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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Impatience and What’s Behind It – Measure Twice

PatienceKey Bible Verse: But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: Love, joy, peace, patience …Galatians 5:22-23

Bonus Reading: Galatians 5:19-26

My father is a gifted carpenter. When I was young, I spent many hours with him carrying lumber or fetching his tools. I learned the name of every tool in the box, and what they’re for.

Dad is retired now. He and Mom sometimes come to visit so he can help me with a project: building steps from our deck or a new piece of furniture. And I’m still learning from him.

Especially about patience. In the time it takes him to meticulously measure and cut every board just right, my mind has raced ahead, dreaming up more “efficient” ways to speed up the process. I have to stop and ask myself why.

Those hours with Dad are a blessing, and I know from experience that his slow, steady methods are better than mine. Nevertheless, I often feel impatience creeping in.

Patience isn’t natural. It’s supernatural. It’s an outgrowth of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives!

We can’t muster it well on our own, and frequent impatience is often a signal that we’re not fully connected with God’s presence in our lives. When I think about Dad’s patience, I’m even more grateful for God’s patience when I’m sure I know a better way.

— Mark Geil in Georgia

My Response: The next time I feel impatient, I’ll pause and thank God for His patience.

Thought to Apply: This would be a fine world if all men showed as much patience all the time as they do while waiting for fish to bite.  —Vaughn Monroe (big band era singer)

Prayer for the Week: Thank You, Lord, for Your infinite patience. Grant me a composure of spirit that reflects Your character.

 

 

Impatience and What’s Behind It – The Long and the Short of It

PatienceKey Bible Verse: Love is patient. … Love is not irritable.  – 1 Corinthians 13:4, 5

Bonus Reading: Romans 5:3-5

What happens when your wife inconveniences you?  Does she have habits that “get on your nerves”?

For example, you ask her about her day, and she tells you—in Technicolor, with footnotes!  You get links to other sites in her brain along the way.  And all the time, you’re thinking, Will you please land this plane! What’s the point? What’s the main idea?

In older translations of today’s Key Bible Verses, you’ll read, “love suffereth long (ASV).

The root of impatience is usually selfishness. We’re not getting what we want or what we think we deserve. We don’t suffer long; rather, we think we’ve suffered long enough!

A young Christian man asked an older believer to intercede for him. “Pray that I’ll grow in patience,” he asked earnestly. His friend suggested that they pray together right then and there.

“Lord,” the older man began, “I pray that You’ll bring trials and tribulations into Ben’s life this very day. I pray that he’ll experience trouble this morning and again this afternoon. I pray … “

“Wait, please!” the younger man interrupted. “I wanted you to pray that I’d grow in patience!”

“That’s what I was doing,” the older man replied.

—Bob Lepine in The Christian Husband

My Response: What irritant may God be using in my life to produce endurance?

Adapted from The Christian Husband (Regal, 1999)

Prayer for the Week: Thank You, Lord, for Your infinite patience. Grant me a composure of spirit that reflects Your character.

Impatience and What’s Behind It – Post Office Ponderings

PatienceWho Said It…Gordon MacDonald

Gordon MacDonald has been a pastor and author for more than 40 years, chairs the World Relief board, and is an avid hiker. He writes mostly about issues of self-discipline, ordering one’s priorities, and developing a deep spiritual life.

“I think that’s kind of a joke,” he says, “because these are all things that didn’t come naturally to me. I’ve connected with readers because I’m not afraid to put my own life out there as an example of struggle, failure, and what I’ve learned from it.”

What He Said…Post Office Ponderings

I am standing in line at the post office and feeling this impatience. I used to think of myself as a patient man, but now I’m not so sure. I find a flicker of irritability rising in me at other times too: when everyone else decided to clog up the interstate at the same time I wanted to drive it, when someone sends me an e-mail file that takes ten minutes to download. I have a suspicion that these bits of impatience really echo other aspects—maybe more significant aspects—of my life that I refuse to face.

So I push myself to stop and think about my idiotic, immature reaction. Why am I upset because I’m going to lose four or more minutes in my schedule? What’s the deeper impatience? Where’s the anger coming from?

This moment in the line becomes a tutorial for my character. There will be moments ahead when this “fruit of the Spirit” will be needed for far greater issues than this one. Learn patience here so that you’ll have it then.

Adapted from A Resilient Life (Nelson, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Thank You, Lord, for Your infinite patience. Grant me a composure of spirit that reflects Your character.

 

Showing Our True Colors – Multicultural Worship

Multicultural WorshipBefore God ushered in the Church, Paul acknowledges, Jews were the accepted insiders while the Gentiles were the excluded outsiders. But now, he insists, these barriers of exclusivity, both religious and racial, have been dismantled.

So to what extent has the elimination of these barriers been reflected in our congregations?

Interact with God’s Word

Ephesians 2:14-18

  1. What characteristics differentiate people in your church from those in other churches in your community—theological perspective? Age? Political persuasion? Race? Economic status? Intelligence? Appearance?
  2. Is it fair to consider any of these to be dividing walls?
  3. In what specific ways (vv. 14, 16, 18) has Jesus’ death removed the walls that people erect between themselves?
  4. How, according to verse 15, did Jesus break down the “wall of hostility” between two groups?
  5. Do you think that continuing to think and react in terms of separate groups undercuts Christ’s sacrifice for you?
  6. Spell out how the unity of the Church involves each member of the Trinity (v. 18).

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for wisdom to discern the extent to which the diversity of His Church universal ought to be duplicated in your local fellowship.

Ephesians 2:14-18

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, Your Church should be validating Christ’s reconciling power. Help me to do my part.

 

Showing Our True Colors – Local Flavor

Multicultural WorshipKey Bible Verse: But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent.  – Acts 6:1

Bonus Reading: Acts 6:1-7

At the inner-city Chicago high school where he coached, Wayne Gordon launched a Fellowship of Christian Athletes program. Guys lifted weights in his storefront apartment and talked about serious issues.

When Wayne’s bride, Anne, moved into the ‘hood with him, the gathering took on a coed flavor. The newlyweds urged several youths who became followers of Christ to become involved in a good church. But after an in-depth Bible study on the subject, the youth determined that their fellowship was a church and that Wayne was their pastor!

Soon the Gordons’ storefront living room was packed, and guitar-strumming young professionals showed up to lend support. The teenage “elders,” concerned that white folk were molding the young church to their own cultural preferences, called a closed meeting. They unanimously voted that while others could attend, only neighborhood residents could belong to their Lawndale Community Church.

Curious parents began joining. Professional outsiders relocated to the community. Today 600 families attend the church, which has reclaimed entire city blocks, started small businesses, and operates a health clinic and a residential drug rehab program.

—Robert Lupton in Renewing the City

My Response: Do I see ruling out commuter church growth as negative or positive?

Thought to Apply: What I am is God’s gift to me; what I do with it is my gift to Him.—Warren Wiersbe (pastor & author)

Adapted from Renewing the City (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, Your Church should be validating Christ’s reconciling power. Help me to do my part.

 

The Greatest Father In History

God is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), but He’s also seeking godly fathers after His own heart.

A Protective Father

Scripture is clear about God and His nature as a protective Father. The Bible says that He is “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Psalm 68:5). God also knows how to answer our prayers; it can be yes, no, or not now. It might even be, “I’ve got something better for you,” or “No, you’ll hurt yourself. All we need to do is to “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent” (Matt 7:7-10)?  Verse ten points out that God will not give us something that will hurt us. We can ask, seek, and knock, and He still won’t give us a scorpion. A stone and bread may have looked similar in Jesus’ day, so we may not always recognize if something we’re praying for is really good for us. God always knows. Human fathers are protective fathers, but none approach God as a Father, so “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3).

The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773) by Pompeo Batoni.

A Forgiving Father

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the father was waiting and watching for his son to return…knowing that in time, he’d come. Jesus says that the prodigal finally “arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:10). Rather undignified in the day to have a father running out to meet a returning prodigal. Instead, fathers would be waiting to give the boy a lecture and the dreaded, “I told you so,” but not so with a forgiving father, as God the Father is. The Apostle John writes, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). It’s not hard to find places in Scripture where it shows “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1). Earthly fathers are forgiving, but not in the way that God the Father is.

A Blessing Father

God blesses us beyond measure in Jesus Christ, so we must rightly say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). Believers understand that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). The Apostle Peter writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). If we just look around us, we can see that God as He cares for His creatures. A simple example is to take a “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they” (Matt 6:26)? Of course you are.

A Disciplining Father

Love and discipline go hand in hand. That’s why we’re told to “not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prov 3:11-12). Rather than despise God’s discipline, we should recognize that “Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law” (Psalm 94:12). The Book of Proverbs is rich in the study of discipline and love, but so is the New Testament. You often see one with the other, like in Hebrews 12:6 which says, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof” (Heb 12:6). At times, it might feel like “The Lord has disciplined me severely” (Psalm 118:18a), but in reality we know that “he has not given me over to death” (Psalm 118:18b). The fact is, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Prov 3:11).

A Comforting Father

I hope you had a comforting father. If not, we know that God the Father is comforting. He was thinking of us by sending His Son as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), so God is a comforter. The Bible says that it is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4). God comforts us in our afflictions, but He uses others as a means to do so. He may also use us to comfort others in the same way we received comfort when we needed it. Just as a human “father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). We can also take comfort in the fact that “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:9).

