Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sermon Hebrews 6:19-20 “Hope”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon Hebrews 6:19-20 “Hope”
December 2, 2018

Listen to this sermon.

Today we begin a new church year.  The church year that begins today is divided into two broad seasons.   In the first season, we remember the events of Jesus’ life with Advent and Christmas when we remember the birth of Jesus.   It will continue through Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection in Epiphany, Lent, and Easter.   And the first broad season concludes on Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world. 

The second season of the church year is called “Ordinary Time.”   It not really ordinary.   Rather we talk about parts of the Bible that deal with things other than the important events of Jesus’ life.   So we begin today a journey through the church year.   We will get started, but first, let’s pray. 

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

When I was in business in Washington DC I had to drive a lot to visit customers and talk to prospects.   Before I would drive to meet with someone I would call first and ask for directions.   I would be careful to write down landmarks that would guide me on my journey.  Then I would open an ADC map book for Metro Washington and would figure out my best route.   Then in the car, I would listen to the radio for traffic information so I could avoid congestion and accidents.

When I traveled away from Washington, I would go to AAA and get a triptik.  As a member of AAA, I would go to the office and tell them where I wanted to go.   They would bind together a series of printed maps which I could follow.
When I went to California to attend seminary I tried something new.  I went online to Yahoo Maps and searched for the best route from Washington DC to Pasadena California.  I noted each city on the journey at an about 500-mile interval.   Then I searched for and booked reservations at Hampton Inns every 500 miles or so across the country.   My final task was to print directions from Hampton Inn to Hampton Inn for each day of an eight-day journey.   With these maps and reservations, I was ready to go.

Today I use Google Maps on my Android phone.   I have each of you listed in my contact list.   So all I do is type in your name and a map from my location to your house pops us.   I then follow the map, using GPS, right to your front door.
Technology has changed how we journey from one place to another.  But one thing remains the same.   You must know where you are now and where you want to go. 

As Christians, we are on a journey.  We going places.   We do not stand still.   The starting point in our journey is to take a step of faith.  We see this in Mary’s story.

Luke 1:26 … God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

If Grace woke me up in the middle of the night, with the story of an angelic visitation, I would tell her to go back to sleep because it was just a dream.   But for Mary, the visit of the angel Gabriel was not a dream.  Gabriel told her an absolutely unbelievable story.  She, a virgin, would conceive.  Her baby will be the Son of God.  Who could believe that?   Mary did and she agreed to it.   Mary took a step of faith and began her spiritual journey.

That is where our Christian journey starts, faith.  We take a step in faith and our journey begins.  It might be that we go with a friend to a youth group outing.   Or maybe a coworker invites us to church.  Maybe a neighbor comes over to pray with us at the death of a loved one.  Maybe we see a preacher on Youtube who has something interesting to say.   These things happen all the time.   Your Christian journey starts with you saying yes to an invitation to attend a youth event or a church service or a prayer group or a Bible study.   You don’t know what will happen.  But you act in faith that God that wants you to take this first step.

So faith is where the Christian journey starts.  Like Mary, we respond to an invitation and take a step of faith.  This leads us to a question.  If faith is where we start, then where do we end up?   Where does our Christian journey end?    Our journey which begins in faith ends in hope.   Let’s go back to Mary.

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Hope is when we believe that God’s promises will be fulfilled.
Steve was just starting Middle School.   And made the soccer team.   This was the thrill of his young life.  It was what he always wanted.   He was so excited and asked Dad to come to his first game.   And he jumped for joy when Dad said, “Yes!”   But that afternoon when the game started Steve’s dad wasn’t there.  Steve was so disappointed.   He tried not to cry when his father came home.    His dad told him, “I had to work late.” 

The next game was scheduled for Friday night.  So on Monday at breakfast, Steve asked his father again to come.   And Dad said, “Yes, this time I’ll make it.”   Steve couldn’t wait to play in front of his father.  But when the game started, Dad was not there.   He had to work late again.
Steve had hoped that his father would keep his promise to come to his game.   But his father proved to be unfaithful.   And Steve said, “I hope my Dad will come, but he probably won’t.”

Hope is where we expect our desires and needs satisfied, and promises kept.  When someone makes us a promise we hope that it will be carried out.   We trust that the person making a promise is faithful.  If so then our hope is strong, built on confidence.  If not then our hope is weak, built on nothing.
We know what our hope is as Christians.   It is nothing less than eternal life in the resurrection.   This is the end of our journey.     But will we get there?   Is God faithful?   Will God keep his promises.  Let’s go back to Mary.

Mary’s Song
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary certainly believed that God was faithful.    She was filled with confidence that God would fulfill his promises.  How could she be so sure?  Mary knew scripture.  In the Bible, God is faithful to God’s people.   By being familiar with Bible stories, Mary was able to recognize God at work in the world.   And when she recognized that it was God, the God of the Bible, who made promises to her she believed that those promises would be kept. 

That is why it is so important for you to study the Bible.   In the Bible, you will hear how God has acted in the world with his people for thousands of years.   Then when you see God acting in your world you will know that it is God.  And if that God makes you a promise you can have hope with confidence that that promise will be carried out.

We have been promised eternal life by Jesus.  This is our Christian hope.  Will Jesus carry out this promise?  Is Jesus faithful?   Is Jesus trustworthy?  The author of the Book of Hebrews certainly thinks so. 

