A Muslim Merry Christmas

Click Here to read the Holy Gospel for Christmas Day: Matthew 2:1-12


Donations 2

It was the day before Christmas Eve and I just got home from work when my phone rang; it was my friend Mahmood. We hadn’t spoken in a while. Mahmood and I first met when I was in high school and he was in college. We were both working in a campaign to elect a new Congressman. Mahmood was Muslim, from Bangladesh. I was Christian. And the man we worked to elect was Jewish. It was an unusual and rewarding beginning to a long friendship for the three of us. That was 39 years ago. Mahmood and Me

Mahmood wanted to invite me to celebrate some Christmas gift giving that was going to happen at the Union Rescue Mission on Christmas Eve. He said, “We want to speak out for the Muslim Community here in Wichita that we are peaceful citizens, and we want to help out some Christian brothers in need.” That, is the spirit of the gospel at work in our world.

The gospel passage for Christmas Day is from Matthew 2; it reminds us how long ago some wise men from the East (perhaps around the Bangladesh area where my friend is from) brought gifts to the infant Jesus to show, worship, honor, and love. Today, while these Muslims weren’t worshiping Jesus, they were honoring Him and His birth, knowing it was important to those they chose to serve out of love. I am including a video clip of my friend speaking about this momentous occasion. In the clip he is asked about presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent comments on Muslims. He speaks to his feelings about them and how much he wants us to know most Muslims just want to live the American life and are peaceful citizens.

https://www.facebook.com/brad.riley.92/videos/10208274993018040/

Christmas Day is a day for love and peace, no matter who we are or what we believe. If we truly care for other members of our society, especially those who are hurting, we will reach out in the spirit of Christmas to show love in tangible ways. This year, my friend Mahmood and his friends from the Muslim community here in Wichita did just that. Here is a video of the Director of the Rescue Mission speaking about how he felt the love today through these gifts.

https://www.facebook.com/brad.riley.92/videos/10208275188262921/

This Christmas Day will be different from all others for those who are homeless and staying at the Rescue Mission. They now have new clothes, food, and yes even a few toys, all provided by some Muslims who were honoring Jesus on the day of His birth. As the hugs were passed around, from the men staying at the mission to the Muslims who gave them it was  obvious that this year they were having a Muslim, Merry Christmas. I know I am too. And, may each of you who read this, whatever your faith, be blessed by the spirit of some Muslims who gave in Jesus name.

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Brad

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Matthew 5:6

 

 

Scoundrels & Saints

Click Here to read this week’s gospel: Matthew 1:1-25


TreeGenealogy

Ever wonder what dark secrets are hiding in your family tree? It seems people are fascinated by genealogy today. Thanks to modern technology you can do computer searches that will rebuild your family history over a thousand years. Imagine how hard that was to keep track of in Bible days – but they did. Why? Because who is in our lineage can be of great value in understanding God’s plan for our lives; it certainly was in Jesus’ life.

When I was young I used to wonder why certain passages of the Bible were filled with genealogies. You know, those long lists of who begat who and so on and so forth. It seemed boring so I would usually skip right over them to get to the part of the story that really mattered. Eventually, as I learned more about the Bible and the importance of those genealogies, I realized God has something very important for us to learn from them.

Nobody’s family tree is perfect. We all come from a long list of scoundrels and saints. Some people love to research their family tree hoping to find some famous person, like some great hero of the Revolutionary War or whoever, as if that somehow makes them more important. The truth is what makes us important is that we are who we are because of everyone down the line; alter just one of them and we wouldn’t be who we are (an amazing fact of reproductive science). That means the scoundrels are just as important as the saints. The fact is everyone matters, including you!

In God’s infinite wisdom He planned Jesus the Messiah to be born not just of the Royal lineage of King David, as we so often hear, but also the scandalous lineage of a prostitute (Rahab) and several idol worshiping Kings of Israel. All of us have some scoundrels in our family tree we would probably rather not be known for, but Jesus’ lineage shows us how important those scoundrels are; they show us everyone matters to God, and God can turn any bad lineage around for good.

