A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, November 27, 2017

Pastoral Prayer (Nov. 26/Christ the King Sunday) Athens First UMC

[Christ the King Sunday suddenly shifted into "Hanging of the Greens" Sunday as volunteers helped to decorate our Chapel and Sanctuary after each worship service. Pictured above are some of our church members decorating our beautiful Chapel. The church is now ready for the Advent season which begins Sunday, December 3 and lasts through the morning of December 24. Our Advent worship theme will be "Open the Gift." Click here for the Nov. 26 Christ the King Sunday sermon.]

O God we do rejoice that you are the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Thank you for offering us a glorious inheritance that includes your hope and your power made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit.

Remind us on this Christ the King Sunday, that our true citizenship is in your glorious kingdom, and not simply with a certain country or political party. We confess that we often focus more on our personal and political agendas rather than on you as our ultimate Lord and King. Forgive us for those times when we have chosen what is politically expedient over that which would promote your kingdom of love, justice, and peace.

As citizens of your kingdom, empower us to seek your justice and mercy in all that we do and say. Grant us courage to speak out against hatred, prejudice, sexual harassment, and the abuse of power. May your kingdom here on earth be one where all people are welcomed, where all are treated with respect and dignity, where all have access to the basic necessities of life, and where those who have no voice are respected and valued. Our God and King, we long for the world that you intended from the very beginning, a world that reflects your glorious kingdom in heaven.

Even as we pray for your kingdom to come as it is in heaven, we also pray for those who are in special need of you today. We lift up to you those who are ill and who are facing medical challenges. We pray for those who are looking for work and who are struggling to get by each week. We pray for those who are experiencing physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain. Grant to these a renewed awareness of your resurrection hope and power. Remind them that they are citizens of your kingdom and recipients of your glorious inheritance.

In these beginning weeks of the holiday season when it can be so easy to get caught up in the busyness of this time of year and forget to take time for ourselves, remind us of the words of good news from one of the verses of our prayer hymn that we just sang, “Jesus the Savior reigns, the God of truth and love; when he had purged our stains, he took his seat above.” It is in his name that we pray the prayer he taught his disciples and teaches us to say together, “Our Father, who art in heaven”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sermon (November 26) by Rev. Robert McDowell "From Rags to Riches"

