Clifton United Methodist Church
Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Pastor's Ponderings

Together or Almost

Clifton’s Advent Study is Almost Christmas: A Wesleyan Advent Experience. It uses John
Wesley’s sermon Almost Christian as a tool for exploring the advent themes of Peace, Hope,
Love, and Joy. John Wesley spoke of Christians who outwardly have it all together as they
perform as we expect Christians to act. They are kind to others, attend worship, and regularly
give of their time and finances. However, upon close examination of the soul, we may see they
are almost Christian. Altogether, Christians are fully committed in every way, inside and out.
They fully love God and fully love their neighbor. There is also a fullness of trust and confidence
in God as we commit our ways to God, allowing God to love in and through us.
 
This advent study has us looking at the themes of peace, hope, love, and joy in a new way. Are
we settling for almost peace, almost hope, almost love, almost joy, or are we striving toward an
altogether peace, altogether hope, altogether love, and altogether joy? Almost is that which we
can do all on our own. Altogether is when God adds God’s transforming power, transforming us
and those around us. Overall, it is when we trust God to work through us, those we love, and the
challenges of life that we are experiencing.
 
Recently, requests have been made from family and friends that have challenged me. Some
pushed me out of my comfort zone. Some asked for more of a commitment than I wanted to
give. But these requests have come as I work through what it means to be an altogether
Christian. I will admit this is challenging.
 
Every day comes with new challenges. I imagine that is true for all of us. Yet, I hear God saying
will you trust me or not?
 
The season of Advent is a season for reflecting, repenting, and accepting the gifts God wants to
give us. There is the gift of the Savior who has come and is coming again. The gift of love,
fellowship, and new beginnings. Some of the gifts offered do not seem like gifts at the time.
They come with inconvenience and suffering. But, surprise, even those hardships in life can
become gifts. They stretch us and grow us. We learn with each challenge that God is equipping
us with all that we need to get through to the other side.
 
Altogether Christian? I am getting there. How about you?
 
Merry Christmas!

 


 

 

Justice for All

An extravagant gift of oil was spilled upon the feet of Jesus, and a disciple complained that the perfumed ointment could have been sold and the money given to people experiencing poverty. In response, Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” I wonder why Jesus said that about poor people. Was Jesus speaking of how, too often, we are more comfortable with ignoring the plight of people experiencing poverty than we are in acting justly and addressing needs? Was Jesus considering the condition of the human heart that is prone to selfishness and greed rather than sacrifice and righteousness? Was Jesus looking into the future and seeing a growing population of poor and knowing it would take a divine intervention to address the needs of the hurting?

Perhaps Jesus considered all of this and some. It has been over 2,000 years since Jesus made the statement.  Indeed, people experiencing poverty are yet with us. And daily, we have opportunities to alleviate or at least attempt to lighten a burden.

Through the prophet Jeremiah God reprimanded kings and leaders in mistreating the poor and vulnerable. Because of their lack of concern, Jeremiah 22:13 admonishes, “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages…” The prophet speaks of how God expects leaders to judge the cause of the poor and needy. Those who considered the poor and hurting were persons who knew God. Knowing God is more than acknowledging with our lips that God is Lord and has brought us salvation. To know God also means living a life of obedience to God’s commands. To know God is to act justly and rightly. To love as God loves.

In his book Poverty in America, Matthew Desmond shares a story about Leo Tolstoy and how he walked through the streets of his city to better understand hunger and hopelessness. Tolstoy noticed that people experiencing poverty never stopped working, so it was not due to lack of work that they were poor. Then he realized that the problem lay with himself and the affluent of the society. Tolstoy stated, “I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means—except by getting off his back.” Desmond points out that people with low incomes in America remain poor, because of exploitation and constraining the options and power of the working poor. It is done in the labor market as well as housing. Both corporations and consumers benefit from this exploitation.

If we are to make any headway in addressing the needs of people experiencing poverty, we must take seriously the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. Tolstoy’s response to the condition of people experiencing poverty was to take seriously the call to sacrifice. Tolstoy took a vow of poverty. What will our response be? Perhaps advocating for fair wages? Maybe it is a willingness to pay more for goods if it means the poor will be compensated fairly. Maybe it is hounding governing officials to address laws that ensure that the poor and vulnerable receive justice in all areas of their lives, including wages, healthcare, housing, education, and the judicial system.

