Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Week Six: December 28, 2015 - January 3, 2016 - Luke 2:36-52

Three years ago, I had an overwhelming experience of God's presence.  Standing in the nighttime air at the foot of what is left of Herod's Temple Mount in Jerusalem, I was overcome by the Spirit of God as I glared upward at the huge, ancient stones.  My mind was flooded with the thoughts of countless ancestors in faith who had encountered The Most High God in that place.  Priest, prophets, kings, and commoners had received grace and witnessed the glory of God for hundreds of years in the Temple at Jerusalem.  God dwelled with the people in the Holy of Holies within the Temple...set apart from them, yet with them.

My wife took this picture of the moment.  I'm in the center-left wearing the red/maroon shirt and khaki pants.

Yielding to God in prayer with my hand against the ancient stones, I sensed the presence of God with me in a profound way.  I poured out my heart to God in awe, in praise, and in humble recognition of God's grandeur and love.

Upon returning to the United States, I began realizing that God desires for me to experience His presence on a daily basis.  While the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is most assuredly "Holy Ground," the presence of God through the Holy Spirit makes every physical space "Holy Ground" and every moment an opportunity to experience the presence of God.

Our Scripture this week tells us of two people who walked closely with God.  First, we read about Anna, a prophetess, who spent her life worshiping God at the Temple.  For what must have been close to sixty years, "she never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying." (Vs. 37) How incredible...her life was spent in worship, abiding in the presence of God.

Second, we read about Jesus, God in the flesh.  After accompanying His earthly parents to the Feast of the Passover at the age of twelve, He wanted to stay in the Temple even as His parents traveled back home.  His parents "found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions." (Vs. 46) Jesus says to His alarmed parents, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Vs. 49)  The focus of Jesus' life was abiding with the Father.

I believe both Anna and Jesus teach us that a Jesus-shaped faith practices the presence of God.  Brother Lawrence, a lay member of a Carmelite Monastery in Paris during the seventeenth century, understood that a person can find the holy presence of God within the ordinary routine of life.  Brother Lawrence, whose daily tasks were to cook in the monastery kitchen, learned to do everything with a constant current of love toward God who is always present.  He said, "As often as I could, I placed myself as a worshiper before him, fixing my mind upon his holy presence, recalling it when I found it wandering from him. This proved to be an exercise frequently painful, yet I persisted through all difficulties."*

Anna, Jesus, and Brother Lawrence have much to add to our walk with God.
-What can Anna's fasting and praying night and day teach us about worship and devotion?
-What can Jesus' thirst to remain in the Temple teach us about our own desire for God?
-What can Brother Lawrence's practice of the presence of God teach us about conversing with God on a regular basis and doing everything in life with love toward God?

May the reading of this week's Scripture draw us closer to God and fuel our own life of prayer and worship.

*Brother Lawrence - The Practice of the Presence of God

Monday, December 21, 2015

Week Five: December 21-27, 2015 - Luke 2:8-35

So let's start this week at the end with the beginning in mind.  In verses 34-35, Simeon says to Mary, "This child (Jesus) is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

Here Luke tells us that Jesus' ministry is about the revealing of hearts.  When a person comes into the presence of Jesus, the true nature of his or her heart is revealed.  As John, the Gospel writer says, Jesus is "the light [that] shines in the darkness" and "the true light that gives light to every man." (John 1:5, 9)  A Jesus-shaped faith is identified primarily by heart transformation.  Recognize that this does not simply mean behavior modification.  Rather, Jesus has come to change who we are from the inside-out.

We witness heart transformation throughout this passage.

We see it first in the shepherds.  Who were they?  Better yet, we might ask, why are shepherds included in the story?  First of all, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, right?  The prophet Micah tells us in Micah 5:1-5 that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (vs. 2).  Verse four of this passage says, "He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth." Thus, Luke's inclusion of shepherds hearkens, perhaps, to the Micah prophecy itself.  Second, Luke includes shepherds to show that the the Gospel of Jesus includes the poor and low of status. However, Alfred Edersheim in his 19th century book, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, asserts that these may not have been any set of random shepherds.  Edersheim says these shepherds might have been the shepherds who watched the sheep destined for temple sacrifice in Jerusalem.

