Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Thinking Towards Sunday; September 6, 2015

This Sunday our topic of conversation will be Tradition

Our Scripture is 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.

You can read these Scripture here: NIV2010 and ESV

Hymns this Sunday:

UMH 77 – How Great Thou Art

UMH 191 – Jesus Loves Me

UMH 369 – Blessed Assurance

Some Practical Ways to Share our Faith; included in September 2015 Issue of the Kingswood Trumpet

Most of us are intimidated by the idea of sharing our faith. Jesus never intended for the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) to be an impossible burden. We were created to be witnesses of Jesus presence in our lives through the natural outcome of how we live our lives. SimpleNEEasy

God made it simple for us to be God’s witnesses. Notice I did not say that God made it easy to be God’s witnesses. Simple does not equal easy. Here are some practical ways to witness to our faith in Jesus as we live our lives.

  1. Be genuine. Most of us want to help others, but knowing what to say and how to say it is a different matter. Saying something in a way that ushers peace and brings someone closer to God is difficult because when we don’t know what to say, sometimes we appear insincere or phony. All of us can spot insincerity from a mile away.

  2. Treat people with dignity and respect. Jesus treated people well, even when they mistreated Him. I have seen men and women from all walks of life turn their lives around simply because someone reminded them that they are children of God created to be the best version of what God created them to be, and then treated them accordingly.

  3. Become a model of encouragement. When we are drowning we do not need a swimming lesson, we need a life preserver. There is nothing worse than someone trying to nag you about something going on in your life when all you can think about is finding a way to fix it. In those times, the last thing we need to see is someone carrying a Bible and acting like they know exactly what you need and how you feel. In those times of high anxiety and frustration we need a friend with a calming spirit, a listening ear and caring heart. Be that friend.

  4. Find ways to be a blessing to others. This plants seeds of hope in the lives of those we help, and encourages us as well. It also demonstrates that you are the genuine article because it reflects your beliefs. There is a message in living your faith in tangible and concrete ways. ” …by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:20).

  5. Become a model of forgiveness. Nothing creates division, hostility, and turmoil more than unwillingness to forgive the people who hurt you. Of course, there will be times when you are absolutely right. But being right does not give you a free pass to punish, humiliate, or embarrass someone else

  6. Don’t compromise your beliefs. We are called to be followers of Jesus; we are not called to be doormats. Situations happen every day where we need to negotiate things; in those times compromise is expected. It is our challenge to find those compromises needed to address the problems that we face, without compromising our faith. It is up to each one of us to show that being a Christian means living a life of integrity.

  7. Grace under pressure. One of the best ways to share our faith is to stay focused and positive through the trials that all of us experience from time to time. When Peter got out of the boat to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33), he was able to do so only while he kept his eyes on Jesus. When your neighbors see that you deal with difficulties in your life gracefully, they too want to experience that grace and peace. On the other hand, we cannot say a lot about our faith if all our neighbors see are the tops of our heads as we sink under water.

PreachI want to close this reflection with the words commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” (1182-1226)

Philos

Asher

From The Desk of the Pastor; Reflection for September 2015 edition of the Trumpet.

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I love all four seasons of the year, but especially I love autumn. In my country of origin, autumn meant harvest with an abundance of sweet grapes, apples, figs, pomegranates, pears, watermelons and persimmons. In Northeastern Pennsylvania where I spent the first few years of my life after immigrating to the USA, autumn comes with brilliant colors of changing leaves, low humidity and cooler temperatures.

Northeast Pennsylvania is covered with woods. Although the woods are green from early spring until mid-autumn, they turn radiant with a joyful cacophony of colors before losing their leaves for the winter. For fifty weeks out of the year the woods look quite ordinary, but for a couple of weeks every autumn the landscape looks magnificent; it is a beauty to behold and it is a photographer’s paradise. Most people, however, look at all this beauty without giving it a second glimpse. Even the tourists that come by the busload to “see the changing leaves” somehow end up spending most of their time in one of many outlet shopping malls.

Thinking of that makes me wonder, what is an acceptable ratio of the ordinary to the extraordinary in our lives? What is the “amount” of beauty that we are able to experience without losing our appreciation of it? Do we lose our ability to see our creative God in the rut and routine that we have established in our lives? I do not know how to answer these questions. What I do know is that we habitually label things as “ordinary” and stop noticing their beauty. In doing so, we miss out on the glimpses of God’s creative presence all around us.

Take the changing leaves of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Most of us limit our appreciation of their beauty to the brief time when the leaves are changing colors in the fall. Why can’t we appreciate branches that are filled with tiny buds or with lush green leaves, or even when the lack of leaves reveals the intricate and sturdy structure of its bare branches?

As we prepare for the coming of autumn, I want to leave you with a couple of thoughts to ponder:

  • Where do you see the creative presence of God in your life?

  • Where do you see the creative presence of God in the world around you?

  • Where do you see the creative presence of God in the life of our church family?

Philos,

Asher

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Genesis 2:4-7; John 20:19-23; SOUL

Scriptures for Sunday are: Genesis 2:4-7; John 20:19-23

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and ESV

Hymns for Sunday:

UMH 88 — Maker In Whom We Live

UMH 198 — My Soul Gives Glory to My God

UMH 377 — It Is Well With My Soul

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We began this series by looking at what it means that we live in a fallen world. We recognized that when the first humans succumbed to temptation and tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, evil and suffering were released and unleashed into our world. Ever since then minor irritations, problems and tragedies became common in our lives.

