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April 15, 2018, 12:00 AM

Because He Lives…We Can Live Peacefully


by Sandy Bach

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”[a] 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.[b] 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah[c] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses[d] of these things.  (Luke 24:36b-48 NRSV)

What's a gathering of Christians without a meal?  Pot-luck suppers; coffee and conversation; breakfast and Bible study...whenever two or three are gathered in the Lord's name you'll find...food.  We love to eat.  Churches are known for their food and each one will brag on Miss Mary's homemade apple pie or Tim's ability with a smoker.

Jesus loved to eat.  Whether attending a banquet or providing the loaves and fishes in the wilderness, Jesus broke bread with sinners and saints alike.  Food and scripture went hand in hand with him.  Missionaries through the centuries have noted that first you feed then you teach.

When Jesus appears, he meets his followers where they are.  The disciples and their companions are gathered together sharing resurrection experiences when Jesus appears among them.  "Peace be with you," he announces.  Peace.  Shalom.  God's good will, health and well-being.  Jesus wants only the best for us.  He knows that they are confused -- no surprise there!  Jesus was dead but now he's alive?  Wrap your brains around that one for awhile.

"Peace be with you.  Now, don't be frightened.  It's really me."  Then he shows them his hands and his feet.  Perhaps to see the marks from the crucifixion, but perhaps because ghosts float and were believed not to have hands and feet.  Then he asks for something to eat.  Again, ghosts don't eat.  But, can't you imagine him saying, "Something smells good;  'got any left?"

"While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering..."  Jesus, their friend, their rabbi, their everything was dead but now he lives.  This is the sublime and supreme I-can't-believe-it's-true type of joy.

Then he opens his minds to the scriptures.  All of them.  How else will they be able to be witnesses to what they've seen?  And witnesses they are.  Not because they said they would.  But because they are.  There's no choice in this.  They went and they saw.  They are witnesses.  And they'll testify to their death.

Jesus opens our minds to scripture.  It's a lifetime experience which only ends when we take our last breath.  And with each new gleaning of understanding, we enter into greater peace.  Because He Lives...we can live in peace.

My sister often asks me about my sermons.  She wonders if I keep my sermons and repeat them every so often.  How do I  manage something new every week?  (I wonder that, myself, at times!)  There are maybe a dozen themes in scripture, although I've never counted them.  Yet, each week, scripture comes to us in new ways with new insight.  I don't quite understand it and I don't try.  All I know is that what I learned three years ago is helpful in understanding something new today.

That's how Jesus works, building on our understanding day by day.  And with that insight, we can live peacefully.

We learn that God is ultimately in charge, so we take our frustration with world affairs to God.  We learn that we are a part of something bigger, so we walk to our state's capital and lobby our representatives until they provide the education dollars needed to properly teach our future generations.  We learn that God created all of us therefore we need to respect God's creation and take care of it, even those who live on the fringes of society or in our prison system.

Every breath we take is a witness to the resurrection.  Every action we take is a witness of who we are and how we perceive God's love.  Sometimes we do a great job of it.  Other times we blow it.  When we're in the moment, we exhibit God's triumph over death.  We exhibit God's sadness over social injustice and we become God's hands and feet in the world.  When we are witnesses to the resurrection, we exhibit God's shalom in the world and know that God isn't finished with us yet.

I believe that this world is getting better when seen through the lens of thousands of years of history.  Yet, my greatest sadness is our inability to have a bipartisan conversation without raised voices, as if the loudest voice wins.  We can't share information unless we can prove our point and be the winner in the argument.  Sadly, I find myself wanting to lash out at those with whom I disagree and I want to prove them wrong and put them in their place.

We need Jesus' peace.  We need to know that as a witness to the resurrection, we know only a part of the whole.  And we understand that we won't completely understand until we finally meet Jesus face to face.  Until that time, we are just one more broken person living in a broken world.  But, it doesn't, it musn't stop us from praying each day that we will greet others in peace, especially when they wish just the opposite for us.

Because He Lives...we CAN live peacefully.  It's there inside of us, filling us to overflowing, if we take the time to notice it; if we take time with scripture and prayer to gain insight into God and God's way.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 31, 2018, 12:00 AM

This is How it Ends?!


by Sandy Bach

Mark 16:1-8

16 1-3 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?”

4-5 Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.

6-7 He said, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”

They got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

When visiting a family with a sick relative, I've found that each family member takes on a different and unique role.  One family member becomes totally unable to care for his ailing mother.  But, he's perfectly competent in handling her financial affairs.  Someone else takes over nursing responsibilities with ease.  Another sibling sees that food is provided while another takes care of those long neglected home repairs.

Each member of the family rises to the occasion as long as they can do what they're good at.  Sadly, too many families become critical of each other.  They don't understand that there are differences in gifts and talents.  The one caring for mother is a "saint."  The others are criticized for "running away."