Hebrews 6:13 When God made his promise to Abraham since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”[d] 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

So God was certainly faithful to his promise to Abraham.   And we can believe that God will be faithful to us too.   And if God is faithful to us then our hope is justified.  We will be resurrected to new life.   And this hope is the foundation of our faith.

19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.

The starting point of our Christian journey is a step of faith.   Our destination is hope in the promise of resurrection to eternal life.   We have confidence that Jesus will fulfill this promise because God has always been faithful to the promises he makes to his people.  So let’s enter these coordinates into our GPS:  Our current location is faith.  Our destination is our hope of eternal life through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.  Let’s get started on our Christian journey.  Let’s pray.

Father in Heaven, we thank you for the blessing of faith.   Bless us in our Christian journey from faith to eternal life.   Fill us with hope and the assurance of your faithfulness.   This we pray in name of Jesus, the anchor for our souls.  Amen.

Sermon – Matthew 6:25-33 Don’t Worry be Thankful

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon – Matthew 6:25-33 Don’t Worry be Thankful
November 25, 2018

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This morning we will be remembering all of the blessings that we have received in our lifetimes:  the blessings of our birth and loving parents, the blessing of our youth, education, and moral development, the blessings of our spouses, families, jobs and church, the blessings of retirement, travel, and lifelong friendships.  We have so much to be thankful for.  So God has given us this week to be thankful for all of our blessings.

Will you pray with me?  Father in heaven, we approach your throne this morning thankful for all you have done for us.  Purge from our minds the worries that often overwhelm us.  Help us to focus this week on all that you have provided for us, especially our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

If you are anything like me you worry most of the time.  I worry about the stock market going down and what is happening to my retirement funds.  I worry about my Dad getting older and how he will be cared for.  I worry about this church and the problems you face.  I worry, like so many others, about paying the bills each month.  Worry is a part of my life and I am sure that worry is a part of your lives too.

The Israelites were worried as they wandered in the wilderness.  Just a few days after God freed them from slavery in Egypt with the miraculous parting of the Red Sea they ran out of water.  Moses, who had been a shepherd in this desert for forty years, guided them to a watering hole, but the water was bitter and people were worried.  “O Moses, what have you done?  We had plenty of water in Egypt.  It would have been better to die there than die here in the desert of thirst.”  God knew they were worried so God led them to an area with twelve springs, one for each tribe. 

But a few days later the Israelites ran out of food.  They worried again.  “O Moses, what have you done?  We had plenty of food in Egypt.  It would have been better to die there with full stomachs that to die out here in the wilderness of hunger.”  God knew that they were worried so he rained down bread from heaven each morning and had quails fly by every evening so that the Israelites would never be hungry. 

You would think that with all these blessings from God the Israelites would never worry again.  After all time after time, God provided for them.  But when the spies returned from the Promised Land with a report that the people of Canaan were powerful, and descended from giants the Israelites were worried, really worried.  “O Moses, what have you done?  In Egypt, we weren’t facing slaughter.  It would have been better to remain, slaves, than to all be killed in this strange place.”  With that their God, who was slow to anger and abiding in steadfast love had enough.  God was ready to wipe out his people and start over.  But Moses intervened and reminded God of God’s love for God’s people.  So God relented, and permitted the Israelites to wander around the desert for forty years where they could worry all the time until a new generation, free from worry, could take what was being offered, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Worry is part of our lives.  We do it well because we practice it all the time.  We are worried about the economy and the values of our retirement investments and homes.  We are worried about keeping our jobs or finding a job.  We are worried about our health and what will happen to us as we age.  We are worried about our families and their future. 

The Christians of the Protestant Reformation were also filled with worry.  As William of Orange organized the rebel forces in the Netherlands to fight for political independence from Spain and religious independence from Rome the Reformed Christians worried about their churches, their country, and their lives.  They gathered into churches and confessed their faith which sustained them through these most dangerous times.  In the midst of their worry here is what they confessed.

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; He chastens and hastens His will to make known; the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing, sing praises to His name; he forgets not His own.  Beside us to guide us our God with us joining, ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine; so from the beginning the fight we are winning; Thou, Lord wast at our side; all glory be Thine!  We all do extol Thee, Thou leader triumphant, and pray that Thou still our defender wilt be, let thy congregation escape tribulation; thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!”

Whenever we are overwhelmed by worry there is a simple solution.  All we have to do is to turn to God with praise and thanksgiving.  By praising God our faith increases, which allows us to withstand anything that the world might throw at us.  We are able to face our worries with confidence only when we have first approached God in praise. 

And this brings us to this morning’s scripture and Jesus’ teachings on worry.

Matthew 6:25-33   25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-you of little faith?  31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'  32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

According to Jesus, the antidote for worrying all the time is service to others.  If we feed someone who is hungry today then we will not be worried about being hungry tomorrow.  If we clothe someone who is naked today then we will not be concerned with what we will wear tomorrow.  This is how the Kingdom of Heaven works.  God provides us with everything we need and all God asks us to do is to provide for the needs of others.  By caring for others we realize all the blessings that we have received and become a thankful people praising God in the highest.

