When I was a little girl, around the age of 4 years old, I was involved in a “kitchen accident” where I was scalded on both legs from an exploding pressure cooker. This “accident” left me with second degree burns on my legs and third degree burns on my left ankle. As a result of my burns, I had to undergo various treatments to relieve the pain and subsequent skin grafts. Thankfully, l do not remember most of those treatments, except one which was extremely painful for me. The interesting part of this is what my Daddy did to help me through this ordeal.
Realizing the pain his little girl was going to go through, my Daddy handed me something to hold and focus on as the doctor proceeded. He handed me 5 silver dollars and said, “Honey, look at these coins as the doctor does what he needs to do. As the pain gets worse and worse, you look deeper and deeper at them, focusing on them. And before you know it, the doctor will be done.”
Deep is good, right? Every once in a while, friends want to have deep conversations. It is good for philosophers to think deep thoughts. Coaches want to have a deep bench. Fans want their teams to go deep into the playoffs. Investors are hoping for a deep recovery. Gardeners want their plants to have deep roots.
“Deep” implies substance. If something is deep, it’s profound, it’s real, it’s enduring. We want to be deep people. We want to live deep and meaningful lives. ''Deeper'' is a word that defines our desire for each person, going a little deeper, pushing out into deeper waters, getting away from the norm.
We also have a deep spiritual hunger that resides in us that calls out to God, a desire to go deeper in our relationship with God. The deep waters of God's Spirit are calling out to fill the deep places in our hearts. We respond with our prayers and our spiritual hunger that drives us to the Word of God and worship. There is a place in our worship where the waves of God's presence can come upon us again and again, until we find ourselves in ''deep waters.'' Worship is our pathway to deeper waters.
With that in mind, we are embarking on another sermon series entitled “Living Deeply-A Letter from John” and with the words found in Apostle John’s first letter, hopefully we learn what it means to live deeply in both Son and Father.
And by the way, those coins that my Daddy handed to me did help me through that terrible ordeal. But as I look back on it now, I believe it was my Daddy being right there with me that truly helped me to go deeper into myself and push pass the pain; kind of like what the Father and Son does for me now!
If you know me, then you know these two verses from Proverbs are my mantra for life. These wisdom-filled verses bring me strength in times of weakness and focus when my brain is scattered into a bunch of different places. I have read that these two verses are probably the most memorized verses in the Bible. That is good news to me, but as I once again reflect on them, I noticed something else that comes from them; 3 commands and a promise.
Of course, the first command is to “trust in the LORD with all your heart.” If anything of eternal value and good is going to happen in our lives, we need to begin trusting God, and half-hearted faith will not cut it. Then the next command is to “lean not on your own understanding.” These two really go together quite nicely, for you can’t trust in the LORD and lean on your own understanding at the same time. Sometimes, you just have to trust God and not yourself.
The third command is to “acknowledge Him in all your ways.” To experience God’s empowerment is to know (“acknowledge”) Him at work in every part of our lives. There is really no difference between the sacred and the secular. He is there, working all the time. When we can see that on a regular basis we will experience His empowerment in a special way.
After following those three commands, we get to experience the promise! In response to all this obedience, God clears out a straight path ahead for us – “He will make your paths straight.” Isn’t that a great promise! God knows where we are, God knows where we need to go, God knows the best way to get there, and God even knows what time we need to arrive!
When you can’t see the end of the tunnel … when there are no answers to the overwhelming crisis you’re in … when you don’t understand anything that’s happening to you … that’s when you really just need to “trust the Lord!”
Leaning on God’s trust and His understanding can be disconcerting when the world tells you differently. But when I do relax in His gentle Spirit and just “trust the Lord”, miraculous and wonderful things DO happen.
I imagine myself protected by His fiery hedge of protection and tower of refuge. He is there – your strength, your security, your shield against a powerful enemy or a terrible situation that threatens you.
I rely on God’s ways, not mine. My solutions, my insights, my ideas may or may not resolve the problem, but God assures me that He has a way. Every day God has a word for me. I find it when I read, memorize, mediate on, and apply the Word of God.