Conclusion

God made mankind radically different from the rest of His creation. The Triune God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen 1:26). God’s relationship with mankind is infinitely different than animals. We can know God through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul quotes the Old Testament prophet Hosea (1:10), writing, “And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:18). Still not sure about what the Father is like? Jesus says “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’” (John 14:9b). When we read about Jesus, we read about the Father. He is a protective Father; a forgiving Father; a blessing Father; a disciplining Father; and a comforting Father…and abundantly, a Father of love (1 John 4:8, 16).

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is an ordained elder of the Brethren Church and a Pastor and Prison Minister in the State of Kansas, but also a writer at Christian Quotes and What Christians Want to Know which address questions about the Bible, and a published author of four books. He also plants ministries like nursing home ministries, Outreach for the poor, and other evangelistic activities, and check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

Showing Our True Colors – Well, Excuse You!

Multicultural WorshipKey Bible Verse:  So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified. Romans 15:7

Bonus Reading: Romans 15:5-9

Seven of us spent the summer in England, extending ourselves to international students who’d come to study in Oxford. This was my second summer mission, so I felt I’d mastered how to be a team player. But one team member started to drive me crazy. During meals Susan would reach over to my plate, grab one of my french fries (“chips” in England), and proceed with dinner as if nothing had just transpired. Where was “May I have one?” or “Do you mind?”

One morning I was in the kitchen preparing food at the counter. Susan needed something on the other side of me. Without saying a word, she reached across me to get it. That was the last straw!

“Susan,” I blurted, “you can’t keep violating my personal space any time you feel like it.” In Korean culture, she explained, a sign of friendship is to treat one another like family. There’s no need for such formalities as “Excuse me” or “May I try some of your food?” She’d just been paying me the compliment of being relaxed in my presence. As Susan spoke, I became aware of my own unwritten rules. We white people, I thought, are very dependent on verbal cues for interactions.

—Doug Schaupp in Being White

My Response: Do I let a friend shape how I view him or just make up my mind about him on my own?

Thought to Apply: To get a person to understand our point of view, we must first get to understand his.—Source Unknown

Adapted from Being White (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, Your Church should be validating Christ’s reconciling power. Help me to do my part.

 

Showing Our True Colors – Who Died?

Multicultural WorshipKey Bible Verse: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples”. John 13:35

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-18

A dozen years ago, my wife and I parachuted into Columbia, Maryland, to start a multicultural church. This community of 95,000 is racially diverse; we hoped that would increase our odds for success. But you can count on one hand the churches there with significant integration. Planting Bridgeway Community Church proved difficult.

What church consultants were saying was no help. One told me, “David, I’ve never seen a racially mixed church grow without one culture having to die. If there were blacks and whites in the church, then one of the cultures died.”

This statement perturbed me. I went back to my congregation of 50, composed mainly of whites and blacks at the time. After repeating the consultant’s statement, I threw my hands in the air and bellowed, “Why can’t we both die? Let’s all make a pact to die to ourselves to build a new culture, a multicultural army of devoted followers of Christ!”

The inspiration and resolve from that Sunday lives on. Today Bridgeway is 60 percent African-American; 13 percent Asian, Latino, or other ethnicity; and 27 percent Caucasian. We celebrate the beauty in the body of Christ within our congregation. And it’s rich!

—David A. Anderson in Multicultural Ministry

My Response: What cultural preferences might I have to forego in a diverse fellowship?

Thought to Apply: Racial reconciliation is one of the best roads to humility we can take because of the opportunity to die to self.—Glen Kehrein (Chicago ministry leader)

Adapted from Multicultural Ministry (Zondervan, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, Your Church should be validating Christ’s reconciling power. Help me to do my part.

Showing Our True Colors – Dealing the Race Card

Multicultural WorshipKey Bible Verse: He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. Ephesians 2:14

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 2:14-17

Moving to an urban Boston neighborhood after high school opened my eyes to the tensions between African- and Asian-American residents. “They call us ‘chinks’; we call them ‘niggers’!” blurted out the Korean-American owner of a mom-and-pop store who lived across the street. Today he visits his son and grandchildren in a multi-ethnic church that is a sister congregation to our own.

Our church is intentionally becoming multi-ethnic. But my wife and I at times grit our teeth as we entrust our kids to the nursery or Sunday school classroom. Why? Because “red and yellow, black and white” make comments about each other without thinking.

“Why do your eyes slant? Because you’re Korean!” my adopted Chinese daughters heard from one classroom.

“I don’t want to put my kids in a class with inner-city kids!” exclaimed a suburban African-American dad another week.

“That teacher is a Jew!” muttered an Arab man, shaking his head as he exited our English-as-a-second-language (ESL) class.

We need God’s power to work through our weakness so we can live out the reality that Christ has smashed the wall, and so we can enter a “conspiracy of kindness.”

—Doug Perkins in Delaware

My Response: Does my church conform to, or resist, community racial patterns?

Thought to Apply: All the people like us are we, and everyone else is they.  —Rudyard Kipling (English author)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, Your Church should be validating Christ’s reconciling power. Help me to do my part.

 

Showing Our True Colors – All Souls

Multicultural WorshipKey Bible Verse: “Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”.  – Revelation 5:9

Bonus Reading: 1 Peter 2:9-10

During a research stint at Oxford University, I visited historic All Souls Church in London. The preaching of its eminent pastor John Stott was insightful. But it was the array of nationalities that amazed me. I was greeted by people from all over the world. This, I thought, must be what heaven is like!

The apostle John must have been captivated to find himself peering into a worship service in heaven. If he were writing today, I imagine he’d express his vision like this: “Wow! I was amazed to see brothers and sisters from every conceivable people group worshiping our Savior. Some had slanted eyes and straight hair. Others had dark skin and thick lips. There were men and women, light and dark, young and old, sincerely worshiping our God.”

This vivid picture of the church purchased by the blood of the Lamb isn’t only in the mind of John but in the heart of God. Can you imagine segregated worship services in heaven? Are only white Anglo-Saxon Protestants there? Black Baptists? Korean Presbyterians? Latino Pentecostals? Of course not! So now picture a colorful rainbow of saints singing a chorus of worship and praise to the Lamb here on earth.

—David A. Anderson in Multicultural Ministry

My Response: When have I experienced a true cross-section of Christ’s church all together?

Adapted from Multicultural Ministry (Zondervan, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, Your Church should be validating Christ’s reconciling power. Help me to do my part.

 

Pentecost – Come, Holy Ghost: A Wesleyan perspective on the Holy Spirit

Central Church's Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window

Central Church’s Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window

While most United Methodists can articulate what they believe about Jesus and are reasonably comfortable talking about God, our confidence might waver when talking about the Holy Spirit.

Maybe that is because we can relate to Jesus as a human being and understand God through personified imagery like “Heavenly Father.”

The symbols we use to talk about the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, are far less human. At Pentecost we read about the Spirit as fire and wind. In Baptism, we recognize the work of the Spirit through water and a dove. Not to mention the confusion caused by referring to the Spirit as the Holy Ghost.

Additionally, cultural understandings talk of specific work attributed to the Spirit like ecstatic utterances and other highly emotive responses. While we do not discount those experiences, many of us have not had them and wonder about the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, may be able to help. The unimaginatively titled sermon “On the Holy Spirit,” from the 1872 edition of The Sermons of John Wesley, seeks to address not the “particularly extraordinary gifts” of the Spirit, but “what the Holy Spirit is to every believer.”

Hymn writer Charles Wesley, brother of John, wrote a song known to many United Methodist congregations even today. “Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire” (The United Methodist Hymnal 603) shares many of the same themes that help us better understand the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Harbinger of Day of Resurrection

Pentecost, depicted in this icon, is the day the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. Photo by МЕЛЕТИЙ ВЕЛЧЕВ, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Pentecost, depicted in this icon, is the day the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. Photo by МЕЛЕТИЙ ВЕЛЧЕВ, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Wesley understood the Holy Spirit as the fullness of God at work in our broken world.

The “sin of Adam,” as the events of Genesis 3 are described in the sermon, distanced human beings from the image of God we were created to be. Addressing Adam’s desire to cover up after sinning, the sermon states, “Well might Adam now find himself naked; nothing less than God was departed from him.”

In Jesus, God has bridged this separation by overcoming sin. “[W]hat we lost in Adam,” the sermon reads, “we might receive in Christ Jesus.”

While that process of reconciliation begins when we put our trust in Jesus, it will not be complete until the Day of Resurrection to come. The Holy Spirit is a harbinger of our future with us in the present.

Spiritual Gifts

Every child of God is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, specially gifted to play a unique and valued role in the body of Christ.

Fountain of love

From the earliest days of the Methodist movement, John Wesley sought to help Christians live faith in the midst of ordinary lives of family, friends, work, bills, and more. He encouraged the Methodists to participate in what he called the “means of grace,” which included acts of piety like worship and prayer, along with acts of service like feeding the hungry and giving to the poor.

These acts are gifts strengthening us to live into the two-fold nature of discipleship: loving God and our neighbors.

In his hymn, Charles invites the Holy Ghost to strengthen us to live our faith daily.

Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire, let us thine influence prove;
source of the old prophetic fire, fountain of life and love.

Revealer of truth

John Wesley often called himself a “man of one book.” That book, of course, was the Bible.

