Saturday, December 21, 2013

All Things New

“…See, the home of God is among mortals -- He will dwell with them;
They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; 
Death will be no more..."
 — Revelation 21: 3-4
                       Do you have a favorite Florida theme park?  Maybe it’s Busch Gardens or one of the Disney Orlando parks.  Legoland?  Sea World?  I’ve been to Universal now several times with our youth group for Rock the Universe, enough to know my way around the park and know which rides are the best.  These parks create a whole new world for us to visit, making it easy to imagine we are somewhere else — an old western town, a cave or jungle adventure, outer space or a place of monsters and magic.

                      Sometimes reading the Bible can feel like we are entering a whole other world.  We are suddenly whisked away to a land of strange names and customs, people without cars or iphones encountering talking snakes and pillars of cloud and fire.  We can easily feel detached from this world and question if it has any more to do with us than the latest movie with dragons and wizards.  But as we explore deeper into the treasure chest that is our Holy Scriptures, we find that the strange and supernatural falls away.  The Bible tells the story of a family blessed to know God as a friend and companion through life.  It is the story of everyday people caught up in an amazing story, the story of what it means to see and hear this God in the midst of life.  We notice that these people can be fallible and foolish, and yet try to keep God’s presence before them as a part of their lives.  This is the story of their forgetting and remembering God, and of what it does to their families and friends, to their neighborhoods and nations. 

                      Eventually, we come to see that the Bible is not some kind of theme park we walk through, imagining ourselves in another time and place.  Instead, it is a story of which our lives are a part.  We begin to recognize our failures and foolishness, and times we’ve remembered and forgotten God ourselves.  We learn things that the world doesn’t tell us — that our greatest strength is weakness, that we please God most when we stop trying to impress Him, that simple acts of love are life’s most profound moments.  Instead of describing some strange fantasy world, the Scriptures bring us a clearer vision of the world we’re in now, and bring us into the story of the world that is coming in Christ.  
                      I love a challenge — trying new things, or doing something in a new way.  This year, once again I’m challenging myself to read through the Bible, this time with the version translated by Eugene Peterson called The Message.  If you’ve never read the entire Bible, I encourage you to pick up one of our Bible in a Year handouts at church and join me in the adventure.  It gives a 3-4 chapter per day reading plan that helps you stay on track reading just 20-30 minutes a day.

                    I’m also challenging myself to develop a new 7-week Bible study based on the book of Revelation.  Of all the books in the Bible, Revelation can be the most confusing.  My new Bible study Revelation: Prophecy Remixed examines the book’s major images and shows how Revelation presents new reflections on themes from the ancient Old Testament prophetic tradition.  I think this is a helpful and enlightening way to make Revelation a little less mysterious.  I’m hoping to have this study ready to go by the end of February.
                   I am excited by the new year, 2014, and all the possibilities that it brings.  Last year we built onto our building — this year we will be building new ministries and new visions for the future.  We will begin putting together new visitation and caring teams as the Stephens Ministry program gets underway.  We are also looking at expanding Outreach and Stewardship teams, and restarting our Prayer Ministry.  With all this, we will be putting together a group to develop a new vision and long-range plan for 2015 and beyond.  In the midst of this, we will celebrate the first year of the Capital Campaign next month as donations continue to be matched by an anonymous donor. 
                    Congratulations to our new leadership team elected to council positions — to Scott Giesking, president; Julie Kaufmann, vice-president; Carol Rothgeb, treasurer; Kay Edwards, secretary; as well as council members Shad Latson, Robin Frank, Laurie Chairamonte, and Bill Anderson.  Together, we thank our Lord who makes all things new (Revelation 21:5)  for the gifts, the wonder, and the challenges of a new year, a new Spirit, and a new day!
Pastor Scott


Monday, December 2, 2013

Bright Star of Bethlehem

“…Fear no more!  I am announcing to you good news that will be a great joy for all the people.  Today in the City of David a Savior was born for you.  He is Lord Messiah..."  — Luke 2:10-11

If you’ve ever been to Washington D.C., maybe you’ve felt a shiver down your spine as you walk surrounded by marble memorials to veterans and presidents, or experienced the solemn majesty of standing in the shadow of the Capitol dome or the Washington monument, or gazed across the lawn at the pillars of the White House, awed by the history that still happens there.  The buildings and statues there call attention to great happenings and larger-than-life personalities, personages who guided and governed and fought for our nation.  The imposing stature of those edifices testify to the greatness of the ones they are dedicated to, and to the immensity of this great project of democracy and freedom in which we all take part.

What a contrast it all makes to the “little town of Bethlehem," the City of David where Christ was born.  Our Lord and mighty Savior, the King of Kings and Prince of Peace was born in an out of the way place, far from the halls and palaces of worldly power.  Bethlehem had no fortress or battlements, no walls or watchtowers.  It was a peaceful place of farms and fields of sheep.  Bethlehem had an important place.  It was where Jacob’s wife Rachel had died on a journey through the territory.  Her burial place had been revered for centuries.  It was where Jesse’s family settled, and where his youngest son David had been  singled out as Judah’s king and anointed by the prophet Samuel.  And when Jesus was born, it was the place where David’s descendants were to come and register for the Roman census.

And so it was that history’s grandest figure was born in this quiet crossroad town, a place whose historical importance was hushed and hidden, but could be uncovered and revealed by those who knew where to look.  For those who remembered the words of the prophets, the promises of God were not secrets.  For those who searched the scriptures and found Micah’s prediction that “from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient of days…” (Micah 5:2) there was a hope and expectation that God could bring his mighty Messiah among us, even from a small and nearly forgotten backwater town.

So here’s to our God who doesn’t forget the ancient promises, whose hope lives on even when ours has died.  Here’s to a Savior who became born for us, whose advent into this world came without trumpets or monuments, but was heralded instead by angel choirs and choruses of cows, donkeys and common shepherds.  He has not left us here alone, but has come among us with flesh and blood, born a baby to grow and live with us, and then to die for us, and then again to live so that we too may be carried through the gates of his Kingdom.  Here’s to a time that has nothing to do, really, with shopping and holiday specials, and everything to do with beauty and love and the restoration of our world.  Here’s to a place that was not too lowly or unimportant for the Lord of the Universe to choose for his entrance into our world.

This Advent season, our worship celebrates that little town, and the “Bright Star of Bethlehem” who came from there to bring peace to all the earth and good will to humankind.  Come join us as we prepare our souls to receive our King.  Come sing, give thanks, and open your hearts as we hear and live the story and share his love with our family, friends and neighbors. 
Pastor Scott

Bible Study Lesson 6 - Faith. Questions #1-7

These online questions are posted as an additional resource for the Bible study series Your Spiritual Survival Kit.  They are not required to go through the group study.  Rather, they are here to provide you with food for thought and spiritual reflection.  You are also welcome to post your own answer or reaction to each question as a comment here on this blog.  Just remember to respect the opinions and responses of others.  Blessings!

1.      What statements about God do you have trouble believing?

2.      How is faith different from belief?

3.      How do you think God feels about people of other religions?

4.      How important is church attendance for people of faith?

5.      Read Romans 3:21-28.  What does a Christian have faith in?

6.      How does faith relate to humility, gratitude, joy, hope, and love for others?

7.      How can you help others strengthen their faith?