Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Monday, October 7, 2019

Attitude of Gratitude



Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we took the theme, “Sir, I want to See Again!” Our sermon from the day can be found here. This week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we'll be taking a look at Luke 17:11-19 and focusing on the theme of “Gratitude.” I came across these thoughts in a copy of "Guideposts" magazine. I am not sure who the author was, but thank you, whoever you were!

"If you want to feel better physically, if you want a better outlook on life, remember this verse. “Give thanks unto the Lord,for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).

Every morning when you get up, instead of fretting and complaining, instead of turning to the media to see how bad everything is, just go and look out of the window. Take a deep breath and say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” It makes you feel better just to think of doing that, doesn't it? How much better it will make you feel if you follow that practice every day!

The art of thanksgiving is one of the most important skills a human being can develop. Sadly, I believe most of us are somewhat lacking in this area. But very closely related to thanksgiving is the art of appreciation. And if we develop the ability to appreciate, we also develop our capacity to be thankful.

Begin with acknowledging the small wonders of life, those little things like hot coffee or the smell of a rose, fresh sheets or bread warm from the oven. It is God’s will that we “Give thanks in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). All of us have simple, beautiful things that Almighty God has given us, which we can appreciate. Open your eyes and see that God “Does wonderful things without number” (Job 5:9).

There’s another reason to be thankful for our blessings: Gratitude activates the flow of even more blessings in our life. And by the same token, ingratitude, fear, or doubt has the opposite effect. If you hold a thought—positive or negative—you create a soil that is hospitable to the germination of the fact for which the thought is the symbol. And the seed you plant, whether good or bad, “produces a crop yielding a hundred…times what was sown” (Matthew 13:23). So don't entertain negative thoughts. Fight them, with God's help. Keep them out of your mind.

One important way to do that is not to articulate, not to express such thoughts in words. Cut off the articulation and you reduce half their strength. It will then be easier to cut them off mentally. You have to practice this. And in this practicing, visualization is helpful. Each day, pray with the Psalmist, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Remember the old hymn with this refrain: “Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God hath done!” How long has it been since you have counted up your blessings? When you invite a person to recount his troubles, you are likely to find he can do so all too readily. But if you can get somebody to enumerate his blessings to you, and you look at his face as he does it, you see somebody who really has light in his heart.”

Walk by faith in God's Kingdom latitude. Live every day with an attitude of gratitude. For some music, a beautiful song, “Gratitude” by Nichole Nordeman.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Lost Without Knowing It


I was traveling down the road, so busy talking to the person sitting in the passenger seat that I failed to notice that there was an intersection. The road I wanted went one way, the way I went was the other way. It was only when we came upon a shopping mall and a set of traffic lights that I realized my error. I had become so preoccupied with our conversation that I had become “lost without knowing it.”

Last Sunday we were considering the challenge of being a disciple. Our sermon “The Call and the Cross” can be found here. This coming Sunday we will be reflecting upon the dangers involved in being lost! Our text will be Luke 15:1-10, which features the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin

What are some strategies we can turn to when we feel lost?

Look at a map.
The Scriptures can be a great guide to help us through our problems. As we read of how different bible characters dealt with the issues of their day, we can often find guidance for our selves. Some of the greatest sayings of Scripture can give a framework in which to find the way. “Treat others in the way you would like them to treat you,” “Pray for your enemies,” “Be Patient”… these little nuggets can help us navigate many moral dilemmas.

Ask Directions.
You know what they say…. real men never ask for directions! Yet Christian doctrine has always insisted that Jesus was a “Real Man.” And He found it very necessary to carve out a place in His life for prayer. So have His disciples across the centuries. When we are feeling lost, we seek God for direction.

Help others.
Becoming involved in a cause outside of ourselves can often bring answers to questions we didn’t even realize we were asking. It helps us to see things from another persons perspective. It makes a difference if we walk a while in their shoes. Such experiences can provide the sort of purpose and meaning that may be missing from our day to day routines!

Prayer: Lord, when we are feeling lost help us to find our way through Your Holy Spirit being our guide. Guide us as we listen. Guide us as we serve. Guide us as we pray. Guide us through the Scriptures. This we ask in Jesus name. Amen.


The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Call and the Cross


Last week we met around a table laid with bread and wine. These symbols point us to one of the central images of our faith, the Cross of Jesus Christ. Our message from the day can be found here. This week we return to the Lectionary passages suggested for each Sunday and will be taking a look at Luke 14:25-33.

We begin our Fall season of church life. A lot things that had taken a break, now get back into gear. It can be a challenge to find folk willing to step up and commit to the many tasks that keep a church vital and moving forward.

Yet, our central image should surely remind us, that discipleship was never meant to be a walk in the park. We are called to embrace a way that is challenging, hard, difficult and demands all that we can give to it. In a world were we like to take things easy… why on earth would anybody willingly take on the kind of commitment that Jesus asks of us? Luke 14:27 “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Here are three suggestions some fellow disciples offer to us.

All is not well with our world. Whilst we enjoy the benefits of freedom, health and bountiful resources, we are the fortunate ones. The same cannot be said for many with whom we share our planet. It seems not simply a religious principle, but a humanitarian one, that we who have much should not rest easy, while many have so little. It is a scriptural principle that to those to whom much is given, much is expected.

History teaches that progress rarely happens without struggle. The great freedoms we enjoy are not accidental. Laying behind our privileges are the historical acts of those who selflessly pursued higher goals… often to the point of surrendering their own lives. The Christian road has created many martyrs. The survival of the faith is a miracle that replicates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Himself. Our faith has resonated many other struggles in wider society. Struggles against slavery, for equal rights for women, for just labor practices… the list goes on and on.

We seek a higher goal. If we dare take the name ‘Christian’ then we intimate that we are taking on the mantle of Christ-like living. We state our belief that His way of doing things is the ‘WAY,’ that His life represents what ‘LIFE’ should be, that His truth is the ‘TRUTH’ regarding what really counts for something.

Prayer:
Lord, we hear Your call to take up a Cross and follow. We may not want to hear it… but You keep calling. Help us to recognize that You call us to bring positive change to this world we share with so many others less fortunate than ourselves. Amen.

For some music, a couple called Jake and Kaylee, sing a version of “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” on a windy hillside.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Vision


Our summer sermon series here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church continues. I've been preaching a series about “Jesus and Individuals,” taking a series of scriptural snapshots and observing how Jesus interacted with both individuals and groups of people. Last weeks encounter was about a woman caught in the act of adultery. Things did not turn out well for her accusers! (Sermon here.)

This coming week we hear about a man who has his sight restored by Jesus, only to be accused of deception by the Scribes and Pharisees (John 9:1-41.) In many ways the story is all about vision.

Jesus has an incredible vision. He tells His disciples in John 9:5; “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” This vision is enacted through acts that are incredibly personal. In this account a man who had been born blind receives his sight. That seems to be the way the Kingdom grows. The vision for a new heaven and new earth is mind blogging. But the way it comes into being, one person, one act of kindness and one healing at a time, does not seem to be beyond any persons reach.

The Scribes and Pharisees have a vision of life that blinds them to possibility and causes them to embrace lies as truth. Even when confronted with compelling evidence that their view has no reality to it, they continue in the darkness of self deception. Their commitment to ideology is far more important to them than their commitment to truth. One can certainly find those who parallel such blind allegiance to “their” viewpoint as being the “only one that is valid” in our current world.

The man who receives healing offers the most interesting perspective. As he is accused of being a liar and of bearing false testimony, he simply says, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (verse 25.) He then invites his accusers to accept his testimony and whimsically suggests that they could do with some of the vision Jesus had given to him. As you can imagine, this does not receive a positive response from them. He is dismissed from their presence, as though he were the guilty party.

