Tag Archives: change

Sometimes one needs reminding in order to move forward

First, let me restate that I am a Christian and that my denomination of choice is United Methodist. 

Also, let me include the framework of my personal study—a year-long Bible study that pairs an Old Testament reading with a New Testament reading. 

For my study, I am using the Wesley Study Bible (WSB) which is a ‘new revised standard version,’ that is considered the basis for Methodists even though I often read other translations like the New Living TranslationThe Message, and the New International Version.  

Why is this important?  Because I want to share a quote from the WSB notes that has stuck in my brain for a couple of weeks:

As individuals, families, and congregations evolve, growth entails finding meaningful ways to integrate the present with the past, to connect new members with those who have a long record of faithfulness, and to honor history while embracing change.  The weeping of the elders carries a moving double significance.  Their disappointment with the new construction is at once a sad refusal to welcome the future and an important challenge to a new generation that they have much to achieve to rival the community’s former glory.  Only the elders carry with them the historical memory of the community.  They are the only ones who can raise this criticism.  The combination of joy and sorrow reflects the multifaceted nature of the community, old and young, Jews of Babylonian and Persian origins, along with those from Jerusalem; lay and clergy, along with their differing hopes, fears, and expectations.  Out of this group characterized by difference more than similarity, once again, God will fashion a faithful people.  As Wesley notes, “The mixture of sorrow and joy here, is a representation of this world.  In heaven all are singing and none sighing; in hell all are wailing, and none rejoicing; but here on earth we can scarce discern the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping, let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”  (p.573)

The context for this study note is Ezra 3, especially verses 12 and 13:

But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many should aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish

the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away. (NRSV)

Reading Old Testament scriptures can be confusing as they are not necessarily written in a chronological order and the texts are written by different authors.  Therefore, reading the text takes discernment, especially prayerful discernment.

The context of the book of Ezra is summarized in the introductory notes of WSB helps:

Written sometime in the early period of Greek occupation of Israel’s land (after 332BCE), [the books of Ezra and Nehemiah] tell an idealized story of a reconstituted but small Jerusalem community threatened with obliteration by imperial rule, interethnic strife, and the abusive excesses of an elite class. (p. 569)

Therefore, the scripture is talking about the rebuilding of Jerusalem as the religious center of the faithful Israelites.

John Wesley believed that they study of scripture needed to be done with attention to four elements or, as we might refer, filters:

  • the scripture itself, 
  • the tradition of Christianity,
  • reason (or logical reasoning), and
  • human experience

Using these four filters is considered Wesley’s quadrilateral.  

For some, this structure for Bible study may seem weighty, or maybe even unnecessary; but for myself, I think it is important because it helps me understand how the scriptures can speak to me in the 21st century just as it did in the ancient centuries.  The themes are timeless.

(I understand that is a great deal of background information about studying scripture, and how I personally study.  If I did not do that, then how would anybody understand the significance of the study note I shared in the opening?)

Today, as churches have to reshape themselves; it is difficult to manage the old with the new.  It is difficult for people to let go of what “has always been” in order to embrace the possibilities of “what can be.”

As I read Ezra, I understood how the elders of the faith community were thinking, yet the challenges of ancient society caused things to change.  Being allowed back into Jerusalem to rebuild the temple was critical to the elders, yet the circumstances could not possibly be the same as it was when it was first erected.

The very same circumstances exist today.  In each faith community, the shifts in one’s culture, the wear and tear on a building, the elders versus the younger generations force the church to evolve.

As I read through the study note included in the opening, I was reminded how difficult it is to take a long-standing faith community symbolized by its very structure in the heart of a community, must change.

Read again the first lines of the note:

As individuals, families, and congregations evolve, growth entails finding meaningful ways to integrate the present with the past, to connect new members with those who have a long record of faithfulness, and to honor history while embracing change.  

No process of rebuilding is easy.  The elders will weep.  The youth will cry for change.  But, in God’s world, the constancy of grace and love should bring the generations together.  It will not be easy, but God’s timeline only sees one goal—to love one another as one wants to be loved.

The faith communities today are struggling, but the more I study scripture, the more truth of God’s world becomes evident.  We are gifted with the opportunity to live in this world, and to do all that we can to experience earthly life to its fullest.  

Today’s faith communities are struggling, and the goal is to find ways to carry God’s grace and love forward to others.  The culture changes, it merges with different cultures, technology creates new ways to communicate.  

Change is a constant, but God’s grace and love do not change.  We are taxed to do all that we can in any way that we can to share God’s love with one another; and that means love one another in any way we can.  The faith communities must then accept change within its own parameters in order to grow God’s kingdom any way that we can.

What we must remember is that this earthly life we live is just a human experience and the promise of life eternal guides us in living Christ-like lives now.  Hence the emphasis I added to the study note via underlining:

. . . let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Life is what we make it during our earthly journey, but it is just a hint of the glory that awaits us.  Please join in me in prayer:

Dear Lord, our God,

As we continue our earthly journey, growing in faith,

   fill us with the grace and love you show us

   so we may share that grace and love with others.  

Help us to find ways to join the generations

    with compassion and empathy

   in order to lead others to know you personally.  

We want to rejoice with those that rejoice

   and weep with those who weep

   as members of your family, always.  –Amen

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Early Christians adapted: Can today’s

given on Sunday, May 3, 2015:

Fads come and go: a new look, a new food, a new toy, a new technique, a new design, or a new hobby. As much as we do not want to admit it, we all go through the experience of trying out a fad. Looking at the big picture of our lives, the fads usually do not damage our lives, so we tend to shrug our shoulders and look past different fads.

