The other morning I heard an atheist telling reporters that he and his family celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday.No doubt he celebrates a Santa Claus holiday in a home decorated with pine trees, lights and colorful ornaments.This December he will be like most people from BerksCounty having schedules heaped full of a myriad of seasonal activities.He along with many of us will be in attendance at Holiday concerts and programs.Some will reluctantly participate in company parties while others will gratefully embrace the chance to spend an evening with others.Most of us will brave the aisles of numerous retail establishments searching for the perfect gifts for those we love and others on our Christmas list.Most will eat too much and spend too much.So what makes us different from the atheist?If others were to consider your life and compare it with the atheist what differences would they observe?
This Christmas Season take time to consider a few questions:What difference does the first Christmas make in my life?How does the coming of a Baby impact my daily activities?Consider what others observe about your life, remembering you may be the only Christ Follower they know.What is your life telling them about the One who was laid in the manger?
My desire as we celebrate this Christmas is that you would give Jesus a very special birthday present.The most valuable of all gifts you can give is a gift of your time.I’m wondering if you would give Jesus a gift of time - time spent this next year learning about God as you read His word.My hope is that each person here at Hope, fifth grade and older, will join in reading thru the Bible.You won’t be doing it on your own.You’ll be encouraged by me and others at HCC throughout this year as we read thru the Bible together.We will be providing tools to help you “read thru” and each Sunday I plan to preach a message based upon the prior week’s readings.
To get us started we will be sponsoring an unusual Sunday morning and afternoon on January 4.You won’t want to miss this fascinating Sunday when we welcome Peter Hook from Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, who will provide an introduction to the Old Testament in a very interesting and festive way.
I hope I can count on you to join us in this exciting adventure thru God’s word.Who knows— maybe by next Christmas those who observe you will know the manger baby a little better than they do this year.
In 2004 those of you who attended Hope Community explored the question, “What on earth am I here for?”You participated in 40 Days of Purpose where you read Rick Warren’s best selling book The Purpose Driven Life.During the month of November I want to review the five purposes for which you and I were created and for which HopeCommunityChurch was created.Together we can achieve remarkable gains for the Kingdom of God and have fun doing it together.
We were created to Worship together.According to Acts chapter 2 the followers of Jesus met together corporately and in small groups.As they met together they experienced a sense of awe seeing God’s work among them through signs and wonders.We, too, see God at work as we gather to worship each Sunday morning.Sunday mornings provide opportunity to worship, pray, share and celebrate together. Jesus encouraged us to gather together, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”Matthew (NIV)
God’s word directs us to Fellowship together.We are compelled to love God’s family.When we love someone we desire to be in their presence; we desire to spend time with them; and we want our relationship to grow deeper.Our relationships are strengthened through admitting our need for each other, committing ourselves to each other, supporting each other, being honest with each other, and being patient with each other.Taking advantage of opportunities to fellowship pleases God and brings blessing into a person’s life.
God desires for us to Grow together spiritually.We can read and study God’s word by ourselves but there are many concepts, truths, and practical lessons that we will never learn without interaction with other Christians.God desires for us to be examples to each other, encouraging each other, teaching each other, warning each other, and interacting with each other in multiple life settings.It is through our interaction that we learn to be forgiving and forgiven.It is through our walking the Christian life together, exploring and applying God’s word, that we mature as Christians.
We’re called by God to Serve together—helping each other through the joys and difficulties of life.We accomplish this through being willing to serve each other, humbling ourselves to let others serve us, being generous with our time, talents and treasures.So many people miss the abundant life offered them through Christ because they have only learned to receive from Him.Much of the joy of life and relationship with Christ comes through serving Jesus as we serve others.A characteristic of mature Christians is their generosity.
In God’s word we’re commissioned to Reach Out together with the love of Christ.Outreach, evangelism, and witnessing are words that conjure up vivid imaginations of going door to door, speaking to strangers, and collaring them with threats of hell.But God’s intentions are for us to naturally share about God’s love and His pardon for breaking His laws.We share His love best together through building friendships, offering hospitality, giving practical help, and representing Jesus to those who are looking for the fullness of Life that comes only through His friendship.
Together we can accomplish God’s purposes on the earth and experience a full and abundant life as we give ourselves to the purposes of God.
“There is a river,” the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 46:4). It was written as part of a song for worship for the people of God. He wrote that the streams of this river make the people of God glad—the people among whom God dwells. It is a river that brings into their midst God’s presence, His might, security and hope. This song was to be sung as an expression of trust in God even in the face of great and challenging changes. The source and origin of this river is the throne of God itself. (Revelation 22:1)
The river can represent HopeCommunityChurch’s journey with Christ over the 19 years of your life as a congregation. It is a journey initiated by Jesus Christ. Like a river, it has had its turns and twists—fast running water around rocks and stumps, quiet flowing in peaceful eddies—and it continues to flow on, taking you with it.