     Many of us probably remember the 1960s hit TV series, “The Beverly Hillbillies.”  This show was all about the Clampetts who were simple folk living off the land.  When Jed Clampett, played by Buddy Ebson, accidentally discovered oil on his property, he and his family became instant millionaires.
     Deciding to move to Beverly Hills to take advantage of their new found wealth, the Clampetts find that their down to earth lifestyle often times clashes with the new suburb and its shielded upper class neighbors.
     This show was a classic “rags to riches” story line.  Poor family becomes rich.
     This reminds me of something the famous oil tycoon, John D. Rockefeller, once said about the three simple rules for anyone who wants to become rich.
Rule #1 – Go to work early.  Rule #2 – Stay at work late.  And Rule #3 – Find oil.
     But do you really need to find oil in order to be rich?
     Regardless of how you or I might define the word “rich,” the Apostle Paul gives us an easy to understand the definition of this word from Ephesians chapter 1.
     In verse 18, Paul writes about the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance among the saints.  The riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance among the saints.
     Paul is saying that your net worth is not tied to your financial assets.  Your net worth is tied to your relationship to Jesus Christ.  For it is through Christ, that we are recipients of the riches of his glorious inheritance.
     That’s an amazing thought.  My net worth has little to do with what I own, and has everything to do with my relationship with Jesus Christ.
     It seems like we get this turned around in our society.  We often fall into the trap in believing that our net worth is tied to our financial assets, but it’s really tied into our relationship with Christ.
     I was reminded of this during a big snowstorm one year.  When the roads finally got cleared enough, the whole county made their way to the grocery store to get some groceries.
     That grocery store was packed!  Everybody and their brother were at that grocery store.  You could hardly make it down the aisles, it was so crowded.  People were fighting over basic commodities like milk and bread.  It was incredible!  And it was all because the delivery trucks were late because of the snow storm so they were in short supply.
     That little incident reminded me that even though I had money in the bank for groceries, it didn’t mean a whole lot because they were out of a lot of the grocery items that we needed.  It didn’t matter who we were that day – low income, middle income, high income (we were all dependent on those delivery trucks.)
     And I can’t even do justice to comparing this personal incident with what people have to go through in places all around the world where there is a scarcity of food.  Wealth isn’t always about money. It’s about having access to the basic necessities of life.
     Wealth is about people helping people.  It’s about having hope that you will be able to find a place to live and have a new future. 
     Speaking of hope, the Apostle Paul uses this word in our scripture reading when he writes, “so that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”
     When asked about your net worth, Paul says, “don’t forget to include how much hope you have.”
     Riches and wealth are not just about tangible things.  They are about intangible things - things you can’t necessarily touch or feel. 
     We live in a society that values physical touch in order for it to be worth something.  Our society tends to devalue the things you can’t touch.  And yet, which is more important?
     Well.  Let’s not get too carried away with this.  After all, we do need to have some money to live in this world.  We need to give the cashier something after we put our groceries on that conveyor belt.
     And the scriptures certainly do not overlook this simple but important truth that all of us need money to pay for things.  Jesus himself, talked a lot about giving money to the poor.  How do you give money to the poor, if you have no money to give in the first place?
     The early church during the New Testament time was comprised primarily of people who were economically very poor compared to the rest of society.  That’s why the scriptures often speak of helping the widows and orphans.  These were often fellow church members who barely had two cents to rub together.  The scriptures consistently remind us, “Don’t forget to take care of those around you.”
     Just because being rich is primarily about our relationship with Jesus Christ, does not mean that we can just go ahead and avoid our responsibility to feed the hungry, clothe the hungry, and house the homeless.  It’s wonderful that we can have our eye toward our heavenly home, but let’s also keep an eye on brothers and sisters in need.  Jesus commands us to do no less.
     But here in our scripture reading from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul makes it very clear to us that our wealth and our value are not measured by our financial portfolio.  Our wealth can be found in Jesus Christ. 
     And in Jesus Christ, Paul tells us, “There is immeasurable greatness of his power for those who believe.”
     How can you measure this greatness of Christ’s power?  How can one possibly measure a power that enabled God to raise Christ from death to life on that first Easter Sunday?  How can one ever measure a power in which Jesus Christ is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and who is above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come?
     How can someone even attempt to measure the power of God who has put all things under his feet and has made the living Christ the head over all things for the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all?
     Who can measure such a one as this?  This King of King and Lord of Lords.
     The Apostle Paul says, that those who have placed their hope in Jesus Christ, are recipients of this immeasurable greatness made possible only by a gracious and loving God.
    And I love how Paul begins our passage of scripture by affirming the church for how they love each other.  Paul writes, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason, I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”
     Paul is saying that if you want to know how rich you are, just look around you at all of your brothers and sisters in Christ. The relationships that we have with each other are our most important asset.
     Approximately 200 years after the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, a man named Lawrence, was serving as the treasurer of the Church of Rome which included appropriating money for the care of the poor.
     During this time, the Emperor of Rome, Valerian, began to persecute the churches by confiscating their property.  As the story goes, Lawrence who was a church treasurer was ordered by a Roman prefect to hand over the wealth of the church or be killed.
     Lawrence agreed, but said that it would take him three days to gather it.  During those three days, Lawrence placed all the money of the church into the hands of trustworthy stewards.  And then he assembled the sick, the aged, and the poor, the widows and orphans of the congregation, presented them to the Roman prefect, and said, “These are the treasures of the church.”
     If you every wonder where we keep the treasures of this church – all you need to do is to look into the eyes of your brothers and sisters in Christ, and there you will see God’s treasure.
     I shared this with you before, but my mom and dad didn’t have a lot of money, but they had enough to raise a family of four and provide for our basic needs. They knew the importance of saving for the future and being content with what they had.
     My dad would often say and I still can hear him saying this, “We were the happiest when we were poor.” And then with a grin he would say, “That’s why we’re still happy.”
     Money can’t buy happiness.
     I have a good friend who recently shared with me his faith story.  He got married to his high school sweetheart and they began living the good life as they say.
     Back in the 70s, the two of them were making a six figure income, and spending their money basically on themselves.  They were getting promotion after promotion and moving very quickly up the corporate ladder.
     But even with all of this, his wife was feeling pretty empty inside.  She felt rich on the outside but bankrupt on the inside.
     Then in 1979, his wife was watching a Billy Graham Crusade on TV and she made a decision right there on the spot to receive Jesus Christ into her life.  Her life totally changed from that moment on.  And as she became more and more excited about the riches of God’s kingdom, he continued to become more and more empty inside.
     But then John told me, things changed about three months later.  He said, “I was sitting in a little church, not hearing a word of what the preacher was saying and I finally realized that all the riches of the world would never be able to make me happy or give me peace.”
     He said, “In that moment, I was thinking about our expensive house, our swimming pool, and our forty cars.”  And then he said, “that’s right Robert.  You heard right.  I didn’t say 14 cars.  I said 40 cars.  I was thinking about all of our wealth and yet I was feeling so empty from the poverty of my soul.  It was then, as I was sitting in that pew, that God’s love captured me and I became filled with the riches of hope, joy, peace, wisdom, and God’s Spirit.”
     “Here’s the ironic thing in all of this,” he went on to say.  “Since I gave my life to Jesus Christ, I really do feel like I can now honestly say, ‘I’m the richest man in the world.’”
     And so, yes, you can be rich without striking oil. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lord’s has left you with a glorious inheritance.
     Thanks be to God!