Craig Barnes, the President of Princeton Seminary, tells a story about one Thanksgiving.  On Thanksgiving morning at about 11 AM while his family was preparing for a great feast the telephone rang.  It was a nurse at a local hospital saying that a member of his church was dying.  Craig was worried about the interruption this would cause in his family’s plans for the day.  He arrived at the hospital to find Jean, a seventy-eight-year-old member of the congregation surrounded by her family.  She had had another heart attack and was not expected to make it through the day.  Jean was about to die.  After Craig prayed with the family and read some scripture someone mentioned that it was sad for Jean to die on Thanksgiving.  But Jean replied that it was a glorious Thanksgiving because she would soon be with the Lord.  She then prayed for everyone in the room and then died.  While driving home Craig realized that Jean was a saint. She had taught Sunday School for thirty-five years until her eyesight failed and then settled into a ministry of prayer for others.  Jean had no worry about her fate because of her service to others in the kingdom.  She was grateful for all that God had done for her.  Craig arrived home just in time to carve the Thanksgiving turkey, but Jean was on his mind, and all he could say as he carved the bird was that this truly was a glorious Thanksgiving.

When we live lives of service to others we stop worrying about what the future will bring and become thankful people who praise God for our blessings.  As Christians, we are thankful for all the blessings God has provided for us:  the blue sky and bright sunshine, families coming together for the Thanksgiving feast, the food, water and clothing that our planet provides, and our saving faith in Jesus Christ.  All these and so much more have been provided to us by our loving God.  So we have come here today to thank God for all that God has done for us, to express our gratitude for all the blessings we have received, and to commit ourselves to lives of service to others.  As we gather together let's give our worries to God and be thankful for all the blessings we have received.

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for all our blessings you provide for us.   We thank you especially for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, who gives us the promise of eternal life.  We confess that we worry when we should be thankful.   So help us to live lives of service so that we learn to be thankful for everything.   This we pray in Jesus’s name.   Amen.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sermon John 14:1-2 “Eternity”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon John 14:1-2  “Eternity”
November 18, 2018

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Today we turn to a topic we all think about from time to time.   What happens to us when this life is over?   Atheists say that nothing happens because this life is all we get.  Buddhists say that we will be repeatedly reincarnated as an elephant or maybe a mouse until we live the right way and achieve the nothingness they hope for.   Muslims believe in heaven, but you have to work really hard to get there.   None of these beliefs contain any hope.   And none of them are how the world really works.   So today we will ask the question, “What do Christians believe will happen with this life in finished?”   We will get to this, but first, let's pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

What happens when our lives end?  To answer this let’s take a look at the death of the great prophet, Elijah. 

2 Kings 2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

The life of the prophet Elijah was coming to an end.   He had lived a long life battling the evil of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.    But now his life is just about over and the scripture teaches that this man of faith was going to heaven after he died.

Elisha was Elijah’s assistant and did not want the great prophet to die.  He wanted to be with his old friend for as long as possible.   And so Elisha accompanied Elijah all the way to the end.

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

When Elijah died God himself came to lead his way to heaven.   God mounted the fiery chariot and came to earth ready to accompany Elijah.   Elijah was lifted up on a whirlwind and carried off to heaven to be with God. 
But Elisha was left behind, filled with grief.   He experienced the loss of his trust mentor.  This is what happens when we die.  Our souls are carried up to heaven.  Our loved ones are left behind to grieve. 

We already know what grief is like.   We experience it ourselves.  So let’s focus not our grief but on heaven.  What is heaven like?  Let’s look at the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

Luke 16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.

When Lazarus died, like Elijah, his soul went to heaven.   Why was Lazarus taken to heaven?    He was a poor beggar coved with sores.   There is no way he could pay for a ticket to heaven.  He wasn’t able to work for it.  So he must have received a ticket to be admitted to heaven as a gift.   We talked about this a couple of weeks ago.  Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.”   So the reason Lazarus is in heaven is because of the grace of God.

Lazarus is in heaven because of God’s grace.   But what about the rich man, the one wearing purple and ignoring Lazarus?   Where did he go?

22… The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue because I am in agony in this fire.’

So there seem to be two places where we might go after we die.   Lazarus has gone to the place where Abraham and Elijah live, this is called heaven.   The other place is characterized by torment, thirst, and fire.  This is called hell.
We know that people go to heaven by the grace of God through faith.   Those with faith go to heaven.   The Apostle Paul put it this way, Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Say publically that Jesus is your Lord and believe in his resurrection then you receive a free ticket to heaven to join Elijah, Abraham, and Lazarus when your days on earth come to an end.

As believers, we are all on a journey to heaven.  When we die we leave behind a useless body and grieving loved ones.  We find ourselves in heaven by the grace of God.   But this leads us to another question.  Is heaven our final destination?   Or is there some place where we will go after our time in heaven?   Let’s go back to scripture.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord, himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 

The day will come when Jesus returns to earth.   And when that happens all the souls in heaven will come with him back to earth.  Heaven is not our final destination.   We return to earth with Jesus.  So what happens after we get back here?

1 Corinthians 15:42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. 

When we return to earth with Jesus, God will make for us a new body.   Just as God made a body for Adam from the dust of the earth, so too will God make a new body for us.    This will not be our old useless bodies placed in the grave.  This new body will be imperishable, powerful, and spiritual.   Once God fashions a new body for us, what happens then? 

