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

Monday, April 30, 2018

Stay Connected

I sat down one evening to watch TV. I picked up the remote control and pressed the button. Nothing happened. I'd been meaning to change the batteries for a while and just presumed that they had finally given up. So I went into that untidy drawer where I keep random things, such as spare batteries, and started searching through it. “Now what was it... a double A, a triple A, let's see.” Finding the right battery I returned to the couch.

Again I picked up the remote control and pressed the button. Again, nothing happened. “Hmm” that's strange I thought. So I went over to the TV and tried to find the “ON” switch to see if I could do it the old fashioned way. This proved more difficult than I thought. Modern electrical appliances do not have clearly marked “On/Off” switches. So I had to go back to the untidy random drawer to find a flashlight.

Eventually I located both the flashlight and the “On/Off” switch on the back of the TV. I turned it on. Still nothing happened. It was only then that I remembered that the day before we had experienced a lightning storm. In a previous home in which we had lived, the TV had been fried when lightning hit the electrical wires. Not wanting this to happen again I had disconnected the TV from the source. No wonder it didn't work. It wasn't connected!

Staying connected is important. It's important in our relationships with each other. It's important in our spiritual relationship with God. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been following a series of messages based on the First Letter of John. His letter weaves together themes of sin, forgiveness and love.

Last week we were thinking about “Fearless Love.” This week we take a look at 1 John 5:1-6. In his final chapter he speaks about how, if our lives are to manifest the love of God, we need to be connected to God!

For John, faith is something that is birthed within us when we seek God. He sees God's commands, not as restrictions that hold us back, but as things that we will want to pursue because we know that God's love for us is deep and all embracing. He writes; “His commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world. Our faith.” (1 John 5:3-4)

For faith to grow we need to be sure we are connected. We can connect with God in many different ways. Though serving others. Jesus said, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).

We connect with God when we gather for worship. “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).

We connect with God as we pray. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)

So a simple message this week.... stay connected! How do we do that? God will make a way. Such is the insight of this weeks music selection. “God Will Make a Way.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Faith and Fear

 Time and again the biblical teaches, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). Yet fear as a pathway to wise living and proper relationship with God seems to us both unattractive and mysterious. How can fear of God be central to the life of faith, which is meant to draw us closer to God in love?

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are continuing a series of sermons that take a look at the First letter of John. Last week we were considering the topic “This is Love” (Sermon here). This week we'll be studying 1 John 4:7-21. Verse 18 tells us that for those who truly love God,“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Yet Paul, writes in Romans 4:16 about Abraham, who in his faithfulness is “the father of all believers,” and commends him for having a proper fear of God.

Professor Russell Reno, who was born in Baltimore and in later life became a professor of theology and ethics at Creighton University, writes about how Scripture identifies three types of fear, that play very different roles in faithful discipleship.

1. Worldly fear that can diminish human life.

We are aware that we can be destroyed by human sinfulness, powerful institutions, and natural processes beyond our control. Of course we should plan our lives with care (Proverbs 8:12) and have a healthy fear of the legitimate power of authorities (Romans 13:3). But Reno writes that worldly fear too often “debilitates, paralyzes, and undermines our faithfulness” and that “the kind of justice that emerges out of trembling anxiety, is outward and unstable.” This is the kind of fear that Jesus sought for us to be released from. Jesus invites us to; “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:26-27)

2. Spiritual fear of God’s judgment that directs us away from sin and toward righteousness.
We should grieve over our sins. Our sins not only destroy our relationship with God but also our relationships with each other. They directly contradict the two great commandments given to us by Jesus, that we love God and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Paul reminds us that sin always exacts a price from us and writes in Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God's judgment finds expression in our lives when we observe how sin wrecks, pollutes and makes a mess of all that we try to do.

3. A lasting, heavenly fear that honors God’s holiness and love.
It is fitting and right to experience a sense of awe in the presence of a Holy God. Scripture invites us to die to our sinful selves, and be awake to how God can transform our lives. Reno writes. “The eternal and unfathomable difference between God and creature explains the everlasting fear that is consistent with a love that draws us ever nearer.... Our confident faith in [Christ’s] saving death is entirely consistent with a fearful sense of the depths into which He went on our behalf, depths from which we turn away in shuddering, instinctive horror... As the old spiritual says of the cross, ‘It causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

Let us pray that God will help us have a trust in God's love that casts out any and all debilitating fear! For some music Zach Williams sings “Fear Is a Liar.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Reflected Love

I am old enough to remember some of the first color photographs that were a result of spaceships traveling to the moon. What an amazingly colorful and vibrant place the earth seems from outer space. It is quite a site to behold, with its mixture of whites and blues and browns.

In a meditation on “Loving because He first loved us” Rev. Charlie Handren, of Elk River, Minnesota, reminds his readers that the reason the earth can be seen in space is because the light of the sun pulses toward it and then, to some extent, reflects back into space.

He writes “This is called “albedo” or the rate of reflectivity. But did you know that a portion of the sun’s light that hits the earth actually travels back to the sun? If you were standing on the sun you would not be able to see it because the light of the sun would overwhelm it, but it would be there nonetheless.”

Just as the earth only shines because it receives light from the sun, and then sends back a portion of that light to the sun, so we love God because God first loved us. The love with which we love God, is but a dim reflection of the love with which God first loved us. The love of God is a self-generating, independent, and ever flowing love; our love is an other-generated, dependent, and reflected love.

We sometimes make the mistake of believing that the love of God is something we have to earn by making ourselves worthy of being a child of God. The problem with such a notion of “Becoming good enough” is that none of us can ever be that good. The holiness of God is as far from our attainment as the sun is from the earth!

