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Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-21

 

I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.

 –Charles Spurgeon

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 Norwegian company is developing a new system to generate electricity from wind power. Fast Company magazine reports that when it becomes operational next year, “it could deliver five times the annual energy of the world’s largest single turbine. That’s because the system is three times taller than the average turbine, exposing the blades to higher wind speeds.” The structure will be big, as tall as the Eiffel Tower. And wide, stretching the length of some of the world’s largest cruise ships.

Built as an enormous metal grid, it will contain 126 wind turbines. It will float on a platform, anchored to the ocean floor using the same technology employed by the oil and gas industry. Put these elements together, and you have a single structure that will generate enough electricity to run 80,000 European homes.

They will call it “Windcatcher.”

“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” (2:2). This wind was as fast as the air that rushes at high altitudes, and as strong as the breeze that blows over deep waters. But this was not a hurricane or freak storm. No, this power came from God. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (v. 4).

The apostles became Windcatchers, powered by the Holy Spirit.

Today is Pentecost Sunday. We observe this Sunday as the traditional moment that the Church came into being — that moment when the apostles began to catch the wind of the Spirit, and began to share the love and power of God with the world.

The wind of God is blowing. Let’s catch it. And share God’s power with the world.

 —Timothy Merrill, adapted from HomileticsOnline.com. Used by permission.

 

Prayer: O God, help me to capture the wind of the Holy Spirit in my sails, that I might be able to help others draw closer to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Scripture Reading: John 15:1-8

Nothing is impossible. The word itself says “I’m possible!”

—Audrey Hepburn

 


 

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 have a love/hate relationship with gardening. I love the idea of gardening, but I hate doing the gardening.

 I enjoy walking through beautiful gardens like the ones you find in the great cities of the U.S. I have visited Butchart Gardens in Victoria, as well as some awesome gardens in Paris, London and Shanghai.

 But there’s a dark side to gardening I don’t like to think about. Today’s Bible reading reminds me that gardening is not all fun and games.

 The reading is about vines and fruit. It opens with, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower” (v. 1). Ahhh. It’s a nice image.

 The reality, however, is that these eight verses are pretty grim. We could say “harsh.” After the nice sentiment in verse 1, Jesus gets right to it: “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.”

 It gets worse. Even the fruitful branches get “pruned.” Think about it. Two blades enclose some part of the branch and cut into it and snap it off.

 It gets worse still: “Branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned” (v. 6). If a branch doesn’t bear fruit, if it withers on the vine, it’s removed and thrown into a smoldering fire.

 And think of the plowing and digging of gardening. Think of the plucking, pulling, weeding, and all the work of planting, fertilizing and watering every day.

 Yes, as I said, gardening is not all fun and games.

 Jesus says that we are the branches. So, as the “branch” of this text, are we ready and willing to look at the dark-side message of this passage? The vinegrower has expectations. Are we willing to submit to the shears? Are we willing for some correction and rebukes? Some pruning? Will we make the most of the nutrients the VineGrower provides?

 The Scottish divine, Andrew Murray, has a good perspective on the meaning of this text: “A machine can do work; only life can bear fruit. A law can compel work; only love can spontaneously bring forth fruit. Work implies effort and labor; the essential idea of fruit is that it is the silent, natural, restful produce of our inner life” (emphasis added).

 Will we abide in Jesus? —Timothy Merrill

 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, may I be willing to submit to the shears as necessary, so that my life will be laden with fruit that will bless others. Amen.

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 Scripture Reading: Psalm 23

It takes some of us a lifetime to learn that Christ, our Good Shepherd, knows exactly what he is doing with us. He understands us perfectly.

—Phillip Keller


 

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his story is about how a well-known hymn emerged from the horror of the American Civil War, and is told by the author of the lyrics, Joseph Gilmore.

 He had been speaking at a mid-week service in March 1862, and his subject was Psalm 23. It was a text with which he was quite familiar for he had used it several times in his ministry. This time, however, he couldn’t get past the words, “He leadeth me.” The entire verse is “He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul” (KJV). He said, “Those words took hold of me as they had never done before, and I saw them in a significance and wondrous beauty of which I had never dreamed.”

 He went on to explain that “It was the darkest hour of the Civil War. … [I] realized that God’s leadership is the one significant fact in human experience, that it makes no difference how we are led, or whither we are led, so long as we are sure God is leading us.”

 After the service, he grabbed a blank sheet of paper and quickly scrawled out the words to a hymn as though inspired by the Holy Spirit. Later, unbeknownst to him, his wife sent the lyrics to a publisher. They were set to music, and, in subsequent decades and to this day, continue to provide inspiration and comfort to those who hear it or sing it.

 

He leadeth me, O blessèd thought!