Edersheim says, "For, close by Bethlehem, on the road to Jerusalem, was a tower, known as Migdal Eder, the 'watch-tower of the flock.' For here was the station where shepherd watched their flocks destined for sacrifices in the temple. So well known was this, that if animals were found as far from Jerusalem as Migdal Eder, and within that circuit on every side, the males were offered as burnt-offering, the females as peace offerings. It seems of deepest significance, almost like the fulfillment of type, that those shepherds who first listened to angels' praises, were watching flocks destined to be offered as sacrifices in the temple. It is when we remember, that presently these shepherds would be in the temple, and meet those who came thither to worship and to sacrifice, that we perceive the full significance of what otherwise would have seemed scarcely worth while noticing in connection with humble shepherds."

The shepherds experience a heart transformation. They go from complete fear and terror at the vision of the angels to great rejoicing as they realize a Savior has been born for them.  So with whom did they share the good news?  If we take Edersheim's direction in this path we might conclude that the shepherds shared the good news of Jesus with people in the temple including Anna and Simeon which would have alerted them to look for Jesus as he was brought to the temple.  Edersheim says, "Thus the shepherds would be the most effectual heralds of the Messiah in the temple, and both Simeon and Anna be prepared for the time when the infant Savior would be presented in the Sanctuary."

The next to experience heart transformation is Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Mary's heart is filled with wonder (vs. 19) as she considers the coming of the shepherds and continues to ponder the truth that her child will be the Savior of the world.  Mary along with Joseph marvel again at the temple when Simeon takes the Messiah in his arms and praises God (vs. 33).  We might see ourselves in this passage as we, too, ponder how God's presence and faithful promises fulfilled in Jesus intersect what may seem natural or even mundane in our lives.

Simeon also experiences a heart transformation.  Simeon had spent his life expecting to see the Messiah (as revealed to him by the Holy Spirit - vs. 26).  Simeon is transformed from a seeker to a worshiper when he encounters the Messiah in the temple.  Can't you just imagine him holding the Messiah in his arms and praising God?  He was literally holding in his arms his own Savior! It is Simeon, as we saw in the beginning, who explains that Jesus will reveal the thoughts of many hearts.

So what about you and me?  Where do we encounter the heart transformation in this story?  I believe we find our answer in verse 21: "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived."

While circumcision in Judaism was a physical act, it was always meant to be a sign of what God was/is doing in the heart.

Consider these words: "Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." - Deuteronomy 10:16-19

Consider also: "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done - burn with no one to quench it." - Jeremiah 4:4

Finally, consider what the Apostle Paul says: "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." - Romans 2:28-29

Jesus came to circumcise the hearts of human bring light to darkness, to bring righteousness to unrighteousness, to bring hope to despair, to bring purity and holiness to the impure, and to bring life to the lifeless.

Origen in the third century says, "So, when he died, we died with him, and when he rose, we rose with him. Likewise, we were also circumcised along with him."

As we enter this final week of Advent and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us invite Jesus to fill our dark world with His light and to circumcise our hearts - giving us hearts of pure love for God and neighbor - giving us hearts of praise and worship that sing "Glory to God in the highest!"

Monday, December 14, 2015

Week Four: December 14-21, 2015 - Luke 1:67 - 2:7

The theme for this week is COVENANT.  Our salvation, given to us as a gift of grace through our Savior Jesus Christ, is an act of COVENANT-KEEPING by God.  Therefore, when our faith is shaped by Jesus, we live in COVENANT with God through Jesus Christ - living obediently to Jesus' commands to love God and love neighbor while recognizing God's complete faithfulness to keep COVENANT with us.

There are three ways (at least) we see COVENANT in this passage.

First, in the Benedictus*, Zechariah's words of prophecy (vs. 67-79), we see God's COVENANT-KEEPING with Zechariah.  Back in the early verses of Luke 1, an angel appeared to Zechariah and promised him (and Elizabeth) a son named John who would "turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God (vs. 16)."  In Zechariah's prophecy, Zechariah is foretelling what his newborn son will do as "the prophet of the Most High (vs. 76)."  Even before John is grown and begins his ministry and before Jesus is born, Zechariah praises God for bringing salvation to Israel.  We should keenly be aware that Zechariah understands God's faithfulness to him in the larger context of God's faithfulness to Israel.  Similarly, God's faithfulness to us is not for our sake alone.  God blesses us that we might be a blessing to others.

