And now, brothers, I want to write about the special abilities the Holy Spirit gives to each of you, for I don’t want any misunderstanding about them. 2 You will remember that before you became Christians you went around from one idol to another, not one of which could speak a single word. 3 But now you are meeting people who claim to speak messages from the Spirit of God. How can you know whether they are really inspired by God or whether they are fakes? Here is the test: no one speaking by the power of the Spirit of God can curse Jesus, and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” and really mean it, unless the Holy Spirit is helping him. 4 Now God gives us many kinds of special abilities, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service to God, but it is the same Lord we are serving. 6 There are many ways in which God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work in and through all of us who are his. 7 The Holy Spirit displays God’s power through each of us as a means of helping the entire church.
1 Corinthians 12:1-7 (The Living Bible)
A devotional from Pastor Joyce of First UCC – Quakertown, PA:
To suggest that our lives have changed over the last couple of weeks is one of the biggest understatements ever made. Almost no part of our lives is quite the same. And yet, we are to continue on, knowing that there is one thing that hasn’t changed – and that is God’s love for us. Because God loves us unconditionally, we can show our gratitude by passing on some of that love to others. But how do we do that when we are confined to our homes, with little contact with others? Today’s scripture lesson helps us, I think. We all have at least one spiritual gift, and many of us have more than one. Yet how can we exercise our spiritual gifts when we are separated from one another?
Here’s one idea. Most of us have a church directory containing the names of members and friends of First Church. Each day, choose a person from the directory and pray for them. They may be someone you know well, or they may be almost a stranger. It doesn’t matter. You can still pray for them. And then, if you are feeling really inspired, call that person (their phone number is right there) and let them know you are praying for them. I can almost guarantee that this will be a day brightener to that person. My guess is that you will be able to hear them smile! Such an act will help spread the joy we have because we are all children of God.
And I can almost guarantee it will brighten your day as well – to be in prayer for another, knowing that you are using one of the spiritual gifts God, through the Holy Spirit, has given you. That is a truly awesome feeling – because we will be working for our awesome God. Feel the joy!
17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22 Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.
Acts 9:17-22 (NRSV)
Growing up with long eyelashes is incredibly frustrating. When I was a kid, I constantly got eyelashes in my eye, and I would become essentially debilitated for a good amount of time while I tried to get the eyelash out of eye, and usually making things worse.
When I had the eyelash in my eye, I couldn’t think of anything else, and the mind of a child quickly forgets what it was like before to see clearly, and to not be distracted by the irritation.
I’m sure that you’ve had times where you have had a stuffy or runny nose, back or neck pain, and though it may have been temporary, when you had those problems, you began to forget what it is like to live without those problems.
Paul had his sight taken away from him after just realizing that although he thought he was serving God – he was actually persecuting people that God loved!
Imagine how it must have felt to have your physical sight taken away. Throughout that time, Paul would have been constantly focusing on his blindness as he stumbled through his daily life, as he prayed, and as he thought.
I imagine him praying something like this: “God, I wish I could see right now. I’m sorry for what I did. Please give me my sight back! I’m sorry”
And then maybe something like this happened as he thought about it longer: “God…Though I thought I could see clearly before, I was actually blind. Though I thought I read your laws well, I was blind to your heart. Though I saw the story of you saving your people over and over again, I was blind to who Jesus is. Though I read about your forgiveness, I was blind to what forgiveness meant until you blinded me with your truth instead of taking my life. I now know that I have a mission, and although I may be physically blind now, I have never seen more clearly!”
For Paul, spending time alone, without the distractions of his own desires and pursuits, was a time where he grew more reliant on God than he ever had before.
Right now, we are beginning to wonder when our country will get back to ‘normal’. Some of us are afraid of our upcoming bills at a time when we are not able to work. And churches across the country are wondering when they can get back together again.
But although this time brings with it a lot of problems, and a lot of worries, I believe that God will meet us in this time in larger ways than we could imagine. This past Sunday, our church had its first ever “virtual service”. We had no prior experience, and our congregation had no more instruction than we could give them in short notice. However, our “congregation” on that Sunday was large in number, and those who responded to the church about what they thought and what they were feeling during this time, warmed the hearts of the church staff because we saw other people’s faith, and it encouraged us in our own faith.
I believe that God wants us all to use this time away from the busyness of life for the betterment of our souls and our character. We could easily slip into worry and bitterness, but just as Paul was transformed while blind, I believe that we are going to be transformed while homebound.
Lets Commit to some actions:
Take more time to pray. Commit to a prayer schedule. Do not let fear or bitterness RULE over you – Instead RULE over your fears and bitterness with Prayer – seeking the hope, and peace of God.
Begin or end your day with a devotional and scriptural reading (If you have a smartphone, download “The Bible App” from Youversion, and find a reading plan that works for you!
