By Kyle Remnant (Youth Ministry Co-Coordinator at the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren (PA))
James 1:12-18 “…do not be deceived…”
“Blessed is anyone who endures temptation.” The opening sentence gives us the two important parts to this passage: temptation and blessing. Temptation is the desire to want or do something that is usually wrong or unwise. Being tempted is not necessarily bad. It is human nature to desire certain things. Giving in to temptation is where we find ourselves in trouble. As James says in verse 15, “when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” That’s the bad news. But there is good news!
The scripture begins with a frequently used, but underappreciated word in today’s world. The best translation we have for the word “blessed” is “happy”, but when we talk about being truly blessed, we really mean a sense of deep gratitude and joy. An example: tacos make me happy, but God gives me great joy. James tells us that anyone who endures temptation, anyone who overcomes the things that separate them from God, will find deep joy. It is a blessing for us to know that God will not deceive us. Overcoming our temptations offers us an opportunity to grow closer to our God, from whom all blessings flow.
Good News: God will never deceive us! We find deep joy in choosing God over our temptations.
Discussion Question: What are some of the temptations in your life that pull you away from God?
Go one step further: Lent isn’t the only time we can give something up. Go a whole day without the distractions of your phone, tablet, computer, or TV. Disconnect from technology so you can connect more with God.
By Tina Brockman ( Former Youth Minister at the West Richmond Church of the Brethren (VA))
James 1:1-11 “…when you ask you must believe…”
This scripture calls us to persevere during trials. If you’re like me, you might think that endurance is something that comes immediately, and when it doesn’t, you might be upset. But the beauty of being in relationship with God, is that God doesn’t say we have to be joyful or pleasant or happy as we face trials.
The NRSV version of this passage says, “…ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” God is the one who provides the wisdom, the strength, and the endurance. All God asks is that we have faith and don’t doubt. For me, I find a lot of comfort knowing that I can feel sad, angry, or disappointed, and all the while God is waiting for me to ask what I need for God to sustain me through my trials. The spiritual endurance we build as we persevere through trials contributes to our spiritual maturity and opens up new opportunities for us to follow God and serve God’s people.
Good News: We don’t have to do it alone: God gives us wisdom!
Discussion Questions: What feelings typically come up for you when facing trials? Are you bringing all your feelings to God?
By Josiah Ludwick (Associate Pastor at Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren (PA))
2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
In our text for today, something that will happen near the end of time is described – and I gotta tell you, it sounds terrifying. Evil will run rampant over the earth and people will believe false teaching and will be led astray. It will seem as though all is lost and that evil has won. We are talking the end of Avengers: “Infinity War” kind of bad.
The world we find ourselves in today is also full of this same sort of uncertainty, fear and evil. It can be really easy to want to just give up and let all of the negativity win. As viruses run rampant, brother takes up arms against brother, floods and other natural disasters rage and the world seems more at odds than ever before, it could be easy to think we are nearing the end. But just as in the text, it’s pretty likely that this is not the end. Whether what our text describes is on the verge of happening or whether what we go through today is a mere drop in the bucket of what is to come, we have this for which to hope: Our Jesus has won the victory! And our Jesus has chosen each of us to be a part of that victory! This includes both the smaller everyday challenges we each face, as well as the obstacles we as the human race are facing in these times. So whatever that obstacle is in your path, whatever the enemy would use to try and steal your joy, whatever may bring worry fear or doubt your way, know this: Jesus has already conquered it. He has given the victory over it. He has chosen you for deliverance and chosen you to be a part of the victory! So what will you do with that opportunity? It’s my prayer that we all will accept our “chosen-ness” and our role in the victory that God is bringing about right now. That we will stand firm in Him. That we won’t give in to fear. That we will have hope, joy and peace amidst the storms raging all around us. That we will be motivated to be used for His purposes and also for our brothers’ and sisters’ good. That this will all be true of us, because we know our Jesus, with His all-powerful love, has overcome evil once and for all.
Good News: Our victorious Jesus has chosen each of us for deliverance and victory!
Discussion Question: In the midst of all the evil and uncertainty that surround us, how does it feel to know you are chosen and have been given the victory? How does this knowledge upend what the world would have us believe?
Go one step further: Take a minute and have a little praise party right where you are, acknowledging His victory amidst all the uncertainty that surrounds us. Even on the day when the Evil One comes in all his power, our Lord is Victorious!! The song below gets at this point. Feel free to find another you enjoy as well!
