Pastor Gary will be preaching on the theme of Encountering Jesus the entire month of February. Each week will focus on an aspect of Jesus’ life and his encounters with people not so much different from us. Please be sure to attend each week to hear the full series. For this week’s scripture study, read John 3: 1-17
Christmas Eve Service for 2016 will be this Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
This coming Sunday is often referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Associated with this Sunday is the 23rd Psalm often called the “Good Shepherd Psalm.” So what’s with all the shepherd themes?
Consider that during Jesus’ time a shepherd was a person of importance. The shepherd was responsible for caring for large numbers of sheep. Sheep were an important staple of the time and often helped to define the wealth of the owner. On a number of occasions Jesus used the example of sheep and the shepherd to teach his disciples and others about God’s love through Jesus for each of us. The shepherd is so caring of his flock that he would lay down his life for a single sheep.
John, Chapter 21 describes one encounter between Jesus and the disciples. The disciples had been fishing without success when Jesus appeared on the shore and asked them if they had caught any fish. They told him “no” and he told them to cast their nets again and the Bible says they filled the net with fish. Here, another symbolic illustration that without Jesus, we will not be successful in reaching others, casting our faith and sharing the glory of the gospel.
Later, Jesus shared a meal with the disciples and this is where Jesus asks Peter the question over and over as follows:
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”” (John 21:15-19 ESV).
I’m sure that Peter was a bit frustrated and confused. What was Jesus asking him to do? As was the case many times, Jesus had to provide an explanation to his disciples. So, you may ask, what this has to do with you on this Good Shepherd Sunday?
If we love Jesus we will feed his sheep. In this case, we will care for his people. The care could literally be feeding and shelter but more importantly feeding others the good news of salvation and sharing the love of God. That is what Jesus was telling Peter and the other disciples and that is what he shares with us through the Spirit every single day. If you love Jesus, tend to his sheep.
May the peace and love of Jesus Christ be with you as you travel through this week.
We Are All Sent Out To Proclaim the Gospel!
Easter Sunday has passed. It is always a joy to look out to find the sanctuary overflowing with God’s people present to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I stayed at church for a while after everyone had left. In the silence I found in the sanctuary, I thought about how different it was than just an hour before with the sounds of children, adults talking to one another, the music and the joy of welcoming confirmation students into the membership of the church. I prayed every person would return next Sunday.
I thought about what everyone was most likely doing at the time after church. I am sure there were meals, family gatherings, meeting for lunch elsewhere and a general appreciation for family and friends. I suspect there was a lot of good will, joy and love shown the rest of that day. The question is what happens when the excitement of the day wears off? Family goes home, Monday starts a new work week and school is back in session? Do we maintain that high level of spiritual awareness of Eastertide or do we tend to let the issues of the world drag us back into the daily a daily grind where God is set back on the shelf until the next opportunity for church?
I saw a cartoon the other day that has the pastor speaking to a couple on the steps of the church after the service. The man tells the pastor that he (pastor) is in a rut because every time he comes to church the pastor is talking about the resurrection and birth of Jesus: In other words, the man only attends church on Christmas Eve and Easter. Although it is a bit amusing, it is also sad. How sad it is that some only experience God’s grace and congregant worship twice a year or maybe a few more if there is a wedding or a funeral. I just think about all the joy and excitement they miss out the rest of the year. C&E Christians as they are referred to in the trade (Christmas & Easter) as that is when they practice their faith. Some tell me they do not need the church to practice their faith, some say they do not need others to have a relationship with God. Although I kind of doubt that I feel sorry for them because they are missing out on the renewal of God’s message of hope, miss out on learning more about God’s kingdom and most of all, the missing out of the experience of the Holy Spirit moving among believers during a worship service. I am especially concerned for children who miss the chance of growing up in the church. Sometimes if feels like church membership is kind of like joining the Eagles’ Club. You join so you can have a wedding reception there or an anniversary celebration when needed but the rest of the time you don’t have any obligation.