What makes the problem even worse is that living in a fallen world we do not perceive God to be an active presence in our day-to-day lives. Not seeing God as an active presence in our lives makes it so much easier to succumb to evil and temptations. We do that by blocking and ignoring our intuition and instincts, which are some of the ways that God uses to communicate with us.

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Few weeks ago we looked at what it means that we are created in the Image of God. Having been created in the image of God means that we have been created as spiritual beings because “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). Adam and Eve did not resemble God in the sense of God having having flesh and blood; Adam and Eve (and each one of us) are created in the Image of God in the sense that every person has the ability to understand abstract concepts, exercise freedom of will, has the ability to be generous, has the ability and capacity to love, exercise mercy and justice and to seek a relationship with our Creator and with other human beings.

That brings us to today’s topic. Today I want to talk about is our souls. In today’s readings we heard that when God created the first humans out of the dust of the earth, God breathed the soul, “the breath of life” into them and they became living beings (Genesis 2:7). We also heard that when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, “he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

Sometimes I hear that each of us has a soul. I don’t think that this is correct. I actually think that opposite is true: each of us IS a soul that has a physical body.  Every one of us is unique and distinct; that means that our souls are unique. Our identity (or should I say identities: husband, pastor, uncle, brother-in-law, medical chaplain) are rooted in our soul.

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Dictionary.com defines the word “soul” as

1. Nonphysical aspect of person: the complex of human attributes that manifests as consciousness, thought, feeling, and will, regarded as distinct from the physical body

2. Feelings: a person’s emotional and moral nature, where the most private thoughts and feelings are hidden

The soul is connected to the brain because our personal history and traditions have an impact on our identity, on how we understand God and how we understand the world we live in. That information is stored in our brains.

The soul is connected to our physical body because when we exercise, eat right, and take care of our bodies we feel better and it is sometimes said that we are “in good spirits.” We know that the soul is connected to our bodily organs because when we experience times of tragic loss we feel that our “hearts are hurting”; we know that strong emotions are processed in our minds, not in our hearts; and to me it indicates that our souls are connected to at least our hearts and probably to all other internal organs.

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I think of the Soul as a “spiritual organ” (as opposed to heart and liver being physical organs) that all of us have; that spiritual organ defines our identity and connects us to God. It is a part of a “mechanism” by which we hear God’s responses to our prayers and discern God’s guidance on our lives.

So what’s in it for us? How can we apply this to our lives and, more importantly, what can we do to help each other be the best versions of what God calls us to be?

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Sometimes we get injured. If I walk into a corner of a table I will get bruised. Similarly, sometimes our souls get injured. What injures our souls is sin.

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Each time we do something hoping that God is watching someone else at that precise moment could probably be characterized as sin.

Each time that we do something that we hope no one finds out about could probably be characterized as sin.

Each time we do something that may hurt something or someone else in God’s creation could be characterized as sin.

Each time we try to justify to ourselves why we should do something or why we should not do something could probably be characterized as sin.

Each time we sin, a little portion of our soul gets desensitized. It gets desensitized because in order for us to do something that we know is wrong we need to block that little voice that tells us not to do whatever “that” is. Our souls also get desensitized when we need to continue functioning in spite of everything else that is going on around us.

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Soul injury is similar to a physical injury. When we accidentally cut ourselves, first we get a scab, then a scar. Scar tissue is less sensitive than the area around it.

After a while we get scabs all over our soul and we become much less sensitive to sin; that is our human condition; we live in a fallen world. Eventually our souls get so scarred that it becomes painful to connect to God.

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The Good News is that God understands us and God understands our human condition. The Good News is that God sent Jesus to live among us and to give us an example of how to love each other and how to help each other to heal our souls. The Good News is that God sent the Holy Spirit to work with us, to shape us and to mold us so that it would be easier for us to find our way back to God. The Good News is that God established a church; communities of individuals where we can come and help other heal our souls.

We do that by sharing our faith, by celebrating the sacraments, by hearing each other’s testimonies, by praying for each other, by celebrating each other’s accomplishments and milestones, by grieving each other’s pain and loss. Every time that we gather together, we share an opportunity to verbalize what bothers us and we ask our sisters and brothers in Christ to pray for us. Prayer is central in the life of any church; prayer helps us to discern what is going on in our souls and around our souls; “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

We help each other to heal by telling and retelling our Christian story; the story of the loving God who made a choice to shed his own blood, his own essence so that we could live our lives to the fullest.

Thinking Towards Sunday; 30 August 2015

Scriptures for Sunday are: Genesis 2:4-7; John 20:19-23

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and ESV

Hymns for Sunday:

UMH 88 — Maker In Whom We Live
UMH 198 — My Soul Gives Glory to My God
UMH 377 — It Is Well With My Soul

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; 26 August 2015; Luke 21:1-14, 17:20-21; Heaven, continued

Scriptures for Sunday: Matthew 22:1-14. You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and ESV

Supporting scriptures: Matthew 25:1-13, Luke 17:20-21. You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and ESV

The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Parables of Jesus that start with “The Kingdom of Heaven is like….”: NIV2010

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 723 – Shall We Gather At The River

UMH 174 – His Name is Wonderful

UMH 66 – Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven

         (use melody 220, all 4 stanzas)

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We are in the middle of the series of messages titled The Basics of Faith. The reason I think it is important to revisit these concepts is because our church does not live in isolation. All of us have complex and nuanced reasons for why we have faith and how we live our faith and devotion to God. Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, we tend to focus our attention on the things that distract us [take our attention away] from God. As a result we are no longer challenged to think about our faith and our place in God’s creation. We have faith, we just don’t think about it much. Instead, we try to fit our infinite God into our finite brains. We lost our ability to articulate our faith in a way that is meaningful and understandable to those who were not raised in the pews. That is one of many reasons why there is a disconnect between the Church and the world that we live in.