Wesley was an ardent student of the Scriptures. He knew that the same Spirit that inspired the authors would also move in the hearts of readers centuries later, revealing God’s truth to us. The sermon states that the Holy Spirit is “a light to discern the fallacies of flesh and blood, [and] to reject the irreligious maxims of the world.”

In the second verse of “Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire,” Charles prayerfully asks the Holy Ghost to come to reveal God’s word to us.

Come, Holy Ghost (for moved by thee the prophets wrote and spoke),
unlock the truth, thyself the key, unseal the sacred book.

Holy SpiritBearer of New Creation

Having the Holy Spirit among us, a sign of that future day of restoration, also gives us the ability to live as people of that future now. Through the Spirit we see the world not only as it is, but as it will be, and are invited to participate in the work of reconciliation.

In the sermon we read that the Holy Spirit “is some portion of, as well as preparation for, a life in God, which we are to enjoy hereafter. The gift of the Holy Spirit looks full to the resurrection; for then is the life of God completed in us.”

When we sing verse 3 of Charles’ hymn, we pray for that day to come. Using an allusion to the presence of God’s Spirit moving over the face of the deep before the first day of Creation (see Genesis 1:2), we long for the new creation.

Expand thy wings, celestial Dove, brood o’er our nature’s night;
on our disordered spirits move, and let there now be light.

Assurance of salvationHoly Spirit 2

If you have ever wondered if you are really saved, you are not alone. Many Christians, including John Wesley, have gone through seasons of similar struggles. This sermon points to evidence in the gifts we see in our lives.

In “On the Holy Spirit” we read, “[W]here that divine Guest enters, the laws of another world must be observed.” A shift the Spirit brings to our priorities is then described. Where we once were primarily concerned about ourselves, the Spirit enables us to focus on our love of God and others.

In verse four of “Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire,” Charles Wesley writes how love flowing through us is evidence of the Spirit living in us.

God, through the Spirit we shall know if thou within us shine,
and sound, with all thy saints below, the depths of love divine.

It may be difficult for some of us to articulate a relationship with one described as fire, water, wind, or a dove. What we need to know is that the Spirit is the presence of the Holy in and around us each day, enabling us to live into the people God created us to be and will be restored to one day.

The Spirit is the presence of the Holy … enabling us to live as the people God created us to be.

Learn more about the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament, and take an online assessment to help you discover and cultivate your gifts.

Showing Our True Colors – As It Is in Wal-Mart…

Multicultural WorshipWho Said It…David A. Anderson

David A. Anderson is the founder and pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, a multicultural congregation in Columbia, Maryland.

He earned a doctorate in sociology and religion from Oxford University and teaches cultural diversity at the University of Phoenix’s Columbia campus. He also hosts Reconciliation Live!—a Washington DC, radio talk show on race relations.

What He Said…As It Is in Wal-Mart …

I was in Orlando as a consultant on diversity for business leaders. I was surprised at how segregated Orlando is. But near our meeting place was a Wal-Mart. When I walked through its doors, I bumped into Koreans and Puerto Ricans, whites and blacks, the disabled, the young, and the aged.

Hmm. While churches worship uniculturally, Wal-Mart spans color, class, and cultural lines by meeting the common needs of various groups. The common value that draws people to the Wal-Mart is their desire for a myriad of products for less money. Rich or poor, white or black, young or old, most people want to save money.

Your vision for ministry, if it doesn’t include cultural diversity, isn’t 20/20! What is the church’s common value that will cause people to come together? How will our churches become places where the common needs of all are met? How can they learn to be a place where everyone feels welcome, included, and valued? When we discover the answers, people will surface from pockets of obscurity.

Adapted from Multicultural Ministry (Zondervan, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, Your Church should be validating Christ’s reconciling power. Help me to do my part.

Pentecost – Come Down, O Love Divine (Down Ampney)

King's College, Cambridge, England

This Sunday, June 9, 2019, is Pentecost Sunday.

Come Down O Love Divine, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, is a hymn loved around the world that is often sung at Pentecost.

This particular version is performed by the world renowned choir of King’s College Cambridge and led by director of music Stephen Cleobury.

Verse 2 is particularly charming as the male only first half breaks into a full choir fortissimo harmony for the second half.

Click on either the photo or the hymn name to go to the YouTube video of the King’s College Choir in Cambridge, England singing this beautiful hymn.

Come Down O Love Divine

Central Church's Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window

Central Church’s Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

 

Down with Put Downs – Gentle Speech

Gentle SpeechIn his letter, James contrasts “God’s kind of wisdom” with that which is “motivated by the Devil.”

Satan-speak, he declares, is full of bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, earthly concerns and desires, unspiritual thoughts and ideas, disorder, and evil.

God-speak, on the other hand, is characterized by purity, peace, consideration for others, submission, mercy, sincerity, impartiality, and goodness.

Interact with God’s Word

James 3:2-12

  1. Do verses 9 and 10 describe your own mixed record of positive and negative speech patterns?
  2. Which kind of speech reflects your true identity?
  3. Which kind of speech serves as a sobering reminder of your basic sinful nature?
  4. Is it really possible to “take back” words spoken carelessly or in anger?
  5. What is the ultimate source (v. 6) of the poisonous words we utter?
  6. Does James’s verdict, in verse 8, mean that it is hopeless to attempt to control your tongue? What does his exclamation in verse 10 imply?
  7. What resource can we draw on in our battle to assert control of our tongues?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to change you from the inside out, by His Spirit increasing your power to monitor and control what you say.

James 3:2-12

2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.

5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.

10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, what it means to have a Christ-like tongue. Check my tendency to tear others down; prod me to build them up.

Down with Put Downs – Clearing the Air

Gentle SpeechKey Bible Verse: Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.  – Ephesians 4:29

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 4:31-32;5:4

Fourteen men, including the pastor and elders, led a church’s weekly home Bible study/sharing groups. They met once a month for breakfast to compare experiences in their home groups and their own lives. The 14 became tight, helping each other grow in their leadership roles and personal qualities.

But then, beginning with a couple of men, put-down humor crept in. This spread. Their motive—to connect and have fun with shared humor—was right. But humor, conveyed in a sarcastic tone and containing an element of truth, carries a bite. Sometimes they walked away wondering What did he mean by that? This injected suspicion and disquiet, and undermined mutual trust.

During a church retreat, the Christian camp staff overheard, and became recipients of, this mocking banter. The camp director shared their concern with the pastor, who passed it on to the leaders. They discussed it as a group and agreed to put a stop to the practice. Unhindered by put-down humor, their friendships and sense of shared mission continued to deepen. And the entire congregation benefited from the cleared air.

—James Hilt in Wisconsin

My Response: A group I’d like to see agree to desist from cutting humor is …

Thought to Apply: Not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.  —George Sala

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, what it means to have a Christ-like tongue. Check my tendency to tear others down; prod me to build them up.

 

Down with Put Downs – Play the B.U.G.

Gentle SpeechKey Bible Verse: Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.  – Proverbs 12:18.

Bonus Reading: Romans 1:11-12

Even as the words float off the end of my tongue, I realize that I’ve blown it. This kind of situation usually involves me saying negative words to my teammates or others. It’s so easy to become the “cut-down king.”

You know the routine. You call one of your teammates a name, and your other teammates laugh. You may try to justify your unkind remarks with the fact that everyone does it, but the truth is that those reckless words cut. They pierce like a sword and cause damage.

Instead of just going with the flow and drifting into the Cut Down Game, God desires us to play the B.U.G., or the Build Up Game. This game takes effort, and we have to be intentional to play. It doesn’t come naturally, either. But when it’s played, it’s awesome.

The B.U.G. blesses so many people. A friend of mine once said that everyone in the world is under-encouraged. I agree! I ask the Lord to show me ways that I can encourage teammates, friends, family members, and even people I don’t know. I want to build others up and show love through my words.

I believe that the tongue can heal. Are you ready to play the B.U.G.?

—Dan Britton in Heart of an Athlete

My Response: Have I realized that my words can heal? Where could I start?

Thought to Apply: Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are endless.—Mother Theresa (Albanian missionary to India)

Adapted from Heart of an Athlete (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, what it means to have a Christ-like tongue. Check my tendency to tear others down; prod me to build them up.

 

What is Ordinary Time?

The Christian year includes two central cycles focused on major events in the life of Christ: the Christmas cycle (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany) and Easter cycle (Lent-Easter-Pentecost).

Each of these seasons begins with a time of preparation and anticipation followed by a time of celebration. Ordinary Time follows each cycle.

The word “ordinary” here does not mean “routine” or “not special.” Instead, it refers to the “ordinal numbers” (first, second, third, etc.) used to name and count the Sundays (such as the Third Sunday after Epiphany). This term comes from the Latin ordinalis, meaning “numbered” or “ordered,” and tempus ordinarium, “measured time.”

The first period of Ordinary Time, called the Season after Epiphany, begins on Epiphany Day and ends on the day before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). The central theme of this season is the calling of disciples and the early ministry of Jesus.

For some congregations, this will mean a focus on evangelism, as found in the Old Testament and Gospel readings for each week. For others, the focus will be preparing to help others grow in their discipleship. The Epistle reading each week emphasizes this.

