Grace and peace to you and yours in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This past Monday we celebrated Memorial Day. The day itself began following the Civil War by the southern states and was known as Decoration Day with flags being placed on the graves of those who died in battle. The North quickly adopted a similar day of their own. Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War.
During World War I this holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. There is more to its history, but this gives us its origins outside of the political arena that often encroaches on such events.
Sadly, there are those Christians today who talk like we should have no loyalty for our country. It’s the thought that if one loves the country it’s a bad thing because the wars were fought for bad reasons, which might be true of some wars, but certainly not all. To be sure, loyalty to our nation must never be our ultimate loyalty. We must always obey God first rather than men.
However, Jesus shows us it is possible to honor God and honor Caesar. In Luke 20:25 Jesus said on the question of taxes, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” However, the implications of our Lord’s word extend beyond far beyond the realm of taxes. Jesus is saying that there are duties to government that do not infringe on our ultimate duty to God. It’s possible to honor lesser authorities (like those in government) in good conscience because they have been instituted by a greater authority, God.
The New Testament echoes our need, as Christians, to respect and honor our nation. In Romans 13:1 Paul says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” The church is not the state and the state is not God, but it doesn’t mean the church must always be against or in opposition to the state. It’s possible to be a good Christian and a good American. Patriotism is not bad. Singing our national anthem and getting choked up is not bad. Allegiance to God and allegiance to our country do not have to be at odds with one another.
Hence, we can honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives by dying for our country as Christians. Nor should it surprise us that over the years Memorial Day has become a time to remember not only those who have died in wars, but those who are serving our nation that God would protect and watch over them to keep them safe.
Memorial Day might be a national holiday, an American holiday to be specific, and not a church holiday, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it or worse, condemn it as some feel hard pressed to do in today’s churches. In fact, as Christians, we are compelled to pray for our nation’s leaders and for our nation. 1 Timothy 2:1-3 makes that very clear. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior. . .
Just as our church here at St. Paul has both the flag of the church and the American flag in the chancel, so too must we be conscious of our duty to God as supreme and still acknowledge our duty to our nation. They are not incompatible.
I hope, even in this time of COVID-19 with its many restrictions, that as you celebrated Memorial Day in whatever ways you found comfortable and possible, you took a moment to remember those who gave their lives in defense of this nation, even in wars that were not fought for the best of reasons. Those who fought and died didn’t get to express their opinion but served faithfully nonetheless. I would also encourage those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior that we daily pray for our leaders that they might alien themselves in God’s service, according to His will, and not something less desirable .
After all, we are “ONE NATION UNDER GOD.”
God bless. Stay safe and stay well.
This is Pastor Lee from St. Paul wishing grace and peace to you and yours as we continue to begin returning our lives to some sense of normalcy within this pandemic.
I am glad to say that we have held three worship celebrations so far this month after no formal worship since before Easter. The first Sunday, May 3rd, with social distancing in play and communion with masks or shields to limit contact saw about 45 people coming. The next week we got about 60. Then, this past Sunday, we topped 100. I don’t know if that trend will continue, especially with this coming weekend being Memorial weekend, but I do know those who came were most grateful that they could gather for worship again. They felt something very important missing in their lives. So did I.
During this COVID-19 crisis, it’s hard to get back to normal, including worship in God’s house. The reasons are many. Naturally, there are those 65 and older who are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Then there are those of any age who have conditions that put them at a higher risk if contracting the virus. These health risks understandably make people reluctant to come to church for worship because of the danger to their lives. Yet, there are also many who are just plain scared to leave the relative safety of their homes for fear of getting the virus. I understand and appreciate all these valid reasons. Their presence is a big part of why we went to the effect to record a worship service from Palm Sunday through to the present. We know how important worship, in any form, is to people of faith. It was good to know that it was well received. However, there is one reason that, while connected to the impact of the virus, should not cause any to stay away.