Last week we talked about Kingdom of Heaven which happens to be one of the major themes in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life during his earthly ministry.

When we talk of Heaven, most often I hear about the Pearly Gates and the Streets of Gold. That understanding is based on a description from the Book of Revelation, chapter 21 (around verses 15-21). It appears only ONCE in the Bible.

By contrast, the Bible records Jesus describing the Kingdom of Heaven using common, insignificant and unremarkable objects and events (parables about the Kingdom of Heaven are found in Matthew 13, Matthew 22 and Luke 13, John 5, John 11, John 22 to give a few of examples – “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” / ”In my Father’s house there are many rooms…”).

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One of many parallels that Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of Heaven is found in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Matthew records this parable in chapter 22:1-14. The parable opens with, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.”

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Another parable in which Jesus likened the Kingdom of Heaven to a feast is found in Luke 14:1-24. In verse 16 it is recorded that Jesus taught a parable that started as, “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.”

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Matthew records another parable of Jesus about ten young women waiting for their bridegroom in chapter 25:1-13. Five of them were not prepared and when the “wedding banquet” (see verse Matt 25:10) started, they were locked out. Again the metaphor that Jesus used is that of a “wedding banquet.”

The metaphor for heaven that Jesus often used is a feast or a party, particularly a wedding party: food, laughter, music, joy. That brings me to my last point.

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There is a story of a man who talked to an angel and asked to see for himself the difference between Heaven and Hell. The angel took a man down to a room with two doors. One door was marked “Heaven,” the other door was marked “Hell.”

First the man was given a glimpse of Hell. It looked like a great dining hall. The hall was full of round tables, each piled high with the most delicious foods — meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, and desserts of all kinds! It smelled delicious.

People were seated around those round tables. Their bodies were thin, and their faces were skinny and creased with frustration, everybody looked malnourished. Each person held a very long spoon but their arms were splinted with wooden slats so that they could not bend their elbows to bring the food to their mouths. It was terrible to watch them suffer among all that abundance.

Next the man was given a glimpse of Heaven. The surprising part was that Heaven looked almost identical to Hell; it looked like a great dining hall. The hall was full of round tables, each piled high with the most delicious foods — meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, and desserts of all kinds! It smelled delicious.

People were seated around these round tables. There was laughter and people looked well fed and happy. Some were singing, telling jokes and the air was filled with the sounds of joy. Again each person held a very long spoon with their arms splinted with wooden slats so that they could not bend their elbows to bring the food to their mouths. The difference between Heaven and Hell was that the people in heaven had figured out how to use their long spoons to feed and to minister to each other, while the people in Hell were focusing on their own misery and misfortune.

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Both Heaven and Hell are the places where the souls of the deceased dwell. People in Heaven welcome God in their midst. People in Heaven recognize and see God in each other (Image of God sermon). People in Hell do not welcome God in their midst, nor do they recognize God in each other, they focus on their own misery.

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Knowing what the afterlife is like has an effect on our earthly lives, it changes how we live our lives, how we interact with each other, how we spread the Good News of Jesus, how we celebrate the presence of God among us, and what we do to usher the presence of the Holy Spirit among us.

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Today in the reading from the Gospel of Luke we heard Jesus teach, “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21). We also saw that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a feast that we will all share. When we sit down and break bread together Jesus happens. Think about that the next time we get together for a covered dish dinner.

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Last year (July 30, 2014 to be exact), the Holy Father Francis published a short reflection with ten (10) rules for a happier life. Rule number nine is titled, “Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.”

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The Holy Father writes, “We can inspire others through witness so that one GROWS TOGETHER IN COMMUNICATING. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing” (Inqistr.com).

One of many ways to facilitate that kind of dialogue is gathering together to break bread. Jesus happens when we break bread together. We break bread together during the Holy Communion, and we break bread when we gather for special meals. We feed each other and in the process we allow God to nourish our souls. When was the last time that Jesus happened in your life?

Our hope, the Good News of our faith, is that there is indeed Heaven and that there is a way for us to spend Eternity with God. Our hope, the Good News of our faith, is that Heaven is in our midst and we are invited to be God’s spokespersons while we are still here on Earth. Our hope, the Good News of our faith, is that we are invited to work towards the Kingdom of Heaven in our communities, just like yeast works through the batch of dough. Our hope, the Good News of our faith is that we are challenged not only to feed, but also to be fed by others.