From Rags to Riches
Small Group Questions
Ephesians 1:15-23
November 26, 2017 

The world tends to define being rich as how much money you make or how big your house is.
Why do you think the world defines how rich we are in terms of money and possessions?
The Apostle Paul defines being rich very differently in our Ephesians 1 scripture. Being rich means that we have a life-changing and growing relationship with Jesus Christ who is the true king over all creation. Specifically, Paul tells us in verse 18, "so that, with the eye of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints."
What spiritual riches have you experienced in your life and how have they been a blessing to you?
Pastor Robert shared the story of Lawrence, a Christian who lived just a couple hundred years after Paul's letter to the Ephesians was written. When Valerian, the Roman Emperor demanded that Lawrence hand over the riches of the church to the empire, Lawrence who was serving as the church treasurer assembled the poor, the widows, and the orphans who the church had been helping and told the emperor, "These are the treasurers of the church."
Share how you see the church claiming the poor and the needy as the true treasures of the church.
In the sermon, the story was shared about a man who was very wealthy. He owned an expensive house, had a lot of money, and owned 40 cars! He was considered "rich" by the world's standards, but he was empty inside until he accepted Christ into his life. He said that it wasn't until he became a follower of Christ, that he truly felt like he was the richest man in the world.
Which of Paul's riches/treasures from our Ephesians reading do you want to receive in a new way today? 1) Other fellow Christians who encourage you! (Eph. 1:15-16) 2) A spirit of wisdom & hope! (Eph. 1:17-18) 3) Christ's great power! (Eph. 1:19) 
During this week that we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, pray this prayer together: 
Almighty God, who rules over all that is, by your presence among us, may your reign of righteousness and peace, joy and love, justice and mercy be evident in our lives. We lift our hearts, bow our knees, and open our mouths to sing your praises this day. We rejoice in your goodness and we seek the transforming power of your love and grace. Fill us, we pray, in the name of Christ the true king, who has conquered the forces of sin and death. Amen.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Pastoral Prayer (Nov. 19/Thanksgiving Sunday) Athens First UMC

[Like the old saying goes, "whenever Methodists meet, they eat." Pictured above is a packed Fellowship Hall for our "Thanks for Giving" covered dish meal which followed our 10:30 worship service. The church provided the turkey, stuffing, gravy, and drinks and people brought covered dish food and desserts to share. It was a little taste of the future heavenly banquet! The meal was a way of thanking our congregation for their faithful giving to both our general budget ministries as well as to our Capital Campaign. It was also a special day as we received six new members and celebrated a baptism. Click here for the sermon.] 

Gracious, Giving, and Abundant God, we your thankful people have come to worship and praise you this morning. We are here in this place because you have summoned us to be here.  You have called each of us by name and have gathered us to be your family. Thank you for our church family and for the many blessings we have enjoyed over this past year.

Thank you for new members and baptisms. Thank you for Sunday School classes and small groups. Thank you for choirs and soloists. Thank you for worship leaders and greeters. Thank you for blanket makers and flower arrangers.

Thank you for telecare callers and radio sponsors. Thank you for anthems and Worship U gatherings. Thank you for building renovations and air conditioning. Thank you for dish washers and table setters. Thank you for prayer cards and prayer chains.

Thank you for the Korean congregation and for Kappa Phi. Thank you for Wonderful Wednesdays and Music Sunday. Thank you for OU concerts and scout meetings. Thank you for officering envelopes and online giving. Thank you for clothing donations and Monday lunches. Thank you for water bottle give aways and Trimble backpacks.