As near as theologians can tell, this is the original ending to Mark's gospel.  The other two endings don't appear in the earliest manuscripts that are available to us today.  When you think about it, it's no surprise that new endings were added.  Ending the gospel with the women running away from the empty tomb and not speaking to anyone about it is a pretty lousy ending.  How was the news to get out?  How was Jesus' ministry to move forward?

So, this is it?  This is the Good News?   Mark's Gospel may be short and concise, but what happened?  Did he run out of paper?  or time?  We don't know, but it's worthwhile looking at it to see what God is telling us.

The Sabbath is over.  It's time to get back to work as usual.  Mary, Mary Magdalene and Salome come to the tomb.  Mark tells us they have spices they've purchased to embalm the body.  The body has already begun to decay, the smell won't be pleasant.  And, they have very little hope of entering the tomb anyway because of the heavy stone blocking it.

I think they're here for another reason: they need to be near him.  Even if he is dead, being at his grave will hold some bit of comfort.  If they can get in and anoint the body, so be it.  If not, they'll sit for awhile and simply be near him.

The men can't stand to be close to the grave.  Peter denied him.  He'll have to come to terms with that.  Judas betrayed him.  By now, he's probably dead.  The others?  They're hiding from the authorities; hiding from God.  They couldn't stand by that cross and watch their dearly loved friend die.  Along with his death went their hopes and dreams for a new Israel, free from Roman occupation.  What had become a successful ministry was stopped three days ago at Skull Hill.

The men stay away because they can't stand to be close.  The women stay close because they can't stand to be far away.

Enter the young man in white.  He carefully explains to the women: "I know who you're looking for and what you're after.  He's not here.  See?  Yes, he was crucified.  But, he's been raised from the dead.  Now, here's what you're to do.  Go.  Tell Peter and the disciples what I've told you.  Jesus is headed to Galilee.  You can join him there."

He ends the conversation with something important: "Just as he told you."

"Exactly as he said."

No one was able to understand Jesus' words when he was with him.  He told them three times that he would be turned over to the authorities, be tried and killed and would rise on the third day.  But it didn't compute.  Not with any of them.  Not a single one.

As my GPS is fond of telling me when I take a wrong turn, "Recalculating."  Arrested and tried. "Recalculating." Crucified.  "Recalculating." Rise again.  "Beyond recalculating."  Beyond comprehension.

The women watched him die and saw where he was buried.  The ministry is over.  Grieving has begun.  Not a single one of them remembered what Jesus told them.  So the young man in white reminds him, "Exactly as he told you."

And what do the women do?  They flee.  They run for their lives, terrorized and amazed.  And they say nothing to anyone.

And that's how Mark ends the gospel.  "They say nothing to anyone." They don't listen to the young man in white.  They didn't listen to Jesus.  They're scared.  They say nothing.

How do we respond when we think our world is coming to an end?  The decline of Christianity in America.  No end in sight to war.  School shootings vs. gun rights.  "Lawful and awful" police shootings.  There's nothing that can be done.  We're all headed to hell in a hand basket.

Or are we?

How did word get out about Jesus' resurrection?  How did Christianity spread?  How does the impossible happen?

It's up to God.

God, who is faithful, completes the story.  Remember at Jesus' baptism when God split open the heavens to declare that this was God's son?  Remember when Jesus breathed his last on the cross?  The curtain was torn from top to bottom while a deathly darkness descended.

We may be deniers and doubters and betrayers.  There may be sophisticated and cunning schemes afoot.  But God won't be put off by them.  God is faithful.  God has a plan.  And God's plan won't be diverted.  Not by silence or running away.  Not by anything.

So the ending to this gospel?  It seems to me that it's appropriate.  Mark kept pointing out Jesus' power and God at work.  How best to end the gospel?

With a hanging sentence.

A reminder that God is still at work today.

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen indeed!

Amen.




March 18, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — To the Future and Beyond!


by Sandy Bach

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,[a] says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.  (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NRSV)

If only it were true right now.  Today.

What if the law was written on our hearts?  Religious wars would be no more.  Power plays would be obsolete.  Brokenness a thing of the past.  To quote Louis Armstrong, "What a wonderful world it would be."

Alas, it's not here, yet.  The law isn't written on our hearts, yet.  We're still unpredictable and stiff-necked.

As we leave that spiritual wilderness in our rear-view mirror, we wonder what awaits us.  How will your life be different?  How will it be the same?  Will you be able to make the changes and corrections to your life that you discerned while in the desert?  Will God give up on you?  Will you give up on God?  Can you let go?

Starting over is a fragile journey.  New beginnings are scary.

Perhaps you hear those voices from your past:  "You're too weak."  "You're not good enough."  "You'll fail."

The truth is that you are too weak and you can't do it without Jesus.  Don't forget his wilderness experience.  40 days without food, alone with the wild beasts and the angels.  Then Satan showed up and tried to tell him how to do ministry.

First test:  "The people are starving.  Give them bread."

"They need more than that," Jesus responds, famished from fasting.

"Show your glory and your might and your grandeur.  Do it here.  Throw yourself off the pinnacle of the Temple and let everyone see who you are."

"I won't test God in order to prove myself."

