Monthly Archives: April 2015

Jesus Loves Me

Jesus Loves Me this I know

VBS 2014 013

Hearing that song just warms my heart.  I could never get tired of hearing children sing that song.  In Rachel’s Place chapel, we sing Jesus loves me almost every week.  It’s so important because if there is one thing that they will leave here knowing- I want it to be that Jesus loves them.  There is nothing else as important as that.  Jesus loves you.  Your pastors love you.  Your teachers love you.  Your families love you.  You are loved.

You are a child of God.

When our staff brainstormed about what it means to be a child of God, we came up with the following words: loved, cherished, worthy, hopeful, faithful, believer

When we teach our children that they are children of God- we give them a gift. We teach them that God loves them, and we teach them that they are worthy of that love.

There’s a quote I love from one of my favorite bloggers, “Be confident- You are a child of God!  Be humble- everyone is too.”

When we raise our children in a faith community we give them the incredible gift of knowing that they are loved- but it does not end there.  Rather we teach them that because God first loved us- we in turn love others. When we raise our children in the faith we help them to care about others too.  We help them to care about the world.

Our scripture reading today from 1 John 3:1-7

Our Bible reading today marvels at God’s love.  God loves us so deeply that we should be called children of God.  That is true for each of us. From creation, God created people in God’s image, male and female.  To be created in someone’s image seems to be another way of showing that parent/child relationship.  We were made in God’s image- to be like God.  We are God’s children.  John reminds us of this in his letter.  He writes to the followers of Jesus, calling them little children of God.  But to be born of God spiritually in Jesus- takes it a step further.  Every person is a child of God- and yet God calls us to live into this identity.  John says that we are children of God when we practice righteousness or when we are fair and just.  He puts it another way by saying that we live in the light of Christ when we love our brothers and sisters. (aka all people!)

“We love, because God first loved us.”  As our song goes.  That Bible verse comes later in John’s letter.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”  This is true for all of us, but especially our young children.  We do not know what their futures may hold- but we do know what kind of a future we would dream for them.

When are children are little- they can’t get enough time with mom and dad, and grandpa and grandma, aunts and uncles right!?  Yet, as they grow older and become more independent how do we continue to care for them and raise them in the faith?

In our confirmation program we do small group time where the youth meet with their group guides and share highs and lows as a part of the FAITH5.  It’s a great time to get to know each other and share in each other’s lives.  They can really form a great bond doing this.  As we were starting to fill out our thank you cards for the group guides this week- I was talking to one of the eighth grade groups.  I asked, “Will you sign Julie’s card?” “She’s awesome! We love Julie!” they told me.

Here they have a space to share their lives- with a mentor- another adult teaching them the faith.

If you do not know your child’s highs- you do not know your child.

If you do not know your child’s lows- you do not know your child.

That is what Rich Melheim the founder of the FAITH5 says.

FAITH5 is one of the ways here at Hope that we work to pass on faith to our children and youth.  The FAITH5 consists of Share, Read, Talk, Pray, Bless.  A nightly ritual at home of sharing highs and lows, reading a scripture verse, talking about how that relates to their lives, praying together, and blessing each other.   A simple ritual that fosters communication, helps them apply the Bible to their lives, and reminds them that they are loved by God and by their family.  What if these things were done every night with our young people?  What if our families committed to being in church every week to gather for support and encouragement?  Think of the child that hears that message every day and every week.  Now… think of the child that does NOT.  We are not helpless in this.  We can live lives of purpose and love.

Every night in the home.  Every week at church– that’s the mission of the FAITH5- and really our mission at Hope too.  Together we can raise our children in the faith- we can teach them the stories of God, we can teach them that they are loved and they are children of God.  We can partner with families to teach our children how much they are love by Jesus and by others.

One day after having my own kids, I was talking to my mom and I asked her, “how did your kids turn out so well?”  She is the mom of 4, and did a great job raising us.  We all still love coming home.

She looked at me and said, “Time.  We gave you our time.  There are no shortcuts.”

Families these days don’t always have an abundance of time, and that is why the time that you have together is precious.  Fill those precious moments with love- invest in your children.

We can say the same for all of our relationships.  There is no substitute for quality time together.  Sometimes it takes a risk, to step out and share love with those in our lives.  But it is worth it.

Check out the FAITH5 website for more great resources! http://faith5.org/

Easter Message of Fear and Joy

With Fear and Great Joy

jamie leading kids

Matthew 28:1-10New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Resurrection of Jesus

28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Our story begins as the day dawns on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, perhaps Mary the mother of Jesus, come to the tomb.  The beginning seems quite ordinary: loved ones visiting a tomb. This bright and early morning could have been the same story that many experienced before this and many after this.  The story of death.  The story of loss.  The end of the story. And yet for this Easter story the grave is not the end.  God is about to dramatically intervene.

“Suddenly there was a great earthquake.”  An angel of the Lord descends from heaven and rolls back the stone and sits on it.    The guards cannot handle this overwhelming scene.  The guards, who should be the epitome of strength, are weak and become like dead men.  The women, who in biblical times were perceived as weak, are strong and clearheaded.  Yet the women who came to visit Jesus’ body- do not faint.  They stand to hear the angel’s message.  “Do not be afraid.”