It’s tough in America today not to look, think, and act like the “world.” Why? One reason is that the “world” surrounds us – it invades our home, our TV, our families, our friends. When we put our trust in God, however, we say to God, “Change my thinking – renew my mind – so that I begin to look, think and act according to Your will and I’ll trust You with the results.”
As a pastor, I have leaned on God through all the different aspects of pastoral ministry. As an individual, I have leaned on God through the many hills and valleys of life. May God continue to lead us through our ministry together at Spirit of Hope United Methodist Church!
Trusting in God,
We all want to help each other, but sometimes we are not sure where or what that help should be. Of course we can pray for each other, but sometimes they may need more than just a prayer. Here are just a few ideas:
1. Provide rides to doctors’ appointments. If your friend is ill, take her to her doctor appointments. Wait with him, comfort her. Don’t turn away from him discomfort.
2. Go grocery shopping. Provide food and necessities to someone who isn’t able to make it to the grocery store or who can’t afford it at the moment.
3. Cleaning house. This one is for all the new moms out there. People tend to want to come over and hold our babies. What would be super helpful instead would be for people to come over and wash dishes or do laundry so that mom can take a nap with her little ones.
4. Cooking. Make regular meals for someone who is ill, just had a baby, or is otherwise unable to cook for themselves.
5. Babysitting. If you know a couple whose marriage is in a difficult place, offer to watch their children so they can have some time together, just the two of them. Or maybe you know a mom who just needs an hour or two on her own to regain her sanity.
6. One on one Bible study. If you have a friend who is struggling in their faith or wants to build a deeper relationship with the Lord, meet with him weekly. Disciple her. Live out Titus 2.
7. Regular phone calls or video chats. If you’re far away and can’t be there to physically help, commit to spending time weekly to pour into your hurting friend.
8. Go for walks together. Simply spend time together. Sometimes just being there and being willing to listen is more than enough.
9. Share about yourself. Be willing to open up. Let go of the “perfect Christian” façade and be willing to share your struggles and faults. Let your friend know they are not alone.
10. Possibly the most important one: Ask your friend what he or she needs! How can I help? Then be ready and willing to follow through.
If you feel like whatever you have to offer is inadequate or that you have no idea how to help just do something! God will equip you. God will multiply whatever small offering you have for someone in need. God will use you to bless many, you need only be willing.
It’s time to start being bold, brave, loving, and fearless in living out our faith with others. It’s time to start living an authentic life in Christ. It’s time to become more like Jesus.
For most of us, this Sunday isn’t flagged on our calendars as Pentecost Sunday, but if it weren’t for Pentecost, we wouldn’t know about Easter. It should be a big deal for Christians, and there are some reasons why it’s a day worth celebrating and wear RED.
Back Story is Important Before we jump into the importance of Pentecost, we must remember what lead up to it through the remembrance that Jesus spent forty days after his resurrection with his disciples (Acts 1:3). Imagine those moments — the risen Savior in a glorified body talking and praying with his close friends (Luke 24:39-43), but it could not last because Jesus must ascend to the Father and establish his everlasting reign by receiving, as the God-man, all dominion, power, and authority (Luke 24:44-51 & Daniel 7:13-14). Watching Jesus ascend to heaven (Acts 1:11), the disciples must have felt an immediate sense of loss. But Jesus steadied them with an important promise: “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).
Remembering Israel’s Deliverance So, on the seventh day after the ascension, we find the disciples gathered in Jerusalem, praying, waiting, and celebrating the Feast of Weeks. This important annual festival was observed on the seventh Sabbath after Passover. At the conclusion of Passover, the first sheaf of the barley harvest would be offered before God in the temple, anticipating the greater harvest that was to follow in the summer. On the fiftieth day after Passover (Pentecost comes from the Greek word for fifty), all Israel would come to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate in God’s presence. Parents, children, male and female servants, sojourners, the fatherless, and widows would all give thanks and feast in memory of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage (Deuteronomy 16:9-12).
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us that when the disciples were gathered on the day of Pentecost, suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance—Acts 2:2-4.