Parents – Spiritually lead your children through family prayer time, and family bible reading time. Set the example for them to follow.
Parents – Take this time to have family game times – and if they get bored with what you have, grab some paper and some markers from the drawer and make a game together! 🙂
If you live alone – invest in your relationship with God, start a new hobby, get to know yourself more, and take advantage of thise time to yourself for your own betterment.
Spouses – Go to God in prayer Together, as well as apart from one another. Read a passage from the bible together and ask each other what each of you think. Make date nights at home something to look forward to. Play a card or board game and laugh together.
Spend more time in nature while being safe and maintaining social distancing. Over the last few weeks, I have seen more families outside together than ever before – that is a GREAT thing.
Above all – Use this time to seek God and love others – even at a distance.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.
Ephesians 5:1-2a (NLT)
Last night I couldn’t sleep. I found out that the governor of my state was forcing all non-essential businesses to close, and it got to me.
What does this mean for our town, state, and nation?
What will this do for members of my congregation?
Will people that I know be forced to go without pay for an undetermined amount of time?
What am I going to do if bills keep coming, but my pay doesn’t?
To worry is a natural human response to stress, but worrying can also be a pointless exercise. How much would I be able to do, laying in bed, in order to address any of the concerns on my minds?
The answer is that I wouldn’t be able to do anything but pray.
But why is prayer often option 2, and worry is option 1?
Because when we are stressed, we want to take control even when its almost impossible to control our situation right then and there. But what is option 1 to stress became seeking God’s help through prayer?
If we are to imitate God, then we have a clear example from Jesus as to how we are to respond to life’s pressure’s and worries – Prayer and Love.
Multiple times throughout Christ’s ministry on earth, He excused himself from the group and went off into nature to pray. Some of these times were in the middle of people demanding so much from him that He and his disciples were chased down from place to place. But still, Jesus excused himself to pray.
Because praying focused Him in his love towards His Father, and prayer grounded him and gave him the energy that He needed to love others well, even when he was stressed or worried.
We may be worried about things now, but do we turn to prayer first in order to love God, ourselves, and others despite our worries and fears?
The Apostle Paul to the Philippian Church: 7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.
10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.
Philippians 3:7-11 (The Message)
My first professional interview was for a paid internship at an accounting and consulting firm in Allentown, PA back in 2013. A few weeks before the interview, I went to the mall and invested in a complete suit to wear, and I was assured that once the suit was tailored after my fitting that I was going to look my best.
The time came for me to pick up my investment in my future, and I tried the suit on in the store, and was assured by the clerk that it fit me well. On the morning of the interview, I dressed up in my suit, shirt, and tie, and discovered that it actually looked like I was wearing a cardboard box with a suit laid over top of it. The suit did not fit well, and I felt like a child trying on some of my Dad’s clothes.
Thankfully, I pushed past my insecurities, and attained that internship – despite wasting money on a suit that I’m now embarrassed to own. It wasn’t really ever about the suit; it was about the person within the suit.
In the passage for today, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church of Philippi describing how he had ‘bragging rights’ that he could use to back up what he was telling them, just like how other religious leaders of the day kept saying that they followed the laws of God. Paul, before he accepted that Jesus was the Messiah, was a strict oberser of the law of God, a respected religious leader, and was even willing to hunt down the Christians in order to lock them up, or have them be killed (Acts 9:1-19).
But then Paul discovered that although he invested a lot of his time into following a strict code of laws, THINKING that he was doing so to honor God, he actually was going against the heart of God by hating groups of people that God came to save. Paul began to see that all of his pride in doing all of the “right” things before was worthless in comparison with actually following and listening to the heart of God that Christ came to share with the world.
Sometimes we do our best to put our best foot forward and to do all of the right things, but if we aren’t seeking to follow the will AND heart of God in our faith, and in our relationship with other people, our efforts won’t be as great as we thought they would be; they’d be like that terribly fitting suit I got all those years ago – it may have seemed great at first, but later, you realise that its not about what we wear, or what we do – Its about who God is, and who we have become after being transformed by God, just as Paul was transformed from his old life, to his new life in Christ.
Take a moment to thank God for all that he has done for you.
Take a moment to pray for God to give you hope and peace.
Pray to the Lord to give you wisdom and courage to help share the love of God to those around you.
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Mark 3:31-35 (NRSV)
In this passage, we see Jesus, who was in the middle of teaching a group of His followers, being interrupted by a request from his own family to speak with Him. His response to their request was with a question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?”, followed by a statement, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
I feel as though if any one of us said something like that in response to our family wanting to speak with us, we would be lectured by our mother to show a little respect.
But why did his family make the journey together about a days travel on foot from Nazareth to Capernaum where Jesus was teaching?
