First Church celebrated Christmas Eve with carols and candles. The joyous and reflective service reminded us that we had been waiting in hope, love, and peace for the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
On December 20, 2015 the children of First Church presented their annual Christmas Musical. They did a wonderful job and it filled the church with Christmas Love and Joy. The musical was a new, inventive way to remember our Christmas treasure, the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The love we offer others and the love we experience from others leaves us at one point or another with an underlying desire, hope, seeking, wish for a love that will never fail. There is only one source for this kind of love: it is the love of God.
Because of the tender mercy of our God, Jesus has been provided as our guide in the path of peace. This gift in Jesus, is like a sentry, a guard, a defender, an assurance, protecting us from our distress, anguish, and anxiety. It keeps our hearts and minds tethered to God's promises in Christ. Peace is living with the confidence that God's provision is sufficient, God's way is the way of life, and, fundamentally, that in committed our way to God's ways, all will, in God's time, be well.
May the peace of Christ be with us All.
We have some real challenges in waiting for Christ. And that, in fact, is what Advent is primarily about: the opportunity for God to use our waiting as a tool to apply the word of Christ's redemption to us. We are living in light of the certainty of Christ's return. We are "Waiting in Hope".
This might be the year, or one of the years, when we celebrate Thanksgiving with our fingers crossed. The world seems deeply troubled. We are more than a little concerned. But Christ the King Sunday is a reminder that we are confident of God's victory. Give grateful praise and thanksgiving to the Lord Jesus Christ; pray with confident faith; be light in the darkness.
Faith Promise is a prayerfully discerned, community-based, personal partnership in the Jesus Mission for the healing of the world. Faith Promise praying and giving is one way of dreaming bigger dreams and having a bigger share in God’s work.
Missions is not a program of the church; the church is an instrument of God's Mission. Outreach is not optional, but the heartbeat of the church of Jesus Christ. How can we personally, directly, and powerfully partner with God in the healing of the world in Jesus' name? Faith Promise giving is a prayerful means of having personal, direct, powerful, positive impact on the Jesus Mission.
Today, is the first ever introduction of Faith Promise Outreach/Missions for First UMC in Crystal Lake.
There is a consistent pattern in both the Old and New Testaments that Yahweh is willing to severely punish individuals and even nations to protect the weak, to promote justice, and to anticipate the final justice, righteousness, and peace of God's Coming Kingdom. In reality, God uses power, sometimes the indirect power of love, compassion, mercy, and justice, but sometimes the direct, lethal, violent power of love, compassion, mercy, and justice to save a life, maybe a lot of lives, redeem a situation, and restore peace.
Our culture is way messed up on so many levels. Sexuality is one of them.
The collateral damage done by our so-called "sexual revolution" of two generations ago is beyond calculation. But wherever we are on the journey of our life and our sexuality - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, straight, confused...we want to walk with one another, respect and love one another, and help each other find the path to Jesus.
We want to be a church that is deeply welcoming and mutually transforming
Our God is not racist, but is hospitable! God loves the stranger, the immigrant, and those in need. God calls us and blesses us to bless others, our neighbors, those who are outsiders, strangers, undocumented, and unprivileged. Our attitude to others will reflect who God is. When we are judgmental, prejudiced, or exclusive, others will see God as a racist. When we are loving, open-minded, and welcoming, others will experience God as hospitable. Let us draw our circle wider and wider and wider and welcome them.
The sacrament of Holy Communion allows us to travel back to the time of the Passover, to the time of the Last Supper, and forward to the time of God's full redemption. This is a meal of remembering:
*how much we need God
*how much God has done through Jesus to rescue us
*how great God's love for us
*and how much we love God.
Does God intend for women to be second-class, second-rate, submissive helpers for men? This is a highly conflicted area in the life of the church since women have systemically been oppressed both by how Scripture is interpreted and by how the community of faith behaves. Yet Yahweh is highly affirming of women overall, making women in his image. And, in the New Testament book of Galatians 3:26-28 NIV we find: "In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
God’s love is sometimes expressed in anger. And what seems to elicit the anger of God is our dismissal of God and disregard for others. God is wrathful because God is love. God hates anything that spoils, defaces, distorts, or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures.