 

Works Cited

Inqistr.com. “Pope Francis Lists His 10 Tips For Happiness Drawn From Personal Experience. No 9. Will Pleasantly Shock You .” 01 08 2014. Inqistr. http://www.inquisitr.com/1384969/pope-francis-lists-his-10-tips-for-happiness-drawn-from-personal-experience-no-9-will-pleasantly-shock-you/. 09 07 2015

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Thinking Towards Sunday; August 23, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday: Matthew 22:1-14. You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and ESV

Supporting scriptures: Matthew 25:1-13, Luke 17:20-21. You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and ESV

The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Parables of Jesus that start with “The Kingdom of Heaven is like….”: NIV2010

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 723 – Shall We Gather At The River

UMH 174 – His Name is Wonderful

UMH 66 – Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
         (use melody 220, all 4 stanzas)

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; 16-August-2015; Heaven; Luke 13:18-21, 17:20-21

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Luke 13:18-21; 17:20-21

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and NRSV

Sunday hymns

UMH 384 – Love Divine all Loves Excelling
UMH 119 – O God in Heaven
UMH 364 – Because He Lives

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We are in the middle of the series of messages titled The Basics of Faith. The reason I think it is important to revisit these concepts is because our church does not live in isolation. All of us have complex and nuanced reasons for why we have faith and how we live our faith and devotion to God. Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, we tend to focus our attention on the things that distract us [take our attention away] from God. As a result we are no longer challenged to think about our faith and our place in God’s creation. We have faith, we just don’t think about it much. Instead, we try to fit our infinite God into our finite brains. We lost our ability to articulate our faith in a way that is meaningful and understandable to those who were not raised in the pews. That is one of many reasons why there is a disconnect between the Church Universal /individual churches and the world that we live in.

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Last week we talked about renewal. Jesus taught, “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:32-33). That lesson refers to the story of Lot’s escape from Sodom and Gomorra. As Lot and his family were fleeing Sodom and Gomorra with only the clothes on their backs, his wife could not bear the grief of losing her friends, her neighbors and all of her things, so she looked back (Genesis 19:26). We all have been in her shoes (break up of a relationship, loss of job, moving to a new city for work, graduation from school or college, retirement). Genesis tells us that Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt, frozen in her memories and in her past for eternity.

She became “a poster child” for those times in our lives when we hold on to the past to the exclusion and barring of the future. Lot’s wife became “a poster child” for those times in our lives when we get bound in space and time unable to do anything because we are paralyzed by all the physical and emotional stuff that we have accumulated on our life’s journey and because we are scared and unwilling to let it go. Without death there is no resurrection.

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Today I want to talk about Heaven. Who among us did not wonder at one time or another what it will be like when we all get to heaven (UMH 701). There are songs and books written about it.

In childhood I heard of heaven
I wondered if it could be true
That there were sweet mansions eternal
Up there somewhere beyond the blue
I wondered if people really go there
Then one day sweet Jesus came in
And I got a vision of heaven
My soul in all heaven I’ll spend

Who among us has not wondered at one time or another what Heaven is like? Who among us has not tried to imagine what it would feel like to be in heaven? Unfortunately, since we cannot take our cell phone cameras to heaven with us, nobody knows what it’s like.

When we talk of Heaven, most often I hear about the Pearly Gates and the Streets of Gold. Pablo Picasso used to say that, “Art is a lie that tells us something about the truth.”

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I recall a couple of episodes from The Simpsons where Homer goes to Heaven. In one episode everything is made of chocolate and we see Homer wandering around taking bites out of buildings, cars, dogs and trees, gorging on chocolate and every bite that he takes heals itself immediately. And when he wants barbequed ribs a smiling piglet appears out of nowhere and {there is a certain “YUCK” factor here} we see Homer rip out the ribs that come out already cooked and dripping with BBQ sauce. The Piglet heals itself immediately and presents itself to Homer for seconds and thirds. In another episode, Homer is wandering around Heaven that is made out of gold, stuffing his pockets with dirt, pebbles and dog droppings which he plans to put to good use when he gets back to our world. These are metaphors that illustrate our understanding that Heaven is so beautiful and so precious that it is like the tastiest food we can think of, or the most precious physical possession that we can imagine. That understanding is based on a description from the Book of Revelation, chapter 21 (around verses 15-21). It appears only ONCE in the Bible.

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During his ministry Jesus talked about Heaven and Eternal Life (parables found in Matthew 13, Matthew 22 and Luke 13, John 5, John 11, John 22 to give a few of examples – “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” / ”In my Father’s house there are many rooms…”). The Bible does not record Jesus talking about Pearly Gates or Streets of Gold in any of those parables.

If we look at the Gospels from a view of 35,000 feet, Matthew, Mark and Luke record Jesus’ teachings about how we embody Heaven as we live our lives here on Earth. The Gospel of John records Jesus’ teachings on how we can live our lives so that we build closer and more intimate relationship with God and with each other as we strive to be the best versions of what God created us to be. Words like “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God” are also used to describe Heaven and Eternal Life.

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The parable of the Mustard Seed is found in Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19. It is one of many parables that Jesus used to describe Heaven. All of us have heard this parable countless times, and because we are so familiar with it we miss most of its meaning. Let us listen again to the parable of the Mustard Seed from Luke 13.

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NIV2010 Luke 13: 18 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”

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In Ancient Israel mustard was not cultivated because there was no way to harvest and preserve the greens. Mustard oil is extremely hot and it does not taste good, and there is no evidence that mustard was used as a condiment by Jews, Greeks or Romans. In Ancient Israel mustard was a weed, very much like dandelions are today in North America.

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Jesus did not compare the Kingdom of God to something magnificent, majestic, beautiful and of great monetary worth like the Cedars of Lebanon or Redwoods of California. Jesus did not compare the Kingdom of God to magnificent temples and palaces in Rome or in Jerusalem. Instead Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a weed, something mundane and commonplace, SOMETHING THAT YOU AND I WOULD TRY TO KILL WITH HERBICIDE IF IT WERE TO TAKE OVER OUR FRONT LAWN.