In the same chapter of Mark, verse 21 reads: “When his family heard it [that Jesus was healing people and casting out demons], they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.'”
Christ’s family traveled to Capernaum, and wanted to speak with Him, because they were concerned about Him, but they also made that journey because they struggled with the reality of who Jesus, their son and brother, was.
Therefore, when Jesus was told that his family was outside waiting for Him, He knew why they were there, and He had to send the message that although He loved them, that He was on a mission now, and that His prime concern was following the Will of God, the Father, and serving those within the Family of God, which was becoming much larger than before.
Pastors around the nation, and in other countries around the world, are struggling with knowing what the Will of God is at a time when they have decided to close the doors of the church building in order to protect their congregation and their community. Over the last week, I have seen church leaders have to make significant decisions in a matter of hours and days, and all of us are trying to think of ways to connect with people in a meaningful way when we cannot see them face to face.
What this passage today teaches us is that though we all may be separated, that we are all still brothers and sisters within the Family of God through Jesus Christ.
Church leaders are working just as hard, if not harder, to make sure that we connect with our members and with our community at this time.
Parents are working just as hard, if not harder, to care for their families and to lead them in prayer.
And individuals are praying just as much, if not more, than before.
What is God calling you to do to make the best of this situation?
How can you continue to share the message and love of God to others?
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
John 19:25-27 (NRSV)
I can’t help but worry about my family during this times of uncertainty. Could my parents be out of work? Will my grandmother, who is in her 90s, be exposed to the virus at a point in her life where even the common cold would be dangerous?
And even if this whole thing is not as bad as we think it will be, because of the precautions we are taking, what will this do for families and communities around the world?
Some of us are around our families more than we normally would be as businesses and restaurants are closed because our country is seeking to halt the spread of COVID-19. While each family member will need their own space during this time together, this is also an opportunity for families to grow closer to one another through family game and movie nights, intentional conversations about dreams and passions, and even a time to read books together, to pray together, and have a time for family Bible reading.
Some of us would like to see our families who don’t live with us, but feel as though visiting them could risk exposure to either them, or us. This is incredibly hard for us because these are also the times that we want to spend time with our families the most. But we can still connect with them through calling them, through video-messaging them, and through text and email. Perhaps this time could teach us a rhythm of connecting with them that we did not have before. Even when disconnected, we can still laugh with them, cry with them, pray with them, and read the Bible with them.
Sometimes, we are tempted to think that God isn’t all that concerned about our everyday worries, or emotions, because we convince ourselves that God has more important things to do. Yet even in Christ’s last moments on the cross, though He knew He would be back again from the dead, Jesus knew the importance of family; specifically, he knew that one of his best friends, and his own mother, needed one another, and He did not want either of them to feel alone.
In this time of uncertainty, know that Christ cares about you and your family. But also know that He cares about YOU and that no matter what, God is with you, and you can speak with God through prayer.
“Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly.” ― Langston Hughes
On Sunday, December 1st, Christian churches around the world celebrated the first Sunday of Advent this year by lighting a candle that symbolizes the light that the prophecies of a Savior brought to the world. In my church, the first Sunday centers around the theme of Hope.
The candle may be lit by a child, a member of the congregation, a church leader, or a Pastor, but everyone is watching as the wick catches the flame, and the candle begins to glow on its own.
Although, something powerfully interesting is happening with that candle that I don’t believe is intentional: The candle flickers in a well-lit sanctuary, and outside of being something nice to look at, it serves no practical purpose. That flame is not keeping anyone warm, it is not aiding in lighting up the room; its simply there.
It seems terribly pessimistic to view it that way, but hear me out.
When a child dreams of their future, and they dream of being a baseball or soccer player, a famous actor, or the president, they are usually quickly discouraged by comments like, “well that would be a one in a million chance”.
As adults, we might dream of following passions that are new to us, or that are revived from our past, but we generally don’t MAKE time to pursue those things because other things are more realistic to focus on.
For many of us, Hope is something that we have learned is something we can have in times of privilege; when all of our responsibilities are complete, and we have no worries to think of. However, it is in times of sorrow and abandonment when Hope is needed the most.
And let’s not kid ourselves…without hope, we’ll never get to the satisfied ideal that we save our hope & dreams for; we’ll simply remain where we are, and seek nothing more.
So while that candle is lit on the first Sunday of advent, it may cast no measurable heat or light in that well-lit Sanctuary, but it still brings us comfort in knowing that it represents the Hope that we need to have, even when having hope seems pointless.
“Hope alone is to be called ‘realistic’ because it alone takes seriously the possibilities with which all reality is fraught. It does not take things as they happen to stand or to lie, but as progressing, moving things with possibilities of change”
– Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope.