Sadly, there are those who want to come to worship, but are reluctant because they feel they can’t come. The reason: They can’t give an offering. Oh, they want to, but COVID-19 has cost people jobs lost meaning no income. Businesses are failing and could close forever, businesses that people put their whole lives into to provide for their family and the future, due to continued lockdowns. Money is in short supply with many making choices between medications and food, mortgages and monthly bills. Partly it’s because they grew up with the belief expressed in Acts 20:35, to name one source, that it’s better to give than receive. Churches have always stressed that point.
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Which is true, but possesses a deeper meaning than the obvious.
Add to that the example of the widow’s mite when Jesus held her up as a model for giving and the inability to give a gift causes people to stay away from worship.
Luke 21:1-4 — As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
People know of these texts and think that since, in the case of the widow, she could give, they should, too, and if they can’t then they shouldn’t come to church. This is oh so sad and wrong.
I’ve been serving our Lord as a pastor for 41 years. In all that time I’ve never preached a sermon on demanding money from God’s people. I realize the church must be fiscally responsible with the gifts and monies it is entrusted with by the people. Yet, it doesn’t mean we operate the church like a business on the basis of profit or loss. It’s not! The church is a resource for teaching and preaching, a refuge for comfort and hope, a place for healing when God’s people are hurting, like now.
Yes, a primary function of worship is to give. As God gives to us His holy and precious Word, the good news of salvation in our Lord through the Sacraments, and the fellowship of a community of faith for mutual strength and support, we know we are to give in return back to God. Most assuredly, we can give of our monies, but of far greater value is the giving of ourselves and that doesn’t require a check or cash donations in the plate. Sure, that can include gifts from our treasures, but generous gifts of our time and talents and our very presence in His house where we are dedicated to God’s service is more precious in His eyes. When we share our faith with others (a primary element of worship as the community of believers gathers together) through prayer and praise we are giving generously to God’s work. Everyone has something to give to God.
So, please, as churches begin to worship again with God’s people gathering together, don’t refrain from coming because you are financially strapped to the breaking point. St. Paul, and any church worthy of the name, doesn’t require the purchase of tickets to get in. Your very presence is a generous gift in itself. When we give of ourselves to our Lord out of love, we are giving the greatest treasure of all. Try not to make God’s Word say something it never intended.
I’ll be looking for you this Sunday. And by the way, besides this written devotion emailed out to our St. Paul family, you will be able to watch a video version on YouTube and Facebook. I’ll try to have both available at the beginning of every week. For the video version just type into YouTube “St. Paul Lutheran Church of Bulverde" and you should get there. Until we can be together, God bless! Stay safe and stay well.
Greetings from the good folks at the Red Roof Church of Bulverde, Texas. I’m Lee Harder the senior pastor of St. Paul coming to you with another Blog. We would like to invite you to stop by and worship with us this Sunday at either 8:30 AM or 10:45 AM. If you can’t make it this week, then check out our celebrations at our web site at www.redroofchurch.org. The services are loaded up by 2:00 PM for you to watch.
This coming Wednesday, February 26th, is the first day of the Lenten season. It’s surprising how many in the Christian church are unaware of the different seasons that make up the church year. Oh, they know about Christmas and Easter, but the rest of the year can go by unnoticed. It’s too bad because for the liturgical churches, like Lutheran and Roman Catholic, to name a few, there is a greater appreciation for the big two.
The 40 days of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday, gets us ready for the celebration of Easter giving a fullness it would otherwise lack. During that time, we make a journey of self-examination which culminates at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. If we fail to make that journey and just skip to the joy of Easter Sunday we miss what our Lord did for us and the terrible price He paid to free us from sin. Lent is a season where we are invited in our worship via lessons and music to take a good, hard, honest look at ourselves. It becomes a time of penitential preparation through public worship and personal reflection.
In our examining of our relationship with God we painfully realize how we have sinned against Him and against our neighbors. When we realize we can’t save ourselves, we recognize our need for the forgiveness God makes real in Christ, we repent. To repent is to change our lives to conform to God’s will as we seek to live as Christ, humble, obedient, and compassionate.
