Sunday, November 20, 2016

Who Is My Neighbor?

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:25-37)

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
(Leviticus 19:34) 

Ever since the election on November 8, my Facebook news feed has been inundated with posts related to various activities regarding the impending Trump administration. Some are legitimate news stories and some are biased opinion pieces. Regardless, there is a common thread in all of these posts - people are concerned, if not downright afraid, of what to expect come next January and beyond.

One of the recurring messages I'm seeing centers around the campaign promise/threat of Mr. Trump to register Muslims and/or ban their entry into this country. It is yet unclear exactly what this would look like, especially considering the constitutional hurdles it would have to overcome. Some say that it would only apply to immigrants from predominantly Islamic countries, in order to avoid the appearance of targeting Muslims. But Mr. Trump was quite adamant in his campaign that he is suspicious of all Muslims, since "obviously" only Muslim commit terrorist attacks (sarcasm intended). Since Islamophobia is alive and well in this country, he played on the fears of his followers, knowing that "Islam" and "Muslim" are highly charged buzzwords that will always garner a response.

Again, it's not clear exactly how this will play out, but I have seen a groundswell response already. People are not waiting until something happens before acting. There seems to be a growing sentiment that if some sort of national Muslim registry is enacted, that non-Muslims will voluntarily register as Muslims, both as a show of solidarity, and to gum up the process. I applaud their enthusiasm in trying to ward off a repeat of 1930s Germany, and agree that such a registry is a very dangerous first step in a long slippery slope of sequestering various people groups who do not fit in with this new administration's idea of who is a patriotic American.

After the Muslims, who is next? Hispanics? Gay and Lesbians? Transgendered persons? Union members? Democrats? Atheists? Anyone who remembers the horrific nightmare of Hitler's reign of terror is all too familiar with how these things play out.

In the passage from Luke above, we are reminded of the familiar story of the Good Samaritan: how a Jewish man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road; how members of the religious elite went out of their way to avoid him or offer assistance; and how a Samaritan man came along, dressed the man's wounds, took him to a safe place, and paid in advance for his care. Jesus told his listeners that the Samaritan proved himself to be a true neighbor of the Jewish man, even though these two cultures normally had nothing to do with each other. The Jews felt that the Samaritans were godless people because they didn't observe the Jewish traditions or worship God in the "proper" way. The Samaritans saw the Jews as self-righteous religious snobs who wanted to keep God all to themselves. There was no love lost between the two camps. Yet this one man, full of compassion and mercy, put aside his differences to help his neighbor, and has been held up as an example to us all for the last two millennia. Jesus specifically instructed us to "Go and do likewise."

The second passage from Leviticus makes it clear that God expected His people to treat the foreigners in their land as they would treat each other, reminding them that they were once foreigners in Egypt.

Both passages are especially poignant in light of this ongoing discussion about what to do with the "Muslim problem." It is my opinion that any proposed registry or ban on Muslims simply because they might possibly pose a threat to our national security is not only unconstitutional, but downright un-Christian. Whether they are singled out for their religion (a violation of the 1st Amendment), or because of their immigrant status (a violation of God's laws), there is no justifiable excuse for such extreme measures.

While Clarke and I live in a predominantly Hispanic area of the city, I have noticed an increase of Muslims over the past several years. In fact, there is a mosque less than a mile from our house, and numerous halal shops have sprung up in strip malls all around us. We regularly see many Muslims shopping at our favorite grocery store, going about their business just like the rest of us. I see peaceful people who seem to just want to live their lives and practice their religion in relative safety and security, free from harassment or interference from the government or others. These people are my neighbors.

I don't know if I would go so far as to register as a Muslim if that day comes; I am all too familiar with the law of unintended consequences. I feel that a much more effective course of action in response to such a nefarious plan is to make sure it never happens to begin with. In last week's post, I encouraged my readers to get involved with their elected representatives, voicing their disapproval of any proposals that would erode the basic human rights of Americans and our foreign guests. My best case scenario is that such a plan would get tied up in the courts and never see the light of day. Worst case scenario would probably be full on protests, civil disobedience and rebellion. As Christians, we cannot stand by and allow our government to treat another religion any differently than we would want to be treated ourselves.

One of the reasons why Hitler was so successful in rounding up the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other marginalized groups of people was because the Protestant churches sat idly by, thinking this was not their problem. We know better now. We know who our neighbors are, and what Jesus taught us. We will not remain silent this time.