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Once Jesus brings us back to earth and God has our new bodies ready then we will be resurrected.   Our souls, our memories, our thoughts, our feelings, our beliefs, will return with Christ from heaven to earth and be placed in our new bodies.   We will be resurrected from the dead.

We will be back here on earth with new resurrected bodies, but where how we live?  Jesus will build us new homes to live in.

John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

So Jesus will make all the arrangements for us for the time when we return to earth.   Jesus will have our new houses ready.  But where will these houses by located?  What will the earth be like when we return?   We have an advance look at the earth we will return to. 

Revelation 20:21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

We will live in a New Jerusalem.   Jesus will there to provide us with everything we need.  We will live there for eternity.

When we die our souls go to heaven.   Our identities, our memories, our thoughts, and our feelings are all preserved.   And we live blissfully with other believers.   Then, one day, Jesus will return to earth.   God will make new resurrected bodies for us.   Jesus will get rooms ready for us to live in.   And a glorious new city will come down from heaven.  There we will live for eternity with our risen Lord.

Thank you, Lord for giving us this great hope of eternal life.   Bless us and our loved ones with faith and the promise that we will live again in the resurrection from the dead.   We look forward to the day when we will be with you, here on earth, in the New Jerusalem.  This we pray in your glorious name.   Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Sermon Psalm 24:1-2 “Stewardship”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon Psalm 24:1-2 “Stewardship”
November 11, 2018

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One hundred years ago today the guns fell silent in Europe.   The Great War, the war to end all wars, came to an end.   It was on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour that an armistice was signed ending World War I.   We remember this day all the men and women who have served this country protecting our freedom.  Let’s pray. 

“God, please let every veteran of our nation’s armed forces feel truly and appropriately honored by the attention and appreciation of their fellow citizens. Let no one feel forgotten or neglected. Let every man and woman, young or old, feel the deep and enduring gratitude of our nation and its inhabitants.”

Let me tell you about a couple of my old friends.   Ginny was a young professional.  She went to my church and had a good job in Laurel, MD just north of Washington DC.   She purchased a brand new townhouse in Laurel and began furnishing it with Amish furniture.

Robbie was also a young professional at my church with a good job in Alexandria Va.  Robbie found a subsidized townhouse in a very historic but rundown section of Alexandria.   She and many other young professionals purchased these home and began fixing them up.  This transformed the neighborhood.

Both Ginny and Robbie loved their home.   But there was a problem.   Shortly after purchasing her home Ginny lost her job.   Thankfully she quickly found another job in Alexandria VA near where Robbie lived.   The same thing happened to Robbie.   She lost her job too but quickly found another in Laurel MD near where Ginny lived. 

So every morning Ginny left her home in Laurel and drove all the way around Washington to Alexandria to go to work.   And Robbie left her home in Alexandria and drove all the way around Washington to Laurel every day to go to work.   I suggested that they swap houses to shorten their commutes.   Neither Robbie nor Ginny thought this was a good idea.

But their problem got me thinking.   I owned a townhouse in Reston VA.   But I was working and going to church in Northwest Washington.   I was in my car all the time it seemed.   So I decided to do something about it.   I sold my townhouse, for a nice profit,  and got rid of all the stuff that I had accumulated.  I moved to a small apartment in Northwest Washington where I could easily walk to work and church.

I found that renting an apartment was a blessing.   No longer did I have to worry about fixing the roof or plumbing problems.    Any problem at all was fixed by the property manager.   All I had to do was pay rent.

I lived there for two years.   Then I realized something.  I didn’t have a house to worry about.    And all the stuff I had accumulated over the years was gone.   So I was free to do something that I probably would not have done before.   I rented a U-Haul truck and moved to California.  I traded my luxury apartment in Washington for student housing at Fuller Theological Seminary. 

 By getting rid of my house and excess stuff I was able to follow Jesus into a new life as a pastor.  And this brings us to today’s lesson.
Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;  2 for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.

God is the owner of everything.  God owns the Sun, the Moon and all the stars and galaxies that we see at night.   God owns the ocean, the bay, and the river.   God owns the sky and the land.  God owns us too because he created us.  God put it this way, “Psalm 50:9 I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, 10 for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.  11 I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine.  12 If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”

If God is the owner of everything then what about us?   What is the relationship between us and the things around us?   God put it this way:

Genesis 1:29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.  31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

God has given us everything that we need.   God gives us the food we eat.   God gives the jobs that allow us to provide for our families.    God gives us the homes we live in and cars we drive.   God has given us children to nurture and parents to care for.   God owns everything.  And we are to use what God gives us for God’s purposes.

But what about our children?   Certainly, we own them.   They came from us.  Consider this story:   There was a young woman named Hannah.   She prayed for years for a child.   Then she made a vow to the Lord, “1 Samuel 1:11 … “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.”  The Lord blessed Hannah with a son and she carried out her vow.  “27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life, he will be given over to the Lord.”

So children do not belong to us.   They belong to God.   We are to care for them when they are young.  We are to nurture them so that they too will faithfully follow the Lord. 

