Never Les Misérables with God

Never Les Misérables with God

Posted on January 30, 2013 at 4:29 pm  – Haverford Patch
 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I love to go to the movies and reflect on the story being told and think about faith and life.   Jesus told parables (short stories) and would then made a faith application to those stories.   So in that tradition and example of Jesus I like to reflect on what the story teaches me about God.

Last week I was truly blessed to finally see Les Misérables, which is an amazing story of transformation, forgiveness and grace.  In the story, we meet up with Jean Valjean as he is being released from prison having spent time in prison for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children during a time of want.   As a free man he resolves to do good in life but the day-to-day circumstances does not make his desire easy to accomplish.   Seeking help to live a good life he goes to the church and there he enters a place of welcome, hospitality and generosity and grace.   But then, afraid of what tomorrow may bring (not trusting God) he steals some silver from the rectory.  The police find him with the silver and they bring him back to the rectory giving the bishop opportunity to press charges against this thief – but rather the bishop forgives, shows mercy and tells Jean Valjean that his life has purpose and sends him freely on his way.   Jean Valjean’s life is emboldened and transformed by that kindness and the wisdom of the bishop and through that act and with God’s help his life is transformed.

But there is the Police Inspector, Javert, who knows about Valjean’s past and holds it over him his entire life.  In fact he openly vows to expose Jean Valjean for who he is.  There is a tension through the entire story about forgiveness and living as a fraud.  Even in the last moments of his life Jean Valjean is on the run and not entirely sure of grace and forgiveness.  It was sad to see this man question himself his entire life.

So this begs the question:  Can we ever be sure that God has forgiven us  – or is God like the Inspector that pursues us only to expose us?

The answer is Yes, most certainly we can be sure of God’s forgiveness.   Forgiveness is God’s free gift to us, and ought to be the source of peace and joy in our life.  Scripture is clear that for the believers there is no condemnation.  (Romans 8:1)  God has forgiven and has set us free from our past. We are made a new creations – and we are called to live a life worthy of our redemption, it is the fruit of a redemption that is already complete by what God has done for us in Christ.

As a pastor for 30 years I have spoken to many people about the forgiveness of sins and many will tell me that they believe God can forgive others but not them.  It is as if they are living their life looking over their shoulder for Javert to expose their past to the world.   No, Romans 8:1 is clear. There is no condemnation!

 None of us has perfectly kept God’s law – all of us have fallen short.   But for those who believe know that it was on the cross 2000 years ago that Jesus took our sin on Himself and gave us his righteousness   (I Corinthian 5:21)  We will stand before God one day and give an account for our lives, but as Christians the outcome and our eternal destiny is assured through the life of Jesus, not our own. As Christians we will stand before God fully righteous because we are in Christ, in Him we have already been forgiven.    Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.

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WE ARE ALL SNOWFLAKES

We are all snowflakes

Posted on HAVERFORD PATCH January 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm

While I was watching the snow fall last week, I had this thought…we are all like snowflakes, each different and beautiful in our own way. Now granted it has taken me a few days to get this thought posted but none the less I think it’s something we should all think about. I realize that we all know we are different but how many of us really think about the fact, we are all beautiful.

Have you ever helped in making fun of someone else for being different? Maybe they had a funny haircut, wore “out of style” clothes or have a physical impairment that doesn’t look “normal”.  Let’s be honest, we all have. Though we may not mean to, at some point we have either started or joined in on making someone feel less of themselves.  Where we have all been a part of some sort of bullying, I would bet we have all been bullied before as well. Think back, how did it feel? Not so great, huh. What we need to remember is this; we never know what that other person is feeling. They could be facing problems far worse than ours or fighting battles we cannot even imagine. Saying even the smallest of negative comments could send that other person right over the edge. Making them want to do something that could harm themselves or others. It’s easy to go with the flow with what our friends are doing or saying as we don’t want to be the one who is being picked on. But think about this; if your friends pick on you for not picking on someone else, are they really your friends? I would say not so much. Now I am not saying that you should get all new friends. I am simply saying don’t go with the flow. Take a moment to think about that other person and their feelings. Think about the fact that we are all different and that’s what makes us all special. The world would be pretty darn boring if we all were the same. I am not saying that you need to be best friends with everyone in the world but simply to say hi or smile at someone who looks down. A smile instead of a negative comment is all it could take to make someone’s day.

Though I may not know you, I have a challenge for you. I challenge you to smile. Smile, at the person who is eating lunch alone. Smile, at the person who is wearing clothes that are “not in style”. Smile, at the person who doesn’t really “fit in” to your social group. You may never know the impact of your smile to that person but it could make a BIG difference in their life. 🙂

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Parental Guidance without the Guilt Trip

Parental Guidance wthout the Guilt Trip     Posted on January 1, 2013  Haverford Patch

 

The Box Office is featuring a couple of movies that speak of parent’s relationships with their adult children. I saw two over the Christmas Holiday. ‘Guilt Trip’ about a mother and her son on a road trip and ‘Parental Guidance’ about a daughter and her parents and their relationship with her children. Both movies were a lot of fun – the films were entertaining and also gave the audience something to think about and hopefully to work on and grow through.