Edna and I have been invited to journey with you as a congregation for 21 months. Christ was with us to enable us to learn together, to grace us with experiences of healing and reconciliation where needed, to lead us to grow together as we gave attention to specific areas of life together. We have been richly blessed during this time among you. We have been led into the Lord’s presence through inspiring worship; we have been drawn into loving relationships; we have been challenged to continue to grow in knowing Jesus and how He wants to work in and through His people. God has been very good, as He always is.
Now we have been led into a new direction. I encourage you to “stay in the river,” as the artist of the painting, Juanita Yoder, said. We can learn from her teaching and example of listening to the voice and guidance of the Holy Spirit for God’s continuing leading. “Be still, and know that I am God,” the Psalmist wrote (46:10). The painting, which will remain up front at Hope Community, can be a visual reminder of the journey you as a congregation have been on. It can remind you of some of the new turns in the river that God has taken us through together to prepare you for the continuing journey and mission with the Lord.
May you continue to be refreshed and renewed by the crystal clear waters of the River of Life as you continue your journey withJesus.
In Christ’s Love,
Ray Yoder, Interim Pastor
Sunday, 01 June 2008 16:36
Change is opportunity
One part of life we can count on is change.Whether we welcome them or resist them, altered circumstances, transitions that seasons of life bring, and the adjustments that passing time call for, are ongoing parts of our lives.A segment of the vision of this congregation is to “foster unrelenting growth.”Changes that we face in life inside and outside the congregation offer opportunities to grow.
Hope Community has chosen to see change as an opportunity.Two years ago when you experienced a change in pastoral and worship leadership, you chose to take steps to learn and grow as a congregation.Edna and I have been blessed to be part of your journey.You invited me to walk with you and assist you in giving attention to several areas of the life of the body.This was to strengthen and prepare you for the calling of your next pastor and for the ongoing vision and mission to which Christ has called you.Some of those areas of body life are: 1) deepened fellowship and prayer, 2) healing and reconciliation in relationships where needed, 3) growth in communication and conflict resolution skills, 4) discussion and clarification of the role of women in ministries and leadership in the congregation, 5) review of the structure of the congregation resulting in adjustments or changes that will enable the church to carry out is mission effectively.
During the last 20 months we have sought to work together in these areas of body life and to grow under the working of the Holy Spirit.I have seen you grow and change in these areas, and I have experienced growth as well.The journey of seeking transformation in the life of the body is an ongoing path to follow.You do not “arrive.”During these months we have taken steps in the direction we believed Jesus was leading us.I trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead you and inspire you to continue the journey of growth in these areas of relationships as well as in others.
Each person has a part and influence in the journey of growth through change.Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:16 that “from him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)
As God’s people he is blessing you to enlarge your influence and bear his transforming presence in this region where the Lord has planted you.
Thursday, 01 May 2008 00:00
Gifts to be given away
On birthdays, at Christmas and at other times people give gifts.These gifts are treasured and valued by those who receive them.When it comes to talents and spiritual gifts, there is a different twist to them.They are not for personal treasure and enjoyment – God gives them for the purpose of being ‘given away.’In 1 Corinthians 12:7 the apostle Paul writes that these gifts are given “for the common good.”They are given for the good of all.Others benefit when we express these gifts for the good of others.
Have you received a card from a person who has the gift of encouragement?This gift of the Holy Spirit resides in that person and when she wrote out a note and sent it, the Holy Spirit took that message and blessed you, the receiver.The “encourager” was giving away that gift.In this way the presence of God’s Spirit was “made tangible” through that person.That is what the “manifestation” of the Spirit means – to be made tangible, or visible.When you use your gifts and abilities given by God for the good of others, the Holy Spirit is ‘made visible’ through you.
Sometimes we carry the idea that gifts of the Spirit are used only in church.Gifts are part of you and are expressed through you in many contexts.If you are a teacher, singer, musician, carpenter, or medical professional, God’s gifts reside in you and are expressed through you to the ones you are serving.They are especially ‘given away’ through you when you intentionally acknowledge by faith that God is working through you.Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, as we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.So whatever you do and whatever and whoever you touch, the presence of God is there through you by His Spirit.
Gifts given by God are to be given away. When we do so others are blessed, and in return we experience great joy.It is as we ‘give away’ our gifts for the good of others that we experience the truth of the prayer of St. Francis: “It is in giving that we receive.”