On a final note, as we head into this week of Thanksgiving, it is my prayer that each one of us finds time to be truly grateful for all our blessings, including living in a country where we are allowed to dissent with those in power. May our voices never falter.

Have a very blessed and safe week.

Pastor David

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Donald Trump, Meet Queen Esther

I've spent a great deal of time this past week thinking about the Presidential election and the fallout from it. Like many in America, I am reeling from the uncertainty that this election has fostered. Before I get into my assessment of the situation and outline a course of action, I want to revisit an ancient story that very much parallels what we're going through right now.

Enter Queen Esther. If you're not especially familiar with the story of Esther in the Old Testament, let me provide a brief synopsis:

Xerxes was the King of Persia during part of the 5th century BCE. He was an powerful ruler over a kingdom that stretched from northern Africa to India. Xerxes was extremely wealthy, self-absorbed, narcissistic, and out of touch with the common people. He had no qualms about replacing his wife when she no longer bowed to his demands. After going through a large number of young women, he finally settled on Esther, who was one of the Hebrew exiles in his kingdom (Xerxes did not know she was a Jew).

Xerxes did not appear to have much of an appetite for policy or governing, so he surrounded himself with powerful advisors who ran his kingdom for him. One of these was a man named Haman. It just so happens that Haman hated the Jews because they were foreigners, steeped in their customs and traditions, never really fitting in with the Persian culture. Haman had an agenda to wipe out the Jews, and deceptively convinced Xerxes to issue an irrevocable decree to deprive the Jews of their rights, possessions, and even their lives.

The Jews dispersed throughout the kingdom were thrown into a state of despair and terror as they realized their safety and comfort was about to be ripped from them. Esther 4:3 says, "In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes."

Esther's uncle Mordecai counseled her and told her that she alone could use her position of privilege to convince the King to alter the edict. He said that if she didn't, eventually someone else would come to the aid of the Jews, but that she would suffer the same fate as they were facing. So she rallied the local Jews to fast and pray for her, and she went to the King, begged for his mercy, and exposed the evil actions of Haman. Haman was summarily executed, and Mordecai was allowed to write a new edict in the King's name to turn the tables on those who wanted to annihilate the Jews. In the end, the Jews triumphed and were once again allowed to live in relative peace and safety.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of parallels in the story of Esther and what our country is now going through. We have just experienced the ugliest Presidential campaign in my lifetime, one in which the winner ran on a platform of hate, bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism and ablism. Basically, anyone who is not a white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian male was fair game for Donald Trump's circus-like campaign. By all accounts, President-elect Trump is a very wealthy, powerful and narcissistic individual. He loves attention and being in the spotlight. He is the consummate circus barker - appealing to the base emotions of his followers, itching their ears with what they want to hear. But I don't believe he ever wanted to be President of the United States. I believe he just wanted to get elected as POTUS; that was the real goal - to win the biggest and most important contest in the world.

Because Donald Trump has little interest in governing (something he has zero experience doing), he is already surrounding himself with powerful lobbyists who have very specific agendas. Unfortunately, some of those agendas involve rolling back the progress we have made as a nation over the past several decades, and especially during the Obama administration. Governor Pence, the VP-elect, is rabidly homophobic and has a long record of doing everything in his power to strip the rights of LGBT citizens in his state of Indiana. There is no indication that he would do otherwise once he is a heart-beat away from the Presidency.

One of the ugliest results of this election is the fact that all of the rhetoric Mr. Trump spouted during his campaign has legitimized a certain constituency of citizens who have finally found a voice for all that they have felt for a very long time, but were stifled to express in an era of political correctness. These are the people who feel that the America they know and love is being eroded away by people who are not like themselves. It appears that they now feel comfortable (and justified) for doing and saying things that they couldn't get away with just a few short months ago. In their minds, their brand of racism, bigotry and homophobia has been validated by someone running for the highest office in the land. Trump has become their de facto savior. These people have wasted no time in making it quite clear that their idea of what America should be does not include anyone who is not white, heterosexual, and "Christian" (aka not a Muslim).

