace which we perform in the name of the Lord. Our faith, beliefs, and understandings of the Lord should be kept private so we make no one uncomfortable is what we are told. The apostles tell us in this passage not to let peer pressure stop us from doing as God instructs. We are to have the courage to stand by our convictions and beliefs. Let us pray that we will follow the example of the apostles. 

Stones

Read 1 Peter 2:4-10

Individuals who have property which is at a different elevation than the property beside it often have to utilize retaining walls. These walls keep the soil contained so it does not erode away. Usually a retaining wall is made of stones or bricks. Over time, and often due to the movement of water, one or more of these stones may move out of place and threaten the integrity of the wall. Each stone is vital for the wall to effectively serve its purpose.

In the passage from 1 Peter, the writer uses the image of stones to communicate our role in exhibiting the grace of our Lord. The chief stone in this demonstration is Jesus who is the cornerstone.  Jesus stands as the greatest exhibition of God’s grace. Each of us become stones which build upon the cornerstone.

Understanding this passage in our life begins by realizing our role in the demonstration of grace. Like the stones in a retaining wall, each one of us is vital. With the grace shown through Christ as the base of our display, we add our witness of God’s grace in our lives. Each of these witnesses combine together to create a profound message of the grace of God active in the world.

Be that living stone which demonstrates grace. You are an important part of the beautiful display for others to see.

So Good

There are times in a person’s life when memories from our childhood can come flooding back into the mind. Certain experiences or events can trigger those memories. Recently, some events in my life created one of those instances. I was reflecting upon how certain situations fell into place. I had a need for the Lord to intercede in my life and the lives of some individuals who I deeply love. Naturally, this prompted me to engage in a sustained period of frequent and diligent prayer. I turned to family and trusted prayer warriors in my life. While I firmly believe that the Lord always works faithfully in the lives of God’s children, I could have never foreseen the great show of faithfulness which I recently experienced. This led me to remember a song from my childhood.

Growing up in a small, rural community, I had the blessing of being nurtured into the Christian faith by loving people in a small church. Every Sunday morning, children, youth, teachers and the pastor would gather in a basement room for the Sunday School opening. We would sing songs, hear a passage from Scripture, and say a prayer before splitting into our classes by age. One song which we sang frequently is, God is So Good. I would also later sing this song at church camp.

As I considered the Lord’s recent guidance and blessings in my life, the words of this song flooded my mind.

God truly is good and has been extremely good to me. I love God so!

In A Whisper

Read 1 Kings 19:9b-13a

Being heard in the midst of a loud crowd or in a spacious environment can create a challenge for a leader or speaker. In order to overcome this challenge, one might amplify one’s voice by utilizing a megaphone or a microphone, amp and speakers. Another method which has been suggested appears to go contrary to the intended goal…use a quiet voice. This method is akin to the idea of reverse psychology. If individuals in a group see the persons peaking by observing the movement of the mouth, they will quiet themselves and often those  around them because they are curious. They want to hear what is being said since it may have some impact on them. They do not want to miss out.

In the reading from1 Kings today, God seems to employ such a tactic with Elijah. God desires to have Elijah’s full attention. Instead of being known in a loud and shattering way such as using a mighty wind, an earthquake or a large fire, God chooses a whisper. This clearly gets Elijah’s attention and Elijah listens intently to God. This is the response which God sought.

There are times when we have a strong desire to hear God. It may be during a time of great fear and stress as Elijah was experiencing. Maybe we are considering a life transition. Whatever the circumstance, we hunger to hear a message from God. Since we know God to be all-powerful, our expectation is that God will show up in some boisterous and dramatic way. We get frustrated when this does not happen and may conclude that God really does not care. However, from Elijah we learn that often God chooses the quiet and gentle way in order to truly get our attention so the message will be heard.

If you are seeking God’s presence and message, maybe you need to stop looking for a loud thunderbolt and instead pay attention to the gentle whispers in your life.

Closing A Year

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

As we come to the close of another year and anticipate a new one, it is right that we should offer praise and thanks to our Lord. No matter what the previous year has held, you are still reading and I am still writing. This is only possible because of the Lord. Our ability to wake up every day for the past 365 mornings is because of the Lord. All of our abilities and our skills find their source in the Lord. Every possession we have, our health, and our mental capacities are due to the giving of the Lord. We have journeyed through another year and are at this point as a blessing from the Lord.

Looking into the new year, the promises of the Lord continue. While we have no idea what this new year may contain for us, we know that the Lord walks through it with us. We can depend on the Lord to lead us if we will follow. The compassion and mercy of the Lord will enrich us every day. The provisions of the Lord will sustain us throughout another year. Most of all, the love of the Lord will surround us every minute of every day in the new year.

I invite you on this New Year’s Eve to pause and say thank you.

The Wait

Read Luke 2:25-32

Waiting can be a challenge for many of us. Anyone who has anticipated something tremendous to occur knows that you are often on edge. If our wait is prolonged, doubt can enter into one’s mind. A person may even become irritable because the  waiting may seem unbearable. When the wait is over, a feeling of relief and joy sweeps over us.

The people of Israel had been waiting a long time for a savior, the Messiah. Some of them had given up hope, become upset, and maybe even fell away from their faith in God. One Hebrew man who remained faithful and did not waver from his belief that God would fulfill the promise of the Messiah was Simeon. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for consecration, Simeon knew the promise had been fulfilled. He offered a song of praise and thanks to God. In his song, he declared who this child was and what he would do for the world.

