What Does Redemption Mean?

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

Hebrews‬ ‭9:11-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When one speaks about redemption or being redeemed, what is meant is the action of God taking place inside the core of the person. The point of why people will speak of being redeemed is to show people what a relationship with God through Jesus Christ looks like and how their life is changed after encountering the risen Jesus Christ. “Evangelical Christians are so deeply concerned for those who do not know God…people are converted…because they experience the transforming grace of God through an encounter with the risen and ascended Christ.” (Smith, 219-220)

The Hebrew word for “to redeem” is ga’al (Richter). What does this mean? We can see many places in scripture that communicate the idea of redemption (i.e., Abraham saving his nephew Lot, Boaz and Ruth, Hosea and Gomer, and then when Jesus Christ’s resurrection is taught). The idea of redemption is “the state of having been bought back from fallenness…redemption is the effect of God’s saving actions.” (Oden, 685) Redemption has To understand redemption, it is necessary to know what we have been bought back from and how redemption through Jesus Christ has come about.

In the book of Genesis, chapters 3-11, we learn how the perfect relationship between humanity and God was broken and the effects that are still being lived out worldwide because of sin now controlling the intentions of humanity. The story of Adam and Eve listening to the talking serpent and believing it, Cain killing his brother Abel, the flood, Tower of Babel all tell of the state of humanity. The concept that is brought forth from these stories is the reality of Sin in our world and how we have been enslaved to living in sin and living a life of sin. “Sin is an overarching term for human resistance to or turning away from God.” (McFarland, 140) Sin has entered into humanity through the Fall, as described in Genesis 3-11. “Sin and the fall refer respectively to the character and origin of human resistance to God.” (McFarland, 155) What humanity deals with is found deep within. It is something humanity is unable to fix or get rid of on our own. “Sin is always a matter of attitudes towards God and others, so it cannot be detached abstractly from the person of sinners themselves.” (Fiddles, 188)

When a person begins to understand the concept and reality of sin, then the reason for God and the grace given becomes necessary to take humanity out of the grip of sin. “Theologically informed sin-talk…incites believers to claim God’s grace as a power that enables the naming and vanquishing of sin both in themselves and in the world around them.” (McFarland) Sin and the fall have corrupted the heart and will of humanity. We can try to, but we cannot deny there is something fundamentally wrong with the world humans inhabit. “By affirming that humanity is one in its fallenness…original sin means that no one is innocent.” (McFarland, 154)

There is a plan that has been set in place from the beginning to bring people, “to buy,” back into the perfect relationship with God, and that plan is through the person of Jesus Christ, God in flesh. Humanity seems to be preoccupied with the notion of wrath/anger between other people, and the idea of God being wrathful, vengeful, and judging. However, the “judgment and wrath of God is never a punishment imposed from the outside, but it is God’s active and personal consent to the inner working out of sin into its inevitable consequences.” (Fiddles, 187) All of this is happening in God’s perfect time, Kairos time. In this perfect time, God “‘ issues a challenge to decisive action’. ..announces ‘the salvation that we are hoping for’.” (McFarland, I, 260) God is working in people to take away the sin that keeps people from living the full, joyful, and peaceful life that God has had in mind from the beginning. “Christians cannot imagine…that redemption was a divine afterthought. The Biblical story is one in which creation and redemption are inexorably related, since redemption in all its dimensions takes place within a world, indeed a universe, that was brought into being through God’s grace.” (Ayer, 235)

Redemption is not just about making the individual a better person and able to live in the presence of God. Through the redemption Jesus Christ has brought in his life, death, and resurrection, the person is placed in relationship with God along with others becoming a “transformed human community…a new people being formed for a new creation.” (Fiddles, 177) Oden describes redemption as “the effect of God’s saving action…an overarching way of describing, in a single word, the liberation of a captive, release from slavery or death by payment of a ransom.” (685) “The goal of redemption is not a marbled mansion, but reincorporation into the [family] of our Heavenly Father.” (Richter) Ayre writes, “Thus creation and redemption are both expressions of the one essential reality, which is God’s desire for a meaningful relationship with the whole creation, and not least with the human community.” (235) This is simply called salvation by many people.

Now, it is important to be careful not to think that salvation and redemption are for the individual solely. It is vitally important to understand the plan of redemption is for the entire world, all of creation. “Any consideration of the Christian concept of salvation must take place in the context of what is an increasingly obvious global environmental crisis.” (Ayre, 233) When you see Jesus, as a gardener, one can see Jesus is working to tend the earth, working to help make all of creation, which also includes humanity, back into the state of perfection God designed the world to be. (John 20:1-18) This work is not something that can be done instantaneously. The process of full redemption in a person will take time.