And so of course I began to reflect on my relationship with my folks. Both of my parents are now at home with the Lord.

Let me begin with Mom. I loved my Mom very much. But sometimes she would drive me crazy with her mothering. It didn’t matter that I matured and reached the age of 30, 40 or even 49 years old, with two Master and a Doctorate degree, Mom always felt a need to tell me to dress warm in the winter or to take an umbrella if it was raining. Sometimes she would make suggestions on how I should wear my hair or how much sleep I should be getting. So when Mom passed (May 11, 2004) – I felt bad that I sometimes gave her a hard time about smothering me with her mothering. I admit that there are some cold winter mornings that I long for her telephone call to tell me to dress warm.

Then there was Dad. I loved my Dad too. But I really did not know my Dad. My parents were divorced when I was 13 and Dad moved out of the area and sometimes it was difficult to connect with him. He was remarried had two stepsons and with the new wife he had a new life. As a teen I did not really want to (most teens seeks distance from parents – and that is normal) or even know how to connect with him. And as an adult it was very

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difficult. He was into his stuff and I was busy working and parenting my own family. We truly had a ‘Cats in the Cradle ‘ relationship. And so when Dad passed (January 6, 2005) I felt bad that we were never able to really connect and to heal the wounds that separated us.

So how does one go about working through the guilt trip or the resentment, sadness, or anger for what was or for what was not? How do we make peace with the dysfunction in our families of origin? How does one honor mother and father? How do we move on and heal our relationships with the next generation without visiting the sins of the past onto the 2nd and third generation?

1. I recommend that you begin this journey with prayer – asking God to heal your memories and to help you to do your part in restoring and honoring the relationship. Asking God to guide this process with His grace, His mercy and His loving kindness.

1. Become reflective about the life stories that play over and over again in your heart and mind. Write the stories down in a journal especially the painful ones – and then as you recount the story tell it again from the parent’s perspective. In the movie, “Guilt Trip” the Mom was able to explain her choices to her son and the son was able to explain his life choices and they were able to understand and suddenly the pain of the relationship was lifted from them. There was still friction – but it was no longer emotionally charged. Ideally conversation with the parent is the best. But if a parent is deceased then the journaling is second best in trying to heal old wounds. Sometimes working with a therapist or with your pastor can be helpful in healing these childhood wounds.

1. Stop blaming your parents for your own unhappiness or the problems you encounter as an adult. Move on. Be responsible for your own choices and be thankful for your life and embrace all that was and is good. Incorporate the new understanding of the past from your journaling or reflective work and allow yourself to heal. As you embrace a new understanding and release the childhood feelings, the more room you create for the new that God wants to work in your life.Above recognize that we are all human – that all of us are only able to do the best we can with what we have. No matter how hard we try we will not get it perfect. Give yourself some grace and learn from your mistake and your parent’s mistakes and embrace the present. Live today. By living in the ‘now’ you will begin to love yourself more and you will become a better Mother, Father, Son or Daughter, brother of sister in your familiar relationships.

Blessings to you in all of your relationships in 2013.

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Moms and Christmas Stress

Mom’s are you ready for Christmas?

I am not asking if you finished your shopping and if the presents are wrapped?   I am not asking if all the decorations are up and if the house is sparking clean?   Rather I am asking, are YOU ready for Christmas?  Are you ready to pause and ponder as Mary, the mother of our Lord, did?  She marveled at the fact that God would come to her.

Today at our Woman’s Bible Study a participant asked specifically for prayers for young Moms who are feeling stressed organizing and juggling everything.   The regular daily stress of parents is extremely high – and when you add the expectations for a ‘perfect Christmas’ then the stress is downright overwhelming.   So, Mom’s we prayed for you and now I want to offer up some ideas how to help you de-stress.

Now first of all, stress is not all bad.  In fact our lives would probably be pretty boring if all was easy and ‘just fine’ with nothing to stress us once in awhile.  But we also know that too much stress can cause physical and emotional problems and can cause loving relationships to be stretched to the limits.  And that is the last thing anyone wants at this time of the year. First of all take time for all of your relationships and most importantly for your relationship with your self.   Mom, take time for your self.  Close the door and take a bath, workout, listen to your favorite music or sit down and start reading a book that you have been wanting to read.