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 “…you faith is growing more and more…”
Brethren generally consider it inappropriate to boast. But wait a minute grandparent have a tendency boast. Paul, also had a tendency to boast, as we see from some of his writings, but he is boasting about something that we all could be proud to boast about. He was bragging on the church in Thessalonica, saying, “Grace and peace to you from God the father of the Lord Christ. We ought to always thank God for you brothers rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecution and trials you are enduring.” (NIV)
I am wondering what we as the Church of Brethren can brag about? What the youth and young adults in our Church can boast about? I am not just referring to bragging from the older folk’s point of view. I wonder also if we are creating room for our youth to brag about the church they are inheriting from us?
It would also be easy to hear someone brag about how they are surviving a pandemic but rarely would we hear them brag about other people’s faith and ability to hold on in the midst of this challenge.
Good News: God is the one that can brag about our faith and how it is growing. But we can be that answer by bragging on the church that is not built on pleasing those who provides finances to sustain it locally and globally, but to be able to brag about a church that we are building for the next generation.
Discussion Question: What are you excited about in your relationship with the Lord and you want your friends to know about right now? Can you brag about the church you are inheriting? If not, why not? What would you want to see in the church that would make you brag about it?
Go one step further: The church is Thessalonica had remained faithful to the gospel as they understood it, so, their faith was making an impact in their community, that was how the news got to Paul. As members of the church, when you increase your grasp of scriptural teachings, it will manifest itself in your growth. It would also impact your knowledge of God and the community.
For the church to remain faithful, we must be able to provide a unique ministry. As we find out way during the pandemic, what does the church bring to your life? What witness does your faith have in your community?
Like Paul, I pray for… that your heart be tuned and hinged on Christ, who brings the growth. Amen
By Ella Attelus (Church Secretary and Youth Leader at Miami Haitian Church of the Brethren(FL))
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 “…give thanks in all circumstances…”
“Wow, Is the virus really that serious? Do we really have to shut down?” “We have to stay home for 30 more days! No youth group, No graduation, virtual school, no senior activities.” “Is the mall really closed? I am so upset!” “How many people in my community tested positive? How many people is out of work? “This is getting scary! This cannot be life, God we need you!”
Who else’s mind is going a thousand miles a minute? Mine sure was. The world is at a stand still and no one knows what to do. No one knows what decisions to make. No one knows what is next. All that is going on around us makes it so easy for all the faith we have, to vanish. It makes it easy for our hearts to be troubled and gratitude now being out of our hearts. For some of us its easy to pray for some of us it is hard to pray. As believers in Christ sometimes we need a reminder of what God’s word says and what God’s will is.
In 1 Thessalonians the Thessalonians struggled with many afflictions, but they also had faith. Timothy, on behalf of them, expressed to Paul how grateful and thankful they were for him and still had faith amid what was going around them (1 Thessalonians 3:4-10). Paul also expressed his gratitude to the people and at the same time giving them comfort and reminding them of the coming of Christ. Reminding them who they are in Christ, “…children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” He also tells them to encourage one another, “build each other up….to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5,11 &12). In his final Instruction to the Thessalonians Paul gives them comfort by telling them to rejoice always, stay in prayer and “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17)
The scripture parallels to what we are going through right now. Paul reminds me of our pastors, deacons, ministers, youth leaders, etc. who are always trying to find new ways to keep us connected spiritually. They are constantly calling us, sending texts, praying with us making sure our spirits are quenched. Just like Paul reminded the Thessalonians to encourage one another we must also do the same for the leaders who are in the position to seek the discernment of God on our behalf. Paul also reminds us to acknowledge those who work hard among us, the essential workers. Those in the Front lines, the scientist, nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, police officers, fast food workers, etc.
Good news: We must thank God that these people are here making sure we have all the essential things that we need. We must stay focused, not lose faith, praise God, pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for us.
Go one step further:
Prayer Activity: Daily Thanksgiving Materials: Small Basket or Bowl, Paper, pencil/pen Instructions: -Think about all the people you want to thank God for. The essential works, your pastor, a church leader, family member, etc. -Take a few sheets of paper cut it in big or small pieces (depends on the amount of people) -Write a name on each paper, fold each paper into a few folds, place them in a bowl or basket -Shake the bowl/basket Place bowl/basket on nightstand or near door -Every night or every morning as you pray and in worship with God. Pick 1 name out of the bunch and pray for them, thank God for them.
