Footsteps To Follow
Make Room For Jesus
By Rev. Robert Rice, Pastor, Muncy Baptist Church, An American Baptist Church, 11 W Penn Street, Muncy, PA 17756, muncybaptistchurch.org
When we put that nativity set up a few weeks ago, it stood alone because we cleared the table by our front door that we use for the display. We put away or threw away the mail, school papers, gloves, hats, dog leashes, water bottles, and other “stuff” that naturally gathers there because our house includes four kids, a dog, a cat, and a husband who can’t ever seem to put “stuff” away. We made room and prepared the place for the nativity set, so it could stand alone and stand out. Within about a week though, new “stuff” had gathered around Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, the signs that life was still taking place as normal in our home.
I don’t know if you have a table or area in your household that catches the stuff of life, but even if you don’t, all of us have “stuff” going on in our lives. Maybe you are busy with kids and activities. Maybe you are swamped at work. Maybe you are dealing with problems and situations that can not seem to be fixed and put in order.
All of us, in one way or another, are dealing with the messiness and brokenness in this world that is a result of sin. Even though we sometimes do not want to admit it or let others see the truth, our lives aren’t pristine and pretty; they are cluttered and messy, just like my front table.
But praise God, even though our lives are in shambles, He didn’t wait to come to this earth until we had cleaned up things and “got our act together.” He stepped right into the world and the stuff of life. He “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14 NIV). Jesus stepped into our world, with all its messiness and brokenness, to show us the glory of God and to offer us grace that brings us salvation. “While we were still sinners,” Christ not only came to this earth, He died for our sins (Romans 5:8).
Amidst all the busyness of this season and the stuff of life, it is easy to overlook the help and hope that Jesus offers to us. But if we would stop for just a moment, we would recognize that we desperately need Jesus, for Jesus alone can clean up the sin and brokenness in our lives, making us whole and granting us peace.
In this season of Advent, it is easy for us to allow the “stuff” to crowd out the reason for the season and for us to miss the glory of God and the hope of salvation that Jesus wants to bring us. This season, I pray we would be able to look past the stuff of our lives and see the salvation that Jesus offers us. I pray that we would allow Jesus to step into our lives, meet us wherever we are, and then change us into the people He calls us to be. That begins with us making room for the Savior in our lives. This season, even if your life is a mess, take a moment and say a simple prayer, asking Jesus to meet you where you are so that you might know the peace that only He can offer.
The Path Of Peace
By Rev. Larry Leland, Faith United Methodist Church, Montoursville
With an answer to the very prayers he was there to lift before God, and in the presence of an angel (for crying out loud!), Zechariah questioned the possibility of the message. And then he was silent for months following.
Many a pregnant wife would welcome silence in her husband during the nine months of waiting, growing, morning sickness, and the like. While that silence may have prevented Zechariah from saying the dumb things that expectant fathers sometimes say, the real purpose of this season of silence was to allow Zechariah to truly listen and reflect on the promise of God, symbolized by the baby growing inside his pregnant wife and the baby of her relative, Mary.
The day arrived. Elizabeth gave birth, and the couple went to the temple for the covenant of circumcision and naming. When it came time to announce the name, everyone sat back, fully expecting Elizabeth to say, “Zechariah, Jr.,” or its equivalent. When the words come from her, “He is to be called John,” you could almost hear the crowd gasp. There was no “John” in the family. So they turned to Zechariah, still unable to talk, and he wrote four simple words on a tablet: “His name is John.”
Backing his wife, and following through with the angel’s instructions, Zechariah’s act of faith was what finally opened his mouth, and what came out was a song of praise (Luke 1:5-79 NIV).
Zechariah praised God for the unfolding plan of rescue and redemption that he saw in John’s birth. He also pointed to John’s work and to the work of Jesus, the One for whom John would prepare the way.
John would go before the Lord, giving people a foretaste of the salvation that Jesus would bring, as he baptized them for the forgiveness of their sin. Jesus, then, would be the One, come from heaven, fulfilling a prophecy of Isaiah, as he would “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).
Zechariah’s song proclaims the truth that, all too often, we can forget. Jesus did not simply come so that we might individually find forgiveness for our sin, though this aspect of our salvation was certainly accomplished in Jesus. Jesus also came “to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Jesus’ work was not simply to ensure for us what would happen after death. It was to invite us to participate in the ongoing redemption and restoration of creation that would usher in the kingdom of God, the new heaven and new earth, by guiding us into pathways that lead to peace.
May it be said of all of us that we have lived out our Advent (waiting) faith and our Christmas (incarnation) celebration by praying for, seeking out, and working for peace in our families, our communities, and our world. If we do that, we live into our identity as children of God and followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Life In The “In-Between”
By Rev. James R. Pentz, Lead Pastor, New Covenant Assembly of God, Montgomery, PA
What is life like for you in the “in-between?” When I think of life in the “in-between,” I think of Joshua. He lived and led between that great leader Moses and the long succession of judges, between the wandering in the wilderness and the settling in the promised land. He lived “in-between” the leaving Egypt and the taking of the Canaan land. It was between the promise given and the promise received.
To be sure, life in the “in-between” is not merely a life of waiting, some kind of boring existence, nor a life of wasting time. For Joshua, there were rivers to cross, battles to fight, people to organize, land to divide, and prayers to be prayed. In fact, there were many prayers to be prayed.
Life in the “in-between” was so challenging for Joshua that, throughout the first chapter of the Book of Joshua, God constantly encouraged Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” You see, life in the “in-between” is not for spiritual wimps. If you are going to win the battles, if you are going to take the land, if you are going to realize the promises of God for your life, you must be spiritually strong. You must be strong in the “in-between” times. It is too late to stir up your spiritual strength when the battle is raging. If you haven’t determined to resist temptation before temptation arrives, you will never resist it when it stands at your door.
Life in the “in-between” is a time of preparation, a time of dedication, a time of determination. Because Joshua was spiritually strong and took courage in the promises of God, near the end of his life he could stand before the children of Israel and say, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Many people today seem to be “in-between,” undecided whether to serve the gods of this world or the One True God. Joshua lived in the “in-between,” and it was there where he decided that he and his household would serve the Lord. Let me ask you once again: how is your life in the “in between?” Have you determined to serve the Lord whether or not anyone else will serve Him with you?
Nearly fifty years ago, I made that determination. I was “in-between” college and career, “in-between” adolescence and adulthood, “in-between” single and married (just recently engaged) when my future wife and I determined that we and our household would serve the Lord. By the grace of God, we are still serving Him.
How is your life in the “in-between?” I hope that you are choosing to serve God. It will be the best decision you could ever make.
The Season Of Advent
By Pastor Kathy Behrens, serving Picture Rocks and Tivoli United Methodist Churches
The Epistle of Romans tells us to wake up from our sleep (Romans 13:11). Right now, all of us need to wake up, like flowers that are waiting for spring, so we who are waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ need to get out of our slumber. In some cases, our slumber has already been awakened. It happened when someone we love, such as a friend or family member, dies, and we get in touch with the loss and how real it is. We are preparing for our time by realizing that every one of us could pass at any time. The Advent season is a time when we prepare for the coming of the Christ child. While we celebrate his birth, we also await not just a child who we need to be preparing for, but for the Second Coming of the Christ.
Most of us wake to the playing of Christmas music, while others decorate trees and their homes or even cars. Still others start their shopping as they prepare for the holiday.
A man went to his company’s director of personnel and asked her how many people were approaching retirement, to which the director responded, “Everyone of them!” In the case of our scripture, it is saying that salvation is closer to us than before. “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (NIV). That, like the retirement statement, is accurate because every day we live brings us one step closer. In most of our cases, we became believers several years ago. Our lives are constantly moving on toward retirement and/or death, so we need to be preparing for those moments. Then, we should wake up from our sleep and start meeting the challenges of a new day. The Apostle Paul says, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12b). In other words, we are being told to quit doing evil or the works of darkness. We are children of light; therefore, we wear the armor of light. We are also supposed to wear the armor of light where we go and can be seen by others. The Apostle Paul addresses that by saying that we need to live honorably as in the day. We who are the children of light should not be reveling or drunk. We are not to be living in debauchery, which means “excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.” Nor are we to be living in licentiousness, which according to Merriam-Webster is lacking “legal or moral restraints,” or in other words, if it feels good, do it (Romans 13:13). We are also cautioned to not quarrel or be jealous (16:17).
For some people, this is the time of year for parties and celebrations. They love getting drunk and getting high. In the process, they are not preparing themselves to receive salvation if they have not received it already. What about you? Have you received salvation or, better yet, do you want it? Think about it, and then talk to God. Amen.
A Miracle Any Day Now
By Pastor Velinda Webb-Smith, New Life Wake Up Ministries, Inc., Williamsport
God does miracles to show us that He has power that no one else has. The principle of miracles is to teach us accountability and repentance, faith and love. Show that you do have faith. Are you really showing love? Jesus showed miracles so that we believe that He is Christ!
What are some of Jesus’ miracles that show He is Christ? The Book of John shows many examples of the spiritual side of Christ Jesus.
Jesus’ first miracle occurred when they needed more wine at a wedding, in John 2:1-11. The new wine was better than the hosts and guests were expecting. Jesus showed that He could do a miracle. Even now, sometimes we need to see what Jesus can do for us.
So many times, we don’t have faith and keep needing a sign. This is the point in John 4:46-54. Jesus’ “second sign” occurred when He told the royal official who had a sick son to go and it would be as he believed. How many times have we needed a sign; He is Christ and can do miracles.
Have you been sitting around waiting, instead of asking? Well, in John 5:1-15, a man sat for years near a pool called Bethesda waiting for a miracle. Jesus asked if this man really wanted to be healed. Jesus told him to just get up! Rise up! Just get your miracle!
Are you hungry? Maybe someone around you needs a meal. The cost of food now is so high. We will need a miracle like in John 6:5-14. Sometimes after hearing a good word, the Spirit has been in you to keep your strength up. You and others in your church or group might need a meal. Jesus fed over 5,000 with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. Wow, what Christ can do with the word of God! What a miracle!
It can be very nice to take a cool shower. It can calm your body and your soul. Just think if you were there with the disciples. What did they feel when they saw Jesus walking on the water: what a miracle. Did John 6:16-24 make you believe in miracles?
Have you ever felt like you couldn’t see? Well, in John 9:1-7, there was a man who couldn’t see. Walking around in this world, we need a miracle, not with our eyes, but with our hearts and minds. We may have no wisdom, no knowledge, and please, no understanding. We need a miracle, today and now!
Have you read Ezekiel chapter 37, the valley of dry bones? In the Old Testament, you can believe that miracles can happen. That chapter prepares you for John 11:1-45 when Jesus brought back Lazarus. Those verses help us believe in miracles today. We can know any day now, or did you forgot about the miracle he did for you?
Life has surprises all around us. Some people don’t want to believe that miracles can happen. God wants us to see that there is nothing impossible; there is nothing God can not do.
Look at yourself. You might be a miracle waiting to happen! Any day now, here comes a miracle. God bless!
Are You Committing Murder-Suicide?
By Rev. David Mansfield, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Recently, I was reading Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel and was struck by what Jesus said about insulting words. The context is Jesus contrasting the law as the Pharisees taught and the law’s original intent as he understood it. The Pharisees defined murder as the act of killing, but Jesus said being angry with a brother or sister and insulting someone was equal to murder.
He said, “Anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22 NIV). “Raca” means empty head; we might say “moron” today. Jesus saw murder beginning with anger and insults. When we are driving and someone cuts us off and we call them a jerk, we are not thinking of murder. However, we hear of stories of road rage that have resulted in just that. Anger and insults are ugly symptoms of a desire to get rid of someone who stands in our way.
Practicing kindness, especially in the face of the opposite, is a defiant and powerful act of love. Kindness forges the acceptance and connection that we all want and need. Insults make us feel small and discarded. Kindness raises us up, and inoculates our hearts with goodness. It has also been proven to be an important part of staying healthy.
Our present culture is rife with clashing political ideologies, cowardly acts of terrorism, and rampant shaming on social media. Harsh acts of insulting have the power to devastate us. When we lose sight of those around us and get lost in our own story, we begin to see others as separate from ourselves. It’s the feeling of separateness that allows us to hurt others.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get angry with someone on the phone or with someone when you are driving in a car? If you saw them face-to-face and could feel their hearts and understand what it might be like to be them, would you behave differently?
