Sunday, December 28, 2003

Following God's Lead
Matthew 2:13-18

(shared with the people of Friendship Church, December 28, 2003)

Makenzie Snyder was seven years old and she had a big dream. It all started after she entered an essay contest that found her as one of ten children representing the United States at the Children’s World Summit in Paris. While there, she got to know two boys who were foster children. She learned that often, foster children are separated from their brothers and sisters and that frequently, when these children are picked up by their foster parents, they’re given only a trash bag in which to carry what they will take to their next home. Makenzie was horrified by this. As she puts it, “Trash bags are for trash, not for kids to carry their belongings in.”

On returning to America, this little girl asked her mother to go to garage sales and buy suitcases and duffel bags that foster children could use. She also suggested that each bag should contain a stuffed animal, something to bring comfort to a child being thrust into a new situation away from the people and places with which they were familiar. Makenzie was so perseverant in her project that soon, some senators and congresspeople learned of what she was doing and told people in the media. The Washington Post told the story of the little girl who was collecting thousands of suitcases and stuffed animals to give to foster children. President Clinton read that and invited Makenzie and her family to the White House. He also sent along some bags of Beanie Babies from his own personal collection. Her story was featured in an edition of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She’s been on the Rosie O’Donnell Show and just this past week, was featured on Peter Jennings’ newscast on ABC television. The organization formed around Makenzie’s dream, Children to Children, continues to provide bags and stuffed figures for foster children. Now twelve years old, she says that her dream is provide all 530,000 foster children in the US with duffel bags and stuffed dolls.

Dreams come in different forms. Sometimes, they come to us in the middle of the night. Sometimes, they come as an idea or a passion that will not go away. But however, they come to us, our dreams are precious things.

Dreams play a pivotal role in our Bible lesson for this morning. Just before it begins, the baby Jesus has been visited by wise men—magi—from the east. On the evening of their visit, God uses a dream to warn them not to go back to see King Herod as they had promised to do. Herod, they were told, wanted to kill the baby, who he understood was a threat to his reign. So, they took a different route to their home lands. Then, there was a dream that came to Joseph, the man to whom the young virgin Mary was married and who was to act as Jesus’ earthly father. In this dream, God told Joseph to take the child and his mother to Egypt, a country where there were many Jewish emigres anyway, and to wait to bring them back to Judea only after Herod had died.

The reason for these instructions from God become clear when we see what happened in the town of Bethlehem after Herod had learned that the wise men had eluded him. Herod, uncertain of the exact time of Jesus’ birth, had the male children two years of age and under killed. This is consistent with all that we know about Herod who once had three of his sons murdered and who left behind a standing order that when he died, a member of every family in Judea was to be killed, an order that was followed. The dreams that God gave to the wise men and to Joseph insured that the Savior of the world would live to fulfill His mission of dying and rising for the whole human race.

Do you have any dreams? Or, did you stop dreaming years ago? This past week, Philip gave me a copy of the American Heritage History of the United States by Douglas Brinkley as a Christmas present. It begins with a quote from the painter Grant Wood:

"Almost all of us have some dream power in our childhood but without encouragement it leaves us and then we become bored and tired and ordinary...We are carefully coached in the most modern and efficient ways of making our bodies comfortable and we become so busy about getting ourselves all nicely placed that we are apt to forget the dream spirit that is born in all of us."

Because human beings are made in the image of God, we are the only ones of God’s creatures who have the capacity for imagination, to see a future that is different from our past or present. Often, we misuse this power by worrying.

We also can use it to imagine our way toward committing sin. The late Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, founder of the positive thinking movement and Guideposts magazine wrote in one of his books about a Hollywood producer he once knew who had created a world of hurt for himself and others because he so consistently imagined or fantasized an affair with a particular young star until it came about.

But if our dreams come from God, as was true for the wise men and for Joseph, good things happen. We see how to discern whether our dreams, both the ones we see in our sleep and those we entertain while we’re awake, are from God in today’s Bible lesson.

First: A dream is from God when it’s consistent with God’s witness about Himself in the Bible. From the Old Testament, Joseph and the wise men knew that God was planning on sending a Savior. From the same place, Joseph knew that throughout the centuries, Egypt had often been a place of exile for God’s people. Their dreams of sparing the life of this child and of how to do that and how long to do it were consistent with what they knew about God. You know that a dream can’t be from God if it asks us to do something that is directly contrary to God’s will.

I’ve told you many times about the dream for a new church that I carried here to Clermont County thirteen years ago. I dreamed of a church that was welcoming and caring, a church where people could experience God’s grace and presence and love, a church that was relaxed in its atmosphere while being reverent for God. I felt certain that this was the kind of church God wanted me to plant here not just for all the rational, sensible reasons I might mention, but most importantly because when I looked at the accounts of the early church in the New Testament book of Acts or at how the Old Testament people worshiped together in their synagogues, this was precisely the atmosphere and style that pervaded their life with God. In spite of numerous predictions from people who supposedly knew what they were talking about, God has helped and is helping us to be the church of my dream...and now it’s your dream, too!

Second: A dream is from God when, even if it offers personal rewards, is mainly about the Kingdom of God. Neither the wise men or Joseph had much immediately to gain by protecting the baby Jesus. Any of them might have been murdered for harboring and keeping safe this rival king to Herod.

People who stubbornly cling to the pursuit of God-given dreams have higher priorities than self-preservation. One of the songs we sing often here at Friendship is a simple one based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33, a part of his Sermon on the Mount. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” we say. A dream is from God when it calls us to pursue God’s highest purposes for Jesus-followers: to love God and to love neighbor in our own unique ways.

Third: A dream from God almost always entails risk of one kind or another. Joseph and the wise men knew that their dream of seeing the Savior of the world to adulthood involved risk. They could have been killed or imprisoned. If our dreams aren’t too big for us to handle on our own, God probably isn’t involved with our dreams. God wants us to tackle things that are so big that we can only pursue them with His power and help and protection. It’s only when we go out on a limb that we learn to truly trust the One Who tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches” and “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” and you “can do all things through Christ Who strengthens” you.

Often the risk you take involves having others thing you’re crazy. I read recently about a young follower of Jesus Christ who dreamed of becoming a Hollywood film-maker. His parents’ friends were appalled. How could they let their son go to such an evil place?, they wondered. But the young man’s parents explained that first of all, their son was old enough to make his own decisions. Besides, they pointed out that if the early church had decided not to have any contact with people they might consider evil, then the good news of Jesus would never have been passed on or changed people’s lives. What better place, in spite of the risks, these parents wondered, could their son go to have a positive impact on the world?

Do you have a dream? If it’s consistent with what we know about God’s will from the pages of Scripture, and if it puts the God we know through Jesus Christ first in our priorities, and if it entails risk then, by all means, your should pursue it. When we follow God’s lead for our lives, the road won’t be easy. It certainly wasn’t for Joseph. But our faithfulness can produce wonderful results. I wish that for all of us in 2004.

[The story of Makenzie Snyder is told compellingly in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Your Dreams.]

Friday, December 26, 2003

Please keep the thousands of people whose lives have been impacted by the massive earthquake that occurred there early on Friday morning. Current estimates are that 15,000 people have lost their lives. Ask God to facilitate international efforts to bring relief to survivors, to encourage the people there as they rebuild their lives, and that in the midst of the pain and mourning, God will send "workers into the harvest," who will proclaim the compassionate, life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ!

Pray also for the people of southern California who have been hit by first, wildfires, and now, mudslides. Ask God to keep the people there safe, to comfort those who mourn, and to encourage first-responders and rescuers in their important work. Ask God also to use this tragedy to help all to see how fragile life on this planet can be and of the need we all have of a personal relationship with Jesus!

Thank God that the international community--including French and U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies--were able to foil apparent attempts by Osama bin Laden's organization to perpetrate terror on one or more U.S. targets. Ask God to continue to thwart those who would commit acts of terror in our world, to bring terrorists to justice, and to create a hunger and thirst for the Prince of Peace, Jesus, in those tempted to solve the problems of the world through the use of terror.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

As we celebrate the birth of the Savior, Jesus, God bless you with a sure sense of His love for you and presence with you!

The Simple Christmas Message
Luke 2:1-18

(shared with the people of Friendship Church on Christmas Eve, 2003)

Tonight, I have to make a confession to all of you. I’ve been a pastor now for nineteen years and I face the same dilemma every Christmas Eve. What should I say? I know that may come as a shock to many of you. After all, it seems, I have the gift of gab. But presenting the message of this night isn’t really about the gift of gab.

Yet it’s a message that you’ve likely heard many times, a message that may seem to us worn from overuse. Each and every Christmas, our society's celebrations of this holiday season become more and more elaborate, the lights and decorations brighter and bigger, the gifts more complicated. Every year, there’s a new Christmas movie that dazzles us with its special effects. In a media-jaded society, how can a simple preacher stand up before a group of people on Christmas Eve and somehow, some way tell the story of the first Christmas in a way that gets their attention...that helps them remember the true meaning of this holy night...that encourages them to embrace Jesus as their Savior...that incites gratitude, wonder, and awe for the gift of the Bethlehem baby?