The second period of Ordinary Time, the Season after Pentecost, follows the Easter cycle. It begins the day after Pentecost and continues to Advent. The purpose of this season is to support new disciples and the whole congregation in living out the gifts and callings discerned during the Easter Season and commissioned on the Day of Pentecost.

Every year, Christians experience the contrast between the central seasons of Christmas and Easter, where we see God in the events around the coming of Christ, and the in-between times, where we see, speak about and join God’s ongoing work in the world.

We thus experience two regular cycles of preparation, celebration and action in ministry each year, with the Ordinary Times as the primary periods of action.

Have questions? Ask The UMC or find a pastor near you to talk with. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications. First published June 4, 2019.

 

 

 

Down with Put Downs – A Joke or a Jab?

Gentle SpeechKey Bible Verse: Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 16:24;18:21b;26:19-19

One verbal maneuver inflicts intentional pain, then hides behind a phrase such as “Can’t you take a joke?”

It’s the coward’s approach. It’s saying, I have an issue with my spouse, but I’m too chicken to bring it up honestly where I might face disapproval or anger. So I’ll come up with a joke, often in the company of other people, designed to hit at the heart of some tender area between us.

Not long ago I was commenting on the fact that when our children were little they didn’t pull all the pots and pans out of the kitchen cupboards and play with them like so many toddlers do. I was wondering why that might be, and John responded that maybe it was because they’d never seen the pots and pans.

Translation: I wish you’d do more of that home-cooked meal thing. But it was easy to hide behind, “Oh no, I was just kidding.”

One decisive husband we know loses no opportunity to jokingly tease his wife about being unable to decide how much salt to put on her salad or what dress she’s going to wear. Sadly, now their sons are also doing it.

It would be better for that couple to have a discussion in which they say, “I wish you could make decisions better” or “Can it be okay that I have trouble making decisions and you don’t?”

—Nancy Ortberg in Marriage Partnership

My Response: How have I teased others in a hurtful way? How could I be more aware?

Thought to Apply: Words are loaded pistols.—Jean Paul Sartre (French philosopher)

Adapted from Marriage Partnership (Spring/06)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, what it means to have a Christ-like tongue. Check my tendency to tear others down; prod me to build them up.

 

Down with Put Downs – “Your Mission…”

Gentle SpeechKey Bible Verse: No one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8

Bonus Reading: James 3:2-12

“Innocent” jests that inflict minor wounds have become accepted practice in every setting, from sporting events to church socials. We’re exposed to a culture of trash talking, one-upmanship, and a false masculinity reinforced by every macho stereotype in society.

If someone gives a man a verbal jab, he has to come up with a better one. The man who isn’t quick enough with his comeback skulks away as the loser while the “guys” pat the glib-tongued winner on the back. As James declares in today’s Bonus Reading, “this is not right!”

To tackle this deeply rooted problem, let’s borrow the classic style of the show Mission Impossible as we craft a mission for men:

“Good afternoon, Mr. Phelps. It seems that a wild beast is loose in the dark regions of your mouth. It has the ability to spew acidic venom, causing the rapid breakdown of marital harmony.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, requires you to tame this tantrum-throwing, invective-spitting, complaint-mumbling tyrant—your tongue. As usual, once your tongue begins to speak consistently with grace and kindness, your mission will be complete. Good luck, Jim.”

—Bryan Davis in Spit and Polish for Husbands

My Response: Does taming my tongue seem an impossible mission? How could I begin?

Thought to Apply: A word rashly spoken cannot be brought back by a chariot and four horses.—Chinese Proverb

Adapted from Spit and Polish for Husbands (AMG Publishers, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, what it means to have a Christ-like tongue. Check my tendency to tear others down; prod me to build them up.

 

Down with Put Downs – A T for the Tongue

Gentle SpeechKey Bible Verse: Those who control their tongue will have a long life; a quick retort can ruin everything. Proverbs 13:3

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 15:28 21:23; 29:20; Psalm 141:3

As a young basketball coach I had a short fuse, especially when it came to dealing with men in stripes. It was hard keeping my mouth shut, and I often said things that got me in trouble.

One game in particular, I thought my team was being treated unfairly and was quick to point it out. Late in the game, I stood up and yelled, “What?!” It was only one word, but the officials had heard enough. I got a technical foul that cost my team the game.

Controlling the tongue is a problem for many coaches and athletes. Many times, we create more problems with our mouths than with our actions. Why? In my case, it was because I wouldn’t think before I spoke.

Why does God want us to keep our tongues in check? When we speak before thinking, we usually do not honor Him with our speech. He would much rather we say nothing at all than speak too quickly.

It’s the most difficult thing in the world to tame the tongue, but God’s Spirit living in us through the work of Jesus can help us think before we speak—even in the midst of challenging situations!

—Jere Johnson in Heart of a Coach

My Response: What came out of my mouth the last time I was under pressure?

Adapted from Heart of a Coach (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, what it means to have a Christ-like tongue. Check my tendency to tear others down; prod me to build them up.

 

Down with Put Downs – Attitude Check

Gentle SpeechWho Said It…Dan Britton

Dan Britton is a senior vice president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, overseeing its camps and its campus, sport-specific, and coaches’ ministries.

Both the Virginia high-school football and lacrosse teams he captained won conference and state honors. At the University of Delaware, he was the lacrosse team captain and a leading scorer. He then spent four years as a starter for the Baltimore Thunder.

What He Said…Attitude Check

Carson Palmer, a Heisman Trophy winner and the number one NFL draft pick in 2003, signed a $49 million, six-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. $10 million of it was his signing bonus.

However, that $10 million wasn’t contingent upon his great throwing arm, his intelligence as a quarterback, or his great play-calling.  It was contingent upon his not saying anything negative about his team, coaches, or management.

Basically the $10 million signing bonus was a loyalty pledge in which Carson guaranteed that he wouldn’t be critical.  If he ripped into his team, he lost the cash.

After someone has wronged us on the field or in the locker room, it’s easy to lash out.  God desires not only for us to keep our mouths from cursing but also to keep them positive.

The tongue is only a reflection of what is in our heart.  When you’re under pressure, what comes out?  Criticism or encouragement?  You might not get paid $10 million for having a Christlike tongue, but your Savior will be glorified!

Adapted from Heart of an Athlete (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, what it means to have a Christ-like tongue. Check my tendency to tear others down; prod me to build them up.

 

Heaven Is the Finish Line – The Hope of Heaven

The Hope of HeavenPeter’s letters were written to encourage believers who would likely face trials and persecution under Emperor Nero.  So he exhorted them to take the long view and focus on God’s salvation that would deliver them from the hostility of an unbelieving world.

Of course his readers understood that, in another sense, their salvation had already commenced from the moment they were “born again.”

Interact with God’s Word:  1 Peter 1:3-6

  1. When were you included among those to whom God has bequeathed a “priceless inheritance”?
  2. What is the solid basis (v. 3) for your confidence that you will obtain this inheritance?
  3. What does Peter say (v. 4) is the advantage of having your inheritance reserved for you in heaven?
  4. What, according to verse 5, is your outlook for living now? And for the future?
  5. Why should you be glad now (v. 6) for joy that is still future?
  6. Some have ridiculed the believer’s hope as “pie in the sky bye and bye.” What is inadequate about the perspective of these critics?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to deliver you from the human tendency to a shortsightedness that overvalues the temporary and under-rates the permanent.

1 Peter 1:3-6

3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.

5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. 6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.

 

Heaven Is the Finish Line – Acquired Taste

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you … realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people. Ephesians 1:18

Bonus Reading: 2 Peter 3:11-14

Our friends Mark and JoAnne gave us their unused NordicTrack.  As they delivered it, we started talking about exercise, and I commended the benefits of running.  Even in mid-winter, you can stave off cabin fever and keep yourself in shape.  JoAnne said, “You know, I don’t like to run but, I like the idea of liking to run.”

I thought, That’s a good admission—filled with hope.  How could she turn that idea into the reality of liking to run?  Run!  Get out and do it.  Start simple and build up an appropriate pace.  Learn about the sport.  Do it as a discipline until it becomes a joy.  Soon you’ll be an avid runner.

Some of us need to admit the same about God and His presence.  “I don’t like the presence of God.  If I did, I’d spend more time cultivating, acknowledging, and seeking it.  But I like the idea of liking the presence of God.  So I’d better make a start right now.”  You don’t want to show up in heaven one day without maximum capacity to enjoy this God who wants to usher you into His very own happiness.  Heaven is an acquired taste, and we’ve got to get ready for it now.

—Greg Lafferty in Preaching Today

My Response: I could make a start at liking the presence of God by …

Thought to Apply: We are meant to be addicted to God, but we develop secondary addictions that temporarily appear to fix our problem.—Edward Berckman (writer)

Adapted from Preaching Today (254)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.

 

Heaven Is the Finish Line – Homecoming

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: And God will open wide the gates of heaven for you to enter into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:11

Bonus Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-6

Sarah’s question took me by surprise.  My 11-year-old asked if her grandparents would be married in heaven.

As I stumbled through a sophomoric answer, I began anticipating a place where sadness is consumed by joy.  It’s hard to picture the new heaven and new earth, but I suspect there’ll be green and yellow tents and baseball mitts and countless opportunities for healing conversations.  I imagine the homecoming feast described in the Bible will include families and stepfamilies spanning dozens of generations, celebrating a new home where all is set right.

