Sunday, May 20, 2018

Rejoice in the Lord - Celebrating Pentecost

Paul calls for us to celebrate. Celebrating is not frivolous, it is not juvenile or immature, but it is part of our witness, part of our calling. We are a people who celebrate the  power of God within us. We are a people who celebrate who we are and who God is forming us to be. We celebrating in itself, in many ways is a witness to our world about who Jesus is. After all too many people have this dour, we don’t have any fun and we are not allowed to do anything fun and live entirely by a list of “do not’s” kind of people. When the Church remembers its call to celebrate we are showing our world that Jesus is about joy, that the gospel is a message of freedom as well as restraint. That the resurrection is something we are excited about that brings true happiness into our lives and that it gives us a reason to celebrate.
Today is a day of celebration. Today is THE day the church became the The Church. Jesus told us to wait. Jesus told us the Spirit would come. Jesus told us we would receive power. Jesus told us that we would go into all the world taking the truth of the resurrection with us wherever we go. And they did. The disciples waited, the Spirit came, they were filled with power and boldness and went out, immediately and began the work that the Church continues to this day, taking the truth of the resurrection into all the world.
The Resurrection is the heart of our belief.  The Resurrection defines the primary belief of the Church.  We are Christians because Christ rose from the dead.  It is the most important event in all history.  Then 50 days later is Pentecost. Pentecost is the day that defines the Church.  The Church is who the Church is BECAUSE of Pentecost.  The events that occurred on the Day of Pentecost following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, are the events, which put in motion the very existence of the Church today.  It is true that we are not the Church without the Resurrection, but it is also true that we are not the Church without Pentecost.  So what is Pentecost?
Pentecost was originally a Jewish feast, a celebration. It is an harvest festival celebration God’s provision; God’s provision during the desert wanderings, when manna and quail were provided for their sustenance, and God’s continually substance of continuing to provide for them for yet another year.  It is one of the seven major feast of the Jewish year. So when the scripture says, “When the day of Pentecost came. . .”  It is not saying, “When the day that would later be called Pentecost came. . .” IT was the day of Pentecost, the day of this particular celebration that was going on the day that Spirit came up on the disciples. The day of Pentecost was a day the disciples would have known and would have celebrated.  Pentecost takes place 50 days after Passover, which means that the events of Pentecost occurred 50 days after the Resurrection. It was a harvest festival, also known as the feast of weeks. The events that we have come to associate with Pentecost are not what the day of Pentecost was originally about, but because they occurred on this well-known Jewish holy day, we call the events that occurred that day The Pentecost.  So on the seventh Sunday after Easter; we celebrate the Christian holy day of Pentecost.
Before Jesus ascended, he promised to return, which is what we celebrated and remembered last week on ascension Sunday, but he also made another promise.  Jesus also promised that he would send the Spirit, that they would receive power and that they would go into all the world.
The day of Pentecost marks the day that the Church became the Church. Not only is it the day that the Spirit fills believers for the first time; but the events of this day result in the first post-resurrection converts to Christianity.  This is the first time that the disciples go out and share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people who had not previously followed Jesus. The Church really truly becomes the Church when it is reaching out to the world around it and drawing others in.
The book of Act is a written record of the beginning of the work of the Church in the world.  It begins with Peter and the disciples in Jerusalem and then goes on to talk about how the early church worked as it began to organize and spread.  They begin to take the truth of Jesus Christ to other towns and cities all over Israel. Then following Paul’s conversion Paul begins to take the gospel to towns and cities outside the Jewish world, the church begins to have more and more Gentile Christians.  But all these beginnings, which are recorded throughout the book of Acts, begin with this event, which occurs on the day of Pentecost.
Right before he ascended into Heaven Jesus, tells the disciples to go to Jerusalem and to wait for him there. And they went and waited.  Waiting is not easy but sometimes we are called to wait. But they did not just wait.  Act tells us, following the Ascension; they went immediately to Jerusalem and devoted themselves to prayer.  They waited and they prayed.  But not only did they pray, but they also did the things they needed to do to make sure that they would have leaders among them.  They elected from amongst themselves someone who would serve as an apostle in Judas’ stead.   They came together, prayed, waited and prepared themselves to be ready to receive the power Jesus promised.  They did not sit around idle wondering when God would come.  They did what they knew to do, while they waited.  They prayed and prepared themselves, so they were ready when the Spirit came upon them.  They were ready to receive the power Jesus had promised. Praying is a vital part of preparing to be the people God is calling us to. Whenever we begin a new venture prayer is our first step. We pray for God to be in what we are beginning to do, we pray for God to guide us and direct us, and we pray for Gods power to not only be in what we are doing, but to go before us preparing the way. We put the work and the ministry of the Church in God’s hands, we acknowledge that the work and the ministry of the Church is the work of God and that it is God who will work in us and through us in what we are about to do.