“Christ’s work does not bring human beings immediately to the state of perfection…but recovers for them the capacity to grow into it.” (Vogel, 455) The work Jesus did through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension shows that there is much more to being made perfect than a single act. It is a continual process by which God works in and through us to make us into the image we were created originally to reflect. Vogel also writes, “It is not merely the Son’s act of becoming incarnate that is redemptive…it was fitting that Christ should accomplish salvation through his own waiting and openness to the Father’s will.” (444) Humanity has been given the gift to learn to wait on God and learn how to do the Father’s will in this life.

As we learn to do the will of God, we see the world is transformed. Redemption would not be possible if it were not for the work of Jesus Christ. “Redemption is what happens to restored humanity as a result of the atonement.” (Oden, 685) The purpose of redemption is to restore humanity. This restoration happens because of the work of Jesus Christ. This has been God’s plan from the very beginning.

Through Christ, we learn that Jesus is “fully revealing to us the secret purpose and will of God concerning our redemption; to be our only High Priest, having redeemed us by the one sacrifice of his body.” (Oden, 359) Jesus did become our final sacrifice for our sins. According to Arminian teaching, people are free to choose to live into the saving acts of God to be fully redeemed. “A fundamental conviction of the Arminian perspective is that while salvation comes to humans by God’s sovereign grace alone, this grace allows human beings freely to accept or reject God’s offer of eternal life.” (Boyd, 147)

Through the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ, humanity and all of creation has been and is in the process of being redeemed. As the Israelites have the Passover meal to remember and celebrate their deliverance, by God, from their slavery in the land of Egypt, Christians have communion. “[Communion] is an external reminder of Christ’s act of redemption.” (Boyd, 231) The reminder of communion is vital so people can remember what God has done for them, for the world, and freely choose to follow God’s will so all people, and creation, will see and live into the redemption plan. Remembering through communion, the act of Jesus on the cross, and being in fellowship with God and others, humanity can see and experience God’s sanctifying (making holy) grace within themselves. This will help people remember and live into the truth and reality they have been, and are, redeemed and being made new.

Works Cited

Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2002). Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical

Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic.

Clive W. Ayre. (2010). Eco-Salvation: The Redemption of All Creation. Worldviews, 14(2/3),

232. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.asburyseminary.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.43803551&site=eds-live

Fiddes, P. (2007-09-27). Salvation. In (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. :

Oxford University Press,. Retrieved 26 Mar. 2019, from http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199245765.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199245765-e-11.

McFarland, I. (2007-09-27). The Fall and Sin. In (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Systematic

Theology. : Oxford University Press,. Retrieved 26 Mar. 2019, from http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199245765.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199245765-e-9.

McFarland, I., Fergusson, D., Kilby, K., & Torrance, I. (2011). N. In I. McFarland, D.

Fergusson, K. Kilby, & I. Torrance (Eds.), The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology (pp. 260-268). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511781285.015

Oden, T. C., & Oden, T. C. (2009). Classic Christianity : a systematic theology. New York :

HarperOne, [2009].

Richter, S. L. (2008). The epic of Eden : a Christian entry into the Old Testament. Downers

Grove, Ill. : IVP Academic, 2008.

Smith, G. (2010-12-07). Conversion and Redemption. In (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of

Evangelical Theology. : Oxford University Press,. Retrieved 25 Mar. 2019, from http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195369441.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195369441-e-14.

Vogel, J. (2007). The haste of sin, the slowness of salvation: an interpretation of Irenaeus on the

fall and redemption. Anglican Theological Review, 89(3), 443–459. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.asburyseminary.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001665679&site=eds-live

What’s Holding You Back?

“Why do people get uncomfortable talking about stewardship?” This was a question we talked about last week.

Last week we started a 3-week series on stewardship. We talked about not worrying about what we don’t have, or controlling our resources because everything we have is because of God and really is God’s anyway.

Here is a video that sums this concept up: 

Make sense?