Our children belong to God, what about the homes we live in?   Don’t we own our own homes?  God owns our homes and we are to use them for God’s purposes.   We are to use our homes as a means of hospitality for others.  The Apostle Paul said this, “Romans 12:13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”  The author of Hebrews said this, “Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  And Peter put it this way, “1 Peter 4: 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

God owns everything.   God owns our children and we are to nurture them in the faith.   God owns our homes and we are to use them to show hospitality to others.  But what about ourselves?   Surely we own ourselves.  Don’t we?  No.   God owns our bodies and we are to use our bodies to glorify God.  Paul puts it this way, “1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

God owns our children; we are to nurture them in the faith.  God owns our homes; we are to use them to share hospitality.  God owns us; we are to use our bodies in such as way as to glorify him.  God owns everything; we are stewards of what God owns using these gifts to glorify God.  Paul puts it this way, “1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Most people in our culture believe that they own their own stuff.   They own their homes.  They own their cars.   They own their children.  They own the money in the bank and investments.   They own their bodies and can do whatever they want to do with them.  But when people come to Christ we realize that we really own nothing.   God owns everything and has given us some things to us to use for our needs.   God wants us to nurture our gifts and use them for God’s glory.

Let’s try an exercise.  Close your eyes and think about the house you live in, the car you drive, your children, and the investments you are counting on for your retirement.  Think about all the things you own.  Picture them in your mind.   Remember that everything you are thinking about belongs to God and you are to use them for God’s purposes.   “Lord, everything we think we own belongs to you.  We deed over our homes, our cars, our families, our money and our lives to you.   We pledge to use all that you have given us to glorify you.   And so we make our pledge to the church today.”

Now, open your eyes and take out the stewardship commitment card from your bulletin or the one you brought from home.  Hold the card in your hand and close your eyes again.  “Lord, with this card I pledge all of my resources to do God’s work in this world.   I pledge to do everything I can do with the gifts you have given me to advance your kingdom on earth.   “Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”   This I pray in your son’s name.   Amen.”

Now I would like you to fill out the card.   There are pencils in pews you case use.   In a moment you will make your way down to the front of the sanctuary when you can place your card in the plate and return to your seat.   If you cannot come forward please raise your hand and an usher will take your pledge.   Please come forward.

Let us pray.   Father in heaven we have pledged today to use the gifts you have provided us to your mission in the world.  We have offered a pledge of our resources to carry out the work of your church.  We offered up all that we have and all that we do to glorify you.  Amen.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Sermon Ephesian 2:8-9 “Salvation by Grace through Faith”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon Ephesian 2:8-9 “Salvation by Grace through Faith”
November 4, 2018

Listen to this sermon.

Today is Reformation Sunday.   This is the day we remember the great Protestant reformers from five hundred years ago.   These men were protesting the errors that had come into the church over its 1500 years history.   They advocated reforms that reflected biblical principles.  This was dangerous work.   And some of these men lost their lives.   But we still have some of their writings.   And today’s worship features prayers of the Protestant reformers.    The rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation was “Salvation by Grace through Faith”.    We will get to this, but first, let’s pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

A few years ago I was visiting a member of my church in a hospice facility in Salisbury MD.   Cliff had been a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and he, his daughter and son-in-law all attended Beaver Dam church.  But Cliff had been in declining health for a couple of years and the end of his life was near.

As I entered the hospice facility a nurse stopped me to talk about Cliff.   Cliff had been unresponsive for a day and a half.  He had nothing to eat or drink during that time.   She told me to not expect any response from Cliff.   He probably wouldn’t wake up again.   And she had removed his hearing aids so he probably couldn’t hear anything I was saying.   So with this in mind I entered Cliff’s room and began to pray.

I took my cell phone out of my pocket and clicked on the Bible app.   Then I went to the 23rd Psalm and read out loud:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”

Then I looked up and Cliff’s eyes were wide open.   He turned his head to look at me.   And he said, “Pastor, where am I going?”
I responded, “O Cliff, your next stop is heaven!”
Why was I so sure, absolutely certain that Cliff was going to heaven?  Well, let’s look at what the Bible says about salvation.

Most people think that the way to go to heaven is by being a good person.   They think that if you are good then God will love you and bring you to heaven.  In fact, there is a show NBC and Netflix called The Good Place based on this very idea.   Good people go to the Good Place and bad people go to the Bad Place.   Jesus had a discussion with someone who believed this way.

Mark 11:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

According to Jesus, “no one is good”.  Only God is good.   So all of us are not good enough.   It is impossible for us to do enough good work to earn our way to heaven.  As Americans, we believe that we can do anything with hard work.   But restoring our relationship with God is not something we can do alone.   We cannot do enough good to save ourselves.

So, what do we do?  Let’s turn to our scripture for today.

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Our only hope of salvation comes not through good works but by the grace of God.   God’s unmerited favor blesses us with forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life.   Salvation is a gift, not something to be earned.
This brings us to a question.   Does everyone receive this gift or only some of us?   The answer is that only some of us receive the gift of salvation because our salvation by grace comes through faith.    So we must have faith to be saved. 
This brings us to another question.   Do we have enough faith to receive God gracious gift of salvation?  And how can we know if we have sufficient faith for salvation or not?    Let me suggest that there are three tests that you can give yourself to determine if God has graciously given you saving faith or not.  Let us look at the first test.