The Messiah’s family tree was an ordinary tree full of scoundrels and saints. It’s just one more way God wanted us to see that every life has significance, and no one’s life is beyond His redemption.Yes, even yours and mine matter also.

This Week:

As you gather with family to celebrate the birth of Jesus, spend some time thinking back through your family. In fact, why don’t you comment below and tell me who some of your scoundrel and saint relatives are? Remember the ones who have gone on to the ages before you, the scoundrels and the saints. Thank God for all of them. They all had a part in making you, and that is special – you are special. Have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas wherever you are, and safe travels for wherever you go.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Brad

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

Matthew 5:6

What Does Your Gift Say?

Further thoughts on this week’s gospel: Luke 14:16-24


Christmas presents

Christmas is both the greatest and the worst time for people to hear the gospel. It’s the greatest because the gospel is a message of love. At Christmas we see just how much God loves us; He came into our world to live as a one of us, to teach us how to love as He loves. St. Athanasius, a champion of the Orthodox Christian faith in the 4th century against the Arian heresy ( a teaching that denied the divine, eternal nature of Jesus) said, “He became what we are that we might become what he is.”

Christmas, is a time to show how much we love each other. But sadly, it is the worst time for people to see the gospel as well. In far too many places in our culture, Christmas has become nothing more than a commercial vehicle to feed our rampant consumerism; little thought is given to the Christ child who began it all, with the greatest gift of all, Himself.

In the gospel this week, the man who gave the banquet is a metaphor for God our Father. The banquet He gave was to gather us around His table for pure fellowship and true love. In the ancient Eastern world in which the Bible was written, to eat with someone was a sign of ultimate acceptance and friendship. Yet, those who were invited cared more for the affairs of their everyday lives, than for the opportunity for fellowship with God.

Every time we put the material aspect of giving and receiving gifts ahead of the true meaning for which they should be exchanged, we do the same.  When we don’t take time to realize  each gift we give and receive is to remind us of a re-presenting of the greatest gift ever given, then we too are like the people in the gospel story who turned down the gift of the banquet.

A gift given in love does not need to be expensive to be precious, yet God showed His immeasurable love by giving the most expensive gift He could – Himself. When love is the motivation for giving our gifts, and gratitude is the heart with which we receive them, we share the true spirit of Christmas. But, when gifts are given to impress, or even worse to buy affection, then Christmas is void of meaning; it becomes the worst time for people to hear the gospel. The true gospel is never seen through selfishness.

Christmas Day is one week from today. There’s still time to discover its true meaning in your heart. We began the week with the thought, “It’s Party Time!” Perhaps you had a few parties this week, and now it’s time to start wrapping presents. As you wrap a package, put your love inside it also, and then give it with an embrace that says, “Here is a little something to show you how much Jesus loves you, and so do I.” And, if by chance someone reading this has no where, and no one to spend Christmas with, know that you’re invited to the greatest Christmas party ever given, and your gift is the greatest gift of all…Jesus loves you!

…and so do I.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Brad

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

Matthew 5:6

It’s Party Time

Click here to read this week’s gospel: Luke 14:16-24


 

It's party time

Have you ever been invited to a party and when you showed up you felt there wasn’t room for you? It could be the party was such a popular invitation that everyone showed up and there literally wasn’t enough room for you to feel comfortable. But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind of feeling you get when you feel you don’t belong in a certain place with a certain people.

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it fails to recognize in the kingdom of God there are no “certain” kinds of people; everyone is equal in God’s economy. In the gospel this week (Luke 14), Jesus told a story of a great party thrown by a man of obvious wealth. The man invited the people he knew the best, his friends. Well, at least he thought they were his friends. But, one by one they all turned down the invitation.

Right now you may be thinking, “I wish I would have gotten that invitation. No one ever invites me to great parties. I sure wouldn’t turn that one down.” The man was so angered by the snub of the refusals He opened the party up to everyone, even the people right off the street. You would think he’d know better. No one can throw a party that welcomes everyone, from every place, race, and status; there wouldn’t be enough room for them to all get along; they’re so different.

