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Richard Gardner
Dec 11, 2020
In Bible Study
https://youtu.be/XUtHVmXoFrg It is hard to believe somedays that Christmas is so close. This has been a very unusual year, but like every other before it (or yet to come), the days move on and the cycle of seasons continues. Each of us has special memories of Christmas time, many I am sure are about family and friends who come together at this time of year. Even though we may have differences of opinion, political views, some have longstanding arguments and feuds, at this one time of year we try to put them aside for the sake of something greater. In the very first Christmas celebration, we see this same thing occurring. The three magi came from far in the east to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They weren't Christians, not even Jews. The Bible doesn't say exactly what religion they followed, just that they came from far away. The very first Christmas celebration was about bringing together people. Traditionally we give gifts, similar to the magi who came to Jesus in the manger. Each gift we think long and hard to try and convey a special meaning, hoping for a sense of joy and happiness to come when they are unwrapped. John 3:16 teaches us that God sent Jesus as a gift to us, because of the love God has for each and every person on Earth. This year, how will we each remember this gift? We often hear the phrase, it's not the gift, but the thought that counts. Jesus came to us on Earth out of love, the thought of Jesus ministry is love, and love was the topic of almost everything which was taught. Through this love, Jesus told the disciples, and us, to go out and make disciples of all nations, sharing that love with everyone regardless of what might be there which keeps us apart. This fast approaching Christmas season, how will we each live out this calling to not only share the love but to work towards bringing together different people?
Love: An Advent Devotion content media
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Richard Gardner
Dec 04, 2020
In Bible Study
The season of Advent has begun!!! For many of us, this marks the time each year when we are officially allowed to begin decorating the house. While the "decoration police" don't actually exist, we tend to hold off on our celebratory decorations until we feel it is the proper time. The Christmas tree is probably the most common decoration in North America to be found in our homes this time of year, I know that our tree has been up and decorated for over a week now and it has always been a time for the family to join together as we pull the decorations out of storage and bring cheer to our home. One particular year that I remember as a child, our tree was toppled over by an errant cat who had climbed up inside the tree. The result was devastation, many of the treasured ornaments were destroyed that day. As we swept up the mess that was left in the wake of calamity, my mother reminisced about many of those ornaments. Some passed down from her mother, or grandmother, or my father's. Some were gifts from friends and family who had traveled and brought back mementos for the tree. There was a great deal of history in our tree it seemed. Trees are also traditionally used to represent our families, in the form of the family tree. The book of Matthew in our scriptures continues the tradition of detailing the family tree in its beginning and tells us how Jesus came to be amongst us. For the most part, it is as expected, full of men who came before, but if you read it carefully you will find several women listed there as well. Not only are these women not your typical royal family members, but they were also often from other nations and some had occupations that we might find embarrassing. I don't know why these people were included in the list, but I think that the author was trying to show that Jesus didn't come from a pure line of Jewish people, that others were represented as well. Jesus came to all of us, not just a select group of people. As we approach the season celebrating Jesus' birth, it is important to remember the diversity which is represented. This Christmas season, how will you celebrate the many paths that came together on that cold winter morning that our savior was born?