Second, in the Benedictus*, we see God's COVENANT-KEEPING with Abraham and David.  In vs. 72-73, Zechariah says, "Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our ancestor Abraham."  This is a reference to the COVENANT God makes with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 through which "all the families of the earth shall be blessed (vs. 3)."  In Luke 1:69, Zechariah says that God has "raised up a mighty savior (or a horn of salvation) in the house of his servant David."  Luke believes that John's ministry and Jesus' birth is a part of God's COVENANT-KEEPING with King David.  God had promised at least 800 years prior to Zechariah to raise up offspring for David and establish David's throne/kingdom as an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:16).  Although hundreds of years have passed, God did not forget the promise made to David.  This should be a boost to our own faith.  God does not forget the promises that bless our lives.

Third, in Luke 2:1-7, we see God's COVENANT-KEEPING with Israel and "all the families of the earth" in the birth of Jesus.  In Jeremiah 31:31-34, God speaks of a NEW COVENANT that will be made with Israel and Judah in which God will put his "law within them...writing it on their hearts (vs. 33)."  The NEW COVENANT would mean that everyone would know the Lord and their sins would be remembered no more (vs. 34).  Jesus brings this knowledge/relationship with God and complete forgiveness to the world through His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return to bring the fullness of His Kingdom to humanity.  As the Bible teaches us, we participate in this NEW COVENANT through our faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

If the language of COVENANT seems confusing, don't get lost in trees.  This is GOOD NEWS of the highest order!  God's faithfulness to Abraham, David, and Zechariah (men who have long passed from their earthly lives) also means that God is faithful to the NEW COVENANT that includes YOU!

God's faithfulness through COVENANT is also a reminder in this Advent Season that Jesus' promise to return is a promise that Jesus will keep.  The Apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 3:8-9, "But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance."

A few final thoughts for extra-credit: (1) There are more Old Testament references in the Benedictus* than can be pointed out in a short article like this.  However, take some time to compare these verses: Luke 1:76 = Isaiah 40:3 and Luke 1:78 = Malachi 4:2.  (2) Pay attention to Luke 1:80.  What does it mean that John was "in the wilderness?"  Could it be that John was active with the Essene community  near Qumran at the Dead Sea or at least familiar with their ministry?  Take some time this week to read about the Essenes who lived "in the wilderness."

*Benedictus - "The Song of Thanksgiving (Lk. 1:68-79) uttered by Zachariah for the birth of John the Baptist. In the Western Church it is sung liturgically at Lauds (Morning Prayer), whence it was taken over for Mattins in the Book of Common Prayer." - The Concise Oxford Dictionary of The Christian Church

Monday, December 07, 2015

Week Three: December 7-13, 2015 - Luke 1:46-66

The focus and theme for this week's Scripture is PRAISE. When our faith is shaped by Jesus, we live a life that continually PRAISES God.

So what is PRAISE?  PRAISE is the love that we give to God simply because of WHO God is.  In their book, Will You Worship, Ray Jones and Dino Senesi define PRAISE as our first act of worship (followed by Adoration, Confession, Listening, and Obedience). Page 46

Consider these verses that tells us about PRAISE:

Isaiah 43:21 - The people whom I formed for Myself, will declare My praise.
2 Chronicles 16:9 - For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.

In short, these verses tell us that we were created to PRAISE God and that God is looking for people who have hearts that belong to Him.

In Luke 1:46-66, Mary PRAISES the Lord in what is often referred to as The Magnificat* (see below). As you read this passage throughout this week, I want to encourage you to think about a few questions.

1. How does Mary describe God?  What are the names and adjectives that Mary ascribes to God?  Who is God that Mary offers to God her PRAISE?
2. What has God done and what is God doing that Mary lifts up PRAISE?

