Tag Archives: Jesus

Learning from the New Testament couple Priscilla & Aquilla

Growing up in the Methodist Church in Montgomery City, my world was expanded by the people with whom our family worshiped.  I would like to introduce you to Burt and Beth.  My mental picture of them is watching Burt open the car door outside the church, reach in for Beth as she stood up.  He then walked her into church with his hand cupped around her elbow.

[Insert slide of Burt and Beth.]

            Beth had polio as a young woman in the 1950s.  She was left with a limp, but she always stood up straight as an arrow with the brightest eyes penetrating you with her smile.  He was a dairy farmer, so his mornings began very early, even before church on Sundays, but he never missed church and he was always there beside Beth.  

            This strong couple demonstrated love of God, love of family, and love of neighbors throughout their life of personal challenges.  They were among my personal role models much like Pricilla and Aquilla were role models in the churches Paul established during his missionary trips around the Mediterranean Sea.

            I am Susan Smith, the associate pastor of the Warrensburg First United Methodist Church, and I invite you to make sure you have a Bible, a pen or pencil and paper handy so you can follow along with the scriptures, make notes or even jot down a reminder to share questions or stories of your own later on as a comment or post to our Facebook page.  Please join me in prayer.

            Dear Lord,

                 As we take this moment to pause and clear our minds,

                 We ask that you open our hearts and minds 

                 To the lessons we learn from your servants Priscilla and Aquilla.

                 May we, too, grow in our faith and our love for each other

     So our lives reflect your love for one another.  –Amen

            Then Paul arrives in their community.  

A group of people on a bed

Description automatically generated            Let’s meet Pricilla and Aquilla by stepping back into those first years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Life was so very different without all the technology we now have.  The business of living was labor intensive, and the needs of the community were met by skilled craftsmen.  Aquilla was trained as a tentmaker, and where he lived along the Mediterranean Sea, he filled a demand as people needed his skill to make and to repair the sails for the boats or the tents for their homes.  Priscilla joined him working as a tentmaker, too.

[Insert slide of the three working on tents]

The couple were faithful Jews, and they listened to Paul.  They heard the good news.  Soon they were devoted new Christians.  They quickly developed a special bond with Paul because he too was a trained tent maker, which we learn in Acts 18:1-3: [Insert slide of verses.]

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers.

            Even as a missionary, Paul would work in the community in which he was preaching.  The three of them became co-workers with Paul even living with them while in Corinth.  Can you imagine how close they became working, living and worshiping together?

A picture containing text, map

Description automatically generated            The book of Acts, written by Luke, shares the story of Paul meeting Priscilla and Aquilla on his second missionary journey.  

[Insert slide of Paul’s second journey.]

During Paul’s year and a half in Corinth, the Jewish people became upset over his teachings causing problems in the temple, so much so that the Jewish leaders took the issue to the Roman proconsul Gallio.  Gallio dismissed it saying it was an internal problem.  The turmoil becomes unsafe, so Paul decides to leave for Ephesus–Priscilla and Aquilla go with him.

            Consider this.  You are well-established in a community where there is plenty of work providing a good income.  Why would you suddenly decide to get up and leave it?  Priscilla and Aquilla were called to continue in ministry with Paul and they had protected him in the midst of the Jewish riots.  He no longer taught in the synagogue but began a house church next door to Priscilla and Aquilla.

A sculpture of a person

Description automatically generated            When Paul decided to leave Corinth, the couple decided to follow Paul to Ephesus.  What a decision to make!   But Priscilla and Aquilla, partners in life, did just that.  This decision exemplifies the qualities of the couple not only as disciples, but as a Christian couple who follow God’s call to serve.

[Insert slide of the busts.]

            Following Paul reminds me of today’s missionaries.  As I shared about Beth and Burt, we also had members of our community that went to India to serve as missionaries.  Even though I am struggling to remember their names, I remember wondering how in the world could they get up and leave for India.  Their boys were basically my age, they were residents in my hometown, and they were fellow church members.  But they, like Priscilla and Aquilla, left to serve God in ministry.

            And then there is Priscilla herself, one of the strong women listed in the New Testament as disciples of Christ.  The references to her always place her first and always with Aquilla.  Based on how she is always listed first, scholars believed she was from a higher social status than Aquilla which was out of the ordinary for ancient times; and another difference for the couple was that they had no children.  Priscilla does not follow the stereotypical roles for ancient women.  Yet Priscilla worked and worshipped alongside her husband as an equal, not in a subservient role.  She became a leading teacher in Christianity, a strong woman serving as a disciple.  Priscilla broke the stereotypes of her culture.

            Finally, consider Priscilla and Aquilla as teachers.  Reading in Romans 12:6-8: [Insert slide of verses.] 

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

we know that Paul must have identified the skills that these two had, and especially Priscilla as indicated by the placement of her name in relation to Aquilla’s.  When the couple followed Paul to Ephesus, they resumed their trade as tentmakers and as faithful disciples.  Their home became a church meeting place.  They were leaders in the faith community, and there they met Apollos.

            Apollos was a gifted speaker and was spreading the news that he learned from John the Baptist’s preaching and prophesying, but he did not know of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Therefore Apolloa, while developing a following, did not know the fulfillment of John’s prophecy.  

            Luke shares the story of Apollos’ ministry and how it developed through the mentoring of Priscilla and Aquilla in Acts 18:24-26: [Insert slide of verses.]

24 Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.

            Priscilla and Aquilla were able to take Apollos and teach him the about Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.  Their gifts transformed one man’s ministry and the growth of the church continued as is recorded in Acts 18:28: [Insert slide with verse.]

28 for he [Apollos] powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

            Priscilla and Aquilla are a team.  They demonstrate to us today that faith can bind us together enriching our lives, especially our daily lives working together.  Luke refers to strong women in his gospel and in Acts, emphasizing their strength for leadership in ministry.  The fact that this married couple are referenced repeatedly in Paul’s letters indicates the level of his friendship with them and that the different churches also recognized their leadership.

            Priscilla defied the stereotypical role of women in the ancient culture, but her strength and her spiritual gifts placed her in a leadership role within the early church.  Today’s culture may have lifted the social barriers for women leaders in faith, but Priscilla’s story is one for us to preserve and model.

            Consider the image I have of Beth and Burt growing up.  I can add others to the list of strong women of faith in my life; and when I do, I realize their spouses were important to their leadership, too.  I can add my own mom and dad to models of spiritually-focused leaders.  I can stop and look around me today, too, and know that here in Warrensburg I have been blessed with other models of faith:  Mary Belle and Paul, June and Tom, Ruth and Harold, Nan and Bill are just a few to mention.