Then as they were gathered that day, they were ready, they were waiting and they were praying and the wind came, and the tongues of fire alighted on each of them and they then went out into the streets.  They were able to speak languages they did not know and people heard them speak in languages they were not speaking and everyone no matter what language they spoke or where they were from was able to hear the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that day.
When they were ready, when they had prayed, when they had prepared themselves, the spirit came and every last one of them, who had been doing all these things, went out from that room.  They burst forth out from that room; they flooded into the streets and shared about Jesus.  They all went, not just Peter, not just Peter, James and John, not just the 12, but all of them. Acts tells us that there were about 120 of them, men and woman.  Not just the ones who were good as speaking (and come on Peter never showed any skill at this prior to this day).  Not just the ones who were trained, or whatever stipulation you could put on who might or might not have gone out.  All of them went into the streets and spoke to all who would hear.
And because they were praying, because they were ready, because they were prepared, when the spirit came all of them went out, because all of them were filled, all of them were empowered all of them. This was not a miracle for just one or two of them.  Sometimes it is easier to think about God using a special person, a person who in themselves has somehow managed to harness the true power God can give, a prayer warrior, a deeply spiritual person, a very pious priest, but this was not a miracle for Peter, or John or James, or Martha, or Mary, or Johanna. The Spirit came up each of them. Each one was empowered so that the whole could be empowered. This was a miracle for all of them.  God empowered the Church.  They were gathered faithfully, they were worshiping and celebrating a festival God had called for God’s people to celebrate, they were praying, they were ready, they were prepared and the power of the Spirit came up THEM.  This was a miracle for the whole Church, not part of it, all of it. God promises to empower not just individuals, but the Church, all those who gather.
This means that the Spirit empowers each of us; this means that the Spirit empowers all of us.  We are the Church.  I am not the church; you are not the church, at least not on our own. We are the Church together and it is together the real work of God happens in this world.
I have heard people tell me that, “I’m a Christian, I just don’t go to Church.” It is popular thinking to believe that you can be a lone Christian.  You can believe in God.  You can pray. You can do good things. But that you do not need to be a part of the gathered body of Christ. It is popular to believe that you go at this Christian thing alone.  The fact of the matter is you cannot. There is no such thing as a rogue Christian, out there trekking through the world alone just you and Jesus against the world.  God calls us to the Church.  God intends for us to function together. And this is most clearly and distinctly seen on the day of Pentecost.  On the day of Pentecost, we do not talk about John receiving the Spirit.  We do not talk about the Power James received.  We do not celebrate how Peter was able to single handedly was able to speak to and 3,000 people were added to their number that day because of what Peter did.
No, we celebrate how the Spirit came up the Church that day. We do not celebrate a miracle that was performed by a disciple or even a small group of them.  We celebrate the forming of the Church on that day. People call Pentecost the birthday of the Church, because it was on that the day, when the Spirit came up one them that the Church became the Church.  When we celebrate Pentecost, we are celebrating that God called the Church into existence. We are celebrating that we are empowered to come together to do the work and the will of Christ in this world.  We are celebrating that God does not call us to do this alone.  We are not called to do it alone, we are called together.  We are called to gather, we are called to worship, we are called to pray, we are called to prepare ourselves and do what we know to do to make ourselves ready because it is when we are together that God empowers us, all of us. Not just the best among us, not just the greatest among us, but all of us. That means that none of us is left out.  That means that we are in this together.  God empowers all of us.  God has called us; God has called us to work together, to live this Christian life together.  God has empowered us to BE the Church. Do work together to do the work and the will of Christ in this world. Let us come together, let us be the people God is calling us to be, let us be the people God is empowering us to be together!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Gathered Community; Daily Devotion for the Easter Season - May 17, 2018