-As you consider these questions, how does Mary's PRAISE lead you into PRAISE of God?  Spend time this week giving PRAISE to God for WHO God is and for WHAT God has done/is doing.

Take note that Mary's song of PRAISE mirrors Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.  Read Hannah's prayer and consider the similarities between Hannah's prayer and Mary's PRAISE.

Also take note that Mary is not the only one to offer PRAISE in this week's passage.  Zechariah also offers PRAISE in Luke 1:64.  The first thing Zechariah does when the Lord opens his mouth is PRAISE God.

One final thought:  Origen in the third century writes that our PRAISE does not add anything to the Lord.  God is what God is.  However, PRAISE reshapes and forms our souls into the image of Christ.  In other words, PRAISING God makes the image of Christ larger or more dominant in our souls.

May the Lord bless you this week as you PRAISE God along with Mary and Zechariah!

*Magnificat. The song of praise (so called from the opening word of the Latin text) which the Blessed Virgin Mary sang when her cousin Elizabeth greeted her as the mother of the Lord (Lk. 1:39-55). From an early date it has been the canticle of Vespers in the Western Church; it is included in the Evensong in the Book of Common Prayer.  In the Greek Church it forms part of the Morning Office. Some scholars argue that Luke originally attributed it to Elizabeth and not to the Blessed Virgin Mary. - The Concise Oxford Dictionary of The Christian Church

Monday, November 30, 2015

Week Two: November 30-December 6, 2015 - Luke 1:26-45

Many of you asked me last week whether Luke was a Jew or a Gentile.  Eugene Peterson gives us an answer in his "Introduction to Luke" in "The Message" that also tells us of Luke's interest in including the marginalized and the dispossessed in the focus of Jesus' ministry.  Peterson writes: "Luke is a most vigorous champion of the outsider.  An outsider himself, the only Gentile in an all-Jewish cast of New Testament writers, he shows how Jesus includes those who typically were treated as outsiders by the religious establishment of the day: women, common laborers (sheep-herders), the radically different (Samaritans), the poor."

This week we pick up at verse twenty-six with Gabriel's foretelling of the birth of Jesus to Mary (the Annunciation) and Mary's response to this amazing news.  Here are a few things to consider as you read:

1. God sends the angel Gabriel to Mary who lives in Nazareth in Galilee (just as God sent Gabriel to Zechariah).  Verse twenty-seven tells us that Mary is a virgin pledged to be married to Joseph.  Here, Luke is sure to tell us that Joseph is a descendent of King David.  Later, in verse thirty-two, Gabriel tells Mary that her son will be given the throne of David and that his "kingdom will never end."  Why is this important?  This is important because God had promised David in 2 Samuel 7:16 that he would have an everlasting kingdom.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise to David and to God's people as a whole.

-Note that Gabriel tells Mary: "Do not be afraid."  The message of God throughout the Bible is that we are not to fear because God loves us.  I'm reminded of God's words to Joshua in Joshua 1:9 - "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (NIV)  David says in Psalm 27:1 - "The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?"

2. In the same way that Gabriel tells Zechariah the name that is to be given to John (the Baptist) in Luke 1:13, Gabriel tells Mary that she is to name her son Jesus in Luke 1:31.  Jesus' name is of Hebrew origin (Yeshua) and means "God saves."  Matthew's Gospel links Jesus' name with Immanuel from Isaiah 7:14 which means "God with us."  Isaiah 7:14 says, "Therefore the Lord himself with give you a sign: The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (NIV)

3. Mary's obvious response is to ask : "How will this be since I am a virgin?"  Gabriel answers in verse thirty-five by explaining the work of the Holy Spirit in her life to bring divine conception.  The angel explains that "nothing is impossible with God." (vs. 37) From the beginning, God, the Creator of life, has done the impossible and the miraculous from a human standpoint.  God is not limited as we are limited.  Jesus will be both "Son of God" - through divine conception and "Son of Man" - carried and born though a human mother.