Thank you for acolytes and church workdays. Thank you for preschool children and preschool teachers. Thank you for choral risers and moveable pulpits. Thank you for ushers and Leadership Board members. Thank you for refurbished pews and our lighted cross at night. Thank you for Sunday youth group and United Methodist Women.

Thank you for staff members and first time worship guests. Thank you for sermons especially the good ones. Thank you for a parking garage and meetings less than 2 hours. Thank you for casseroles and hazelnut coffee.

But most of all, even beyond all of these many blessings, we are most thankful for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in whose name we now offer this grateful prayer together saying…

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sermon (November 19) by Rev. Robert McDowell "Faith Trek"

     I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you are familiar with this short video clip. Let’s watch it because it just never gets old.

     Those opening words were spoken by Admiral James T. Kirk of the starship, Enterprise. I love how dramatic he sounds. “To seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

     Even if you’re not that much into space exploration and the whole Star Trek craze, how can you not want to be on that spaceship with James T. Kirk?

     Penny loves Star Trek so she was really excited when they came out with a new Star Trek movie a few years ago. For the months leading up to that movie, she couldn't stop talking about it. She just couldn’t wait to see that movie.

     Now, the truth is, it’s not that Penny is the biggest Trekkie fan in the world. I just think she likes these more recent Star Trek movies because of actor, Chris Pine who plays James T. Kirk.

     Here’s a picture of Chris Pine in the movie, "Star Trek Into Darkness." He’s the handsome looking guy in the middle. He’s the new James T. Kirk.

     Penny doesn’t realize it, but the producer of this new Star Trek movie first asked me to play the part of Kirk. So here I am.

     As you can see, I was extremely excited to be asked to try out for the movie. It was hard to contain my enthusiasm. They took several pictures and this ended up being the best one.

     Here’s the actor Chris Pine again.

     Here he is using his communicator as Admiral Kirk. He looks OK in this scene, I guess. So they asked me to do this same scene. And well… I’ll let you be the judge.

     The camera guy kept telling me to not use the communicator to send text messages, but that’s my preferred mode of communication. I’m looking pretty intense there.

     Here’s a picture from a scene in the movie with actor Chris Pine and the actor who plays Spock.

     Yeah, I admit Chris Pine looks good in this scene, but it seemed kind of boring to me so I decided to put some action into the scene.

     I kept asking for a phaser gun and they finally gave me one so I used it in this scene even though there weren’t any bad people in this scene.

     So the next scene that they asked Pine and me to do was a scene with the beautiful actress, Alice Eve. So here’s Chris trying to pull off the macho look.

     They tell me that he’s kind of a heart throb. Now here’s me in the same exact scene.

     I went with a more natural look that would look much better on the big screen.

     And believe it or not, we did this scene in one take. I kid you not. I’m not bragging, but I am comfortable in front of a camera.

      And then of course, we all know that Spock and Kirk are the main characters in Star Trek. So, here’s Chris Pine in one of the scenes with Spock.

     You know, I looked at that scene and to me, they just look way too serious. I mean, these guys were buddies, right? So here’s me in this same scene with Spock having a little fun with him when he wasn't looking.

     I thought it was funny too, but the actor who plays Spock didn’t think it was as funny as I did. It was a tough choice, but in the end, they finally made the decision to go with Chris Pine. But at least, I had my fifteen minutes of fame.

     By the way, I’m curious how many Star Trek fans are here today. Raise your hand high if you’re a big Star Trek fan? 

     The way we resonate with that dramatic opening Star Trek theme song about “seeking out new life and new civilizations and going boldly where no man has gone before” is similar to how God’s people must have resonated when the Prophet Isaiah spoke his dramatic words to the people of Israel.

     Sounding a little like James T. Kirk, Isaiah says, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”  Isaiah was speaking to a whole nation of people who after returning home from the Babylonian exile after several years, still find their homes and gardens in ruins, the city in rubble, and the rebuilding of their Temple nowhere near the beauty and splendor of the former one.

     The people of Israel were still without hope and they were stuck in a mindset that their best days were behind them. They had given up believing that God would be able to give them a new future. They were left only with their memories of the good old days.

     I remember speaking with someone whose mother had passed away. It had been several months since her death and I asked how he was doing. He said that he still feels the pain of grief because he still misses her.

     Since he lived in the house next to her, he was always able to see a light in the living room of the house where she would read at night before going to bed. And he said, “It was so strange to look at mom’s house from my window at night and now only see darkness.” 

