By: Mitch Randall This year brought numerous moments when the darkness of this world seemed to overcome the light of hope. While the darkness had its moments, it's a reminder we need Advent more now than ever before.
By: Gary Furr Thanksgiving is a sober and joyful realization that without God and God's gifts we could not survive. And there's no better illustration than Squanto, whose generosity helped the Pilgrims survive their first brutal year.
By: James Gordon The onslaught of news - human suffering, global disaster, brutal conflict, economic doom and political instability - hits us from all directions all the time. Do Christians avoid the news or learn to listen differently?
By: Chuck Summers Every day seems to bring news of yet another horrible event. It's enough to make you despair. However, the efforts of good people and our faith in God give us hope and keep us from succumbing to despair.
Their eyes would have never been opened had they not been kind to a man they thought they did not know. He would have continued on his journey, and they would have missed this sacred encounter. Their simple gift of kindness and hospitality made this revelation possible. This point has not been lost on my friend and biblical scholar, Dr. Colin Harris. “Unless we see Jesus in the stranger,” he writes, “we are not likely to see him anywhere else.” Anytime we are kind to a stranger, we open the door for good things to happen, not only for the stranger but also for us.
Even dead hope can come back to life. That doesn’t mean that every hope we have deserves to live. There are some hopes—false hopes—that probably need to die. The sooner we crucify them and bury them the better. And if they are false hopes then that’s where they’ll stay. But if they are God’s hopes they will not stay dead. God will not let his Holy One see corruption, and God will not let his holy plans come to naught. God will raise them up again, just as he raised Jesus. We will feel our hearts burning within us as we realize the thing we have always dreamed of is beginning to come true.
The journey of despair away from Jerusalem ends in a journey of joy back to Jerusalem. And before they could even speak about their experience of seeing the risen Lord, the disciples go ahead and declare, “Simon has seen Jesus.” They were not the only ones to see the living Lord that day.[ ]“We were hoping” turns into “We are hoping.” Death turns into life.
As I wrote in my column this week, the early church theologians such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom sometimes interpreted Easter as a joke. They didn’t mean this in an irreverent or dismissive way, the way we might describe something poorly done as “a joke.” Instead, they quite literally felt that Easter was a holy joke, the moment when God played a joke on death itself, turning a grim time of mourning into a festive time of laughter. The early Church recognized that the season of Easter was a time of celebration, for praise, for joy.
Then it dawned on me. The empty tomb is a vital part of this story, which is why all four gospel writers describe it in detail. However, after God raised Jesus from the dead, that tomb was not empty because now it was filled with hope.
What do you think the disciples learned from this experience? Following Jesus meant they would need to go where others feared to tread, talk to people others shunned, dismantle walls of suspicion and hate, build bridges of reconciliation and good will and share goodness and mercy with everyone along their journey. At all times they were to make hope as visible as Jesus did that day in Sychar. Maybe this is why they were speechless! This was no small challenge. [ ] Now it is our turn to learn these lessons.
They needed no one’s permission to be kind, compassionate, courageous and bold, and they did not need to wait for another time to begin this faith journey. Jesus commissioned them and turned them loose that day. Go change the world one person at a time he challenged them on that hillside. I want to believe they did.
Being a person of faith will take you down roads you never thought you would travel. Don’t wait to begin that journey until all your questions have been answered, or you know where the road will end. Take the first step and rely upon God to go with you and guide you. This was what Joseph did. He responded to God’s call upon his life with more questions in his heart than answers, but he discovered that God took every step with him and provided what he needed all along the way.
The season of Advent is a time of a provision of hope from God, a time of active waiting for God’s purposes for the world to be revealed and made a reality. Advent is a time for the body of Christ to actively live as a people of hope, a hope that is based on our just and righteous Lord. Advent is a time of active anticipation, when we are invited to be living signposts and pointers of the peaceable kingdom that Jesus will usher in. The signs of this peaceable kingdom are everywhere . . . if we have the eyes to see.
The same God who created the world out of utter chaos can start where you are and help you create a new life. Where you are now is not where you have to stay. Where you are now is where you must begin to rebuild, though.
Our message today is a message of hope, and worry robs us of that hope. When you borrow tomorrow’s problems, you rob yourself of today. Worry distorts our thinking. We begin to look at life through a magnifying glass that makes things bigger than they really are. When we worry, our molehills become mountains.