I confess that I am incapable of being as interesting or as exciting as the gifts and lights and colors that surround us.

But maybe that’s the point. When I look at the TV commercials hawking the latest gadgets, video games, cars, colognes, and perfumes this time of year, I see a common theme. “Buy this,” the advertisers tell us, “and you’ll be popular, appreciated, superior, desired, needed, in control, on top of the world.” In short, we’re told that for three simple payments of $39.95 per month, plus shipping and handling, we’ll be certifiable masters of the universe, gods over our own little kingdoms. The world seems to constantly push us not just to keep up with the Joneses, but to grind the poor old Jones family into the dirt.

Christmas—I mean the real, true Christmas—comes to us with an altogether different message. On the first Christmas, we’re told, the God of all creation came into the world.

He came not as a gift you buy, but as a gift you receive.

He came not as an imposing giant—Jesus wouldn’t have been as physically impressive as A-Rod, LeBron, or Arnold, even when He reached adulthood. Instead, He came as a little baby, needing to be fed and burped and changed like any other child.

He came not promising to make us little gods, but to be our one and only God.

All of these elements of the Christmas story make it more than a little counter-cultural, a bit scandalous, and offensive to us...and hard to preach. The advertisers know well that we all like things that we can see, touch, hear, and smell. Christmas calls us to accept things on faith. The advertisers know too, that we want our egos boosted. Christmas calls us to trash our egos and do as the shepherds did on the first Christmas: to humbly worship and accept that this baby is God Almighty in the flesh.

Tonight, I can’t compete with the glitz of the world and I won’t. All I can do is give you the testimony of a satisfied customer of Jesus-given grace. Once upon a time, I refused to receive Jesus as my God. My life was okay. But I was driven in a way that reflected my belief that I had to be my own god and make my own way. After I received Jesus as my God, I still wrestled with my insecurities and I still sinned—I still do. But Jesus gives me the grace to accept His acceptance of me and to accept His forgiveness of me and to move on with my life, confident that the God Who made the universe—the God Who came to us at Christmas—will never stop loving me, providing for me, listening to me, helping me. He will do the same for you!

On an episode of the old All in the FamilyTV show, Edith and Archie attend Edith’s high school class reunion. Edith encountered an old classmate named Buck who, in the years since their graduation had become exceedingly obese. Edith and Buck talked with one another for a long time, remembering their old times together. Edith didn’t seem to notice how much weight Buck had put on at all. Later, Edith and Archie spoke and she said, “Archie, ain’t Buck a beautiful person?” Archie got a disgusted look on his face and said, “You’re a pip, Edith, you know that? You and I look at the same guy and you see a beautiful person and I see a blimp.” A puzzled look crossed Edith’s face and she said, “Yeah, ain’t it too bad?”

What do you see when you look at Christmas? I have learned that when I look at Christmas as it’s presented to us by God on the pages of the Bible, it doesn’t induce panic, but comfort, hope, fulfillment, joy, peace. But we must choose. We must decide whether we will see Christmas God’s way or the world’s way.

And so tonight, I present the simple truth of Christmas. When God observed how lost and hopeless we had become because of sin and death, He rolled up His sleeves and went to work doing the most amazing thing ever. The God Who made everything—the God Who made you and me—became one of us, entering our lives as a baby so that as the one pure, sinless representative of the human race, He could sacrifice Himself on the cross and give us all new life when He rose from the dead. The Christmas message is as simple, as profound, and as true as that. This Christmas, welcome Jesus to your celebrating and no matter what pains or difficulties you face and in fact, no matter what successes you may enjoy (because success can sometimes be harder to handle than failure or adversity), He will give you reason to celebrate.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

This comes from today's daily e-mailed inspiration by my colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot. If you'd like to subscribe to this uplifting daily e-mail, contact Glen at

A Thought for the Day

A television interviewer was walking the streets of Tokyo at
Christmas time. Much as in America, Christmas shopping is a big
commercial success in Japan. The interviewer stopped one young
woman on the sidewalk, and asked, "What is the meaning of Christmas?"

Laughing, she responded, "I don’t know. Is that the day that Jesus died?"
There was some truth in her answer.

SOURCE: Donald Deffner, Seasonal Illustrations

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Bible Verse
Luke 4:43

But Jesus said, "People in other towns must hear the
good news about God's kingdom. That's why I was sent."

Contemporary English Version


Lord, help me to make sure that the Christ child is the center of my Christmas
celebrations. Lead me to share with others the good news of Christmas.
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A Christmas Statement of Belief
I believe in the God Who sent His Son, the very reflection and embodiment of Himself, to our world on the first Christmas. Long centuries before, God had fashioned the world and created the human race in His image. When sin had overtaken us, God reached out to His fallen children and called the people Israel into being. Israel became the cradle in which the Son, the baby Jesus was laid. At the right time, Jesus called the world to repentance and promised new life to all who would turn from sin and follow Him. Offended by Him and His claims on our lives, our human race rose up against Jesus and killed Him on a cross. But the love that imagined the universe into being and that created the first Christmas could not be so easily thwarted: Jesus rose from the dead, promising a share in His triumph to all who confess Him as their Lord. Today, the Holy Spirit lives in the Church and all who follow Christ, proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus and reminding us of the Good News sung to the shepherds by the angels on the first Christmas night! Amen!

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Advent: God Sends a Servant
Luke 3:7-18

(shared with the people of Friendship Church, December 14, 2003)

Many years ago, on a cold morning, a newspaper boy in a large city was out on the street, selling his papers. He stood barefoot, warming his feet on a grating that had a bakery below. A woman came along and, seeing how the boy was shivering, asked him if he owned any shoes. No, he said. She then asked if the boy would like a pair. Yes!, he replied enthusiastically. So, the woman took him to a nearby department store and bought socks and shoes for the boy. The kid excitedly ran out of the store and resumed selling his papers. He didn’t even take the time to say thank you. The woman was a little disappointed by this ingratitude. But just as she was leaving the store, the boy ran back into the store and asked, “Lady, I wanna ask you a question. Are you God’s wife?” The woman didn’t know what to say and finally stammered, “No, but I am one of His children.” The boy replied, “Well, I knowed you must be some kin of His.” People can tell when we have a relationship with the God we meet in Jesus Christ!

In today’s Bible lesson, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, is doing his special ministry of preparing people for the entry of Jesus into their lives. John calls the people to repent, that is, to turn away from their sin so that their hearts will be emptied of evil and they can receive the unconditional love and forgiveness that comes to all who receive Jesus as the God and Lord of their lives. To signify their changed lives, John calls the repentant to be baptized in the Jordan River. Crowds show up in droves to hear John’s preaching and to be baptized.

John should have been pleased. By the standards of the world, he was a great success. He set up shop to preach and lots of people were taking the Interstate to the desert suburbs of Jerusalem to hear him. He called people to be baptized and they lined up by the hundreds. But John was suspicious. He didn’t want to be the latest fad. John wanted people’s lives to be changed as they surrendered themselves and their sins to God.

So, John starts chastising the crowds:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits that are worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor.’ [It isn’t enough to say, “My mom and dad always went to church.” Or, “I’m a member in good standing of Friendship Church.” John goes on to say...] for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham...”

It’s all very good for us to repent, expressing sorrow for the ways we’ve hurt God or others. But, John says, unless we change the direction of our lives, our repentance is nothing more than a hollow religious act. When we truly repent, we become like the woman who bought the shoes for the newspaper boy. By our changed lives, others see that we’re kin to God. That’s why to one group of people after another in today’s lesson, John says, “Live your repentance. God has planted the seed of love and forgiveness in your life. Now bear fruits of repentance.”

There is nothing odder or more appreciated than the life of a person genuinely changed by the love of God, somebody who is bearing the fruit of genuine repentance. Just this past week, I was talking with an acquaintance. They told me about a habit they have. These days you know, it seems that young people are so dependent on calculators that many are flustered by having to count out change at retailers’ cash registers. This person says that often, a young person working at register will give them too much change. This person will say, “Excuse me. I think you’ve made a mistake.” And just as the young clerk is about to get defensive, they’ll explain, “You gave me a dollar too much.” When this happens, the mystified clerk will say something like, “Thank you so much. If I had been off, I wouldn’t have made my bank and been here all night long trying to figure what went wrong.”

I really do wish that those of us who follow Jesus would confound and mystify the world like that all the time. I wish that I would! Can you imagine the positive impact we could have on people if, with any consistency, we did as John the Baptist suggests today: bore the fruit of repentance, lived as people grateful for Jesus?

Little Marty Rayner had returned from a secret mission with an unexpected item, a gift for his friend Kenny. Marty’s mother, Diane, watched her son wrap the gift in bright Christmas paper. Because Kenny’s family was poor but too proud to accept gifts they couldn’t reciprocate, Marty snuck across the pasture, under an electric fence, and up to Kenny’s front door. He pushed the doorbell and then, ran like the wind.