John 3:1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

So Jesus came to earth from heaven and after his resurrection, he returned to heaven. No one could believe that Jesus came from and returned to heaven unless they are blessed with the Holy Spirit. If you believe that Jesus came from and returned to heaven, then this is strong evidence that God has graciously blessed you with forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.

So we have seen the first test.   If we believe that Jesus came from and returned to heaven then we have a good chance of having received the saving faith that leads to eternal life.   Let’s go to the second test. 

Acts 2:14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
38  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

So, according to Peter, the second test we have to know whether or not we have received the gift of salvation is if we find ourselves repenting from sin and desiring baptism

Repentance simply means to turn around.   One day you are pursuing your own sinful desires.  Then you turn around and desire to follow God and what God wants for your life.   You begin to read the Bible and pray every day to see where God is leading you.   You also attend worship every Sunday.  If you find these thing happening in your life then this is a sure sign that you have received the gift of salvation from God.

Peter also says that with repentance goes baptism.   In baptism, we pass under the baptismal water symbolically dying to our old sinful desire and then we emerge from the water to new life as children of God.   So if you desire baptism for yourself or your children, or if you have been baptized already this too is a good sign that you have received the gift of salvation from God. 

So far we have two tests.   Do we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came from heaven and returned to heaven?  And do we experience a strong desire to repent and be baptized?  If this answer to both of these questions is “yes”  then you can feel confident that God has blessed you with saving faith.
Now let’s turn to the third test from Paul.

Romans 10:1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

  9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

So here we have the third test.  Do we have the desire to publicly declare that Jesus is our Lord?   Will you stand before the congregation of the faithful and declare that you will follow Jesus?  If you do this then you can also declare that you have received the gracious gift from God of the promise of eternal life.

There is a second part of this test.   You need to answer this question.   Do you believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead?   Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact.   There were many witnesses of the resurrected Jesus.   And many of these wrote down what they experienced.   Do you believe all this?   If so then you have a very high degree of assurance of your salvation.

So we now have three tests.   Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came from and returned to heaven?  Have you experienced repentance and baptism?   Have you professed with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that Jesus was resurrected from the dead?  If the answer to all three of these is yes then you can be absolutely assured of your salvation and the promise of eternal life.   If you are unsure of a positive answer to any of these questions then come to see me because we need to talk and pray with each other.  Let’s pray.

Father in heaven, we know that forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life is not something we can earn.   Our only hope is that you will give us the gift of salvation.  So give us faith that your Son came to earth and returned to heaven.   Help us to turn from sin and turn to you and be baptized.  Help us to profess publically that Jesus is Lord and believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.   For this great gift of salvation, we thank you and pledge to follow your Son and to receive your Spirit.  Amen. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Sermon Psalm 82:3-4 “Compassion”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon Psalm 82:3-4 “Compassion”
October 28, 2018

Listen to this sermon.

This morning we are continuing with our journey through Believe, Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus.  We know that the mission of the church is to go out into the community and make disciples of Jesus Christ.  But, according to Jesus, we must wait until we are empowered by the Holy Spirit then we will be able to go into Bayberry, Whitehall, Parkside and throughout Middletown as witnesses of Jesus Christ.   As we saw last week, the first step in this processes of transformation by the Holy Spirit is that we begin to love all people just as God loves all people.   Today we will look at the second step in our transformation.    We develop compassion for the least of us.   We will get to this, but first, let pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

Psalm 82:3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.  4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

We are called to have compassion for the weak, the orphan, the poor and the oppressed.   Compassion means that we walk in the shoes of those less fortunate than us.  We experience what they experience and we help them.   God is certainly compassionate.

Psalm 86:15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

And we know that God is compassionate because when God came to earth it was to a poor family.   Joseph was a carpenter, probably a trained craftsman on Roman building projects.   He could support himself and his family, but they would be of very humble means.   Here is what Mary said when she learned she was pregnant,

Luke 1:46-48 ... “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

So Jesus grew up in humble circumstances.   He learned firsthand what it means to be hungry.   He learned to depend on the compassion of others.  And Jesus was certainly concerned about people who were hungry.

Matthew 14:14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

The requirement to be compassionate comes to us in the book of Deuteronomy. 

Deuteronomy 25:17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.

What is common about the foreigner, the fatherless and widow?  In ancient times these people could not own land and therefore could not provide for themselves and their families.  Foreigners could not own property.  Widows should be cared for by their families,  but some widows had no sons.   And orphans had no family at all.   So if a person cannot support themselves and they are not part of a family that will care for them then the people of God have a responsibility to act compassionately toward them.  What are we to do?   How can we help?  Let’s go back to Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 24:19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.

These commands are for farmers.  They are to leave behind some food when they are harvesting so that the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow could glean the fields and find something to eat.

This is beautifully seen in the Book of Ruth.   Ruth was a foreigner.   She was also the widow of a Hebrew farmer.  There was no one to care for her.   And she had no way of supporting herself.

Ruth 2:2 Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”
Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3 So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
“The Lord bless you!” they answered.

5 Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

6 The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”

8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

Boaz did exactly what Moses told him to do.    He allowed a widowed foreigner to glean his field.  He protected her so she would feel safe.    And he made sure that she had ample water.   This is compassion.   Boaz remembered that his people had once been slaves in Egypt.   They knew what it was like to be poor.   They had experienced what Ruth was experiencing.   And so Boaz was filled with compassion and obeyed the Law of Moses.