By Joy Murray (Coordinator of Children, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Virlina District)
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 “…let us be alert and self-controlled.”
1 Thessalonians was written to encourage a rather new congregation (possible around 2 years old). The “day of the Lord” that Paul talks about is Jesus’ second coming that He told them about in John 14:3. Since Jesus ascended into Heaven, people have been anxiously (in a good way), expecting His return and trying to predict when He will come again. Paul is reminding them that this coming will happen unexpectedly. All too well, we understand how our plans for what will happen in the days ahead, may change! God’s ways and timing are not the same as ours (see Isaiah 55:8-9, Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8). Paul did not want them (or us) to be caught off guard. When all seems to be going well, it will happen somewhat unexpectedly – as unexpectedly as coming home one night to find a thief at your house (you know it could happen, but you don’t really expect it). Paul warns us to be alert. Be aware of your surroundings and ready to quickly respond. Again, this is something we are becoming accustomed to doing anyway, these days. He urges us to have self-control. Don’t do what you want to do, just because you want to. Have control over your impulses, desires and emotions. We are reminded to trust God and seek His will, and He will lead us. (Proverbs 3:5-6). Choosing to do God’s will instead of your own is self-control. Oftentimes, when someone is going to do something they know is wrong, or shady, they will choose the darkness of night to try to do it, thinking they have less chance of being caught. That is the opposite of how we, as Christians should be acting. We are protected by God’s armor of faith and love and we have as our hope, the helmet of salvation. Jesus died so we can spend eternity with Him. Let’s share this Good News with everyone! Let’s have a strong relationship with God! Let’s encourage and build one another up!
Good News: Jesus wants us to spend eternity with Him, so be ready, alert and self-controlled!
Discussion Question: Think about how you feel when you are preparing for someone special to come and visit. What do you be sure you do or don’t do? How do you prepare for them? Who do you call to let them know about your special visitor? Have you told that person about Jesus? Are you ready for Jesus?
By Andy Duffey (Pastor at the Antioch Church of the Brethren (VA))
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 “…we will be with the Lord forever…”
Resurrection is complicated. Its about looking backwards (Jesus’ resurrection). It’s about looking forwards (Our own eternal resurrection). And it’s also about looking around. Resurrection is happening all around!
When Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, one of his goals was to encourage folks living under pressure. He wanted to remind them that whatever life was like for them NOW, it would not ALWAYS be that way. What Jesus started when he left that tomb behind is still going on. Death will not have the last word. Life does. God does. Love does! So we have this amazing life to look forward to, not just everlasting life, but life “with God,” who is by nature, perfect love. No more death. No more evil. No more shame. This is the vision Paul uses to give hope…
Good News: No matter what pressure we face, Jesus’ resurrection promises us life with God forever, beginning now!
Discussion Question: What do you hope life with God will be like? How can you begin living “life with the Lord” right now?
Go one step further: Spend some time imagining life in perfect relationship with God and God’s new creation. Draw a picture of what you imagine life will be like in the new creation. Picture your resurrected self. Picture God/Jesus/the Spirit. Picture the rest of the world. Place this picture somewhere to remind you of the hope we have, even when times are hard.
By Jason Haldeman (Minister of Faith Formation at the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren (PA))
1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 “…may the lord make your love increase and overflow…”
In this section of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he is remembering those he had spent time with in Thessalonica. He writes to them about how he had been missing them and worried, however, he had just received word from Timothy that they are doing well. This makes Paul happy and he wants to continue to encourage and support them. He says “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else”. Paul offers this prayer of encouragement to people he loved and wanted to be near to, but was unable to be with them. Many of us find ourselves in a similar situation today, longing to see one another perhaps a friend, or family member but are unable to do so. The wonderful thing is that God’s love knows no bounds and while separation of geography or “stay-at-home” orders may keep us physically distanced, the love we may hold for one another cannot be contained or confined. May we be reminded that when we feel lonely or do not have enough energy or love to give out to others, we can always turn to God as the ultimate source. God is the ever-flowing stream, the bottomless well, the never-ending faucet of love, because God is Love. We can take the time to fill ourselves up on God’s love and let it overflow to those around us, everyone, near and far. This may not always be easy, but it does start with trusting God as our source of love and knowing that it is abundant and will never run out.