The two boys were like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, always getting into little adventures together. Marty was deaf in one ear, but never complained about it. Kenny never seemed to mind his friend’s problem. Marty had bought a compass for Kenny with his own money and after Diane had explained about Kenny’s mom’s “admirable pride,” Marty decided that nobody ever needed to know who had left a Christmas present on Kenny’s front porch.

Diane was proud as she watched her eight year old son share a gift with no expectation of being rewarded. She thought to herself, “This must be what Christmas is all about!”

But when Marty came back from his errand, he was wobbly, his eyes filled with tears. What was wrong?, Diane wondered. As Marty came into the kitchen, Diane saw it: a bright red welt emerging on his face. In a hurry to escape from Kenny’s house undetected, Marty had run straight into that electric fence. It had knocked him down and stunned him. As Diane hugged her sobbing boy close, she wondered, as I suppose any parent would, how God could have let a boy doing something so wonderful be hurt like this.

Christmas day came. Diane and her family opened their Christmas presents. She could see that happily, the burn on Marty’s face, extending from his mouth to his ear, wasn’t serious. But even then, she wondered how God could allow such a cruel thing happen to somebody who was so giving.

Later on Christmas morning, Kenny came to visit Marty. Kenny showed off his new compass and Marty just smiled and congratulated his friend. He never did tell Kenny that he’d been the one who gave this Christmas present Kenny so cherished.

“That’s when Diane noticed it. As the boys were talking closely with one another, Marty seemed to be hearing with the ear that was totally deaf. [There had been a Christmas miracle.]...the school nurse confirmed that Marty had full hearing in that formerly deaf ear. The doctor could only guess at what had happened—when Marty hit that electric fence, the doctor surmised that somehow the electric current had shocked that ear into hearing.”

I wish that I could tell you all this morning that if we live our faith the way Marty did, then miracles of healing and provision will come our way. But that’s not the way things work in this imperfect world. We bear fruits of repentance—we perpetrate acts of love and kindness and service—not so that we can earn heavenly miracles or get dibs on God’s love. We serve others because of the incredible service God has done for us. We’ve learned that God isn’t a miserly old coot from whose clenched fists we have to pry love or blessings. As followers of Jesus Christ, we live our faith because on the first Christmas day 2000 years ago, God already gave us the best Christmas present ever: His love and the possibility of new life through Jesus Christ. Jesus loved us enough to bear a cross for us. He loves us enough to share His victory over death with everyone who will genuinely turn from sin—repent—and follow Him. Little Marty had no thought of his deaf ear when he gave that compass to Kenny. His eyes and his thoughts were on one thing only. He was thinking of the baby in the manger. He was thinking about Jesus.

This Christmas season, I hope and pray that all of us—including me—will put our focus on Jesus where it belongs. When that happens, we might find ourselves doing odd and amazing things—maybe even volunteering a day each week at the new Boys and Girls Club in Amelia. But however we respond to Jesus’ love, may this Christmas season find us all moving from feeling our faith to doing it...from believing to living...from being blessed to being blessings. Two thousand years ago, God came to us as servant born in a barn. By our service in the Name of Jesus, let’s show the world that we really are kin to God. Amen!

[Marty Rayner's true story is told in a message dealing with this Bible lesson by Pastor Mike Foss.]

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Advent: God Gives Us a Savior
Luke 3:1-6

(shared with the people of Friendship Church, December 7, 2003)

Genelle Guzman-McMillan was the second of thirteen children and grew up on the Carribean Island of Trinidad. Genelle’s mother was a devoted Christian. But Genelle didn’t like church, thinking it was a waste of time. In fact, she thought that anything that cramped her style was a waste of time.

At age nineteen, expecting her first child, she moved in with her boyfriend. Six years later, the two of them split up and Genelle felt free to hit the club and party scene for which she’d always hankered. Somehow, in spite of now having two children, she made it through college and managed to party all the time too. Genelle seemed to have broken free from the old restrictions of her life and depending on herself and her own wits, she was living large.

In 1998, she moved to New York City where, family and friends told her, she would find greater opportunity. She decided to leave her kids in Trinidad until she got settled in. After she came to New York, her ex-boyfriend informed Genelle that he was unwilling to let his kids come to America. That was okay with Genelle; by now, she was enjoying the partying scene in the Big Apple. She passively accepted being able to do more of it without her children.

By then, Genelle was living with another man, Roger McMillan. Like Genelle, he loved to spend his spare time partying and dancing. They were on top of the world until “a remarkable turn.”

Genelle worked in the Tunnels, Bridges, and Terminals Department of the Port Authority of New York, her office on the 64th. floor of the north tower at the World Trade Center. It was early on September 11. 2001 and she was making small talk with a co-worker, when she felt the building shake. At first, she and the others in her office had no idea that an American Airlines passenger jet had just slammed into their building.

After a time of indecision and panic, Genelle and the others with her on the 64th. floor heard a roaring noise, not knowing that it was the sound of the south tower collapsing. But that sound was sufficiently terrifying to convince them that they needed to get out of there. They made their way down the stairs, counting each flight aloud. Firefighters were ascending the stairs as they descended, assuring them that if they kept going down, they would be fine.

By the time the group reached the thirteenth floor, Genelle’s leather-heeled shoes were killing her. As she leaned over to take them off, everything around her seemed to explode in a massive boom!

All Genelle could see was blackness. She felt something hit her chest and then, she was pinned to the ground. As she put it, “One hundred ten floors were coming down around us. I knew I was being buried alive. The noise was deafening.” Things became quiet and Genelle couldn’t believe that she was still alive. Listen to what Genelle says happened next:

“I knew then I was going to die. Nobody was going to find me under all the steel and concrete. I started calling out for [my friend] Rosa, but there was no response. Then I heard a man saying, ‘Help, help, help.’ His voice grew fainter, and then there was nothing.

“There in the dark, my mind started racing. I thought of my children, my family, and my fiancĂ©, Roger...More than anything I worried about what would happen to me after I died. I didn’t know how to ask for forgiveness. I was sure I was going to hell.”

Beneath the steel and concrete, Genelle begged for a second chance at life, a second chance to live life God’s way. She floated in and out of consciousness for hour after hour, her prayers for forgiveness and a miracle helping her to deal with the pain.

The next day, still under the rubble of the north tower, Genelle heard the beeping sound of a truck backing up. She called out and a rescue worker heard her. But even though they shone a light all around and Genelle waved one hand, the only part of her that was free, no one saw her. Then, Genelle faded from consciousness again.

When she awoke, she heard rescue workers somewhere overhead and she prayed, “Please show me a miracle, God! Please help me now!” She yelled at the workers. Nobody heard her. She desperately waved her hand again and now, somebody grabbed it. “Genelle,” she heard, “I’ve got you! You’re going to be all right. My name is Paul. I won’t let go of your hand until they get you out.”

Soon, two rescue workers pulled Genelle out and Paul let go of her hand. Genelle was the last survivor to be pulled from the World Trade Center. She spent five weeks in Bellevue Hospital, amazing the staff with her serenity. More than two years later, Genelle still hasn’t had a nightmare about those horrible events. One thing that bothered her though was that she never got the chance to thank Paul for taking her hand there in the rubble. She learned that there was no Paul among the rescue workers who went to Genelle that day. She’s convinced that God sent an angel at just the right time.

September 11, 2001 began an exciting new life for Genelle. As she puts it, “My life was very different than it had been before. I was amazed by how much God loved me.” She saw herself as a child of God. For the first time in her life, she felt truly free to be the person of love God designed her—and designed you and me—to be. Not only had Genelle been rescued; more amazingly still, this young woman who had been totally caught up with herself, with partying, with doing things her own way, turned from sin and turned to the God we know through Jesus Christ...and got a new life!

Our Bible lesson for this morning tells us about the proclamation of a man we call John the Baptist. John described himself simply as a voice. He called people to repentance. To repent means to change our minds about who’s in charge of our lives, to change our minds about our priorities. It really means to change our minds about who our God is. Genelle’s gods had been pleasure, good times, herself. Under the debris of the World Trade Center, she came face to face with the reality that these things cannot bring life. Fortunately for all of us, God long ago sent a rescuer Whose life, death, and resurrection can bring new life to all who follow Him. On the first Christmas day, God sent Jesus Christ. If we will repent and take His hand, our lives will be changed forever.

Many people have the mistaken notion that Christianity is about morality. People tell me, “I like to send my kid to church because he learns the right way to live.” But you know what? The right way to live is no big mystery! Anybody who takes the time to look it up will find that every major religious system in the world says pretty much the same things about morality. They say that loving and living at peace with our neighbor is a good thing, that we shouldn’t steal or take our neighbor’s spouse. The problem isn’t that we all don’t know the right way to live. The problem is that we don’t know how to do it with any degree of consistency. The sin in our bones keeps us from doing the good we know we should do and that deep down, we want to do.

Jesus Christ came to earth and lived the perfect sinless life, offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sin so that you and I can turn from sin and live with God in our lives today and always.

Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most powerful and important movements in our world today. AA uses a twelve-step process to help people get delivered from their addiction to alcohol. The first step to freedom for the alcoholic is the admission that he or she is powerless over alcohol. Whether she had been rescued from the World Trade Center or not, Genelle Guzman-McMillan took her first step toward freedom when in a desperate and cataclysmic time, she finally told God that she needed Him. The acknowledgment of our helplessness and our desperate need of the God we meet in Jesus Christ can free us for really living too!

Jesus came into our world not as a great moral teacher, but as the Savior. He came to save us not only from future death, but also from the dead-end road of self-reliance. You know what I have learned? That way of self-reliance is a lonely road. And this is something I have to keep learning all the time. Just yesterday, I was moaning about something to Ann. She finally got fed up with me and said, "Ask someone to help you!" Whether it's asking God for something or asking the people God brings into our lives to help us do the things we can't do on our own, we need to get over self-reliance and learn God-relaiance! When we follow Jesus, we not only walk with God, we also walk with that group of recovering sinners known as the Church.

In the eighteen days left until Christmas, as we deal with life’s stresses and the temptation to think that weve got to have everything in life under control, every t crossed, every I dotted, I want to recommend a simple formula for repentance—a formula for turning things around in our lives in a positive way—of which I was recently reminded. Here it is: I can’t. God can. I’ll let Him. Indulge an old preacher, would you and say those three things with me? I can’t. God can. I’ll let Him. Jesus came to be our Savior. As we sing the carols and share our gifts this Christmas time, let’s allow Him to be our Savior!

[The true and dramatic story of Genelle Guzman-McMillan comes from Pastor Jim Cymbala's new book, Breakthrough Prayer. The formulation of "I can't. God can. I'll let Him," comes Pastor Gerald Mann. The exegesis of this passage by Pastor Brian Stoffregen was helpful as I prepared this message. Inspiration for this series of Advent messages came from the staff of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church of Burnsville, Minnesota through their Thematic Worship resources.]

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Both of the following messages were inspired by messages presented by the pastoral staff of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota and shared through their Toolkit. But they should in no way be blamed for the thoughts I present in them...

Thanksgiving: A Time to Give Up Worry
Matthew 6:33-37

[presented on Thanksgiving Eve, November 26, 2003, to the people of Friendship Church and Lutheran Church of the Resurrection]

Some of you have heard me tell about a friend of mine, an accountant, who once worked for an extremely wealthy man. My friend’s client was in on the ground floor of the Internet craze, having started one of the major Internet Service Providers, a company whose name everybody here would know. Being the accountant for such a wealthy man, my buddy’s job basically boiled down to this: finding as many loopholes and as many ways to shelter his client’s wealth as possible. The two of them had spent a long session discussing this wealthy guy’s tax situation and they were wrapping things up, just talking. “You know,” the wealthy guy said, “I used to think that if I just had money, I wouldn’t ever have another worry in the world. But I worry now more about losing money than I ever worried about not having money.”

Worry. It may be the most time-consuming activity on Planet Earth. Gerald Mann, a Baptist pastor in Austin, Texas, says that worry is the “fear of having to face suffering” and says that this fear “is often worse than actually facing it.” I think he’s right. People worry over their finances, their health, what to serve for Thanksgiving Dinner, whether Aunt Tilly and Cousin Billy Joe Bob will get into an argument over the turkey, and a score of other things not because they actually are suffering, but because they fear suffering. They play horrible games of “What if?,” not to envision good things in their lives, but to almost literally scare themselves to death.

So far as we know, human beings are the only ones of God’s creatures who can anticipate the future. And as you might expect, because of the sin that lives in us, we often choose to use that ability in a negative way. On this Thanksgiving Eve, I want to talk with you about worry. I believe that as we prepare for a day set aside for all of us to give thanks to God for His overwhelming and undeserved blessings, we need to face the issue of worry head-on.

Let me begin by telling you something personal. I am a recovering worry-holic. In fact, I come from a long line of worriers. So much so that I think if we ever designed a family crest, it would have to include the ubiquitous “nerve pill,” prescribed for many in my family tree.

Back when I was in the tenth grade, I woke up one morning overwhelmed by worry. I was convinced that I was going to get sick or faint dead away. I was sure that some dire thing was going to happen. I felt shaky all over. I was too afraid to move, but too filled with nervous energy to stay put. I would try to take walks to burn my energy. But then I would get so afraid of fainting by the side of the road that I would immediately turn back. So, if like the rest of the human race, you battle with worry, please know that I understand.

More importantly though, the God we know through Jesus Christ, understands. I’m sure that one of the reasons Jesus talked so much about worry, as He does in tonight’s Bible lesson, is that He knew the power it can exercise over us. He knew it first-hand. No one could more clearly anticipate the future than Jesus: omniscient, omnipotent God in the flesh. Clearly, in the Garden at Gethsemane on the night before He was crucified, Jesus fought and won a war with worry. This victory enabled Him to win a greater victory on the cross and in the empty tomb for all who believe in Him. Jesus refused to be immobilized by worry and fear. And in our Bible lesson and in other places in the Scripture, He shows us the way we can win over worry as well.

First: We can win over worry when we trust the God we know through Jesus Christ with our lives. Jesus doesn’t mince any words in our Bible lesson. He says that worry accomplishes nothing. He says that those who make worry their modus operandi have “little faith.”

A guru from India came to America from his mountain retreat. He found himself in Grand Central Station, surrounded by the rush of people. After observing this scene, he asked his host, “What’s wrong with these people? Is there a monster behind them?” “No,” the host replied, “There’s a dollar in front of them.”

When you think about it, worry is a form of idol worship. We make the things we worry about–including money–the object of our desire, the repository of our hope, the center of our obsessions. Jesus tells us:

“ not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will is the Gentiles [unbelieving people far from God] who strive for all these things...”

Much of our worrying evaporates when we realize that while very little in this life is under our control, everything ultimately is under the control of the God Who has already conquered sin and death.

This is the same God Who has promised believers in Jesus that He will be with us always! Instead of worrying, faith in Christ can help us pray to God with confidence and let Him overcome the things that frighten us. When we trust Jesus Christ as our always-faithful Savior, God, and Friend, He can trump our worries and give us strength for living.

Second, and this is why Thanksgiving is such a good thing: We can win over worry when we crowd it out of our lives with thankfulness. A young businessperson used to baffle his office mates. Every time he faced a disappointment or difficulty, he would thank God for the bless in the mess. This young man knew Jesus’ strangest promise of all–“in this life, you will have trouble.” But He also knew that Jesus promises to be with us always. He knew that we always have good reasons to be thankful. In the New Testament, Paul writes:

"...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

Notice that Paul doesn’t say to be thankful for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. As followers of Jesus, we know that God is still present and working in even the most impossible of circumstances.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy were thrown into Nazi prison camps during World War Two. When their native Holland was occupied by the Nazis, they helped their persecuted Jewish neighbors escape to freedom. Ultimately, the two of them were thrown into a horrible camp where they lived in an overcrowded and flea-infested barracks. To their amazement, the cruel prison guards didn’t interfere with their daily time of Bible-reading and prayer. They could hardly believe that the guards would allow them the hope and dignity they derived from being able to spend time with God like this each day.

During one of their Bible-reading times, they read the words from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church that I read to you just a few moments ago, the place where Paul says to give thanks in all circumstances. Corrie couldn’t imagine what the two of them had to be thankful for at that moment: imprisoned, facing probable death, suffering in a flea-riddled hole. It wasn’t until sometime later that they learned why the guards had allowed them their time of Bible reading and prayer: the guards didn’t want to be exposed to the fleas. Those fleas had turned out to be a means by which God blessed the women with His Word and with time for them to pray. There really is reason to be thankful to God in all circumstances.

Third: We can win over worry when we change what we’re aiming for in life. Tree skiers are those intrepid souls who enjoy the risk of skiing freshly-fallen snow in a stand of spruce or aspen trees. I can’t imagine ever doing that. The key to tree skiing is not hitting the trees, of course. But according to one tree-skiing enthusiast writing in Outside magazine, “...what you focus your eyes on becomes critical in the woods. Look at the spaces between the trees—the exits where you hope to be traveling.” You don’t stare at what you don’t want to hit. In our Bible lesson for tonight, Jesus tells us that to negotiate our ways through the difficulties and obstacles of life, the key is in changing our focus. That’s why He says:

“...strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

To overcome worry, we need to focus our lives on three things. We need to trust the God we know through Jesus Christ. We need to thank God in all circumstances. We need to make living under Jesus’ rule in the kingdom of God our ultimate aim.

If you’re like the rest of the human race, you won’t be able to do these three things under your own power. Human will power can never free us from worry or any other human malady. But the God we know through Jesus Christ can free us from worry and wants to free us from worry. When worry assaults you, shift the focus from your troubles to the Lord Who gives “peace that passes all understanding” to those who surrender everything to Jesus. Thanksgiving seems like a perfect time to let God take custody of our worries so that you and I can get on with the business of living.