[I]nspiration can indeed come by hearing, not only through words but also in the art that is inspired by faith. And then, having heard, we are called to go out and share what we have learned. Sometimes, not hearing is the blessing. The noise of our world would have you give it all your attention, not to mention your devotion, and the life of faith becomes an exercise in tuning it all out. But more often that not, it is in the hearing that eternity can be found; especially when God chooses to speak to us in a still, small voice.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” That’s the message of Easter, although from an unlikely source. God is always using endings to create something new. As people of faith, [the Israelites] never came to the end of the road. Always and at all times, there was more, even when it seemed improbable or impossible.I believe this is the message of Easter, too, and I cannot think of one we need more. Easter is about starting over when you thought all hope was gone. We, too, believe in a God who makes all things new.
“I have called you by name, and you are mine.” Isn’t this what faith really is? I think so. It is the assurance that I am not alone and never will be. I have not been forgotten or abandoned. I am not on my own.
Being committed to Christ through this church requires a lot of patience. Looking at the world in which we live and wishing it were somehow different – and better – and not giving up, calls for a lot of patience.
Can you identify with the disciples in that Upper Room? Is this a confusing time in your life? Like the disciples, have you been caught off guard by recent events, which have left you perplexed and fearful?
Easter assures us there is no situation our faith cannot embrace and change for the better if we let it. If God can reach into a sealed and guarded tomb and give life back to his crucified son, then God can help us with any problem we are facing.
The risen Jesus is proof of God's life and God's love. The risen Jesus is proof of God's power. And the risen Jesus is the best evidence for hope despite the tomb-like circumstances and situations of life.
Today, we begin our journey through Advent, a season of anticipation and preparation for Christmas. I like Dr. Bill Self’s description of Advent. He says it is like the hush in the theater just before the curtain rises.
We all carry our own issues into worship today, don’t we, our distractions and sometimes our depression? This is how we begin this Christmas season. When you stop and think about it, it’s pretty much how we start every Christmas season. We’re exhausted and we still have a month to go.
Among your family and friends, who needs to know there is no place they can go which is beyond God’s grace, there is nothing they can do to make God quit loving them and there is nothing that can happen to them to keep God away from them?
Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden is dead. The Taliban regime that hosted him in Afghanistan has been overthrown by a military coalition led by the United States. But justice still seems far from us. Ten years later, are we not walking in gloom?
If you have been listening to the radio or reading news or surfing the internet this week, you’ve probably noticed that 9/11 stories are everywhere. We tell stories because we are trying to make sense of what happened 10 years ago.
According to Jesus, God sees a potential for fruitfulness where others would predict failure. According to Jesus, God believes in the miracle of fruitfulness. God believes. God cares. God loves. And God has called us to come alongside God's redemptive work in the world even with people and situations that don't look promising.
If we are going to be imprisoned by anything, let it be by hope. Not hope in the past tense, as in “we had hoped.” Hope in the present and future tense, hope in the promise that God is not through with us just yet, hope in the belief that we have so much, despite our personal circumstances, for which to rejoice.
What are you pondering today? What mystery are you trying to understand? What decisions hang in the balance? Invite Jesus to be a part of that process. Share your story with him and pour out your heart in prayer. Ask for insight, understanding and divine guidance.
Easter is about starting over when you thought all hope was gone because, as Christians, grief is always linked to hope, just as it was for our ancient ancestors. We, too, believe in a God which makes all things new.
Do we realize the gifts of respect, time and compassion transform people’s lives and all of us have these gifts to offer? Do we also understand that reaching out to others in Christ’s name feeds our spirits and allows “living waters” to flow through our lives?
Somehow, like Amos Fortune, Paul experienced the worst life could dish out and still believed the best about life’s ultimate outcome. Was Paul an incurable optimist? No. In fact, Paul was very realistic about the trials and tribulations of life.
What are you hoping for this season? Perhaps responding to an invitation will help. No, not an invitation to yet another party. An invitation offered you by the prophet Isaiah. He says to you and me, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”
Advent is a way of preparing spiritually for the Christmas holiday. It is a way of preparing for the birth of Christ, to once again try to experience that birth in its newness and freshness in our own hearts.
The challenges, frustrations, anxieties, and other stuff we experience often make it hard to believe in anything better. We seem beset by so many catastrophes, calamities, heartbreaks, tragedies, scandals, and other problems that it's hard to hope for daylight in the face of so much darkness.
There is no quick or easy way to discuss the problem of suffering, pain, and hope. None of us needs to be convinced that suffering and pain exist. There is too much of it for any sensible person to ignore. And there's also no reason to try proving to anyone that hope exists. We see too many people living and acting hopefully.
Why didn’t the rich man stop and help Lazarus? It’s not like he didn’t see him. Everyday, he sat at the rich man’s gate hoping he would receive just the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Why didn’t he at least give him something to eat and drink?