The phrase, do not be afraid, or fear not, is found in the Bible over one hundred times.  I think it is one of the most important messages that God gives to us.  And I think one of the reasons God uses this message so often, is that we can never be truly rid of fear.  Fear is a part of life.  And yet, we are not to be paralyzed in fear.  We should not allow fear to stop us from hearing the good news.  We should not  allow fear to stop us from knowing Jesus.  We should not allow fear to keep us from living, and loving, and experiencing the goodness and joy of this life. Our scripture says the women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  “With fear and great joy!

Joy and fear are emotions that often go hand in hand.

When we experience joy- we must do this wholeheartedly.  We can’t experience a little bit of joy- rather joy is an overflowing experience.  To experience joy, we must open ourselves up to living in the present moment. And when we open ourselves up to the present- we are vulnerable.  You can’t experience joy without vulnerability.  Being vulnerable means that we are also opening ourselves up to other experiences.  Being open to joy and love- also means being open fear.  When we are truly living, we are experiencing everything on life’s spectrum.  We will feel more joy- we will know more love- but we will also experience fear, loss, and grief.

  • Imagine learning to ride a bike for the first time. To balance- you must let go of the ground and trust your body.  You feel the joy of riding with the wind in your face.  Yet at the same time, there is still the possibility that you will fall.  There is joy and fear.
  • Imagine holding your precious baby or grandbaby for the first time. There is pure joy at the beauty of this new life.  And fear, because this gift is beyond our complete protection. Joy and fear.
  • Imagine applying for that job, or that perfect school. The hope of what it may bring also brings the fear of rejection and disappointment.
  • Imagine allowing ourselves to fall in love again- after a broken heart- with fear and great joy!

Allowing yourself to hope can be a risky thing.  It means putting yourself out there.  It means being open to the world.  When the women see the angel of the Lord, they are afraid.  When they see the empty tomb, they allow themselves to hope.  They are living in both fear and joy.  They are joyful because they have hope that the good news, may indeed be true.  That Jesus, their beloved teacher, is alive!  That they will see him again.  That he is waiting for them in Galilee.  They are fearful because they may again be disappointed with grief.  They have experienced something so unexpected- they do not know what will happen next- they are afraid.  They are experiencing fear and great joy!  They are so overcome with these emotions that they are running- they run to tell the disciples.  “They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

And what happens next is perhaps the most surprising thing of all- they run into Jesus.  Jesus in the flesh.   In their fear and their joy and their running- they encounter God.  They meet the risen Christ.

In our lives, when we experience joy- we too run into God.  When we allow ourselves to hope.  When we allow ourselves to live in this present moment and experience joy- even though it also means befriending fear, we find God.  Our joy is a holy testament to the resurrected Christ.

Suddenly Jesus meets them and greets them.  It’s important to note the words that Jesus greet Mary and Mary with.  Our translation says, “Greetings!” And yet the root word is the same as the root word for joy- it is a greeting of joy.  Jesus’ emotions mirror the women.  And yet, what is not present?  Fear.  In the new creation- Jesus is filled with joy, without fear.  What a beautiful promise for each of us.  Someday we will know the perfect love that casts out fear, completely.

After Jesus greets the women- they worship him.  They take a leap of faith.  And Jesus again repeats the message. “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  The women are privileged to be the first witnesses to the resurrection.  The first to carry the good news that Jesus is alive, that God has not left them.    They are to tell the brothers and sisters that they will see Jesus in Galilee.  Galilee- the place where Jesus healed, and preached, and performed miracles.  The place where Jesus taught his disciples.  Jesus will go ahead of them Galilee.  The women carry this word of hope, with fear and great joy.

Hope may be a risky thing.  But a life without hope- is not a life truly lived.  A life without hope is a life without: joy, love, purpose.  The account of Jesus’ resurrection is a story that needs hope.  As Christians, we do not have the privilege of being first-hand witnesses to the resurrection.  Rather, God invites us to hear the story and believe.

As followers of Christ today, we stand with the women at the tomb and ask, “Could it be true?  Could this good news be true?”  We may be afraid to let ourselves believe this good news.  And yet God calls us to take a leap of faith- to allow ourselves to hope, and to experience the joy.  This joy comes from knowing Jesus.    God tells us, “Do not be afraid.”  We are called to take a leap of faith and open our eyes to the evidence of the resurrection all around us.

Our story began early in the morning on the first day of the week.  And that story did not end in death- but new life.  And every Sunday, the first day of the week, early in the morning- for the last two millennia- Jesus’ followers gather to share the story of God’s love for the world.  Just as we gather today to share the story, to remember Jesus’ words: Do not be afraid, I am going ahead of you.  The message of hope and joy.  The hope of Easter is that death is not the end of the story.  Jesus defeated death- and was raised to new life.  The hope of Easter is ‘for you.’  God promises you new life in Christ.  A life of joy and love.  A life that continues with God beyond the grave.  A life that will unite us with those we have lost who are now with God.  That is the hope of Easter.