-Prudentius, a Latin Poet and hymn writer of the fourth century, writes these words:

"A heavenly fire engenders him, not flesh
Nor blood of father, nor impure desire.
By power of God a spotless maid conceives,
As in her virgin womb the Spirit breathes.
The mystery of this birth confirms our faith
That Christ is God: a maiden by the Spirit
Is wed, unstained by love; her purity
Remains intact; with child within, untouched
Without, bright in her chaste fertility,
Mother yet virgin, mother that knew not man.
Why, doubter, do you shake your silly head?
An angel makes this known with holy lips.
Will you not hearken to angelic words?
The Virgin blest, the shining messenger
Believed, and by her faith she Christ
Christ comes to men of faith and spurns
the heart
Irresolute in trust and reverence.
The Virgin's instant faith attracted
Christ into her womb and hid him there till birth."
 - from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. III - Luke pages 15-16

4. Mary's response of faith is simple, yet profound. "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." - vs. 38  Upon visiting Elizabeth, her relative, Elizabeth says of Mary, "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" - vs. 45.  Mary's faith is an example to us of accepting God's guidance in our lives through the Holy Spirit especially when we do not understand how the Spirit is working.

As you read this week, consider your own faith in the Lord.  Are you willing to surrender to God's work in your life - putting God's desires for your life above your own?  Do you trust that God can do what is impossible?  Are you experiencing a situation that requires you to trust God daily without knowing how the Spirit is working?  How can Mary's faith encourage you in your present journey?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Week One - November 23-29, 2015 - Luke 1:1-25

This week, we wade into the Gospel of Luke as a whole and into the first twenty-five verses which introduce Jesus in a way that is completely unique to Luke. Below is a list of observations about the first twenty-five verses.

1. Luke is writing to Theophilus (vs. 4) as he also does in the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1). It is the opinion of Ambrose (Bishop of Milan and teacher of Augustine c. 333-397) that Theophilus represents a particular audience, a community of those who love God - the baptized and those to be baptized.  He writes, "So the Gospel was written to Theophilus, that is, to him whom God loves. If you love God, it was written to you. If it was written to you, discharge the duty of an evangelist." - Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - Volume III - Luke (ACCS)

2. Luke was a physician and companion of the Apostle Paul who is mentioned in the New Testament in Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14, and 2 Timothy 4:11.

3. Luke tells us that he received his account of Jesus from "eyewitnesses...of the word (vs. 2)" and writes "so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (vs. 4 NIV)."

4. Luke places Jesus in the historical period of King Herod of Judea (vs. 5).  Herod reigned in Israel until 4 BC.  Jesus was likely born in 6 BC and lived to 27 AD.

5. He tells us of two people who would become the parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Both of them are descendants of Aaron.  Zechariah serves in the priestly division of Abijah (read more in 1 Chronicles 24:1-10).  They were "upright" and "blameless."  This is important because we often say that there were no Jews who were able to fulfill the Law or fully live by the Torah.  Zechariah and Elizabeth are said to be blameless in this matter.

6. Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel (vs. 19) during his service at the temple in Jerusalem and told that he and Elizabeth will have a child in their old age.  This should remind us of the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 who are visited by divine beings and told that they would have a child in their old age. The child that Zechariah and Gabriel will have will come in the "spirit and power of Elijah".  This is a prophetic and messianic reference from Malachi 4:5-6 which states that the Prophet Elijah would come before the "great and dreadful day of the Lord."  Zechariah and Elizabeth's son will complete the ministry foretold in Isaiah 40:1-5 making ready a people prepared for the Lord.

7. The strong point of the first twenty-five verses is found in verses twenty-four and twenty-five.  Luke is trying to tell us something in these verses...about the nature of this Gospel account...about the One (Jesus) he will be writing about...and the ministry that Messiah Jesus will bring.  Elizabeth's words in verse twenty-five hearken to the same words of Rachel in Genesis 30:23 when she became pregnant with Joseph.  It also echoes the words of the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 25:8. Jesus will come to fulfill God's ministry of removing disgrace from humanity.

Question: how does this passage (especially the words from Elizabeth in verse 25) relate to John 2:1-11 where Jesus changes water into wine?  How is Jesus' purpose in the miracle at Cana similar to God's purpose of giving Elizabeth a child?