So too with us.   We are called to care for those unable to care for themselves.   And if someone is hungry we must feed them. 
That is why this church volunteers for the First Friday Lunch at Our Daily Bread.   We prepare and serve a nutritious lunch for anyone who is hungry in Middletown.  The Vision of Our Daily Bread is:  “to create healthy, flourishing, positive eating experience for every individual by serving nutritional meals in a safe environment”.  Their mission is to “Feed low-income families, individuals, children, the elderly and all those in need in the Middletown, Odessa & Townsend communities with nutritious meals in a safe environment”.   (

Our Daily Bread is doing good work.   Keep supporting them.

We also bring food for Neighborhood House.   “Neighborhood House provides informational programs that impact low to moderate income individuals, families and communities. “  So if a family, and there are many, is at risk of losing its home they go to Neighborhood House to ask for help.    Neighborhood House then helps them with budgeting and financial management.   They are given help in locating affordable housing and they have a food closet where families can pick up some groceries.   We have a bin in the back of the sanctuary where you can put non-perishable food and other household supplies to replenish the closet. 

 Also, I urge you on Thanksgiving Sunday to bring non-perishable food as your Thank Offering to God.   This will all go down to Neighborhood House.  ( 

We also support the Presbyterian Hunger Program through our annual One Great Hour of Sharing at Easter.   “Fighting hunger is at the heart of our Presbyterian understanding of mission. Jesus fed the hungry and told his disciples to do the same. Yet, we know that hunger is an extremely complex phenomenon with economic, political and social causes…  [Presbyterian Hunger Program] is vital to people who are hungry today... by doing “root cause” work to help address the underlying questions of why people are hungry in order to reduce ongoing hunger”. 

So what does the Presbyterian Hunger Program do? 
“Development assistance: addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty through equitable and sustainable development

Hunger Education: learning about systemic causes of hunger, leading towards faithful action that is informed and directed by directly affected people and partners

Lifestyle Integrity: adopting sustainable personal and corporate lifestyles to restore justice and protect all of God’s creation

Corporate and Public Policy Witness: advocating and campaigning for changes in policies and practices to end hunger and its causes, promote self-development, and care for creation

Worship: incorporating prayer, education, and preaching about ending hunger and its causes into worship.”

So we are a compassionate congregation.   We provide a monthly lunch at Old Daily Bread.   We fill the food closet at Neighborhood House.   And we support the Presbyterian Hunger Program with our One Great Hour of Sharing.   But the need is great.   So whatever you can give to ensure that people have something to eat, do it.  Let’s pray.

Father in Heaven we thank you for the abundance of food that we enjoy.   But Lord we know that there are people in our community who do not have sufficient food to eat.   Help us to share what we have with those who are hungry.    Fill us with compassion for all who need help.   We pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Sermon John 3:16 “How Does God See Us ?”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon John 3:16 “How Does God See Us ?”
October 21, 2018

Listen to this sermon.

I am continuing with our look at Believe, Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus.   Our God is a loving God who reveals himself to us in the Bible.   To achieve his purposes on earth he changes our identities to “Children of God”   and then brings us into the church where we can worship.   As we saw last week, God created the church to achieve his mission on earth.   That mission is to reconcile people to God through his son, Jesus Christ.   But before we can go out into the world to make disciples we must first be transformed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.   We will see today what the first step is in that transformation.   But first, let’s pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

So we see from this that God loves the world, the whole world.   God created every man, women, and child in the world in his image.   And he loves every one of them.   And remember, we are blessed to be a blessing to every family on earth until every family is blessed through us.  In order to do this, we too must love the world just as God loves it.  As Jesus told us:

Mark 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

So we are to love others just as God loves us.   To do this we need the transformation of the Holy Spirit to make our hearts like God’s heart.   Let me tell you some stories about how the Holy Spirit transformed my heart.
When I was living in Washington I attended the National Presbyterian Church.   I would go to Sunday School at 9:30 and follow that up with Worship at 11 every Sunday.   Then around noon, I would go downstairs to Stone Hall for fellowship.   There I would meet my friends, other young professionals, and go out to lunch.   But as I grew spiritually I began to change.   When I entered Stone Hall I started to see people who were standing alone with no one to talk to.   So I started talking with them rather than my friends.

One person I talked with was Glen.   Glen had cerebral palsy after a traffic accident when he was very young.  Glen would flap his arms around uncontrollably.   And he had a hard time talking.   The accident had left him mentally retarded.  But Glen was in church every Sunday and loved Jesus.   So we became friends.   And I tried to make sure Glen was included whenever my group went to lunch.

Another person I talked with was Jane.   Jane was older than me.   Unlike most of the members of the church, Jane’s clothing was old and worn out.   I don’t think Jane was homeless, but she sure looked the part.   Jane was usually alone at church but occasionally a few friends would join her.   They look very poor too.   I got to know Jane pretty well and when I was teaching Bethel I invited her to my class.   She was thrilled to be invited and came every week for two years.   I saw Jane once or twice after I went to seminary.  I even introduced Grace to her.   But Jane died shortly after that.