Daily we hear of new reports of verbal and physical attacks on people of color, Muslims, and members of the LGBT community. Rightfully so, these targeted marginalized groups are scared. I have read countless posts from my friends across the country expressing fear and despair at what they perceive to be very real threats to their safety and well-being. Friends in same-sex marriages are wondering if they will be forced to divorce. My LGBT, Black and Asian friends are living with a cloud of fear hanging over them, wondering what the coming days and months will bring. Anyone who tries to convince them that there is nothing to fear speaks from a position of privilege, and has no right to dismiss these concerns as invalid.

I think it is safe to say that we have a problem. But I also think it is safe to say that we are not helpless or hopeless in facing this problem. Here are my suggestions for what we do going forward:

Much like Esther, we need to mobilize the marginalized communities. Regardless of the labels we wear, we need to stand together as one to combat the forces of discrimination that seek to rob us of our God-given rights as citizens of this great nation. This includes rallying our allies who are in positions of privilege and who have no immediate concerns for their safety and well-being, but sympathize with our plight.

We need to get involved. One of the greatest disappointments for me regarding this election is the fact that nearly 50% of the eligible voters in this country did not bother to vote. This apathy resulted in roughly 1/4 of the voters deciding who the next POTUS will be. This is unacceptable in a country that is supposed to operate on democratic principles. We must encourage everyone to vote, especially in the 2018 mid-term elections, when we have the opportunity to shift the balance of power in both houses of Congress. It is bad enough that we have a two-party stranglehold on the federal government, but when one party runs both houses of Congress and the White House, we lose some of the checks and balances that our founding fathers so carefully crafted.

That involvement also includes staying in touch with our elected officials. Find out who your Senators and Representatives are, get on their mailing lists, write letters to them when you have concerns about upcoming legislation. Support watch-dog organizations who are committed to holding Congress and the President accountable for their actions. Stay informed and vigilant. Do your research and don't just accept anything you read on the internet or somebody's Facebook page.

Finally, stay safe. These are troubled times. I don't want to sound alarmist, but I don't want to ignore what's going on around us right now. Congregate in safe spaces; take an ally with you if you need to go someplace that might not be safe. Learn how to protect yourself. Misguided, angry people are feeling more emboldened than ever to see how far they can go in bullying and terrorizing the "others". But most of all, don't give in to fear - the greatest tool any terrorist possesses. If you are a Christ-follower, have faith that God is going to work it all out on His timetable and in His way as we do our part.

And for those of you saying that you're going to move to Canada - just stop it. We will not give up our way of life because of bullies. This country would not exist if our founding fathers and mothers gave up that easily. They stood their ground and prevailed, knowing that the outcome would be worth any personal sacrifice necessary. If we leave, the bullies win.

Above all, know that you are loved, no matter what label(s) you may wear. We are all God's children, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

I may share more next week, but I think this is enough for now. Have a blessed and peaceful week.

Pastor David

Sunday, March 6, 2016

What Would Jesus Scream?

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
John 3:16-17

On Friday evening, Clarke and I decided to check out First Friday, a monthly event in the downtown Phoenix arts district where hundreds of businesses - restaurants, galleries, bars, and other retailers - stay open throughout the evening to attract people who might otherwise never visit them. In addition, there are numerous food trucks, street entertainers, and a myriad of vendors (we bought some local raw honey). And then there were the street "evangelists".

Ah yes, the street evangelists. They were everywhere, trying to capitalize on the throngs of people meandering their way up and down the streets and through the various venues. Bullhorns and karaoke boxes abounded, and almost without exception, the messages being screamed at the crowds were unsettling, even for those of us who follow Jesus.

Maybe unsettling isn't the right word. More like embarrassing. These supposedly well-meaning souls were turning the gospel of Christ into a circus. But not the fun kind, like the ones we used to look forward to attending when we were kids. This was the kind of circus that has the scary clowns that give you nightmares. Seriously, over and over we heard variations of a message that sounded something like this:

"You're all sinners. Unless you repent, you're going to hell. If you don't have a relationship with Jesus, you're not okay. You're lost and doomed. The wages of sin is death. The end is near."

Not once did we hear about the love of God, who sent Jesus to redeem us and give us eternal life. There was nothing attractive about these shrill messages. They were full of fear and condemnation. Apparently these folks seem to have missed the part of the Nicodemus discourse (John 3) where we're told that Jesus didn't come into the world to condemn us.

I understand that there is a brand of "evangelism" that supports what these street preachers were doing, but it has never been proven effective. Sure, some people may fall under conviction out of fear or guilt, but they usually walk away from the faith just as quickly because they were drawn to it for all the wrong reasons.