If you’re like me, you are skilled at ignoring this—going about daily business as if the matters of this mortal life deserve our full attention.  Many of us work, raise children, get promoted, coach Little League, save for retirement, buy a house, travel, retire on a lake in the Ozarks, and life goes on.  Or does it?  Eventually it ends.

My musings in response to Sarah’s question were founded on my Christian faith, which has come to shape the way I see everything. I believe we’re people with a future that will last much longer than our present bodies.

—Mark McMinn in Finding Our Way Home

My Response: To periodically get beyond the details of daily life and focus on my true spiritual home, I’ll …

Thought to Apply: All men think all men mortal but themselves.—Edward Young (author)

Adapted from Finding Our Way Home (Jossey-Bass, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.

 

Heaven Is the Finish Line – Tuned Elsewhere

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not seen. 2 Corinthians 4:18

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9

On a balmy 1982 October afternoon, Badger Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, was packed with over 60,000 University of Wisconsin fans watching their football team play Michigan State’s Spartans.  It soon became obvious that State had the better team and would win.  What was odd, however, was the seemingly unconnected and increasing eruptions of applause from the Wisconsin fans despite the mounting defeat.  Why were they cheering as their team was losing?

Many fans, it turns out, were listening to portable radios broadcasting another game in progress 70 miles away in Milwaukee, where the Brewers were beating the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the World Series.  They were responding to something they couldn’t actually see.  Likewise, Paul encourages us to fix our eyes on the unseen.  When we do, we celebrate even in difficulties because we’re tuned in to see God’s larger picture at work.

Paul says a Jesus follower can live confidently because of the guarantee that God’s presence indwelling us carries.  His power is available to us here and now!  And we rest assured of a secure future.  We are at home in either place—in our bodies or with the Lord.

—Tom Taylor in Paradoxy

My Response: Am I really open to being at home in either place?

Thought to Apply: The bottom line is in heaven.—Edwin Land (physicist & inventor)

Adapted from Paradoxy (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.

 

Heaven Is the Finish Line – After D-Day

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later.  – Romans 8:18

Bonus Reading: Romans 8:18-25

D-Day and V-Day.  Oscar Cullman, in his book Christ and Time, used an analogy from World War II to illustrate the believer’s current status.

D-Day was when the Allied forces landed in Normandy and established a beachhead.  The strategizing generals on both sides recognized that the outcome of the war was decided on that fateful day in June 1944.  They understood that if the Nazis had driven the Allies back into the sea, they would have won the war.  But because the Allied armies prevailed at Normandy, they sealed the eventual doom of the Nazi cause.

But between D-Day and V-Day—marking the surrender of the enemy and the Allies’ liberation of all of Europe—there’d be many months of suffering and struggle. There’d be horrendous battles as the Allied armies, little by little, pushed back the Nazi forces.

The Cross and the Resurrection were God’s D-Day. God in Jesus fought and won the decisive battle. Although Satan is raising havoc, his power has been broken, and Christ, through the church, is driving back the forces of darkness. God’s V-Day isn’t yet here. But because of God’s triumph on D-Day, we know how it all will end.

—Tony Campolo in Speaking My Mind

My Response: How can knowing the final outcome give me an edge in today’s struggle?

Thought to Apply: Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.—Howell Forgy (chaplain at Pearl Harbor)

Adapted from Speaking My Mind (W Publishing, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.

 

Heaven Is the Finish Line – Unnatural Death

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world.  – 1 Corinthians 15:19

Bonus Reading: Philippians 3:20-21

Peter, a fisherman like his biblical namesake, had been a doer of kind deeds and a practical joker, but he was no churchman.  At his funeral, friends and family reminisced for almost two hours.  By the time for my meditation, I calculated I had about four minutes before the crowd would lose interest.  So, chucking my notes, I pointed to the three tables of photo albums and mementos laid out to represent Peter’s life.

“So,” I said, “what is all this?  Is this it?  Is this Peter’s life?  Is this what it distills to?

“I don’t care what religion you belong to or would never belong to, what beliefs you profess or scorn. I’d bet a sweet purse that every one of you in this room has an instinct that is sharp as a razor right now.

“The instinct is that this world isn’t big enough, long enough, deep enough to contain or explain even one single life in it. The instinct is that death, no matter how natural its causes, is always unnatural, a brusque intruder, a gloating enemy, and that death shouldn’t be allowed to have the last word.  The instinct is that we weren’t made for this world only.  We were made for eternity.  This world isn’t enough.

“Did you think it was?”

—Mark Buchanan in Things Unseen

My Response: I sense the universal yearning for life beyond the grave when …

Adapted from Things Unseen (Multnomah, 2002)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.

 

Heaven Is the Finish Line – Tunnel Vision

The Hope of HeavenWho Said It…Os Guinness

Os Guinness was born in China, where his parents were medical missionaries, and educated in England, with a doctorate from Oxford University. He has lived in the United States since 1984, serving as a scholar in several secular and Christian “think tanks.”

His passion is to take academically important public policy issues and make them intelligible and practicable to a wider audience.

What He Said…Tunnel Vision

Facing the prospect of a suspected brain tumor, I was in a hospital in northern Virginia ready to undergo a brain scan. A nurse entered the room briskly and said, “Excuse my asking, but are you claustrophobic?”

“No,” I answered.

“Good,” she said. “Some people can’t take the scanner. Our nickname for it is the ‘coffin machine.'”

“Thanks very much,” I replied lightly.

Five minutes later it was hard to get her words out of my mind. Both that session and the next turned out to be an unexpected time of personal review.  Just as a drowning person sees his life flash before his eyes, so I saw the years of my life scroll across my mind as I lay in my “coffin.”

Each memory was alive with sights and sounds and smells.  I shivered at the still-unrealized potential of hopes, dreams, and fears.  I felt again the wonder of this brief but glorious journey of life.  As Winston Churchill said in the last days of his life, “It has been a grand journey—well worth making once.”

—Os Guinness in Long Journey Home

Adapted from Long Journey Home (WaterBrook, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.

 

Real Disciples Do Church – Being the Body of Christ

Being the Body of ChristBecause converts in the New Testament were undergoing intense persecution, many who’d come out of Judaism were tempted to escape the heat by reverting.

The writer of Hebrews reminded his readers why their initial decision was still valid.  If they patiently endured, he urged, it would build their character and lead to victory.  But he realized their resolve was likely to founder if they tried to tough it out in isolation.

Interact with God’s Word

Hebrews 10:23-25

  1. Do you know a professing believer who is neglecting to meet regularly with one church family?
  2. Would you expect that this individual is holding tightly to his hope or beginning to waver?
  3. What are some ways in which the very act of meeting together strengthens the faith of those who gather?
  4. In what two ways can believers who meet together (v. 25) support each other?
  5. Brainstorm some ways you could do the kinds of encouraging singled out in verse 24.
  6. Why does the fact that we are getting closer to the day when Christ will return make regular involvement in a church family more essential than ever?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to provide you with a fresh impetus for growth from your church fellowship, and to help you determine how you can best make a vital contribution to your family there.

Hebrews 10:23-25

23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Prayer for the Week:  In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.

 

Pastor and 16 Members Abducted During Choir Practice In Nigeria

The pastor of an evangelical church in Nigeria, along with approximately 16 other people, have been abducted by gunmen. It is also believed that Reverend Zakariah Ido’s son and daughter were taken with him and that one person was killed during the attack.

“It is sad to inform you that one of our pastors, his daughter and 15 other members of ECWA Church Dankade were kidnapped in the early hours of today,” Reverend Nath Waziri told the Nigerian news outlet The Nation.

Details are forthcoming, but the news outlet Sahara Reporters says one person was killed during the attack. One witness reported there were at least 20 gunmen that surrounded the church as choir practice was underway Saturday night. “It was at about 12:30 midnight. We had a combine choir practice in the church with other neighbouring communities. We normally hold the combine choir practice from 9:00pm to 1:00am,” the witness said.

The abduction occurred in Kaduna State, near the center of Nigeria, early Sunday morning. Rev. Waziri gave the following details:

The church hosted a combine choir fellowship Saturday night to early hours of today. Then, this morning (Sunday), kidnappers stormed the church, when the gunmen came, they asked everyone in the church to surrender his or her phones and demanded the whereabouts of the pastor.

After threatening the choristers they became afraid and showed them the pastor home. They took him away and his daughter with 15 others amongst which there is the son of the pastor of Assemblies of God Church.

Rev. Ido serves the Dankade congregation of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), a large network of churches in Nigeria. The denomination has over 6,000 congregations in Nigeria with over 10 million members. The schoolgirl who was kidnapped in 2018 by Boko Haram, Leah Sharibu, and her family are also members of an ECWA church.

Tensions between extremist Muslim groups and Christians are at an unprecedented high in the Sahel Region of Africa. This attack comes on the heels of a Catholic priest and five church-goers being murdered in Burkina Faso and another six Christians being murdered at a Protestant church in April. There have also been several other kidnappings and threats against religious leaders, including Christians and non-violent Muslims.

 

Marriage Isn’t About Your Happiness

The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book Choosing Marriage.


Did you ever think someone could show you love through a bologna sandwich?

I didn’t think so either.

Until I found out that my then-boyfriend-now-husband (a poor, broke, medical school student at the time) spent close to two months eating bologna sandwiches every day, in order to cut down his grocery budget to $10/week. Just so he could save up enough money to buy me an engagement ring.