The truth is, there really is a party that big, and a place big enough to hold it. And what’s more, you and I have already been invited. The party Jesus spoke of is His, the place is His kingdom, and literally everyone is invited. The question for us today is, are we part of the group who turned Him down, or have we accepted His invitation.

Sociologist and Christian writer, Tony Campolo wrote a book titled, The Kingdom of God Is A Party. In the book, Tony tells how God’s plan has always been to bring joy and peace to our lives. Life is supposed to be fun! Sure life can offer us some pretty hard times, but that’s not God’s fault; it’s because we’ve let our own selfish desires crowd out the love we’re supposed to have for one another.

This Week:

As you begin this third week of Advent, take a look at your life. How joyful is it? The third candle of Advent is the Candle of Joy. Sadly, the holiday season is one of the loneliest times for many people. Don’t let yourself be one of them. Do you have any party invitations? I hope so, but even if you don’t seem to have any holiday party invites on the calendar right now, let me remind you you have the greatest party invitation of all waiting for you to accept it – the party of the Kingdom. If you haven’t accepted it yet, there’s still time, and yes, there’s room for you (Vs. 22). So, light the Candle of Joy and come on in. The kingdom of God really is a party, and there’s always room for one more.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Brad

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

Matthew 5:6

Don’t Listen To the Naysayers

Further thoughts on Luke 13:10-17


ignore all naysayers

You don’t have to look far in this world to find someone who will tell you you can’t do something or that your prayers aren’t realistic. It seems naysayers are everywhere. They probably sound something like this; they tell you your wasting your time because there is no God. Or, perhaps they tell you your prayers are too selfish. Usually, behind all their negativity, naysayers have a high degree of jealousy.

The naysayers were out in full force in the gospel this week, and they’re probably all around you too – don’t listen to them. The leader of the synagogue in the gospel was indignant because he was jealous. The truth is, Jesus was caring for people and listening to them like he and the other leaders should of, but they were too busy making sure things only happened in the way they wanted, for their own benefit.

Pray As Your Moved

I happen to be one of those persons who believes you cannot pray wrongly. Of course all our prayers shouldn’t be all about us, that is selfish. But, that doesn’t mean that what we want, what we really desire is wrong; it just means we need to balance our prayer life by including praises and thanksgiving, and concerns for others too. The more we pray, the more Jesus will teach us to pray.

I asked you at the beginning of the week, “What really burdens you in your prayers?” I’m talking about the things that are really heavy on your heart. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you what you want can’t be done. Anything is possible with God. I also believe these burdens are on your heart because God’s Spirit moved you to pray for them; that’s how God works. He’s always at work within us guiding our thoughts, if we are living surrendered to Him.

It’s All About Faith

This second week of Advent has been all about faith. Jesus is moving your spirit to pray. Have faith that what you pray will come to pass. It will always be in God’s own time and not in ours, but don’t lose hope. Don’t listen to the naysayers. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it had been 400 years since anyone in Israel had heard from a prophet. Many said God didn’t care, that He had forgotten His promises. However, in Luke 2:25-32 we read the Song of Simeon, an old man who lived believing God had promised him he would live to see the messiah.

When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple, Simeon rejoiced in song for his prayers were answered. Simeon knew God would keep His promise to him, and so should we. God never takes a day off, and He always keeps His promises. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Light the Candle of Faith and believe!

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Brad

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

Matthew 5:6

image credit:https://www.wildhousemodels.com/naysayers-and-fans/

 

 

God Never Takes A Day Off

Click Here to Read This Week’s Gospel: Luke 13:10-17


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What is the one thing you really need? Perhaps it’s the healing of an illness. Maybe it’s the reconciliation of a relationship. When you think about this one thing that is so important you fear it will never happen; it just seems impossible. You know nothing is impossible for God, but still, you just can’t see it. Why should He do this for you? Does He really even care?