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Mustard plants interconnect and grow together providing a thick canopy with places where small animals can burrow and hide; mustard plants support each other as their branches interconnect; mustard plants produce seeds in abundance in order to reseed themselves and to spread wherever they can and whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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Once mustard plants take over a hill or a field, all kinds of life take refuge there. There are small animals (mice, hedgehogs, fox, cats) hiding underneath. There are small birds perching, nesting, and rearing their young on branches. There are butterflies fluttering around and bees buzzing around. Hawks fly above looking for prey. Areas where mustard shrubs grew are teeming with activity and with life. Mustard shrubs create an inviting environment for other forms of life to thrive and to be productive.

Mustard plants look for opportunities to grow. Mustard plants fight for survival and for living space. Individual plants link their leaves and branches to offer support to each other. Once they find new areas to take over, they “attract” birds and small animals. Once taken over by mustard, fields and hills become epicenters of life and renewal.

{Illustration}

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Thinking Towards Sunday; 16 August 2015

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Luke 13:18-21; 17:20-21

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and NRSV

Background Scriptures: Matthew 13:24-52

Sunday hymns

UMH 384 – Love Divine all Loves Excelling

UMH 119 – O God in Heaven

UMH 364 – Because He Lives

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; August 9, 2015; Death and Renewal; Genesis 19:23-26; Luke 17:32-33; John 12:23-26

Scriptures for this Sunday: Genesis 19:23-26; Luke 17:32-33; Luke 9:57-62;   Luke 17:20-37; John 12:23-26

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV // ESV

Hymns for Sunday:

UMH 303 – The Day of Resurrection

UMH 399 – Take My Life and Let It Be

UMH 569 – We Have A Story to Tell to the Nations

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We are in the middle of the series of messages titled The Basics of Faith. The reason I think it is important to revisit these concepts is because our church does not live in isolation. All of us have complex and nuanced reasons for why we have faith and how we live our faith and devotion to God. Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, we tend to focus our attention on the things that distract us [take our attention away] from God. As a result we are no longer challenged to think about our faith and our place in God’s creation. We have faith, we just don’t think about it much. Instead, we try to fit our infinite God into our finite brains.

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We live in a community, and the men and women outside the walls of this building have questions of faith and struggle with them just like we do. When our neighbors come through these doors they are looking for God. They are looking for answers to the tough questions of faith that they struggle with. That is why it is important for us to revisit the basic concepts of our faith from time to time so that we can better articulate our thoughts and experiences in today’s vernacular whenever the opportunity presents itself. Then, when someone asks us a difficult question of faith we are able to provide more than a simplistic answer; we are able to articulate our faith in contemporary and meaningful language, in a way that our nominally religious neighbors can relate to and understand.

So far in this series of messages we have looked at what it means that we live in a fallen world, what it means that we are created in the image of God, what it means that we have God’s Grace, and we have also talked about the Sacraments.

Today I want to talk about death and renewal.

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In the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” the main heroine (her name is Frances) discovers that her life is falling apart around her. Her relationship with her husband is broken (they are getting divorced) and on top of that she has lost everything that she has ever loved and had in her life. The only memory that she gets to keep from her past life is a vase – a small blue vase that used to sit on the desk in her study. She found herself in a stupor and in a rut. Who among us has not been in her shoes at one time or another?

{Illustration: STUPOR = didn’t want to do anything; RUT = didn’t know how to do anything differently}

One day, two of her friends came for a visit and gave her a ticket for a two-week vacation in Italy. While in Italy, Frances gets off the tour bus and buys a dilapidated villa in the center of Tuscany. Was it a whim? Was it an impulse? Or was it a plea for a new start… Whatever the reason, this is what she did. You know how sometimes we read in the real estate section of the newspaper: charming house – handyman’s special. Well, the villa that Frances purchased was not a handyman’s special, IT WAS THE CONTRACTOR’S ASSURANCE OF FOOD ON THE TABLE FOR A VERY LONG TIME.

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In the middle of the movie there is an episode where Frances accidentally breaks her little blue vase, the only link that she had with her past. This episode, that broken vase, is a turning point in the story. That is when Frances turned around, and instead of continuing her efforts to restore a charming villa, she decided to make it into her home, to build a new life there [instead of building a museum she decided to make a home]. That is when Frances reached a new understanding of what had happened to her. It was sort of an epiphany, an understanding that her past was gone and that her future is what she would make out of it.

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Something inside of Frances died when the vase was broken; that “death” created open space in her soul and in her psyche for new life to take root. Renewal cannot happen without some sort of death. We can make space for new ideas by physically dying and with us out of the way the new life will come in. Or we can allow something to die emotionally and spiritually to allow new life, new ideas and new concepts to take root.

{Illustration}

The easiest example of this is pastoral moves. As I stand before you today I am grieving the loss of my previous church family. It has nothing to do with your hospitality and acceptance – which were great. That being understood, for over four years I cared about the congregation of Christ United Methodist Church, I held their hands when they were vulnerable, I challenged them when they got too complacent, we cried together, we laughed together, we broke bread together, we locked horns on many issues that our church family was facing, we tried new things together and we learned to love and to accept each other. Grief is the price of love. And now something inside of me has to die to Christ UMC so that I can develop new relationships here at Kingswood UMC, and catch your vision for your church.