The Gathered Community
Acts 2:37-42 
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42 NIV).

Coming together with other Christians is a vital part of what it means to be a Christian. These are some of the first converts. They accepted Peter’s teaching about Christ and the resurrection, and then they were baptized. Following these initial steps of faith, they came together with other believers to study the teachings of the apostles as they passed on Jesus’ teachings, they partook of the sacrament, as Jesus had instructed them and they prayed together for one another and furthering of the gospel.  All things that were done together as a part of the community of faith. All these things are part of being in the Church. Being a part of the body of Christ is a major part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We need each other, to learn together about how Jesus is calling us to live. Just as trying to separate yourself form your body would lead to your death, separating ourselves from the Church can lead to nothing less than death. Drawing close to other Christian will give life and strength to us a people of faith.

Lord, God help to never neglect to gather with other Christians. Help me to listen to others as they teach about Jesus and speak about your call our lives. My desire is to be a part of the body of Christ which you have called be pray, part take of the Lord’s supper together and to study scripture and the teachings of Jesus together. Help me to be an active part of my Church and help me to allow my Church to speak into my life and help me to be the believer you are calling me to be. Amen

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

When Leaders Fail; Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 16, 2018

When Leaders Fail
Acts 1:12-26
“. . .concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry (Acts 1:16b-17 NIV).”

He was a disciple, one of Jesus' chosen. Paul tells us to follow his example as he follows Christ. There are leaders, teachers, pastors, we look up to and follow in this manner. Sometimes men and women of God fail us. They fail to be the leaders they need to be, the examples of Christ likeness they should be. They walk away from their faith; away from God. They were people we loved, people we respected, people we looked up to in the faith; worked to follow their example. And the place they held in our lives and in our hearts may forever be left deserted. But that does not mean that we do not continue on in our faith. Or that we do not go on to trust others in faith to help, lead and guide us. That we find new examples of Christlikeness to look up to.  Our faith in Jesus is never dependent upon the faithfulness of another follower of Christ. When we trust in the wrong place, it is ok to be disappointed to feel let down, but then we can move on. Work to pick up where we left off and continue to follow faithfully ourselves.  

Lord, people of faith have failed me. Help me to find examples of what it means to be the person of God you are calling each of us to be, who are worthy looking up to. Help me to continue to trust others, to never become disenchanted with your people because of the failings of others. And teach me to be an example worthy of being followed as well. Amen

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Having One Miind - Philippians 2:1-13

Philippians 2:1-13
Last week we began to look at the book of Philippians. The opening section of the book underlines the importance of the Christian community. The book of Acts shows us how a small group of believers were sent into the world by the Holy Spirit, scattering to the winds like a dandelion puff, planting Churches across the known world. The rest of the book of the Bible are letters written to those Churches, expected to be read in Churches, by churches, giving instructions to them about how to be the Church.
Paul begins his letter by telling the Church in Philippi that he is thankful for them, that he thanks God for them every time he prays (which Paul tells us elsewhere is “continually”). He thankful for the way they share the gospel, live in Christ like ways and for the help and support they are giving to him and his ministry. And we ended our time together practicing being thankful for one another sharing the ways we are thankful people in this congregation and writing thank you notes to one another, which we sent out this week.
Paul’s understands the Christian life as a life lived in community, and that community is necessarily the Church. The Church, among many things, is a community in which each person who belongs to that community lives completely for others.  Paul speaks of a life in which a person is continually emptying themselves out, pouring their being out for the good of others and for the sharing and spreading of the Gospel.  It is a life which his marked by the belief that even as you give all of yourself to the good, support and strengthening of others, they in turn will live their lives in a similar fashion.  An emptying knowing that you will in turn be filled. It is a life of abandon and trust, trust that if you empty yourself out, you will be filled by one who is likewise living this emptying life.
We have all met that person.  You know the person, the one who knows exactly how much they are worth and how much they expect out of those around them.  The person who walks through this world believing the rest of the world is there to serve them.  They are the person who, when at a coffee shop, gets upset when the line is not moving fast enough, they don’t get their drink as immediately as they would like or doesn’t understand why the person who is making drinks for other people doesn’t stop right this very second and fill their bottle with water instead of waiting for others to get the drinks they paid for first.  On the road they are the person who gets in the empty right turn lane to speed forward and then cut over into the left turn lane so they don’t have to wait behind all the other cars making a left turn.  In a line they are the one trying to push to the front.  In the workplace they are the one who does not understand why they do not get a promotion even when they are not working hard or doing their job properly.  They are certain that the world is there for their pleasure, for their convenience, to serve them.  They will do whatever they can do to push ahead and be on top; to be front and center for everything.
These people pretty much live exactly the opposite to the life Paul calls for us to live as Christians.  The Christian life is a life that is poured out for others, not one that continually pulling from others and never giving back.
When it comes to the lives we live, Paul tells us nothing would make his joy more complete than if we all were of the same mind. His desire is for us to have the same love. When it comes to matters of Christian living we are of one mind, we are in one accord in that we live out of the abundance of the love we experience through Jesus Christ.  The one mind we share, the one mind we all have, is the mind of none other than Jesus Christ.  We live with Christ’s mind guiding us all. The love Christ exemplified through his life, death and resurrection is the center of all of our lives, is the center of our community, is the heart of the life we live.
Paul then goes into detail about the self-emptying love which the life of Jesus exemplified.  Jesus gave up all that rightfully belonged to him, he shed all his honor, all his glory all that was his and laid it aside, for us.  To live life amongst us, to show us the Love of God, to give up everything, so that he could be human and then in the end even gave that life up for us, for our salvation, to draw humanity unto God, and into right relationship with God.
This is our example of the mind WE should have, the sameness that we are to incorporate into our communal life.  We are to be of one mind, and that mind is to be the mind of Christ.  The life we live should exemplify and typify the life of Christ.  The love we have should be none other than the love of Jesus Christ; a love that is continually emptying itself out, being poured out for the sake of others, a love that gives everything of value, everything of worth and floods out, so that there is a tidal wave of love being poured out on all the others that inhabit the world around.
Having the mind of Christ means loving; it means that we love those around us with a phenomenal love, with a love that is willing to reach inside and scoop out everything and give it to those around us, trusting and knowing that the more we scoop the more we empty ourselves the more we are filled.
If we are all scooping, if we are all pouring then we are all being filled, no one is ever empty, everyone always has abundance.  This is a beautiful picture, a picture of Christ emptying himself out, pouring out all that he is, spilling his love into each and every one of us, and us in turn then turning ourselves out onto others.  Filling and being filling, of continually being emptied and continually being filled.  The good life is a life where we don’t have to worry about ever being empty.  It is a life lived giving away the love that we are receiving.  All of us receiving and giving and spilling and flooding the world around us, so that no one is untouched, so that no one is empty, so that no one is left out.  Living the life we are called to live is a life lived in overflowing love, filled with the love of God, flooding our world with that love.  Loving each other, loving our world, filling our world with all with which Christ is filling us.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Joy In All Things: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 11, 2018