The poor may be with us until Jesus returns, but woe unto us if Jesus finds us acting unjustly.

 


 

The Gift of Relationships

There is a saying, “No man is an island.” It is a strange phrase. What do people mean when they say this? “No man is an island” comes from a sermon by John Donne, a 17th-century English clergyman and poet. The quote reads,

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

This quote is inspiring. It reminds us that we are connected and that we need each other.  Many people are trying to navigate this world alone. To do so can be frustrating and lonely. Not only does God desire that we live in a community, but God has created an interdependence. In Genesis 2, God says being alone is not good for Adam. So, God created Eve, a helpmate, someone well-suited for Adam. God provides Adam and Eve a supportive relationship as they live out the call to fruitfulness.

Ecclesiastes 4 also points out the benefits of a relationship. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Isolating ourselves from others can make us vulnerable to the woes of this world. However, working in communion, we find strength to overcome. Relationships are a gift. We find that life can be beautiful as we work alongside encouraging and supporting one another.

The apostle Paul in Romans 12 also addresses relationships. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5)

You belong to me, and I belong to you. Without the benefit of a relationship, we could miss out on the life lessons God wants to teach us through one another. People in our lives, past and present, have touched and shaped us. God transforms us through these relationships.

This life of community requires intentionality. We purposefully love, honor, and respect those around us. We love one another as God loves us. Remembering God made us in God’s image, according to Genesis 1. These relationships with family, friends, and strangers are gifts. These relationships are opportunities to glimpse God's face.

 

Pastor Candy

 


 

Pictures Say A Thousand Words

Recently, I have been enjoying photos of my grandnieces and grandnephews on the first day of school. The babies grow up so fast. One niece was profiling in her bright yellow crossing guard belt. Another niece had a photo with that look: “I can’t believe Mom is snapping another picture.” One of the nephews has the biggest grin, which I believe is because he is entering his last year of high school.

The parents are proud of their little ones. Their children are young scholars, athletes, scientists, and engineers.  The youngster's success is mainly due to the parents' commitment.  Despite attitudes, whining, sassing, and the occasional oopsies, the children and parents are making their way to the finish line. The goal has been to raise healthy, delightful human beings who become independent adults. Their future looks bright, whether it is on to college, the military, or a regular 9 to 5.

The photos had me thinking. Is God as proud a parent of his children? I know he keeps some records. The book of Revelations speaks of recordings found in the Book of Life.  Whether it is notes, video recordings, or flashbacks in our minds, I hope the moments God captures make God smile. I imagine myself one day sitting at the Father’s knee, and he shares the memories he has been collecting. I hope he has captured some of me doing something good. Hopefully, there will be more than one such candid moment.

John writes in Revelation chapter 20 the following:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 

 

If we are fortunate, not every detail will be in print for all eternity.  While we have time, let us make positive memories. When we look back on our life years from now, let there be memorable moments of great joy. More importantly, let it be that our Father in Heaven will smile and say, “Here is my Beloved, my good and faithful servant, in whom I am well pleased.”

 


Dreams and Visions

Have you had any interesting dreams lately?

On the last night of Pastors’ School, I had a frightening dream of a driver sleeping behind the wheel. I tried to wake the driver but to no avail. I then woke myself up from the dream and began to pray for everyone returning home from Pastors’ School, including myself. On my drive home from Pastor’s School, the dream returned to my memory, and I resumed praying, asking for protection for everyone on the road.

In Genesis 28, Jacob dreamed of seeing a ladder extending from heaven to earth. Angels were ascending and descending this ladder. God spoke to Jacob in his dream, informing him that he would establish a covenant with him. This God of his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac would become Jacob’s God. God’s covenant with Jacob promised to give him the land of Canaan, make his descendants numerous, and be with Jacob wherever he went.