{//Illustration}

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We see examples of this in the Scriptures. As Lot and his family were fleeing Sodom and Gomora with only the clothes on their backs, his wife could not bear the grief of losing her friends, her neighbors and all of her things, so she looked back (Genesis 19:26). We all have been in her shoes (break up of a relationship, loss of job, moving to a new city for work, graduation from school or college, retirement). Genesis tells us that Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt, frozen in her memories and in her past for eternity. That is what happens to us when we hold on to the past to the exclusion and barring of the future. We get bound in space and time unable to do anything because we are paralyzed by all the physical and emotional stuff that we have accumulated on our life’s journey. Without death there is no resurrection.

{Illustration: Emotional death vs physical death // yesterday’s heresies become tomorrow’s orthodoxies  // in Jesus’ day the establishment considered him to be a heretic.}

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That is why Jesus taught, “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:32-33). By not being willing to open herself to new opportunities, Lot’s wife became frozen in space and time and turned into a pillar of salt.

Something interesting happens when we open ourselves to new possibilities and make space for these possibilities in our hearts and minds. We call these possibilities “VISION,” and we know that where there is no vision, people perish (Proverbs 29:18); Lot’s wife turned into stone because she was not willing to let go of her past and to see beyond her present; she is a metaphor for the loss of vision.

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{Illustration: Talk about the chart. }

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In John 12:24-25 Jesus taught, “24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

“Anyone who loves their life will lose it…” That is how Jesus described people who do not let go of things that are no longer useful or things that do not produce the results that they need or want. We lose our lives when we are in a rut and in a stupor. Life still goes on, it simply bypasses us and we become frozen in time and space like Lot’s wife was.

On the other hand, when we let go of things that have outlived their usefulness, we allow space for new possibilities and renewal in our lives. We become like a wheat stalk that bears many seeds. We allow new life and new possibilities to take root.

 

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Thinking Towards Sunday; 9 August 2015

Scriptures for this Sunday: Genesis 19:23-26; Luke 17:32-33; Luke 9:57-62;   Luke 17:20-37; John 12:23-26

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV // ESV

Hymns for Sunday:

UMH 303 – The Day of Resurrection

UMH 399 – Take My Life and Let It Be

UMH 569 – We Have A Story to Tell to the Nations

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; 2 August 2015; Sacraments

Luke 3:21-22 NIV2010

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 22:14-20 NIV2010

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

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These days there are adjectives that are associated with the word “Christian.”

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All these adjectives stem from the fact that our Bible is a complicated, nuanced and wonderfully complex COLLECTION of ancient scrolls that record understandings (plural) of God that have stood the test of time and that were transmitted through generations until they reached you and me.

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In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we hear:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Our faith is rooted in our relationship with God and we gain our understanding of God based on the stories that are gleaned from the Bible and personal experiences somewhere along our lives’ journeys. That is why all of us have complex and nuanced reasons for why we have faith and how we live our faith and devotion to God. Add to this the reality that our culture drowns our very souls in a cacophony of materialistic noise and the result is that we are no longer challenged to think about our faith and our place in God’s creation. We have faith, we just don’t think about it much. Instead, we try to fit our infinite God into our finite brains. Quite often we do that by trying to define something that is close to being undefinable: that is why different catechesis (or collections of definitions) were developed and written. Those are our feeble attempts to fit an infinite God into our finite brains.

{Illustration from the personal practice of ministry}

God’s Grace reminds us (among other things) that we are trying to fit our infinite God into our finite brains. We talked about God’s Grace last week.

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Because of all that Jesus established the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Definitions and adjectives tend to separate us. Ignorance and misunderstandings separate us. Definitions and adjectives lead to arguments. On the other hand, Sacraments remind us that there is only one baptism, there is only one loaf and there is only one cup that all of us share. Sacraments reminds us that there is only one God.

Something is Sacramental when it helps us to evoke the sense of holy around us. When we gather for worship we acknowledge and share our experience of holy around us. Sacraments are liturgies and rituals that we engage, during which we remind ourselves of the foundational stories of our faith.

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Baptism is a sacrament that happens in our lives only once. We are baptized Christian, not Methodist, or Lutheran, or Catholic. Ideally the Sacrament of the Holy Baptism will lead to a certain life style.

{Illustration: A morning prayer from Adam Hamilton: “Loving and Gracious God! As I enter these waters to bathe I remember my baptism and I am thankful. Wash me by your grace, fill me with your spirit, renew my soul! I pray that I may live as your child today and always and honor you in all that I do. Amen.”}

Baptism initiates and/or seals our intimate relationship with God. Baptism reminds us that we are a community because during the event of Baptism God makes a commitment to the person being baptized, the person being baptized makes a commitment to God and to the community in which baptism takes place, the community makes a commitment to nurture the person being baptized in his or her Christian journey. Baptism happens in the context of the community.

{Illustration from the personal practice of ministry}

clip_image016The second sacrament that we celebrate is the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. While Baptism is a once in a life time event, the Sacrament of the Holy Communion is a repeatable event. We gather together to remember Jesus’ life and the story of our salvation; we gather together to put our differences aside and to remember that no community is self-reliant; we gather together to remember that we do not live in a vacuum – we have neighbors; we gather together to honor God and to pray for ourselves and our neighbors; we gather together to ask God to bless our lives and to make symbolic bread and juice to be the body and blood of Jesus so that we may be for the world the body of Jesus purified by his blood and sent forth to be God’s ambassadors (Matthew 28:16-20).

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I think of the Sacraments like kind of a pipeline [or a garden hose] with a faucet. Sacraments are the pipelines of the living water of God’s grace. Our faith opens the faucet. We can open it a lot, we can open it a little, or we can choose to not open it at all.