Not once in the gospels or the rest of the New Testament do we find any examples of people being bullied and berated into following Jesus. The message of Christ has always been one of attraction, not fear and compulsion. Jesus and his disciples loved people into the kingdom by building personal relationships with them, not screaming at them on the street corners.

In the Old Testament, the standard practice of the prophets was to stand on the street corners and shout out their warnings to the people. With the exception of Jonah, this never proved effective. The people ignored these preachers and scoffed at them. Most of them were viewed as crazy or fanatics, and most of them were martyred as a result. You would think Christians thousands of years later would get a clue and see that this was not an effective way to spread God's message to the lost.

It has been demonstrated over and over that the best way to reach people for Christ is to meet them where they are, understand where they are on their spiritual journey (and everyone is on some spiritual journey, whether they know it or not), and then gently show them that life with Jesus is desirable. Salvation was never meant to be fire insurance, but rather the access point to a life of grace, peace and joy, where we can have full fellowship with our Creator.

The gospel (literally "good news") has always been about invitation. If you are going to throw a party, you wouldn't think of standing outside the nearest 7-11 and yell at everyone who passes by "Hey you, ugly person! Come to my party or else bad things will happen to you!" I imagine people would think you've lost your mind. You might provide some entertainment with your antics, but I'm pretty sure you won't have to worry about running out of chips and dip at your party.

Why would anyone think that inviting people to Christ in such a manner would be well-received? Jesus told us to not be stumbling blocks for those who are trying to find their way into the kingdom (Matthew 18:6-7). I fear that most of these preachers were being stumbling blocks to the people that heard them screaming these messages of fear and condemnation. I could see the looks on the faces of people as they walked by, snickering or rolling their eyes. Clarke and I cringed every time we heard one of them, knowing the damage they were doing to the gospel message.

I suppose that if Jesus was to show up at the next First Friday event, He would shout something more like this:

"Hey, beautiful person. I love you and want to fill your life with wonderful blessings. If you are willing to be my friend, great things will happen to you and you will have an amazing spiritual journey. Come along, there's always room for one more in my Father's family."

Have a blessed week!
Pastor David

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advent 2015 - Love

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

The fourth Sunday of Advent is all about love. It is fitting that the Advent season culminates in love as we head into the final stretch before Christmas day. The incarnation of Jesus is all about love. Love was the motivating factor for God to send Jesus to earth to become the savior of all who would believe in Him.

If all we get out of Advent are the Hope, Peace and Joy from the first three Sundays, and miss out on Love, we've missed the point of this annual observance. Hope, Peace and Joy are for our benefit. Love is for the benefit of others. Without Love, we become self-absorbed and insular, content with our spiritual goodies, but not necessarily willing to share them with others. Love compels us to spread the goodness that we have received through our relationship with the Christ child to all those around us.

One of the Christmas traditions that has taken on a life of its own is that of gift giving. Originally, token gifts were distributed at Christmas as an acknowledgment of the gift that God gave humanity in the form of the baby Jesus (and, to a lesser extent, following the example of the magi who presented gifts to Jesus). Sadly, as time went on, this tradition became commercialized to the point now where most people no longer even know why they are giving or receiving gifts. This activity has become an entitlement rather than an expression of thanksgiving for what God has sacrificed for each one of us. Love has been replaced with obligation.

I am fairly confident that Jesus finds no pleasure in most of the hustle and bustle that characterizes the season during which we are supposed to be observing the miracle of His incarnation. I also find it rather comical, if not downright hypocritical, how so many Christians wage a crusade against this commercialism by crying out "Keep Christ in Christmas" while simultaneously engaging in the same frenetic behaviors that they claim to disdain. I have no hard data to back this up, but I imagine that if every Christian family in America gave all the money that they spend on Christmas to the causes of homelessness and hunger, these would be eradicated in no time. That would truly be "keeping Christ in Christmas".

Love compels us to do selfless things for those around us. Not out of obligation or guilt, but because we mirror the love that God has for each one of us. Christmas tends to bring out the best and worst in people; while many get caught up in the frenzy of shopping, decorating, and entertaining, many people also become more philanthropic during this magical time of the year. Unfortunately, that spirit of giving doesn't seem to last much beyond December 25. As Christians, we should be exemplars of love throughout the year, not just between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Jesus told His disciples that the hallmark of those who follow Him is love (John 13:35).

