As the new year is freshly upon us, no doubt there will be many resolutions made as 2017 gets under way. The changing of dates on the calendar is a great time to look at where we’ve been over the last year and then look at where we wish to go over the next. Resolutions get made, some are kept, while others are broken. We put away our Christmas decorations, hopefully (I always seem to take my outdoor Christmas lights down around April) and our lives settle back into rhythm as the specialness of Christmas and New Year’s fades into the renewed duties of January and day to day life.
I’ve never been one to make resolutions at New Year’s, yet, this year I find myself thinking differently. From the Old Testament we hear the words of Hosea say:
Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.
I know that this is precisely the time of year when much ground is fallow. Unless you’re growing winter wheat or planting onions or potatoes; also I’m not getting into crop rotation and letting fields rest fallow for a period of time (I’m no expert), the fact of the matter is that fallow fields do not produce any fruit. Perhaps though, this is the perfect time of year for us to look at the fruit, or lack thereof, that we produce in our lives. Hosea equates breaking fallow ground with seeking the Lord, in order that we may sow righteousness in our lives and so that God may rain righteousness upon us after sowing, and after all is accomplished, that we may reap love in return.
Notice the first step, breaking fallow ground so we may seek the Lord. So often it seems, there are areas of our lives that we do not think, want, or dare to let the Lord come into. Perhaps deep down, we are ashamed of something (justifiably or not) and don’t want to face God. Or perhaps we believe that the way we handle ourselves in some area of our lives is just A-OK and we don’t really need God’s input there. Or perhaps we are comfortable with the way we live, and even though we might realize there could be positive changes made, that comfort is difficult to give up…even to God. Rest assured, we all have fallow fields in some aspects our lives…fallow fields where there are no fruits of our Lord’s Spirit being produced; because of our own neglect, fear, indifference, comfort, pride, or cautiousness.
What are the fallow fields of your life? Where are the areas that you have not let Christ into for one reason or another? God is looking to do great things with you! It is through us that God through Christ and the Spirit does work in the world, but if we do not allow God into our lives or into all parts of our lives we limit what God can do in or world and what God can do for us. So take stock and see where you trust in your own power and understanding instead of God’s and break that fallow ground and seek God in all things. And in so doing, you may begin to sow righteousness in all parts of your life. God will see to it that the harvest yields good fruit: patience, love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
May all of you have a blessed New Year, and may God’s Holy Spirit guide you in breaking new ground for the Kingdom in 2017!
The United Methodist Church is beginning the work of preparing a plan for a new and updated hymnal for the next session of General conference in 2020! The current United Methodist Hymnal was published in 1989. Needless to say, much has changed in the world of worship music since that time.
As the United Methodist Discipleship Ministries begins the task of Hymnal revision, they are asking for input. Let your voice be heard! Follow the link and you will be asked what your favorite and least favorite 5 songs are from the three major music resources of our Denomination: The United Methodist Hymnal, The Faith We Sing, and Worship and Song.
United Methodist Discipleship Hymnal Survey
What does it mean to give thanks? In some way, shape, or form this is a question that many of us will be looking at and trying to answer, or ignoring this month. There are times when I have fallen into the later category when it comes to the Thanksgiving holiday. Why have a special day to give thanks when it is something that we should be doing all the time? While there’s a nugget of truth to my hard-hearted statement, I don’t think my former argument holds much water. It is immensely important to have a special day to take time and reflect upon, and celebrate all there is to be thankful for.
I know that for some, Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday that is looked forward to and celebrated with great joy, while for others it is not. It is no secret that in our world there are those who have much and those who have practically nothing. There are some who are rich in possessions and some who own nothing at all. There are some whose bank accounts are full, and others who pray each month that they can make their paycheck stretch until the next one comes in. There are people who have a loving family and there are people who do not have family and there are also people whose families are unloving and destructive. When we enter into the season of Thanksgiving, we enter into this reality that surrounds us. How do we give thanks when sometimes, there seems to be little to be thankful for?
It is no secret that the people of Israel went through some extremely difficult times. Zechariah chapter 8 holds a prophetic promise to the people of Israel, a remnant, the only ones who are left and faithful after years of war and famine. The prophet speaks to these people when they are at their lowest and tells them of God’s promise to them,
“But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, says the LORD of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.”