Advent: God Gives Us a Sign
Luke 21:25-36

(shared with the people of Friendship Church, November 30, 2003)

A headline in yesterday’s Cincinnati Enquirercaught my eye. It said, “Forget to Eat? Absent-minded? You might just need a subliminal signal.” The story told about a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richard W. DeVaul, who has developed what he calls “memory glasses.” DeVaul says that he can often work for long hours, forgetting to eat or keep appointments. His memory glasses consist of a small computer display clipped onto eyeglass frames and hooked up to a small computer that can flash little reminders to the wearer. The article says that DeVaul wants to program the “wearable computer” to send subliminal messages or images to wearers, providing unobtrusive reminders.

I suppose DeVaul thinks that we all need help in remembering not to get so caught up in the urgent matters that scream for our attention that we forget what’s important. He’s right, I think. A few signs–subliminal or otherwise–pointing us in the right direction would be really helpful!

In today’s Bible lesson, Jesus talks with us about signs, things going on around us that ought to prompt our memories and our actions in life. Specifically, Jesus talks about the signs of the end of the world. He begins by telling us:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the power of the heavens will be shaken...”

When the world goes nuts, Jesus tells us, when snipers use rifles on unsuspecting motorists on the Interstate in Columbus, when terrorists perpetrate violence on innocent people, when seemingly incurable diseases victimize family and friends, it’s easy to faint from fear and foreboding. But Jesus warns us to be on our guards,

" that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation [that’s spending time on wasted, worthless efforts] and drunkenness and the worries of this life..."

Instead, Jesus says that we should regard all of these things as signs of His return at the end of the world.

For most people, talk about the end of the world or about the ends of our own lives on earth is frightening. As Jesus says, they may faint from fear and foreboding, get caught up in meaningless activity, try anesthetizing themselves with dope or booze, or allow themselves to be overwhelmed with worry. They read the headlines and hang their heads in despair.

Jesus says that we needn’t do that. Just this past week, I read a full account about a secret trip taken by our president. Not even his wife or his mother knew that he was going away to a secret destination, right in the midst of dangerous enemies. You may think I’m talking about President Bush’s trip to Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day. But I’m talking about an account of President Roosevelt’s secret trip to Newfoundland to meet with British prime minister Winston Churchill in the summer of 1941, which I just read in John Meacham’s new book, Franklin and Winston.

Both Roosevelt and Churchill took voyages by sea in waters filled with menacing German U-boats. My point is that the world was dangerous and prone to craziness sixty-two years ago. The world is dangerous and prone to craziness today. Nothing has changed. In another place in the Bible, Jesus spoke of the signs of the end of life on this planet and of His return and said that each and every one of them had already happened.

So, Jesus says, that then and now, the turmoil of the world presents us with signs that point to the inevitable fact that life on this planet will end and that our lives on this planet will end. But Jesus also says that we should see them as subliminal prompts, cuing us to adopt a different way of living. The losers of the world, most of the human race, will fall prey to worry or fear or drunkenness or dissipation. Jesus tells us not to fall into those traps. Don’t hang your heads or shake your heads, Jesus says. He tells us:

"Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

When things look bleak or scary, Jesus says, “Buck up. I’m right here! And no matter how things may look right now, I have everything under control!”

He’d been standing for three hours in the frigid Michigan winter night, trying to hitch a ride home to his wife and kids in Royal Oak. The wind howled. Snow billowed around him. He was a service man.

Originally tapped for Christmas leave, he’d gotten into a drunken brawl that got him confined to his base through the holidays. Then a buddy’s parents surprised him, traveling to be nearby for Christmas. Since it was going to be easy for him to see his folks, the buddy went to their commanding officer and volunteered to take Michigander’s place.

That raised a whole new problem. The soldier from Michigan had spent all his savings on gifts for his wife and three children, having planned on shipping them north. The only way he could get back home was to stuff the presents into a duffel bag and hitchhike. Everything had gone pretty well until that three hour wait in the snowstorm.

A single preacher in a Corvette was barreling along too quickly for the road conditions, heading home to see his parents and family, the car filled to near-capacity with goodies. He saw the forlorn soldier, looking like an abominable snowman in khaki green, hitching on the side of the road. He told himself that somebody else would pick the guy up and that if he turned around now, he’d find the soldier gone. But he felt as though God was telling him that at least on Christmas Eve, he should be willing to share Jesus’ love with a stranger.

So, begrudgingly, he turned around and though it required some packing and arranging, got the hitchhiking soldier into his car.

After the soldier had thawed out a bit, he asked the preacher, “Didn’t I see you go by earlier?” “Yes.” Why, he wondered then, had he turned back around? The preacher explained that while he hadn’t wanted to turn around and come back “it’s Jesus Who makes me do things like that,” things that He was certain Jesus would do if He were faced with the same circumstances.

The soldier explained how convicted he felt by that. He then told the story of how he had come to be hitchhiking on that frozen stretch of road on Christmas Eve. He explained that he’d planned on surprising his family. He talked about what a wonderful woman his wife was, a devoted follower of Jesus who was brokenhearted over her husband’s unwillingness to let Christ into his life. He often poked fun at his wife’s faith and her church-going. The longer he stood by the side of the road, the soldier said, the angrier he became at all the people who passed by. He became even angrier when he thought that a lot of the people zooming past were Christians. He thought of what hypocrites all Christians were, but also thought that if he were in their places, he’d probably drive on by too.

Then the soldier said:

“Let me tell you something embarrassing—I got so cold, so lonely, and so desperate that I started to pray—honest to God I did—it was so humiliating. I told God that if He would help me, I’d do better. And you know what? About that time you showed up, and you told me that came back because of Jesus—now what do you make of that?”

Thirty-five years later, John William Smith, the young pastor driving in the Corvette, wrote:

"Jesus comes to us in many ways. He came to me in the form of a freezing soldier trying to get home for Christmas. He came to a freezing soldier in the form of a young minister trying to find his way to God. Either one of us could have missed Him."

Jesus says that even before the end of time, He wants to come to us. And He doesn’t want to come to us just at Christmas time, but every moment of our lives. The turmoil of the world and the challenges of our lives can be reminders of our need to welcome Jesus to walk with us, to guide us, to be our God, to be our King.

I know that the next few weeks will be busy for us all. Last-minute shopping, travels to visit with family and friends, extra social engagements. We all have them. But these next weeks, with all their activity, are also a great time for you to do what that soldier did—ask Jesus to help you and to be with you. Use those seven habits of joyful people we talk about at Friendship—regular worship, service in Jesus’ Name, daily prayer, sharing the Good News of Jesus with others, encouraging people in their faith and life, studying God’s Word, and giving to Christ’s cause in the world—use those habits to meet Jesus where you live. Let the signs of the times prompt you to enjoy a close relationship with the God we know through Jesus Christ. That is the best way to have a merry Christmas!

[The true story of the hitch-hiking soldier appears in the book, Hugs for Christmas.]

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

This comes from today's edition of the e-mailed inspirations of Pastor Glen VanderKloot, OnLine with Faith.


A Thought for the Day

Someone has said:

'Thanks' is an encouraging word when you say it.
It's an inspiring word when you hear it.
It's a magic word when you mean it.

Let's inspire and make magic!

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Bible Verse
Psalm 9:1
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

New Revised Standard Version

Lord, help me to remember to say thanks
daily to you and to those around me. Make
me a thankful person with a grateful heart. Amen.

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THOUGHT STRETCHERS...Quotes from prominent people, related words from the Scriptures

"Fantasies are more than substitutes for unpleasant reality; they are also dress rehearsals, plans. All acts performed in the world begin in the imagination." (Barbara Grizzuti Harrison,
Author and Publicist)

Jesus says: "...what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person..." (Matthew 15:18-20)

The Jesus-follower Paul writes: "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8)

"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no help at all." (Dale Carnegie, 1888-1955, Author and Trainer)

Jesus-follower Paul talks about continuing to faithfully follow Christ in spite of the obstacles, knowing that life forever with God belongs to those who remain 'pursuers of Jesus.' Eternal life and being right with God--righteousness--is the prize for those with faith in Jesus. "Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal," Paul writes, "but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)

"To win, you have to risk loss." (Jean Claude Killy, Olympic Gold Medalist in skiing)

"As Jesus was walking along, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and He said to him, 'Follow Me." And he got up and followed Him." (Matthew 9:9)

"Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young." (Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790, Scientist, Publisher, and Diplomat)

Jesus tells His followers: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." (John 15:12)

"There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness." (Josh Billings, 1815-1885, Humorist and Lecturer)

"Then Peter came and said to [Jesus], 'Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to Him, 'Not seven times, but I tell you seventy-seven times.'" (Matthew 18:21-22)

What's important to remember in all these quotes is that...

to think rightly,

to persevere in the face of challenges or the evil in us and around us,

to risk loss for a great end,

to love others unconditionally,

and to forgive without limit...

are all laudable goals. Very few, except perhaps those given over totally to evil or those not in their right minds, would argue with the propriety of living the kind of life pointed to in the quotes above.

But here's what I have learned: We can't live these ways with any degree of consistency without help!

In the New Testament portion of the Bible, Paul said he knew what was right, but found it hard to live rightly. He would have agreed with what all the non-Biblical persons quoted above had to say about right living. But when he tried to resolve to live rightly, he couldn't do it!