When it comes to the family get-together, I used to feel distress when the grandkids came over and tore into a pile of presents – without really seeing and receiving their gift.   A lot of time and love went in the gift selection – and in their excitement they tore threw the gifts without really appreciating what they just opened, before they went on to the next gift.   To address that problem, my husband and I started to play games with the grandkids – to determine who would open the next gift and we created a ritual make the opening of the presents an ‘experience’ to treasure and build family memories.  Now this time is fun and the stress is gone!

If your family tends to rush through things without really enjoying them – the best thing you can do is put the brakes on and slow things down.   Take the time to enjoy and savor your relationship with your spouse and with the children.    Develop family traditions – that connect members of the family with each other.  Talk to each other.  Play together, sing together, or watch a favorite Christmas movie every year.  The list of things to do is endless.   The key is to slow the pace down and relax.

Always, the best thing you can do to lower the stress is make a connection with each other and most of all with God at this most wonderful time of the year,

Remember Christmas is not all about the stuff that we get under the tree – it is about sharing God’s love with our families and friends – and pondering all that God has done for us.

Christmas is the new Mom, lovingly looking at her baby fast asleep – delighting in every sound the baby makes.  Christmas is the visitors (shepherds) telling of their experience of the angel announcement that Christ the Lord is born.  Mary ponders all that the shepherds said – and what it means for her life.

Mom, Christ comes to you this Christmas, so take the time to slow things down and ponder, wonder and treasure every moment that God gives you to love and to receive love.  Set the pace that you want your family to have.   They may wonder what you are doing  but in the end they will be glad that you did

Finally, there are many great churches in Havertown that are offering Christmas Eve Services giving you and your family an opportunity to ponder.  Seek out a neighboring church, go and sit and just be for an hour as you worship Christ the newborn King with your family.  As you go home share with each other what you heard and what it means that ‘unto you a Savior has been born’.

Mary Jesus

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Sermon from December 16, 2012

Sermon Preached on Advent 3 by the Rev. Dr. Dolores E. Littleton, LMFT

Preaching Text:   Luke 3:7-18

I like you I am struggling to make sense of this horrific tragedy that took place on Friday.

As a child of God – I do what we do best in times of trouble and heartache,  pray and turn to the Word.  And as I began to read the Gospel for this week – to find a word of grace of encouragement – I met up with John the Baptist.  This time when we met John, he is crying out in the wilderness.   He is trying to get the attention of a world that has moved far, far away from God and God’s word.

John lived in times where God’s people were being terribly oppressed.  They did not enjoy the freedom to completely worship God as they wanted – as the Romans had all kinds of restrictions on the Jews.  John lived in the world where secularism and practices from pagan religion – crept in to the mindset of the people of God everyday and everyday people were more concerned with living according to their own agenda’s rather than thinking about the will of God.

And because of this, the prophet John comes crying- “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

In other words  -Sinners!  All of you are Sinners!  Separated from God.  Where are you going?  What are you doing?  What are you looking for”  What do you believe”  What is your life counting for?

And the people hearing John speak in the first century got it – they got it – they understood and they ask John “What then should we do”?

And John told them what they should do.   He told them to share  — to be honest in their dealings – to not threaten anyone and to be satisfied with what they had.

And now it is December 16, 2012 – and John’s cry comes to us today.   And it comes at this time of terrible unrest in the world and within our own land.  The Middle East is sizzling like bacon in a hot skillet.  Africa is simmering, North Korea is exulting in its ability to build a rocket that can be launched, and under our feet we have young people so thirsty for revenge that they spray bullets at people they don’t even know.  A shopping mall in Oregon and in an elementary school Connecticut

And John cries, “Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?”

And can we? No, we must join the crowd in asking, “ John speak to us, tell us what we should do”?

What shall we do in the midst of such tragedy?

And there has been a variety answers from various people including our president saying we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

And there are folks blogging in Social Media and People calling in on radio talk shows weighing in all day– calling for gun control – calling for more supportive systems for mental health – people calling for more security in our schools –  and the debate and the ideas and suggestions – are as many as there are people speaking up.

At 5 Pm last night as Governor Malloy of Connecticut addressed the residence of his state he called them to practice love – to have  courage and to have compassion for one another.

Like the crowd, hearing John the Governor even asked   the question aloud as part of his address on Sat night

So what can we do?    Then the Governor said, “As was no doubt the case last night, we can hug someone we love a little tighter.  As has been happening since yesterday, we can show and share with each other the grief we feel for the children and adults who were killed, and for their families and loved ones.”

Yes indeed Governor Malloy, our faith calls us to practice love – to be people of courage and to have compassion.

And this is what we can do now – today.

Yes the policies, and reviews of mental health and gun laws and security will eventually be part of our public discourse – but all of that is for  another day.

Today, for now, lets love one another – encourage one another and help one another through difficult moments.