The truth is this: Marriage will cost you.

When you think of the cost of marriage, what comes to mind?

According to recent statistics, the average couple today spends $26,444 on a wedding. That’s a lot of money, but it’s nothing compared to the REAL cost of marriage. Because like it or not, marriage will cost you MORE. It will cost you something great. It will cost you a price much larger than the money you spend on a ring or a wedding or a honeymoon.

It will cost you yourself.

I heard a married man on TV say (regarding whether or not he was going to stay in his own marriage), “I shouldn’t be with someone if I’m not happy…” and it made my stomach turn.

What an accurate reflection of the self-centered society we live in, everyone believing that their main goal in life is THEIR OWN personal happiness. What a small and shallow way to live. If you’re getting married with that as your main goal, to make yourself happy, you will be disappointed in a severe way.

Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about LOVE, which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving, and then doing it all over again.

No wonder we often choose divorce over commitment…because most of the time, we’re choosing “personal happiness” over real commitment—over real love.

They say marriage teaches you more about selflessness than you ever wanted to know. I have found that phrase to be true in my relationship with my husband. Because at the heart of it, real love is all about sacrifice. About the giving of yourself, in ways big and small. That’s what marriage will cost you.

It’s about offering forgiveness when you’ve been hurt.

It’s about giving your time though it’s not always convenient.

It’s about sharing your heart when you’d rather hold back.

It’s about cleaning the kitchen after a long weekend, even if it’s your least favorite job.

It’s about choosing to respond with love when you’d rather respond in anger.

It’s about offering a listening ear, when you’d rather tune out or go to bed. 

It’s about putting someone else’s needs and desires before your own.

It’s about giving up that last bite of cake, just so your spouse can enjoy it.

It’s about putting aside your rights, to make space for the rights of another.

The list could go on and on, but it always ends with the same formula:

WE BEFORE ME.

That’s what marriage will cost you. 

We live in a world that DESPISES the sacrificial side of marriage and tries to explain it away. They teach us to strive for power, control and the upper hand in a relationship. They tell us to do what feels right, and not to tolerate anything less. They fool us to thinking that love is about doing what makes us happy. And the second we feel less than happy, they encourage us to bail…to abandon ship…and to stop investing…to give up on love.

But they’ve got it all wrong.

Because the more we give, the better we become. Real love is not self-seeking, and it will ALWAYS cost you. More, and more, and more. Again, and again, and again.

It will cost your heart, your time and your money. It will cost your comfort, your rights and your pride. It will cost you to “lay down your life” for the life of another. Because only those who learn to die to themselves are the ones who get to experience the resurrection power that comes with it.

Resurrection into real love, into real life and into meaningful relationships.


This article is an excerpt from Debra Fileta’s new book, Choosing Marriage. Learn astonishing survey results, and practical steps to take in the hot topics of LOVE, SEX, INTIMACY, CONFLICT, COMMUNICATION, CONFESSION and so much more.

Order Choosing Marriage today!

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, and Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me where she writes candidly about love, sex, dating, relationships and marriage. You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles all over the web! She’s the creator of the popular relationship blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!

 

Real Disciples Do Church – I Have a Dream Too

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse:  They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer.  – Acts 2:42

Bonus Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

I have a dream of being part of a Christian community where you can be honest about your doubts and fears without being met with worn-out clichés or empty platitudes;

  • a place that recognizes faith as a time-laded growth process, not the product of an “instant-pudding” altar prayer;
  • a place where you can get help today but be challenged to grow so you’re better prepared to face tomorrow; a place of intimacy, where you can know and be known;
  • a place where it is hard not to find God; a place where finding God is as corporate as it is personal;
  • a place where you belong whether you’re single, married, divorced, widowed, young, old, rich, poor, smart, dull, thin, fat, beautiful, or ugly;
  • a place where you can find meaningful service, where you commit to something bigger than yourself;
  • a place that needs you;
  • a place of safety;
  • a place off-limits to witches, demons, and the walking dead—the safest place in the world.

We could call it church.

—Ed Gungor in Religiously Transmitted Diseases

My Response: The something bigger than myself that I’m committed to is …

Thought to Apply: My burden is borne by the others; when I falter and fail, the faith of the church comes to my aid.—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German pastor & theologian)

Adapted from Religiously Transmitted Diseases (Nelson Ignite, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.

Ask The UMC: Are we saved if accepting God’s grace happens gradually, not in one moment?

United Methodists understand that people have different experiences of awakening and turning to God. Some may have a sudden, powerful experience. For others, it’s more gradual.

Here’s how our official document on baptism, By Water and the Spirit, explains it:

“Our personal response of faith requires conversion in which we turn away from sin and turn instead to God. It entails a decision to commit our lives to the Lordship of Christ, an acceptance of the forgiveness of our sins, the death of our old selves, an entering into a new life of the Spirit — being born again (John 3:3-5, 2 Corinthians 5:17). All persons do not experience this spiritual rebirth in the same way. For some, there is a singular, radical moment of conversion. For others, conversion may be experienced as the dawning and growing realization that one has been constantly loved by God and has a personal reliance upon Christ.”

During certain seasons, like Aldersgate Day and Heritage Sunday, United Methodists may focus on John Wesley’s experience of having his heart “strangely warmed” as he attended a Moravian Society study session on Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. This was a definitive, memorable experience for Wesley at the time, and one that led him to wonder whether he had ever actually been a Christian before the sense of assurance he felt that night.

Throughout their ministry, Wesley and his brother, Charles, who had a similar experience a few days prior, often sought to describe the value of such a “heart-warming” and memorable experience. What the Wesleys never did, however, was insist that such an experience was necessary before people could properly say that they were growing Christians continuing in the way that leads to life.

Indeed, John did not say that his Aldersgate Street experience was fully definitive for him. In the days that follow, he notes in his journal that he had some sense of peace, but not yet of joy. It wasn’t until two weeks later, June 6, 1738, that he describes experiencing joy, and that was fleeting. A letter he received from an unnamed believer stated that if he had any doubt at all, he had no faith at all. What restored him wasn’t another “experience,” but rather making use of the means of grace of “searching the Scriptures,” in which he found texts that comforted him, assuring him that any measure of faith was indeed faith, and that growth was always possible from there. See “The Journal of The Rev. John Wesley,” Nehemiah Curnock, Editor (London: Robert Culley, 1909), 476-482.

So what do we see in this “memorable moment?” Such a moment was important, but not in isolation from many more, and from a host of ongoing conversations, practices and intentionally making use of the means of grace as Wesley had also done prior to the Aldersgate experience.

The same is often true for us. While God can come to us at any time and any place, it is often helpful to prepare our hearts to be receptive to the Holy Spirit stirring within us. The means of grace, regular practices of studying Scripture, receiving communion, responding to human need, and working for justice, put us in a place where we are open to receiving the grace of God.

Some of us may experience profound and memorable moments of assurance, as John and Charles Wesley both did in 1738. But those moments are not the full or even a very large part of our actual story of salvation. They may instead be seen as extraordinary moments on the way toward our complete salvation, our lives becoming filled with God’s love and fully aligned with God’s will over time.

Have questions? Ask The UMC or find a pastor near you to talk with. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications. First published May 21, 2019.

Real Disciples Do Church – The CH Syndrome

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse:  All of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.  – 1 Corinthians 12:27

Bonus Reading: 1 Cor. 12:22-28

Many communities have several churches that preach the Word faithfully and experience the work of the Spirit among them.  People joyfully declare, “This is my church home.”

But in these same communities, a sickness—the Church Hopper Syndrome—runs rampant.

If you asked one of those infected, “What church do you attend?” they might answer, “Well, I go to Church A to hear my favorite preacher, but I go to Church B for my small group because they have a great program, and then I like to visit Church C for their fellowship activities, and I go to concerts at Churches D and E.”  If you asked, “So, which is your home church?” you might hear, “I’m actually a member of Church F, but I haven’t gone there for years!”

If you got personal and asked, “Where do you put down your spiritual roots?  Where do you serve?  Where do you give?  Where do you invest yourself in the lives of others?” you’d probably get a confused stare.  These people actually believe that the church exists to provide them with what they want from the experience. And that’s precisely why most are so miserable and empty!

—Kevin Harney in Seismic Shifts

My Response: Am I a consumer of religious services or am I contributing to my spiritual community?

Thought to Apply: It is no good supposing that membership of the universal church of Christ is enough; we must belong to some local branch of it.—John Stott

Adapted from Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.

 

Real Disciples Do Church – Nature’s Cathedral?

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse: “So we promise together not to neglect the Temple of our God.”  – Nehemiah 10:39

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 10:23-25

When editor Charles Dunagin interviewed me for a reporting job in 1979, he asked what, if any, church I attended.  “The church of the woods,” I retorted.  He was unimpressed.

I later learned that Dunagin was a churchgoer and a passionate quail hunter.  Though well acquainted with the glories of nature, he knew that the outdoors is no substitute for church.  Since then I’ve also become a churchgoer.

Those folks who claim the outdoors takes the place of church don’t typically spend their outdoor time in worship.  Back when I missed church during deer season, I was watching for antlers on Sunday mornings, not seeking spiritual instruction.

The Bible praises the wonders of nature; and Moses, Elijah, and Jesus withdrew to the wilderness to commune with God—but not to the exclusion of His house.