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been looking together at the First Letter of John. In his first couple of chapters John talks a lot about the ability of sin to ruin everything. It ruins our relationship with God. It ruins our relationship with each other. Yet sin has a remedy. That remedy is nothing less that the love we find through Jesus Christ. He died to forgive us our sins, and was raised to give us new life. His love is made manifest in our hearts through the action of the Holy Spirit. (Our sermon from last week “Sin's Remedy” can be found here.)

In John's remaining chapters he talks less about and sin and more about love. This week we take a look at 1John 3:16-24. How do we become more loving? His suggestion is that we do so through reflection. By focusing on the love that God has for us, so we understand that we are called to reflect that love, to each other. As we apply ourselves to doing so, then God's love shines in our hearts and helps us walk in the light!

God's light and love are so much greater than anything we can attain by ourselves. But by focusing on God, we become reflectors of Christ's love. By applying the light of scripture to our lives, not only do we gain personal enlightenment, but we become a hope and help to others. By opening our hearts to God's light through worshiping together, we have an opportunity to become communities of faith that can have a significant impact for good within the communities in which we live, move and have our being!

For some music, Hillsong sing Graham Kendrick's “Shine Jesus Shine.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Humility and Pride

One of the many things that can block our experience of the love of God is pride. The kind of intellectual pride that thinks that, no matter what everybody else may say, we know better. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are following a series titled “Sin, Forgiveness and Love” (Messages from the First Letter of John.)

Last week we talked about “Walking in the Light” (sermon here). This week we look at 1 John 3:1-10. A group of folk who John warns his readers about, were known as “Gnostics.” “Gnosticism” is a multi layered belief system that offers to its adherents “Secret wisdom.” The Greek word literally meant “knowledge.”

Over the centuries of its existence the Christian faith has intrigued some of the greatest thinkers known to humanity. For some, such as C.S. Lewis, a significant part of their faith journey was wrestling to understand how their knowledge of the world, could relate to an understanding of God. In an essay titled “God in the Dock” he talks about how, having come to faith, there were certain areas where he encountered resistance to the Christian message in those he sought to share his beliefs with.

The title of his book came from the observation that, instead of God being considered as being the judge, the modern person judged God (Hence “God is in the dock'). He confesses that before being a person of faith, such was his own approach. It is an act of humility to accept that ones own intellect may not be able to unravel every secret of the universe. Pride tells us we can know it all without need for revelation. 

He also recognized something that Johns first letter reminds us of. Pride is related to sin. Lewis felt that some he sought to debate with did not hold to of any concept of sin. Not that sin was absent in their lives, but the thought, “I’m a sinner,” was simply not present. There was no guilt, so the Christian message of forgiveness just didn't mean anything.

One of the problems that John saw in the lives of the “Gnostics” was that their belief system led them to dismiss sin as being something that drove their actions. They rationalized their actions, and insisted that they were above the law, because they knew better. Some of them even interpreted the idea that Jesus had done away with sin, meant that sin didn't matter anymore, so they could do whatever they pleased.

He counteracts their argument in 1 John 3:4-5 “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that He (Jesus) was revealed to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.

John is telling them, “You really don't want to underestimate that sin thing. It's like a bomb waiting to go off in your life. It will cause you to be blinded by pride and take away your desire for God's love to redeem you and save you. It will take from you the light and joy that could be yours in Christ.”

I am thankful to God for those who offer an intellectual understanding of faith. But I also recognize that knowledge, if not receive with humility, can lead to the kind of pride that places “God in the Dock,” rather than reveals to us our need of Christ's love to recreate and redeem us from our sin.

Thankfully, God's love is greater than sin. Acknowledging “God knows best” opens the way to experience God's love!

For some music, a song by Michael W. Smith, “Never been Unloved!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Walk in the Light

For our Post-Easter services here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are taking the theme “Sin, Forgiveness and Love (Messages from the First letter of John).” The first in our series will reflect upon 1 John 1:1 – 2:2 and be titled “Walk in the Light.”

John's first letter has many similarities with the Gospel of John. Themes of darkness and light appear throughout both books. Likewise both speak a lot about how love is the ultimate manifestation of God's presence among us, and how we, as compromised human beings, find the task of loving incredibly difficult.

The reason for our difficulty is identified as “sin.” We have an inbuilt tendency to prefer the darkness over the light. This affliction steals away from us the joy that could be ours in Christ. The solution that is offered is to “Confess our sins.” 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

One way to think of confession is to see it as admitting to something. That we admit to ourselves, to each other and to God that we are messed up and need all the love and hope and healing and forgiveness that God offers to us at the Cross of Jesus Christ. When we take that step, God offers us the presence of the Holy Spirit as a comfort and a helper and a Guide.

In both the gospel of John and letters of John, the Greek word used to describe the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete.” In general Greek the word “Paraclete” meant “A legal advocate, or counsel for defense, an intercessor, or a helper.” In the New Testament the word is usually translated as “Comforter”, “Helper” or “Advocate.”

So the solution to sin, is firstly to admit that we are sinners, secondly, to realize that the only hope for us is to trust in God to get us out of the mess we have made of things, and thirdly, to understand that such is exactly the role the Holy Spirit can play in our life.

The gospel and letters of John relate all of this to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In particular His death and resurrection, the core of the Easter message. He died for our sins. He was raised to bring us new life. (Last weeks Easter Message “Bang, Woosh, Kappow” can be found here)

John invites us to walk in that light. To walk in the light of the revelation of Christ. To walk in the light offered to us through the Holy Spirit. To walk in the light of God's love, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. And God promises, that when such is our hearts desire, God will help us with every step we take. Thanks be to God!

For some music, a song that ties many of those themes together ... “Lord I Need You”by Matt Maher
The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.