May you be filled with the hope and joy of Easter today, and every day. Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed! Amen.

Holy Last Supper, Reflection from Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Scripture: John 13:1-7, 31-35

Icon1MaundThurs01Proje

Someone blogging about Holy Week wrote this…  “Holy Week is not about pursuing happiness…  Holy Week is about surviving with a broken heart, and cherishing that brokenness, so that your life is transformed by it.”[1]  And here we are on Maundy Thursday- called Maundy for the Latin word mandatum- meaning commandment.  We remember the last night that Jesus spent with his disciples- and the new commandment that he gave them- to love one another.  And we realize that this commandment is for us here today as well.  We, who come with our wounds and brokenness and suffering, and hope to be transformed…  But as we are transformed we never truly let go of those wounds- but instead they become the scars that make us who we are.  Jesus’ disciples experienced this in his death.

There’s a beautiful hymn that speaks to cherishing that brokenness, “We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts, living, now we remain with Jesus the Christ.”

In Holy Week we acknowledge the suffering that Jesus endured and the painful grief of his disciples. As we think about this last supper where Jesus washed his disciples feet and gave them a new commandment we realize that he is about to die.  This intimate meal and time that he shares with his disciples is shadowed by Jesus’ impending death.  And Jesus understands this.  And maybe the disciples do too- even if only subconsciously.  They pay special attention to his teaching.  They wonder about some of the strange things that Jesus says.  They sensed the holiness of the moment as they spent this special time with Jesus.  And for the rest of their lives- they will remember it as significant.  In fact it will take on even more meaning after Jesus dies.  It will be a source of inspiration for them as they begin their ministry.

In my life I experienced a Holy Last Supper of sorts.  It was for my nephew Drew.  He was just 11 months old when he was diagnosed with brain cancer.  It was a rare and aggressive form of cancer.  And despite months of surgeries, chemo, and procedures- the cancer spread throughout his body.  After my brother and sister-in-law decided to stop treatment- the children’s hospital connected them with a group that granted wishes to cancer patients and their families- similar to the Make a Wish Foundation- which does this for older children.  At first Ben and Annie hoped to take Drew on a trip- some place warm.  His favorite activity was going for walks and they hoped it would bring him some comfort- but the doctors said he wasn’t able to travel.  So instead they decided to host a dinner in Drew’s honor for their immediate families.  So we all gathered together with our special guest of honor.  There were pictures taken, and memories shared, and laughter and smiles over Drew.  We feasted on a delicious meal and clinked our glasses.  It was a very special and intimate time that we shared together. Drew was still with us, so we feasted and celebrated his beautiful spirit.  Still the shadow of his illness was present.  When the evening ended the bitterness settled in and the goodbyes were heart wrenching.  It was the last time I saw little Drew.  And I will always hold that evening in my heart.  It reminds me of what a precious gift each day is- and how blessed my family was to have Drew in our lives, even for a short time.

Looking back I wonder if the disciples felt similar.  Jesus was with them in his ministry for a short time- only three years.  And yet he forever changed their lives and the course of history.  And in that last night together Jesus gave them a new commandment that really embodied the whole of his ministry and the time they had spent together- love.  Before he shares this commandment with them he gives an illustration.  As any great teacher knows, the best way to teach others is to model the lesson yourself.  And Jesus, God in flesh, stoops low to wash the feet of the disciples.  Their tired, achy, dirty feet…  He becomes the slave- to show how much he truly loves them.  And he shows them how to love each other.  This is how you are to love others, by kneeling before them in service.  Jesus allows the disciples to feel with their hands and feet this message of love.  They are able to taste and see God’s goodness in the meal they share together.

In Jesus’ last hours with his disciples- he shares this message of love.  It’s quite remarkable really.  Jesus does go into a rather lengthy good-bye speech.  But it’s interesting to note what he does NOT do.  Jesus doesn’t give them a list of instructions.  He doesn’t create a hierarchy of leadership- or name one person as his successor.  He doesn’t give them rules about how to live together or how they will go forward in their mission.  He tells them to love one another just as he loved them.

It doesn’t seem very practical- really.  I know moms who leave the house the house for an evening with longer instruction lists than what Jesus gives to his disciples.   And yet even with all of its impracticality- it makes an impression on the disciples.  They will always remember this evening with Jesus- and understand how truly precious it was.  It becomes their calling and their identity.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And this command of love is our call too- it is our identity as Christians.  When we lose a loved one or experience a time of suffering in our lives- it never leaves us.  It becomes woven into the fabric of who we are.  And as Christians, the disciples’ memory of the Last Supper and the New Commandment become our memories too.  They become our suffering, and our passion, our brokenness.  And during Holy Week, we hold that suffering of Jesus deep in our hearts.  It becomes a living testament of God’s love for us.  It transforms us, into people who love deeply.  In Christ we survive with our broken hearts.  We cherish them because it means that we have truly loved others.   And we are transformed by the love of God that we know through the cross.  Amen.

[1] http://biteintheapple.com/beloved-a-maundy-thursday-reflection/