Understanding Mercy

God is known to be a God of mercy and grace. Understanding mercy is often difficult for people as we tend to be a generation of “I’ll get him for that” and “I hope they get what they deserve.” Many have developed a nature of harsh criticism and want others to get what they have coming to them and then some.

God, however, is merciful to even the worst offenders, sinners, and law-breakers. This means that even though He knows of our guilt, God doesn’t issue the punishment deserved. To elaborate, the verse in Romans 3:23-24 says “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” God’s mercy is restorative, not punitive.

Simply, we all miss the mark and will never meet the full standards of righteousness that God intends us to have. But, through God’s mercy and grace God releases us from any form of judgment. God’s covenant of love and mercy with Israel in the Old Testament was steadfast regardless of how wayward the people were. God’s mercy in the New Testament is made known to us through Jesus who reconciled all people once and for all.  We live under a new covenant of love, mercy and grace.

We continue the sermon series this week titled: “The Heart of God.” Our subtitle is “God the Merciful.” God’s mercy is there for us every moment of our lives. Join me in worship this Sunday. Maybe you will go away understanding the depth of God’s mercy. Maybe you will recognize the need for God’s mercy. Maybe you will realize you need to show mercy. Or maybe you will experience God’s mercy as we sing the famous hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and the words, “Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided; great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

In Christ,

Pastor Dave

A Doubting Faith?

Have you ever had doubts or insecurities about your faith? Are you skeptical at times about God or wonder why God seems to be absent? If so, you are definitely not alone.
Maybe you’re just more open and honest about your feelings than a lot of people you know. In fact, I would say that most Christ-followers have at one time or another struggled with doubts. I know sincere Christians who have been believers for years and still struggle.

Doubting your faith is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can lead to spiritual growth and maturity. Think about it. It can be a time when you move from your family’s faith (childhood, adolescence) to actually owning your beliefs in a deep and real way.
There was an article blog in Christianity Today that spoke to this “doubt and faith” topic. It stated that there are usually two reasons why people doubt. Here they are:

1) Intellectual questions. In this case, people’s doubts come from questions about what’s true and what’s logical. People who have intellectual doubts often have questions like these: “Why should I believe the Bible is inspired by God?” “How is Christianity different from any other religions?” “Why isn’t evolution true?”

2) Emotional questions. These questions often come from hurt or grief. The emotional doubter may actually ask questions that are similar to those asked by the intellectual doubter: “Why does God allow suffering?” “How could a loving God send someone to hell for not being a Christian?” “Why are people born with disabilities?” The difference is that emotional doubters are not easily satisfied with intellectual answers. Why? Because their problem is not intellectual. It’s usually about their wounded feelings, and they need love and comfort.

This Sunday’s lectionary text is John 20: 19-31. It is the story of Thomas, aka…”the doubter.” You know the story. Jesus had appeared to his disciples behind closed doors (after his resurrection). Thomas missed the occasion. He did not believe his friends. He doubted or was skeptical of what they told him. He needed proof.

So he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and place my finger in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas must have been from the “show me state of Missouri” in Israel in those times. Jesus did reappear.

But what about us? Where are we in the story? Are we like Thomas? What’s our proof of a resurrection? Do we still doubt? Does our faith waffle back and forth? Maybe we can give ourselves the “benefit of doubt” and still have a “courageous strong faith” concerning the resurrection.

Pastor Dave

First Sunday of Lent

The Lenten season is here. It is a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations. We began our 40-day Lenten journey this past Wednesday when we smeared ashes on our foreheads, with the sign of the cross, to remind us of our own mortality. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial. It’s a time of spiritual introspection or soulful self-examination.

During Lent, many Christians commit to fasting from food or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. Some may try fasting from TV or technology. Others may try fasting from gossip or worry. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional, to draw themselves near to God. I hope you will pick up one of the Hyde Park Church devotionals this week found in the Welcome Center or at the ushers table in the Narthex. It’s not too late to start. These have been written by a variety of lay people and pastors.

Lent is traditionally described as lasting for forty days, in commemoration of the forty days which, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent, before beginning his public ministry, fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by the Devil.

We start a new Lenten series this Sunday titled: “Journey with Jesus.” We will focus on “Overcoming Temptation in the Wilderness.” It’s my hope you will join me in worship as we talk about the temptations of Jesus and how we might find ways to overcome these types of temptations ourselves.

Join me in reflecting on this passage about the temptations of Christ from the suggested gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent found in Luke
4:1-13. It was written by Anne Osdieck.

Gospel Reflection: Luke 1

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days.

Holy Spirit, take us to the desert. Speak straight to our hearts.
Help us fast with Jesus. Smooth out our rough souls.
Give us spiritual quiet, a quick and ready faith.

God, our only nourishment, our energy,
we want to come out of the wilderness, like Jesus,
charged with yourself.
Let this be.

Pastor Dave

Where’s Jesus?

I hope everyone had a peaceful and joyful Advent and Christmas season in celebrating the birth of our savior Jesus, the Christ!