            And what about today’s generations?  They are present, too.  Look around and spot the faith leaders you know.  I recognize several:  Beth and Bryan, Kim and Dan, Krystle and Brain are just three faith-filled couples.  The church continues thanks to the leaders of our church.  The couples gain strength together and we see the future of God in their lives.

Amanda, Kaylie, Neal, and Alyssa            In closing, today, I would like to share one more story of a strong couple leading in discipleship.  Just like I watched Beth and Burt growing up managing to put aside the trials of a pandemic, I am watching a new generation.  My cousin Neal married a young woman who also is a teacher.  They are living in quarantine just like the rest of us, but they have a vulnerable daughter who was born with Downs Syndrome just a few years ago.  Meet Amanda, Kaylee, Neal and Alyssa.  [Insert picture of family.]  

            Despite the challenges that all of us face in our lifetime, without faith we falter.  With faith, we strengthen.  Amanda has grown in faith and uses the platform of Facebook to chronicle the life of her daughter and her big sister growing in faith.  She testifies how God supports her and the family through all the medical and educational challenges they face.  She is Priscilla.  Neal is Aquilla.  

            Are you living your life in a manner that shares the good news?  Are you modeling your faith life and your daily life after Priscilla and Aquila?  Are others watching you and seeing that God has been with you, is with you, and will always be with you?

A close up of a sign

Description automatically generated            Just remember–you are strong.  During this pandemic, we live with uncertainty, but we turn to those strong teachers in our lives to discover our own strength.  My cousin sent a message through Facebook that I want to share with you: [Insert sidewalk chalk screen.]  Her daughter Alyssa is the artist: “God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”

Let us close in prayer:

Dear Lord, 

Thank you for all the strong women

     you have shared with us through scripture

     and throughout our lives.  

Thank you for all the disciples,

     both men and women,

     who worked to teach us about Jesus.

Thank you for all the Priscilla and Aquilla couples

      you have placed in our lives

     so we may know you personally.  –Amen

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Done: The Chronicles of Narnia Now struggling with sadness Yet coupled with optimism

Time and again I am frustrated with how to manage all the thoughts that get tangled up in my brain after I finish reading a book, but that tangle is multiplied by seven after finishing the series, The Chronicles of Narnia,by C. S. Lewis.  I am left with sadness of the end, yet that is coupled with the optimism.

At the same time, basically, I have finished reading the Old Testament book of Numbersand the New Testament book of Revelations.  Maybe that has multiplied the tangled mess in my head.

I know I have said it before, but reading fantasy literature is difficult for me with all the invented names the authors introduce.  My dyslexic brain is so wired to read language that fits into my paradigm of spelling and meanings, that stepping into the fantasy world of unknowns slows down my reading and therefore complicates my ability to stay connected to the storyline.

Now add to the storyline of the seven chronicles the Biblical timelines of the Old Testament, the New Testament and then the future as outlined in Revelations and this brain is almost fried, if I may use a vernacular.

BUT.  And I do mean all caps BUT, the reading continues to fuel my understanding of God. I am more and more convinced of the reality that where I live here in the Midwest of the United States, a North American country of the globe we label Earth is just one tiny speck in a universe that God has established.

AND, yes an all caps AND, the speck in the universe that I am is as exciting and delightful as any speck might be anywhere in the vast unknowns—as long as we are part of God’s loving world filled with Grace, Love, Mercy, and more Love.

In one respect, I am thankful that I read the chronicles in the way the stories were packaged rather than in the order they were actually written.  I like order. And even though the chronicles always remind readers that today’s earthly definition of time and Narnia’s concept of time do not match, keeping the sequence of the stories in order helped my dyslexic-and probably obsessive-compulsive tendencies-aided in my comprehension.

That is a lengthy introduction to the tangled thoughts that are bouncing around in my head, but I beg your patience as I begin trying to sort out some of my thoughts.

1.  The Chronicles of Narniais much more than juvenile literature.  The truth that Lewis presents how to treat others just as they want to be treated—whether human or animal—is critical and I am thankful that it is the underlying theme for each of the adventures.

Loving one another as one wants to be loved is absolutely critical.  That rule of life has, is and always must be the measure of all actions whether in personal relationships, in community neighborhoods, in business decisions, in national and international decisions, even in decisions on how we treat the other living beings co-existing with us.

If every decision was made based on that principle, how could decisions have negative affects?

2.  The Chronicles of Narniaalso illustrates the basic sins of humanity that return over and over in literature and in our daily life, especially greed and power.  Lewis’ characters clearly identify the negative effects of the sinful behaviors in vivid descriptions of the characters’ features and faces, not to mention their actions.

The images literally caused me to shiver as the story took a turn for evil and challenged the forces of good.  I get the same reaction when the news shares some terrible event or even quote something or someone who is operating from the premise of greed or power over the well-being of others.

Reading the Old Testament book of Numberswas challenging because I could not comprehend the need for the itemized explanations repeated over and over for how to make sacrifices, nor for the different degrees of sacrifices or offerings for this or that purpose. Confusing.  Unnecessary.  Unmanageable. Of course, those descriptors come from the 21stcentury after God sent Jesus as the final blood sacrifice.

Which again brings up the discussion of timelines. As I read through the New Testament book of Revelationsalong side ofNumbersandThe Chronicles of Narnia, I had to face the fact that we continually need to be taught how to keep our life focused on God and the true commandments that Jesus taught during his ministry:

                  Love God.

                  Love one another.

As much reading as I am doing these months, I can turn almost any literature into a theological discussion on how to live the Christian lifestyle and how that combats all the evil in our lives.  I also can see though the various written words how essential it is to live in our current timeframe by those very commandments so that we are able to transition into any other realm at any time. 

When I read the final chapter of Lewis’s The Last BattleI wanted to scream, “NO!”  Over and over I wanted the story to continue and for the Eustace and Jill to return to their lives in England without any loss of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the evil ape Smith was just misleading all the creatures of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the donkey Puzzle was clever and the ape was dangerous trying to manipulate Puzzle.

I wanted to scream, “NO!” to Tirian as he drew his sword trying to fight against the impossible number of Calormenes.

But the lesson would have been lost if Lewis’s story had not continued to the surprising conclusion as each one of the Narnian squad entered the Stable door.

Then as the last chapters began to conclude the chronicles, the glory of Aslan pushes the reader forward, into a realm of new possibilities.

And, my personal readings once again intertwine. Remember, my personal reading has been included Revelations, which is filled with the wonderment of the New Jerusalem in vivid descriptions.