     He went on to say, “Ever since she’s been gone, I think about all of the good times I had growing up in that house and how it was filled with so much laughter and so many good memories. It’s been really difficult to adjust over these past several months,” he said.

     My heart went on to him as he shared his grief and heavy heart with me.

     The people of Israel were living during a time when the present looked bleak and the good memories from the past were becoming more and more distant as the years went by. Nostalgia over the good ole days will only take you so far.

     It’s in this context of hopelessness and a longing for the good ole days, that Isaiah speaks a word about something the people of Israel hadn’t thought about for quite some time. Isaiah speaks about a future that is filled with hope.

     And this is no empty hope. This hope is rooted in the words of the Lord who spoke them through the prophet Isaiah.

     The Lord is inviting the people of Israel to experience a new faith trek. They have been dwelling in the past long enough. It’s now time for them to boldly go into a new future, a future that is filled with hope.

     My sense is that there are many of us here today who are looking for a new challenge and who are ready to follow God into a new future. Do you want to be a faith Trekkie? Are you ready to let go of the past and begin a new journey with God?

     James T. Kirk describes the Star Trek exploration as seeking out new life and new civilizations and going boldly where no man has gone before. Isaiah describes it a little differently. He says that it’s about God creating new heavens and a new earth.

     Sound exciting? Well, here is what is involved in this new faith trek according to Captain Isaiah.

     First of all, this faith trek involves a letting go of the past. Isaiah says that the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  That may sound too difficult to do because it seems like the past is all we have.

     The problem with the past is that it’s in the past! The other problem is that dwelling on the past and the things we can’t change can prevent us from moving forward in life.

     Isaiah spoke his word to the people at just the right time. They were so focused on the good ole’ days before their exile and the despair of their present situation, that they were now stuck and going nowhere. And that’s not a good place to be.

     I thought it was interesting how much media coverage there was in the weeks leading up to the birth of William and Kate’s first baby in England a few years ago. Even though England has so much incredible history, all of the focus that year was on the future of the country and the birth of that royal baby.

     What part of the past is God calling you to let go so that you can move into the future God has in mind for you? It might be a negative personal experience, a broken relationship, a long held grudge, or a maybe it’s a disappointment that has been difficult to overcome. God invites us to let go of our past.

     A second thing that this faith trek involves is accepting our new identity in God. Isaiah shares these words of the Lord to the people of Israel. The Lord says, “Be glad and rejoice forever for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”

     What a great identity the Lord gives to us. God sees us as a people of joy and as a people of delight. If only we would be able to see ourselves the same way that God sees us. We were created in the image of God.

     What a wonderful description to embrace for our church. We are a church of joy and we are a people of delight! When people ask me where our church is located, I usually say that we’re the church with the white pillars across from the parking garage. Maybe I should just tell them, “We’re the church that is filled with joy and the people are a delight.”

     And wouldn’t it be great if that person would say, “Oh, I know which church you mean. Yeah.” And wouldn’t that be wonderful for every church to embrace. “We are a people of joy and we are God’s people of delight.”

     And here’s a third important part of our faith trek journey. And this is just as important as the first two things. We are called to live into God’s preferred future.

     Back to Captain Isaiah, or rather, Prophet Isaiah. In addition to telling the Israelites to let go of their past and claim their new identity, he also paints a picture of the preferred future that the Lord has in mind for them.

     And this picture includes things that the Israelites have been missing for a long time like the building of houses, plentiful vineyards, safety and security, and blessings. Isaiah even goes so far as to say that the Lord’s preferred future includes harmony in the animal kingdom where the lion and the lamb shall feed together in peace.

     Now, on one level, the Israelites began to experience some of these things as they continued to get settled after their many years in Babylonian exile. But on another level, we also know that God’s ultimate preferred future will be even more glorious when God creates new heavens and a new earth. This is the ultimate hope of our faith, that this world will receive a total makeover and God will make it all new again.

     The Lord wants the people of Israel to begin living with this beautiful and hope-filled future in mind. Just think what a difference it would make if we would all live in such a way that anticipates this future reality for our world.

     Instead of cynicism or negativity, the Lord wants us to approach each day with the end result in mind and the end result is a world that is filled with peace, justice, harmony, compassion, friendship, safety, and an abundance of resources for everyone.

     And if all of this seems just too good to be true and unrealistic, let’s remember that this faith trek we are called to take is like no other. This faith trek isn’t about us trying to remake the world on our own strength. We can try, but we will be very disappointed.  No, this trek is about what God can do in and through us. Nothing is impossible with God.