Joy In All Things
Philippians 4:2-9
Verse: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 NIV)”
Nobody can be happy at all times. Happiness is something that is dependent upon mood and circumstances. But finding joy in life, in all things, in all circumstances is a choice. We can choose to find joy in the world around us. Even as we sat in the hospital while my Father was dying my mother found joy in the beauty of the warm Spring Sun. Even when the circumstances of life are difficult to deal with, we can choose to find the small joys in life; the warmth of the Sun, the beauty of a flower, the kindness of a friend. As Christians we are not called to be emotionless automatons, who are not affected by the sorrows and pain that too often come in this life, but we are called to find joy in all things. We are called to be people who rejoice always in all things, finding the beauty and wonder in God’s world. Seeing the great, as well as the small joys God brings into this world, rejoicing in these things.  We may not be able to choose the circumstances of our lives which bring happiness but we can in all things choose joy.

Lord, as I move through this day, help me to see the joy and the beauty that surrounds me. Things may not be great. Today may be hard, difficult to make it through, and although I may be hurting or struggling, help me to see the ways in which you fill my day with small blessings. Help me to see the beauty which surrounds me. Help me to find joy in this day and rejoice in the ways you fill me day with good things. Amen

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Heavenly Citizenship: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 10, 2018

Heavenly Citizenship 
Philippians 3:12-4:1
Key Verse: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20)

What does it mean to have citizenship in a particular country? There are rights and privileges that are afforded citizens that are not afforded to others. There are also responsibilities. It also requires a certain amount of loyalty. If you are a citizen of a particular country, and then do something to help a foreign government move against your country, that is called treason. For many countries if you are a citizen in one country and become a citizen in another, you must then renounce your allegiance to the other country and pledge your allegiance to the new country in which you now hold citizenship. So what does it mean to be a citizen of heaven? As Christians, where do our loyalties lie. What do we owe the “country” in which we hold citizenship? What does this mean for our loyalties not only to this world but to the country in which we reside and currently hold citizenship? How does our loyalty to heaven affect our loyalty to our own countries? How does thinking about our relationship with Christ as a citizenship in Heaven change our understanding of the Christian life?