So what happens when God is angry? He Waits! He waits for his people to come to their senses and return to the fold.
Many,having come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, having experienced the love and mercy of God, determine that somehow or in some way the God in the Old Testament was replaced or succeeded by the Jesus of the New Testament. So we cut our moorings with the Old Testament and sail into the future with less than half a Bible.
Jesus himself LOVED what we call the Old Testament. And the God revealed there? Jesus called that God, “Heavenly Father”.
The Biblical understanding is that our work, whether compensated or not, is a partnership with God. We can take a day or more off because God keeps the world turning. But the healing of the world is given to us as our vocation, wherever we are and at whatever stage of life we are in.
Many of us have an unconscious expectation that church and faith and God will be changeless and immutable.
But there is another word we can attach to God. And that word is “relentless.” God is relentless in pursuing the redemption of all people.
And, since God has chosen to pursue this redemption in partnership with people who want to share in the healing of the world, well, God’s relentlessness means calling us and pushing us and commanding us and directing us in ways we likely would not have chosen on our own.
This Parable of the Great Banquet is pretty simple to understand. God is the one throwing the party. Jesus is the servant sent to tell those on the guest list that everything is ready for the big celebration.
We're actually inviting others to become part of a people, a community, centered in Jesus and intent on fulfilling the Jesus Mission.
Each of us is invited to God's Party of Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And each of us has the opportunity, in our relationships, to extend the invitation to others as well.
Are you coming to the party?
The parable of the fruitless fig tree is particularly pertinent for a congregation of people like us who are embarking on a series of changes in our way of living, worshipping, and serving together as a community of Christ-followers. This parable is an assurance that the judgment of God will surely fall on congregations that are fruitless when it comes to being a living ex-pression of God's Kingdom, shaped by God's Word, filled with God's Spirit, and pas-sionate about fulfilling God's purposes.
All throughout Jesus' ministry—his birth on Christmas morning, his meals with sinners, his healing of the sick, his death on the cross for our sins—he showed us the heart of God, the God who will take a long journey of love to find us.
God's way -- throughout the Scriptures -- is not for generations to compete with one another but to experience community together. And not just any community, but the community centered in living God's way, giving attention to God's word, and participating in God's work.
There are a lot of choices and a range of consequences from modest to life-altering. One choice, as Jesus describes it, has the greatest of consequences for life and for eternity. It is the choice of "the narrow door." The "narrow door" is not an all call to become narrow minded, judgmental people. The "narrow door" is Jesus, the One and Only. He is the One who will save us from the reality of hell, the certainty of a trivial and wasted life, the gravity of our self-deception, and the vanity of our own pride, arrogance, and ignorance.
In the parable of the “Pharisee and the Tax Collector” the Pharisee believes he is righteous and can look down on everyone else. The Tax Collector is lifted up because he is NOT righteous and comes in humility to ask God for mercy and forgiveness. Asking for God’s mercy is getting right with God and results in our getting right in our relationships with others. All of us should not be so full of ourselves that we have no room in our hearts and souls for God. And that kind of transformation comes through our prayers of confession to God.
This week, in the parable of the three obstacles, we note how God is calling each of us to our role, our responsibility, as partners in the healing of the world in Jesus' name. How shall we become the productive people God intends? Great question.
As a community of believers we help one another tend the soil of our souls and help one another deal with our doubts, overcome the challenges of our difficult times of testing and temptation, and avoid the deception so much that can distract us from our devotion to Christ.
Today's worship deals with a teaching of Jesus, the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builder, sometimes called the Parable of the Two Foundations. This parable is found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, & Luke. The sermon about the Wise builder (who builds his house on a rock) and the Foolish builder (who builds his house on the sand), is really a metaphor for life. The difference between the man who builds on the rock and the one who builds on the sand is simple and profound.