John, on the Island of Patmos, had a dream. John wasn’t sure if he was awake or asleep when he had it. But it was highly detailed instructions from Christ for the Church and visions of heaven. John’s dream is recorded in the Book of Revelation. 

Dreams are one of the ways God talks to us, and we speak to God. Recently, talks with God and some of my Clifton family have been inspiring. I can see us swinging on porch swings with friends, old and new, sharing stories of family, our faith journeys, hopes, and dreams. I hear children playing while parents sit nearby, sharing lemonade and parenting lessons. There are times for fishing on lakes, hiking up mountains, bowling, skating, dining, and building relationships while creating a space where discipleship can happen naturally. 

What are your dreams? What is it that your heart desires? What does God want for you? I hope you make time to share what God has been saying. Please include me in the sharing. I would love to hear.

Dreams can be fascinating. They can be warnings, inspirations, hopes, or signs that we shouldn’t eat heavy, spicy foods before bed. More importantly, dreams can be God’s gifts to us. God often finds ways of sharing visions to nudge us forward in fulfilling God's plans and purpose for our lives. The prophet Joel records God’s thoughts on dreams.

I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

What are you dreaming of these days?
Pastor Candy
 
 

 

Let God Rule

There is a beautiful hymn, “This Is My Song,” number 437, in the United Methodist Hymnal. It speaks of God being the ruler of all nations.

This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is, here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine; but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.”

It is a reminder that God is the God of all people, those in the United States and worldwide. It is an excellent song for the 4th of July celebrations because it moves our focus from national superiority to remember our allegiance with God almighty.

Less than a week before setting off the fireworks to celebrate this nation’s 247th year of independence from Great Britain, the Supreme Court made a ruling with many shaking their heads.  It was determined that colleges and universities can no longer consider race as a specific basis for granting admission. This decision overturned the long-standing policies that helped to level the playing field for Black and Latino students who desired to pursue higher education.

The Supreme Court made its ruling stating that the affirmative action policies of Harvard and North Carolina Universities violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment speaks of all citizens having rights and privileges. There should be equal protection under the law, meaning government programs should not allow any particular group of people an advantage over another group of people.  However, I would like to know if our judicial system failed to remember that the primary intent of the 14th Amendment was to eliminate the oppression of people.

Will this new ruling affecting colleges and universities impact other programs and policies in our nation?  Affirmation Action policies are what undergird diversity, employment, and housing policies.  Will it be declared that justice in these areas also violates the rights of the majority population? If only the kingdom of God could reign in our nation and world. In God’s kingdom, there is justice and equity for everyone.

Christians, we have our work cut out for us. God is seeking a Church that will allow the light of Christ to shine in every aspect of our lives, including our governance. 

The last verse of “This Is My Song” says, This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms. Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done. Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him, and hearts united learn to live as one. O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations; myself I give, thee; let they will be done.

Amen. Let God’s will be done.  May God bless us and keep us.

 

Pastor Candy

 


A Father with a Heart for His Children

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters…(Job 1:1-2)

In many ways, Job could be seen as an ideal father. He is a godly man who cares about his family. He took responsibility for the spiritual oversight of his children. However, some of his actions may appear too much in today’s culture. For example, a son would host a birthday party and invite his brothers and sisters. After a week of celebration, Job would plan for his children to be purified. There would be a sacrificial burnt offering made for each of them. His reasoning was, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” As I said, he could be a bit much.

However, we must admire Job’s love for his family—the intentionality in seeing that they remained in a relationship with God. Parents interceding in prayer for their children is a must today. Children could also benefit from the regular heart to hearts, as parents inquire how things are with their souls. Life has proven that the time we have together can be so fleeting. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.

As we know, Brother Job’s life changed overnight. There was one crisis after another, financial losses, the death of children, marital strife, and even his best friends spoke ill of him. Finally, he was so distraught that he was seen mourning, covered in sores, and sitting among ashes.

In his pain, Job called out to God. Initially, God was silent. However, one day God spoke to Job, letting him know God recognized his anguish. Job’s questions were never answered, but there was peace in knowing God cared enough to talk to him.  The idea that God cared about Job and his suffering was enough for him. It is a reminder to us that God cares.  Even when things seem hopeless, God watches, listens, and cares for us.