I think there are a few things to learn about giving thanks in this passage. First, there is always a reason to have hope, even in the darkest of days. You are not abandoned by God. If it seems this world has left you, and there is nothing in this world for you; there is always One who remains faithful, and that is God. He is the one who walks alongside of us through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Have hope, God is with you, and there will come days again when all shall be well. Give Thanks! Second, God is faithful to his promises and covenants, and He has saved us. We have every reason to celebrate in that! We have seen God’s goodness and faithfulness given to us through Jesus Christ. We are heirs to His salvation, and that is the greatest gift and blessing any one of us can ever receive. Give Thanks! Finally, when we are blessed, it is not just for our own sake. The Lord says through Zechariah to the remnant, “So I will save you and you shall be a blessing.” We are blessed to be a blessing to others. When the days are good and all is well, give thanks. If you don’t give thanks, how will you count those blessings? If you don’t give thanks, how will you know exactly how much you have been blessed? If you don’t give thanks, how can you bless others as God intends for us to do?
What does it mean to give thanks? We have all been blessed by God, and it is good and appropriate to take stock of those blessings and thank God for them. No matter what those blessings are; blessings of salvation, blessings of family, blessings of wealth, or blessings of hope. What are your blessings? Give thanks for them, and then share your blessings. God has been good to us, let us then, as God’s people, be blessings to others in the same way God through Christ has been a blessing to us.
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It might be just me, but it seems as if our world is going haywire. Perhaps, within our own neck of the woods things have remained mostly calm; then again, even Dallas hasn’t been immune to the hatred-fueled violence that has gripped our world as of late. From Nice to Rouen, Baghdad, Istanbul, Brussels, Munich, Baton Rouge, and Dallas; our world has been recently been turned upside down. And I wonder, “Why?”. I wonder, “What can I even do?”. I wonder, “What can our church do?”.
Perhaps the most difficult question of all to answer is, “Why?”. For almost everyone in this world, contemplating the ruthless slaughter of fellow humans is almost unfathomable. What kind of intense hate can lead someone to do such things, much less what kind of hate can lead so many separate people to do such things on an ongoing basis? I believe we can grasp at an answer in part, and then have to make peace with not knowing in part.
My mom is a wise woman. I was speaking with her about all of this recently and she said to me, “David, I’m not sure I want to fully understand why all these things are happening. Because if I fully understand why these things are happening then I will understand fully the hate that these people carry. I don’t want to know hate like that.” Maybe it is a good thing that we wonder “Why?”.
That said, we must not shrink away from the reality of evil in our world. If there is anything we need to learn this year, it is that the evil in our world is very real and those who live in hate and seek to steal, kill, and destroy are growing more and more bold in their words and in their actions. Like a modest fire, which then had gasoline poured on it making it into a raging inferno; so too has evil and hatred in our world been allowed to grow. It has been unintentionally fed and nurtured by those who sought to fight fire with fire, only to see the inferno of hatred and violence grow out of hand. It is time for a more excellent way.
Friends, I believe that it is time for the Body of Christ to take a stand together. For so long, many of us have been passive observers of the things that have been happening all around us and our places of worship. We pray, which is a great thing; but there have been times when we have done little with our prayers. We wait, we wait for God to do something about all of this. We look toward heaven and hope for miracles while we avoid looking too deeply at our world and the chaos that is breaking loose abroad and at home. And justifiably, it is so difficult to know where to begin when the problems seem so large, but begin we must.
It is easy to feel that there is nothing we can do about all of this that is happening on the world stage when we are so far removed. But we can indeed act, and act we must. God became human in Christ, and came to our world to heal the sickness, conquer the sin, and destroy the death that we were living in. Because God left heaven and went out into our world, we must too. Even without leaving Comanche County we can make a difference if we live through our words and actions, the Gospel of Christ. We pray, “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.” God’s Kingdom comes on earth when we live in it; but it is a choice we must make each day.
This all begins with me, and this begins with you. Paul writes in Romans 12 that we must not allow ourselves to be overcome by evil, but we instead must overcome evil with good. We can no longer allow our world to feed the inferno of hatred, violence, and evil with more of the same. Where hate is sown, we must sow love. Where lies are spoken, we must speak truth. Where destruction has torn a path, we must build and plant. Where violence has had its day, we must heal and care. Where evil lurks in the shadows and darkness, we must shine the light of Christ.
May God's Grace and Peace be with you,
Rev. David Ray