One of the more recent fads that might baffle some of us is the trend of wearing two different colored socks—one on one foot and the other color on the opposite foot. When I first started seeing it, I would quietly go up to a student and mention it and ask if they had a difficult morning. They all thought I was nuts.

The origin of fashion fads may not be very clear, but some fads do have a base in a scientific study or an observation that became noteworthy and thus publicized as the newest way to improve or to do something. I wonder if the earliest Christians were perceived as a fad.

Consider this: the Jewish people were well entrenched in their way of life. The structure for the week had worked as well as anything else for them. The successful businessmen would not need to see anything change because it might upset the profitable work they had created.

Everybody knew what was expected of him or her. Men ran the business or the farm. Women had to maintain the house; kids even understood they had a role in the culture, and the rhythm of life preserved the standards they knew.

Oddly the Jewish culture was centered on the faith that waited for a new leader. The leaders of that faith kept the story well taught, but when Jesus was born and grew into the adult minister that our generation now identifies as the leader, the Jewish culture could not accept it as anything more than a fad.

Today is a first Sunday of the month, and we celebrate communion. We certainly do not see this ritual as a fad, but did the ancient Jewish families just see it as a fad or did they quickly embrace the practice as evidence of their commitment to God?

Have you ever wondered if you would have said Christianity was just a fad and ignored it; or would you have joined the movement committed to its mission?

As the weeks after the crucifixion continued, the earliest believers dealt with an enormous set of challenges. First, the leader was gone after only three years of ministry. Who, if anybody, would take over?

Then, if Jesus was executed, was it even safe to be Christian? How would they live what they believed if they feared for their lives? Do they hide? Do they run away from their homes? Do they think that it was just a fad and return to the old ways?

Today’s scripture gives us insight into the transition early followers made into a new Christian lifestyle. First, some did return to the old ways of the Jewish faith. Some gave up all their possessions and joined into communal living arrangements, many located on the northern coast of Africa.   These newest Christians were expecting the second coming of Jesus any moment. And then there were others who openly lived the new beliefs regardless of their future.

For those who continued openly living their beliefs, Christianity was no fad. The old ways were re-evaluated under the lessons Jesus taught. The new leaders were Jesus’ handpicked and trained disciples. They did not run away and hide, they began the work Jesus commissioned them after Jesus’ resurrection:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The earliest Christians quickly had to adapt to the change they had witnessed. The work started and the ‘fad’ of Christianity became a solid faith system that has transformed the world.

The earliest Christians had to face persecution, to demonstrate God’s new covenant: Love one another. The crucifixion could not shut down the simplicity of living the Christian lifestyle. The results were fruitful and the ‘fad’ was no longer just the latest crazy idea.

The love that is defined in today’s scripture from 1 John 4 and even included in the gospel of John so dramatically changed the faith practices that it made a difference to every culture. Loving one another supersedes all other laws. It is adaptable to all cultures. It can be flexible and it can tackle enormous disasters or the smallest of paper cuts.

These qualities have caused the earliest Christians to spread the word about how much God loves us, and how that love is demonstrated in all the different ways we love one another. Christianity has never been a fad, and the adaptability has made it grow exponentially around the earth.

Today, we are locked into a routine that has boxed us in as Christians much less as a Christian community.   The small rural churches are struggling to meet the ever-changing culture around them. Are we able to adapt God’s law to the daily world in which we live today?

Are we able to be honest about the changes in the community? Are we able to identify the needs within the community? Are we clear about what the church is doing or can do or should be doing to demonstrate love in action? Are we able to share the story in ways that all neighbors young and old can understand?

The scripture in 1 John 4 is very clear:

  • 7“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another; for love comes from God.
  • 10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
  • 12God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 13And God has given us his spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.
  • 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

This is the foundation for the Christian faith. No matter what rules or organizational structure is placed upon a church or a denomination, God’s gift of love as demonstrated through the life and death and resurrection of his son. Are we satisfied to leave the story just like that or are we going to do whatever we can to share the story but maybe more importantly show God’s love?

The scripture from 1 John 4 continues with a few more clear directives:

  • 19We love each other because he loved us first.
  • 20 . . . if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?

The truth about what we are doing can be painful and it can make us feel as though we are guilty of not fulfilling our promise to God. Christianity was no fad, and the thousands of years since the crucifixion the church has continued to adapt to the cultural changes.

Regrettably, I am afraid that many of the suggested changes for today’s churches are being ignored as though they are just a fad. We must evaluate what the church is doing, what it represents, and then design the best practices the church can do to keep Christianity meeting the needs of the community right now in 2015 and into the future, not the past.

As May scurries past us, we need to equip ourselves for making disciples of Christ. Can this church adapt to the culture around it in order to share God’s love?

The gospel of John 15 explains the proper way to prune a grapevine in order to provide the best fruit. We have heard that message year after year, but are we being honest about how strong our vine is here? That fourth verse spells it out:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The needs of the community provides for the direction of the church’s ministry. The outreach of the church is our personal responsibility. This month is one to evaluate and to plan for a new year. We must remember the eighth verse, too: When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

We are tasked to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world and we know this world has many needs. The Christian faith was no fad, but it takes adaptability in order to continue the work God assigned to each and every one of us.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for the gift of your son

And even the meaningful ritual of communion.

At these times, may we reflect that love

Right here in our community

So others may come to know your love, too.

Guide us in looking for ways to share the word.

Guide us in working together to help others.

Guide us in the decisions as to what is best

For the community and for the church

As we work to adapt in ways to share your love.

May all that we do show others the love

That transpires all struggles in our lives. –Amen

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