"Okay, then.  Take over the world.  Be the ruler.  God knows you'd do a better job than any of these leaders have!"

"That isn't what I came for.  I'll take over the world one heart at a time."

We also are tempted.  Tempted to take short cuts to our goal.  Tempted to climb over others on our way up.  Tempted to tell God how it's going to be.  But, we can't do any of those things, because, honestly, isn't that what got us the desert to begin with?  It was in the wilderness that learned to lean on God and allow God's provision to sustain us?

So, here we are on the threshold.

When Jeremiah wrote these words, they were meant to comfort a people desolated in Babylon.  No one wants to be in Babylon.  We all want to be home.  Home with our family and friends and our God.  Not in what appears to be some godforsaken land where the language, the culture, the religion are different and you feel as if your alien registration card isn't enough.

So Jeremiah writes a Book of Comfort.  "The light appears to have gone out for you," he writes.  "God knows that you live in the dark wilderness known as Babylon.  But, it's not over.  God hasn't deserted you.  God doesn't abandon."

As we approach Holy Week, we, too see the light dimming.  During worship, each week of Lent, we extinguish a candle as a symbol of the Light of Christ diminishing.  The disciples gave up all hope, betraying and denying Jesus to death.  On Good Friday, the final candle will flicker out and we'll be left in darkness.

We couldn't do it if we didn't know on Friday that Sunday is coming and with it resurrection.  We can't leave any wilderness unless we can see light.

And that's the hope we also find in Jeremiah.  Some day God will write the law on our hearts.  In fact, God has begun that good work.  And we live in the yet and not yet, waiting for the final fulfillment.  That's what gives us hope: we know that God hasn't given up on us.  That's why we know that God is waiting in the future.  Resurrection follows death.

What is  your hope for a new heart?  Have you felt God at work in your life?  What gives you hope?  What takes hope away?  Write them down.  Ponder them.  Pray over them.  Give it to God.  God, in Christ, is waiting for you.

When you're ready, come out into the light of Christ.  When you're ready, meet God in the hope of the future.  When you're ready, let go and allow God to transform you.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 11, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — Leaving the Wilderness


by Sandy Bach

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.  (Ephesians 2:1-10 NRSV)

After the loss of a loved one, we usually enter a season of grief.  Depending on the relationship to the loved one, it can take a few weeks to more than a year.  There are too many variables to predict the length of time.  Eventually, the griever begins to reinvent their life without the loved one; not that they'll forget him or her, but they realize it's time to start over.

This can take many forms: cleaning out closets and reorganizing the home; moving to a new home or a new city; traveling more; staying home more; taking on a new hobby; even changing jobs.

Leaving the wilderness is similar to this.  We were there because we felt a spiritual longing that only God could heal.  We remain there until God says it's time.  And as we leave the wilderness, we don't return to the old way of life.  We enter what might look like the old life, but is really changed.  Perhaps our view on the old has changed and we see what must go.  Perhaps we see what's missing and we add it in.

It'll take time.  If we're intentional about our re-entry, we'll be aware of what goes and what stays.

Several years ago I traveled to Africa for ten days.  We visited a nation that is still one of the poorest in the world.  What I found was a lack of food and water mixed with an abundance of spirituality and desire to serve Christ.  When you have nothing, all you can rely on is God.  I returned home a changed person and spent time in my own wilderness.  I knew God was at work, so I waited.  When it was time, I heard God's voice.  I immediately volunteered for a layoff and took on jobs that were well beneath what I was used to earning.

I was happier than I'd been in years.  Coming out of the wilderness, I found joy in simple things (I couldn't afford to buy happiness) and welcomed each new day as if it were my last.

I left the wilderness only when God opened me to my new way of being. I had to rely on God for each step I took.  Should I get another job or take some time off?  What kind of work did I feel called to do?  Which of the skills I'd developed did I feel called to use?

Most of all, I had to know that God was in charge.  In the wilderness I had put myself in God's hands.  Healing had occurred in the wilderness.  More than that, transformation occurred.  The Hebrew slaves left Egypt and spent years in the wilderness.  When they finally entered the Land of Promise, they were not anything like the parents and grandparents that had left Egypt.  They had worked hard and slowly shed the slave mentality.  They had learned a new way to worship and put their skills to work, creating a Tabernacle for worship, the altar, the pieces that would become symbols of what their new found belief.  They were God's children.

And so it is with us.  We leave behind us what has held us back.  We enter with a new sense of who God is calling us to be.  But, we can't do it alone.  We only succeed with God's help.  God transforms our hearts and minds and then leads us where we can grow in our new person-hood.

It's a gift of grace.  Undeserved.  Not of our own doing.  God graciously heals our broken or hurting hearts.  Our response is to meet God and allow God to be in charge (meaning, that you drop the illusion that you were ever in charge in the first place!)  We respond when we open ourselves to new things and new practices and new ways.

Grace.  Undeserved.  Not of our own doing.  God chose us before we knew God.  Our job is to recognize our need for salvation.  Coming out of the wilderness means that we acknowledge and confess that need.