When I went to Fuller Seminary I met Grace.  She was starting a group for international students who were learning English.  The really wanted to practice English with American, but they were afraid to ask.   I had never worked with international students before.  But God wanted me to expand my experiences.  So I said yes.

I was there to talk with the students about Jesus and give them rides.   Grace cooked them a nice meal for them.  But I had a hard time getting conversations started.    Then I realized that I was the only one eating with a fork.   They were all using chopsticks.  So I asked them to teach me how to use chopsticks.   That was all I needed to do.    They knew that I was interested in them and needed their help.   We all became friends.   I designed my church internship around caring for this group.   And they helped us organized my wedding with Grace.

In my first call, I went to a small church in a Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood called Eagle Rock.   I was there for a redevelopment effort.   The church had 30 members most of whom were in their 70s and 80s.   There wasn’t much time before the church was to be closed.   So Grace and I started a new congregation that would meet on Sunday evenings for worship and a small dinner.  Our hope was that we could start a new church.

I tried to recruit new people from the preschool the church had operated for decades.  But the parents and staff were quite hostile to the church.   So I looked elsewhere.   I put banners on the building, created a new website and used social networking.   But only a few people showed up.   So Grace and I went to a local farmer’s market and began passing out fliers.

I didn’t realize at that time that something was going on in the community.   It was 2008 and the Great Recession had started.   People were losing their jobs and their homes.   They were living in their cars, trucks, and RVs.   The streets and local park were filling up with the homeless living in their cars and trucks. 
They started getting our fliers and showing up for a free meal on Sunday nights.  But I knew that God did not want me to just feed them dinner.   God wanted me to bring them to Jesus Christ.  I would talk to them as they stood in line for dinner and invite them to worship.   It didn’t take long and 60 people were showing up for worship every Sunday night with 20 more coming for dinner.   

Several young women were coming who were squatting in an abandoned house on the other side of town.   They sang well so I asked them to become a choir.   They didn’t want to because they were embarrassed by their clothing and did not want to stand up front.   So I found some old choir robes another church didn’t need.  I dressed them up and we had a choir.

We also needed help with dinner.  Grace couldn’t do it all by herself for 80 people.   So I recruited Dirk to help.   Dirk had owned a successful security company installing security systems in homes and businesses.   But he lost it all, I think because of drugs.  So Dirk lived in his truck with his dog.   He began cooking for us and recruited other homeless people to help. 

One day Dirk came to me with an idea.  He would start a small business for homeless men.   They would sew LCD lights on orange safety vests.   Then Dirk would install a battery pack and the vests would not just reflect, they would glow brightly.    This sounded like a good idea so I got a micro-grant from Self Development of People and got Dirk started.

Sadly I had to leave Eagle Rock when their money ran out.   So I worked out a merger with a larger Philipino congregation which stabilized them financially.  And I am happy to say that the Sunday evening congregation continues today with my music leader now handling the preaching too.

I have had other experiences developing relationships with people others find hard to love.   Grace started a church in Princess Anne MD, the poorest county in the state.   And in Ocean City, the apartments around the church became magnets for poor families in the winter time.   Grace and I reached out to them to be part of the church.

Since I arrived in Middletown I have been involved with the Matthew Action Committee of the presbytery.   MAC meets here monthly to talk about the needs of immigrant families who are here illegally.   Last Wednesday I attended a meeting in Wilmington with Kevin Noriega.   Kevin is the Director of the Opportunity Scholars Program at Delaware State.   The Opportunity Scholars Program was set up by Bill and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation, and by the Graham Family, former owners of the Washington Post.  They provide scholarships for DACA students to allow them to go to school.   And I was able to meet four of these DACA students this week.

All four student grew up in America.   They have little or no recollection of where they came from.   They speak English and went to American Schools.   The think of themselves as American and believe that through hard work they can succeed.   The DACA students at Delaware State support themselves and as a group maintains a 3.5 GPA.   But their stories are tragic.

One young man was in driver ed.   The teacher told him what documents to bring from home to get a drivers license.   So he went home and asked his mom for what he needed.  But she had to tell him for the first time that she did not have the documents he needed because she was here illegally.

Another young man was in sports.   He had an opportunity to go with the team to Canada.   So he took the release form to his mother.   But she told him he could not go because he was here with no documentation and therefore could not get back in the country to come home.

Another person applied to colleges and scholarships and received acceptances.   But then, a day before classes started, she was told not to come because her parents were here illegally.

Thankfully all of these students received Opportunity Scholarship and were admitted into Delaware State University under the DACA program.  But they still struggle financially because their parents are poor and they are ineligible for Federal financial aid.   As a result, Kevin Noriega, the Director of the Opportunity Scholars Program, has worked out a way through the Delaware State Foundation to receive donations to help these students out.   If you are interested in helping please let me know.

I am telling you these stories because all of these people we created by God in God’s image and are loved by God.   We are therefore to love them and bring them to Christ.   But first, we must learn to love them the way God loves them.   And this requires prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit.   So let’s pray.   

Father in heaven, change our hearts so that we may love people the way you do.   Help us to love those with physical deformities.   Help us to love the poor.  Help us to love the immigrant, even if they are here illegally.   Help us to love everyone just as you love us.   This we pray in the name of Jesus.  Amen.