I also think of Sacraments in terms of ladders or pathways that we can take towards God. When we start our journey towards God, God comes toward us from the opposite direction. Sacred and profane meet in the middle. Contemporary Christian band STARFIELD has a song where they sing, “I want to touch the hand that holds the world.” That what sacraments help us do; they help us to connect with the holy around us, they direct us towards THE HAND that holds the world.

Sacraments remind us that we live in a world redeemed by God’s Grace and they help us to gain a deeper and deeper understanding of our God and the world that we live in. Sacraments give us a glimpse of what it is like to be in the presence of God. Sacraments bring God’s Love and Grace to us.

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In Philippians 2:5 Paul wrote: “In your relationships … have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” Sacraments remind us about what God has done in our lives and help us to see the world through the eyes of God.

clip_image022Micah 6:8 NIV2010

And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly [some manuscripts “prudently”] with your God.

{Celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

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Open Letter to Our Extended Family of Kingswood United Methodist Church in Newark, DE

clip_image002Debbie and I want to take this opportunity to thank our extended family of Kingswood United Methodist Church for accepting and welcoming us into your midst. We feel thrilled and privileged to become part of such a spirited, mission-minded, and tradition-rich community. We appreciate all of your efforts to get the parsonage ready for our move, and for the welcome gifts we found when we arrived. We also want to express our gratitude for your hospitality, encouragement, outpouring of emotional support, and offers to feed us, to help us unpack and to do various tasks related to the move. Rachel and Leah (our cats) also thank you for the treats and toys you left for them!

Although it seems so far away, our physical move into Newark happened only two weeks ago. Your helping hands and welcoming hearts greeted us with graciousness and hospitality and enabled both of us to get off to a good start. As I write this letter, our offices are set up, both of us are able to work and we have made a good dent in unpacking our “stuff.”

As Debbie and I continue to adjust and adapt to our new lives, meet new people and make new friends, we covet your prayers. In addition we ask you to pray for our Bishop Peggy Johnson, the District Superintendents of the conference – (in alphabetical order) Pastor Shirlyn Brown, Pastor Fred W. Duncan, Pastor Kyung-Hee Sa, and Pastor Derrick Porter, as well as all the pastors and congregations who are going or preparing to go through pastoral transition at this time.

As humans, we like stories. We tend to become bogged down in our individual stories; as communities, we foster, cherish and wrap ourselves in our communal stories. After a while, these stories begin to define who we are, and when that happens, they limit our potential.

The truth is that our life is not going to happen in “my” story or even in “our” story as we know it. Our lives are going to happen in the future and “the future” is yet to be imagined and written.

Our Great commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20 and it reads, “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The reason Jesus gave us this commission is so that we, the church, could better serve God by serving the world in which we live, and challenge ourselves and our neighbors to be the best version of what we were created to be.

The Great Commission unites us in common mission and challenges us to be bearers of God’s love and hope. I think that at the juncture of history and culture that we live in, our neighbors are seeking hope, meaning and reason to strive to better their lives and the lives of those around them. Study after study finds that our neighbors crave to see the Church that is united and energized by the love of Jesus for the purpose of being salt and light in the world. The Church Universal under the guidance of the Holy Spirit has been infusing lives with hope, meaning, and purpose for two thousand years; we have “some” experience with that.

As our community works to re-imagine what Kingswood United Methodist Church of Newark, DE will become, and to write the next chapter in our story, I pray that God will bless us to be a blessing to our neighbors and to all of God’s Creation.

And speaking of stories… the Great American novelist of the 20th century, Pearl S. Buck, said once that, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” In my efforts to imagine tomorrow, I need to take the time to understand today. To do that, I would like to learn about the traditions of our community and how we became who we are today. If you have any stories about the people of our community, old newspaper clippings, or any old pictures, I hope that you would let me scan them. I promise to treat them with the utmost respect and care and will get them back to you promptly.

Debbie and I are excited about sharing ministry with all of you and we look forward to discerning how God will use our community in the future.

Philos

 

Asher & Debbie

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; July 26, 2015

Scriptures for this Sunday: Romans 3:10-20; James 4:1-8

You can read these Scriptures here: NRSV / NIV2010

Hymns:

UMH 368 – My Hope is Built

UMH 378 – Amazing Grace

UMH 57 – O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing

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Two weeks ago we looked at what it means that we live in a fallen world. Last week we looked at what it means that we are created in the image of God. The obvious question is, “Why are we talking about things that most of us learned in Sunday School when we were knee high to a grasshopper?”

Our church does not live in a vacuum; we live in a community, and the men and women outside the walls of this building have questions of faith and struggle with them just like we do. When our neighbors come through these doors they are looking for God. They are looking for answers to tough questions of faith that they struggle with. That is why it is important for us to revisit the basic concepts of our faith from time to time so that we can better articulate our thoughts and experiences in today’s vernacular whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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Last year (July 30, 2014 to be exact), the Holy Father Francis published a short reflection with ten (10) rules for a happier life. Rule number nine is titled, “Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.”

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The Holy Father writes, “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing” (Inqistr.com).

We all have to revisit the basic concepts of our faith from time to time so that we can stay rooted in Scripture and in the Traditions of our faith. We revisit the basic concepts to see how our personal Experiences reflect the Scriptures and how our Traditions infuse our lives with meaning. That helps us to face life and that helps us to be more effective [or to make rational decisions, to use our Reason and intellect] in helping our neighbors to see the presence of God in the world that we share, so that we can build meaningful relationships. Our hope is that EVENTUALLY these relationships will lead to church growth.