     So how about it? Are you up for the journey? Are you ready to be a faith trekkie? Are you ready to let go of the past? Have you claimed the new identity that God has for you that you are a joy and a delight? And are you ready to live into God’s preferred future that will be beyond our wildest imagination? Are you ready to embark on a faith trek? Are you ready to boldly go where no one has gone before?

     There’s one more thing that I wanted to share with you about my conversation with the person I mentioned to you earlier in the sermon, the man who was still grieving the loss of his mother.

     As I mentioned, he said that it’s been difficult to look out his window at night and see nothing but darkness in the house where his mother once lived. I could see the sadness and the heaviness in his eyes as he was sharing all of this with me.

     But then he said to me, “But not too long ago, a new family moved into mom’s house. I got a chance to meet them. They are a very nice family with two teenagers. I took them a chocolate pie that mom used to make and gave it to them as a house warming gift. I explained to them that I used to live there and had many, many happy memories in this house.”

     He said they thanked him for the warm welcome. And the wife said, “When we were looking for homes in the area, this one really stood out for us because we could sense that there had been a lot of love here.”

     And after sharing all of this with me, he said, “And now, when I look down from my window at the house where mom lived, I’m glad to see that there’s a light in the house again and that this new family can call it home like I once did.”

     In the midst of our brokenness, disappointments, and despair, Isaiah speaks a word of hope to us. He reminds us that our faith journey is never over.

     God promises to be with us throughout all of our experiences in life. And we are invited once again to boldly go where no man has gone before. We are called to let go of our past, accept our new identity in Christ, and live into God’s preferred future.

      If you would like to be part of this faith trek, I invite you to simply hold out your hands right there in front of you, bow your heads and close your eyes, and join me in prayer.

     Let us pray. God of new beginnings, just as you offered a word of hope to the people of Israel so long ago, you offer a word of hope to us this morning. In the midst of our pain and brokenness, you invite us to boldly follow you into your preferred future that is beyond our wildest imagination. This is the day to respond to your summons in a new way.

     As we hold out our hands, we know that your hand is reaching out to us. You want to bring healing to those places in our lives where we have felt empty. You want to give us hope where we have only known despair and disappointment. And you want to use these same hands to be your healing presence in our community and world. Thank you for coming close to us today. And thank you for new beginnings and new adventures. In the name of the One who has promised to create new heavens and a new earth, we want you to know that we’re ready to make this faith trek, to be your people, and to place our trust in you. Amen.

Faith Trek
Small Group Questions
Isaiah 65:17-25
November 19, 2017

The prophet Isaiah sounds like a "trekkie" (Star Trek) fan because of his call for Israel to leave behind the troubled past and boldly go forward into God's future where he is creating "new heavens and a new earth." (Isaiah 65:17a) The people of Israel were primed to go on this "faith trek" because they had just returned from exile where Jerusalem was in ruins and their homes had been destroyed. They probably welcomed Isaiah's call to boldly enter into a new faith trek with God.

Share a time where your faith took on even greater importance because of a challenging time in your life. How did you grow from that new "faith trek?"

The prophet Isaiah offers us three very important ways to be involved in a new "faith trek" in our lives. Share how you are doing in each of these areas:

Isaiah's "Faith Trek" involves:

1. Letting Go of the Past (Isaiah 65:17b)
      What is the "past" that God is calling you to "let go?"

2. Accepting Our New Identity from God (Isaiah 65:18b)
      What is the new identity that God wants us to embrace and always remember?

3. Live Into God's Preferred Future (Isaiah 65:17a)
      What is the preferred future that God has in mind for the world? What does this    
      preferred future means for you in your "faith trek?"

Close Your Time Together By Opening Your Hands & Praying this "Faith Trek" Prayer Together:

God of new beginnings, just as you offered a word of hope to the people of Israel so long ago, you offer a word of hope to us this morning. In the midst of our pain and brokenness, you invite us to boldly follow you into your preferred future that is beyond our wildest imagination. This is the day to respond to your summons in a new way.

As we hold out our hands, we know that your hand is reaching out to us. You want to bring healing to those places in our lives where we have felt empty. You want to give us hope where we have only known despair and disappointment. And you want to use these same hands to be your healing presence in our community and world. Thank you for coming close to us today. And thank you for new beginnings and new adventures. 

In the name of the One who has promised to create new heavens and a new earth, we want you to know that we’re ready to make this faith trek, to be your people, and to place our trust in you. Amen.