We are all being challenged to look at where and how we utilize the resources (time, talents, gifts, money) God has given us. The topic of tithing was brought up. I know this is a topic most people do not like to hear about, but tithing really is important for our spiritual life. I mentioned that I believe people are more generous, for the most part, with the money given and time/talents used. It is easy to say, “10% is too much to give away,” but I bet if we really looked, we would see we are giving away 20% or more (especially if we count cash given). Now, the challenge is to look at where we are giving the money. We should always be asking, “is this going to help the Kingdom of Heaven? Or will this only be here for a very short time?”

This past week, I asked a group of people online, why don’t people give to the church? What was interesting is how most of the responses were about the people not liking the ministry or mission being done, so they withheld their money and said the church was not using the money wisely even though the church was being the church.

Our giving really does reflect how much we allow Christ to have control over our lives. As we pay attention to and assess our giving (in all areas of our life), let’s see where we are holding on to control.

Our passage today shows an interaction with a rich man and Jesus. He wanted to know how to have eternal life, but on his terms. His life was what was holding him back.

So, now we ask, “what holds us back from fully following Christ?”

READ SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:17-31 NIV

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

There are a few things we have to pay attention to here:

First, the rich man called Jesus “Good Teacher” this means he already has respect for Jesus and his teachings.

How many of us have respect for Jesus’ teachings? If we think about it, Jesus never said, “Respect my teachings and live your life.” No, Jesus said the simple words, “Follow me.” This is the calling each of us has on our lives.

Sunday mornings are easy to profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and respect what the pastor says in the sermons and during worship. But are our lives truly changed by the message of Jesus we hear on Sunday mornings? Is this reflected in the way we live our lives Monday morning?

We have to keep asking the question:

WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?

In other words, how do we align our lives to reflect what we profess Sunday mornings? I know there are people who would hear these words and say, “I live my life for Jesus each and every day.” Still, others would say, “I live my life how I choose. This is why I don’t like ‘organized religion’. It’s just people trying to tell you how to live.” Have you heard or thought either of those responses?

When we profess Jesus Christ as our Savior, it is so much more than only respecting the words we hear and say each Sunday. It is about having all parts of who we are completely being transformed by the message, person, and Spirit of the Living Christ in the world and in our lives.

When we profess Jesus as our Lord, we make sure that, in everything, we give him the glory and recognition he deserves. We take the time to live our lives as Jesus lived, loving, serving and giving to the exact people who are different than us and whom we do not agree with.

Did you notice the rich man was looking for Jesus to tell him that he was a nice guy and was doing everything “right.” Notice, Jesus did not answer him the way desired. Instead, Jesus did was Jesus does best and asks him a question in return,

“Why do you call me good?”

Now if I were to ask you, what is “good?” I bet we would all hear many different things and the reasons behind them.

Why would we call Jesus “good”? Take a moment and write down, a thought, of why you would call Jesus “good”.

I often wonder if the rich man was trying to butter Jesus up by giving him a compliment, hoping a compliment would be given in return. Do we do this with Jesus? Do we do this with other people?

As we go through and hear the conversation between Jesus and the rich man, we notice the man’s inflated sense of himself and his character traits. What’s holding him back? His pride, in one respect. How many of us have been caught in the trap of not letting our pride get hurt?

Pride can do so much harm to our lives if not properly checked. He was trying to be told he was “good enough” just because he did not break a few of the commandments. Jesus took him deeper than the rich man was willing to go. He challenged the rich man to look at what he was lacking.

I am one of those people who continually reminds us not to focus on what we perceive to be lacking; but, instead, focus on what God is providing.

But this is a perfect example of how we should look at what it is we are lacking. Do we lack the desire to give up the control of our possessions and finances have on us to truly follow Jesus? This is an area I struggle with because the stuff I have makes my life easier in many ways. But dig into the question further.

Jesus is not only asking the rich man to sell everything he has, but he is challenging him to realize that “an unrestrained appetite for wealth or clinging too tightly to what we possess can hold us back and cause us paralysis in our following of Christ.”[1]

Just as the saying goes “you don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse;” we understand that Jesus teaches we cannot be weighed down by what we have in order to follow him. We cannot be worried about our stuff so much that we do not fully and faithfully follow Jesus in our day to day lives.

Another way of putting it, “we do not work for the stuff we have, we work to make sure what we have is utilized for the Kingdom of God.”

Following Jesus is not as easy as we would want to make it out to be. It is more than just saying a simple prayer and leaving it at that. Following Jesus means we listen to what he says and follow him with nothing holding us back.

Throughout this entire exchange, we see Jesus speaking in extremes. Do you really think Jesus was asking the man to really sell everything he had? I don’t think so. Jesus was doing a heart assessment and the rich man did not like what Jesus said, so the man went away sad.

