Preparing for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 6:1b-11

1b Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The final liturgical passage for this week wraps up the theme of trusting in God quite nicely.  The first passage from Genesis was about trusting God to be faithful to God’s promises.  The Psalm discussed trusting the Lord with our very life against those would seek to take it.  The passage from Matthew mentioned trusting God with our relationships as well as being faithful during times we know will be difficult.  This final passage, from Romans, looks at a fourth aspect of trusting in God: entrusting God with our eternal lives.

This passage reminds us what it really means to say we’re giving everything over to God.  It isn’t enough to keep living the way that we used to live, thinking that we’ve got an unlimited supply of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.  When we entrust ourselves to God, we do so with the knowledge and the anticipation that we will be changed in the process and made better, stronger, a more perfect reflection of the God we claim to serve.  I like this to the way steel is made.  Steel isn’t an element; it comes from iron ore that has been melted down to remove impurities.  The iron is changed in the process, reshaped into something immensely more durable and useful.

What are the impurities that we hold onto for fear of losing “who we are”?  When we cling to these things, to the past, we risk losing out on becoming something greater, a forgiven and utterly changed person, molded in the image of God.

Preparing for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 10:24-39

24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[b]30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
    a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[c]

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Another passage this week about trusting in God, this one coming from the mouth of Jesus himself.  But once again, this isn’t simply a pleasant-sounding platitude saying to trust God and everything will be good at all times.  Jesus never promises his followers that things will be easy.  In fact, as this passage proves, it’s quite the opposite.  Trust in God despite the fact that things will be hard, that you will lose friends and family members.  Trust in God because things are going to be difficult and trying for you.  It’s easy for us to trust when we aren’t faced with any kind of threat or loss.  But is that really trust at all?

This passages serves not only as a reminder that we will go through tough times, or as an assurance that God will be with us, but also a call to action.  Jesus did not come to bring peace, at least not in the sense that some of us might hope for.  Jesus came to disrupt the status quo, to tear down the structures that we have set in place that do harm, either through direct action or neglect, to those are considered to be the least.

Ask yourself this week, which Jesus is it that you put your trust into?  Is it a Jesus who upholds the status quo, who doesn’t demand from us anything that would make us uncomfortable?  Or is it the Jesus who “comes to bring not peace, but a sword,” who rails against the oppression of the poor and the weak and the outcast?

Preparing for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 86

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.

Continuing on with the theme of placing one’s trust in God, we come to this week’s Psalm which picks up on the very same idea.  This psalm, one of the songs of King David, is a particularly powerful, especially when we consider the background and the experience that David is writing out of.  David was chosen to be the second king of Israel, much to the chagrin of the first king, Saul.  Fearing that David would usurp him violently, Saul sought to eliminate the threat prematurely, trying to kill David before David might try to kill him.  So we know that when David writes that he is putting his life in God’s hands, he means this in a very literal sense.  In our current climate, when we have so much trouble giving up control of the little things, it can be good for us to see the ways in which God is faithful to promises and protects those who trust him.

 

I also find verse 8 to be particularly interesting.  “Among the gods there is none like you.”  It makes me think about all the other little gods that pull our attention and our devotion away from God: money, pleasure, leisure, etc.  All of these other “gods” may be pleasing in the short term, but when put side by side with God, is there really any comparison?  I’m reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Preparing for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 21:8-21:

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring[a] will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she[b] began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid;God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

 

Every so often, I come across a passage from the Bible with which I really have to struggle and wrestle.  The story of Ishmael is certainly one of those passages, especially the selection for this week’s lectionary reading listed above.  Abraham and Sarah are supposed to be the protagonists of this part of the Bible; they’re meant to be the heroes, the good guys.  But this passage doesn’t really paint them in the most flattering light.  Sarah wants to ensure that her son Isaac gets Abraham’s inheritance exclusively, even though Ishmael’s birth came about as a result of Sarah’s plan (Genesis 16).  Abraham, worried though he might be for his son’s safety, still consents to send Hagar and Ishmael off into the desert.  This is not a good look for two people considered to be the heroes of this story.

But as I reread this story, I begin to see new things each time.  One of the things that grabs my attention is how much trust Abraham displays throughout the book of Genesis, especially in regards to his sons.  After spending so many years childless, Abraham is blessed with two sons, Ishmael and Isaac.  With each son, his faith in God is tested.  He’s told to send Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert and trust that they will be cared for.  One chapter later, he’s told to sacrifice his son Isaac and trust that God will still be faithful to God’s promises.  In light of this passage, where Abraham sends his firstborn son away to never be seen again, the faith displayed a chapter later becomes that much more striking.  We often have a hard time trusting God with our financial welfare or our health problems.  Abraham twice trusted that God would save his sons from almost certain death.