One of the traditions connected to Ash Wednesday as Lent starts is the imposition of the ashes. For those unfamiliar with the practice, the sign of the cross is marked on the forehead of the believer with ashes made from the palm leaves from Palm Sunday. This is the day Jesus made His triumphant entrance into the city of Jerusalem just days before He goes to the cross. As the ashes are applied, the pastor or priest says, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
It reminds us that the God who made us did so from the dust of the earth. He is also the One who can take us out should He so choose. He reigns supreme and when we engage in sin and disobedience we separate ourselves from Him. If not for the saving action of Jesus Christ on the cross, we would be hopelessly lost. However, because of His ultimate sacrifice, Jesus paid the price of our sinfulness.
Yet, even in the serious and solemn time of Lent, there are reminders of hope and joy. In the 40 days that make up Lent, if you count the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter the numbers don’t jive. There’s a reason, a real important one. Even in Lent’s solemn tone, Sundays are reflections of Easter’s resurrection life. Call them mini-Easters if you want. They are not a part of the 40 day countdown.
As Ash Wednesday draws closer, I hope you will give some serious consideration to spending some quality time with our Lord. Ask Him to help open your heart to see the need for change, to stop living from day to day to satisfy a world adrift in darkness and turn towards the light of life and liberty in God’s family through Christ our Savior. Lent just might be a great starting point for you.
And those are my thoughts. God bless & welcome aboard.
Welcome to this week’s blog from the Red Roof Church of Bulverde, Texas. I’m Lee Harder the senior pastor at St. Paul wishing you God’s blessings for this coming week. I would also like to invite you to join us for worship this Sunday at 8:30 AM or 10:45 AM. I guarantee you will hear God’s Word from Scripture and celebrated every week. If you can’t stop by in person, why not check out our recorded services. They are uploaded every Sunday by 1:00 PM. at redroofchurch.org We would love to have you be a part of our worship.
This past week has been a week of endings. First, the Super Bowl game has been played. It was a good game with winners and losers. The ads, eagerly anticipated, have aired, which some find more entertaining than the game itself, to the joy of all. The halftime performance is now a thing of the past. Did you see it?
I find it terribly frustrating and painfully disappointing to have a halftime show of a grandiose, family orientated celebration come across to be less than family friendly. The Super Bowl has become an American icon of celebration with the parties and gatherings of family and friends geared to watch an historic sporting event surrounded by good food and good entertainment. The halftime program of bump and grind wasn’t part of it.
Are these talented women gifted performers? Yes! Are they demonstrating the qualities (which they profess) that raise the standards for women as something other than objects of sexual exploitation? I don’t think so, at least I didn’t see it.
The halftime performance was not for families and most definitely not for children. For people who supposedly advocate a higher standard so that women are not treated as sexual objects, they can only be branded hypocrites.
For people who speak of care and sensitivity for the needs of children who cavort in such scandalous fashion are frauds. I would suggest that the NFL give more consideration to how they are perceived in the public eye by the ones who finance their francize, but realizing some of the behaviors expressed in recent years, it would be a waste of effort.
I mention this not to moralize over a football game halftime show, but to raise the issue of where we are headed as a nation. Our value system of right and wrong seems to be on a continual decline. Anything goes as long as it makes a person happy and content. And it’s not your happiness that matters, it’s mine. So what if we help cause a young boy to think that a beautiful woman is only a side of beef hanging before our eyes for pleasure and satisfaction. It doesn’t matter if we inadvertently cause a young girl to think that the only way to be attractive is to dress scantily and grab ourselves in inappropriate ways. I repeat, our nation is in trouble.
If you still have doubts then I refer you to this past week’s political theatrics. First, President Trump was acquitted of impeachment. Yet the party of opposition made it clear that they would never accept the verdict. Instead, they were to begin the same process over from a different tack in the near future. More inquests. More testimony. More expressions of contempt. The pontificating on the floor of the senate before the vote, in some cases, defied description. However, that was only the beginning as the vitriolic hatred for this president boiled over at the State of the Union.