Why, I ask, did I find myself binge reading The Chronicles of Narniaalong side the year-long Bible readings?  As I said, now that I finished the chronicles, I am experiencing a sense of sadness, but it is coupled with optimism.

My brain is afire with thoughts, but then the final pages of The Last Battleand the chapters of Revelationsseem to be racing together to tell me one of the most wonderful truths that I have yet to experience:  Life with Jesus as my savior leads to life eternal in a world so unbelievably beautiful that there is nothing to fear.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear loving, gracious, merciful Father

As the words of your servants

Unveil the mysteries of our earthly lives,

May we shed all the fears

that clutter our lives

Muddling the beauty of life around us.

Lead us through the Holy Spirit

Who teaches us through the words

Of Holy Scripture written so long ago, 

but also of gifted writers since those days.

Open our hearts and our minds

So that we may take the words

And open our hands to serve you

In any way that we can 

So others may learn the promises

Of The Word shared by Jesus.  –Amen

Just a P.S. Words are powerful and I continue to read even when the ideas, the genres, and the timelines cause my brain to go into overload.  How often I find myself needing to step away and let my thoughts just float around before they fly out the fingers on the keys.  May God’s words enlighten me through the Holy Spirit so that my words are God’s tools.

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Sorting out Numbers: So many rules to know!

Continuing with the year-long reading plan, I have been reading the Old Testament book of Numbers.  Actually, I am reading the study notes first because the text of Numbers is frustrating to me.  I just do not get all the rules and regulations that the Lord placed on the Israelites.

Well, I said it and the walls have not fallen down around me and no lightening struck me or even near me—except the lightening that filled the sky these past couple of weeks with storm after storm after storm. I suppose it is safe to say that I am not enjoying the text of Numbers.

I wonder how the Israelites ever felt that they were living the faithful life with all the rules that Moses and Aaron shared with them.  I cannot imagine remembering each detail and maintain my daily life with all the different offerings, rituals and rules that was required

Here were the twelve tribes still wandering around the wilderness, living in tent cities with all the supplies needed for daily life along with all the livestock and all that were part of their livelihood, too.  And then Moses and Aaron kept bringing them more rules.

No wonder that the people became cantankerous. Today’s world is so far removed from the nomadic lifestyle that it is difficult if not impossible to relate to the demands upon the tribes.  Yet, I want to find a sense of connectedness to this book.

During my college years, I was living in transition. I began in the dorm, along with many others who were strangers to me (and in the 1970s we did not have coed dorms so there were only females in my dorm).  I lived in a strange land.  I had new responsibilities to care for myself.  I had to walk to strange new places, and I had to learn new rules and new boundaries.

Certainly the transition was far different that the Israelites exodus from Egypt, but I was leaving the safe haven of my home to begin a new life that would lead me to an entirely new setting for my life.

As a farmer’s daughter, I had learned the rules that my parents established for our family.  We attended church faithfully, we went to school doing the best we could, and we did the chores that taught us responsibilities as well as how to manage our future lives away from our childhood world.  I knew what was expected; I knew what I had to do; I knew what I wanted to do, too.  I left for college equipped for the unknown I was stepping into.

Maybe I should understand what Numbers is telling me. Maybe I should know the fears of the people.  Maybe I should know that trusting God made life in the wilderness less fearful.  

Certainly the book makes my life seem so much simpler and safer than those ancient days of traveling through the wilderness.  But the mental fear of those years in college might be similar to the fears of the Israelites.  

One had to trust the lifestyle in which they lived, especially in community with each other and with all those people on the move.  In my own life, whenever I moved from one location to the next, I needed basic rules or guidelines in order to step into a new community.  I learned that it takes a year just to know the basic culture of the community.

During the ancient exile narrative, the rules and the regulations made the journey doable.  With Moses and Aaron sharing the words of the Lord, the people struggled but continued onward to the Promised Land.

The doubts and the fears had to be addressed and often lead to dissension and tension—even rebellion.  The results were not good, but those who faithfully listened to Moses and Aaron continued making the journey.

Our lives, today, must also follow God’s law. We are just blessed to have the New Testament to simplify the complex lifestyle of the nomadic culture the earliest Israelites experienced.  

Christians today must follow God’s commandment, too, but we know that Jesus provided us just two commandments:  Love God.  Love one another.  

Reading all the chapters in Numbers wears me out. There are so many specific directions on how to live, where to set up camp, what to sacrifice, when to sacrifice, what is an appropriate offering, and the list continues.

My transitions in life are much more manageable and far less fearful because I know that God provided us the instructions for a simple life that can fit into any culture, any location, any setting whether at home, at work, or on even on vacation.

I am free from making sacrifices because Jesus was the final sacrifice.  I am free to love God and to love one another without any restrictions.  I can confidently know that God is with me and life is good when I accept Jesus’ sacrifice for me and agree to do all that I can for anybody that I can in any way that I can.  That is love.

I continue to work through the reading plan, and I will finish Numbers.  I know that there is so much more to learn; and while reading the New Testament book of Revelations, I see a world so beautiful that I have no fear of the final life transition that is ahead.

Join me in prayer:

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for your patience with me,

Waiting for me to understand the Word.

Thank you for the lessons shared

      from the Old Testament,

So we can appreciate the efforts of your faithful.

Thank you for the words of the New Testament

     That have proven to make life love-filled.

May we understand the old, old stories;

May we demonstrate the new commandments;

And may we share with others the value

     of loving one another as you love us.  –Amen.

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Fresh Expressions means church anywhere, any time: Live faith out loud to make disciples of Christ anywhere, any time, any way you can.

Yesterday I participated in a webinar that featured Rev. Luke Edwards from Kings Church in Boone County, North Carolina.  Wow!

 

My brain has thought of so many possible ways to have church, and I have talked about my ideas with others in the church.  But I am a cradle Methodist.

 

Cradle Methodists are born into the church via their parents, and have attended a Methodist church throughout their life.  I am a product of that.  But I am also a product of John Wesley.

 

The mantra that runs through my head, through my work, through my faith is the classic Wesley quote:

 

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

Rev. Edwards is Methodist. Listening to his talk about Fresh Expressions, how it is implemented, and how it functions echoes that basic Wesleyan thinking.

 

The key to bringing others to Christ is relationshipswhich Wesley knew.

 

Being raised Methodist, I was also raised to be quiet about my faith.  Now that seems counterintuitive doesn’t it?  But being raised during the 1950’s through the 1960’s and graduating from high school in 1972, one’s faith was simply one’s business.