My prayer for each one of us is that our lives will be beacons of love, not just at Christmas time, but throughout the year. That is the best gift we can give Jesus.

Have a blessed week and a wonderful Christmas!
Pastor David

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent 2015 - Joy

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Luke 2:8-12 

The third Sunday of Advent focuses on Joy. Joy is a central theme of the birth narrative recorded in the book of Luke. The angel's proclamation to the shepherds was one of profound joy - "great joy for all the people". The song Mary sings upon arriving at her cousin Elizabeth's home is filled with joy. What was it about the birth of Jesus that elicited such joy?

Place yourself in the story, if you will. The Jews in first century Palestine had a difficult time under the oppressive Roman occupation. For centuries, they had been awaiting the promised Messiah, the One who would finally deliver them from all of their enemies - political and religious. Their ancestors had endured waive after waive of invading Gentile armies - Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and now the Romans. While the Romans allowed the Jews to maintain their religious practices, they detested the bloody temple sacrifices and looked down upon the locals as backwater hicks. The Romans lacked any compassion toward these strange foreigners, and didn't pull their punches in order to keep the Jews in line. Abusing their positions of power was seen as a badge of honor.

The Jews longed to be free from this oppression and endless taxation. They held on to the hope that one day the Messiah would finally come on the scene and set things right. I imagine they envisioned a return to the golden age of Israel as it might have been under the reign of King Solomon. Surely the Promised One of Israel would restore the "good old days".

And then the seemingly impossible happened. A young woman in a small village received a visit from a celestial messenger telling her, "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:31-33) Mary may not have been educated like the good Jewish boys, but surely she knew enough of her nation's history and the Scriptures to recognize that this was the beginning of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophesies. I imagine she was quite giddy by the time she reached Elizabeth's home, in spite of the scandal she represented.

It's also interesting to note that joy bookends the story of Jesus' life here on earth. Not only was it a major theme of His birth, but also of His resurrection. Matthew speaks of the joy the women experienced upon finding the empty tomb (28:8), and Luke records the joy the disciples displayed at the time of His ascension back into heaven (24:52). In between, the crowds were filled with joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem prior to His arrest, trial and execution (Luke 19:37). In Jesus' final discourse with His disciples the night He was betrayed, He spoke repeatedly about joy (John 16).

If joy was such a central part of the life and ministry of Jesus, it only stands to reason that it should also be central in the life of His followers. Sadly, we regularly encounter "Christians" in the media who seem to be totally devoid of joy. There seems to be no end to the fear-mongering and misguided hatred coming from people who should be exemplifying joy. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, and truly believe the things He taught, there should be no reason for not having joy in your life.

Joy is more than just a feeling. Joy is not dependent on external circumstances. Happiness depends on such things, and can be fleeting. True joy wells up from deep within a person's spirit. It comes from knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Savior and that He has entrusted us with the gift of His Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us while we walk along our spiritual journey. Nothing can take our joy away from us - but we can freely give it up when we choose to focus on the temporal things of this world - pain, sorrow, anger, betrayal - that gladly fill the vacuum when we release our joy.

True joy also cannot be kept to oneself. Joy naturally spills out and blesses those around us. No one wants to be around someone who is sullen and grumpy all the time. It has been said that Christians should be the happiest people on the planet, but that is not always the case.

The trappings and traditions of Christmas tend to reignite the joy that we sometimes allow to flounder in our spirits. Unfortunately, for some people, that joy seems to go back in the closet along with the decorations after the tree has been put out on the curb. My prayer for each one of us is that we can experience and exude the joy of Christ(mas) all year long.

Have a blessed (and joyous) week!
Pastor David

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent 2015 - Peace

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

The focus of the second Sunday in Advent is Peace. Last week we looked at the concept of Hope, and how that helps us look beyond the immediate and keep the future in our sights. Peace is Hope's companion. Peace is not the absence of conflict and strife, but rather the calm assurance in the midst of such turmoil that, in the long run, everything will be okay. 

Coupled together, Hope and Peace help us to keep things in perspective. One of my favorite mantras for when things are especially rough is, "This is just temporary". No matter what is going on, and what emotions I'm experiencing, it's only a temporary situation. Even in the face of great loss, how I respond and what I feel is tempered by knowing that this is not the end of the story.