We trick ourselves into believing that we are not like that person, “We would never behave that way,” and therefore we are different and entitled to be unkind. However, if we could hear their story and understand their experience, our hearts might beat as one. We might feel a sense of compassion for their choices and behaviors.
Being kind to others is important, but what about being kind to one’s self? My listening to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount have caused me to consider that my self-loathing comments are insulting to the image of God in whom I have been created. If insults are the origins of murder, then when I insult others and insult myself, I am essentially committing murder- suicide! We do well to watch our words and season them with kindness. The next time you spill something, make a mess, or glue your project to the workbench, be kinder to yourself; you are a precious child of God.
By Peggy Thompson, Junior Church Teacher, Victory Baptist Church, Bloomsburg
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I think about all the wonderful things that we say we are thankful for. Some say they are thankful for friends and family. Others say for good health and a good job. The list could go on and on. All the things we are thankful for are important to us.
I thought my list was quite complete until the year 1985 when a preacher explained to me how I could know for sure that I was going to Heaven one day for all eternity. What a wonderful year that was! For I was at a point in my life where I did not think about Heaven or God or even being thankful to God. Sure, I was grateful for my family and friends, but I didn’t have a sense of to whom I was grateful. I never gave that part a thought.
Thanksgiving Day was a day that, starting two weeks before it even arrived, I would stress myself about, thinking how hectic things were. There was food shopping to do, cooking and baking, decorations to put out, and there was the house to clean. In the midst of all that, my everyday obligations still had to be fulfilled. Even though it came every year and I always managed to have a nice day, I still worried about how I would ever get everything done.
When I heard the preacher say that God the Father gave His only begotten Son to die on the cross and shed His perfect blood to pay the price for my sins, I was overcome with thankfulness. The great part is that this time I knew Who to thank! Imagine, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV). You can find that in your Bible in the book of John, chapter 3, verse 16.
I am happy to say that my life, and especially my Thanksgiving Days, have never been the same. I came to realize what was missing in those expressions of thanks. It was God. And without Him, I would not have been blessed with all the people and things that I said I was thankful for.
I still love celebrating Thanksgiving Day. There is nothing more satisfying than sharing the day with those we love and enjoying the time around the table. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is fun to watch, and though I am not a football fan, some of you wouldn’t miss the Cowboys and the Lions play. Some traditions are worth keeping. Thanksgiving Day celebrations are keepers.
May I suggest that we start Thanksgiving Day today and celebrate it every day, keeping in mind to Whom we owe all the thanks. “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).
We can start a new tradition this Thanksgiving Day by telling those we love just how thankful we are that they are in our lives. They will be so blessed and encouraged to hear your heartfelt words, and you will be blessed for having said them.
The Rhythm Of Renewal
By Rev. Larry Leland, Faith United Methodist Church, Montoursville, PA
“He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down” (Psalm 104:19 NIV).
Of the myriad things that I love about living in this part of the world, the beauty of the changing seasons is perhaps top of the list. One of my favorite activities on a morning off this time of year is simply to drive north on Route 87 to World’s End State Park. The drive itself, along the Loyalsock Creek, is so beautiful that I pull over from time to time and just take it all in. Arriving at the park, I leave my car in the lot. I have spent hours simply sitting on a rock beside the creek to see the beauty as summer turns to fall. Even that gives glimpses of the winter that will lead to new life in the spring.
Autumn is a season of letting go. Winter is a season of rest. Spring is a season of rebirth. Summer is a season of abundance. What if we looked at our lives in terms of this rhythm of renewal: letting go, rest, rebirth, and abundance?
This year, I may be thinking of seasons a bit more than usual. Tomorrow, I will celebrate my 50th birthday, though the kind lady who cut my hair last week thought, by my gray hair, that I may already be retired. When one turns 50, there is an appropriate tendency to pause and reflect on the seasons of life. There is something to be said about having lived half a century, with the better part of another half century, God willing, in front of you.
I have learned a good deal in 50 years on this earth, more than half of those spent in Christian ministry. Some of that came by formal education. Some of that came through life experience: learning how to be a son, a husband, a father, and a friend in different seasons, not only of my life but of those whom I love. Some came through work, walking with three different congregations as a pastor and a season as a judicatory leader overseeing many pastors and congregations. And some came in the quiet moments alongside the creek, when God and I have had many conversations about life and pain, joy and heartache, purpose and people.