There are times when we have to wait for God to fulfill a promise. God’s timing seldom aligns with our own. God’s timing is perfect so waiting is often the norm for us. How we handle this wait reveals our nature. Do we become irritated, maybe even fall away from our faith? Or do we choose to respond as Simeon, remaining faithful and continuing to trust in God’s promise to be fulfilled?

The Big House

Read John 14:1-3

There are many varieties of houses in this world. Some people live in small, one-room homes while others have places to live which have over twenty rooms. The materials used to build houses may depend on factors  such as location, climate, resource availability, financial resources, and/or the owner’s needs. Some houses are single-storied, while others have two or more stories. Just as individuals vary, so do the houses in which each person lives.

In an attempt to reduce the anxiety of his disciples, Jesus tells them about a house with plenty of room which he is going to prepare for them and others. Prior to this passage, Jesus had told his disciples that he would not be with them much longer. After having followed Jesus around for almost three years, the disciples want to follow him wherever he is going next. They are afraid of being left on their own. So Jesus assured them that he is going to prepare their place where the Father dwells. He also tells them that there is plenty of room for them and he will return to take them to the place.

During Advent, part of our focus was on this promise of Jesus’s return. In today’s passage we hear of this promised return. The promise speaks of a big house where all are welcomed. Through other passages in Scripture, we gain an understanding that there will be abundance at this place. Sadness, pain, and suffering will be replaced with joy and uninhibited life. The place of Jesus’s promise is clearly a place we all would desire to experience. This place is also a home to which we should want to invite others.

Audio Adrenaline captured the promise of Jesus and created images to which we can relate today in their song, Big House. I invite you to consider the promise, the invitation, and the images which form in your mind as you listen to this song today.

Qualifying

Read Colossians 1:12-14

In athletic running events, swimming competitions, and a few other sports, a person is required to be qualified in order to participate. These qualification events are often referred to as preliminaries or entry heats. A participant must achieve a specific time or placing if she/he is going to be allowed to compete in the final which will determine the overall winner.

The passage taken from the first chapter in the letter written to the Colossians speaks of qualifying. The writer is sharing why thanks is given for the members of this faith community. God is lifted up as being the one who has qualified them to share in the inheritance of the people whom God has set apart. It is the action of God which has made the people heirs, not the people themselves. This action of God has brought the people into the light of the Son’s kingdom where there is redemption by the forgiveness of sin.

In sporting events, one’s qualification depends solely upon the athlete’s or team’s performance. Colossians indicates that our qualifying to be participants in the Son’s kingdom has no dependency upon us, instead it is God who does the qualifying. This is exciting news because we would fail to qualify if it were not for the forgiveness found in Jesus.

Incarnation

Read John 1:1-14

John’s gospel account does not contain the narrative of Jesus’s birth like Matthew and Luke have done. Instead, the incarnation story is contained in what biblical scholars refer to as John’s prologue. In the prologue we hear of the Son, or Word, existing from the beginning. John tells us that the Son and God are one. The other significant aspects of the passage are the concepts of light and flesh.

John refers to Jesus as light shining unhindered into the darkness. This reminds us that the incarnation was an abrupt intrusion into the world. There is power in this light shining into the world. The light spreads to others as well. One of the reasons the Church chose to celebrate the incarnation on December 25 is because this is the darkest time for those living in the northern hemisphere where the Church was centered. The idea of light shining into their darkness was a meaningful illustration as presented by John’s gospel.

In this passage, John also speaks of the Word, or Son, becoming flesh. That is what we know as the incarnation, a deity taking on human flesh. No other faith tradition records an occurrence of this. There is a distinct separation of a god and humanity in all other religious systems. The concept that God became human and lived among humanity as Jesus is beyond understanding outside of Christianity.

John may not include the narrative of Matthew or Luke which included Jesus’s parents, shepherds, a stable, angels and a chorus of praise but John tells of the incarnation. God has become human and lived with humanity. God is as a bright, unquenchable light piercing into the darkness of the world and the lives of humans. This is what we celebrate on December 25.

Message Received

Read Luke 1:26-33

Today we have so many ways to communicate. The use of electronic messaging is now commonplace and the top method of sharing a message with others. A person can feel overwhelmed at times with the number of messages received in one day. Some of these messages are uplifting, helpful, informative, and/or meaningful. Other messages are upsetting, destructive, trivial and/or annoying. There are times when we experience great joy with the message we receive. Still at other times we may be shocked by the contents of the message. Messages have the ability to inspire and motivate, or they can leave us scared and defeated.

The reading for today is a portion of Luke’s narrative on the birth of Jesus. A messenger of God comes to Mary. The greeting which the messenger offers is unsettling for Mary. She is informed to not worry because she is seen in a positive light by God. This is followed by the announcement that she is to conceive a son who God wishes to be named Jesus. The last statements in this portion of the message describes who this child will be in life. The description fits the prophecies regarding the Messiah. What an unnerving, and yet profound message Mary has received, a message she received because she chose to be open to it.

Many messages came our way on a daily basis. In reading about Mary’s receipt of a message, an obvious question presents itself, “Am I open to receive a message from God?” Since God does not use conventional means to deliver messages to us, we must be alert to the various ways God may choose to communicate with us. The most frequent method is through other people who God places in our path. But God uses Scripture, the arts, nature and even dreams as well. We may receive profound and life-changing messages as Mary did. We may also receive messages of reassurance, love, forgiveness, and hope. Whatever the message may be, we can only receive it if we are open and alert for it.