Have you ever had fun with a Where’s Waldo photo illustration? It’s a series of children’s books created by the English illustrator Martin Handford. The books consist of a series of detailed double-page spread illustrations depicting dozens or more people doing a variety of amusing things at a given location. Readers are challenged to find a character named Wally (Waldo) hidden in the group. Wally’s distinctive red-and-white-striped shirt, bobble hat, and glasses make him slightly easier to recognize, but many illustrations contain red herrings involving deceptive use of red-and-white striped objects. Later entries in the long-running book series added other targets for readers to find in each illustration. The books have also inspired a TV show, comic strip, and a series of video games.

In our lesson this Sunday from the gospel of Luke Chapter 2:41-52 instead of asking “Where’s Waldo” we might ask; “Where’s Jesus?” In our story he’s lost in the crowd going to Jerusalem for the Passover. He’s only 12 years old and his parents have no clue where to find him. Can you believe they have lost the Son of God? How did this happen? Where is he? Will they find him?

Come and worship with us this Sunday as you hear the message titled: “Finding Jesus.” You may or may not be surprised where He is found or what he is up to in the story. Frankly, Jesus is a lot easier to find than Waldo. Jesus doesn’t play hide and seek with us. He is right where He is supposed to be “in his Father’s house.”

Lastly, it’s my hope after the service today you will be inspired or challenged to make “finding Jesus” more of a priority in your life as we start the New Year.

In Christ,
Pastor Dave

Mythbusters

Change! Change! Change! I’ve experienced it! You’ve experienced it!
Life is filled with change. Some change just happens and it knocks us down. Other change is necessary, and we initiate it through our choices. Change is essential for our growth and development as a person, as a people.

Without change, as the old Texas adage goes, “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got.”

If there is something that you don’t like about yourself or you find something that is interfering with the pursuit of your goals, well, just change it. Seems simple, doesn’t it? But, as anyone who has ever tried to change knows, it is far from simple or easy. Change can be slow, frustrating, and painful; it can also be engrossing and inspiring. So why is change so difficult? It’s because we usually resist or try to avoid it. It can be risky.

Our personal and professional lives can change. Our religious and spiritual lives can change. Change can happen outwardly or inwardly. God is in the transformation business of changing lives through Jesus Christ. That’s the mission of the church.

Today is our 2nd week of a sermon series titled, “Myth-busters.” Come learn about these myths on change. The reality is that we can trust that God is with us in the midst of whatever life changes we are going through. And that’s Good News!

Blessings,

Pastor Dave

Ancient Wisdom for Today: Making Decisions

The book of Proverbs is perhaps the best place in the Bible to learn of biblical wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 speaks of both biblical knowledge and wisdom: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, / but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” To fear the Lord is to start on the path to knowledge, and God can then begin to provide us with wisdom through Christ, who the Bible says is wisdom itself: “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Knowledge is what is gathered over time through the study or searching of the Scriptures. It can be said that wisdom, in turn, acts properly upon that knowledge and the truth is revealed.

A couple of things: I challenge you to read the whole Book of Proverbs. Read a chapter a day and reflect upon the precepts or principles presented. My guess is you will gain wisdom, insight and likely some inspiration. Go for it!

I pose this question: With all the knowledge we have; “How do we make wise decisions? When you have multiple options in front of you, how do you determine which is the best choice? How do you avoid a bad choice?

If you are anything like me, you want to make wise decisions. There are times I have done very well in decision-making and there are times I have blown it big time. So I’ve had to teach myself how to make the best decision I possibly can. There’s a process in wise decision-making which I’ll briefly share with you this Sunday morning in worship. It has helped me in making better choices. It just might help you!

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Dave

Strength in God

What happens when the bottom drops out of your life? When you experience a great calamity like the loss of your home through a fire or a flood? Or suffer through an unwanted divorce, or worse, the death of a loved one who meant the world to you? What happens when you must undergo lingering, intense personal illness or pain that just won’t go away? Some lose their faith in God when they go through times like these. Others, however, find hope and the strength to endure, often discovering a deeper meaning to life as a result of their strong, deeply spiritual and moral convictions. These brave souls see the proof that God is alive and is compassionate during those terrible times, as God cares for our needs.
All our power and strength comes from God who carries us through all suffering. As Christians we surrender to the strength that God provides and God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. As you read through these scripture passages about strength, be encouraged in that it is not your strength that is needed, but the strength that God willingly supplies. All our strength comes from God.

“The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” — Exodus 15:2

“God is my strength and power: and he makes my way perfect.” — 2 Samuel 22:33

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” — Philippians 4:13

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”– Psalms 46:1

“Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might.” — Ephesians 6:10

At times we must wait patiently and remember, “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” –Isaiah 40:31. Lastly, allow the Spirit of God to intercede in prayer on our behalf and God will see us through all our suffering.

Like you, I’ve experienced emotional, physical, and at times, spiritual suffering in my life. But through it all God has responded. God’s strength is greater than my strength. It’s my prayer that God’s strength will be your strength. Because He Lives….We live in his victorious power and resurrection strength that gives us hope both now and forever.