For the first Sunday of Advent, the Old Testament reading was from Isaiah 2:1-5 in the Lectionary, and it reads:
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
As the prophets of God told of the hope that was coming, they did not have visible hope to share. Instead, they had hope through their faith in what was coming.
Their hope, before Christ came into the world, was like lighting a candle in a well-lit sanctuary; meaningful for them, and those that believed the same prophecy, but to the outside world, their hope seemed meaningless.
The prophets of God longed for a time when the answer to darkness was light, and where the answer to war was peace, and when the dwelling place of God on earth became a refuge for the whole world.
But they wrote this when there was still darkness, war, and national division. They wrote this when they didn’t really “have time” for hope and dreams. They wrote this because, without hope and dreams, they could envision no progression for their starving kids, no justice for the oppressed, and no end to the wars that tore them apart.
They needed to believe that God would liberate them from all of their sufferings, and they envisioned that when this would happen, other people groups would be able to benefit from the goodness of God as well.
The world can throw many problems at us, those we love, and the communities in which we are a part of. Society encourages us to silence our struggles by saying “I’m fine” when we are truly not okay.
Some Christians, mistakenly, have suggested to many of us that if we are depressed, if we are struggling financially, if something bad happened to us, or if we have anxiety, that we must not be seeking God.
But Society, and those Christians, are so wrong.
Human life is full of experiences that are both positive and negative, and when we don’t learn to process through these experiences and emotions, or when we constantly see ourselves as a failure, we negatively impact our present and future, as well as those around us.
THAT is living without Hope.
Letting our past determine our present and future is living within a reality that will never progress past our fears and insecurities. We are not promised financial or social success in this life, but if we change our mindset from one of hopelessness to hope, our quality of life will improve because we are no longer focused on that which we previously saw as hopeless.
But the world longs for something more than improved individualism; for some seek growth as individuals without regard to what that may mean for others.
The world longs for a Hope that would shine light on the darkness within all of us, within our systems, and within our misplaced goals. We all long for a hope that benefits us individually, but in order for that Hope to be for the world, it has to be all-encompassing and pervasive.
The Joy and happiness of a Savior coming to earth is only fully appreciated when you realize that the world is desperate for help.
Christians hope that the faith that we have comes to fruition through the Savior making all things right at the end of times, but we also have Hope that the Redemption of God is at work at all times, and in all people.
Without Hope, we let darkness overtake our vision. With Hope, we allow light to overtake the dark.
Call me a scrooge, but sometimes the constant happiness surrounding the Christmas season just makes me want to say, “Oh Come On!” (or at least, that’s what I imagine a modern iteration of “Bah Humbug!” would be).
And the thing is, I LOVE Christmas. I love the lights, the candles in lunch bags, decorating the tree, watching cheesy rom-coms, and all the cookies that go along with it.
But I don’t love how the cheery portrayal of the season doesn’t match up with the angry consumers that trample other people on Black Friday every year, or that it doesn’t line up with those suffering from seasonal depression, or those struggling with mental health in general.
In other words, our world has a LOT of issues and the constant happiness of the Christmas season sometimes feels like applying a cartoon band-aid to a gunshot wound; it won’t heal the wound, and it seems absolutely silly.
Thank God for the Advent Season
Advent is a season that happens before Christmas day in the Christian church that focuses on what the world is longing for: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Advent recognizes that our world has a lot of issues, but that hope, peace, joy, and love can still be had in the midst of suffering or worry when we look for the light in the darkness.
Advent doesn’t ignore the wrong things of the world; it recognizes their effect on us as individuals, as a community, and it gives us tools to help us navigate through the dark through the hope of a brighter future where all wrongs will be righted, the peace in being ruled by a worthy and righteous King, through the joy of the message of redemption, and through the love of a God who has felt our sorrow and lifts us up.
I’m not saying that you’ll be able to sing along cheerfully to every Christmas song or hymn during this Advent season, but I think that when we acknowledge the wrong of the world while processing what it means that we have a savior, we will at least be able to hope for better days, and a better world.
If you have never observed advent before, I invite you to try it out this year. I can’t promise that it will be meaningful to you, but I believe it to be meaningful to the world when Christ’s body on earth continues Christ’s engagement with the suffering of the world while striving after Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love*. And I feel like that is one of the things that Advent can teach us: It’s not about you, as an individual, it is about the body of Christ longing for Christ’s presence on this earth in answer to the world’s sin and afflictions.
*For the purpose of my church, I will be following the weekly themes that we observe in our own tradition. Other churches may have these same themes, but in a different order, while others may have completely different ones.
Note: Advent is not a biblically observed season or holiday, much like Christmas, Lent, and Easter, but it has been observed in church tradition, with the others, because the church has found meaning in joining the prophets in longing for a savior.