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Knowing the People Makes the Difference

by on Oct.01, 2017, under Hope

Three weeks ago I was in Vienna, West Virginia, to speak at the 36th Street church of Christ. What I knew about the area was gleaned from song writer, musician, John Denver and that it was “almost heaven.”

That weekend was also when hurricane Irma raged from the Caribbean through Florida and turned northwest. Millions evacuated, people were injured and some died. Destruction was everywhere! Not “almost heaven.”

That morning in a church in West Virginia we all prayed for those affected by the gale force winds, overwhelming rain and storm surge that inundated coasts. I told them about my friend Tony Fernandez who lives in Matanzas, Cuba, where Irma had just passed by. During Bible Class, I told about Tony’s commitment to God, his congregation, and that I had not heard from him since the hurricane passed over. The prayers changed, because we “knew” the people who were affected. In fact, as we talked more, it became obvious that many of us knew more people who were in harm’s way that weekend. Then during worship, I received an email that Tony was safe and read his description of what he saw as he tried to help others.

Knowing the people makes the difference!!

Who do you know that needs your prayers and your help? What else can you do to help them because knowing the people makes the difference.


And yet

by on Nov.20, 2016, under Hope

angels and shepherdsThe last few months have will proven to be a time of drastic contradictions and improbable outcomes.
In the United States we will threatened our neighbors with “Trick or Treat”, and now we offer thankfulness followed by acknowledging a time of offering gifts and love. Ironically we will then plan to do it all again next year.
We also endured a political campaign of egos and personalities who screamed, hurled insults and accusations followed, once the electorate had chosen a “winner”, with the call for unity and healing of wounds in two short months.
I, like you, stand on the edge of the stage of the whirling world, seemingly inept to affect the spiral that sees violence and conflict as the only realities.
And yet, thankfully there is an “and yet,” I am reminded that things here in our world are only temporary. Our faith is grounded in the promise given in the gospel of John, where we are told we have eternal life. As faithful followers of Jesus we believe that:

….God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:16-17

So while the world around us tilts ever closer to self destruction, and the choices being made offer harsh contradictions of almost horrible conclusions, our focus must be on God and His Son.
Our reality is the And Yet, for God sent Jesus to be born and then to die for each one of us. And offers the hope and promise sung by angels:

Glory to God in highest and on earth peace,
Good will toward men. Luke 2:14

And Yet!

So what are YOU going to do with your “and yets”?


The Jesus Stories

by on Sep.04, 2016, under Hope

The Gospels, those four books of the Bible that record the life of Jesus, focus on the same subject material but are unique and different from each other. Obviously written by different people, not all of them necessarily eye witnesses to all they write about, each book is written to a different audience and includes or omits things that the others don’t.

This can be seen in the scenes mentioned in all four Gospels like the scene on the Mount of Olives found in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 18. Matthew provides a broad overall panorama. Mark identifies the place as Gethsemane. John identifies the sword wielder as Peter and Malchus as the one whose ear is cut off. Luke highlights the fact that Jesus touches the ear and healed Malchus.

One of those almost overlooked and easily forgotten revelations is the notation in Luke that as Jesus is praying to his father to “take this cup away, ”that “ an angel appeared to Him from Heaven strengthening Him”. Luke 22:43. The other three Gospels do not mention this and Luke only mentions it once. Yet, the fact is that Jesus was not alone in the garden, for while his closest disciples slept, an angel was there comforting Jesus as he agonizes over his impending horrific suffering and death.

To fully know, appreciate and understand the story of Jesus, you have to study all four Gospels. For us over 20 centuries removed from the event we must rely on Eye Witnesses and Expert Witnesses to garner the full story of Jesus, the Messiah.

What things have you discovered about Jesus from your reading of the Gospels?


The “Lost” Chapter

by on Jun.19, 2016, under Hope

Of the four gospels in the New Testament, the one written by the physician Luke is my favorite. It has more words of Jesus than any other book in the Bible. If you have a Red Letter Bible, where all the direct words of Jesus are in red letters, there you will notice at times page after page is all in red. This is a marvelous fact, since Luke was not one of the original disciples and came to know Jesus through the memories of others. Secular tradition says that Luke was well acquainted with Peter, Paul and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and it was through their telling that Luke was able to transcribe the words of Jesus.

The 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel consists of three parables of Jesus. I call it the “Lost” chapter because the coin, the sheep and the son are lost. The irony is that the three didn’t know they were lost.

The coin, being an inanimate object, has no mechanism of thought or discernment. The sheep, while being a living animal, simply follows its instinct of looking for food regardless of what dangers might be present. The son, felt entitled and thought he was smarter and knew how to avoid the perils of life or simply didn’t care.

Yet, in all three stories, the action of reclamation is taken by someone other than the “lost”. The woman, the shepherd and the father all initiated their search of the thing that was “Lost.” Each of those individuals represent our Father, God Almighty, who when we are “Lost” begins His search of us. Whether we are just misplaced or wander off to satisfy our basic biological needs or when we think we know better than everyone else because “we have it under control”, God searches for us.

Even after we betray him, he still looks for us. He did it in the Garden of Eden. When both Adam and Eve sinned by eating of the tree that God had told them not to eat, he still wanted to know where they were. (Gen 3:8ff) He has, does and always will want to know where we are when we have become so lost.

As you read Luke 15, which are you? the coin, the sheep or the son? Do you hope God still is searching for you?

What is your response to knowing that God Almighty still is searching for you?


Go and Do Likewise

by on Apr.10, 2016, under Hope

The questioner had posed his inquiry in order to ridicule Jesus, but the response reframed the responsibilities to others then and now.

The story is found in the gospel of Luke, the tenth chapter. And it, as is always the case when Jesus speaks, has numerous facets. It’s called the story of the Good Samaritan, about the disenfranchised traveler, who when others didn’t want to get involved, took care of a robbery victim who had been left for dead. The story begins in verse 29 and concludes at verse 37.

As Jesus finishes the scenario, he asks the questioner who was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The acknowledgement was made that it was “he who showed mercy on him.” The questioner was Jewish and racism was so vicious, that he couldn’t even say the word Samaritan.

It was Jesus who then said, “Go and Do Likewise.”

The direction from Jesus was that the questioner help those he came across on his journey in life.

There is an aspect of personal responsibility to help those who are in need. It is not a corporate demand: it is a personal admonition.

For us in the 21st century religious community, we are used to having the church, a corporate body, develop a program or ministry to deal with just such situations.

Yet this parable, or teaching story is focused on one man who personally, intimately and immediately did something. Thus the lesson is that as followers of Jesus, we need to go and do likewise as we travel over our own roads of life and help those in need as we come across them.

What do you do, actually do, to help your neighbor?


Your Sins Are Forgiven

by on Jan.24, 2016, under Hope

A fourth of the way through his Gospel, Luke uses the seventh chapter to have Jesus, in words and actions, leave little doubt that he is God

 

The chapter opens with him healing a servant from a distance, then he raises a son from the dead as his corpse was being carried to the grave yard. In fact, Jesus himself describes the activities by saying:

that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed,

the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the

Gospel preached to them.  Luke 7:22.

 

Jesus did a lot of miracles in the course of two days, things that man could do only with God’s help. In fact, some of the Old Testament prophets did similar things, with God’s help.

 

It is at the end of the chapter, that he does something only God can do.

 

The story has Jesus eating at the home of one of the religious leaders, when a woman from the city begins to wash Jesus’ feet. This woman had a reputation. Jesus knew this, the religious leader knew, everyone else knew, that she was a sinner. Actually that probably should be spelled SINNER.

I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for

She loved much….Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are

Forgiven….Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.

Luke 7:47-50.

 

And with those words, spoken out loud for all to hear, Jesus claims he is God. Only God can forgive sin, his followers couldn’t, the religious leader couldn’t, the woman herself couldn’t, only God could and can.

 

Only God through Jesus can forgive you, SINNER!

 

So the questions are simple to ask but difficult to answer:

Are you a SINNER?

What do you need to do be have your sins forgiven by God?


The Memory Tree

by on Dec.06, 2015, under Hope

She sits in a straight backed desk chair, dressed in a festive shirt and sweater, slowly and carefully unwrapping each item, running her fingers over the surface as if to absorb the impression contained within. Then she carefully hangs the treasure on just the right branch somehow knowing the place had been reserved for it only. Her white hair gleams, the result of the decision to cease the hair coloring addiction and go a la natural a year or so earlier. Her eyes dart from the item to its assigned place and a smile curves her lips, as images of years past flood her mind.

To my wife of 40 years, Christmas is wondrous time and decorating the tree may be the single best part of the season. It’s not the ornaments, but the memories they evoke that bring her so much joy. Each ornament has a story; the parachuting Santa Clause when both of our sons jumped out of a perfectly functioning airplane, the flannel Beefeaters from Harrods’s when we visited England, the ornaments purchased to commemorate the births of our 3 grandchildren, the handmade wreath with our middle son’s picture from first grade. These are Christmas ornaments some decades old, chronicling our life’s events, big and small. When the grandchildren help decorate the tree, she has told them the stories so often that they now say, “and this little ferryboat was when you and Papa went to some island, isn’t it Nana?” and then she tells about our brief visit to Martha’s Vineyard some 15 years ago.