Although Job lost everything, in time, God restored everything, even children. Well, God blessed Job with more children, not the original children. The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part...And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch.  Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years. (Job 42:12-17)

Job was a better father the second time around. He seems more intentional in honoring his children, especially the daughters. Their names are recorded in scripture. They are counted. Job values the daughters as equal to the sons because as Job shares his inheritance, they are included with their brothers. In Job’s culture, that was a rarity. Job’s life teaches us that good and ill can come to anyone. However, we should all seek God in everything. When we trust God, God can turn our sorrow into joy. Furthermore, if we are blessed with children, we must recognize them as God’s gift. Also, children are to realize their parents as their gift as well. In this fleeting world, children and parents can model God’s love for one another.

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!

 


Surprise!

Not everyone likes a surprise. It is probably because not all surprises are good. A surprise birthday celebration, we can usually go for that one. But, a surprise increased tax assessment? That’s not welcome.

Life with Jesus is filled with surprises, from conception and birth to death and resurrection. He continues to amaze us.

Jesus rode through the city of Jerusalem on a donkey. The signs were there. The words of the Prophet Zechariah were fulfilled. “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Jesus was recognized as the king. The carpet of clothing and branches lined the road as King Jesus rode through the city as lowly yet majestic. Young and old were elated. The disciples, the delivered, the healed, and the hopeful joined the procession. People ran from their homes onto the road, shouting for joy. They were elated. In exaltation, the people shouted, Hosanna, Hosanna, save us, save us. Salvation was near.

As we know, not everyone likes a surprise. So the high priest and elders observed while grimacing.

As the week progressed, things turned dark. The shouts changed from Hosanna to crucify Him. The hopeful had not expected this. Jesus was tried and convicted as a criminal and hung on the cross. The salvation that first seemed at hand now felt lost.

However, Jesus is full of surprises. The news began to spread early in the morning on the first day of the week. The tomb is empty! Jesus is alive! Just as he promised, the grave would not hold him.

Jesus was showing up everywhere. He was seen in the garden. He suddenly appeared before disciples who were hiding behind locked doors. He joined two companions as they walked to the town of Emmaus. He was even seen standing over a fire pit, roasting fish for breakfast.

Surprises with Jesus never cease. He continues to show up for us today. He has been seen in gardens, parades, weddings, meals, hospitals, homes, cars, planes, storms, and even crime scenes. Wherever and whenever there is a cry, “Lord save us” or “have mercy,” he is there. Sometimes he is the invited guest. Sometimes he shows up to surprise us.

Jesus loves surprises. Many of us love them too. So roll out the red carpet, wave the palm branches, and have a parade or party. Jesus is alive and with us. He is our hope and our salvation. That’s good news.

Happy Resurrection Day!
Pastor Candy
 
 

 

 

SEE WHAT GOD IS DOING

Spring is just around the corner. I love spring.  It is a reminder that new life can spring up where you least expect it.  I look over the garden in the spring to see what plants survived the winter. If you have not heard, all my plants that continue to live are called survivor plants. Because I do not have a green thumb, any plant that continues to live under my care has a thirst for life and a desire to thrive.  Survivors are what I call them.  During the spring, I search closely in the garden for signs of life.  Granted, sometimes it is hard to distinguish weeds from plants. I do not rush to count something as a weed. I follow the advice of Jesus. I let the weeds and plants grow together for a while until I can judge which is which.

Like plants, we need not be quick to write people off. People will surprise you.  When you think they are a hopeless cause, they will do something to say that your efforts in their regard have not been in vain. Children will praise God for his involvement in their lives.  Neighbors will call on you to pray.   Even those personalities we call rough around the edges will praise God for his mercy.

God forever makes the impossible possible. Let us not put God in a box.  Let’s not limit what God is doing or capable of doing in this world and the lives of those we hold dear. Keep praying.  Keep witnessing.  Step out into God’s Garden to check out the new life that is springing forth.

 

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. - Isaiah 43:18-21

Pastor Candy