Will your life be better than before you entered the desert?  Yes.  It'll be a better life because you didn't make it happen without God.  It'll be a better life because you decided to walk with God.

God's message to us is, "Meet me in your transformed life.  Continue leaning on me as I help you reinvent your life."

Do you have something you do regularly that puts Christ at the center of your life?  If not, what will you do to keep reminding yourself that not only are you not in charge, but Christ is your savior in your newly transformed life?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 4, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — Follow the Rules


by Sandy Bach

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.[c]

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.   (Exodus 20:1-17 NRSV)

No matter how long we spend in the wilderness, eventually we leave.  Eventually, we come to terms with whatever has us there: whether we brought it on ourselves, or life inserted itself or evil has occurred.  Eventually, we come out with fresh perspective and a sense of God's transformative power.  We realize it's time to reinvent our lives.

Yet, when we enter into our newly reinvented world, how will we live?  We don't want to return to what we were before we entered the wilderness.  We surely want something different than what we had.  We want to be someone different.  We want our experience in the wilderness to stand for something.

Enter the "Ten Words."  Also known as "The Ten Commandments."  They are commandments, not suggestions.  But, don't get them confused with a code of ethics that, when followed correctly, will earn God's grace.  We don't earn God's grace.

The Ten Words begin with a very important statement: "I"m God."  You're not God.  There are no other gods mightier than God.  God delivered us out of slavery and continues to deliver us throughout history.  God doesn't get tired and give up.  Our friends may do that, but God doesn't.

God begins at the beginning:  "I"m God.  I delivered you.  Therefore, don't have other gods in my presence.  And since I'm present everywhere, no gods.  Period."

And, no idols.  Don't try to figure out who God is and put God into a box.  God is beyond the comprehensible.  That may seem easy, but is it?  When has the money god controlled your decisions?  Or the fear of scarcity?  How do you see the idol of greed and power played out in current events?  How many families have been destroyed because of these?

When your wallet is more important than God, you have an idol.  When your possessions are more important than anything else, you have an idol.

Don't misuse God's name.  What have we done in the name of God in history?  Think of the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Inquisition.  How do we use God's name to belittle other people: people who are created by God in the image of God?

Sabbath rest.  In our 24/7 culture, it's difficult to find rest.  There are so many demands placed upon us.  Even pastors have to be reminded that they are not the Messiah, that the ministry they serve will survive 24 hours while they lay down their plows and rest.  If you don't already do this, try it.  Take a day to do anything that you don't do the other six days of the week.  You'll be amazed at the energy you gain for the rest of the week.  Worship God in the morning and then enjoy God's creation the rest of the day.

Care of the elderly in ancient days was of critical importance.  If you didn't care for your parents, who would?  I'm often asked, what about abusive parents?  You don't have to like them or what they did.  But, you don't leave them in a dangerous place, either.

The next five are more forthright.  I trust you haven't killed anyone.  But, Jesus asked about those you hurt with your words.  Who do you hurt when you break your marriage vows to enter into an affair with someone else?  How much white collar crime exists today?  How do we deal honestly and transparently with and for others in a way that respects them?  When has your envy of a friend with a nice new car caused you to feel angry and hurt?

Basic words to live by.  Love God and love neighbor.  These words are God's way of saying, "I love your neighbor as much as I love you.  And I expect you to do the same."

These words are a gift.  They are more than a code of ethics.  They reveal God's character.  God is the power behind the exodus from Egypt.  God is the power behind our exodus from the wilderness.

God is the one who stays by us in the wilderness, who leads us out of that desert place, who doesn't dessert us for any reason.  That's grace in action.  And when we accept these Ten Words, we're accepting God's saving grace.

These words turn us inside out.  From, "it's all about me." to "It's all about God and living with God's people."

God is the power in the wilderness.  The powers of evil and wild beasts?  Somehow they lose their power because we are so in tune with God the father.

Which of The Ten Words do you struggle with?  Why?  Can you embrace the discomfort and live it?  Live with it this week.  Consider how you might better honor these words and know God more fully.

God's message is this: "Learn from me.  You are limited.  I am limitless.  When you fall, I'll pick you up."

Know that God has a plan for you.  We probably don't know what it is.  While we're discerning, God is providing sustenance.  Let go and allow God to lead you to transformation and new freedom.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




February 25, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — Charting the Way


by Sandy Bach

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[a] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[b] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:31-38 NRSV)

Mark Twain couldn't have said it better.  "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."

Peter has just confessed Jesus as the Messiah.  In a moment of insight he understands.  Jesus is the Messiah.  Then Jesus begins a new, more advanced teaching.  AP Discipleship: "the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." (v 31)

No!  No, you've got it wrong, Jesus!  The Messiah doesn't die: he rises to power like King David.  The Messiah will defeat King Herod and then Caesar and then Israel will rise again as a great nation and we'll no longer be serving others.  Get with the program!  You're the Messiah for heaven's sake!

Peter takes Jesus aside for a talk.  Like an aide to a member of Congress, he tells him to be careful, don't make waves, watch what you say.  "We'll need to tread carefully, Jesus.  Build up power among the Galileans before we move into Judea."

"Get behind me, Satan!"

What?  Peter just had a moment of insight.  He rightly answered Jesus' question.  He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Peter the insightful disciple just became Satan?

Slow down Jesus.

But, he won't slow down.  He tells anyone who can hear that to follow him means to deny ourselves and take up our cross and then follow him.  While we're pondering that Jesus continues.  If you want to save your soul, forget it.  You'll lose it for sure.  But, if you're willing to lose your soul for Jesus' sake (not just for anything, but Jesus' sake) then you'll save your soul.

Slow down, Jesus.

But, he won't slow down.  He continues.  You can gain the world and what will it get you?  Nothing.   If you're ashamed of what I'm saying (and I wonder if he turned to Peter to say this,) than I'll be ashamed of you when I come in glory.

First Peter rebukes Jesus.  Then Jesus rebukes Peter.  Jesus rebuked demons, and acts of nature.  But, humans?  Yes, when we need to get in line.  And that's just what Jesus demands: get in line.  Get behind me.  Get in line and follow me.

We don't get it, do we?  Perhaps we don't want to get it.  Because, if we did, we'd have to give up control over everything and everyone.  Even Jesus.  Especially Jesus.

The sad thing is, Peter missed something critically important.  As soon as Jesus started talking about suffering and rejection and death, Peter shut down.  He failed to hear the good news: that he would rise again after three days.  That's important!  That's what he needs to focus on.  That Jesus will suffer and die? That's unpalatable.  But, rise again after three days?  Let's dwell on that.

Yet, aren't we so wrapped up on controlling that we fail to see the good news?  In this time that we've chosen to spend in the wilderness, I wonder if some of us are here for just that reason.  We tried to control outcomes or people or events.  And what did it get us?  Wilderness.  We tried to control our own destiny.  And here we are, wandering in the desert.

Jesus' words are hard to hear.  Just when we think we know what we need to do to get out of the wilderness, we hear Jesus speak and it doesn't compute.  Our way out becomes blurred and we may even repeat some of the same mistakes that got us here in the first place.  On this journey to transformation, Jesus corrects our flawed faith to bring us into line.

Where do you need Jesus to intervene and take control, so you can follow him?  Write it down.  Carry it with you this week.  Ponder it often.  Come up with at least one example of a place where you need God to intervene, so that you can follow the Master.  How might you follow Jesus this week instead of your own desires?

I'm saddened and sickened by yet another school shooting.  I want all children everywhere to be safe from killing and abuse and sexual predators.  I pray for an end to these events.  But, I saw a glimpse of good news this week.  Students who have witnessed the death of their friends, have taken their own action.  They are visiting with high level politicians and asking them difficult questions.

In another example, students skipped school to march on Oklahoma City, calling for our leaders to do something about teacher pay scales in our state.

These young people have taken up their cross.  They may not have all the facts.  Nor do they understand the nuances.  They'll have to figure out the details of gun control vs. the second amendment.  They'll learn that adjusting the state budget in one area will hurt another area.  They've taken up their cross.

Last week we identified ways in which we're in a spiritual wilderness.  We've charted the wilderness.  We know what it looks like and we're pretty familiar with the terrain.  This week, we chart the Way: the Way of Jesus.  And that means we let go of our assumptions; let go our need for control.  In its place we pick up that cross and journey to transformation, allowing Jesus to correct our flawed faith to bring us into line.

So, are we ready?  Are we ready to face our need for control?  Are we ready to follow Jesus?

If so, then here we go.

Everyone,

pick up your crosses and

get in line.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




February 18, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — Charting the Wilderness


by Sandy Bach

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.[a] 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 NRSV

It must have come as a crushing blow.

God went to so much trouble to create this beautiful planet.  God's ultimate achievement after flora and fauna and animals was us.  We humans were the crowning glory of creation.

It took fifty-five verses for us to blow it.  We got ourselves kicked out of Eden and went about our own way.  Four chapters later, God has had it.  It's time to start over again.  First a flood with only a remnant of animals and humanity saved. Then it took months and months to clean up the earth from pre-creation chaos.

That's when God did something very strange.  And that's what matters to us today.

This is the first in a series for the Season of Lent where we look at our spiritual wilderness and starting over.  Whether you're in that spiritual or emotional wilderness today or have been in the past, I hope this will be of help to you.

The wilderness is barren.  Foggy.  Filled with wild animals.  It feels God-forsaken.  It feels hopeless.  We drift from one place to another, not sure of our direction.  When we arrive, we recognize that it isn't where we thought we were headed.  We wander, unsure where to go or how we got there.  Overpowered by the powers that be.  Walled in and walled off.  Alone.  Too worn out to be scared or angry.

Once Noah and his family got off the ark, they were also in a wilderness.  They had to rebuild their lives.  Start all over again.