The second thing that strikes me is the way that God cares for Hagar and Ishmael.  A slave and her illegitimate son, cast out into the wilderness in an act of jealousy, are not by any means what would be considered to be, by most human conventions, of any real value; these are complete outsiders, rejected by God’s chosen people.  And yet, God doesn’t abandon Ishmael and Hagar.  God ensures that they too are cared for and looked after, that they become a part of the promise given to Abraham and his descendants: to become a great nation.

As you go about the rest of this week, examine how much it is that you really trust in God.  Also, pay attention to those who have been rejected and cast aside by the powerful and privileged.  God is merciful and faithful to God’s promises.  Can we say the same about ourselves?

Houston, the ladies have landed!

The fun is not over!

Early rise with breakfast of Costa Rican coffee and homemade sweet breads by our amazing cook, Rosia, who has feed us well all week with authentic Costa Rican food and lots of love.  As we were saying our goodbyes to our beautiful host family and those who helped us throughout the week we were greeted by a beautiful toucan and several other birds giving us a sign of safe travels in the sky.

DSC_1987

DSC_1979 (2)

We loaded up the van and Marlon’s jeep with our luggage and team to head back to San Jose to catch our flight.  The trip to San Jose was uneventful but took us about 45 minutes longer than anticipated.  So we arrived at the car rental place and had to get gas – the nearest gas station was closed so we sent Lael on a search for another gas station to return the van full.  The car rental place shuttled us to the airport and we were a little concerned about having only an hour to catch our plane and get through security.  We arrived at the gate with plenty of time for last minute shopping and to grab a bite to eat.

We arrived back in Houston about 20 minutes early and returned to the church safely with the help of Chad and Amanda Robertson.

IMG_6772[895]

What an amazing trip.  Please let Rebecca know if you would like a presentation to your small group or Sunday school class in the near future.

Our last day

Our last day in Costa Rica was truly our first day of rain.  The VBS in the Las Vistas village was well attended as Lael, our driver and their minister, had blanketed the village with invitations to VBS.  We had a largest group with 67 attending – once again we were amazed that the parents wanted to participate in the stories and crafts just as much as the children.  We were able to utilize a beautiful community center with an attached covered storage area for the games. 

DSC_1744DSC_1868DSC_1894DSC_1914

The foot washing experience was well attended by the ladies present and once again was a very powerful experience.  Lael approached Rebecca as we were loading up supplies and said that his mom was very appreciative and truly believes that her prayers would heal her foot from swelling and pain. 

DSC_1937DSC_1921DSC_1933

The day ended with a meaningful, charismatic, and powerful worship service at the “smiling family’s home”.  The whole house was filled with love and joy, and the Holy Spirit.  During the worship service Marlon asked those participating to pray over us for several concerns that we had expressed for family back home. 

We returned back to the cabins to finish packing and get ready for an early departure to the airport. 

Amen, Amen

DSC_1688
Each day we have learned something new about this beautiful country we are in. Today’s lesson: Costa Rica goes to school almost year-round. While our loved ones back home were celebrating graduations, and summer the children of Costa Rica were putting on their uniforms and walking to school. This gave us the chance to go get some much-needed souvenir shopping and supplies for our next two days.
During our trip Jessica, one of our local missionaries, expressed the needs of the families in the mountains for simple toiletries. At our first stop we all stocked up on local coffees while Summer and Jessica set to gathering soap and deodorant and things the families would need for every day. Our minds were blown when we found out that a simple juice box (that we take for granted back home) was a treat for the children. Once we left our wonderful hosts took us to a souvenir shop with grand wood carvings made by local artisans so that all our tourist money went right back into this amazing community.
IMG_6639
IMG_6646
The families that joined us at our second VBS were vibrant and different from the first. One of the first mothers to arrive with her son and daughter told us she had never heard of Jesus but she wanted to give her children a fun day. Another mother brought her special needs adult son and they bonded and had fun with Rebecca the entire day. One of the many blessings of the day was that the children were much calmer giving our team a much-needed break. The games and the feathers went over brilliantly again and once the clothes pin game began all the children came out of their shells and we had kids walking by on the street stopping to see what was going on. At the end, they all gathered in a circle and prayed a simple prayer of love led by our new friend Celeste.
DSC_1607
DSC_1687
DSC_1652
Again, as the children played we pulled in the mothers to have their feet washed and to be prayed over by some of our team. The mother who had never heard of Jesus was in the first group and when she was sat down in front of the bowl of water she was confused and thought she was supposed to be washing the feet of our team member. Her embarrassment of her life and how she had to live to survive made her feel like she was unworthy. Her story touched us all in the room and we will all leave Costa Rica with this beautiful mother’s face in our hearts and pray over her and her family for years to come.
DSC_1558
Jessica and Marlon were gracious enough to invite us to something that they do most nights of the week which is to bring the church to the people by worshipping on the front porch in a neighborhood. The love of God and the joy that radiated off all the people stirred us to bring that enthusiasm back home with us.
IMG_6656[878]
We are looking forward to another day and another group of friends tomorrow as we provide our last day of worship together in Costa Rica. Hasta luego!