And now, fully immersed in the season, I realize that there is still so much to learn. What to let go. How to rest. What does rebirth look like? Where can I see abundance all around me? That learning, that letting go, and that looking forward are gifts that God has given me in this season. I hope that each of you can find it as well.
Christians Are Called
By Mother Lauri
History is filled with times that Christians have not lived out this vow. European explorers attempted to conquer the people they encountered on their expeditions. The slave trade’s exploitation happened, and in some places, it still happens. Native American children were taken and pressured to erase their culture. Some Asian-Americans were interned during World War II. These are just a few examples of Christians who denied the belief that we should hold that all human beings are created in God’s image.
Today we deny the fact that all human beings are created in God’s image by not standing up when people are abused because of the color of their skin. We deny people’s dignity when we do not speak out against systemic issues that cause one group to have rights that others are not allowed. Christians are called to ensure that the dignity of every human being is protected because of the basic belief that we are all created in God’s image. Being created in God’s image is a gift that God has granted to us all. This Pentecost, may we work to live out and fight for the dignity of every human being to the glory of God.
Please note: I will be installed to the new position of West Branch Missioner at Trinity Pro Cathedral in Williamsport, PA at 4:00 p.m. on November 13th. Everyone is welcome! Bishop Audrey Scanlan will be the celebrant at this service. Many other persons in the West Branch Convocation will be participating in various ways. Blessings at the end of the season of Pentecost, and I am looking forward to continuing to serve Christ in the greater Williamsport Area.
Uprooted To Be Re-Fruited
By Apostle Dawn White-Gueary, Lite-Shine Intl. Ministries
About a week ago, I saw visions of a huge, uprooted tree from a symbolic hurricane that came through a city. I saw all types of people: all races, sizes, and nationalities. They were hanging on to the roots for dear life as if they would be destroyed if they would let go. These people were men, women, and children who were full of fear, worry, doubt, and unbelief. In the visions, some people had muddy combat boots on their feet as they were dangling in the air. Because the people had walked in thick dense places, their boots were covered in mud. There were also babies holding on to the legs of their mommas and poppas for dear life.
As I began to really pray into these visions, the Holy Spirit revealed that these people represented various men and women and children who were in very dark places. They had been trapped inside their own thoughts, traumas, and systems that had entangled them. They believed they had no way out. I saw the people’s tears, falling from fear and anxiety and forming big puddles on the ground. The ground was dry and cracked from extreme seasons of heat. Some of the people in my visions were suppressed with guilt and shame as they looked around, watching all the people who were suffering and feeling powerless.
According to www.redeemerbible.org, one of the themes that we will find in scripture is that we are often referred to as trees. Just as we humans are born by the planting of a seed, so are trees grown by the planting of a seed. You will see in Genesis 1-3 that humans and fruit trees are mentioned, and in Isaiah 61:3b, we are called His “Oaks of Righteousness.” For a tree to really withstand the various storms, everything is contingent on its roots. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (NIV).
According to Bible Encyclopedia, there are twenty-nine occurrences in the Bible where “uprooted” is mentioned! In the Hebrew, the word “nathash” means “to pull up, pluck up, snatch or to root out” (biblehub.com). There are many occurrences in which our lives can be uprooted, barren, infertile, or where we can even become spiritually barren because we have disconnected from the Vine. Being “uprooted” can come from years of suppressed trauma, which has been shoved deeply into the recesses of the mind because of a lack of identity. In my visions, the roots of the tree that the “uprooted” people were holding on to were those that were deeply imbedded from generational cycles.
Even in the account of Daniel 4:15, where he interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, there was a stump that was chained with “iron and bronze.” Bronze represents sin and disobedience, and iron represents rebellion and pride. However, God is dealing with rebellion, perverse sin, wickedness, and pride. He is rescuing His children, bringing them out of captivity. He is bringing light into dark places, and judgment to those who have been hurting His children. He is freeing them from generational cycles of chronic hurt and pain. The good news is that through surrender and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and the redemption of the blood of Jesus we can be “replanted” and what was once “barren” can become fruitful and multiply. Although it may be painful and uncomfortable, sometimes our lives must be abruptly “uprooted” so that we can become “re-fruited.”