"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand," he writes. "For I delight in the law of God...but I see...another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in [me]...Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!...There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Jesus Christ sets us free to move toward becoming the people we know--and which the wisdom of the ages, written on our hearts by God confirms--to be the best way to live. After we turn from sin and receive Jesus Christ as the absolute ruler of our lives, He gives us His Holy Spirit to live as we yearn to God made us to live. That's pretty cool stuff!

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Christ, Our King
Consecration Sunday
John 8:33-37

[shared with the people of Friendship Church, November 23, 2003]

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church Year. Next week will bring us to Advent, the season that comes at the beginning of a new Church Year and that falls just before Christmas.

Today is also Friendship’s annual Consecration Sunday. In just a few moments, I’m going to ask all of you who are part of Friendship to bring your commitments of time, talents, and financial resources toward God’s work through Friendship Church in the year 2004 up to the Lord’s Table.

Father Myke, the fire department chaplain who died in the September 11 attacks, used to tell people, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what you’re going to do tomorrow.” Only God knows what will happen in our lives in the coming year. But on Consecration Sunday, we try to tell Jesus Christ our King what the intentions of our hearts are, no matter the uncertainties of life. We owe that to our King.

There’s a story I’ve heard many times. I may have even told it a time or two. It’s about the King of Denmark during World War Two. It’s said that the Nazis had come into that country and as they’d done in other places, they ordered the Jews to wear arm bands bearing the Star of David, identifying themselves to everyone as Jews. The Danes, it’s said, understood what this meant. They had seen the way Jews were being exterminated in mass numbers in other countries occupied by the Nazis. The Danish king saw this as well. And so, although he was a Lutheran Christian, the king donned a Star of David arm band as well. “All the Danes are my people,” he said, “and so, if any Dane is targeted for death, my life must be taken too.”

It’s a beautiful story. The only problem with it is that it isn’t true. It never happened. Yet, I have heard it and read it told by countless people who thought that it was true.

What gives such a big fib such a long life? I think it’s because deep down we all would like to think that there are kings and presidents, judges and legislators who so love their people that they’d be willing to lay down their lives for them. Through the centuries of course, there have been kings and leaders like that. But they’re rare. And the rarest kind of king of all is the King Who willingly dies in the place of people He knows to be guilty. That is the kind of King that Jesus is. The New Testament book of Romans has this fantastic passage:

"...God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us...if while we were [God’s] enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, we will be saved by His life..."

Jesus, God the Son, came to earth to do more than bear a symbol on an armband. He went to a cross and bore the weight of all our sin, died in our places, and rose from the dead so that He can offer forgiveness, the constant presence of God in our daily lives, and everlasting life to all who turn away from sin and let Jesus reign over them.

Our Bible lesson for this morning records part of Jesus’ interchange with a man named Pilate on the day before Jesus went to the cross to die. Pilate was the governor appointed by the Roman Empire to oversee the occupation of Jesus’ homeland, Judea. The religious leaders of Jesus’ fellow Jews saw Jesus as a threat. They wanted Him dead and so brought Jesus before Pilate to be condemned. Pilate didn’t care about the religious squabbles of the Jews. But he did seem concerned about the threat Jesus might pose to his governing authority. The first thing Pilate asks Jesus is, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

We know that Jesus came not to be just the King of the Jews, but to be the King of kings. But that brings us to even more important questions than Pilate asked: Is Jesus our King? Have we totally consecrated ourselves, that is totally committed ourselves, to following Jesus today and forever? I ask myself these questions all the time.

An enthusiastic young evangelist once approached a farmer and asked whether he had been saved and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. The farmer replied, “Why do you ask me such a thing? I could tell you anything. Here are the names of my banker, my grocer, and my farm hands. Ask them if I’ve been saved!”

None of us is perfect, of course. The Bible tells us that we all fall short of God’s glory and we sin. It also tells us that even after we have received the forgiveness and new life that God offers to us through Jesus Christ, we see heaven and God’s way for us only dimly. Like the rest of the human race, followers of Jesus make mistakes and sin. But there is a new direction and purpose evident in the lives of those who follow Jesus. Over the long haul, others are able to see that Jesus-followers no longer are ruled by selfishness, or greed, or status, or power, or sex, or the approval of others. Jesus says that His people will be known by their fruits. That means that people will be able to see that Jesus is the King of people’s lives; He will affect the things that His followers say and do, the judgments they make, the paths they follow. Jesus-followers won’t be perfect, but like that farmer, those around them will see that they’ve committed themselves to following the King Who totally committed His life to them on the cross.

Back in my atheist days, one of the reasons I didn’t want to follow Jesus is that I hated the very notion of someone being bigger or more important than me. I hated the idea of following a king! I doubt that I’m the only one to ever feel that way.

Carol Noren is a pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She once told the story of an English friend who regularly railed against the very idea of royalty. He spoke of what a waste of money and time the British royal family was. So, when this man’s name appeared on the Queen’s honors list one year, Noren wondered what this friend would do. To receive his award, like others on the honors list, the man would have to go to Buckingham Palace and meet the Queen. In fact, the man did make the trip to London. At the right time during the ceremony, he bowed to the queen. As Noren puts it, “All doubts and cynicism were put aside, and in meeting and acknowledging [the Queen] as sovereign, he received the reward that only she could give.”

In today’s Bible lesson, Pilate didn’t want to acknowledge Jesus as King. Jesus tells Pilate that He isn’t the King of all the things people allow to rule them in this world. “My kingdom is not of this world,” He says. Then we’re told:

"Pilate asked [Jesus], 'So you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.'”

Followers of Jesus aren’t better than anyone else. Followers of Jesus are people who have heard Jesus’ call: all who are weary and heavy laden, come to Me, and I will give you rest. Followers of Jesus are people who, by hearing Jesus' voice, have become acquainted with some basic truths.

Truths like: We need God and God is bigger than we are.

Things like: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him won’t perish, but live with God forever.

Followers of Jesus are people who have put their doubt and cynicism aside and in meeting and acknowledging Jesus as their King and sovereign receive the undeserved awards–forgiveness, everlasting relationship with God, and never-ending hope–that only Jesus can give.

Followers of Jesus have committed or consecrated their whole lives to Him.

Fred is a man I’ve talked about before. Following a major surgery in his late-forties, Fred became addicted first of all, to pain medication, and then, to alcohol. Years of his life turned into a living hell for him and his family. Fred’s wife had almost given up hope when a group of people from their church formed an intervention team. Because of their love for Fred, they prayerfully decided to confront Fred with his need for help. He needed to admit his need of God’s power in helping him to overcome an addiction that was killing him and all of his relationships. He needed the God we know through our King and Savior Jesus. Fred got into a treatment program and later became part of Alcoholics Anonymous. By the time I knew him, it was clear that Jesus was Fred’s King...and Savior and Best Friend. I remember on Good Friday when I read the account of Jesus’ arrest and death on the cross, I looked at Fred and saw him weeping tears of joy. He knew what Jesus had done for him. He knew that Jesus had delivered him from his slavery to pills and booze and sin. He was grateful and totally committed to following Jesus the King!

On this Consecration Sunday, I want to challenge you to commit or re-commit yourself to following Jesus the King Who loved you all the way to the cross. Consecrate your time, your abilities, and your treasures to God’s purposes in the coming year. Our King Jesus deserves nothing less. The King Who awards us with everlasting life when we believe in Him deserves our whole lives. I ask you to share your statements of commitment at the Lord’s Table now.

[The correction about the story of the Danish king, which I had previously believed, appears in a sermon by Pastor Brian Stoffregen tells the story of the farmer in his e-mailed commentary on John 8:33-37. Pastor Carol Noren, a faculty member at North Park Theological Seminary told the story of her English friend in a sermon which appears in The Abingdon Preaching Annual, 2000 Edition.]