The passage concludes with Jesus telling the man (and those around Him who were listening) “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”(verse 39.) The Pharisees get the point. Jesus is accusing them of being the blind leading the blind. Which, given the events of this passage, they were.

There are many factors that touch upon our vision. Personal allegiance and prejudices. Nurture and culture. Faith and willingness to embrace new insight. The Christian message suggests that we all have blind spots and possess a vision of life that needs modifying. It is as we bring ourselves under the influence of God's light that we have an opportunity to change. May God's love continue to lighten our darkness!

For some music “Open the Eyes of My Heart” by Michael W. Smith. Such is a prayer that we would do well to make our own.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Focus on the Future


Over the summer here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, I've been preaching a series about "Jesus and Individuals," taking a series of snapshots and observing how Jesus reacted with both individuals and groups of people. We saw a sinful woman at the home of Simon, we saw how He dealt with a group of Scribes who came from Jerusalem to contend with Him. We saw an encounter He had with a disturbed man in a graveyard and the reaction of the townsfolk when He healed the man. (Sermon Here)

This coming week we hear about a woman caught in the act of adultery. (John 8:1-11) There are many things the story does not tell us. Who was the other party involved? Who was it who felt it necessary to bring only her before the authorities? Was this an act of coercion or truly a moral failing? Was the whole thing a set up, designed to use a person who had no right to defend herself, to cast darkness on the claims of Jesus? What was the woman's name, her background, her social status? So many unanswered questions.

One thing is clear. Her accusers were without compassion. They had absolute zero care or respect for this lady and their only interest was in winning an argument. Sadly such is often the case in today's world. People will disparage others (sometimes whole groups of people) in an effort to boost their own position of privilege.

On the other hand Jesus acts with both rebuke and compassion. His rebuke is found in the words “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It is then that He stoops and begins quietly writing some words in the sand. I wonder what He wrote? Was it the names of some of those around Him? Did He doodle pictures representing some of their sins? Maybe He was writing something to the woman, words of hope or comfort. We don't know.

But we know how He dealt with the woman. He tells her, after everybody had walked away, that as nobody else condemned her, then neither did He. Her sins were forgiven. He adds the phrase “Go and sin no more.” Maybe these words are the most important in the whole passage.

You see it is easy to make our passed failings, or even our present predicament the focus of our lives. Yet the gospel message encourages us to be future focused. To not dwell on what has been or even is happening to us right now, but to look to a future where God's grace is given a rightful place. To ponder what could be, if love were allowed to reign.

To me that is the power of the Holy Spirit. God's ability to take what life throws at us and create a new opportunity out of it. The ability of God's renewing love to make something good out of our glaring failures. The whole resurrection experience; taking what is broken and making something beautiful from the ashes.

Let us all seek for the Spirit's renewal to be at the heart of our own experience of God's love. For some music Mark Shulz sings “Broken but Beautiful

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Jesus and Individuals

Jesus and Individuals

Over the summer here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, there are a lot of folk coming and going, myself included. Youth conferences, camps and vacations all take us out of our usual routine. While most of the year I preach on the lectionary passages (a selection of readings that follow a three year pattern) this summer I'm stepping away and preaching a series about the way Jesus acted with individuals, both “solitary individuals” and “individual groups of folk.”

It is interesting to see how “Up close and personal” His ministry truly was. He had a way of challenging those who were outside of the Kingdoms guidelines, while at the same time welcoming those who thought the Kingdom was beyond their reach.

This past Sunday we were looking at a passage where Jesus went to the house of Simon, a Pharisee. (Sermon here). While there, a woman, whose name we never learn, but seems to be in great need, anoints His feet with her tears and drys them with her hair. Jesus chastises Simon for not truly welcoming Him to his home. On the other hand, He offers to the woman, forgiveness and dignity. (Luke 7:36-50)

Next week we'll be thinking about encounters Jesus has with a group of religious folk known as the “Scribes” and with His own family, who seem to want Him to give up on His crazy mission and come home. (Mark 32:20-30).