The success of any church is the full participation of the members and friends of the church. Without the help of everyone, both financial as well as through time and talent, the church will ultimately die. I have been involved in a number of churches who found it necessary to close because of dwindling membership and finances. Ironically, the final service always had a full house. The people attending would wonder out loud what happened to “their” church, despite the fact they had stopped attending and helping the church years ago. There were those who expressed relief that the church stayed open until their parents died so the funeral could be held in their “home” church.
When I hear these comments, I always want to cry. What a waste of Jesus’ ministry in that community. I think about how hard a community will fight to keep their school open because it is the center of the community and there is a fear the town will die after the school closes. What about the church which is also a center of the community? Why do they not fight as hard to keep it open?
Some stay away because of some slight or some perceived issue that probably took place years ago. Some stay away because they have stayed away too long. Some stay away because they have lost their way and don’t know how to return. This past week, I decided that I needed to work with a trainer at a gym again because my routine at home wasn’t working as well as when I was twenty years younger. Returning to a gym where there were new faces, a new environment and kind of intimidating is uncomfortable. The pain and discomfort I feel now about two weeks into the routine is even more painful. It would be easy to quit, nobody would really notice except me and perhaps my family but they won’t say anything. I know it is worth the pain and discomfort because I want to live to see my future grandkids and live many years to come to serve God.
I think that this experience is much like getting into the habit of going to church and getting involved either the first time or getting back. The pain and discomfort will certainly be worth it when the time comes to meet Jesus and stand before God and say I did the best I could.
Do the best you can. Get yourself to a church this Sunday.
Pastor Gary Smith
Today (Sunday) during worship, we asked the Spirit to be with us. Some people often think that asking the Spirit to join us in Church is akin to asking Nebraska fans to show up at a game. The reality is that each time we pray, read the Bible or gather together, we do need to take time to reflect and to ask the Spirit to be with us. The Spirit can open our hearts and minds to God’s message and direction for each of us.
This Sunday was important as it was a service of healing and reconciliation. Often we focus solely on the healing aspect as it pertains to physical ailment when in fact, healing applies to the spiritual parts of our lives, the emotional parts of our lives as well as our physical lives. Part of healing is attention to reconciliation: both with God but with others. It is a time to ask forgiveness but also to forgive.
I would encourage you to ask God to use the Spirit to guide you through times of healing and reconciliation. If you would like to learn more about healing and reconciliation, please give us a call at the church, message us here or email us.
Here are the questions I posed this Sunday to ponder for the rest of the week.
Here are the questions I asked everyone to consider the rest of this week.
Are we moving or simply meeting?
Are we making a measurable difference in our community or simply conducting weekly services?
Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation?
Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budgeting decisions?
Are we ekklesia or have we settled for kirche?
12 mins ·
It is not my place as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA to endorse a specific candidate for President or to speak out negatively about others. For me, this is an extremely challenging test of patience. Trying to be objective and open to understanding God’s will in new ways is a constant challenge in a position where I regularly encounter faithful people who understand their positions in direct opposition to others.
What I CAN say is that we all need to test our thoughts about such matters as politics based on our Christian values. The following is obvious, but may need to be affirmed one more time.
Being faithful followers means we don’t speak “hate” while we stand up for what we believe is “right”. It means we find ways to focus our energies on what might be best for others, rather than just for us.
The separation of church and state should not apply to our personal decision-making relative to politics and how we vote.
In fact, to choose to separate our beliefs into various categories where our living a Christ- like life has bearing on some matters but not on others is in effect turning our back on God.
Sadly, too many of us – be we conservative or liberal in our religious orientation – are choosing to translate God’s Word in ways that make it convenient for us to follow a pattern we like or affirm even if it is in direct opposition to Christ’s teachings.
Let’s remember that loving our neighbor is not an optional commandment. Next to loving God it is the most important directive we were given by Christ. Love. Where do we see it being manifested in our complex world of politics?
May each of us apply the very familiar words of 1st Corinthians 13 to our personal as well as our political lives.
“Love is patient. It is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but it rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. ”
My friends, this is the Word of the Lord. Are we bold enough, unselfish enough, faithful enough to demand this from our leaders? Can we apply these words to our own behavior? Or do we think God’s Word is irrelevant to our politics – that such words are out of touch with reality? If the latter, may God forgive us.