According to Luke, Jews from every tribe under heaven were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Learning what had happened, an international multitude gathered to find the disciples declaring the gospel in languages that each person could understand. As they marveled, Peter explained the miracle as the fulfillment of God’s word: This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”—Acts 2:16-18
Peter goes on to proclaim that what has happened in their hearing is the validation of the lordship of Jesus the Messiah and the realization of the promises of God (Acts 2:29-36). Those gathered are “cut to the heart,” and three thousand of them receive the good news of Jesus as Messiah and are baptized (Acts 2:41). The rest of the Book of Acts develops the world-transforming changes that have begun in these moments at Pentecost.
So what is the importance of Pentecost for us? Jesus’ promise to never forsake his own is fulfilled. As painful as the parting at the ascension might have been, Jesus assured the disciples that it was to their advantage that he would go away, “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. . . . When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7, 13-14)
The fulfillment of the promise of Jesus was the outpouring of the gift of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and, as Peter proclaimed, on all of God’s people in this new era (Acts 2:38). The promises of the new covenant are ours through the indwelling Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33 & Ezekiel 36:26). Jesus did not end his work on earth with the ascension — he continues it now through his Spirit-indwelt church. We, therefore, can take fresh courage in Jesus’s words, “Behold, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age”—Matthew 28:20
The global proclamation of the gospel is launched. Jesus’s death at Passover and his mighty resurrection three days later signaled the “first fruit” of God’s victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:20-24). Jesus had accomplished everything necessary for the gospel to run and triumph (Hebrews 2:14-15 & Revelation 20:1-3) and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost signals that the greater harvest has begun. The three thousand souls added to the church on Pentecost hailed from all corners of the Roman world. They, in turn, would carry the gospel to their families and communities. The narrative sweep of Acts follows the Spirit-indwelt disciples as they carry the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). You heard about Easter because of Pentecost.
The coming of fuller restoration and a greater celebration arises. At Pentecost, Peter proclaims that the prophecy of Joel 2:28-31 has come to pass. Intriguingly, this prophecy of the eschatological gift of the Spirit comes immediately after another striking promise from God in Joel 2:25-27; I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
While Jesus’s reign is secure and eternal, it has yet to come to its fullest expression on the earth. While death has been decisively defeated, it has yet to be put to a final end (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). Paul reminds us that creation longs for its final restoration and that even we ourselves, who “have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).
Pentecost is a pointer that history is inexorably moving towards the restoration of all things. The bridegroom has come; his bride is making herself ready. We await the greatest celebration of all. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9)
I have just given you the scriptural supportive importance of Pentecost and why we celebrate it. For me, Pentecost is that special celebration of how much God and Jesus wants us to succeed in our spiritual connection to them. To the very end of his earthly ministry, Jesus was concerned about us being alone; so he promises us that the same spirit that sustained him during his ministry will be given to us. The same spirit that unites the father and the son can be set loose in our lives, bringing us in unity with the trinity.
It is possible for God to place a small portion of himself within each of us, but only if we yield to the presence of his spirit. God’s eternal desire is be so close to us that he is in us; God-in-you and God-in-me. Do we have the same desire that God has? Do we want to be as close to God as God wants to be to us?
My answer is a resounding, YES and I’ve have it because of Pentecost. See you on Sunday celebrating the yielding to the Spirit.
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."
Here we are finishing our journey to the cross as approach Holy Week and all the activities that occurs through it. Are you looking at this time of Lent like a time to be "gotten through" as quickly as possible as we move toward Easter? Sorry to say but, Easter can become the end of a journey or ordeal we suffer through.
Perhaps we should take a different approach and treat Easter as both an ending and a beginning, a midpoint around which we truly shape our Christian lives. What if we begin to look at Lent as the ending of one life and the time immediately following Easter as the beginning of a new life?
Winter, if that’s what we call this time in Arizona, seems to sharpen our senses in anticipation of spring. So, too, Lent may sharpen our spiritual senses to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste the resurrection and the new life that begins at Easter.