Jesus found himself in the wilderness.  Driven there by the Holy Spirit, he encountered beasts and angels and Satan.  He was there for forty long, unending days.  Tempted and tested and hungry, he endured.

There are others throughout history that have found themselves in the wilderness.  It's okay for them, but what about when it happens to you?  You wonder, how did I get here?  Did I earn this particular punishment?  Is God trying to tell me something?  Was there something I did or didn't do?  Or is this part of living in a dysfunctional, sometimes toxic world?

More to the point, how do I get out of here?  Perhaps if I'm very, very good, God will relent and open up the gates to allow me to escape.  Will I be here forever?  40 minutes, 40 days, 40 years: they're interminable, forever.

The thing is, when Noah opened the door of that ark and his family walked out onto the drying land, he was met by God.  And God had a message so important and astounding, that it left Noah speechless.

God took responsibility.  God changed God's mind.  God made a covenant with Noah.  Here's the strange thing: this is a covenant that depends on nothing or no one, except God.  No quid pro quo.  No, I'll do this but you have to that.  It's a unilateral covenant.

And it goes like this: "I won't destroy the entire earth with flood waters ever again.  To prove my point, I'm putting my bow in the sky to remind me that never again will flood waters destroy the earth."  It was believed that lightening was the result of the gods sending arrows to the earth with bows.  When God put that bow in the sky, God hung up a weapon of destruction.  Never again would God use it.

Jesus spent his forty-day sojourn in the wilderness with the Holy Spirit at his side.  He encountered wild beasts and angels.  But the Holy Spirit never left his side.  In other words, God was present.

So where is God when we're in our own wilderness?  Right there with us.  Look around you and you'll find evidence of God's provision.  For forty years the Hebrews received water and food from God's providence.  For forty days Jesus was sustained by God, not with food, but with power to withstand the temptations and testing.

The wilderness isn't an easy place to be.  Yet, it's a place where you can rest for awhile, where you can express anger, sadness and desolateness.  It's a place to experience God's grace.

What is or was your wilderness?  A spiritual dessert where you questioned God's existence? A place of addictions to drugs or alcohol?  A sickness of being controlled by wealth or fame or power?  A realization that your sense of control and self-sufficiency are only an illusion?

Ask yourself, how is God at work?  Whatever got you there, look around.  How is God at work to bring you to new life?

Rest awhile.  Learn from God and your experience.  Let go of your assumptions.  The wild animals will try to tell you what you need to do (just pray a little harder or have more faith) or what got you there (you know God is trying to tell you something) or how to endure (God never gives us more than we can endure.) Move away from them.  Like any wild animal, they aren't good for you.

In prayer and reflection, you'll learn more about yourself than any ten wild beasts!  You'll feel God's presence and a sense of peace will gradually embrace you.  Rather than godforsaken, the wilderness is God infused.  Rather than hopeless, the wilderness can provide a new kind of hope.

Look for grace.  Allow grace to find you.

Most of all, stay where you are.  God will tell you when it's time to leave.  For now, we'll spend the next couple of weeks in this wilderness.

After the flood, God realized that humanity simply can't live up to very high standards.  Sure, sometimes we get it.  But, after a centuries of wars to end all wars,  difficult race relations, increasing poverty, we still can't get it right.  Even when we do the right thing, we get the wrong outcome.

That's why God's covenant is so important.  It wouldn't take long for Noah to get drunk and his sons to disrespect him.  The Bible is filled with those here-we-go-again stories.  But, God looks at the bow in the sky and remembers: "I won't destroy the whole earth."  And for thousands of years, God has been at work.  Left up to us, it be a lot worse.

Listen to what God is saying to you: "I'll meet you in the wilderness.  I will not dessert you.  I will not leave you.  That bow in the sky is my reminder.  I will not change my mind.  But, I can and will transform you."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




February 4, 2018, 5:35 PM

Searching for Jesus


by Sandy Bach

29 As soon as they[a] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.  (Mark 1:29-39 NRSV)

Jesus began his ministry as he intended to go.  He was a Jewish teacher, so it was natural that he went to the synagogues to teach and to heal.  His message was refreshing to those who were sick and tired of living under Roman rule and Herod's thumb.  His words were as healing as his touch.

He made sense of scripture.  He interpreted it in ways that many didn't.  He brought it home to those who felt themselves living outside the faith.   People who tried to live by the rules, were set free from legalism.  He showed them freedom in their Jewish faith where others saw only rules.  He taught them the common sense behind the law so that the people could live in community with each other and in deeper relationship with God.

His healing made equal sense.  He didn't make a big deal of it.  There was no hocus-pocus.  He used words to forgive sins, rebuke evil spirits or to calm a broken soul.  His touch lifted up, as in the case of Simon's mother-in-law.  He wasn't afraid to touch. Not even the lepers.  Often, a guided action on his part and healing took place.

Here was the heart and soul of Jesus' ministry.  Here was Jesus himself.  Yet, Simon and the disciples had to go searching for him.  What some saw as a man of God caring and healing and teaching, the disciples saw as opportunity.  They would be Jesus' advisers and public relations men. That's why they came to that deserted place: to let him know that the next healing event was ready to begin.  They were disturbed that he wasn't up and dressed and ready to go at the crack of dawn.