One day Jesus walked into a Synagogue and seeing a woman who had suffered for eighteen years, He reached out and healed her. What’s amazing is she didn’t even ask Him. He just walked right up to her and healed her. St. Luke makes sure we understand the healing was initiated by Jesus, not by the the begging of the woman like so many others. Why? Because we need to understand that Jesus knows our every need and care. We don’t have to get His attention. It’s not about how many times we pray for the answer; it’s about God’s love for us and His knowing what’s best. God never takes a day off. Our needs and concerns are His 24/7.

The self-righteous leader of the Synagogue was indignant at the miracle Jesus performed. His narrow view of God’s mercy led him to believe all such work should be done outside of the Sabbath day. But, God never takes a day off. Among many other things, one thing Jesus came to show us is that our Father always knows all our needs, and He’s always caring for them. You can come to Him anytime, anywhere, and He’s never too busy.

It’s important to also note that on the day of the woman’s healing, she was in God’s house. She didn’t let eighteen years of disability keep her away for the assembly of God’s people on the Sabbath. I wonder how many of us realize what really happens when we come together in worship. If you’re going to worship services just to hear a good sermon or to listen to some uplifting music, or maybe even because you think you have to, you’re missing something huge.

When we attend worship services, it’s not about us, it’s about Him. To gather as one voice, one song, and one heart to offer the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to our Redeemer. When we come in such a spirit something miraculous happens, our God inhabits the praise of His children. We can count on it. Of course He inhabits our praise when we are alone as well, but would the woman in the gospel have been healed had she stayed home that day?

This Week:

As we begin the second week of Advent, we light the Candle of Faith. So, what is the one thing that is so important to you, it seems to consume you and your prayers? Would you look to Jesus in faith this week in a special way? Try releasing your consuming worry about this thing to Jesus, He already knows what you need. Just worship Him for who He is – your Redeemer. He’s already redeemed your life from the pit. No matter how dark it may seem, His light is brighter if you’ll open your eyes to see it.

As a way of releasing your worry to Him, why don’t you take a minute to respond to this post, and share your burden with all who read this. You don’t have to be specific if you don’t want to, God knows the details. I promise I’ll help you carry it, by posting a prayer just for you. Galatians 6:2 says we are to carry each others burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. I’m praying for you this week, whoever and wherever you are.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Brad

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Matthew 5:6

 

The Greater the Darkness, The Brighter the Light

More thoughts on this week’s Epistle: Ephesians 5:8-19

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(Image Credit: http://www.trulytruly.net)

Darkness seems to prevail. It seems each week we hear of a new tragedy of terror as innocent people are killed somewhere in the world. On Monday, those who died in the San Bernardino killings had no idea they were starting their last few days in this life. Of course no one knows when their end will come, but death by terrorism is a far more tragic end to innocent life. I began the week asking God to shed more light on my path, and yet darkness seems to intensify. But, there is something we must not forget; the greater the darkness, the brighter the light will shine.

St. Paul tells us we must walk through this world wisely, to not be foolish for the days are evil. That was true in the first century, and it is still true today. And, it will be true until Jesus returns at end of time. A part of being wise is to realize that we are at war in this world with terrorism.

The war of terror on the world is not really new. There have always been terrorists in this sinful world. However, in a digital age where things happen and are reported in seconds, and where we can see pictures that transport us to the scene causing us to feel even greater emotions than we feel from just reading headlines, it feels as if something new is happening, something far worse than ever before.

We see terror with new eyes today. But, let us be reminded that we can see light with new eyes as well. 500 years before Jesus was born, the Prophet Isaiah said, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. (Isa. 9:2 NLT). Jesus Christ, who is the promise of God’s “great light”,  is for every age no matter how deep the darkness. We saw that “great light”, in the Christ like response of the people of the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. last June. 

So, in the words of the title of Francis Schaeffer’s classic book, “How Then Shall We Now Live?”, what should be our response to the deep darkness that seems to be falling upon our land? To embrace the light and truth of Jesus Christ, who said to love our neighbor, pray for those who persecute us, and forgive those who sin against us. In the end, love will always conquer hate, and light will always dispel the darkness. May we never forget that great truth in midst of our anguish and fear.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Brad

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

Matthew 5:6