Do I wish the president would have shook the hand of the Speaker of the House? Yes. Do I wish she could have refrained from her contorted facial expressions of ridicule capped by tearing up the president’s speech? Definitely.
Our nation is divided and that division has created a hatred that is palpable. You can cut the hatred with a knife, but one doesn’t dare use one because it will be plunged into the back of their political opponent. The only other time I have seen such contempt, historically, is with the civil war — North against South. Today, it’s right against left, elitists versus the deplorables.
You know why this hatred, this vulgarity, this promiscuousness, this absence of ethics and morality exists in our culture today? Much of the nation, its people, have turned their backs on God or adapted Him to fit into a modern, sophisticated world, with what they want God to be, not who He is. The standards of values, morality and ethics that God has laid out for humanity are too demanding. So we look for an easier path, even in the church which should know better. We want to do what feels good.
I suggest we spend a little more time in the Bible to see how the Hebrews faired when they took on God by disobedience and opposition. God has been known to teach some pretty dynamic lessons to His chosen people. Historically, check out the empires, the civilizations that lost sight of their ethics and morals to embrace a depraved value system. They cease to exist.
Something to think about before the God who brought us into the world decides to take us out or call the class to order.
And those are my thoughts.
God bless and have a great week.
Greetings from the folks at the Red Roof Church here in Bulverde, Texas. I’m Lee Harder, the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran, wishing you God’s peace in this coming week. We would like to invite you to join us for worship as we celebrate Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We gather for worship at 8:30 AM in the main sanctuary for traditional services and in our Christian Faith Center for worship with a contemporary flavor at 10:45 AM. We would be honored for you to be a part of our celebration. If you are seeking a spiritual home where you can know you’re going to feast on God’s Word from Scripture, we just might be the answer to your needs. Why not check us out by going to our web site at redroofchurch.org and seeing the ministries we offer and catch one of our worship services. We’d be glad to have you join our family.
This Sunday is a big day. Well, every Sunday is a big day for those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, or should be. After all, it is the Lord’s day as we come to worship Him. Although, I suspect this Sunday, February 2, might offer a distraction that will impact those coming to worship and not just here, but everywhere. It’s Super Bowl Sunday.
Even though the game itself is not played until the evening, kick off at 5:30 PM CST, you can be pretty sure the Super Bowl parties will probably begin Saturday night and continue into Sunday. At the latest, they will kick off long before the game starts. Having or attending such a party requires organization and planning. You’ve got to start early. Let’s see? Go to church or get ready for the party? Hummm?
As a pastor, I recognize the reality of competing with such powerful competition. Attendance might be a little down.
I realize that the Super Bowl is a big thing, but I agree with Aaron Rogers when he said God probably doesn’t care about football. He is concerned for the people. but not who wins. I don’t think God is a sports fan, any sport. He is a people fan and has set aside time and opportunity to build on a relationship with Him. He loves us so and is so passionate about our future that He took on flesh and died so we could have life with Him.
Yet, think of all the reasons, which is only another word for excuses, we give to explain why we don’t have time, even one little hour, to have a relationship with our Creator, to hear the extent of His love, to appreciate what He has done for us and what we can do to show how much we love Him.
I know, the Super Bowl is only once a year, but it doesn’t start until the evening and the pre-game hype is recordable. Most of us can DVR it. On other Sundays it’s shopping for the big sales, the roast for the noon meal when the company arrives, traveling to someplace, and so many more. My favorite comes from those with families that don’t come to worship because “they want to spend time with the kids as a family.” Personally, I can’t think of a better, richer, more fulfilling place to come together and spend time as a family than in God’s house of prayer sharing our faith and love of God. But I suppose I could be wrong.
I’m confident that God is not going to disinherit you from His heavenly kingdom because you missed this Sunday for worship with fellow believers. He knows it’s Super Bowl Sunday. God knows everything. He’ll understand next week, too, that we’re tired and just can’t get up for church. The week has been murder, hustling here and there without a moments rest. Besides, it’s only one day.