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In his letter to Hebrews, Chapter 11 verse 1, Paul taught that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence [or conviction] of things [felt and experienced, but] not seen” (Paraphrase, aft). Faith is belief in something that is not based on proof. Faith is NOT about knowledge; faith is about feelings that are felt and experienced on a visceral level. That is why it is so difficult to explain what it really means that we are created in the image of God. That is why it is difficult to explain how and why prayer works. That is why we can correctly use words like “Soul,” “Grace,” “Evil,” and “Heaven” in a sentence but most of us have a difficult time explaining what these words mean in a such a way that our unchurched neighbors, or even recent Christian converts, can relate to or understand.

Our faith is rooted in our relationship with God, and we gain our understanding of God based on the stories that are gleaned from the Bible and our personal experiences somewhere along our lives’ journeys. That is why all of us have complex and nuanced reasons for why we have faith and how we live our faith and devotion to God. Add to this the reality that our culture drowns our very souls in a cacophony of materialistic noise, and the result is that we are no longer challenged to think about our faith and our place in God’s creation. We have faith, we just don’t think about it much. Instead, we try to fit our infinite God into our finite brains.

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These are some of the reasons why God gave us God’s Grace, and that is what I want to talk about today. We tend to use {“} “God’s Grace” as a catchall when we don’t know what else to say; i.e. someone tells us about something that happened yesterday and we don’t know how to respond so we say, “God’s Grace was with you.” In reality maybe it was a miracle, or maybe it was sheer, dumb luck, or maybe God has plans for us, or maybe God is using what happened yesterday to shake us up and get us to start thinking about our lives and our relationship with God, NOT in superficial terms but in REAL, WELL THOUGHT OUT, REASONED AND REALISTIC terms.

{Illustration:  See this video referenced in a post on my blog – CLICK ME)

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So what is God’s Grace? Divine Grace is an ongoing, relationship-building energy that connects God and God’s Creation; that energy is at work everywhere and at all times; it is ALWAYS there. When we make a choice to accept God’s grace, when we make a conscious choice to plug into it; we consciously experience a connection to God, and through God, to each other. As a result communities grow stronger, lives are transformed, bad habits are resisted and there is harmony and tolerance in the community. Divine Grace is God’s empowering presence in the lives of God’s human children, enabling us to be the best version of what God imagined us to be when God created us. Divine Grace magnifies and illuminates for us God’s hopes for our lives as we live them. God’s Grace empowers us to be the best stewards of God’s Creation at the time and place where we live our earthly lives.

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God’s Grace manifests itself in our lives even prior to our knowing or accepting God’s existence. God’s Grace that guides our lives prior to our turning to God is usually called Prevenient Grace. Prevenient grace invites us to recognize that all of us are sinners and that Jesus paid for our sins and transgressions; prevenient grace prepares us to recognize and to become conscious of God’s presence in our lives (“Cloud of Witnesses” Hebrews 12:1).

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In the life of every individual there is at least one moment when we recognize our sinfulness, when we recognize God’s presence and God’s role in our lives (who among has not had our heart broken at least once).

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That is a “moment” of justifying grace; sometimes it is called the moment of conversion; sometimes it is called the moment when we are born again of the Spirit from above (John 3, Jesus’ heart-to-heart with Nicodemus). The “moment” of justifying grace is usually followed by a period of time (or a process) when we come to fully comprehend what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ actually means to EACH ONE OF US as we live our lives and as we prepare to face eternity.

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Sanctifying grace results in our desire to foster an ever-growing, vibrant and productive relationship with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as we serve God in ALL aspects of our lives.

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Experiencing God’s Grace does change us.

{Illustration}

Story from Nicaragua

Story from Cuba — If God could use Balaam’s Donkey [Numbers 22:21-41], God can use a Santeria Priest

{//Illustration}

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These are just a couple of experiences when I looked straight into the face of God. In these experiences I saw God’s Grace. In these experiences I saw God’s Love and Energy flowing to God’s Creation, and by that Grace I am here to tell these stories.

Jesus came showing his love to his beloved people and to the Church as it was in his time. Jesus came to show that every generation needs new thinking and new blood to confront the future that it faces. That is what God’s Grace is about.

James 4:1-2a, 8 NRSV

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?  2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.

6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Where and when have you seen God’s Grace in your life? Is your heart full of God’s Grace? How has God’s Grace changed the way you live your life? What do you do with that wonderful knowledge?

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Divine grace is an ongoing, relationship-building energy that connects God and God’s Creation; that energy is at work everywhere and at all times; it is ALWAYS there. Are you plugged In?

Works Cited

Inqistr.com. “Pope Francis Lists His 10 Tips For Happiness Drawn From Personal Experience. No 9. Will Pleasantly Shock You .” 01 08 2014. Inqistr. http://www.inquisitr.com/1384969/pope-francis-lists-his-10-tips-for-happiness-drawn-from-personal-experience-no-9-will-pleasantly-shock-you/. 09 07 2015.

A message to the family of Kingswood UMC and surrounding communities.

My office just received a communication that the apartment community of the Vinings at Christiana has teamed up with the Delaware Food Bank to host daily FREE lunch for children 3-18 years old. The program will take place Monday through Friday starting July 20 and ending August 21, 2015 from 11 am till 11:45 am.

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD!

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