Trees: An Advent Devotion content media
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Richard Gardner
Nov 26, 2020
In Bible Study
https://youtu.be/DVlSvyk_FCs We have reached the fourth and final chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Phillipa. Most of this chapter is concerned with Paul’s final greetings and shout outs to various members of the church and of the Christian community as a whole, but there are two notable mentions right at the beginning. Paul calls out to Euodia and Syntyche who have struggled alongside Paul in the work of the gospel. This is important, not as much in this particular letter, but of Paul’s writing as a whole. There are a great number of passages which portray women in a subservient role, perhaps the best example of this is in his letter to Timothy where he writes: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she is to keep silent” It is a very disappointing statement to read today, especially when we find it in the scriptures. Paul seems to go back and forth in his support of women in ministry, and for many years the arguments against women held sway. Throughout the time between Paul’s writing and today, many have argued against Paul’s decisions, and we can see the result in the many women who are called and accepted as ministers, not only in the United Church of Canada but in other denominations as well. Perhaps one of the strongest arguments against Paul’s seeming renunciation of female ministers was raised by Domenica Narducci da Paradiso. As a result of a divine revelation she received, she pointed to Paul’s own writings in 1 Corinthians 1:25-29, where Paul tells the church that God’s most foolish actions are far wiser than our own human wisdom. Later in 2nd Corinthians 3:17, Paul writes, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” and combined the two statements call for anyone whom God calls to whatever task, to be viewed as proper. Who are we to argue against the will of the Creator? And so how are we to interpret the wisdom and teachings of Paul? Certainly, there is a great deal we can learn in these scripture passages, but we must also keep two things in mind. First, Paul is firmly rooted in the time and society in which he lived. While he had escaped, or partially escaped, the teachings of the traditional Judaic church, it was still a great influence for many of the people in the early Christian church. Just as Paul learned and grew beyond those earlier teachings, so do we grow beyond what was taught before us as well. Already in the days of Paul, we can see the sacrifices needed to obtain forgiveness are abolished, the tradition of circumcision is no longer needed, and many of the old traditional rites and ceremonies are somewhat outdated. Anyone who reads through the book of Leviticus would find the punishments listed there as barbaric, and it is unacceptable for us to stone, burn, mutilate, or complete any of these laws in the way they are described. If society can rise above what came before during those early days, we can also do the same in our days. Second, although Paul’s letters that we find in our scriptures today were not really written for us. They were all written to churches, communities, and individuals in Paul’s world. They contain such a great volume of wisdom that they were chosen to be included in the Bible. But we also need to remember that some of the letters which went back and forth between Paul and the churches are lost forever, and some that still exist were not part of the bible. What we read in these passages is possibly only a portion of a conversation that was going on. It is like hearing someone talking on the phone, we only get one side of the conversation, and even then we have no idea what happened before or after. With this in mind, it is possible that some of the things that Paul writes about are not general but directed at answering specific questions that came up before in earlier correspondence. But I think I am getting away from Philippians, so let’s have another look at chapter 4 with this in mind before we finish for today. Paul is closing his letter with final well wishes, asking the church to continue doing the work that is going on and to not worry but trust in God. There are also many other people, places, and events that Paul brings up. This is again evidence that this is a letter to a specific group of people, at a specific point in time. Does this mean that it has nothing for us within? Of course not, but we need to be careful to not assume also that it is entirely applicable to us. What is the point of Paul’s letter you might ask? Well, that is entirely the point. Well, maybe not entirely, but part of the point. To ask. To question, to ponder, to meditate upon, and to learn. Jesus tells us, “ask, and it will be given; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened.” Asking questions is not an absence of faith, but is a way to build our faith. We may not ever fully understand the meaning of God’s message to us in this lifetime, but unless we explore it, we will miss out on the opportunity to grow.
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Richard Gardner
Nov 19, 2020
In Bible Study
How many of you have heard the term, today is the first day of the rest of my life? Today we are continuing our reading and study of the book of Philippians, and concentrating on chapter three. Paul is alluding to this very phrase in his writing. No matter what he thought was good in the days that have passed, all the work and tasks completed so that he would receive the blessings of a place in heaven, have been of any value. Before his conversion, Paul was a devout Jew. Not just a devout Jew, but a member of the largest tribe, that of Benjamin. And he was a Pharisee, that same group of people who took such great offense at Jesus ministry that they had him killed on the cross. Paul was known for persecuting the followers of Christ, causing untold amounts of pain and misery, and in many cases death amongst those early Christians. Paul is telling us all of these things, not because he is proud of his past actions, but to show all the effort he went through in looking for purpose and true joy in his life. The part of society he inhabited told him that you must do all these things if you strive for a relationship with God. Obey all the laws without question, make the proper sacrifices and atonements, and eternal life will be yours. But Paul didn’t find the joy he was hunting for. Not until his conversion. Such great value in life does Jesus' teaching and ministry give Paul, that now everything else is rather worthless. Even more, the many things that he once saw in his “plus column” are actually in his “negative column”. They didn’t make him a better person, in many cases, it was exactly the opposite. Paul once thought he was a very righteous man. Like Paul, we often find ourselves living in a way that society tells us is correct, but still goes against the Gospel which Jesus taught. We place more emphasis on earning money, having a good job, and spending the cash we earn and the free time we have trying to please ourselves. Fancy cars, nice clothes, designer handbags, a cottage to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. But do these things truly bring us joy in our lives? Are we missing out on a greater joy by trusting in our own righteousness, and not the righteousness that comes from knowing Christ? Paul tells us that the ultimate purpose of righteousness is so that we can know Jesus more deeply. In living our lives modeled after the teachings of Christ, we come to know him more intimately as we see in concrete fashion what happens when in our lives we apply the gospel earnestly. Paul lists show off his checklist of past achievements as a way to show that even he did not start out as God intended, but in accepting what has come before, Paul also shows us how any of us can be changed if we listen and act upon the word of God. Society might have judged the old Paul as a very good man, Paul himself gives a very different pronouncement of his past deeds. As we look back on what we have done with our lives up until today, and what we plan to do in the days yet to come, where do we look for that needed reference to judge how well we have lived? Paul draws on his personal experience to urge the Philippians to trust in the righteousness that is theirs by faith in Christ that they might enjoy their relationship with God, experience His power in his life, and have the motivation to press on because of the assurance of God’s favor? In each of our lives, we will find things that once seemed so important and needful but ended up being not quite so important. This is an inevitable part of being human, we live according to time, and our growth progresses only as the days and years roll by. Instead of judging what we do according to the standards of those around us, we should instead ask ourselves How does the righteousness that is from God achieve what you are trying to achieve by your own efforts? Today truly is the first day of the rest of our lives, and like Paul, it is never too late to have a change of heart and reassess what we are truly yearning for and how we can achieve those goals.