Somebody asked me on both of the two Sundays I was on vacation in January, “Why are you in church? Aren’t you on vacation?” I think my reply surprised them. I said, with a smile, “Since I’m always telling people how important it is for them to worship, I figured since I was at home, I could and should come to worship.” Then I winked and mentioned how I would hate to be a hypocrite.
More importantly, I wanted to worship and as a special bonus, I got to do it with my wife. A rare thing indeed, since I’m always in front leading worship. It felt a little weird, but it was very nice.
I don’t like to miss any opportunity to build on my relationship with God or His people. God doesn’t take a vacation from me. I figure I should make sure I don’t take one from Him. Something you might give some thought to the next Sunday you want to spend time with the family. There’s a family eager to spend time with your family in a body of believers who share your love for Christ. They miss you when you’re not here. So does God.
And those are my thoughts.
Welcome to this week’s blog from the great folks of redroofchurch.org, St. Paul Lutheran Church of Bulverde. You can find us on Hwy. 281 near the 1863 exit. We’re the ones with the red roof. I’m Lee Harder, the senior pastor. I look forward to the opportunity of sharing some thoughts with you every week. If you’d like to visit us in the flesh, we worship every Sunday at 8:30AM and 10:45AM. In between, we’ve got some wonderful educational opportunities for all age levels. And don’t forget the coffee and donuts. There’s enough to satisfy any sweet tooth. We’d love to have you visit or better yet, consider making us your spiritual home. You won’t get a light show, but you will be enlightened in the love of Christ. We’ll be looking for you.
It was brought to my attention that Pope Francis has done it again. Apparently, in a lengthy letter to Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, he said that non-believers (atheists) would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.
WOW! That must have stirred up a hornets nest of argument. Yet, coming from this liberal pope, it doesn’t surprise me. In fact, a part of me wonders why it took so long.
There is a growing trend in Christian denominations to eliminate talk of sin and subsequently the need for confession and forgiveness because we’re all saved and going to heaven. People don’t want to hear about their sin anymore. Well, it’s okay to hear about your sin, just not about mine.
Hearing that non-believers (atheists) can go to heaven is basically saying we can believe in any false god and the one true God doesn’t care. To this false narrative I am instantly drawn to the 1st commandment (or nor maybe it’s only a suggestion) — You shall have no other gods before me. And let’s not forget (which we conveniently do) the line that follows that adds — For I the Lord your God am a jealous God.
Simply put, that means God doesn’t want to share. I suppose that’s fair since He is the one who made us.
In a similar way, I cannot help but remember the attitude God took in the Old Testament when confronted by His people worshiping and sacrificing to false gods. I don’t recall the Almighty having a sense of humor at the golden calf or with the contest with the Baalist priests or a host of other incidents. I do recall a whole lot of wrath and rage about disobedience.
It doesn’t get any less pronounced in the New Testament. Jesus warned the disciples and us repeatedly about the dangers and the consequences that come from worshiping false gods.
No, I suggest to my fellow clergy, including the pope, it might be a good idea to go back to Scripture and study God’s thoughts on worshiping any false gods. As to the folks in the pews or chairs, make sure you’re not being led astray from God’s truth. It happened to Israel. It can happen to us if we are ignorant to God’s Word in Scripture. And many of us are so we follow any message that is self satisfying.
And those are my thoughts.
God bless and have a great week.
I’m back. It’s great to be back in this new year sharing some thoughts with you. So, let me wish you a Happy New Year filled with God’s blessings. Welcome to our blog from the Red Roof Church. I’m Lee Harder, the senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church here in Bulverde, Texas at the junction of Hwy 281 and FM 1863. The good folks of St. Paul welcome you to worship with us every Sunday at 8:30AM for our traditional celebration or at 10:45AM for our contemporary worship. You can also check us out at www.redroofchurch.org on the internet where our morning worship can be viewed after 2:00PM via our website on Facebook and YouTube.