O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!

Whate’er I do, where’er I be

Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, He leadeth me,

By His own hand He leadeth me;

His faithful follower I would be,

For by His hand He leadeth me.

 —Timothy Merrill. Adapted from Hymnary.org.

 

Prayer: Loving God, I praise your name for being my Shepherd and for leading me to green pastures and still waters. Thank you for your loving care! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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January 14, 2024

Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

 

Listening to God is far more important than giving him your ideas.

―Frank Laubach

 


 

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he little boy Samuel had been living in the temple ever since his mother Hannah had delivered him into the watchful care of the priest, Eli. There must have been days when the young Samuel wondered what his mother had gotten him into. He was in training to become a full-time servant of God, but not once had he perceived God’s presence in the temple or God’s purpose for his life. Samuel had been dedicated to God, but where was God?

 Good mentor that he was, Eli gives Samuel three definite things to do so that he may be ready for a visit from God: “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’” (v. 9). Look at this advice carefully.

 LIE DOWN: Samuel is much like the rest of us. He is so busy running around that he hardly knows where he is going. Eli’s advice to “lie down” is a way of saying, “Let go and let God. Relax. Surrender to a force bigger than you.”

 LISTEN UP: The second part of Eli’s advice to Samuel is implied when he begins to describe what Samuel should do “if he calls you.” In order to hear that call, Samuel must be listening. In order for all of us to have a vision of God or to experience God’s presence, we must use our ears.

 TALK BACK: God waits for us to respond, to question, even challenge the divine word that comes to us. Because God wants a relationship with us, we must be able to understand God’s will and perceive God’s wisdom. We must talk back to God. Sometimes, this dialogue is nothing more than our consent — as Samuel utters when the word of the Lord finally comes to him. Sometimes it is a far more interactive, problematic conversation — as it was with Job, Moses, Jonah or Jeremiah.

 God offers us a new way of seeing, of envisioning the world. The greatest vision God sent us is Jesus Christ. In Christ’s resurrection we are assured God’s presence is frequent, that it is continually with us in this world.

 In relationship with Christ, we can be assured that Eli’s advice still holds. For in Christ, we can trust God enough to lie down, listen up and talk back.  

 —Adapted by Timothy Merrill, from HomileticsOnline.com. Used with permission.

 

Prayer: O God, how easy it is to get so busy with life, that we don’t have time to sit still and listen for what the Spirit may be saying. Calm me down, God. Speak to me in the stillness.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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January 7, 2024

Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-5

 

Don’t make plans; make options. —Jennifer Aniston

 

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he headline screamed an amazing and unheard of development: “105-Year-Old Sprinter Hidekichi Miyazaki Sets New Record!”

 This was not fake news. On September 23, 2015, Miyazaki did, indeed, compete and win, and thereby became the Guinness World Records oldest competitive sprinter. Miyazaki ran the 100-meter dash and did it in 42.22 seconds.

 There are three things impressive about Miyazaki. First, he was not satisfied. Published reports said he was not impressed by his performance. He complained of not being in good condition. He expressly said that he was not satisfied with his time.

 Second, he had a goal. His target for this particular race was 35 seconds.

 Third, his philosophy was that it is never too late to start a new thing! Miyazaki did not begin to participate in track and field sports until he was in his 90s!

 What goals and records have you set your sights on for 2024?

 The story of this Japanese centenarian has some valuable lessons for us.

 First, it is easy for all of us, regardless of our age, to be satisfied with the status quo. We might be just fine with our level of physical fitness, or our spiritual growth. Perhaps we are okay with the state of our family relationships. They might not get better, but at least they won’t get worse. “It is what it is,” we say.

 Is this the attitude we want to have going into 2024?

 Second, Miyazaki had a goal. Even though he was 105, he understood the importance of striving toward an objective. The apostle Paul acknowledged the importance of goal-setting in his letter to the Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own … This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:12-14).

 Third, Miyazaki believed it was never too late to start over. This, indeed, is the essence of the gospel. Today is the day of salvation, renewal and change!

 After his amazing record-setting event, Miyazaki lived for another three years, dying on January 23, 2019, at the age of 108. But while he was alive, he lived … as though there was no tomorrow. —Timothy Merrill

 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift of another year, for allowing me to see the dawn of new opportunities. May I be strong and courageous and accept whatever challenges face me in 2024. In your name I pray.  Amen.

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Scripture Reading: Luke 1:26-38

Pray, and let God worry. ―Martin Luther


 

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lmost 40 years ago, songwriter Mark Lowry scribbled down some lyrics for a Christmas song about Mary. After all, people were singing carols about the angels, the shepherds, and of course about the baby Jesus born on this holy and silent night. But few carols paid homage to the teenage girl who gave birth 2,000 years ago in the little town of Bethlehem, Judea.

