Journeying through Lent: Temptation! As we make our journey through Lent, we remember our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness, and the three temptations Satan offered to Jesus. Food, wealth, and power. We all get tempted in different ways. It’s common sense that if you don’t want to get stung, stay away from the bees! If you don’t want to get burned, don’t get close to the fire! If you don’t want to fall off the cliff, don’t hang off the ledge! The goal is not to see how close you can get to temptation but rather how far away from it you can stay! Proverbs 14:16 says, “A wise person is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless” (NASB). Now, you might think you can handle temptation, but who are we kidding? You need to do a frank assessment. You need to analyze when and where you are most tempted and vulnerable. Then you need to stay away from those situations as much as you can. The Bible says to run from temptation: “I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow your laws” (Psalm 119:59 NLT). If you have to physically remove yourself from tempting situations, do it! When Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph, he left his coat and ran away. Sometimes you may have to leave your coat. Get out of the situation. Run from it. Don’t stick around. Martin Luther once said that we can’t avoid temptation, just like we can’t help it if a bird flies over our head. But we can keep that bird from building a nest in our hair! Here is some practical advice: Don’t ever try to argue with the Devil. You’ll lose every time. He’s had thousands of years to think up lines to counter anything you could come up with. Don’t rationalize it. Don’t justify it. Don’t argue about it. The key thing to do is break the focus on the temptation. The more you fight a feeling, the more it grows in intensity. When temptation calls you on the phone, don’t try to argue. Just hang up, and go do something else. “A wise person is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless.”
Hope, Peace, Joy and Love to the Saints at Messiah! A new church season begins as Advent greets us once more! Now, we have come full circle in the church year as the four Sundays of Advent have arrived! Every year we trace our spiritual celebration through the Christian calendar: we remember the yearning for and the event of the Christ’s birth, and his revelation among us in Epiphany. Lent brings time for introspection; examining our lives, and then comes the Resurrection and the power of Pentecost's fire through the rest of the year! Leaves and snow are flying on the wind again, and days shortened and dark as the sun steadily declines. Summer's glory, so bright and warming, has vanished too soon, as a harvest chill now takes hold and winter's cold embrace is near. But welcome, welcome to the advent of our hope, our peace, our joy and our love! Jesus, our Messiah. Immanuel. We light our Advent candles and we remember again the real reasons of the season. • We cannot breathe without his hope! • We cannot rest without his peace! • We cannot walk without his joy! • We cannot live without his love! And so, we begin again in this season of waiting for his light to rise inside of us. We listen for this incarnate reality of a loving God who once more speaks to us in the cries of a newborn child, inviting us, despite our brokenness, to have faith, peace, joy and love for each other. The reality of a new spiritual beginning again in this season is even more important as we recall so many dark and difficult challenges around us. Listening, preparing and waiting for Jesus is what Advent requires of each of us. Our hearts and minds, together, should be fixed upon the miracle of God's grace for a world in need of deliverance. Nothing else matters. Does it? So let us have the mind of Christ each day to know what is possible and to do what is necessary. Celebrate this Advent season with your family at Messiah! Peace!
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:3-6 NIV
To God’s faithful, gathered and sent in Ashtabula, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! There is much to be excited about this season! Together we are rushing headlong into some of the busiest months in the life of the Church. Various events and holidays and dinners – the Church is livelier than ever. We are not without our challenges and anticipation for our future, but God’s promise to be faithful endures, and God shows us this in so many ways. We pray for our Call Committee, as conversations begin to shape goals and plans. We pray for eyes to see and ears to hear, that we might effectively bear witness to the work of God in our lives and in our communities. The Fall season has always held deep spiritual meaning, across generations, cultures, and faiths. It is a time of renewal, of death and rebirth. As we watch the trees change colors we know this means things are dying. And yet, we see beauty in this death, and in the dying of nature all around us we see the nourishment for new life to emerge. So it is for God’s Church. I often hear murmurs of longing for the days of the past, when our pews and Sunday School classrooms were fuller; murmurs of anxiety for our future, as it becomes abundantly clear that the way things used to be aren’t coming back anytime soon. We see that some things in the life of the Church are dying, and we fear what that means for our future. It is easy to fall into fear, but we must remember that every generation of God’s faithful has enduring a similar kind of death, looking back with longing and looking forward in fear. And yet, God’s Church persists, and God’s promise continues to ring true that the gates of hell will never prevail over it. In every age God blesses us with new challenges and new opportunities; that same God will see us through all of our fears this time as well. So, it is fitting that this is, for us, a time of excitement and activity; of enjoying fellowship and doing the work of ministry. For in doing ministry we die to ourselves, and in dying we become life for the world. Even our holidays set in this time are these to reflect this reality – All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day are here for us to remember and rejoice in those who have gone before us; Thanksgiving is here to celebrate the many blessings God gives to us; and Reformation Day is here to remind us that God continually renews the Church in every age, breathing new life into our lives and into our frail and fallible institutions. We do well to observe these days with joy and reverence, as they shape us into the image of Christ, who died and rose again to renew the face of the earth and bring resurrection life into our hearts. For once again the world is about to turn, and so are our lives in Christ. So I pray your joy will abound this season as we move forward together as Christ’s Church with holy anticipation, enduring together every new death and resurrection which takes us into ever brighter and more blessed futures. God will accomplish all of this and more for us who love him. Blessings!