I haven’t written any blogs or recorded any vlogs for the past few weeks because of Christmas responsibilities and I finally took a few weeks off from work. I didn’t go anywhere, but just relaxed at home with Karen and our girls (our Golden Retrievers, Jessie and Molly). It was great. I came to realize that in the last three years I hadn’t taken any official vacation time, not counting a long weekend to marry my oldest daughter (kind of like work) and a stay in the hospital with recovery for heart surgery (stints). Within a few days the tension pressures melted away and I actually slept good.
It’s not easy for a workaholic to let go and take time off. Add to that a touch of being a control freak and it becomes almost impossible to get away from the daily routine, but I needed to in the worst way. Friends were telling me how I needed to and were overjoyed when I finally scheduled the time off. Taking time away, call it vacation, call it sabbatical, call it anything you want, we all need time to renew and rejuvenate ourselves. I forgot that.
God knew it all along. Why else would He provide for us a day of rest which He Himself took. And by the way, that seventh day of rest was not called the Sabbath or Sunday in Genesis, but what it was for God and for us — a time of rest. It was later on that we made the false connection under Moses and the Law to the idea of a day of rest and the Sabbath or Sunday as one in the same. They aren’t.
First, we definitely need a day of worship and reflection on our relationship with God in the framework of family, a community of believers (a congregation or church body), and in the world. This day is a blessing that helps guide us in the way we live, work, play and relate during the rest of the week.
Second, we need to take a regular day of rest. Oh, maybe it will be a time of energetic activity, but if it gets us away from the regular day to day, week to week activity — our work — the change is what provides our rest and restoration.
It’s not like I did nothing for the weeks I was off. On the Sundays, I went to worship with Karen just like regular people. It was different, but it was nice, too. (We don’t get to do that too often. Besides, after preaching and teaching our need to NOT take time off from God, I didn’t want to be branded a hypocrite.) It was fun to worship without the pressures of leadership.
The rest of the time I relaxed, watched some old movies, played some games (Skyrim rules) and did a fair amount of writing. I’m currently working on my second cookbook with stories about Karen and I in our early years of marriage. Throw in some devotionals and some dynamite recipes and I hope to have another winner for anyone interested. We give it as a gift to new disciples joining the congregation.
So, vacation is over and I feel rested. I suspect it won’t take too much for the old tensions to return. It’s part of the job, but it was nice not to have to feel their pressure every day. So, I’m back in the pulpit, back creating and leading our regular Bible studies, teaching confirmation, counseling, problem solving and, of course, sharing blogs with you. Rest assured though, I’ll be taking some more time off this year because I’ve got it coming; but, more importantly, it’s a good thing to do. Better than that, it’s a God thing to do.
Don’t you forget to do the same when you can. God insists. And those are my thoughts. God bless.
Final Preparation. This Advent season we’ve been using Paul’s love chapter from 1st Corinthians to get us ready for the Advent of our Lord. This text isn’t normally associated with Advent, but it sure seems to fit perfectly. Advent is about having FAITH in the promises of God to deliver us from sin. Advent is about having HOPE because we know God’s Word is true and sure. Advent, as we’ll see tonight, is the culmination of all these as God makes His love real and undeniable. Advent is readying us for Christ’s coming at Christmas so that we can behold the suffering servant who will free us from sin out of Love. Advent is preparing us for the time when Christ will return as the King of all creation in glory to make eternal life a reality because of Love. That’s why even though this whole text from 1 Corinthians 13 spends a fair amount of time talking about spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues or moving mountains, they pale in comparison to Love. Simply — If you don’t have Love, you have nothing. Love trumps every spiritual gift or every miracle God may work through us.