The woods can’t deliver what church offers.  We experience a unique closeness with fellow believers as we praise God in song, communicate with Him though prayer, respond to His Word preached, and partake of Communion.

But you’ll still find me camping out on several weekends each year.  And I don’t think God will fault me for it.

—Ernest Herndon in Nature Trails and Gospel Tales

My Response: Does recreation or corporate worship have prior claim on my weekends?

Thought to Apply: Being a Christian without joining others in church is like being a soldier without an army or a football player without a team.—Mrs. William Janzen

Adapted from Nature Trails and Gospel Tales (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.

 

Real Disciples Do Church – Staying True

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse: And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple.  – 1 Peter 2:5

Bonus Reading: Romans 12:4-8

[continued from yesterday]  My visits to the other church are exciting for a time.  They do seem to have it all together.  But soon the reality takes over from fantasy.  The other church isn’t so perfect.  The preacher isn’t adored by everyone.  There is a grumbler’s club.  They have budget shortfalls.

It’s taken me years and countless mistakes to learn that no matter which church I’m in, people will be people and we all fall far short of God’s glory.  We all need His mercy to survive another day.  There is no perfect church.

While I may enjoy friendship and fellowship with other Christians in other churches, I owe it to my church family and friends to stick with them for the long term, shoring up the foundations in my own congregation.

There are legitimate and often painful reasons to leave a church and seek spiritual fellowship elsewhere.  Many Christians have been forced to make that difficult choice, and rightly so.  Too many of us look for a new church for the wrong reasons—out of boredom, discontent, and a desire to spark up what we ourselves have neglected, instead of sticking it out for the sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding long run of church membership.

—Steve Russell in FaithToday

My Response: How much time and effort have I put into enhancing my church?

Thought to Apply: Every person needs three homes: a family home, a heavenly home, and a church home.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from FaithToday (9-10/05)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.

 

Real Disciples Do Church – Staying True

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse: And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple.  – 1 Peter 2:5

Bonus Reading: Romans 12:4-8

[continued from yesterday]  My visits to the other church are exciting for a time.  They do seem to have it all together.  But soon the reality takes over from fantasy.  The other church isn’t so perfect.  The preacher isn’t adored by everyone.  There is a grumbler’s club.  They have budget shortfalls.

It’s taken me years and countless mistakes to learn that no matter which church I’m in, people will be people and we all fall far short of God’s glory.  We all need His mercy to survive another day.  There is no perfect church.

While I may enjoy friendship and fellowship with other Christians in other churches, I owe it to my church family and friends to stick with them for the long term, shoring up the foundations in my own congregation.

There are legitimate and often painful reasons to leave a church and seek spiritual fellowship elsewhere.  Many Christians have been forced to make that difficult choice, and rightly so.  Too many of us look for a new church for the wrong reasons—out of boredom, discontent, and a desire to spark up what we ourselves have neglected, instead of sticking it out for the sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding long run of church membership.

—Steve Russell in FaithToday

My Response: How much time and effort have I put into enhancing my church?

Thought to Apply: Every person needs three homes: a family home, a heavenly home, and a church home.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from FaithToday (9-10/05)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.

 

Real Disciples Do Church – Flirting?

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse: When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  – Luke 4:16

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 6:11-12; 10:35-36

I was whining to a friend recently about church.  I told him I was disillusioned.  Little things were bugging me and worship had lost its spark. I felt numb, lifeless, and unfulfilled.

“Well, why don’t you check out our Sunday evening service instead?” he replied.  “It’s just your style.”  My friend goes to another church and, in fact (gasp), another denomination.  It sounded good.

Craving something exciting and different had crept into my life.  So I took him up on his offer and dropped by his little church.  Fresh music, new friends, warm smiles, and a challenging message from a different kind of preacher—it was as refreshing as a cold drink on a hot day.  The place was alive.  I drove home tapping the steering wheel and singing one of their edgy praise songs.  I had a rush of new hope.  If that was what church could be like, I wanted to go back.

But as I stood on the doorstep, slipping my key into the lock, I felt a sudden pang of guilt.  I had been flirting with another church.  I checked over my shoulder to see if any of my elders had followed me.  I ransacked my pockets—was I going to get caught carrying their bulletin?  I felt that I was having an affair.  [continued tomorrow]

—Steve Russell in FaithToday

My Response: A feature of my church that I’m not so keen on is …

Adapted from FaithToday (9-10/05)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.

 

Real Disciples Do Church – Loose Connections

Being the Body of ChristWho Said It…Bob Hostetler

Bob Hostetler isn’t your average pastor.  He’s been a disc jockey, won repeated awards from the Associated Press for his broadcast writing, authored his own books, and co-authored 11 books with youth evangelist Josh McDowell (two received the ECPA Gold Medallion award).

Bob and Robin live in southwestern Ohio and have two adult children.  They have also foster-parented ten boys (“not all at once!” Bob clarifies).

What He Said…Loose Connections

Many of us shop around until we find a church geared to meet our practical needs.  It’s only normal to include these needs in an evaluation of a church and its ministries.

But it’s something else entirely to evaluate a church in no other way.  As a pastor, I’ve answered many questions from Christians looking for a church: “Do you have a youth group?” “… a men’s ministry?”  “Do you belong to a denomination?”

There’s nothing wrong with those questions, but no one has yet asked me, “Does this church need more servants?”

We attend the church we select and eventually we join.  Until something happens.  The pastor fails to visit us in the hospital.  Or Mrs. McKenzie in the nursery snaps at us when we’re late picking up our children.  Or the church grows to a point where we don’t feel “at home” anymore.

So we move on.  We find another church.  Until something happens there.  We’ve bowed to the idol of individualism instead of committing to a community and staying faithful through good times and bad.

Adapted from American Idols (Broadman & Holman, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.

 

Centering Down – Focusing on God

Focusing on GodTwo factions of Israel’s religious leaders were temporarily allied in playing “stump the chump” with Jesus.

First Jesus silenced the Sadducees. Then the Pharisees pitted their expert against Him.

The Pharisees had classified more than 600 laws, often trying to distinguish the more important from the less important.  So to their minds, the question their expert posed was luring Jesus into a quagmire.

Interact with God’s Word

Matthew 22:34-40 Matthew 22:34-40

  1. Do you think the Pharisees placed more emphasis on what people should do or what they shouldn’t do?
  2. Which aspect did Jesus emphasize?
  3. How can you love God as a person, not a mere force (See John 14:9 and 16:27)?
  4. What spheres of love are suggested by “heart,” “soul,” and “mind”?
  5. How does the word all restrict the way your love may be attached to other objects?
  6. In the second commandment, why is a person’s self-love taken for granted?
  7. How would displacing your self-love with God-love make it easier to engage in true neighbor-love?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you penetrate through daily responsibilities and church involvement to a personal encounter with Him.

Matthew 22:34-40

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matthew 24:12

12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.

 

Centering Down – Battlefield Baptism

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: “Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is.”  – Amos 5:23

Bonus Reading: Amos 5:21-24

At chapel yesterday with my friends from around the battalion, I eagerly anticipated the baptism of SSG Falcon, the soldier I’ve been discipling. I wanted this new beginning experience for him to be just right.

We began the service with a hymn. This being Iraq, we get no guitar, keyboard, or drums. We have the chaplain standing in front singing.  That’s it.

As we sang, I noticed the dirt on the concrete floor, and that just about everyone was singing off-key.  This isn’t how baptisms are supposed to go, I thought.

But then I felt God’s gentle vise-grip of conviction on my heart as I began to see the service from His perspective.  These 20 or so men weren’t concerned about making a show of worship or impressing people with their voices.  They were here to be impressed with God, and to give Him their hearts.

God isn’t into the song if the singer’s heart isn’t in tune with Him.  He’s not pleased with a church’s “high-techness” if the focus isn’t His glory.  He’s tired of people “worshiping” just to feel good, or to display their own abilities or creativity.  God is serious about His people’s hearts.

—Chris Plekenpol in Faith in the Fog of War

My Response: How reliant is my worship on program elements and surroundings?

Thought to Apply: Many of us are not thirsty for God because we have quenched our thirst at other fountains.—Erwin Lutzer (Illinois pastor)

Adapted from Faith in the Fog of War (Multnomah, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.

 

Centering Down – The First Commandment FIrst

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38

Bonus Reading: Matthew 22:34-40

“Love God with all your heart” means: Find in God a satisfaction so profound that it fills up all your heart.

“Love God with all your soul” means: Find in God a meaning so rich and so deep that it fills up all the aching corners of your soul.

“Love God with all your mind” means: Find in God the riches of knowledge and insight and wisdom that guide and satisfy all that the human mind was meant to be.

In other words, take all your self-love—your longing for joy and hope and love and security and fulfillment and significance—and focus it on God, until He satisfies your heart and soul and mind.  You’ll find that this isn’t a canceling out of self-love.  This is a fulfillment and transformation of self-love.

Self-love is the desire for life and satisfaction rather than frustration and death. God says, “Come to me, and I’ll give you fullness of joy. I’ll satisfy your heart and soul and mind with My glory.”

This first commandment makes the second commandment doable.  The second commandment no longer threatens to be the suicide of our own happiness.  Instead, our inborn self-seeking—now transposed into God-seeking—overflows and extends itself to our neighbor.