Challenge: Read Luke 1:1-25 slowly as many times as possible this week.  Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you each time you read.  What will God say to you through this passage?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Year In The Gospel Of Luke

Simpsonwood United Methodist Church is beginning a new, year-long sermon series starting Sunday, November 29, 2015 (the first Sunday in Advent).  The title of the series is "Luke: Seeking A Jesus Shaped Faith."  If you have come to this page looking for information on the series, you've come to the right place.

The premise of this series is that we should take a closer, sharper, deeper, and more-intentional look at the words of Jesus.  When we slow down our reading and take in Jesus' words, His words begin to transform our understanding and our actions.  The more we read Jesus' words and apply them to our living, the more our faith reflects the faith of Jesus.

Each week, we will study a short passage of Luke (no more than 25 verses).  On Sunday, the passage will be the focus of the sermon.  I want to encourage you to read the passage in your daily devotion as many days as possible before Sunday.

Each Monday by Noon, I will post ideas and questions about the passage for the week. I will also list other Scriptures that are connected with the passage.  My first post will be this coming Monday, November 23.  The first passage is Luke 1:1-25.

Please feel free to post questions and ideas in the comment section.  You can also subscribe to this blog at the bottom of this page by clicking "subscribe" so that you are automatically updated when there is a new post.

Thank you for joining us on this year long journey of developing a faith that resembles Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

True Freedom

Our congregation is searching for freedom in 2015.  This Sunday, January 25, we will begin a three-year journey together called "Freedom For The Future" through which we will seek to completely eliminate the long-standing financial debt of the church.  So many opportunities await us in mission as we become free from the bondage of debt.

On a deeper level, our search for freedom is a spiritual journey to become free from the bondage of sin.  In this first quarter, we are studying Exodus to learn how God redeems and leads His people to freedom. Moses, Miriam, and Aaron provide us with a lens through which we witness our own redemption in Jesus Christ.

Jesus made the greatest statement about becoming spiritually free:
          Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word,
          you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make
          you free." - John 8:31-32

Two verses later, Jesus says:
          "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin." - John 8:34

Human beings are enslaved to sin. Our bondage is stated clearly in Genesis 6:5 - The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.

The Good News is that God has provided us with a path to freedom through our Savior Jesus Christ.  The path is simple, but narrow.  It is the path of Jesus, the Word, the Word made flesh, the ancient way of God. As live into the Word, we find its truth and light dispelling the darkness of sin.

You can walk the path to freedom through grace.  Turn your focus to Jesus.  Tune your senses to the Word. Walk in love with the Redeemer.  You will find freedom and true life.  You will be a slave no more.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. - John 8:36

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Church = Preserving Or Expanding?

I recently came across a sentence that jumped out at me while reading History of Christianity in the Middle Ages written by Bishop William R. Cannon.  In describing the fall of the Roman empire, he said of the Eastern half of the empire, "it was busy preserving what it had rather than expanding into what otherwise it might have become." My soul was wrenched into conviction by these words.  This sentence could serve as a perfect description for the state of the Protestant Church in America today including the United Methodist Church.  We are good at preserving what we have and are quite busy at doing so.  We are less concerned, it seems, in expanding into what God otherwise might have us to become.

I think there can be a healthy balance between preserving and expanding as it relates to the church.  History, traditions, and even systems of "doing church" are necessary and even needed.  History grounds us into the continuous movement of God's Spirit and connects us with God's people throughout the ages. Tradition gives us identity and connects us with the catholic church.  The problem occurs when, instead of operating in balance, we neglect expanding into what God would have us to become for the sake of preserving what we have.

As I begin this New Year, I want to lead our local church to seek after God and what God might have us to become so as to find a balance between preserving and expanding.  My vehicle for this leadership is prayer.  I'm asking church leaders, church staff, and small group leaders to pray intentionally for the church every week while providing them with suggested prayer foci.  These prayers invite God to work deeply within us and to lead us outward in mission.

The longer I serve in ministry the more I realize the magnitude of my inability to "make things happen" in the church.  Only God can make the eternal and supernatural occur in the life of the church.  Dear God, help us to expand into what you would have us to become - all for your glory, and for the sake of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.