Friday, November 21, 2003

This comes to us once more from Pastor Glen VanderKloot's daily inspirations, OnLine with Faith. You can subscribe by contacting Pastor VanderKloot at

A Thought for the Day


Why should I say I can't when the Bible says:
"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength?"
(Philippians 4:13)

Why should I fear when the Bible says, "God has not given me a spirit of fear,
but of power, love and a sound mind?" (2 Timothy 1:7)

Why should I lack faith to fulfill my calling in life, knowing that God has allotted me a measure of faith? (Romans 12:3)

Why should I be weak when the Bible says: The Lord is my strength of my life and that I will display strength and take action because I know God? (Psalm 27:1 & Deuteronomy 11:32)

Why should I allow Satan supremacy over my life when He that is in me is greater than he that is in the world? (1 John 4:4)

Why should I accept defeat when the Bible says: God always leads me in triumph? (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Why should I lack wisdom when Christ became wisdom to me from God and God gives wisdom to me generously when I ask Him for it? (1 Corinthians 1:30 & James 1:5)

Why should I worry and fret when I can cast all my anxiety on Christ who cares for me? (1 Peter 5:7)

Why should I remain in bondage to my sins knowing that there is liberty where the Spirit of the Lord is? (Galatians 5:1)

Why should I feel condemned when the Bible says I am not condemned because I am in Christ? (Romans 8:1)

Why should I feel alone when Jesus said He is always with me and He will never leave me nor forsake me? (Matthew 28:20 & Hebrews 13:5)

Why should I feel cursed or that I am the victim of bad luck when the Bible says:
Christ redeemed me from the curse of the law so that I might receive His Spirit?
(Galatians 3:13,14)

Why should I be discontented when I, like Paul, can learn to be content in all my circumstances? (Philippians 4:11)

Why should I feel worthless when Christ became sin on my behalf that I might become the righteousness of God in Him? (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Why should I have a persecution complex knowing that nobody can be against me when God is for me? (Romans 8:31)

Why should I be confused when God is the author of peace and He gives me knowledge through His indwelling Spirit? (1 Corinthians 2:12)

Why should I feel like a failure when I am a conqueror in all things through Christ? (Romans 8:37)

Why should I let the pressures of life bother me when I can take courage knowing that Jesus has overcome the world and it's tribulations? (John 16:33)


Dear God, help me to trust Your promises and live them every day. Amen
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Dear Friend:
Some months ago, I shared with you news of the serious condition of Isaac, now in kindergarten at age six and a member of our congregation in the Cincinnati area.

You'll remember that I asked you to pray that God would bring Isaac healing. He has a cancerous tumor in the brain stem. At the time of his initial diagnosis, doctors said that Isaac's prognosis was not good.

In recent months, doctors were amazed to see that Isaac's tumor was shrinking and giving signs of dying. He has been off of steroids for several months now and had begun to look and act more like the old Isaac.

However, doctors informed Isaac's parents yesterday that Isaac's tumor has begun to grow again.

Please pray for a miracle for Isaac. Pray that God will bring him complete and total healing.

Please also pray for his family, asking God to give them strength, encouragement, and hope.

God bless you!

Your Friend in Christ,

Monday, November 17, 2003

Miracles in the Church:
The Miracle of Giving
Mark 12:38-44

[shared with the people of Friendship Church, November 16, 2003]

This past week, I got an e-mail from former members of this congregation. Bill and Kris moved to Rhode Island several years ago. While they were part of Friendship, they loved participating in our kindness outreaches in which we give away cold cans of Cola, cans of soup, dollar-off coupons at a local filling station, and so on, just to give away God's love in practical ways. Bill and Kris did and still do such "outreaches" in their everyday lives too.

So, it was fun to read what Kris said in her e-mail:

"[We were]...dining in a four star restaurant in New York City (we had been there to see a Flyers/Rangers game...) and sitting next to an elderly gentleman, [who was] reading something and taking notes...[He] was obviously a regular..., ‘cause the serving staff talked with him very comfortably. Bill and I both had the same idea and Bill quietly asked our server to put [the man's] tab on ours...Usually [when we do this], the server never says who it is doing this to the guest, which is ok with us; but this server did. It started a great, easy conversation between the gentleman and Bill and [me]. It turns out, he is a regular here and his wife had passed away 11 years ago, but [he] still comes to this place for dinner on Saturday nights. He so appreciated this act of kindness (outreach), but I think he enjoyed the conversation better..."

There are many miracles that the God we know through Jesus Christ unleashes in and through His people, the Church. But one of the most amazing miracles of all is the miracle of giving.

In our Bible lesson for this morning, Jesus is with His closest disciples–followers. They’re not far from the offering box at the temple. There, they observe some of the most important and influential people in first-century Judea, the scribes, as they plunk their bling bling into box. You have to understand that the scribes were well-respected in that society. They were educated, wealthy, and powerful. They were also considered to be among the most religiously respectable people around. But Jesus was unimpressed:

"...'Beware of the scribes [He says], who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!...'"

After Jesus says this, the passing parade of the wealthy scribes make their offerings. They do so far from quietly, making certain that everybody notices. I wonder if today, they wouldn’t have somebody with a bullhorn close-by saying something like, “Funding for these stones have been made possible by the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation.”

But then Jesus observes a poor widow. You all know that in those times, a widow had no standing and rarely a source of income. In some instances, a husband might have left a trust fund for his wife. But women were considered incapable of handling money and so, a trustee would be put in charge of the estate left to the widow by her dead husband. Those trustees, respected citizens of society, were usually—you guessed it—scribes. In our lesson for today, Jesus says that even while gaining reputations for being wonderfully religious people who said flowery prayers, the scribes found ways to gouge the widows out of all their money. It’s possible that the very scribes who took this widow's inheritance were pompously making their offerings just ahead of her as she came to make an offering. Listen to how the lesson describes what happens next:

"A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then [Jesus] called His disciples and said to them, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.'”

The miracle of giving that the people of God's forever family, the Church, experience has nothing to do with the size of their offerings. The miracle of giving has to do with other things.

It first of all has to do with the object of our faith. The scribes had faith in their money and their status. The widow had faith in God. Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran movement of which Friendship is a part, used to say, “Either God or an idol.” That is the stark choice that you and I confront each day of our lives.

In spite of their flowing robes and their memorization of the Scriptures, the scribes had opted for idols and not God. The widow depended on God. That was how she was able to part with those copper coins.

When we give, we tell God and ourselves that nothing is as important to us as the God we know through Jesus!

The miracle of giving also has to do with the depths of our gratitude. How grateful are we to God? Are we grateful for the blessings that God has given to us–family, friends, homes, work, health, the opportunity to live in this great country? More importantly, are we grateful to God for the gift of everlasting life that belongs to those with faith in Jesus Christ?

Years ago, a man in one of our Lutheran churches wrote out a check for $10,000.00 to his local congregation. The treasurer told the pastor about the donation and the pastor took the check and went to visit the giver. I suppose the giver expected that the pastor was going to personally thank him for it. Instead, the pastor handed the check back to the man, telling him that a person of his considerable wealth was capable of a bigger offering than that and that given all the blessings God had given to him, his offering was an insult to God.

I don’t know what happened after that. Maybe the pastor was fired or put into an insane asylum or something. But that pastor had a point. When we realize that Jesus shed His blood on a cross for us and that all that we have comes from God, it should trigger the miracle of giving in us. We shouldn’t just give to our church. We should also be people who give of ourselves to spread God’s love around, the way Bill and Kris did that night in the New York restaurant.

The scribes that Jesus observed that day in the temple didn’t sacrifice a thing to make their offerings. They gave God what they could afford, their leftovers. That was because they suffered from the delusion that all of the success they enjoyed in life came from their own effort. The widow, barely holding on, knew better than that. She knew that her survival in this world and her hope for the one to come was gift from God. She was grateful and so she gave sacrificially.

The miracle of giving also has to do with our confidence in God’s power to work in our lives. Pastor Gordon Crosby and the leadership of the congregation he served, The Church of the Savior, in Washington, D.C. had reached a decision. A poor woman in their congregation had been tithing, offering 10% of her meager income to the church for some time. Meanwhile, her financial circumstances had become more and more dire. Unanimously, the church board and Crosby decided that the pastor needed to go to this woman and tell her that she was no longer obligated to make her offerings. They felt that she couldn’t afford it. On hearing the pastor, tears streamed down this woman’s face. “I want you to know,” she told Crosby, “that you are taking away the last thing that gives my life dignity.”

One of the miracles that happens when followers of Jesus give, is that it increases our confidence in God’s ability to use us to help others. So much of our lives can seem out of control and beyond help or hope. But we know that when all of us in the Church pool our resources and prayerfully put them under the control and guidance of the Holy Spirit, good things will happen...good things of which Jesus Christ lets us be a part.

Right after worship today, we’ll be wrapping our shoe boxes full of Christmas gifts for children in impoverished or war-ravaged nations. Each of those boxes by themselves, may not mean much. They’re not big gifts. But taken together, they represent a statement of great power. They tell these kids who live in awful conditions that Jesus Christ, once crucified and dead, is alive and living in the hearts of people who follow Him and out of gratitude to Jesus, have decided to give! Each shoe box represents a statement of our confidence in God’s ability to use even us to bring hope to the world!

The miracle of giving I’m talking about doesn’t just have to do with the church’s budget or what you put into the offering plate on Sunday mornings. I sincerely hope that the Church isn’t the only cause to which you give. I hope also that money isn’t the only thing you give. I hope that, like the widow Jesus observed at the temple, you give your whole self to God. He is worthy of our giving our whole selves to Him. The God we know through Jesus Christ is that wonderful! Besides, when we give our whole selves to Him, He can do fantastic things in our lives and through our lives and nothing is more exciting than having our lives wrapped up with Jesus Christ!

Today, I want to challenge you to be like that widow–surrender your whole self to the God we know through Jesus Christ–and let Him unleash the miracle of giving in your life. Let God be the object of your faith, the reason for your gratitude, and the One Who fills you with confidence that Almighty God can use you to accomplish great things in the world.