Paddle Hard (cont.)

 

We started our trip saying “Jesus take the oar” and little did we know how much we would really need him. Our ride started smoothly with calm waters and a sunny sky. But quickly we learned that we were in for a wild three hour ride. We heard the instructions our guide, Michael, gave us before our departure but didn’t really understand their importance until our journey began.  When he called out “get down” we were to squat down inside the boat in 2 seconds or less. But our guide quickly learned that we were not heeding his call when he commanded.  He gently scolded us and reminded us what we were to do. During the first hour of our trip as we entered rough rapids we lost two members of our group on some very scary rapids. After we rescued an 83-year-old and our preacher Rebecca he pointed out to us that the safest place for us to be when we went through the roughest points was in the get-down position. He said that the only reason we had lost members was because we didn’t get-down in less than two seconds when he commanded.  He said I know what’s coming and when I say “get-down” you have to do it immediately. But we didn’t listen and again in less than 30 minutes we lost another member. When we came to the end of our trip, through our experience, we learned the importance of listening to our guide’s calls and not questioning what he says and to immediately obey. We finished our trip exhausted, but bonded with friends in ways that we never thought possible.

Angela B.Arndt

As we arrived to the boats we met our strong and patient guide, Ivan. He was very uplifting as he explained everything ahead in our trip, and the team clung onto every word. By the time we made it 15 minutes down the rapids we knew this would be much harder than expected, but we continued to feed off of Ivan with his uplifting spirit and sang “Down to the River” as we paddled hard. Ivan’s strength was mighty as we had to trust in him to save our sweet church sisters who had fallen overboard, but after rescuing our fallen he continued to stay positive and had us smiling for pictures. The trip was hard but we pulled together stronger than ever, and trusted a Costa Rican man who had a passion for the rapids.

Alexa Arndt

Paddle Hard

“So those who rely of faith are blessed, along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Galatians 3:9

Our vibrant group ranging from 25 to 84 years old had a brilliant and life changing trip down the Rio Pacuare. From still water views of the many grand waterfalls to the heart pounding drops of the Class 4 rapids we all found a little bit of God in the waters. At the end of the day we shared many memories to carry with us for the rest of our lives. This experience caused us all to learn to trust and obey like we never expected on the river in Costa Rica.

Check back later for pictures and stories from our day on the water. Que Dios la bendiga.

Las Nubes

DSC_1053 (2)

Being greeted by the warm mountain rainstorm and fresh made coffee made the team of 10 happy and ready for a day of spreading God’s light and love to the small town of Las Nubes meaning “the clouds.” The small community is usually skipped because of the high trek up the mountain on steep winding gravel roads, but the community and grace that we found was anything but lacking in God’s presence. Starting the day our team was split into two groups to travel up the mountain lovingly packed in a Toyota like happy sardines.

20170604_162433[865]

As the children and their mothers started to show up we could see the few that were apprehensive and our army of teachers went to work. Soon a sweet girl named Ashley who came in crying was out of her shell and shining brightly. A little boy who was to shy at first to even come in slowly started to join in. Watching the mothers light up helping the children with and take pride in the crafts was such a blessing knowing these art projects would be loved and cherished when it went home. Then feathers were introduced and the room went WILD!

DSC_1142

DSC_1125 (2)

As the children followed a crew outside to play some final games the mothers stayed behind for a special treat. In a culture where the mothers usually take a backseat to her family we had the honor of washing their feet. The life they lived was written out in the callus on their feet and their giggles as one after the other had their feet washed.

DSC_1174 (2)

DSC_1241 (2)

Overall our first day of VBS and ministry was successfully contained chaos with lots of silliness and even more beauty. Thank you to the gracious town of Las Nudes and its families for welcoming us with open arms and open hearts.

DSC_1062