 

Still being quiet about one’s faith does not mean I did not rely on my faith.  Our life centered on the farm, much less our farm was surrounded by cousins living on small family farms.  We all were Methodists and no one argued about going to church on Sunday morning. We lived faith.  Every meal began with a table grace.  We knew to pray.

 

Fresh Expressionsis a movement and going to the website for the United States, one finds this explanation:

 

     A Fresh Expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of those who are not yet part of any church.

     Fresh Expressions is an international movement of missionary disciples cultivating new kinds of church alongside existing congregations to more effectively engage our growing post-Christian society.

     Beginning in 2004 as an initiative of the Church of England and the British Methodist Church, the movement has resulted in the birth of thousands of new communities in the UK alone and brought renewal to scores of established churches. The movement has spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Germany. In 2010, the movement began taking shape in the US through the vision and generosity of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and a growing number of partners committed to a new era of missional ecumenism, a unity around the mission of God the Father through the resurrected Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. [Accessed on October 17, 2018 at https://freshexpressionsus.org/about/%5D

 

Rev. Edwards is passionate about the movement and openly explains that his work is Methodist.  I believe Wesley must be doing handsprings for this movement.

 

The problem:  I have lived my life as a quiet Methodists, not someone who goes around openly sharing about my faith whenever I run into others. But I should.  I have to some extent for those who know me and that I have been trained as a licensed local pastor or who may know me personally. But I am so accustomed to and comfortable being a quiet Methodist, that I do not automatically testify about my faith.

 

I know, that is almost diametrically opposite of my professional life:  trained journalist, English teacher, and pastor.  I am good at talking/writing so why shouldn’t I be able to share openly about my faith.

 

Step in the internet. I am learning to do better.  I do believe that we should live our faith “out loud.”  And over the past ten years, I have.

 

Serving in the pulpit forces one to be open about one’s faith, but that does not mean we are comfortable outside the church walls.  I am learning, and working to do better and the internet allows me a vehicle to live my faith out loud.  Now I see that Fresh Expressionshas the potential to be a second vehicle.

 

Rev. Edwards referenced Jesus’ style of ministry:  outdoors, walking with others, talking with others, sharing with others, teaching others about God.  He was establishing relationships: Fresh Expressions encourages that.

 

We are tasked as Christians, regardless of denomination, to make disciples of Christ.  We are to love God and love one another, as we want to be loved.

 

Those are foundational principles to being Christian.  Being Methodist, Wesley’s definition of being a servant is foundational, too.  Whether we are quiet Christians or loud Christians, we must do whatever we can to develop positive relationships with people in all types of settings.

 

I cannot predict what my spiritual journey will move into yet, but I have ideas that I want to work through in an effort to share the value of God in our lives.  Whatever task I am called to do, though, hinges on Jesus’ commandments and his commission.

 

Today, I am opening up my quiet Christian, Methodist mind to the ideas that Rev. Edwards shared about Fresh Expressions.  I am looking around my community and wondering where and with whom can I be out loud about my faith.

 

Maybe it is through the internet.

Maybe it is simply through written words.

Maybe it will be back in a traditional church.

Maybe it will be at the local library, restaurant, or beauty shop.

 

Whatever God calls me to do, I pray I hear him clearly and answer that call to the best of my ability. I may be quiet, yet I still am willing to learn to live my faith out loud.

 

Please join me in prayer:

 

Dear loving Father,

I know it is so easy to be quiet,

     But all Christians are called to be loud.

I know your call to serve is private,

     But be loud enough for me to hear and follow.

I know there are those who are quiet

     But are seeking answers how to find joy in life.

I know there are leaders who are breaking out

     And I pray that their Fresh Expressionof faith

     Makes new disciples of Christ,

     Filling their lives with joy and hope.

Make me an out loud Christian who joins

     In any movement, any venue, any effort

     That brings the lost to discover Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Reflecting on changes since 9/11

 

Yesterday I tried to gather thoughts for sharing, but I just could not find a thread to bring them together. Today, this day especially, a thread begins weaving thoughts together.

 

As an American, one cannot escape the memories of 9/11.  But there are other days that are cemented in my memory that have bound us together: JFK’s assassination, the OKC bombing, the Challenger tragedy, not to mention the natural disasters such as the hurricanes, earthquakes and forest fires that keep us spellbound to the news.

 

Throughout all these historical events, I am constantly reminded about how key a faith system is to the way in which we manage these experiences.

 

The denomination is irrelevant.  The common element is—GOD.

 

I recognize that many of our younger generations—note the plural—struggle to understand the ‘need’ for a faith system, but I also know that there is an underlying curiosity about why faith is so important to their parents and grandparents.

 

On Saturday, the Missouri Methodists held a kick-off event for the three priorities the conference has established for the current year:

  1. Pathway out of poverty: to deepen & grow partnerships between schools & churches
  2. Creating new places for new people: introducing church (faith) to one person not involved in any church for at least one year
  3. Missional leaders: to identify & mentor new leaders in the church

 

Today’s churches are facing the global community that continues to be rocked by disasters whether at the hand of humans or at the mercy of nature.  The challenges each person faces has the potential to destroy one’s security, one’s family, one’s confidence to wake up each morning and start fresh to live a new day.

 

During the kick off event, the question Roger Ross presented sums up the concern the long-established churches must consider:  Why on earth do we start new churches when so many existing ones are struggling?

 

The United Methodist Church is recording losses in membership, but I propose those losses signify a shift in the demographics more than anything.  The denomination has not adapted well to the cultural changes that began in the 1960s when Vietnam was the primary news story shortly after JFK was assassinated.

 

Ross went on to explain why the conference has decided to emphasize the need to reach out to new people in new places:

 

“. . . Over the last 10 years, the Missouri Conference has started 40 new churches—30 of them are still reaching people today.  We’ve found that new people, younger people and more diverse people show up in disproportionately higher numbers in these new churches than our existing ones.  . . . “

 

Today, as we remember the horrific events of 9/11, I cannot ignore the enormous effect that faith has had on the generations that lived through that attack.  Look at all those who raced into the horror to do all they could for all they could reach in any manner that they could—with no regard for their personal safety.

 

These people were images of God incarnate.  They were moved into action by training, yes.  By a sense of purpose, yes.  By an unseen force those in the faith community know as the Holy Spirit, yes.

 

I suggest that every single person has the foundation of faith within his/her psyche.  I suggest that God is within each individual, waiting, struggling, and anticipating to be acknowledged

 

God’s church is not a denomination, but all denominations.  Any church who identifies its purpose and works together to become the arms and legs of God in any way that it can, will shine the metaphorical light to those still searching to know God personally.