In Christ’s Care,
Dave Weaver

A Little History of Epiphany

Epiphany (Greek) means “manifestation” or “striking appearance.” Theophany (Ancient Greek) means a “vision of God.” Epiphany is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ.

In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as His manifestation to the world as the Son of God. The miracle at the Wedding at Cana is also celebrated during Epiphany as a first manifestation of Christ’s public life.

In these traditions, the essence of the feast is the same: the manifestation of Christ to the world (whether as an infant or in the Jordan) and the Mystery of the Incarnation.

In some Western Christian denominations, especially in the past and in the present-day Church of England, the feast of the Epiphany also initiates a liturgical season of Epiphanytide. The traditional date for the feast is January 6. However, since 1970, the celebration is held in some countries on the first Sunday after January 1.

Our scripture lesson this week is focused on the Magi seeking diligently the star in the sky. They have an Epiphany experience when they meet the Christ-child in the manger scene. Face to face they meet God incarnate. Their lives are forever changed.

We all experienced a little of this light at the Christmas Eve candlelight service. The journey for us is to continue to seek and search for more intimacy with Christ. We are to be vessels of light in our dark world. In our seeking Christ our lives are illuminated, and all of a sudden, like the Magi, we have an Epiphany experience. Christ is revealed or manifested in a new light in our lives. Our lives are forever changed.

It is my prayer that you will start the New Year off by “seeking the light.” It is my hope that Hyde Park Community UMC will be a beacon of light in our community, our city and the world. May we become an incarnational church filled with the “light and love” of Jesus Christ, so others seeking Christ may have an Epiphany transformational experience too.

Happy seeking in 2015! In the name of the One we follow, Jesus, the Christ!

Blessings,
Dave

Sacrament of Communion

A sacrament is a finite, physical, visible mediator of the sacred, a means whereby the sacred becomes present to us. A sacrament is a vehicle or vessel of the sacred. In Christian language, a sacrament is an “outward and visible sign” of “an inward spiritual grace.” Sacraments are “doors” to the sacred. They are sacred moments of grace.

There are a variety of names for the sacrament of communion: the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist or the Great Thanksgiving, and Holy Communion. Each of these names is taken from the New Testament and highlights certain facets of this sacrament’s many meanings.

Calling it the Lord’s Supper reminds us that it is a meal instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ and hosted by him at his table whenever it takes place.
Calling it Holy Communion reminds us that it is an act of the most holy and intimate sharing, making us one with Jesus Christ and part of his body, the church.

Calling it the Eucharist , a term taken from the New Testament Greek word meaning thanksgiving, reminds us that giving thanks to God for all that God has done is an essential part of the meal.

By using these different names we acknowledge that no single name can contain the “mystery of God” at work through the Holy Spirit in this sacred act.

October 5 is World Communion Sunday. As you receive the bread and the cup it is my hope that you will experience the presence of Christ in both a personal and communal way. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Let us celebrate this holy sacrament as a means of grace. May it liberate and empower us as the body of Christ.

In Christ’s love,
Dave

Getting Ready For Rally Day 2014

I hope everyone is having a great summer! Are you ready for Rally Day 2014 on Sunday, September 7? Traditionally at HPCUMC it’s the first Sunday after Labor Day that the church gets back into full swing. Let’s think of it as going back to “faith school” after summer break. I hope everyone is as excited about Rally Day as I am, and I do get excited about Rally Day!

In particular I want to speak about our Ministry of Education. As we gear up for the new season, the focus of our children, youth and adult ministries is on spiritual formation or faith development. Another synonym might be spiritual growth, discipleship or a big word like sanctification.

In Christian spiritual formation the focus is on Jesus. It is a lifelong process as a believer desires to become a mature disciple of Jesus and become more like him. Dallas Willard writes that “spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”
Galatians 4:19 speaks to the importance of forming one’s life toward the likeness of Christ … “until Christ is formed in you.”
Romans 8:27-29 further shows us that the shaping (“forming”) function of God’s divine Holy Spirit is carried out according to the will of God the Father, for the purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son – Jesus Christ.
Romans 12:1-2 encourages every believer to present themselves to the Lord as an act of spiritual worship and not to be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Then, you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.
We are not bystanders in the spiritual formation of our lives. We are to be active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into a deeper relationship. Spiritual formation is both a process and a journey. It requires a commitment of each one of us who has put their trust or faith alone in Jesus Christ to allow the work of God’s Holy Spirit to transform their life.

There are many opportunities for your spiritual formation here at HPCUMC. I encourage you in the “faith school year” to join a connect group, a Sunday school class, or participate in a mid-week book or Bible study. Hope you are looking to grow in your faith through study, prayer and being in relationship with others who are on the journey with you.
Rally Day is the beginning of something new. It is always great to get back to “faith school” in the life of the church. And it’s never too late to learn, grow and experience transformation as we mature in our faith. Make it a priority! Sign up for a class! May the Holy Spirit convict your heart to go to the next level of your own spiritual formation or faith development!

Are you getting excited about Rally Day 2014? I am!
In Christ’s love,

Dave Weaver