July 2, 2015

4th of July

The 4th of July is just around the corner. It’s time, once again, to celebrate Independence Day -- but what makes this day special?

What gives the Fourth of July its significance, of course, is that our Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. It was in Philadelphia, and the signers of that document, composed by Thomas Jefferson, knew that this declaration of independence from the dictatorial rule of Great Britain might also be their death sentence.

They knew full well that the wrath and strength of the British army would be sailing across the Atlantic to descend on the relatively defenseless colonies. They knew their scattered “states” didn’t have the numbers or training to stand against the British, much less defeat them militarily. Yet they put their signatures, and their lives, their families, their destiny, on that parchment.  The 4th of July reminds us that the United States was founded on the principle of independence

But the first day of every week, Sunday, reminds us that the Church of Jesus Christ was founded on the principle of interdependence. 
When we gather to sing each week to God, to offer up prayers, to hear God’s word, and express our mutual concerns, we are reminded of our church’s true longing, which is, interdependence—mutual dependence.  We are Christians in community who share our lives in service to one another and to the world around us in pursuit of Christ-filled happiness and spirit-filled holiness.

God doesn’t want us to be independent from him; he wants us to depend on him and upon one another, our church family—an interdependent Christ-like community.

June 27, 2015

The Rainbow

This is the sign of the covenant I have established
between me and all life on the earth: a rainbow.  
-Genesis 9:17

God hangs a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of a promise—that never again shall all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood. Interesting this promise (this covenant) God makes; interesting because it’s not made explicitly to Noah and his sons, but rather is made to all living creatures and to all generations to come.  It's a straight-forward formal agreement between two parties—GOD and ALL of creation.

Of course, as you know, we humans have been making covenants for a long time. You also know that these agreements/covenants usually come with strings attached, such as, “If you pay, I will protect” / “If you abide, I will comply” / “If you do this, I will agree to do that.” 

What amazes me about God’s covenant with all life and all of creation is that God’s covenant does not appear to have any strings attached.  It's a covenant without any -if- clauses in it, such as, “if you love me,” or, “if you follow every rule,” or, “if you would just say this prayer.”

It’s not that God is simply leaning back in a recliner and ignoring everything; that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that rather than flood the earth and do something God said he would never do again... God sent to earth a savior.

Rather than kill, God sent Jesus Christ who was willing to die.  Rather than punish, God is willing to forgive.  Rather than destroy, God offers the chance to gain new life. And that is good news—that to the sign of the rainbow—God addedthe sign of the Cross.

June 25, 2015

The Confederate Flag & Dr. King

In his 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. echoed the Bible when he observed that we “see men as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or American, Negroes or whites,” but that we all share God’s "divine image."   To American Christians he said: “…God is neither Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Episcopalian. God transcends our denominations.”

I believe one of King’s most outstanding contributions to the civil rights movement was his incorporation of the nonviolence exemplified by Jesus, and the practice of unconditional love. To “love your enemies” was a big order to follow (see Matthew 5:39, Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27-28, Luke 6:29). 

If Dr. King were alive today, he would no doubt be engaged in the controversy over the Confederate Flag. If asked to give an opinion, the words he spoke back then would certainly still resonate alive and well today: 

“The Church…is not the master or the servant of the state, 
but rather the conscience of the state.  
It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.
You are all one in Christ Jesus...Freedom is what we have—Christ has set us free. 
Stand, then, as free people, and do not get tied up again in slavery to the law.”
–Galatians 3:28 & 5:1

The Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge, St. Louis, MO
photo by: Jason E. Royle

June 18, 2015

Thousand Gifts Thursday: 3 Pennies

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, began her orphanage with faith and a dream. She told her superiors, “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.” 

“Mother Teresa,” her superior’s gently pointed out, “you cannot build an orphanage with three pennies; with three pennies you can't do anything.” “I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and three pennies I can do anything.”
The brief parable Jesus tells about a mustard seed sheds light on life from a different perspective; from the perspective of 3 pennies. When Jesus tells his listeners that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is one of the smallest seeds on earth (about the size of a pinhead) but which, in Palestine, grew to about 8 to 12 feet high to become the greatest of all shrubs…when Jesus tells his audience that he is inviting men and women everywhere to look at the world from a different perspective—one of faith-filled possibilities.