 

For Missouri Methodists or any denomination to succeed in making disciples of Christ (remember Jesus’ greatest commandment), the purpose must be defined, and the current disciples must reach out to others to develop relationships with others.

 

The methods to reach out to others should not matter.  Whether meeting at a local restaurant or coffee house or gathering in a cathedral, establishing relationships with one another is the key to others learning about how God operates within their lives.

 

I have walked through the tragedies of life, but I have my faith.  I know that I can manage anything as long as God is my partner in this life. I know that doing all that I can for others—whether in a classroom, within my family, or as I walk in and out of stores.  God is my operating system.

 

This does not mean I am perfect.  I am human. But as long as I keep my eye on God and follow the teachings of Jesus, I should be alert to the power of the Holy Spirit within me equipping me to manage in this life.

 

With my faith system in place, I see glory in the sun’s morning rays shining in my eyes.  I hear the hymns sung by the birds and even the evening insects.  I feel the warmth of the sun, the hug of a friend or family member, or even the warmth of a sweater wrapped around me.  I taste the sweetness of honey created by the bees or the strength of the beef and pork raised by the farmers.  I smell the perfume of the sweet autumn clematis or the spring’s lilacs, the freshly mown grass of summer and even the snow’s freshness as it blankets the grey world.

 

I love God.

 

I love life that God created and gifted to us.

 

I love others, too, and want to love them as I want to be loved.

 

I pray that as we continue to face the evils of this world, that The Church continues to transform into the body of Christ whether it finds a home inside a church or whether it moves into action along the sides of people in need anywhere within our global community.

 

Dear God,

We certainly do not understand everything

     within this enormous world you created.

We certainly struggle to understand the disasters

      that challenge us at any time in our lives.

Open our minds so that we may hear, see, taste,

     smell and touch all that you have created.

Open our hearts so that we may share in the joys

      of our lives and the pain, too, so we move

      to love one another in all the ways we can.

Open our doors not only of our churches but

       of our homes and businesses so others

       may come to know your love above all else.

Thank you for all that you have given to us.

Thank you for continuing to love us when we err.

Thank you for the promise of eternal life

       because you stepped on this earth with us,

       taught us how to love one another,

       and then died so might live eternally.

In your name,

In the name of your son Jesus Christ.

And in the name of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

 

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Icy morning thoughts on the Tree of Life

IMG_2086Since we had to cancel church due to the thin, but dangerous ice coating, I am thinking about my message concerning the Tree of Life.  The more I read and study scripture, the more I realize the significance of the symbolism.

Today, we are confined due to the ice, but that does not confine our hearts and minds.  The Tree of Life symbolizes two concepts:  The Church that continues to carry Jesus’ teachings on through time and eternal life.

The Church is not the denomination, The Church is the work of the faithful who see all the ways to love one another.  We were watching the news and caught an add from Massachuettes Mutual Insurance.  The entire ad clearly documented all the good that is done all around this country when one loves one another.  It was so impressive.

Sadly, the message had to be funded by a corporation, but the message is worth every penny spent in making and airing it.  Thank you to Mass Mutual for doing so.  We need a reminder of all the good that does exist in our world.

In the stained glass window now installed at Leawood, KS’s Church of the Resurrection, the Tree of Life is surrounded by all the saints that continued carrying Jesus’ message of loving one another throughout history.  The Church is alive and it is something that we are quick to forget or to overlook.

The Tree of Life also has a second symbolic message–eternal life.  This is a sticky subject for many, but as I step outside into the natural world of the ice covered yard, the birds singing, the sun trying to peak out, and the breeze (even when it is only 16 degrees), I am renewed with the knowledge that even in the depth of winter, new life does exist.

Eternal life is no mystery for me.  Eternal life is a life cycle.  There is birth, earthly existence, death and then eternity.  I cannot look up to the night sky and see all the possibility of life beyond my human understanding.  I cannot accept that when this human form dies, the spirit dies.  I believe.

The Tree of Life stands firm in my life.  I look at the Celtic images and see the unending knot woven into their designs and I feel a sense of peace.  I study the Celtic Tree of Life and understand how complex and promising the life cycle that it represents.  And I thank God for getting to live this life and for the promise that remains.

Lent begins this week and I find it difficult to see these next few weeks filled with depressive thoughts and sorrow.  I anticipate the renewal of life as winter ends and spring begins.  Still, I suppose, we all need time to reevaluate our lives and consciously reflect on how we have lived and how we can improve.  Therefore, I will work to prepare sermons based the Old Testament families who struggled to remain faithful and whose life experiences provide us today with lessons on remaining faithful to God and following Jesus’ teaching to love one another.

Winter has its grip on us today with the coating of ice, but the mind never has to be frozen.  Use today to add to your own understanding of God’s messages.  Look closely at the Tree of Life in all its visual representations shared on the web, and find hope.

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Mother Nature prompts apology

The last Sunday morning of 2017 and Mother Nature is getting our attention.  The churches in our area have canceled primarily because of the risk involved in getting the parishioners out.

I have one more sermon from the Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break, by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong.  Christmas does not really conclude until Epiphany, January 6, therefore the last sermon will be on January 7.  I apology for the interruption, but Christ’s birthday is just the beginning.

My Sunday morning sometimes begins very early and I listen to Dr. Charles Stanlely, In Touch Ministries, and this morning he was speaking about Isaiah 64:4.  We are to wait on the Lord.  That is so difficult, and I needed to hear his words about waiting.

We live in such a state of immediate gratification for almost everything in our lives.  I opened up my Bible and read through the verse, and decided I needed to read the Christmas story again.  I read Luke 2, and then turned to Matthew also.  The references in my Life Application Bible kept noting how Jesus’ birth fulfilled the prophecies.

The prophets spokes at different times in different settings, but the message remained the same.  I am reminded how long the Jewish faithful waited for the Messiah and wonder why we think answers from God have to be on our terms.  We must place our faith in God and then wait for him.  The key, though, is to be open to his speaking or showing us what he wants for us–not from us.

Therefore, as 2017 ends and Mother Nature reminds us that we are just part of this world.  Maybe canceling church reminds us that we are subject to all of God’s creation.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  May you find peace with God.

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Teaming for God, with God

Sermon for Sunday, August 13, 2017

Scripture connections:

 

Opening: Psalm 105:1-5, NLT

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
his miracles, and the rulings he has given,

 

Sermon: I Corinthians 12:4-11, 29-31, NLT

    4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord.God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

     A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[a]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[b] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[c] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

     29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

 

Reflection: Teaming for God, with God

What a week this has been! As Missouri residents, we have watched just about every kind of teaming effort one can imagine. The week began with the horrible news of the murder of Clinton’s young police officer Gary Michael.