The Scribes receive a stern warning. That if they take such a careless attitude towards the things of God, that they though the actions of Jesus to be rooted in evil, they were in deep trouble. They only had to look around them. To see that person restored to a right mind. To talk with that person who had now received healing. These good works were the work of God's Holy Spirit. To call it anything else put their souls in peril.

The family of Jesus are invited to see that He was who He was. He could not be limited by the constraints of family, because His mission was so much more than the redemption of any one person, tribe or nation. Foolish as that may seem right then, eventually, they would understand.

Such passages are truly a challenge to us as individuals... and as church communities. We are often influenced more by the unspoken understandings of our communities and 'tribes' than we realize. We can be blind to the implications of our actions and sometimes need the words of Jesus to challenge us in an “Up close and personal” manner.

May God continue to guide us and renew us! Wherever the summer months lead us, may we take time to discover new insights and take on fresh challenges.

For some music “Changing Me” by Anna Golden

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 8, 2019

To Mars and Beyond


Last weeks musings and music focused on Paul's letter to the Galatians and themes of faith and freedom. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This weeks blog takes us out of this world.

We are going “To Mars and Beyond.” Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian it is time for our annual Vacation Bible School program. We have a fired up group of volunteers ready to lead our youngest ones through a week of stories, songs, fun and games.

This years theme takes a look at a number of key bible figures who demonstrated a trust in God that went beyond the ordinary. Many of us are familiar with these stories from our own childhood or attendance at Sunday School.

Daniel trusts God for protection as he is thrown into the lions den. Queen Esther takes a brave stand to save her people from destruction. A Good Samaritan goes out of his way to help a man he recognized as being his neighbor. Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one actually takes the time to say thanks. Two men on a road to Emmaus have a close encounter of the resurrection kind.

One of the huge challenges facing the Christian church is that of educating children in biblical knowledge. They are not going to get that in public school. Church and State are kept at a distance. Many families no longer participate in regular church attendance. Unless parents share these bible stories within their home environment, many children will remain unaware of these great accounts of faith. Vacation Bible School offers us a wonderful opportunity to reach out and share.

I can't speak for anybody else, but the older I get, the more I treasure some of these stories. Over time they have burrowed their way into my spirit and been a source of both comfort and challenge. There have been occasions in my life when I have felt like Daniel facing the lions. Insurmountable obstacles came along that only God could get me through. Esther's story of choosing to do the right thing, rather than the easiest thing, is a constant reminder that we are to live with integrity.

In a world that continues to be torn apart by intolerance and prejudice, the story of the Good Samaritan reminds me that every person in need is a neighbor worthy of help and love. That leper who came back to say “Thank You” reminds me to daily count my blessings. Those men on the Emmaus Road who encounter Jesus, but don't at first recognize Him, awaken me to keep my eyes open to the unexpected presence of God in my daily life, particularly when I am feeling despondent or hopeless.

I often think that those of us leading these events get more out of the proceedings, than those we seek to lead. As we look together at these familiar stories, often new insights come along and we see things we had never seen before. Jesus hinted that out of the mouths of little ones can sometimes come great truths. Or as somebody else has expressed “Kids say the darndest things!” He also said that unless we became as little children we can never enter the Kingdom of God.

So we are looking forward to a busy, yet inspiring week. Following V.B.S. I'll be part of the leadership team for the Trinity Youth Conference, an event not for little ones, but for High School and College age youth. A whole different experience, but much needed and a wonderful blessing. I'll let you know how that went when I return! Wherever the next few weeks may be leading you, may you know God's love and experience God's presence.

For some music, a song that features as part of this years V.B.S. Curriculum and has been sung at many a worship time during the Trinity Youth conference...“God of Wonders.” The version posted is performed by “Third Day.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.