Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From Darkness to Light

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. – Isaiah 64:1-9

I hope all of you have enjoyed a wonderful time of preparation for Christmas. In the church we call this time Advent. Advent is the beginning of our church year and it occurs when the days are becoming shorter. December 21st, the shortest day of the year is just a few days before Christmas. The fact that Advent begins in a time of increasing darkness is a reminder to all believers that the world often looks darker before the light comes.

In our scripture reading, Isaiah is praying fervently for God to come down to earth. He is begging God, maybe even raging at God to come and help his people. This is an important witness to us. We too are encouraged to share our deepest longings with God. God relishes this kind of sharing. God is not put off by intense feelings, but rather longs for an open, honest communication similar to what Isaiah is offering.

Isaiah is interceding on behalf of the people of Israel who are exiles and captives. The people had lost their close connection with God. They had become “unclean” filled with greed and idolatry. As Isaiah put it, even their “righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth . . . There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you.”

Isaiah sees the great impossibility of the situation, the place where no human answer can apply. His people need the presence of the Holy God, the powerful God, the giver of the law, but the people are unclean, filthy. The law teaches that nothing holy can come near anything unclean. The unclean are under righteous judgment. His guilty people are unworthy but in great need. They are poor, mourning, and broken. What will happen?

But the prayer of Isaiah is not over . . . Like a small candle lit in the midst of total darkness, Isaiah uses a small three letter word: “Yet!”

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay. You are the potter. We are all the work of your hand. We are all your people. You love us. You made us. You claim us. We belong to you. Like clay in your hand, you infuse us with the warmth of your life. You form us with an identity of value and worth. You mold us to be filled with your presence and meaning. You strengthen us with the removal of our impurities. Father, we are all the work of your hands!

God did hear the prayer of Isaiah to come down. He came down to a little rural town called Bethlehem and into our midst in the little clay lump of a stable and was born as a baby into our hands. God refuses to give up on us. May we also not give up on God. Let us give all that we have and all that we are back to God as we prepare for Christ to be born anew in us and our world. Joy!

A Blessing of Teddy Bears!

On Sunday, November 13, the Riggs Congregation was blessed to receive a wonderful donation of Teddy Bears by Tom Jones of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tom's sister Donna had recently passed away. She collected the bears throughout her life. Tom donated hundreds of bears for the church to distribute as a way of sharing God's love with the world. Thanks, Tom, and God bless you!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Fruit of the Spirit

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” - Galatians 5:22

The Holy Spirit of God is a wondrous, mysterious, multifaceted force that provides meaning, sustenance and direction for our lives. The Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22 lists nine different “fruits” or qualities of God’s Spirit. This list gives us an insight into the nature of God. It also helps us know which qualities God is trying to bring to fruition in us.

Love is the first fruit listed because it is the greatest of them all. All of the other fruits seem to be components of love. The Bible tells us that God is love. So if you want to know God, then be a loving person and allow others to love you back. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4:7-21.

Joy can be put on and worn like clothes. Joy comes from understanding how incredibly blessed we are each day. When we wake up in the morning, putting on joy is as essential as brushing our teeth and getting dressed. If we do not feel joy in our heart, we can search for it and find it. Start each day with a joyful heart. Read John 15:1-11 and Philippians 2:1-5

The Peace of God is not just found in the absence of struggle or turmoil but actually can be most profound in the midst of struggle. God’s peace and comfort is but a prayer away. It is waiting for us no matter how difficult or stressful the circumstances in our lives. Read John 14:25-31 and Ephesians 2:17-21

Patience comes from understanding that God exists beyond time. We live in the world of time. Days pass, clocks tick, schedules are kept. God is eternal and beyond time. God’s work is accomplished in “God’s time.” Being aligned with God’s Spirit helps you be patient with the process. Read Romans 8:18-25, Ephesians 4:1-6, and 1 Timothy 1:16-17

True kindness has no strings attached. Living in God’s Spirit means that you will be “good for nothing.” You will be able to offer help, show kindness to others without expecting anything in return. Read Colossians 3:12-17, Titus 3:4-7, Micah 6:6-8

Generosity brings tremendous hope to the world. Generosity makes a way when there does not seem to be a way. Generosity makes dreams come true. Whether you are the giver or the receiver of generosity, you always feel like you are in the midst of a miracle. Read 2 Corinthians 9:1-15,

