CCC Blog

Reflection on Psalm 84

If you could have one wish granted by God, what would it be?  A gift for someone you love?  Something for yourself?  Psalm 27 gave us an answer – “One thing I ask of the Lord (is)… to dwell in the house of the Lord… (and) behold the beauty of the Lord…”  Simply dwelling in the close presence of God… that is what faith is all about.  Heaven and earth may pass away, but the presence of God remains.  Material possessions wear out over time and become obsolete.  People come and go.  Even the ones we love the most are taken from us eventually.  But dwelling in the presence of God?  That is the one thing that will always be available to us.

 

A friend of mine likes to describe this as the difference between the “stuff of God’s hands” and the “stuff of God’s heart.”  The “stuff of God’s hands” are things all connected with earthly life – outcomes, results and tangible objects.  Seeking the “stuff of God’s hands” is to be pray that the CT scan is favorable or that the upcoming interview results in a job offer.  The “stuff of God’s heart” is about everything other-worldly.  It is about what God thinks, knows, loves and understands.  To seek the stuff of God’s heart is to desire to know what God knows, love what God loves and view things from God’s perspective instead of our own.  

 

To pray for the stuff of God’s hands may lead to personal disappointment.  It may not.  But it may, because we may not be seeking something that is in alignment with God’s heart.  But praying for the stuff of God’s heart will never disappoint us.  We will always experience a greater connection with God that is not based on results or outcomes.  To seek the stuff of God’s heart is to pray, “Lord, help me love and value what you already see is your plan for me, regardless of how this particular situation in front of me turns out.”

 

Psalm 84 is about seeking the stuff of God’s heart; about seeking closeness with God above all.  This is what is meant by phrases like “One day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” and “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord” than to live anywhere else.  And there are great blessings given to us when simply dwelling in God’s presence becomes our great desire.

 

First, we will see that there is room for all of us in the presence of God.  Even the sparrows and the swallows find a space at the altar of the Lord (v. 3).  And, as Jesus reminded us, we are valued by God at least as much as the sparrows (Luke 12:7).  If God already provides for them, how much more will God provide for us?  If God makes room for them in God’s presence, we can trust that there will always be room there for us too.  Everywhere we look in our earthly lives, there is some kind of test to pass before we are accepted; some kind of ID or credential needed in order to be included.  But not with God.  Simply desiring to be included, makes one included.

Secondly, Psalm 84 reminds us that God will not withhold “one good thing” (v. 11) from those who walk uprightly.  It is in God’s very nature to want to share the “stuff of God’s heart” with us.  If we are not learning more of God’s will or experiencing more of God’s purposes for our world, it is not because God is withholding something from us. It is more likely that we have not truly desired it.  Simply desiring God; closeness with God; connection with God; togetherness with God.  That is the key to an abundant life of faith in God.  Jesus the Christ was sent to us simply to emphasize it and make it more accessible.  But long before he appeared, Psalm 84 was given as a reminder of what really matters to us as people of faith.

God of eternal connection, may I seek to dwell and walk more closely with you every day.  May my connection with you grow stronger with each passing day.  And may I ultimately trust that this is enough; that even if I have nothing else in this world, this is enough.  Amen.

 

                                                                      -  Blessings, Michael

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"I Have a Dream" sermon series 2024

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2024 is officially upon us and there are several things we know are going to be true this year.  For instance, 2024 is a leap-year which means we will all get an extra 24 hours to spend toward the beginning of the year!  Of course, 2024 will also include another presidential election, which means there will be no shortage of dramatic activity taking place toward the end of the year.  And undoubtedly, there will be things happening for us personally and individually, that many (if not all) others will never know about.  We will all be another year older in 2024.  Married couples will celebrate another anniversary in 2024.  Sometime in 2024, you may be living in a new location, working in a new job, holding a new child or grandchild, recovering from surgery or returning home from a trip abroad.  And maybe… all those things are already on your radar.  Maybe you know they will be taking place before we welcome in 2025.

If the past is any indication of the future, then there are other things that we also know will be true in 2024.  We can be pretty sure that at least a few things will not go as planned; that we will face some yet-unknown challenges; that we will make a mistake and get into an unfortunate situation because of our own doing; that we will experience a set-back not of our own doing; and that we will face a difficult decision not yet on the radar.  Yet as people of faith, we believe there is hope in all things – seen and unseen, through past, present and future.  

As be begin this new year, our theme at Central will be “I Have a Dream.”  For the next five weeks, we will look at five different people in scripture who dreamed dreams or saw a vision.  Dreams are ways God communicates important messages to people in the bible.  Yet, those messages were never meant for that person alone, but rather for the community as a whole.  And dreams always contain an element of hope and possibility.  What is communicated by God in dreams is always possible for us to experience and is meant to inspire hope in the ones who receive it.  Join us for worship, in person or online, as we seek to provide some necessary spiritual support as we all begin our journey through 2024 – whether we know what is coming or not.  