Philippians Chapter 3 content media
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Richard Gardner
Nov 11, 2020
In Bible Study
https://youtu.be/8kf0IXfdA98 Paul's letter to the church continues, and he now calls on specific people in the church to pay attention. His list: -Anyone who is a Christian, or a follower of Jesus -Anyone who has been touch by the love of God -Anyone who has the holy spirit living within them -Anyone who has compassion or sympathy in their hearts This list should, I think, include all of us. After naming the people who should be paying close attention to this passage, Paul continues on and suggests that all of us on the list live our lives and treat every relationship with the same mindset as Jesus had. That is, to do nothing out of selfish or vain conceit, to value others more than yourself, to put the interests and ambitions of others ahead of your own. In the example of Jesus' life, we see a practical example of humility and selflessness. Jesus who while in heaven enjoyed all the aspects of the divine: omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, the things we ascribe to God. All of this was left behind when Jesus voluntarily came to us on Earth to share in the pain, suffering, hatred, humiliation, and even death, in order to make possible our redemption. The goal of Jesus' ministry was to create a bridge between humanity and God and to allow us to rebuild a broken relationship. How do we respond to Paul's call to humility and selflessness in our own lives? How many of us feel that we are above serving others, that the comfort and wellbeing of those who surround are less important than our own? For us, humility is in serving those in our lives and community, wearing a mask, keeping socially distant, washing our hands. Outside of our pandemic existence, there is still more to do as well, and keeping the life of Jesus, through His sacrifice, service, submission, and suffering, in mind will aid us in becoming more like Christ.
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Richard Gardner
Nov 06, 2020
In Bible Study
Paul is facing a dilemma, and he must decide between the work and the reward. Paul looks towards death as the time when he will both receive the rewards that have been promised and a deeper relationship with Christ which we all long for, but to remain here on Earth his work supporting the church and the followers of Jesus. Paul’s convictions win out and he decides that it is far more important to continue the work here. We still face this same dilemma today; do we seek our rewards or follow our convictions in the work we do here? Take for example our society as it lives through the pandemic. We are separated from one another in order to work towards a healthy reunion, we wear masks in public even if they are uncomfortable, even our shopping is affected. A selfish desire to reap the rewards would lead us to ignore all these restrictions so that we would be free to do what we wish, but our convictions to serve others leads us to not only follow these restrictions but to rejoice in them and the good things they promise for others. I invite you all to join in the conversation as we ponder Paul’s message of self-sacrifice in the service to others. How can we as individuals and as the community of Christ’s followers show our dedication in living out our calling of service to others? Perhaps some ideas of acts we can do to serve our communities will come up. Who would be willing to bake bread for one of our neighbors, or even more, for a stranger we have yet to meet? Even something simple like a phone call to someone who is feeling left out of things is an important service to them. What rewards do we see in the future? We all seek a time in which we will be in a deeper relationship with God, but there are also more concrete and visible rewards. Someday soon we will be together in our sanctuary, and able to greet one another in person. How can we work towards this goal, and what can we do to make this hopefully soon to come reunion even better?
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Richard Gardner

Richard Gardner

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