Faithfulness is like entering a cone. The further you go into faithfulness, the more God seems to ask you to give up and return to God. It seems like your life is becoming squeezed and purged of “ungodly” things. But this is only the beginning! God can pull us through the point at the end of the cone into a world of freedom and abundance beyond anything we can imagine. Nothing we give up for God compares to what we receive in return. Read Luke 16:10-13, 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, Revelations 2:10

Gentleness comes from strength. God is the strongest being and therefore God can be the most gentle. Those who are the weakest must put on a show to prove they are strong. But if you belong to God and your strength comes from God, you have nothing to prove and gentleness can be your way of life. Read Philippians 4:4-7, James 3:13-18, and 1 Peter 3:13-17

Self-Control is a bit of a paradox. We are most in control of ourselves when we have given over our control to God. Our ability to bear the fruit of the Spirit is essentially an act of God. We can have self-control and make self-sacrificing and difficult choices because God gives us the power to accomplish what we can not on our own. Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 and 2 Peter 1:3-11.

I encourage you to memorize this list of nine fruits of the Spirit. Memorizing them is an important step in making them a part of us. Followers of Jesus do all we can to develop these qualities within ourselves with God’s help. We know, though, that if we are blessed to bear any of these fruits, they do not come from our own efforts, but primarily through an act of God blessing our lives. The fruits of the Spirit are always a “God thing.”

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Fruit of the Spirit Sermon Series

Our new summer sermon series is based on Galatians 5:22 “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” We will be using the following texts for the series.

July 24 - “Love” – 1 Corinthians 13
July 31 - “Joy” - John 15:1-17, Philippians 2:1-5
August 14 - “Peace” – John 14:25-31, Ephesians 2:17-21
August 21 - “Patience” – Romans 8:18-25, Ephesians 4:1-6, 1 Timothy 1:16-17
August 28 - “Kindness” - Colossians 3:12-17, Titus 3:4-7, Romans 11:17-24
September 4 - “Generosity” – 2 Corinthians 9:1-15,
September 11 - “Faithfulness” - Luke 16:10-13, 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, Revelations 2:10
September 18 - “Gentleness” – Philippians 4:4-7, James 3:13-18, 1 Peter 3:13-17
September 25 - “Self-Control” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, 2 Peter 1:3-11

Friday, July 15, 2011

What Does God Want?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” - Matthew 25:31-40

Human beings have a great capacity for being self centered. We know what we like and what we want. We live in a culture that encourages us to focus a great deal of time and energy making sure that our wants are taken care of. Self care is important and it does please God when we care for ourselves and our families well. But as we read scripture we discover that God has a special preference for people who are not being cared for, people who are hungry, struggling and suffering in a variety of ways.

God’s heart is grieved when people suffer, especially people who are living life unaware that God loves them and is there for them. When we care for people in need, it is as if we are caring for God directly because God identifies so strongly with suffering people. God wants us to make connections with people through loving acts of kindness on behalf of God. In this way we are helping God to become known and become real for people.

The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of God’s love, freely given with no strings attached. How can we help people know this message? The best way is to live it out in our actions. When we share God’s love with others, totally free, no strings attached, we are revealing the Gospel to the world. Members of the Sturgeon United Methodist Church along with members from the Sturgeon Baptist and Sturgeon Christian Churches will be joining together to feed lunches to any hungry child in the Sturgeon area for the next month.

Beginning, Monday, July 18 and running through Friday, August 19, in the basement fellowship hall of the Sturgeon United Methodist Church lunches will be served Monday through Friday from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. The food for the meal is being provided by the Central Missouri Food bank. It will include sandwiches, milk, fruit, and dessert. The lunch is provided for any child up to age eighteen. It is totally free, no strings attached. Adults are also welcome to eat if there is food left once all of the children have been fed.

We know that this witness of loving kindness will bring joy to God’s heart as we care for people in need. We pray for more opportunities to live out the Gospel in this way, day by day, little by little, freely given, no strings attached. It is the way God. It is what God wants.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

God's Foundational Heartbeats

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. . . . Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. - Matthew 7:7-8, 24-25

Last week, in a wonderful answer to prayer, I had the privilege of preaching at the Sturgeon High School Baccalaureate. A baccalaureate is a special commissioning service for High School graduates during which we honor their accomplishments and pray a special blessing on their future life and work. This was the first baccalaureate service in many years in Sturgeon and I believe it brought much joy to God’s heart.

My sermon focused on selected verses from Matthew chapter 7 including those printed above. I shared a story about bringing my son home for the first time as a tiny baby. He was so small and I didn’t quite know what to do with him. I knew one day we would be playing catch and arm wrestling, but at that moment the only thing I could think to do was put my ear to his chest and listen to his heartbeat and then hold him to my chest and share my heartbeat with him.

In a similar way, our relationship with God can be challenging at first. God is spirit, beyond our comprehension in so many ways. But scripture implores us to make God the foundation of our life. Where do we start in building a solid connection with God? I believe it is in seeking God’s heart, listening for God’s heartbeat. God’s heartbeat is sending out a message to the world much like a lighthouse sends beams of light into the darkness to guide and protect us.

During the baccalaureate, I shared with the graduates my sense that God is sending out heartbeat messages that build upon each other, that are foundational to each other. The first heartbeat of God is simply: “I am!” (Exodus 3:14, John 14:6) “I am God. I am here. I am with you. I am real.” This is the beginning point of our relationship with God. If we do not actively seek God, we will not sense God’s heartbeat. But with a desire to know God, we can sense the great “I am” being sent out to all the world

The next foundational heartbeat of God is built upon the first one. It is shared over and over again by Jesus and by angels often before any other words are spoken: “Do not be afraid!” (Isaiah 44:1-8, Luke12:22-32) “Do not fear, do not worry, do not be anxious, everything will be okay.” Once we acknowledge the presence of God, the essential next step is to take a deep breath, to relax and trust the process.

When we know that God is present and that we do not need to be afraid, God’s next foundational heartbeat is the one thing that lasts forever: “I love you!” (1 Corinthians 13, John 3:16, 1 John 4:7) “I love you perfectly and completely exactly as you are. There is nothing you need to do or say or become for me to love you more.” God is the only being that knows us completely and loves us completely. Ultimately it is God’s love that saves us. It is God’s perfect love that casts out all fear.

When we know these three fully, the fourth foundational heartbeat is about the meaning of our life. (Jeremiah 1:4-5 and 29:11) “I have a plan and a purpose for your life and I have known that plan since before you were born.” God’s plan had been built into our DNA, into the families and communities that help raise us. Finally, after embracing the first four heartbeats, the fifth one is all about assurance. (Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:8-11) “I have everything you need to fulfill my plan. If you ever find that I am all you have know that I am all you need.” We are not in this life alone. We have a Good Shepherd watching over us, leading us and providing for our needs. We can try to make it on our own for a while, but we won’t get very far or do very well. Our true identity is in being a child of God, living out God’s purpose for our life. It is what it is all about and it doesn’t get any better than this.

By the Numbers

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
- Psalm 23

A young man started a new job working on a factory assembly line. On his first day, the young man was paired with an older worker who helped him learn the job. About mid morning one of the workers on the assembly line shouted out “three!” and everyone burst into laughter. A little while later, another worker shouted out “sixteen!” followed by even more laughter. Just before they broke for lunch, another one of the workers shouted out “twenty-three!” and the whole assembly line doubled over in uproarious laughter.

During lunch the young man asked his co-worker why everyone laughed so hard when people shouted out random numbers. The older worker explained that since they had been working together for many years they knew everyone’s jokes so they decided to number them and just call out the numbers instead of saying the whole joke. The young man was impressed by this and he decided to give it a try after lunch. So when they had been working awhile, the young man shouted, “three!” but it was followed by complete silence. He thought hard about which numbers brought the most laughter in the morning. “Sixteen,” he shouted, but still no response. Finally he remembered twenty-three got a great response so he shouted it out enthusiastically, but no one laughed.

When the work day was over the young man asked his co-worker about why no one responded when he shouted out the very same numbers that had brought so much laughter in the morning. The older worker put his arm around the young man and said, “Now don’t take this too hard, but the truth is not everyone knows how to tell a joke!”

It is hard to imagine people actually responding to numbers in that way, but for Christians who study scripture seriously it is not that far fetched. For instance, if we simply put the word, “John” before the numbers “three” and “sixteen” immediately we remember the one scripture that sums up the gospel the best: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Or if we put the word, “Psalm” before the number “twenty-three” we are transported into the presence of the Lord as our Good Shepherd who leads us to a place of comfort, peace and protection.

Memorizing scripture is by no means a requirement for being a faithful Christian, but when we take the time to do so, the scriptures become a living part of us. We are currently in the middle of the season of Lent when we take a deeper look at our lives and try to make changes that will draw our lives closer to God. One important change could be to spend extra time committing favorite scriptures to memory. Let them become a vital part of who you are as you prepare for the Holy Week of our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection.

My suggestions for powerful scriptures to memorize in addition to John 3:16 and Psalm 23 are: Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Romans 12:9-21, 1 John 4:7-14, Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:12-17.