Lord, I pledge my allegiance to you, over all other things. I am not a citizen of this world, but a temporary resident. I live here, I work here, but I do not belong here. Help me to see heaven as the place I belong.  I desire to be loyal to heaven and all she stands for over an above any loyalty I might have to any country or institution on earth. Help me to live into my heavenly citizenship daily, aligning who I am with her values and who she is calling me to be. Amen

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Living in Relationship: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 9, 2018

 Living in Relationship 
Acts 3:1-11 
Key Verse:  “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: (Acts 3:4b NIV)”

Paul did everything right. He had all his religious boxed checked all his moral I’s dotted and character T’s crossed. If it was something that was expected of a deeply religious person of his day, he did it. And he took pride in doing it right. It is easy to turn our Christian life into a “to do list”, a series of goals to be obtained; devotions – check; prayer time – done. As if living life as Christ is calling us to live is something we can be proud of accomplishing, like being a good piano player or having read Moby Dick from cover to cover. What we are doing as Christians is living in relationship with God of the universe; a relationship built on love not having done certain things. And like all relationships simply by being in the relationship we are transformed by the experience, not out of obligation or in an attempt accomplish something but because living in relationship changes who we are. Paul reminds us here that we are living in a relationship with the God of universe, not merely living up to a “to do list”.

         Lord, God help me to be live in relationship with you, a relationship that changes who I am bit, by bit as continue to live in it. Help me to never see life in Christ as a to do list to get done, or accomplishments of which I can be proud. Being the person I am when I am in relationship with you, is not something I can call my own, to laud like a skill I have gained. Help me to simply live in love with you and loved by you and allow that love to transform me daily. Amen

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Do it Without Grumbling: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 8th, 2018

Do it without Grumbling
Philippians 2:14-30
Key Verse: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky (Acts 2:14-15 NIV)

Wow! Now that is hard! i do it, my kids do it, I think we all do it. We grumble and complain when there is a task at hand. There are so many annoying, mundane, dull tasks that have to be done Even if we do not actually grumble out loud, many of us grumble to ourselves. I do it every time I have to fold a load of laundry. It is so easy to grumble for grumglings’ sake. We complain, just little, about doing things we don’t really want to do. Paul tell us that if we are to be the children of God, God is calling us to be we need to curtail our grumbling. After all what good is it doing anyway? The laundry still needs to be folded whether we grumble about it or not. There are probably better more productive things we can waste, I mean spend, our time and energy doing instead of grumbling. So instead of whining and complaining, even if just to ourselves, we can just do the task at hand and be closer to being the holy people of God, we are called to be.

Oh, Lord, there are so many things I would rather not have to do. Whining, complaining, grumbling about doing them, is an easy habit to fall into. Teach me to just pick up the task at hand and just do it and not waste time or my energy grumbling about it. Help me to set about the work I have to do with a joyful heart and rejoice in their completion instead of complaining about having to do them. Amen

Monday, May 7, 2018

Whatever Happens. . . : Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 7, 2018

Whatever Happens. . . 
Philippians 1:18b-30
Key Verse: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27a NIV)

Things happen. Nothing is going our way. The car broke down. We lost our job. We are so deep in debt we don’t know how we will ever get out. People do things that hurt us. They betray us; let us down. Those that we love turn on us in hatred, anger or malice. Someone we look up to turns out to be a fraud. The leaders we trust fail us. Our government disappoints us. Paul tells us that no matter what is happening, no matter how much the people around us are acting poorly, in general or towards us, that these things do not dictate our actions. It is the love of God, the image of Christ that regulates how we act. It is easy to respond in like to people who hurt us. It is easy to react poorly to the events in our lives. But as Christians we are called beyond gut reactions, and living by emotional responses. We are called to be reflections of Jesus, of the very character of God, in this world. It is not always easy to do this but we are often the only bit of Jesus those around us ever see.

Jesus, Sometimes I am angry. Sometimes I am disappointed. Sometimes I am frustrated or simply overwhelmed. Lord, I confess, that it is my desire to act and respond from places of hurt, to allow my emotional responses dictate my actions and my attitude. Help me to pauce, take a deep breath and rely on you and allow your goodness, your grace, your mercy to burn through my instinctual reactions and instead act in ways that that show those around me who you are, instead. Help me to better reflect your nature, your character in my daily life. Amen

God of Our Own Making - An Accidental Devotion for Monday

 God of our Own Making
So I accidentally wrote two devotions for this morning. Save this one for later or spend extra time with God this morning. 

Key Verse: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill (Acts 1:29 NIV).”

We all know that we are not to make idols for ourselves out of gold or silver. We all know the first commandment. We know better. Then there is the sermon about how money or our job, or the tv can become an idol for us. We are well aware that this is a pitfall some of us can fall into. But we know better than to do that as well. The statement here is a little different, it is about what we think about God, “we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone.” Is God like an object? Do we act as if God is an object? Are we thinking about God as if God is something we have made, something we can manipulate, control, move around according to our will? Do we form God into whatever image we like? Are we forming God into our desired image, making God do, say, be the things we believe God should do, say, or be? Are we making a god of our own liking and calling that God? Are we conforming God to our image, instead of allowing God to transform us into the image of God?

Lord, God maker of the universe, show me the truth of what I think and what I believe. Am I worshiping you for who you truly are, or am I shaping you into a god that I find easier or more palatable to worship? Lord, I want to worship you for who you are. I do not want to make a god that I like, that I think is right, that seems to be what you should be and worship that instead of you. Show me you, let me see you for who you are and let me worship you. Amen

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Modelling Thankfulness - Philippians 1:1-18a

Philippians 1:1-18a
When I was in college, someone once told me that she did not believe that being a part of a church was important because the Bible talks very little about church. She explained that Jesus never went to church, nor did Jesus ever teach about church. Church was a human institution created by humans to co-opt the power of individual Christians, and tell us what to think and how to believe. I think she may have even said, that the Church was created to take our money, money we could be given directly to those who needed it instead of being used to build buildings and pay pastors.
She told me that because Jesus never spoke about the Church and because it was never mentioned in the Gospels that the institution of the Church was unbiblical. At the time her argument that Jesus was never went to church, was a part of a church, or taught about the Church seemed to be a fair point, although even then it unsettled me think. After all I was in college studying to be a pastor which assumed that I would be one of these pastors participating in what she seemed to believe was this unbiblical endeavor call the Church.
Although I might have been swayed by her arguments at the time, they are really unfounded. Although Jesus never went to church, there is Biblical record of him teaching in the synagogues and since the Church was founded on teaching salvation through the life and death of Jesus, they simply did not exist for Jesus to attend prior to his resurrection. So attending synagogue would be the “biblical” equivalent. If the gospel accounts are in any way true (which of course we believe them to be), Jesus attended synagogue often, at one point they tell us that Jesus went into the synagogue, “as was his habit”.
But not only did Jesus do the next best thing to attending Church, all of his disciples founded churches and participated in early church councils. Peter is the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. Acts tells us about various churches that were started by the disciples as they sought to be witnesses for Christ in Jerusalem, Judea and to the ends of the earth. Going, preaching and scattering Churches all over the known world is what entirety of Acts is about.
 The idea of believers doing this Christian life together is very much a part of the foundational understanding upon which most of the New Testament is written. The majority of the New Testament is written to churches and addresses issues that were facing the early Church. In Acts the disciples and Paul all start Churches and then most of the rest of the New Testament is made up of correspondence sent to these Churches, meant to be read by Churches, giving them instructions on how to better be “the Church.”
The church is the assumed basic building block of the Christians life. Life is quite simply not incorporeal; you gotta have a body to be alive. The Christians life is also not incorporeal; the Church is the body that makes Christian life possible.  Being a part of a church is quite simply not an option for us as Christians.
Paul addresses this letter to all the saints in Philippi; that is to the Church that is established in that city and all the people who make up that Church. He begins by calling them saints. This is a word which for a fair part of Christian history was reserved for the deeply pious, the extraordinarily religious; for Christians who seemed to somehow not merely be steps above the rest of us, but several flights, perhaps even floors. But this is not the original meaning. We were once all saints; all those who were a part of the Church, gathered and working to further the gospel and the kingdom in our lives and through our examples. When Paul speaks to the saints in Philippi he is addressing all the Christians in that city. 
The fellowship of believers is one of the many ways which Paul talks about churches in the various places to which he writes. Fellowship for Paul is not the congeniality that is shared between people who like each other, nor is it about shared good times that occur between friends and acquaintances. It is a partnership in mission, a coming together because of the gospel and the furthering of the kingdom. This partnering in mission seeks to advance the gospel in all things; coming together for mutual benefit, for encouragement and strength that can be found in community. More importantly this fellowship is about the sharing of the grace of God, participation in the gospel of Christ by being the means by which the kingdom is furthered and shared. This fellowship invites all those who participate in Christ to come together for a shared calling, to evangelism, giving and prayer for others and a lifestyle that embodies the grace, love and mercy of God.  This fellowship, this thing we call Church is the backbone of the Christian life.
Paul always speaks to the Church, the gathering of saints, the fellowship and in his relationship with them he models an attitude of gratitude, expressing his thankfulness for all of them. He tells them that he is thankful for them generally, expressing that he thanks God every time he remembers them. The feeling is that they are never forgotten, since he also says that he prays for them constantly. And since they are never forgotten he is continually thankful for them and continually thanks God for them.
But he is not simply thankful for them as a whole, he is thankful for each of them; thankful for them individually. He thanks God for each of them praying with joy for them as individuals. He is not merely thankful for them as a group, as a church, but he is thankful for each of them as persons. For what each one contributes to his life and to the life of the community. It not simply “people” for whom Paul is thankful, but it is persons. This is also evident in the introductions and conclusions of Paul’s letters in which he will often not only greet certain people by name but thank them for the work they are doing alongside of him for Christ. He is thankful for the persons who because of their commitment to Christ are partners with him in the Gospel.
He is also specific in his thankfulness, he is not merely generally thankful for the people of the Church in Philippi, but he is thank for specific reasons, for the things they have done and are doing. He tells them what it is they are doing for which he is thankful. In a way this lets them know his thankfulness is genuine and also lets them know which practices and behaviors to continue. He lets them know right up front at the beginning of his correspondence to them, what they are doing right.  Paul tells them that he is thankful because of their sharing of the Gospel. They are faithful sharers of the gospel and Paul is thankful for all the ways they are continually sharing the gospel, in all things at all times.  Paul is also thankful that they hold him in their hearts and because they share God’s grace with him, presumably by supporting him and his ministry, and this is especially needed as he is currently in house arrest and their assistance provides for his daily needs.
As we move through our lives as Christians, Paul is our example of thankfulness.  Paul in his letters, models for us what it looks like to be thankful for other Christians in Christ’s church. As we look around this room today we see other Christians and I am sure if we thought about it we could tell ourselves we are thankful for the people in this room, for this Church and who we are together. For the work and the ministry and the impact this Church as had on your life. And often times many of you share this thankfulness during our prayer time. By doing this you are not only telling God that you are thankful for this Church and its presence in your life, but because it is a communal prayer, you are also telling those around you that you are thankful for this body, for the presence and the life of this Church in your life.
One things we should remember is that we are not thankful because this Church is perfect, or because it is everything we wish is was, at all times. But our thankfulness is come out of who this Church is, even in its weaknesses and failings. Our Church, any Church does not need to be perfect for us to be thankful for it. It simply needs to be the Church in which God has placed us, through which God is ministering to us, and in which we are able to labor together for the sake of the Gospel and the kingdom.  
And my guess is that not only are you thankful for the group of people that make up the church you attend regularly, but you are thankful for the persons who are a part of the body of Christ. You know people who have touched your life, without whose love and support you would not be the Christian you are today. My guess is there are saints of God's church who have touched your life in a small, or perhaps in a great way.  Even if you have never expressed it or not good are not good at telling others, you are thankful for the presence of these people in your life. So here is the thing I want you to think of one person. I want you to think about ways in which you are thankful for that person, for what they do in in and for the Church, and for ways their faith has made your faith stronger. I want you to think of a specific ways you are thankful for this person. Now want you grab a piece of paper, a card, something and write it down.  Go ahead, do it right now. The amazing thing about blogs is that they don't go anywhere when you step away. I will be here when you get back. Write down how you are thank for this person, specifically, things they have done to help you in your faith journey, ways they have encouraged you, given your strength, been there for you when you really needed them.
Now send the card, put it in an email and send that, give them a call and tell them, hey, you can even go to their house, or where ever they are right now, give them a big hug and let them know exactly how thankful you are for them. Take time today to model the kind of gratitude Paul modeled for us. At other times Paul has called for us to follow him as he follows Christ and this is a real way we can do that today. Give thanks, be thankful for the Christians God has put in you life and let them know exactly how thankful you are. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Radical Inclusivity; Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 5, 2018

Radical Inclusivity
Acts 28:23-30
Key Verse: “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him (Acts 28:30 NIV).”

Paul was an equal opportunity evangelist. He proclaimed the truth of the Gospel to Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. There was no one he found unworthy of the Gospel. He would share the truth of Jesus Christ with anyone who would listen and anyone who was willing to hear was welcome to listen. There is no one who is unworthy to hear the truth of the Gospel. No one is beyond the reach of God. The gospel is radically exclusive; only those who believe can be save and radically inclusive; anyone who believes can be saved. Paul accepted everyone, Jesus invited everyone. We too must look at the world and see a world full of people worthy of Jesus Christ. No one is too far, no one is too much of a sinner, too dirty, too unworthy, to be loved and accepted by Jesus. God calls us all into relationship, anyone with ears to hear and a heart that will listen can be transformed by the Gospel of Jesus. The gospel call is a call to everyone to come into relationship with God, to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.

Lord, there is nothing I can do to ever take me so far from you that I can not be saved. There is nothing anyone can do to bring them to a place where your love and your salvation can not go. Everyone is welcome to come, to hear, the truth of the Gospel to turn and believe. No one is ever unwelcome to follow you. Help me to love myself as you love me and to learn to love others around me with that same all embracing love. Amen

Friday, May 4, 2018

God at Work: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 4, 2018

Acts 23:12-22, God at Work
Key Verse: But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul (Acts 23:16 NIV).”

Paul had no idea what was going on. The son of Paul's sister overheard something and was able to help thwart a plot against Paul's life. This is the hand of God quietly at work in Paul's life. God is always at work, even when we find it hard to see it. Sometimes we never see what it is that God is doing until we look back. Even when we are unable to determine how God is working in our life, we know that God is. When we look back at our day, when we look back on seasons past we can always see the hand of God in our lives, the fingerprints, that God leaves behind. The footprints that show us where God has been. Stopping and looking back, paying attention to how God has worked in our lives, how God has given us strength, guided us, protected us, shown us what to do, what to say, is a key part of understanding how God has moves in this world. Especially when we find it difficult to see God, we should take the time to look back and find where God has been.

Lord, God sometimes it is hard to see you. It is hard to see that you are there. Help me to look back, to see your footprints after the fact; see how your hand has been at work in my life. Help me to trust your presence even when I am having difficulty feeling it or seeing it. Give me assurance of your work in my life at all times in all things. Amen

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Shooting Star - a poem about fear

I feel like I am a shooting star
    lighting up the heavens, burning bright, fast and far
And then I catch myself, grab myself and stop
     Afraid I will burn up and go out
I long to see the how far and how bright  I can burn
And, I wonder if
The place in which I find myself
     when I land, is a new and wonderous place
That before could never have been open to me
A burnt cinder, a used up thing in a new place is exactly what I need to be, exactly where I should be.

Ready to Share: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 3, 2018

Ready to Share
Acts 21:37-22:16 
Key Verse: Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people. (Acts 21:39 NIV)”

Paul was willing and ready to share his testimony at anytime. As believers in Jesus Christ we should always be ready to share how Jesus has transformed our lives. God is always at work in our lives, doing miraculous things and blessing us in our day to day lives. We, like Paul, should be ready, willing to share with those around us about the ways God has blessed our lives. We, like Paul, should be observant and see when the opportunity when is occurs and seize the moment when someone is ready to hear what we have to say. Being ready to share and vigilant to notice when there is an opportune time to speak, are two things all Christians should always be doing. Part of being ready is knowing what to say. In what ways has God worked miraculously in your life in the past? In what ways has God blessed you recently? Think about how you would explain these works of God to someone who is not a Christian. Think about someone in your life who might benefit from knowing how God has been working in your life and pray for an opportunity to share this with them.

God, you are amazing. You have radically changed my life. Daily you bring good and wonderful things into my life. Help me to see how you are at work. There are people all around me who need to hear about how you are at work, transforming and changing me. Help me to know what to say to them and when to say it. Help me to always be looking for opportunities and be ready to speak into those moments. Help me to always be ready to share about you with others in my life. Amen.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Persecution: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - May 2, 2018

Acts 21:27-36
Key Verse: The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut (Acts 21:30).”

At times Christians want to connect to Paul's persecution by seeing the hardships we face as persecution. The first time I realized this, I was in my 20s. The Church was a multicultural church. The Sunday school class included Anglo, African American, Hispanic, and Cambodian people. A man stood up and began to talk about how persecuted Christians are here in the US. There in the pew behind him was a Cambodian man who watched as his wife and children were killed for their faith, having himself barely escaping Cambodia with his own life. There has never been a point in my life during which I have feared for my life because I believed in Jesus. Persecution is real. People are imprisoned, tortured and killed because they believe in Jesus Christ. Christians all over the world suffer for their faith. But to say that the inconveniences we experience here in the US is persecution, minimizes the experience of Christians who are being persecuted. Instead of connecting with Paul's persecutions by claiming to be so ourselves, we should spend time praying for Christians around the world whose lives are daily in danger because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

Lord, God, there are people who are at this moment in prison for their faith, there are Christians who keep their Bible hidden and who worship in secret for fear of retribution if the wrong person discovered their faith. Do not let their belief in you falter because of the danger and the fear, instead let their faith remain strong. Lord Jesus, keep these people safe, blind the eyes of officials who are searching for them. Surround them and their families with a hedge of protection. Give them your strength and your peace in the midst of it all. Amen