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (TLB)
These past months… well, this past year-has been a year of reconstruction. We have had the challenge of reconstructing from Covid. Reporters talk about how we had developed a “den” mentality and we were content with hiding in a den… our homes. Businesses that do not have a web presence for sales are suffering, for delivery trucks are dropping off those items we used to go out and buy. Food delivery and take out has blossomed as people have avoided crowds.But in the midst of this, we have lost so much in the terms of personal contact. We don’t have others to share with, to laugh with, and to lean upon in times of trouble. Isolation still hurts. God loves you so much that he sent Jesus on a mission of love with a message of love. The Bible doesn’t say God has love; it says God is love. Love is his nature—God is love. God created the entire universe. He created this planet; he created the human race. And he created YOU because he LOVES you. God made you so he could love you and so that you could love him back. God’s love for you is the reason your heart’s beating right now; it’s the reason you’re breathing. God’s amazing news is that he loves you on your good days as much as he loves you on your bad days. He loves you when you can feel his love, and he loves you when you can’t seem to feel his love. He loves you whether or not you think you deserve his love. There is nothing you can do that will make God stop loving you. That’s because his love for you is based upon his character, not on anything you do, say or feel. God loves you so much that he sent his only Son, Jesus, into this world, “so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 TLB). When Jesus stretched his arms out as wide as the cross, he was saying, “I love you this much! I love you so much it hurts. I love you so much I’ll die for you so that I won’t have to live without you.” As we get braver and visit our local stores and restaurants, remember the fellowship and support that comes through the church. We want you to feel safe… and we want to see you in worship! God’s love surpasses all human knowledge—and as Ephesians 3:17-19 tells us, it is impossible for any of us to fully grasp the width and length and height and depth of God’s love for each one of us. That’s how much God loves you!
“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.” Luke 6:27-29 (NLT)
When you are persecuted, harassed, or face opposition, you need to respond with a blessing. Jesus says in Luke 6:27-29, “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also” (NLT). Now, you might say, Gee, Pastor, when does that happen? Well, probably more than we consider. You are undoubtedly familiar with “Road Rage”. A driver becomes very aggressive and anyone nearby is a target for that person’s rage. If that driver thought you drove too slowly, or drove too fast… or didn’t let them in.. or didn’t let them out.. I think you get the picture. The aggressive driver becomes a very dangerous driver. And maybe the next time that happens, you should apply one of the Jesus principals. Get to the side to let them pass. Don’t follow them or take pictures. Yes, do good to those who hate you. Who does that? Not many people, actually. But it is what sets Christians apart, because it’s not a natural or popular or easy response. It takes a lot of courage to do those things! Anyone can retaliate or say something mean back. God wants you to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you, and turn the other cheek. Is that easy? No. It’s the most powerful form of witness, but you can only do it by being filled with God’s love. When you refuse to retaliate and instead respond in love to a critic in your church or in your community, God will be pleased. And you’re going to be blessed. Matthew 5:10-12 reminds us of God’s goodness: “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven” (NLT). Jesus paid a price for you. He says there’s a price to be paid for following him. Popularity on Earth is not part of the guarantee of being a Christian, but your reward in heaven is a guarantee Blessings!
Blessings and Peace to all!
In a recent sermon, I told a brief story about a man found dying in New York. The year was 1864. A Bowery bum with a slashed throat was brought into Bellevue Hospital in New York city. The man was unable to recover from his injury because of a body weakened by excessive alcoholism. He had a fever. He lost a great deal of blood. He was suffering from malnutrition. He survived for several days until finally he died at the age of thirty-eight. He died with only thirty-eight cents in his pocket. As the story unfolded, however, they discovered that this was not just another Bowery bum. He had been well known all over America, famous for his songs. He had charmed America into singing “De Camptown Races,” “Oh! Susanna,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” and hundreds more. His name was Stephen C. Foster. But on that cold wintry night in New York City, in 1864, he died, leaving behind the legacy of a wasted life. Stephen Foster never intended to have his life end like that. Nobody ever does. But somehow for Stephen Foster, he began to slip from the creative genius that he was to one dependent upon the next drink, even to the point of malnutrition. We hear of terrible events like this today, in various forms. People who lust for wealth, and soon clients are cheated. A student gets angry over the way bullying took place, and a gun appears in the school building. We get angry about someone cutting us off on the highway and there is road rage. Or, we might have less dangerous but also destructive pattern. We might fall into a “let George (fill in the name) do it”- and we stop doing acts of charity or kindness, figuring someone else will do it. Messiah is at an important stage in this church’s life! A successful Bible School outreach was just held for the community with some 20 youth participating! What a great display of being God’s hands in this place! The clothing and food ministry continues to show support for others- what a tremendous show of compassion! We are “post Covid” – or at least in a lull from the fears we faced the past 2 years. Things are relatively safe in Ashtabula. But it has been hard to move from our homes where we were told to shelter out into the world again- but that is where we are called! Can we increase our worship attendance and participation? It is so easy to let bad habits in- as did Stephen Foster. It is a big challenge to move “out of neutral” and into our paths of service for our Lord! Blessings!