 The song that Lowry wrote reached Number 6 on CCM Magazine’s Adult Contemporary Chart. At the time, Lowry was with the Gaither Vocal Band, and he himself recorded his song on their 1998 Christmas album, Still the Greatest Story Ever Told. Today, the song has become a modern Christmas classic, recorded by hundreds of artists over the years, and different versions have periodically reached the top 10 in the Billboard R&B and Holiday charts.

 His song consists of questions.

 

Mary, did you know

That your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know

That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know

That your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered

Will soon deliver you?

 

 Let’s answer Lowry’s questions.

 No, Mary didn’t know.

 She was clueless. She was young. “How can this be?” she asks in verse 34 of our reading. Later, there were many things she would “ponder” in her heart. She didn’t know what it would be like having to raise a boy who was always going about “his Father’s business.” She didn’t know what it would be like to watch him suffer and die.

 We don’t know everything either, do we? We can’t know what lies past this Christmas Eve Sunday. But Mary was a woman of faith: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

 This is a good verse for us to take with us into 2024. —Timothy Merrill

 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, today you are a baby in a manger. You will grow to be the Savior of the world. And you will be raised in triumph and glory! I worship and bow before you. Amen.  

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Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2023

 

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:1-8


Don’t equate the presence of God with a good mood or a pleasant temperament. God is near whether you are happy or not. ―Max Lucado

 

 

 

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ne day long ago, a Black Monk, so-called because of the color of his Benedictine habit, rode an ox into town. He stopped near the town square of a small village in Tuscany, and seemed to be looking around, as though he had lost his bearings.

 The town drunk, still a few hours from total sobriety, saw him and staggered up to the monk on the ox.

 “What are you looking for?” he asked.

 “I’m looking for an ox,” the Benedictine said.

 The man stepped back and began to bellow. “He’s looking for an ox.”

 Soon the baker and the butcher appeared and asked the same question, and got the same answer.

 A crowd gathered and the murmuring increased. Finally, the drunk explained to the monk his confusion: “This is ridiculous. You are a man riding on an ox and yet you are looking for an ox.” He paused. “Did you hear me? You are looking for an ox? You are sitting on an ox!!

 The monk answered, “So it is with you looking for God.”

 Advent is a reminder that God is with us. Right here. Right now. God got down to earth in a special way in Christ. His presence remains.

 This is important to remember, because sometimes we have trouble sensing the presence of God. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, once observed: “God, Who is everywhere, never leaves us. Yet He seems sometimes to be present, sometimes to be absent. If we do not know Him well, we do not realize that He may be more present to us when He is absent than when He is present.”

 Are you feeling a bit low and discouraged as Christmas nears? Be of good cheer. As C. S. Lewis said in this book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer: “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate.”

 You can’t get more incognito than arriving in the world as a baby! Immanuel! God with us!

 ―Timothy Merrill

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I remember that you are always closer than I think or realize. Amen.  

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 First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2023

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9
 

The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

 

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n 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem, “The Sicilian’s Tale.” In it, King Robert of Sicily is sitting in his royal box at the cathedral, dozing through a Christmas cantata. Suddenly, he sits up straight. He’s caught a few words of what the choirboys are singing!

 The king’s Latin isn’t so good, so he asks a nearby monk to translate. When the good brother gets to the part about the mighty being cast down from their thrones and those of low degree being lifted up, the wily king remarks: “’Tis good that such seditious words are sung in Latin, lest the peasants understand them.”

 King Herod might have felt the same way if he had been eavesdropping on Mary when she burst into song while visiting her cousin Elizabeth. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she sang, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). Her song became known as “The Magnificat.”

 She went on to sing, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (vv. 52-53). She was carrying the Christ child. She can feel a revolution in her womb! God has chosen to become a human, born in humble circumstances. It signals the dawn of a new era: the downtrodden finally have their day. Salvation for the righteous and the poor is at hand!

Mary’s song is a beautiful hymn, but it also is a song of solidarity. It reminds us that the Christmas story is not primarily a cute story of a baby being born in a manger to the adulation of angels and shepherds.

 No, it is much more! God is shaking the heavens and the earth! Change is coming!

 Back to Longfellow and King Robert. God is offended by Robert’s pride, and installs an angel in his stead as king, and relegates Robert to the role of court jester. When Robert insists that he is the true king, he is denounced as a madman or a joker. Only when he confesses, “Thou art the king,” is he restored to his throne.

 As we begin our observance of Advent, let us ask if we are prepared to be a part of this new kingdom that God in Christ has announced to us! —Timothy Merrill

 

Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for planting the seeds of your kingdom here on Earth. Help us to be sensitive to your will. Amen.