What Is Love? God’s coming into the world is God revealing the full extent of His Love for us. But that takes some preparation to understand. More than that, it takes patience to appreciate. In 1 John 4:8, we see that God is the very definition of Love. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Our Lord’s coming at Christmas 2000 years ago and in the untold future is a portrait of Love. Jesus IS the role model on how to Love. Paul uses the word "agape" to describe this godly love. It's so much more that romantic or sexual love, "eros", which, for the record, also come from God. It is more that the friendship bond of "philia" which comes from God as well. Agape is a sacrificial Love which seeks to do what is best for another. For God so loved the world (loves us), that He gave Himself totally. Agape love is giving love. This is the love that Advent seeks to help us understand, appreciate and embrace. It is what God did by coming into this world. It is what God will do by bringing us into His eternal realm. Love In Action. God’s Love is revealed and proven by His coming — then and in the future. It put our needs first. This is the kind of Love that serves, that builds us, that helps. Does the world need this kind of Love? More than anything, especially at a time when more & more people are separating themselves from God. Advent us trying to help us see how much God loves us. God gives His love to us, and wants us to share it with others. The fact is God commands us to love one another as He has loved & still loves us. John 13:34 has Jesus speaking those very words to His disciples & to us. The first letter of John tells us 5 times “You must . . . love one another. If Love is commanded, then it must be important & just maybe, the greatest of all.
Keep the faith. Don't lose hope. Above all else, let your lives be filled with Christ's Love. If we can do this , Advent has done its job - then we are indeed ready for Christ's coming.
Let us pray. Dear Lord, thank you that you are the very definition of love. Help us to receive your love shown first in your coming and then most visibly at the cross. Help us to take that most perfect model of love and pass it on to others - those we like being around and those we do not, those who love us and even those who hate us. We need your help to do this, God, so we commit ourselves to you, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Linked But Separate. Faith, Hope & Love remain — so Paul tells us. We continue Paul’s Advent message that ultimately brings us to the supreme testimony of God’s love, our Savior’s birth. Yet, while Faith can & does build Hope, the two are distinguishable from one another. They’re not the same. Faith has work to perform today; Hope cheers Faith along the way encouraging. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God as Paul reminds us in Romans 10:17; Hope comes by experiencing the Word of God as he tells us in Romans 5:4 — And patience, experience; and experience, hope: Faith accepts the gift of promise; Hope confidently expects the fulfillment of promise.
No Hope. Advent is very much a time of hope as we look forward to the coming of our Lord. Yet, not all see hope in the same way. In fact, it seems as if some in the world have no hope at all. I see hope revealing itself in one of three ways. There are those with No Hope. There are those with False Hope. There are those with True Hope. What’s the difference? One of the reasons I feel such concern for our younger people is that many have not just drifted away from a relationship with God (as many do in life), they have stopped believing in Him all together. They are people without Hope & without God in the world. For anyone of any age to be without Hope is a terrible thing indeed. God knew how important Hope is for the human soul. Adam & Eve, when they had sinned, were without Hope. That’s why God gave them Hope in the first covenant promise declared in Genesis 3:15.
False Hope. Sadly, False Hope is even worse than No Hope. A person who is hopeless (No Hope) may be inclined to accept True Hope, especially through the living faith of another. False hope may look good, initially, but only until trouble arises. Then it collapses because like the one who built his house on sand, there is no firm foundation. False Hope is the addict who thinks they can escape their problems by getting high. The church member who thinks baptism, membership or deeds is all that is necessary to escape hell has False Hope. Those who believe in religions without Christ have False Hope. Our list of False Hopes is almost limitless, which is why Advent’s preparation for our Lord’s coming is so important. It points us toward where our True Hope is to be found.
True Hope. What is True Hope? There is only ONE in regard to salvation. That’s what Advent is getting us ready for.
Titus 2:13-3:7 — while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
1 Peter 1:3-5 — Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
True Hope can only be found in Christ. Our Hope is in the love of Christ. Just as is our Faith. And that’s where we arrive next Wednesday at the greatest of these — LOVE.
The First Word Is Faith - Paul’s Advent Contribution.