Do we go searching for Jesus because of our need to be with him?  Or because we have a to-do list for him to take care of?  Are we honest enough to admit that we try to control Jesus?

That to-do list isn't a bad thing.  In quiet meditation we can sit with the Master and share our yearnings and worries and hurts.  Jesus didn't come to earth only to desert us to earthly worries.  This is the One whom we can trust to understand and to help us with the demons.  That to-do list for Jesus can often turn into a list of what to hand over to God and let go of; what we can do ourselves; and what we will wait on Jesus to handle when the time is right.

We all try to control Jesus.  "If only X would happen, my life would be so much better."

The disciples did quite a bit of searching for Jesus.  Yet, there he was: walking beside them every day.  Waking up near them every day.  Eating and drinking with them every day.  What about us?  How do we miss seeing Jesus?

We miss Jesus when we fail to feel the power of a touch; or presence; or relationship.

I live near one of the busiest streets in town.  It's three lanes in either direction near a large medical complex.  When we moved there we knew that we would have to work with our terrier, teaching her not to run out the door and head for that street.  She chose to get out one early morning while I was trying to handle too much.  An hour later, I gently lifted her dead body off the busy street and carried her home.

My neighbor, the dog rescuer, saw me and came out to meet me.  "Would you like me to take her to the crematorium?"  All I could do was nod my head as the tears fell.  We laid her in the back of her SUV and then she turned to me and held me as I cried.  She had never touched me before.  And hasn't since.  But that touch spoke volumes.  It said she understood about losing a pet; that she was a friend who cared.

The power of touch brings Jesus front and center.

When have you found yourself wanting to console the inconsolable, only to discover that your quiet presence seemed enough?  As Job lay in sackcloth and ashes, having lost his home, his children and grandchildren, his livelihood and his health, his friends came and sat with him for seven days.  For seven days they said nothing.  It was only when they began speaking that they made things worse.

Jesus is present in the quiet moments when words can do nothing.  Jesus is present to make inadequate words say so much more.

Relationships can become a time of presence with Jesus.  A conversation with a stranger while waiting to check out can become a message of insight; a call to a friend out of the blue turns into a moment of peace and tranquility.

Touch, presence, relationship.  Touch, intimacy, nearness.  These have to power to make whole; to bring peace, God's shalom.

Use these with care.  Be prepared to restore yourself often.  Jesus needed retreat, so do we.

Jesus retreated while it was still dark.  Think about the previous day.  He taught in the synagogue, healed Simon's mother-in-law and spent the rest of the day healing.  That's tiring work.  Each person we touch, each person we reach out to fills us and depletes us.  We need quiet and meditation and prayer to nourish our souls.  We need good food to nourish bodies.  We need laughter and tears.  We need to decompress.  If we don't find a way to do this, we'll burn out.

In this particular text, Jesus retreats in the dark.  He must have been worn out.  Yet, he seemed to need time with God more than he needed sleep.  Was he praying for direction?  Trying to decide if he should remain in Capernaum or move on to other parts of Galilee?  Was he looking to recharge his batteries?  Whatever it was, it was a time to get away from everyone to do his own searching while his disciples were searching, even hunting, him out.

Preaching and healing.  Healing and preaching.  The saying goes, "Preach the Gospel.  If necessary use words."  It's a statement that reminds us that silence can be golden.  Preaching without words is modeling Christian behavior.  We are good at doing that.  But, we don't necessarily realize that silence and presence and touch can make huge impacts on the lives of others.  You don't have to know the Bible by heart.  You don't need cliches.  Use real words, if you speak.

Searching for Jesus?  Look for him in the solitude of the early morning; look for him in the conversation with a stranger; look for him in the touch of a friend; look for him in the news; look for him wherever you are.  He's as close to you now as he was to the disciples 2,000 years ago.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




January 21, 2018, 12:00 AM

Fishing with Jesus


by Sandy Bach

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[a] of God,[b] 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[c] repent, and believe in the good news.”[d16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.  (Mark 1:14-20 NRSV)

It seems like a scene out of a zombie movie.

"Follow me and I will make you fish for people."

Simon and Andrew leave their nets and follow him.  Just like that.  Not a word is spoken.

James and John, not only leave their nets, but their father and the family business!  Just like that.

I used to interpret this as a scene where these prospective disciples had known about Jesus' reputation.  Perhaps they'd even met him, spent time with him.  It's a possibility.  Jesus was used to meeting people where they are.  That's why he walking through some fishing industry on the Sea of Galilee.

Why is there not a longer conversation recorded?

I spent six months hiding from God.  I wore out before God did, and finally gave in.  In silent prayer I said, "Okay. I'm listening."

I heard one word.  "Ministry."

But there was more to it than that.  I recognized the voice.  I knew it was God calling me into ministry.  My response was amazement, questioning God's choice of sinner.  But, I couldn't say no.  The call was that compelling.