One of the great benefits of Jesus walking in the flesh and sharing our human condition is that He was well-acquainted with the daily struggles that we all face. He also knew that, just because He came as a ransom for humanity, these struggles would not suddenly cease to exist. He bluntly reminded His disciples that troubles are part of the deal. As long as we draw breath on this earth, we will face troubles. But He also gave us an antidote - the peace of knowing that He has overcome the world and all its troubles.

What does it mean for us when Jesus makes this claim of overcoming the world? For me, it means that, in spite of appearances, everything really will be okay. He has the ultimate victory over everything that is broken in this world. While I may not be able to see that victory right now, I know that it is an irrefutable spiritual truth, and therefore I can have peace in this confident assurance.

True inner peace that comes from Jesus isn't just some warm and fuzzy feeling or the result of positive thinking. It is something that wells up in our spirit and reassures us that no matter what we may be going through, He's got it covered. I can sleep at night knowing that nothing is going to happen that He doesn't already know about and has worked out the resolution according to His perfect will.

It is no coincidence that the greeting of the angels on the night of Jesus' birth included the blessing of peace:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Jesus imparted peace to His disciples, and continues to impart it to those of us who believe in Him. May your Christmas season and all the coming days be filled with this amazing peace.

Have a blessed week!
Pastor David

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent 2015 - Hope

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25)

As we enter the Advent season this year, I find a strange paradox in place: while this is supposed to be a season of celebration of all that is good, we are faced with the reality that our world is a mess. The news is filled with stories of terrorist attacks, the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, wars on multiple fronts, political candidates stirring up hatred and fear among their supporters, and so much more. We are daily reminded that a large part of this world in which we live is in turmoil, and that people are in desperate need of hope.

Hope is a funny thing. Proverbs 13:12 tells us:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Yet, hope is also what can sustain us in times of despair and disappointment. When we cling to the hope of something better, yet see no evidence of its fulfillment, our faith can easily waiver. This was the case during the days of the early Church, and is still the case today. In the months and years following the ascension of Christ, the Church held on to the expectation of His imminent return. Yet, as time passed, people began to doubt whether Jesus really was coming back, and many abandoned the faith as their hope faded.

Here we are, 2,000 years later, and we're still waiting for Jesus to return and fulfill His promise. That promise holds out the hope that, one day,  we will have a life free from pain, disease, heartache and death. Poverty, turmoil, conflict and oppression will fade into history, and a golden era of peace and prosperity will be ushered in. At least, that's what we've been told. And we desperately want to believe it because, face it, life is pretty hard right now. Granted, we Americans have it better than most of the people in the world, but our personal struggles are no less real. Human suffering knows no nationality, no political affiliation, no economic status. We all experience pain, sickness, broken relationships, death. Spend five minutes browsing a news site and this is more than confirmed. Life here is fragile and fleeting, and we need something better to pin our hopes to.

Those of us who claim the name of Christian have that hope, but it sometimes seems elusive and tardy. How many of us have said to ourselves or others, "Today would be a good day for Jesus to come back"? We try to find the good in the people and things around us, but sometimes the suffering that we see and experience can become overwhelming, overshadowing the good. And that's why we mark the seasons with celebrations, as a reminder that the best is yet to come.

The first Sunday in Advent reminds us to hope. Hope in the goodness of God and His ability to fulfill the promises He has made to us. That first Christmas was the beginning of that fulfillment, when the Creator of the universe took the form of human flesh, so that He could give is the hope of redemption from this life of woe. After the birth of Jesus, when He was presented at the temple, his appearance was seen by the saints as the fulfillment of their hopes. All that they had longed for throughout their lives was right there, wrapped up in a little bundle of squirming flesh. They didn't live to see the final outcome of the ministry and sacrificial death of Jesus, but they left this earth knowing that all would be well.

What is it you hope for this Christmas season? Better health? Financial security? A devoted spouse? Inner peace? Whatever it is that you long for, be assured that God already knows your needs and desires, and wants to bless you as His beloved child. Never lose hope in a better tomorrow, whether in this life or the next. In spite of all that is going on in the world, know that none of this escapes God's attention. He has not abandoned us, nor forgotten the promises He made so long ago. Hold on to your hope and be patient. It really does get better.

Have a blessed week!

Pastor David