—John Piper in What Jesus Demands from the World

My Response: How can I begin to love God, and then my neighbor, as myself?

Thought to Apply: We should give God the same place in our hearts that He holds in the universe.—Anonymous

Adapted from What Jesus Demands from the World (Crossway, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.

 

Centering Down – Your Belt Sander

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Hebrews 10:23

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2

One power tool in my arsenal is a belt sander.  Its two rotating cylinders that drive a loop of sandpaper in a circular motion look a bit like a miniature Caterpillar track.

The challenge is to keep the sanding belt in the middle of the track.  The belt tends to slip to the right or the left, and eventually slides off the cylinders altogether if I fail to stop and make adjustments.  So I end up sanding a bit, stopping to center the sandpaper, sanding some more, stopping, re-centering, sanding, and so on.

Belt sanding isn’t a profound activity even for one who likes power tools.  But it provides a useful metaphor for Christian spirituality.  We slide off center, you and I.  We need to stop and center ourselves in God’s presence over and over again.

There are deadlines at work and bills to pay and children to taxi and all sorts of other distractions.  The world tells us to speed up and step up and keep up.

God whispers an invitation to slow down, to sit down, to center, to remember, to be bathed in grace and love and wisdom, to keep Christ as close as possible to the core of our lives.

—Mark McMinn in Finding Our Way Home

My Response: What adjustments would help me re-center on Christ?

Thought to Apply: The tragedy is that our eternal welfare depends upon our hearing, and we have trained our ears not to hear. —A.W. Tozer (Illinois pastor)

Adapted from Finding Our Way Home (Jossey-Bass, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.

 

 

Centering Down – Face Time

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: His servants will worship him. And they will see his face. Revelation 22:3-4

Bonus Reading: Exodus 33:12-23

I once read that on average American children spend less than three minutes a day face-to-face with their fathers.

Ever since learning that sad fact, I’ve made it a point not simply to spend time with my children, but also whenever possible to look them in the eye.  This is how a father knows his children: by studying the subtle changes in their countenance.  And this is how children know their father: by gazing upon his face, where they see the sternness of his rebuke and the tenderness of his love.

That’s why it is so amazing that God offers us such knowledge of Himself. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,” the Scriptures say 1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV). “Then we shall see face to face.”

There’s something metaphoric about this promise, of course, but we shouldn’t dismiss its literal dimension.

When we get to heaven we’ll be able to gaze upon Jesus’ physical face. God has promised to show us His glory “seen in the face of Jesus Christ” 2 Corinthians 4:6.

If only we knew our heart’s true desire, we’d know that His face is the one we’ve been looking for all these years, that seeing Jesus face to face will satisfy our deepest longings.

—Philip Ryken in He Speaks to Me Everywhere

My Response: How frequently do I carve out “face time” with my heavenly Father?

Thought to Apply: Human things must be known to be loved, but divine things must be loved to be known.—Blaise Pascal (French scientist & philosopher)

Adapted from He Speaks to Me Everywhere (P&R Publishing, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.

 

 

Centering Down – Halfway Measures

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce.'” Matthew 15:8-9

Bonus Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Involved in a project, I was torn between doing something with my son and finishing my work.

But after a brief debate with myself—A good Christian dad would spend time with his son versus Yeah, but work is important, too—I went out to our driveway with him to play basketball.  Well, to be honest, my body went out there, but the rest of me was still down in my office working.

After about ten minutes of playing what probably felt to him like a one-sided game, Brent said, “Dad, if you have something else to do, we don’t have to do this.”

I was embarrassed and quickly called the rest of me out of the office to join us.  I gave myself to playing with my son, and the activity turned out to be a lot more enjoyable—for both of us.

For days after that experience, God was teaching me something: If a ten-year-old boy knows when his dad’s heart isn’t in what he’s doing, you can be sure that God knows exactly how much of us is really involved in our acts of praise.

He expects us to give it our all.  Just going through the motions equals unacceptable worship.

—Gerrit Gustafson in The Adventure of Worship

My Response: If worship is total self-giving, could I be counted among the worshipers last Sunday in my church?

Adapted from The Adventure of Worship (Chosen, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.

 

Biblical mothers: not a job for the faint of heart

Mother's Day 3It has been 100 years since U.S. President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as a special day to honor mothers, especially those who had lost their sons to war.

Did you know Anna Marie Jarvis and fellow members of the Methodist Episcopal Church led the charge to make Mother’s Day an official observance?

The church still plays a prominent role in Mother’s Day.  So how do we keep the focus on worshipping God, while celebrating and honoring the gifts of mothers?

The answer seems obvious:  Just turn to the Bible.

For quick capsules on Eve, Sarah and Hagar, Rebekah, Mary (mother of Jesus), and Ruth, click on Just turn to the Bible.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

LET’S HONOR MOTHERS!

Praise her for the many fine things she does. These good deeds of hers shall bring her honor and recognition from people of importance. – Proverbs 31:31 (Living Bible)

Please join us in honoring the mothers in your life by commenting on our Mother’s Day post. Share some words of encouragement, a scripture or a picture of a mom who is special to you.

 

 

 

Centering Down – Out of Nowhere?

Focusing on GodWho Said It…Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley started out as a minister to students at First Baptist Atlanta in the shadow of his well-known father, Charles. But then, a dozen years ago, he, along with four others, founded North Point Community Church in North Atlanta.

That congregation has expanded rapidly and now meets on three campuses. Andy has consistently mentored a young group of future leaders and Christian ministers, and has hosted conferences for leaders under 40.

What He Said…Out of Nowhere?

One summer in the late afternoon, I was walking along the beach by myself.  The air was noticeably still.  I remember thinking how odd it was that there wasn’t even a breeze.

After walking for about a mile, I turned around to head back to the hotel and something strange happened.  Suddenly there was a breeze.  I didn’t feel it as much as hear it whistling in my ears. Where had it come from?

It had been there all along.  But as long as it was at my back, I didn’t hear or feel it.  As soon as I faced the other way, my ears immediately sensed its presence.

The same is true of God.

As long as we have our backs turned to Him—pursuing our own interests and desires, living life the way we think it should be lived—we remain unaware of His presence.

Once we turn in His direction, beginning to prioritize our lives around His values and principles, it’s as if He comes alive to us. There’s a heightened sense of His reality.

Adapted from Louder Than Words (Multnomah, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

For the Christian, biblical truths are an opportunity to hear our Heavenly Father’s voice! That’s why this Mother’s Day, we can think of no greater gift than to share with moms everywhere a few of the biblical truths that have meant so much to my wife.

God chose you to be their mother. Of all the possible scenarios that could have been, God chose you to be the mother of your children. Not the women you idolize on social media. Not the perfect version of yourself that you are chasing. Shocking as it may be, God is in control and Psalm 135:6 even says that He does what pleases Him. Even after considering the character, strengths, and weaknesses of both you and your child(ren), God hand-picked you to be their mother.

God knows you need peace. In our house, the term “hot mess” is very popular. Family is running around doing a hundred things. Sprinkle in an argument. Add a dash of impatience. Garnish it all with a threatening “if one more person tracks dirt through this house…” Voila, absolute pandemonium. And while Target is a magical dreamland that us men do not understand, only time with Jesus provides the lasting peace you need. As Martha learned from Mary (Luke 10:38-42), the chaos of life can wait and the only thing worth being concerned with is quality time with Jesus Christ. At any moment of any day, He is your comfort and rest.

 God loves your children. Like, absolutely adores them. Even more than you do. And that’s important for two reasons. First, God’s love is perfect. Mom, there is nothing you want more than to know your children are loved and taken care of. God has an everlasting love for your children that will provide grace for the days you might not win Parent of the Year. Second, God’s love is eternal. The most important legacy you leave behind will be that you trusted on Jesus Christ for salvation, and looked forward to the hope of heaven. God desires a passionate relationship with your children, one that will last for all eternity. Our daughter Sophie will excitedly tell you the truth if you ask her who loves her the most: “God!” Slow down and take time to thank God for his love for you and the hearts of your children!

Maybe it’s on a painting in your house, maybe you whisper it under your breath to avoid snapping, but children are a blessing and reward from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). The bible also says in Proverbs 31 that ultimately, a mother’s children and husband will bless and praise her!

Mothers, today we celebrate you and all that God has done through your life! Infinitely more exciting than cards, macaroni projects, or a day at the spa, will be the day your perfect Heavenly Father holds you close and you hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

 

Sierra Leone: A Mother’s Day Story

Mother's Day 1A Hallmark card rarely makes it into the hands of a mother in Sierra Leone.  In fact, across a very wide world, messages of gratitude aren’t delivered via mail.

Mother’s Day for most of in the developed world is usually a time of celebration.  But, in Sub-Saharan Africa where nearly half of the world’s maternal deaths occur, giving birth can be very dangerous.  This is especially true in rural, underserved areas where health care is often lacking and preventable complications during childbirth are often undiagnosed and untreated.

In West Africa, Sierra Leone’s First Lady is addressing the issue of maternal and child mortality and she’s turning to The United Methodist Church and other faith communities to help.  In Africa and beyond, United Methodists reach out to mothers and mothers-to-be by bringing life to their children – vulnerable children whose lives are fragile and short-lived because of malaria and other diseases.

Your heart will be touched when you take a moment to watch love in action in a special Mother’s Day video feature from United Methodist Communications.