The scene takes place every December and every year new memories are added to the tree. Every year she unwraps them, and remembers. I am envious of her gift and am thankful that she freely tells all who listen, the memories of our family.

In our family, the green artificial pine tree with its multicolored lights and ornaments is the Brant Family Memory Tree.

So this holiday season as you gather around the Thanksgiving table and sit by the Yule Tree also remember the words of the doctor as he described that night long ago:

“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord and this will be the sign to you; you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

So what are your favorite memories of the Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Do God and Jesus have a part in your families celebration of those days?
Has the reason for the season been forgotten?
What does “and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men” look like to you?


Holiday Trifecta

by on Nov.01, 2015, under Hope

The six weeks from the middle of November through the first day of January host THE Trifecta of holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. Most everyone in American society has at least one day off work on these days. We express thankfulness for what we have and for the food, especially the food. Then we plan, ask, spend to give and receive new gifts. Followed by a day where we resolve to make better choices, eat the right things, lose weight and be a better person.

I wonder what our lives would be like if at:

  • Thanksgiving, we thank our God for all that He has given us and allowed us to do and be, acknowledging that without Him, our lives would be ones of quiet desperation.
  • Christmas, we proclaim the birth of His son and realize that without His birth, His death would not happen and without His death, his birth would have no significance to us or to the rest of the world. And we especially hope to experience “and on earth, peace, good will to men.”
  • New Years, we embrace the new beginnings and remember that no matter how hard, difficult, heart wrenching, exhausting, frustrating, powerless, unappreciated, unvalued or wrong things around us are, that the Great God Almighty remains in control of our lives and calls us His children, and is always faithful to keep His promises to those who follow Him and His son Jesus.

Where and what will you be doing during this Holiday season? Will you remember God and His Son?

So as the schedules, demands and pressures of the Holiday Trifecta invade your world, house and family, allow me to offer a short blessing to you and all whom you hold dear…

Vaya Con Dios, Go with God.


The Last Letter

by on Sep.27, 2015, under Hope

It’s called The Bucket List, a movie about two men who endured treatment for cancer only to be told they had months to live. Together they compile a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket”. Thus begins a hilarious and poignant journey to discover what is important when life is short.

There is a real life equivalent. On September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University, a computer professor delivered a lecture entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” a hopeful and ironic marquee, considering that cancer was already devouring his pancreas.

Two presentations: one imagined, one all too real, for Randy Pauch died from pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008, 10 months after his “Last Lecture.” Both stories reflect the sense of urgency as time is running out and the need to cut all extraneous things of life to focus on what is really important.

These same motivations are seen and felt in The Last Letter. Written by an old man on death row, written in a dark, dank, cell. Written knowing he will not escape the executioner by a last minute reprieve or by a technicality. Written knowing that his end is quickly approaching.

He writes with the urgency of a condemned man and tells his only relative, his adopted son, the most important things to remember. This is what he wrote:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

The prisoner is the Apostle Paul. The adopted son is Timothy and the Last Letter is the New Testament book of II Timothy, written shortly before Paul’s execution around 67 AD.

Today, now, as our world continues to spiral from disaster to warfare, to inhumanity, we must also proclaim the Urgently Important: that our Savior, Jesus Christ, has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.

If you had the chance to write your Last Letter, who would you address it to? What would you tell them?


The Instructions

by on Aug.23, 2015, under Hope

You would have thought that I would learn…for years on Christmas day afternoon I would be assembling toys for my children. You know the toys I’m talking about—the ones that came in boxes warning “some assembly required.” I rarely consulted the instructions and almost always the toy didn’t look like the photo on the box. I had pieces left over or not enough pieces or broken pieces because I was forcing those pieces into places they didn’t go. So as a last resort I would read the instructions, and they explained everything.

I’m obviously a slow learner, because even today, when asked to put together something that has “some assembly required”, my first impulse is just put things together without even looking at the instructions. I know that I am not alone because people have been doing the same thing since, well forever, and that includes God’s people.

From the Garden forward, those who claim to do what God instructs – don’t. Adam and Eve, the Hebrews that wandered in the wilderness, those talked about in the Book of Judges, almost all of the Kings of Israel and Judah. They did things without consulting the instructions.

Even today, after God allowed His Son to die for our sins, God’s people still don’t seem to read the instructions.

The Bible, Scripture, holds God’s directions for his followers. If you don’t read it, you don’t know how to put your life together. And what you actually get doesn’t resemble anything close to what you envisioned; you have pieces lost or pieces that are left over because you don’t know where they fit or you don’t have all the pieces. Without reading The Book you don’t know who has gone before you and you don’t really know where you are going. You wander in your own wilderness.

The instructions help to explain everything! You have to read them to know what you should look like.

Study God’s word, The Bible, and experience how all the pieces fit into place.



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