As the days unfolded in the search for the suspect, we witnessed, even first hand, how the law enforcement community worked as a team to search all the area even in our own town. Frightening, yes, but the end result was successful as the professionals and the local citizens worked together to a successful conclusion and the search ended.

On a much lighter note, the week was filled with the Interstate Series between the KC Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royal fans have been sorely disappointed, but the Cardinals are thrilled. In the midst of it even a bold kitten joined in the competition, now nicknamed Rally Cat, he stole the show from the disappointment of the Royals and to the thrill of the Cardinals.

All the events of the week, though, exemplified teamwork. We all live in community one way or another, and when one lives in community, teamwork is essential in order to keep order in our lives and to meet the wide range of needs that develop in almost every facet of our lives.

Consider the need for a team of healthcare providers when we are challenged with an illness or injury. Think about how a broken down car needs some teamwork to get back into working order. Consider the grocery stores and all the other retail stores that demand a team to fill the shelves, maintain the business, and then even to check out the customers and get them on with their lives.

Why should we not realize the value of teamwork in our spiritual journey as well? As Paul wrote his letters to the young churches throughout the region, he was emphasizing the need for teamwork even then. His letters are filled with encouraging members to work together to fix problems and to keep their focus on the final outcome—lasting faith in Jesus Christ.

Do we, right here in this church family, really work as a team? Do we capitalize on each other’s various strengths and gifts to carry out the commission God has given us? Do we work as a team to keep our own faith strong and growing?

Paul’s first letter to Corinthians is filled with advice on how to live and to work as a team in order to develop one’s faith, to carry God’s message out to others, and to withstand the challenges of living among non-believers. His message is just as important today as it was 2,000 years ago. We must pay attention to his words as we struggle to survive in our own community today.

Paul’s chapter 12 in I Corinthians begins with a caution:

Now, dear brothers and sisters,[a] regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this.You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

 

Paul was answering their question and it was obvious they were struggling with leadership. He knows that to begin the conversation, he must establish the ground rules and to remind them how each one has special skills. He goes on to outline how each one’s spiritual gifts are important and that each gift has an important role in the life of the church.

All organizations can fall into disarray when one or more individuals try to do everything whether or not they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to do it all. We live in community with each other, so it stands to reason that we must learn to use all of the strengths of each other to provide the successful outcomes that are desired.

Paul outlines the various gifts that are found among the community. Yes, he was focusing on the needs of the church itself, but the point is that all types of gifts are needed and all have been given special gifts:

 

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.

 

The list of skills needed to make any community perform at its maximum potential certainly goes beyond what Paul was listing, but the principle remains the same: each person is given special skills, talents, energy, and insights that can be teamed up with others to create the most successful team in any setting.

If Paul were writing to our church today, would he be so concerned that we were failing to team together that we are losing sight of the ultimate goal to share God’s love with others in any way that we can? Would Paul write to our church to encourage us to stop and reassess what our purpose is and then to revamp our methods to continue serving the community in love, demonstrating how faith in God can defend us from the evils that surround us?

In today’s culture that emphasizes success at all cost, the faith community struggles. Faith communities that are showing growth are those who focus on prayer, service, and teaming in the name of God. Every organization that finds itself in a downward spiral must stop and review the matter. Churches are no different.

Paul’s letter to our church might sound very much like his letter to the Corinthians. He might want us to stop and review whether or not we are using each other’s strengths in a loving manner. He might want us to resist the urge to establish blame in one way or another. He might want us to look beyond our own doors and find others with skills to keep God’s work moving forward.

In this first letter to Corinth, Paul ends chapter 12 with a key statement: But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

And with that statement he begins the 13th chapter that is known as the love chapter. In the context of the letter, he takes the reader from thinking about each person’s special gifts into how to apply those gifts in the way Jesus Christ demonstrated—through love.

The words are so familiar; yet remember that the lesson Paul is sharing with the Corinthians is about the work of the church:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels. . . . If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

Those words reveal the glue that makes everything work: but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

The words of chapter 13 continue to develop what love really is: patient and kind. And he continues to share that love is not jealous nor boastful nor proud nor rude. Love is not demanding nor makes one irritable. Love wins over all negative attitudes as long as one never gives up loving one another as one wants to be loved themselves.

Our church is no different than so many other churches. We struggle to fulfill God’s commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the reformation of the world. This is no small task. We are a small church, so it is important that we read Paul’s letters and hear the message he shares of how to live in a world filled with evil. And when the job seems overwhelming, then it is critical that we evaluate how we are using our strengths, skills and talents in a loving manner.

A team focuses on the a clearly defined goal, using all the spiritual gifts God provides, and then begins its operation with prayer calling for God’s help in carrying out the job he asks us to do for the transformation of the world. We are God’s team right here in our community and we must lead with love for each other and love for all in our area. If we are going to team for God, we must team with God.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You are all-knowing and loving.

You task us to make disciples of Jesus Christ

In order to transform this world.

 

You provide the leaders, the prophets,

The teachers, the physicians, and the workers

To serve as a team for you.

 

You provide the knowledge and skills

To be a spirit-driven team

fueled with love in your name.

 

Give us the wisdom to discern

What Paul’s ancient words tell us

As we work to team with you.

 

May the words of this prayer

And the work of our hands

Show we team for you, with you.

–Amen

 

Closing: I Corinthians 13:11-13, NLT

     11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[a] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

     13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

 

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Traveling with God

given on Sunday, July 23, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening Psalm 139:1-6

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

 

Sermon:

Psalm 139:7-12

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

 

Genesis 28:10-19

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

     16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” 17 But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

     18 The next morning Jacob got up very early. He took the stone he had rested his head against, and he set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it. 19 He named that place Bethel (which means “house of God”), although it was previously called Luz.

Closing

Romans 8:26-27, 31

26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers[h] in harmony with God’s own will.

 

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?

 

Reflection: Traveling with God

To begin, this is almost not a sermon. Maybe it could be considered a “how to” article one might find in a travel magazine. Of course, most travel magazines would not consider adding this type of article because it is a spiritual based topic: How to travel with God.

I admit that I have not always packed a Bible with me on a trip, but I knew that I would have to have a worship service ready for today (Sunday morning) and surely I could sneak in some work time during the vacation. Therefore, I packed the Bible and work tote in with my luggage.