If you have been to a wedding in the last 20 years or more, you have probably heard the “Love Text” from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians 13:4-13. Brides seem to prefer it to the older, more traditional (from a far more conservative generation) text from Ephesians 5:22 & following. You know, the one that starts with “Wives, submit yourselves to your husband. . .” and so on. Paul is SOOO misunderstood in what he wrote there, often unfairly branding him a chauvinist. He’s not, but that’s a sermon for another day & series. Equally unappreciated for the whole message of its content is the 1 Corinthian text. Sure, it gives a beautiful, thoughtful & intuitive summary of love, but it is so much more. This text is also very much an Advent text to prepare us & draw into the coming of our Lord, both in Bethlehem as a baby & when He returns as King & Lord of all. It’s the last verse, 13, that stands out for our Advent message this year: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” For the next three Wednesdays lets examine each one separately finishing with the greatest — LOVE. But let’s also remember, that without the FAITH & the HOPE LOVE would not be as great as it is.
Understanding Faith. - Faith is defined by secular sources in a number of ways, but let me focus on two, neither of which encompasses all we need to understand as Christians. First, complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Second, strong belief in God or in the doctrine of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. I’m very comfortable with the first definition, especially if the someone is GOD & if the something is something like gravity. In the case of God I will provide proof in a moment. As to something like gravity — I know, no, I have absolute trust & confidence that, without seeing, any object that possesses mass in the entire universe will be attracted to any other object possessing mass. Let me demonstrate — drop something to the floor. My difficulty with the 2nd definition rests not in believing or having FAITH in God, but in two other points which helps realize the SECULAR definitional aspect. I do not have the same absolute faith in doctrine, since it is often man made, hopefully based on God’s Word; but, it seems not always, which is why I’m not a big fan of religion but go all out for FAITH. And to say there is no proof of FAITH is the world’s continued attempt to diminish God & our need for Him over worldly substitutes. You want proof? Think on this. For some 2 thousand years, the Church &, yes, the world, has spent it’s efforts at this time of year — ADVENT — getting ready for the coming of Jesus into the world, Christmas. No other event or happening can even come close to rivalling this singular purpose of preparation, much less equal it, in recorded time And this is only a beginning.
Proof of Faith - Scripture abounds with examples of people of Faith putting their complete trust & confidence in God & His holy Word. How about Noah who built an ark in the middle of a barren, parched land with no bodies of water anywhere near, nor the rains to provide them. Yet, he build an ark, not a boat or even a ship, but an ark. Then there’s Abraham & Sarah being the parents from which a nation will form, all nations will be blessed & a Messiah — a Savior — will come to save the world from sin. In their old age they step out into the unknown, totally trusting, having FAITH in God’s promises to them. And let’s not forget the willingness to sacrifice his only son at an age when he isn’t even firing & Sarah is without the seed to make anything happen, just because God says so. As proof goes, that’s called FAITH. Let’s not forget Daniel in a lion’s den, Elijah taking on almost 500 priests of Baal, Nathan telling David the king he’s a murderer & adulterer, or Saul who persecuted & killed Christians becoming Paul who brings Christ to the world. AM I making my point? Shall I go on? There’s one story after another, Old Testament, New Testament, they all share the same FAITH in God, His Word & His promises of salvation in Jesus Christ. The history of the Church only adds to the proof of FAITH. Martin Luther refusing to compromise God’s Word for the sake of convenience. Believers who risked violent seas & an uncharted land to be free to worship God is all about FAITH. And let’s not forget all those who have done the same without notoriety or public acclaim, but did so because of FAITH.
Faith Is a Gift. We’re here this evening because we have FAITH in God’s promises to save us from sin. We believe that Jesus is the source of that salvation. So, we prepare for His coming at Christmas & for when He returns in glory — that’s FAITH. We also need to be clear in understanding that faith is not without its bumps in the journey, which is to be expected. Abraham & Sarah had them otherwise there would be no “call me Ishmael.” A prophet Elijah would not have fled because a queen had a fit. We all have those days, those moments in our faith journeys. Those who say otherwise are the ones who give religion a bad name. It is God’s gift of FAITH, trusting in Him that makes way for our HOPE, which is where we prepare for Advent next week.
Pastor Lee R. Harder