Even though our season of Lent is coming to an end, why not change gears just a little and base our focus or vision on a centuries-old tradition of the church which sees Lent as a special time of intensive spiritual preparation that climaxes a longer period of preparation (some say three years) for baptism. In this tradition, baptism occurs at Easter, marking the formal end of a non-Christian life, even as it marks the beginning of a new life centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Easter can then, serve as the "hinge" on which our Christian lives turn. It is both the end and the beginning, our death and our anticipated resurrection. In the above scripture, we read where the apostle Paul speaks to this idea, focus or vision.
As we continue through Lent and our series on “Journey to the Cross,” focus on those endings and beginnings. Hopefully your spiritual senses will be sharpened in readiness for new life as you journey toward both Easter and toward Pentecost.
Patiently living with through endings and beginnings,
Grace and peace to you as we embark on a journey of reflection, meditation, worship, and service over the course of the next several weeks of Lent.
The Lenten season differs in many ways from the Advent season: we don’t have a hanging of the greens, we don’t sing carols, and instead of anticipating the birth of the Christ child, we prepare ourselves for His death and resurrection. Now, I admit that putting it that way, this all sounds rather gloomy in contrast—but we can rejoice because we know He has risen, He has risen indeed!
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”-ROMANS 12:1-2
Paul writes to the Romans that we believers are called to study, worship, and renew our minds and in so doing, we may know the perfect will of God. Just as we marvel over the circumstances of Christ’s entrance into our world during Advent, we can also find ourselves amazed at the ability, creativity, and love of God. During Lent, we ponder how Jesus left this world only to rise from the grave to sit at God’s holy, heavenly hand.
After spending forty days being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus stayed busy. During His last week on earth: he cleared the temple, cursed the fig tree, teaches the Sermon on the Mount—and that’s just the first two days. In fact, the majority of the Gospels focus on this latter part of Christ’s life. This Lenten season, won’t you join me in learning more about our Savior and the different people that joined Him on the Journey to the Cross?
Blessings in Christ,
Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. Some of you are very familiar with this season we call Lent, but others may wonder why we begin with ashes on our forehead, continue with days of reflection and climax with lots of services before Easter. I came across an article from Upper Room (our UMC global publishing ministry dedicated to supporting the spiritual formation of Christians seeking to know and experience God more fully) which addresses some questions that pop up when we contempt this thing we call LENT. I have edited it just a bit so that the contents are more relevant to us. Enjoy and join me as we journey through a most sacred time.
When is Lent?
It's the forty days before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like a little Easter. Basically, it's about one-tenth of a year (like a tithe of time). Ash Wednesday begins Lent and this year it is on March 6th with Easter falling on April 21st.
In earlier times, people used Lent as a time of fasting and repentance. Since they didn't want to be tempted by sweets, meat and other distractions in the house, they cleaned out their cabinets. They used up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started, and fixed meals with all the meat available. It was a great feast! Through the years Mardi Gras has evolved (in some places) into a pretty wild party with little to do with preparing for the Lenten season of repentance and simplicity. Too bad, but Christians still know its origin, and hang onto the true Spirit of the season.
Ash Wednesday is the real beginning of Lent.
Ash Wednesday, March 6th, usually begins with a service where we recognize our mortality, repent of our sins, and return to our loving God. We recognize life as a precious gift from God, and return our lives towards Jesus Christ. We may make resolutions and commit to change our lives over the next forty days so that we might be more like Christ. Our Ash Wednesday service will be begin at 7 am and end at 7 pm. That’s right 12 hours of continuous music, reflection and then, for those who wish, the sign of the cross will be placed on a person's forehead with ashes. While the ashes remind us of our mortality and sin, the cross reminds us of Jesus' resurrection (life after death) and forgiveness. It's a powerful, non-verbal way that we can experience God's forgiveness and renewal as we return to Jesus.
In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust, dirt, ash, whatever. Repentance, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear "sackcloth" (scratchy clothing) to remind them that sin is pretty uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.
Where do the ashes come from?
On what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem while people waved palms and cheered him on. Less than a week later, Jesus was killed. The palms that were waved in joy became ashes of sorrow. We get ashes for Ash Wednesday by saving the palms from Palm Sunday, burning them, and mixing them with a little oil. It's symbolic.
So what is LENT?
At Jesus' baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased." Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit. Where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. During his time there he was tempted by Satan and found clarity and strength to resist temptation. Afterwards, he was ready to begin his ministry. Maybe Jesus needed some time with God to sort through the major changes happening in his life. Maybe he needed to get away from family, friends and the familiar routine in order to see God (and himself) more clearly. Perhaps he wanted some intentional time with God as he searched for direction and answers like you. Like Jesus, we may need to take some serious time to pray and listen for God.
Why "DO" Lent? How do I start?
Are you searching for something more? Tired of running in circles, but not really living life with direction, purpose or passion? It's pretty easy to get caught up in the drama of classes, relationships, family, and work. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. We try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless TV, meaningless chatter, stimulants, alcohol, too many activities or other irrelevant stuff. We run away from life and from God.
Lent is a great time to "repent"—to return to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It's a 40 day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart. You might try one of these practices for Lent:
FASTING: Some people have been known to go without food for days. But that's not the only way to fast. You can fast by cutting out some of the things in your life that distract you from God. Some Christians use the whole 40 days to fast from candy, TV, soft drinks, cigarettes or meat as a way to purify their bodies and lives. You might skip one meal a day and use that time to pray instead. Or you can give up some activity like worry or reality TV to spend time outside enjoying God’s creation. What do you need to let go of or "fast" from in order to focus on God? What clutters your calendar and life? How can you simplify your life in terms of what you eat, wear or do?
SERVICE: Some Christians take something on for Christ. You can collect food for the needy, volunteer once a week to tutor children, or work for reform and justice in your community. You can commit to help a different stranger, co-worker or friend everyday of Lent. Serving others is one way we serve God.
PRAYER: Christians also use Lent as a time of intentional prayer. You can pray while you walk, create music or art as a prayer to God, or savor a time of quiet listening. All can be ways of becoming more in tune with God.
At Spirit of Hope UMC, our Lenten Sermon series is entitled Journey to the Cross and we begin this journey on Ash Wednesday, March 6th, where we prepare our hearts, our minds and our souls for a yearly reminder of the daily call to journey with Jesus. Each Sunday through Lent, we will meet different individuals who encountered Jesus on His journey to the cross.
Along with our sermon series, Journey to the Cross, there will be other ways to celebrate this tradition of Lent. I encourage you to experience Lent with us through:
ASH WEDNESDAY SERVICE, MARCH 6th
LENTEN STUDY-(Tuesday Evenings)
SPECIAL SERVICES DURING HOLY WEEK
May God bless your journey and this time to grow closer to Him,
On February 2, clergy and laity from various churches in the West Valley gathered together at different places throughout our state for a “Day of Learning.” The workshop topics and leaders were chosen with the goal of strengthening our church ministries. These topics included Reaching Out to the Millennials, Behavioral Health-Caring for Other and Caring for Yourself, Discipling Systems, Congregational Care Ministries, Going Green and Not My War.
The day was filled with interacting with familiar colleagues and getting to know new ones, learning different ways to strengthening our ministries already in place and learning about new ministries we might want to pursue in the future.
But as I listened to all the different ways to strengthen our ministries (basically the church), it all came down to one thing (doesn’t it usually come down to “one thing”). That “one thing” is RELATIONSHIPS.
Within the church settings, growth or strength in ministry comes about when we start truly caring about each other and building relationships with each other, basically we get to know who we are. All that occurs when we share about who we are. It is strengthening when we are there for each other. Maybe it is a simple as phone call or text. Maybe it is a card that comes in the mail. Maybe it is welcoming someone new into your sphere of influence. Getting to know each other or building relationships come in all different forms.
Of course that means we all need to share of ourselves with each other and that can be scary. Things won’t be so scary when we learn to accept people the way they are. You don't have to agree with them all the time in order to form a relationship with them. No one likes to be judged, so relationships are built on providing a safe place for everyone.
For the next few weeks the weekend messages from me during worship will be about growing together as a church or building up the body of Christ through the “One Another” teachings of Christ.
Looking forward to growing together,