This vacation was a road trip and I had a real drive to finish a knitting project and to try a new knitting stitch so planned on making some dishcloths. What a great way to fill the hours in the car and still be doing what I enjoyed—all the way through Missouri and Arkansas. I carried the luggage and the work tote into the hotel, but sleep was the priority then.

Often we talk about our spiritual journey in life, but admittedly it is often just an outcome of believing in God and trusting Sunday morning worship to keep us connected. How many Christians are floating through the week with home life, work, and some evening down time as the primary structure for the week? Where in the weekly schedule does one consciously put God into the daily routines?

I know, you are surely thinking well I do because I am serving as a pastor so reading and studying the Bible is part of the job. That is a given, but as a human it is also easy to put off what you have to do until the last minute—procrastinate as you know, and my mom always told me that I was procrastinating. Undoubtedly she knew one of my weaknesses and because of her ‘nagging’ I am aware that I cannot procrastinate about my faith journey.

Therefore, I woke up the next morning and tackled reading the lectionary. I began with reading the Old Testament scripture from Genesis. The Bible I took was the journaling one, and the key scripture artfully laid out in the wide margin was Genesis 28:15: “I will protect you wherever you go.”

Could there have been a more appropriate verse as I was getting up and getting ready for a major tourist-style day traveling into another state and visiting a site simply because we wanted to see it—The Magnolia Silos that Chip and Joanna Gaines have created in Waco, TX. We were driving into a totally new, unfamiliar area of our country and had no idea what to expect. We did not know the roads and only had our maps, guidebooks, and navigation tools—smart phones.

As I was reading the verse in the margin, I dove into the full scripture from the lectionary: Genesis 28:10-19a. Reading that scripture opened my thoughts to not only the value of God being with me on a vacation, but also the application to the spiritual journey we are all on.

God is with us all the time. We find him in so many different ways and as I read that key verse in a hotel room preparing for a vacation day, I found myself reflecting on the significance of that verse being the one verse to capture my thoughts that particular day. It fit.

And the day? The day was delightful. We had no apprehension so we experienced the day with confidence and excitement. We were able to meet the most fantastic people who demonstrated unbelievable hospitality and customer service. There was pure joy. Yes, it was a long hot day in Texas, but God was with us in all that we did, we had a vacation day that kicked off with God’s words of assurance.

Now how can a second day top the first one? Well, again, I opened up the Bible to look at another lectionary reading, Psalm 139; and the feature verse in the margin was the first one: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.”

As I continued reading the full psalm, I decided this psalm was also filled with wisdom for a vacation day and I read on into the psalm:
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.

God knows everything we do, think and say wherever we are whether we travel or we are at home! The words were written right there for me to read here in the 21st century, and that psalm was written maybe as long ago as 1400 BC, another words 3500 years ago. The scripture applies to our lives right now just as it always has. God is timeless.

This vacation day was special because it included reconnecting with a college friend I had not seen since 1976. In fact, she was one of our dorm group that had disappeared that summer and no one could really figure out where she had gone. Off and on, I tried to learn what happened and learned that maybe she was in Columbia. Still, the years separated us yet somehow I never gave up wanting to know her story. Then suddenly this year she appeared on Facebook living out of state.

The chances of physically reconnecting with her seemed terribly remote, but the first step was her accepting a friend request and expressing an interest in seeing all of us again. I kept that tucked into my thoughts and when another friend learned we were going in that direction and might check in to seeing her, I felt I should try. Am I ever glad I did!

God’s presence in the day was felt as she and I shared our stories, and also how God was part of our lives, I found prayers answered. I know that God was present at our table as we shared and talked for over two hours. And the next verses of Psalm 139 echoes in my thoughts:

You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

Reading the scripture in the morning prepared me for the meeting with my long, lost friend. I simply must put my full trust in God so that I do not worry and know that whatever words come from my mouth and what I do are Christ-like and will carry me throughout my travels whether on vacation or at home.

Even the next verses in Psalm 139 seemed to echo the conversation between us over that Cajun lunch:

7I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

None of us walk through our earthly journey without challenges. We experience the disappointments and heartaches just as everybody else does. What makes a Christian any different is the mindset one has concerning reliance in God. In our lunch conversation, I heard my friend witness how God has sustained her through her own challenges.

She comfortably shared how God had made it possible for her to continue forward raising her teen children after her husband was murdered. She knew the worst human experience yet she trusted God to do exactly what the psalm: “10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.”
My faith journey was strengthened by the testimony of my friend’s faith.

My vacation is proof that we travel with God. My decision to pack my Bible and read scripture has been reinforced by the experiences of the vacation and how it seemed to be God-driven. Traveling with God is possible and I encourage it. This week’s experience did not end with just the two days of morning reading, it continued. On the final day, I read the Romans selection and found another special verse: “. . . the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. . “

Even on vacation, God is with us through the Holy Spirit. We may be on vacation and be mentally detached from our Christian theology, but because God is with us through the Holy Spirit, he is with us always. He knows what is in our thoughts and will hear prayers we may not even put into words.

Driving through the cities and witnessing the homeless walking along the side of the road in the summer’s excessive heat, I thought how God hears our own pleas for their well-being. As we come up over a hill and are faced by a wreck in the middle of the highway, God hears our pleas for the safety and well being of those in the wreck and those coming to their aid.

As Christians, we are always on call to pray. We can call out to God for intervention whenever our Christ-shaped brains observe something that needs God’s attention. On vacation, we do not take a vacation from being Christian. We do not take a break from talking with God, nor do we take a break from him talking to us.

Vacation time is ideal for us to see God in this world beyond our typical homes. We might see a glorious sunrise, sunset, or a sudden rain shower cool the parched pavement. We might see trees reaching far above us as the sun shines through their boughs. We might taste the most unbelievable lemon lavender cupcake we could ever imagine or feel the delight of an ice cream cone on the hot summer day. We hear the night sounds in a cool breeze or new music that picks up our spirits.             God is with us, around us and in us all the time. God is at home with us. He is on the job with us. And God goes traveling with us, too. Pack your Bible and/or devotionals that you use every day and recognize that your faith journey continues even when on vacation, esp. when you travel with God.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Thank you for traveling with me

     And with all of your children

     Day in and day out,

     Everywhere and anywhere.

 

Thank you for speaking to me

     And with all of your children

     Through the words of scripture

     And the words of other believers.

 

Thank you for sharing your world

     So we may experience you in our lives

     Through all our senses:

     sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.

 

May we grow in our faith

     Through the words of scripture

     Through the touch of friends

     And through our journeys.