Good News: Love comes from God, it is an endless and infinite source that can fill us up and overflow from us to others.
Discussion Questions: What are ways that you can overflow God’s Love to those around you? How do you refill yourself on the Love of God?
Go one step further: Reach out and let your love overflow to someone. Who have you not spoken to or connected with in some time? Take a moment and send a random text, message or phone call to someone. Maybe a friend you have not seen in weeks or years? Perhaps you have a relative you have been meaning to call. Reach out! Cannot think of anyone to send a message to? How about sending an encouraging message to a random stranger and receiving one in return? Check out https://www.textforhumanity.com/ Let Love overflow, and know there is an endless supp to replenish you!
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 “Indeed you are our glory and joy.”
To those followers of Christ, the ones who had known him as man walking, eating, and sleeping, the weeks between the Resurrection and Pentecost must have felt barren. Jesus is risen. But to those who had touched the miracle of God made flesh that human Jesus was gone. Gone, too, were the miracles of the blind seeing, walking on water, and the water into wine. The world around them must have felt unchanged – the Roman Empire still an Empire, the poor and oppressed were still waiting for justice and freedom, and suffering continued in the forms of war and disease, and the dead did not rise from their tombs.
If it is easy to find faith in times of signs and miracles, then it is also easy to lose faith in ordinary times.
These are ordinary times. Covid-19, as it ravages the lives of individuals, the networks of families and communities, and whole countries is a uniquely devastating disease in our lifetimes. But history has been formed by plagues and pandemics. It was the diseases brought by Europeans that killed millions Indigenous peoples so that “the Americas” seemed ready and prepared for colonialization and settlement. It was the plagues in Europe before that brought an age of empire and domination. We are not the first peoples to pray, or not pray, in the midst of pandemics for miracles and hope and peace.
In the centuries since that first Pentecost, many denominations have searched to add meaning and richness to these weeks. Eastertide is named as a time for reflection and discernment as we await the gifts of the Spirit and the miracle of the good news spoken in every language. But this is a theology of hindsight. To those who would become the foundations of the early church, those weeks were not spent waiting for a predetermined outcome. They were a time much like ours when faith was like a darting, winged thing that flies from us when we run towards it. There is no certainty that is more than a figment. Nor can we be certain, if it is real, that we can catch it. This is not the same as being without faith.
Paul opened so many of his letters open with saying he missed the people he knew and had visited. I never understood that before this. I miss you. I know your lives and faiths are shaped by this pandemic, the loneliness of quarantines, the economic devastation, and the deaths of so many loved ones. It is hard to find the stillness of reflection or the strength of discernment. Still, it is spring and my children delight in the glory of creation. We catch ladybugs to set them free. Under the dry leaves there is a broken, sprouting acorn that looks like my hopeful heart. When we blow dandelion puffs, it is my prayers that catch the winds.
Good News: Through our fears and uncertainty we can have hope in Christ
Discussion Question: For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presences of our Lord Jesus when he comes? (1 Thessalonians 2: 19)
Go one step further: If you can, go out into the glory of creation and observe the hope in the details of spring. If you cannot go outside, draw or write or paint from the memory of spring that makes you feel free.
An excerpt from a sermon starter by LaDonna Nkosi, director of Intercultural Ministries, for the 2020 Pentecost Offering of the Church of the Brethren
“On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again, Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’” ~John 20:19-23
On Pentecost, we celebrate the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon peoples from many nations speaking different languages. This is the gift that Jesus promised in John 14 and 15 and Acts 1 that was made manifest in Acts 2. Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
In our Pentecost Offering theme scripture of John 20:19-23, Jesus appears to his disciples who are locked in and afraid. It is important to ask, “Why where they afraid? What was causing them to be locked in and afraid?”
Today in many towns, villages, cities, and nations, people are locked in and afraid. People are doing their best to protect themselves and their neighbors from being infected by COVID-19.
The Bible records that Jesus himself breaks into their fear and locked-in places, and stands among them. This, my friend, will preach!
Jesus comes to us in our places of need, places of impossibility, places of uncertainty, and he himself stands among us, saying, “Peace be with you.”
What are the places where we need God to breathe on us? What are the places where you personally need Jesus himself to stand with you and breathe?
As we approach Pentecost, may we all receive a breath of fresh air from Jesus and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit.