Without Easter, the Christian faith is a waste of time.
That’s what the apostle Paul basically said in that verse above. Resurrection not only gives us hope for eternal life, but it also confirms that what Jesus said in his earthly life was true. Jesus said he would rise from the dead. If he hadn’t, who would have taken his teachings seriously thereafter?
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,” Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 20. The resurrection was God’s stamp of authenticity on Jesus, proclaiming, “Yes, Jesus is my Son. Yes, he has overcome death. Yes, what he told you is the truth. Trust in what he says! Follow him!”
During Lent we prepare our hearts through acts of self-denial, “giving up something,” because it helps us examine our commitment to Christ and meditate on the suffering and death of our Lord.
Acts of self-denial are appropriate when the sacrifice connects with Christian commitment. But there is another view of Lent: a time to prepare to celebrate the Resurrection. When we prepare to celebrate something, we often do housekeeping chores. If we are going to have a party at our house, we first spend time cleaning the house. We prepare refreshments. We may even decorate. When the guests arrive, we celebrate. Preparing is never quite as much fun as celebrating, but it takes the preparation to make the celebration possible and worthwhile.
Lent is our time of preparing, spiritual housecleaning – a time to dust off our faith, shine up our commitment, and decorate our lives with the joy of Christian life. Then, when Easter comes, we know in our hearts what the celebration is all about.
At Spirit of Hope United Methodist Church, there will be some opportunities for spiritual housecleaning and celebrating. Hopefully you will plan to include one of these opportunities, or better yet - all of them, in your holy season.
Palm Sunday Service – Palm Parade and Easter Egg Hunt
Holy Week Reflection – Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Sunrise Easter Service – 6:01 a.m. followed by Easter Brunch
Easter Service – 10 a.m. Choir Cantata “The Easter Story”
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
This is the month so many people do their best to share their love with one another in so many ways as we celebrate Valentine's Day. There is no greater feeling in the world than to be loved. Children experience love from their parents and learn as they grow up what it means to nurture and love another. When God blesses us to find that special person and fall “in love,” no expression can truly describe the joy they have found. True love is sometimes difficult to find in our world. Divorce rates are high, and the number of singles in our country is on the rise. But the power of love to transform and rejuvenate relationships is illustrated through many passages within the Bible.
Yet, let me just take a moment to remind you of the amazing love of our Lord Jesus Christ whose example of true and perfect love should be held up for all to see.
Jesus was clearly saying in the above scripture that our love towards one another as the family of God should not be dictated by "feelings" because you cannot give a commandment to feel a certain way. Yet, this love He wants us to have is a choice that we make in our hearts to love one another even as He loved us!
I want to encourage you during this time of year and special celebration of love, to take a little extra time to appreciate and love the family of God.
We live in a world in which actions are only determined by the feelings of the moment. If a person feels in love, they do all they can to bless that person who loves them. Yet, so often when the emotions are not what they once were, their level of commitment to that person takes a direct hit.
We cannot go through this life without being offended, and often our offense arises out of unmet expectations, yet these are the times our love is tested! I encourage you today to pass the test, and love one another not only in the times of harmony and agreement, but also in those challenging moments when it is difficult to do so!
In Christ's Love,
There are thousands of promises of God in the Bible. God’s Word is truth, and whatever God says will come to fruition. We cognitively know that God will keep those promises, but when life happens–when we experience difficulty and hardship, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that God’s Word is still true, despite our circumstances.
Have you ever been filled with such depression and despair that you couldn’t see that God’s promises still ring true in your life? No matter how we sometimes may feel, we must remember the fact that God will always keep his promises–no matter what.
With that in mind, for the next few weeks, we will be looking at those promises of God that are found in the Bible; not thousands of them but a few that may speak some truth to us in a sermon series entitled, the Promises of God. This series will begin on January 18th at our Saturday evening service and January 19th at our Sunday morning service and end just before Ash Wednesday which starts the Season of Lent. Everyone likes to a hear about promises, especially those that come true! Truth can be found in the Promises of God!
Looking forward to stand on the promises of God,
A New Tesament reference to this prophecy is found in MATTHEW 1:23 and goes on to share the meaning of the name “Immanuel” which is “God with us.” I don’t know about you, but the wonderful assurance I feel when I read a verse such as this gives me great assurance for the day and age we live. If there is ever a day we need the assurance of the presence of God, it is today, and we know God’s presence still abides with us through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus came to earth over 2,000 years ago in the form of a little child, it was both the fulfillment of many prophecies declaring it would happen, but also was the beginning of the revelation of God the Father to a lost and dying world.
God was declaring who He was through the life of His Son. A powerful scripture shares this truth; JOHN 14:7-9– 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Too often we can become so enthralled with the trappings of Christmas, yet fail to realize it was ALL about God coming to earth to reveal His unconditional love and continual reaching out to mankind in mercy and grace.
As we once again celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I pray you would take time to appreciate this wonderful God who is still “with us.” He is STILL Immanuel! He is a personal God who loves you beyond anything or anyone and will be there for you even when the closest of friends turn and walk the other way.
Take time to reflect and appreciate “God with us” during this season and consider joining us at one of our Christmas Eve Services:
December 24, 2019
5:00 pm—Family Service
It’s All About the Gift
7:00 pm—Candlelight and Communion Service
A Special Encounter
Keeping Christ in Christmas,
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-18
If holidays can be said to be a color, for me, Thanksgiving is a “brown holiday” – something other than the frenzied red of the secular Christmas, the holy white of Easter, the patriotic red, white and blue of July 4th or the garish black and orange of Halloween. Brown is a peaceful, earthy tone, suggestive of fallen leaves, dried corn stalks and landscapes at the rest after the harvest.
A peaceful color is appropriate for the day. Other than a trip to the grocery store, there is, thank God, no shopping season in preparation for Thanksgiving. There are no office parties, no tinsel and no obligatory gift exchanges. More than any other special day, Thanksgiving remains private and personal. And, as someone has said, no one is “complaining that they have somehow taken the thanks out of Thanksgiving.”
No one has needed to make that complaint, for even the most hardened of us recognize that undeserved blessings come our way. Some who are less conversant with the vocabulary of the church might substitute “good luck” or “opportunities” for “blessings,” but the fact remains that the majority of us are aware that life graces us with gifts we’ve done nothing to earn. Most of us absorbed the meaning of Thanksgiving day as first-graders when we portrayed different characters in construction paper hats or bonnets or cardboard feathers we’d colored with crayons. We learned that the day was for offering thanks.
Christians have an advantage at Thanksgiving because we know who to thank. Our faith provides a perspective that enables us to see that windfalls and bounty are not something owed to us, but gifts from a loving and gracious God. Christians understand that even in hard times when obvious blessings seem scarce, we are still abundantly graced with life itself – a wonderful gift – and with the abiding presence of God.
As you offer thanks to God on this Thanksgiving season and Thanksgiving Day, may the brown peace of gratitude flood your soul.
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,