 

Guide us in traveling with you

     As our tour guide,

     As our chauffer,

     And as our protector.

 

Bless those who journey with us,

     Those who serve us,

     And even the strangers we meet.

 

May we be your servants

     In our daily lives

     As well as when on vacation

     In your name,

     And your son’s

     And the Holy Spirit. –Amen.

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Pentecost’s purposes to ignite God’s people, church

given on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

 

Scripture connection:

 Opening scripture: Acts 2:1-4, NLT

On the day of Pentecost[a] all the believers were meeting together in one place.Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages,[b] as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

 

Scripture connection:

John 7:37-39, NLT

37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”[a]39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given,[b] because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)

 

John 20:19-23, NLT

19 That Sunday evening[a] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 104:31-34, NLT

31 May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
32 The earth trembles at his glance;
the mountains smoke at his touch.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.

 

Reflection: Pentecost’s purposes to ignite God’s people, church

Summertime is grilling time. Good food takes some work and it takes a good fire to get just the right flavor for summer meals. Personally, I prefer a charcoal grill even though it is somewhat unpredictable and difficult to control. But does that flavor ever make the meat that much better!

The fire that cooks the meat is critical; and without it, the meat never reaches the dinner table. The fire can flame and then be tempered to perfection; or the fire can flame and left unattended, it simply dies out. The cook must be alert and learn how to temper the flame, how hot to keep the coals, and how to manage the meat throughout the grilling process to reach the perfect rare, medium rare, medium well done or well done but certainly not burnt to a crisp.

Flames symbolize the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Baptism through the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-21):

 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.”

God sent the Holy Spirit to ignite the disciples and the church.

The events of that day were life altering for the disciples, but Pentecost also altered the world’s culture. Pentecost had two purposes. First, each of those disciples gathered in that room were frozen with uncertainty even fear. They had no vision as to what they should do or even whether they should venture out the door. The culture was against them, or at least it seemed that way. The Jewish leaders were after them. The secular world did not want their message. And even the political arena did not provide any protection for this new lifestyle.

Jesus was gone. Certainly there were the Apostles who were suppose to take over the leadership, but they did not seem to know what to do. God stepped in. God baptized each of the Apostles and the other disciples gathered together with the Holy Spirit. God was not only with them, but now within them. The Holy Spirit is God in us, not just above, beside or with us, but in us.

Pentecost surprised the disciples. Suddenly there was an entirely new ability to communicate, a new level of consciousness of God’s presence, all the cultural barriers between the diverse group disappeared. In the midst of the event, the baptism of the Holy Spirit empowered, ignited the disciples to move into action to establish the second purpose of Pentecost—build the church.

The Jewish people practiced worship in the temple. The sacrifices, the prayers, and the hymns were part of the faith practices that in effect led to Jesus’ crucifixion. The followers of Jesus did not have an identifiable worship center, nor did it have the hymns. Jesus had changed all the rules and even the non-Jewish, the Gentiles, were now part of the faith group following Jesus and he was gone.

God needed a church. He needed the disciples to establish faith communities so The Word could continue to be taught, to share God’s teachings and expectations, and to grow the ministry beyond the immediate region along the Mediterranean Sea. Now it was time to send the disciples out to carry out Jesus’ work.

Pentecost ignited God’s people into action. The earliest disciples spread out from that room and began sharing the message with others in as many different ways as they could. The baptism of the Holy Spirit empowered the followers to use their own skills and talents to do all that they could in any way that they could to teach about God: to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to protect the children and others who unable to care for themselves, and also to live their own productive lives as citizens of the world.

The new faithful demonstrated how Christianity worked in a world challenged by the political and business world around them. They faced the challenges of hate crimes, of greed, of political turmoil, and held on to the promises Jesus made that those who confessed their sins, were baptized by water and the Spirit, and lived by the Golden Rule would receive eternal life.

Without the Holy Spirit’s presence within the lives of these disciples, the second purpose of Pentecost would not have developed. The Church is the result of Pentecost. Remember the definition of Pentecost:

Pentecost is the day on which the Christian church commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and others assembled in Jerusalem. It marks the beginning of the Christian church and the proclamation of its message throughout the world and is often referred to as the birthday of the church. (Glossary: Pentecost n.d.)

 

The Holy Spirit ignited the Church. Since that fiftieth day after Jesus arose from the grave, the Church began growing.

Today the Christian faith circles the globe. The history is not easy to follow, but the work of the disciples has continued to carry God’s message forward—along the paths and the routes around the globe. The message continues with little regard to the thousands of years the calendar records. The work of the faithful continues to teach, to heal, to feed, to clothe, and to befriend men and women who are neighbors, friends, co-workers, strangers, and yes, family.

The fire of the Holy Spirit has ignited each one of God’s disciples. The newest disciples work right alongside the oldest ones to continue God’s work. The Holy Spirit knows no exhaustion. The Holy Spirit equips each and every follower with skills that can be used to serve one another in love. The Holy Spirit connects faithful Christians around this world and even with those who have been and are yet to come. This group of followers makes up the body of the church yet today.

Is our church alive with the Holy Spirit?

Is the flame being well tended in our small community?

When guests arrive at the table, does the meal feed them?

Today we join at God’s table to share in the bread and the cup and it is always open to anybody and everybody who confesses their sins and accepts Jesus as their savior. That openness is what God asks from each of us in all that we do. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we do so that God can reach all children in one way or another.

Today, at the table, look at the world with God’s eyes and know that you are to tend the fire so that everybody is ready to be with God throughout eternity. You are filled with skills and talents by the power of the Holy Spirit, so use them in any way that you can to share God’s love with all you can. Do not let the fire snuff out.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, our Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit,

 

Today we join together in worship

Remembering those earliest disciples

Frightened and uncertain without Jesus.

 

Today we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit

That ignited those disciples to carry the Word

Outside the closed doors so others heard the story.

 

Today we stop to reflect on how the Holy Spirit

Continues to work in our own lives

And through the church to which we belong.

 

Today we confess that we fail to keep the fire

Of the Holy Spirit burning brightly

In our lives and in the life of our church.

 

Today we ask you to reignite us

As we share in the bread and the cup

So that we can continue to grow in faith.

 

Today we ask you to speak to us

With how to tend your fire personally

And as a community of your faithful.

 

Today, God, fill us up.

Today, Jesus, teach us.

Today, Holy Spirit, ignite us. –Amen

 

Works Cited

Glossary: Pentecost. United Methodist Communicaiton. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/glossary-pentecost (accessed June 2, 2017).

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989.

 

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