From the Christian perspective, we cannot go through life and 
"be just an ordinary egg, we must be hatched or go bad." C. S. Lewis.

God wants us to hatch.  To learn how to look for the mustard seeds in life; to look for signs of growth with faith and vision. Thomas Merton reminds us of this important truth when he writes, “the mind that is the prisoner of conventional ideas cannot accept the seeds of an unfamiliar truth and supernatural desire... how can I receive the seeds of freedom if I am in love with slavery and how can I cherish the desire of God if I am filled with an opposite desire?” 

May you implement the gift of 3 pennies in your life, and share that gift with others.

see Mark 4:30-34 

June 17, 2015

The Way is so Stormy

The Way is so Stormy

At times the way is so stormy,
I cannot see my way.
Just darkness and debris before me,
And everything seems to betray.
I stumble along in the darkness,
There’s trouble I don’t understand.
It is then I ask my Savior,
Please give me a helping hand.

At times I am weary and careless,
Resentful and doubtful of fate
Discouraged at life and its trials,
What is wrong, and right, I debate.
I must summon up all my courage,
The righteousness in me to command.
It is then I ask my Savior,
Please give me a helping hand.

Don’t leave me alone in the darkness.
Don’t let me fall by the way.
I need your hand to guide me.
Don’t let me go astray.
Make me be brave, in my troubles,
Lord, I know you’ll understand
Lead me on and I will follow.
Please Lord, give me Thy hand.

poem by:  Bernadette C. Lewis
photo by: Katelyn Royle

June 11, 2015

Why go to church?

Why go to church?

It is an Expression of our Love for God: 
Going to church is a visible, tangible expression of our love and worship toward God. It is where we can gather with other believers to publicly bear witness of our faith and trust in God, something that is required of all Christians (Matt. 10:32-33) -- and it is where we can bring God offerings of praise, thanksgiving, and honor, which are pleasing to God. The psalmist wrote, "I will tell the people what God has done; I will declare the Lord’s name in the midst of the assembly.” (Psalm 22:22).

It builds up our Spiritual Body: 
Receiving the preaching and teaching of the Word of god increases our faith and builds us up spiritually! Every believer knows what it is to face spiritual confliction, and must realize the importance of being fed spiritually so that they can overcome life’s challenges. Paul states that Christians face a wrestling match with opposing forces, and warns that the church must put on spiritual armor for protection, as it will take everything at our disposal to stand (Eph. 6:10-18). It is important that we take every opportunity available to receive spiritual food for strength from God's Word. "Faith comes by hearing…" (Rom. 10:17).

It honors the Lord's Day: 
The fourth commandment of the law that God gave Moses was to set aside the seventh day of the week as a holy day to the Lord. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex. 20:8). This day of Christian worship (which we protestant’s now call Sunday) came to be called “The First Day of the Week”  as well as “The Lord's Day” (Rev. 1:10), a day to fellowship in celebration of the resurrection, to worship, pray and study the Word together.  Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.”

St. Paul's UCC, Schaefferstown, PA

June 9, 2015

Couple at Creation Museum

A progressive blogger and another man who tried to go to a special event at Kentucky's Creation Museum said they were denied admission because they told security that they were a same-sex couple. (to read article click here)

“From this time on many of Jesus' disciples turned back 
and no longer followed him” (see John 6:60-66).  

And as they leave him, as they abandon the one who gave them something to eat, the one who healed their sick and showed them the power of God, they say to one another and to themselves: “This teaching is too difficult, who can accept it?"

Indeed … it is difficult to accept the fact that the same rain of God’s grace which falls upon the people who live in Africa, Germany, South America, China, etc., is also the same rain that falls upon you and upon me.

Indeed… it is difficult to accept the fact that paradoxes are inherent in the nature of God and in the world God has created, even though we humans prefer everything to be black and white.

Indeed… it is difficult to accept the fact that many play the Christian game with the sole goal of protecting the rules, rather than protecting the unconditional love of God shown to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Photo by: Jason Royle, St. Louis Arch