 

January 14                 Jacob’s Dream          Genesis 28:10-17         Pastor Michael

                                   Forgiveness: We will all make mistakes, but God responds with forgiveness 

 

January 21                 Joseph ‘s Dream        Genesis37:9-11           Pastor Michael

                                   Guidance: We may experience doubt, but God’s plans include us

 

January 28                 Daniel’s Dream           Daniel 7:1-8                Pastor Michael

                                   Courage: We will face adversity, but God will lead us through it

 

February 4                  Anna’s Vision              Luke 2:36-38              Pastor Vicky

                                   Potential: Whatever our circumstance, there is always more than meets the eye

 

February 11                Solomon’s Dream        I Kings 3:5-15             Pastor Michael

                                    Integrity and Character: We will all have an opportunity to live for God in 2024

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Comparing and Contrasting Epiphany Experiences

This Sunday we will celebrate Epiphany.  The word “epiphany” means some version of the word “revelation.”  We might think of using the word in the context of having a burst of insight or inspiration or a good idea.  Epiphany is actually a Greek word that literally means to “appear to” or to “shine upon.”  In the Christian context, it refers to the star shining in the sky at Jesus birth, which revealed to wise men (magi) from the east (probably Persia) that a king was born.  Those magi then traveled to visit the newborn Jesus and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh as an expression of homage.  All this is recorded in Matthew 2:1-12, which will be our scripture focus this Sunday.  Legend has it, the journey of the wise men took 12 days (which is whence the notion of “12 Days of Christmas” comes).  Thus, January 6 is Epiphany day in the Christian calendar.  It represents the arrival of the magi to the manger and in some Christian traditions, it is observed as the more accurate Christmas.   

 

There is another aspect to Matthew’s epiphany story that we will not have time to cover this Sunday.  It is the role of King Herod.  Herod was the existing Jewish king at the time of Jesus’ birth and when the wise men arrived in Judea after 12 days of journeying, they went right straight to Herod’s palace.  They simply  assumed the newborn king was really a future king; the son of the existing king.  This, however, was not the case, and Herod’s first reaction to learning that a new king was born was fear (“When King Herod heard this, he was frightened…” MT 2:3).  But pretending to want to pay homage to the new king, Herod convinced the magi to look for Jesus and upon finding his location, to come back and tell him.  Really, however, Herod wanted to eliminate Jesus as a potential threat to his power.  So once the wise men found Jesus, they were warned by God not to return to Herod and they want back home by another road.  When Herod found it that he had been tricked, he ordered the immediate killing of every male child born within the last two years as a most cruel, evil and desperate attempt remove Jesus as a threat to Herod’s throne. 

Something to think about this week, as we stand between the aftermath of Christmas and the start of a new year:

Both the Magi (the “wise men from the East”) and King Herod were confronting with the in-breaking of God into their lives (Matthew 2:1-12).  Yet each stands in stark contrast to the other.

The magi and Herod represent two responses to the in-breaking of God into our personal lives.  Neither was expecting Jesus to be born.  None of them were anticipating their lives changing.  Yet the arrival of Jesus into the world represented change for all of them.  The magi responded by accepting the change; embracing it.  They were willing to start a new journey.  They were patient on that journey and didn’t give up, even though it lasted a long time and they didn’t know exactly where they were going.  But they trusted in the one guiding them and were even willing to ask for help along the way.  And ultimately, they were drawn closer to God; closer to Jesus the Christ.

 

Herod, however, was not willing to change.  He was not able to accommodate the addition of Jesus into his life as he knew it.  Herod only saw change as a threat and because of this, he doubled down on protecting what was his, regardless of who had to be sacrificed in the process.  In the end, not only was he far away from God and Jesus the Christ, thousands of innocent people suffered as well.  There is never an indication in the scriptures that Jesus didn’t also come for Herod.  But Herod’s own reluctance to accept the change that comes with welcoming Christ into our lives, made it impossible for him to see that. 

Every year, Jesus appears to us again at Christmas, Epiphany and at the dawn of a new year.  And every year the question is not, “Do you want to have Jesus the Christ part of your life?”  But rather, “Are you willing to accept the changes to your life that Jesus the Christ brings?”  Herod and the magi present two contrasting answers to that question.  But only one of them life-giving – for us and for all.

Blessings – Michael

 

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"I Am At Peace When..."

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Our theme in worship this past Sunday was “giving thanks.”  Paul said, in his final words to the Thessalonians (I Thess 5:18), to “give thanks in all circumstances.”  We said that this was the key to living in peace and being at peace with one another.  Before worship we asked everyone – at each service – to complete the sentence “I am at peace when…”  We then read some of the at the beginning and the end of that service’s sermon. Here is a collection of some the responses submitted from all three services.  May something in the way others have been encouraged in their faith be an encouragement to you in yours.

I am at peace when:

  • I’m in nature with animals.
  • I am in this beautiful sanctuary.
  • I am in church with my wife next to me.
  • I am praying and listening to music.
  • I pray.
  • My family is healthy and happy.
  • My family is together.
  • I let God be in control and not try to handle things on my own.
  • I quit focusing on issues and focus and ask God for his peace and change my focus when stressed.
  • I am still and listen to God.
  • I am at home with my family and watching my son learn and grow.
  • God speaks and says “Be still and know that I am God.”
  • I take the time to count my blessings.
  • I seek the approval of God and not people.
  • I sing “Jesus loves me.”
  • I’m sitting beside calm water.
  • Look at the Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols.
  • I pray and meditate on God.
  • I eat dark chocolate and do yoga.
  • I am playing music with fellow Christians and praise God.
  • I am at this service and feel close to God.
  • I enter this church.
  • My friends and family are well.
  • I’m at home with my dog.
  • I look up at the sky on a clear night and see all the stars.
  • I’m outside in God’s creation.
  • I’m in the woods.
  • I’m at church.
  • I’m with my grandchildren.
  • I look back and realize that God has led me through a challenging time.
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