When God, in Jesus, calls it's compelling and carries authority.  Simon and Andrew and James and John couldn't say no.  They knew that voice.  Their choices became clear.  They acted spontaneously, trusting in the prompting of their Lord.

From that day forward they were never the same again.  And neither are we.

They received a new identity.  Jesus said, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people."  This wasn't a new task they would learn that they would add to their fishing skill set.  Jesus called them into a new identity.  They would always be able to go fishing, but they would forever be known as "fishers of people."

It didn't happen overnight.  It took awhile.  They had much to learn from their teacher.  They would watch him; be astounded by him; misunderstand him; lose track of him; look for him; betray him; deny him.

Sound familiar?  We do it often, ourselves.  The miracle? Jesus hangs in there with us, because he's bigger than this world.  His aim is ushering us further into the God's reign.

Sometimes, our call yields an immediate response.  And when it does, we tend to enter it in need of training and testing.  The disciples had much to learn.  They would misunderstand often.  And they would backslide.  It's what we do.  And Jesus picks us up and puts us back on track to serve, having learned from previous experiences.

Perhaps you have had experienced a call similar to the disciples.  If you did, you remember it well as the high point of your life.

If you can't remember that kind of call, you might remember the dozens of times you acted without thinking.  Later, you couldn't say why you responded as you did.  There was no way to predict how it would work out.  You probably didn't have much of a plan.  You just did it.

Those are calls from God.  Compelling, fascinating, captivating.

Can't think of any?  I trust that this week, you'll remember.  I also trust that there will be more.  They may yield small or large results.  That part doesn't matter.  Fishing with Jesus is about working in the kingdom.

How has your identity as a child of God changed?  When have you fallen down?  How did the Great Fisherman pick you up and set you back on your feet?  How has your life been different as a result of answering the call?

Enjoy your week remembering those fishing expeditions.  Enjoy those moments with the Master, when you answer the call and make a difference.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




January 14, 2018, 12:00 AM

Eyes to See. Ears to Listen


by Sandy Bach

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!”[a] and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God,[b] and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. (I Samuel 3:1-20 NRSV)

The "lamp of God had not yet gone out..." (vs. 3)  The lamp was lit in the evening and kept burning throughout the night until morning.  It burned in God's presence as a symbol of God.  Pure oil of beaten olives was provided by the people of Israel.  Was the lamp about to go out because it was nearing dawn?  Or had the people failed to bring enough oil to keep it burning?  Or was God tired of the direction Israel was taking?

Does it feel as if our lamp is sputtering out?  Is God done with us?  We see the decline of the mainline church.  Mega churches continue to grow, but they can't keep the back doors closed.  As new people arrive, others go elsewhere or stay home.  We're a society of itchy ears.  Perhaps we need some tingling.

God comes to Samuel to share with him something new.  Something new created out of nothing.  Samuel's mother was barren and prayed hard for a son.  Eli heard her plea and told her that God heard it, as well.  Hanna became pregnant and raised the child as a gift back to God.  Literally.  When he was weaned, she took him to the High Priest, Eli, and "lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord." (1:28)  Out of the nothingness of a barren woman, God created a new way for Israel.

God could have called a lot of people: adults who worshiped God and knew God well; adults who lived on the fringes of their faith.  Instead, God chooses a boy who hasn't experienced a relationship with the Lord, yet.  Out of the nothingness of faith, God creates a new relationship for a new way for Israel.

God's plan includes tingling ears.  Ears tingle when good news is heard.  Ears tingle when bad news is received.  Ears tingle and we often hold our hands over those ears trying to shut out the news.  We don't want to hear any more.  Perhaps it's time to find a quiet place and listen for God to tingle our ears in a new way.  Is it possible that God can come to you out of nothingness with a new message?  Or even an old message with new and deeper meaning?

God begins with Samuel as God means to go.  He gives an adult and difficult message to Samuel about his mentor and father-figure.  Samuel doesn't go back to sleep, but lays awake until dawn trying to make sense of what he's been told.  He is reluctant to share the news with Eli.  It will hurt the old man; maybe anger him and turn him against Samuel.  But, if Eli is a poor father to his sons, he's a wise and caring man in other ways.  He demands that Samuel tell him everything.  From that day forth, Samuel will speak truth to power without remorse or fear.  God and Eli prepared him well.

In this text Eli loses his power and authority to a boy.  He will teach and train Samuel, but it is Samuel who will rise to power and authority.  Eli will die shortly after his sons are killed on the battlefield.

Does it feel as if God's lamp is going out?  Is God calling someone or multiple someones out of nothing?  Is God making our ears tingle?

I believe the answer is yes.  I believe that God is always at work and that in this day and time, we can use the tingling as a spiritual tool to bring us closer to God.

No matter your age, from whom do you learn?  Are you comfortable?  Seek the uncomfortable.

Are you running from the tingling?  Take courage, pause and listen to it.  Use the words that Eli gave to Samuel: "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."

I pray that your tingling, and mine, will take us to new, Spirit-filled places.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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