Because of all of those blessings and more, I promise that you will never regret surrendering your life–or your wallets–to Jesus.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Miracles in the Church:
The Miracle of Love
Mark 12:28-34

[shared with the people of Friendship Church, November 9, 2003]

Many of you didn’t know Karen Hendrickson. I’m sorry for that because she was one extraordinary human being! Karen was the wife of Tom Hudson, mother to Paul and Katie. She was also a guitarist in our ensemble, a fun conversationalist, a professional person, a good friend, a devoted follower of Jesus, a one-time Peace Corps volunteer, a prolific writer of thank you notes, get well wishes, and birthday cards, and an absolute prayer warrior.

On her thirty-seventh birthday, Karen learned that she had cancer. Shortly thereafter, she underwent surgery at Jewish Hospital. The morning of her surgery, just before she was wheeled into the operating room, I was with Tom and Karen’s friend Lesa as we shared a prayer with Karen. I had just said my “Amen” and was looking up, preparing to say a few more words to Karen before she went to surgery when I saw that her eyes were still closed. She then prayed for people that she knew who had needs, for all the people of Friendship, and for everyone who had reached out to her and her family since they’d gotten word of her illness. She was facing something horrible. Yet, Karen prayed for others!

Fast forward some sixteen months later. It had been a time of ups and downs and hospital stays for Karen. The future was filled with uncertainty. In spite of that, she called me one day. “I’ve been thinking about the vacant vice president’s position you have right now on Church Council,” she told me. “I’ve prayed about it a lot and if you’re willing, I’d like to do that.” I was taken aback. “Karen,” I said, “are you sure you want to do that right now?” I'll never forget what Karen told me next: “Mark: I’ve decided that whatever time I have left on this earth, I want to give it to Jesus Christ.”

Now, what is it exactly that makes it possible for a human being to militate against the natural human inclination toward self-absorption and selfishness to live the kind of love of God and love of neighbor that Karen demonstrated?

Was it because Karen was just intrinsically better than anybody else? Karen would tell you no. And as extraordinary as I observed her to be, I would agree. Karen, like the rest of us, was a human being with a full complement of faults and failings, doubts and missteps.

So, how did she come to be a person with such a passionate love for God and for other people?

The apostle John, writing in his first letter toward the back pages of the New Testament, gives a simple explanation of how:

"We love because God first loved us." [First John 4:19]

The love of God is a powerful thing.

It compelled God the Son, Jesus, to leave heaven and to go to a cross and die for us.

It compelled Him to rise again and to promise all who turn from sin and follow Him, everlasting life with God.

And through His agents in the world–like Karen Hendrickson–God’s powerful love is still reaching out to us, assuring each of us that in spite of our sins and faults, God places eternal value on our lives. God is head over heels in love with us.

Over the next several weeks, I want to talk about the miracles God unleashes among ordinary people like you and me, the people who make up His Church, the people who make up this church. Today, I want to talk about the miracle of love in the Church, a miracle that starts with God’s love for us.

The fact that real love only starts with God and not us, is driven home for me in our Bible lesson for this morning. Jesus tells a man that the greatest of God’s commandments is to love God totally and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

The man is impressed with Jesus’ answer and agrees with Jesus completely. But instead of telling the guy that, since he understands the rules of the game, he’s part of God’s Kingdom, Jesus tells the man that he isn’t far from the Kingdom.

I always was puzzled by that response from Jesus. It seemed like Jesus was telling this guy, “You passed the test with flying colors, but you get an F.”

But here’s where I think the man’s problem lies. It’s one thing to know that God calls us to love, it’s quite another to actually love. And fact is, we can’t be commanded into loving God and loving neighbor.

Our faith as Christians is not about accepting a series of rules. It’s about welcoming the Savior of the world into the very center of our lives. It’s about letting the God Who gave us everything on the cross have every part of us. It’s about allowing the love of God to soak into every molecule of our lives–whether it’s at work, in our families, or when we find ourselves lying on a hospital bed fighting cancer.

The love God extends to us as a free gift through Jesus Christ demands and deserves a response.

Until we respond to that love with our lives, with trusting faith, the everlasting life and everlasting hope that Jesus offers to us remain unopened gifts.

Pastor Mike Foss of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota identifies three major ways in which you and I can trustingly respond to God’s love. It’s when we respond in these three ways that the miracle of God’s love is visible in our lives and we’re able to share it with others.

First, we respond with our attitude. We respond to God’s love with what Foss calls an attitude of “grateful self-giving.” Researchers are telling us these days that one of the best ways for us to fend off dementia in our old age is to keep on using our brains–learn new things, acquire new skills, read, solve problems. In essence, they’re telling us, “Use it or lose it.”

To avoid what I would call spiritual dementia, we need to apply a similar principle. Want more love in your life? Respond to the awesome love of God by looking for more ways to love others– volunteer to help out at church, read to a child, send a note of appreciation, pray for others when you yourself are sick. Respond to God’s love by living with an attitude of love. You’ll be happier and God will use you as a deliverer of love to the world.

The second way to respond to God’s love is in practice. We can have a wonderful attitude of love toward God and others. But until we live that attitude, it doesn’t mean much. One thing that makes Friendship Church so special is that you folks are willing to put the love of Jesus into practice. And it isn’t that you just care about one another either. You welcome and are open to new people and new ideas. You pray for others. You fill shoe boxes with gifts for children in faraway places. You enact the miracle of love by putting the love of Christ into practice. May that always be a trademark of this church!

The third response that extends the miracle of God’s love deeper into our own lives and the lives of others is nearness. We let God’s love fill us and be transmitted to others when we dare to get close to others.

One night last year, I was part of a meeting going on here in the building. Judy Jordan and Steve Snoke were finishing the beautiful tile work out in the lobby. A rather destitute-looking pair walked through the door. I came out to the lobby to find Judy and Steve talking amiably with these two. Judy hugged them. Steve found out what they needed and was whispering to me about what an opportunity this was to share the love of Jesus. Pretty soon, a number of you had donated items that we were able to share with this family. Most people would have turned these folks away. But you got close to them and served them. The miracle of God's love happens when we dare to share it with others up close and personal!

For many years, W.A. Criswell served as senior pastor of a huge Southern Baptist congregation in Dallas, Texas. He was extremely conservative. For a long period of time in his life, he had a running feud with a theologian who was very liberal. Through books, articles, sermons, and presentations they'd gone after one another repeatedly.

One day, Criswell was booked on a flight for London and who should he find himself sitting next to but that theologian. Criswell said both of them probably would have loved it at that moment if they could have been doped up for the entire flight. But after some uncomfortable time, Criswell finally asked this theologian a rather innocuous question: How was he doing?

The theologian explained that he and his wife had just buried their five year old son. He'd had a fever which grew progressively worse. Finally, they took him to their doctor and after the boy had gone to a hospital for testing, they learned that he had meningitis. There was nothing that could be done for him.

That liberal theologian had stayed up night after night with his little boy in the hospital. On the night before the boy died, he said, "Daddy, it's getting late, isn't it?" "Yes, son, it's getting late." "I'll be going to sleep soon, won't I, Daddy?" "Yes, son." "I'll see you in the morning, Daddy."

After telling Criswell about this conversation, the theologian looked at him with tears in his eyes and said: "I can't wait for the morning!"

There are two things I want you to remember from that story:

(1) Life on this earth is too fragile a thing for us to waste any of it on hating anybody. We all are subject to the pains and difficulties of life. Why would we want to add to people's burdens or our own by engaging in hatred or in holding grudges?

(2) Everyone who trusts Jesus Christ has the hope for an endless morning. That means that nothing or nobody should threaten us so much that we feel the need to hate.

Love is the only appropriate response to the love that God gives to us through Jesus Christ!

Methodist bishop and theologian Albert Outler said near the end of his life, “For forty years, I’ve gotten it wrong. I’ve been telling people, ‘You’ve got to love! You’ve got to love!’ But the truth is that through Jesus, we get to love!”

Loving God and loving others may not always be easy. But deep down, it’s the way we all want to live. None of us want people to say at the funeral home over our bodies, “He or she was the most selfish so-and-so I ever met.” We want people to remember us for our love. That can happen when we let the miracle of God’s love into the center of our lives through our responses to Jesus.

A few weeks ago, I got a telephone call from Karen Brock, another sister of Kathy Luccasen and Stefani Hines, and the owner of the Goddard School. She wanted to know if the school could put on a musical program here in our church building. I think that Karen was a bit taken aback when I immediately told her, “Sure.” You see, I didn’t have to ask, “What will the people of the congregation think about that?” I knew what you would think about that. You’d say, “This is a great way to extend the love of Jesus to others.” I’ve seen how you respond to the love of Jesus in your attitude, in your everyday practice, and in the way you communicate God’s loving nearness to others.

We love because, through the crucified and risen Jesus, God loved us first. We love God and neighbor not because Jesus commands it; Jesus commands it because living in the miracle of love is the best way to live. May God always give us the power to militate against our selfishness and to instead, love God completely and love our neighbor as we love ourselves!

[The W.A. Criswell story was recounted by Gerald Mann in a sermon. The quote from Albert Outler--actually a paraphrase--appeared in a book by Martin Marty years ago and I can't remember which one of his books it was. ]