Stormy things happen to us and to other people around us. Like John and the Christians of his time, there are personal, social, religious, economic, and political challenges to endure. Yet, we are loved by Jesus Christ, the faithful witness who sacrificed everything to free us from the tyranny of sin and death. We are called by Jesus Christ, the Supreme Ruler above every other authority in the world.
I’ve noticed that most people enter cemeteries with heavy hearts and a slow gait. Mary may have approached Jesus’ tomb that way, but she definitely did not leave it like that. A dramatic transformation took place while in that cemetery, from grief to joy and despair to hope. What made the difference?
Do you see Jeremiah’s point? If we wait until the “right” moment comes for us to begin to celebrate God’s blessings, we miss so much in the meantime. And, we show our lack of faith. The time is now, to take joy not only in the blessings God gives us, but to celebrate in anticipation of what God has yet to do through us. Why? Because God is in the anticipation. We are to celebrate who we are right now, with the anticipation that we will become even more, even better, with God’s leadership and grace.
Just as Advent invites us to think about a God who comes to us, as distinct from a God who is unapproachable, so it encourages us to be accessible, or better yet, go to those who need our help. Who would that be? With God’s guidance and help, reach out to them this week. Go sit with them in “The Waiting Place.”
The Christian hope is not some positive thinking that if I just believe it, it will be so.The Christian hope is that God is real, God is in control, and God does not forget us.In our trials in this life and in our journey to the next, God does not let us go.
Many churches will mark the beginning of Advent on Sunday, a month-long reflection on the meaning of Jesus' birth. It's far more significant than simply encouraging retail outlets to say "Merry Christmas."
What if we changed the way we relate to one another? What if we treated each other the way Jesus treated his neighbors? What if we lived our lives the way he did? What if we arranged our values and priorities the way he did? Wouldn’t it make the world better and eliminate a lot of pain and suffering?
Hope in God's grace gives us strength to love bruised, battered, and oppressed people. That hope gives us strength to challenge entrenched forces of injustice and oppression. Hope in God's grace lifts us when we fall, strengthens us in times of weakness, quiets our trembling hearts, and gives redemptive meaning to our efforts. When we live in the power of God's grace with that kind of hope, we are more than witnesses about God's grace. We are, like Martin King and so many hopeful soldiers of faith, partners with Christ, and instruments of God's gracious purpose to redeem people and the world from the depths of sin. Amen.
Ministry is contagious. There is nothing as fulfilling and meaningful as helping someone who is struggling. There is nothing as inspirational, either. Whose story inspired you? Who has been inspired by your story? I am convinced that you will have the opportunity to write another chapter this week. Make it a good one.
But when the pains of contractions begin there is a complete and utter disruption of life-as-usual. Chaos prevails, not order. Panic, not reason. Other plans have been made; they’ll have to be pushed aside. Something larger and stronger – something inevitable and unchangeable – is now in charge. The birth will occur – not neatly, not logically or in straightforward fashion – but in “messy waves of fear and pain, plateaus of waiting and spikes of recognition and joy that culminate in new life.”
Follow Mark’s example and share your faith. Tell them what the empty tomb means to you. Talk about your faith in a loving God who walks every step of your journey with you providing the strength, courage, wisdom and confidence you need to endure and overcome life’s hardships. Be specific and tell them about a time in your life when God took the worst circumstance in your life and made good come from it. Tell them about the re-birth of your faith.
A week of pastoral ministry reveals people who want something more. A desire for authentic experiences. A revival of social consciousness. A repudiation of American waste. For this type of church, there's a great future.
There is not enough money to solve all the world’s problems, but there is enough God. There is not enough time to accomplish all we hope in life, but there is enough God. There are not enough resources to guarantee we will never experience the loss of key relationships, but there is enough God.
I have noticed that many times hope comes from the unlikeliest places. Who would have thought that a Galilean carpenter by the name of Jesus could have lifted his people from despair two thousand years ago? Who would have predicted that good news would come from such a commoner? He was the unlikeliest of candidates.
Hopefully, none of us will have a harrowing experience like the passengers on Flight 1549. But you never know when you are going to get caught in an emergency situation. If you suddenly find yourself facing potentially traumatic circumstances, remember the lessons learned from that falling, and later floating, plane.
Sitting around the dinner table with friends talk turned to the war and our frustrations with so much that is wrong with our world. Someone said they were tired of politicians who kept up the shell games of half-truths. Another volunteered that they were tired of worrying about economy and oil and terrorism and the bleak future. Someone said they were just tired of saying goodbye to some special people who had made their own journey just a little easier. The more we talked, the more hopeless we became.