I am reminded of Martin Luther’s Hymn a Mighty Fortress – that last verse speaks to me of this tragedy or any time we go through challenging events.

God’s Word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes, who fear it; for God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. If they take our house, goods, fame, child, or spouse, wrench our life away, they cannot win the day. The kingdom’s ours forever!”

Hatred – Evil – Violence – will not win the day –  God’s word will abide for ever!

And so as we gather in church this 3rd Sunday of Advent – as we prepare to sing Joy to the World as our closing hymn we may find ourselves wondering, “Where is the Joy?   Where is the Hope?  Where is the Peace?   Where is the Love?  Where is Advent in this?

Advent is about God coming to us – it is about God taking on flesh and living in our midst.   He is here in the midst of things we cannot understand. He comforts with His word and with the things we can do for ourselves and for one another.

John continues.  He says we need to do something,  “Bear fruit worthy of Repentance!  Do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor.’

If John the Baptist were standing in my place in this very pulpit he might say, ‘Don’t say you are a member of a church.   Bear fruits!  John gets real clear when the crowd asks him, “What shall we do?”
John replies,  “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

And so we collect items for mitten tree – we brings meals to the Life center and feed hungry people – we open the doors to the Social hall and provide shelter to the Homeless every February, we collected money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy,  we collect money and toys for a single mom who is having a hard time to make ends meet.  We support our youth and adults feeling called to go to South Dakota to work with Lakota people.

And we love the best we can with what we have.   Our attempt of bearing fruit that is worthy of repentance.

Tears weld in my eyes – when a young teacher began to question herself as she told the CNN news reporter that she gathered her class in a huddle and just hugged her little children and told them all that she loved them all very much.    Then she became apologetic – and said, “I think I was not supposed to do that as a teacher but I rally thought that all of us would soon be dead and I wanted the children to die knowing that they were loved”.

That is what is John is talking about.  He is all about doing the practical stuff of faith and life – doing the stuff that we know is right – from our gut – not worrying about what the manual says in Section 1 C .

And so John taught the people a little something about sharing their second coat  – and about being honest in all of their relationships -and being satisfied with what they have.

And then with that, we are told that the people were filled with expectation.    Some even questioned if John was the Messiah.   He was clear that he was not.  He told us that one is coming – one whom he was unworthy to untie the thong of his sandals.  He spoke of Jesus.
Yes Jesus comes – he comes not into a Christmas card-perfect world
of loveliness and reverence, but Jesus comes into this rough world
of poverty and human trafficking, factory fires and mall and school shootings – a world where people suffer and die from cancer and heart disease and where accidents happen.

Here, in our grief and terror, and in our secret shame of who we human beings are, Jesus comes to show us God’s love and what we can be in Him.   Yes, it is awful that such tragedies happen at Christmas time,
but no sooner do they happen than God comes among us, with healing and forgiveness, he comes to us as a child  – He comes to us as the King with all things under His control.  He comes saying, “I still love you, and I will be with you always.”

About a month a go our Sunday School started to learn a new hymn that I immediately thought of when I heard of this tragedy of Friday- and the words of the song reassured me –

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains
Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me
On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains
Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

 And so today I realize that even as Governor Malloy instructs his people to love to have courage and to have compassion – that this is what the Gospel is calling me to do as well.   Yes – as we do those things we will come to know the Joy of God’s abiding love.

As we love – have courage and have compassion we will be transformed into a people that will be able to truly celebrate Christmas and Sing the season with Joy.

So my dear friends – Go and bear fruits that are worthy of repentance – and in so doing you will know the joy of the Lord.

AMEN

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Intersection of Faith and Life

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We pray for our children.  We pray for our nation and for our world. We pray for the peace of God to fall upon us all.   With the news of the tragedy in Connecticut, we are reminded about the real meaning of this season of Advent.   We pray Come Lord Jesus Come – we pray for all the good gifts that God wants to bestow upon us.   We remember that the Lord came and that He comes again into our hearts and our lives.    That God is a God of life and love.   This Advent we are reminded that God came to walk with us as we listen to the news asking, ‘how? Why? When?’

This Advent reminds us that God came to huddle with terrified school children hiding in storage closets.  God came to give teachers strength to read stories to children and to pull them in the room for safety.  God came to cradle the wounded and the dying, so they would know they were not abandoned in that loneliest of moments.

This Advent we know that God came to give the first responders the courage to walk into the halls of learning,  now halls of violence, with a willingness to put themselves between the little children and whatever horrific monster dwelt inside.  God came to weep with the parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters and  to embrace them all with comfort and hope, even as they would no longer be able to embrace their child.

This season of Advent – is so important because we are reminded that God  has come and will come again to be our Peace and our Hope and Joy.

God came, and is still with us.

 

Originally Posted by Pastor Littleton on Haverford Patch

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