So, what is holding you back from fully following Jesus? How can we have the same excitement for a new TV, football game, clothes, etc. as we have for following Christ? What is something you possess (object, a feeling of pride, knowledge, etc) that is grabbing your attention more than Jesus is grabbing your attention?

I would be a big liar if I told you I had all of this together and nothing was holding me back. In many people’s eyes, pastors are supposed to be perfect people and have no issues. But the truth is, we are all human, all in need of grace, all in need of healthy relationships. We are all in this together.

This life is not easy. In fact, when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”[2]He meant it.

But always remember and believe:

JESUS MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE, POSSIBLE

We cannot try to get our way into God’s graces by “trying our best” or “being better than other people.” We can only get into heaven because of Jesus Christ.

It really is impossible to get into heaven by pleasing God because when we project something (action or person) as good, we are bringing God down to our own level. But instead, we should continually seek the Kingdom of God because God is the only One who can call something good and get it right.

We cannot do enough to get into God’s good graces on our own. But Jesus tells us, “With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”[3]

When we give, we are demonstrating the work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. We are showing to the world, truthfully ourselves, that we are willing to do everything necessary to follow Jesus. We are showing that the only thing that has our complete devotion is, not our stuff or talents or anything like that, but that we only seek to follow Jesus in our daily lives.

When we give to the church, we have the opportunity to be part of the work of the collective Body of Christ in our community and around the world. Yes, the Gospel message is free to give; but the transmission and spreading of the Gospel message takes resources. There is a whole world looking to see churches fail. Many people are constantly trying to prove God is not real.

Do we ever wonder how we can show people that God is real? One big way is to give. Give away financial resources. Give away our time. Give away the talents and gifts God has given us. Give everything away possible because God is continually providing and pouring out his blessings and his presence on all of creation, especially his most valuable creations: you and me.

Bishop Robert Schnase puts it this way:

“Giving makes following God real. We can live a God-related life, or we can live without attention to God’s presence and will. The God-related life means our relationship with God influences all we do. When we seek to do the things God would have us do, including giving, our practice intensifies our love for the things God loves. Then the material possessions that can serve as a distraction or impediment to following Christ become an instrument for our serving Christ. Our material good, consecrated to God, nourish our desire to serve God. Generosity feeds our love for God.”[4]

Tom Chapman, in his book, Make All You Can Give All You Can, writes, “When God calls you to a major task, you will always have other options, and His plan is usually the most difficult one. Many times, it’s also the one that makes the least logical sense.”

We all have things that are holding us back from completely and fearlessly following Jesus every day and in every way of our lives. So, what is holding you back? For me, it really depends on the day and what I have going on and how much sleep I got the night before.

Last week we ended with a piece of Psalm 51. Today, let’s read verses 6-12 together as a form of prayer and praise to God for all the ways he is working in and through our life:

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

As we go through this week, let nothing hold you back from following Jesus every day. Let your love for him be evident through your actions, words, and giving.

Seek Christ for the life he offers and pay attention to the people he loves and how he spends his time, energy, and resources. Praise God for how he is continually working in and through our lives for the transformation of the world!

 

WORKS CITED

[1]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 61

[2]Mark 10:25 NIV

[3]Mark 10:27b NIV

[4]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 62

Loving to Life Pt 1

You’re in a new organization, work, church, community. You have studied the demographics and have learned about the history of the area. You are excited about the possibilities.

Maybe you move to an area that you are not as keen on living in. You see a bleak future, or maybe one that seeks to keep things as the status quo. You moved there because you sensed you needed to, so you went where you were sent.

No matter where you are, take time to discern whether the people are trying to survive so their community, organization, etc. doesn’t die; or are if they trying to live. There is a difference between the two. One simply wants to maintain by not losing anyone or anything; the other wants to ensure their sustainability for the future and to still make an impact in the world.

Whatever situation you’re in, there are some things that should be done ahead of time, and during your first few months. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some thoughts on working with people who “want to live.”

I’m already reminded of the words of Jesus, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John‬ ‭10:10‬b ‭NIV‬‬) Even if it seems the organization simply does not want to die, there is incredible hope because of the promise of Christ to give the fullest life possible.

The first step:

What is the first thing we should do may seem obvious. This is something we say we should do before everything. It is so obvious that we can easily overlook it.

Pray.

Prayer should be the first thing we do. Right now, I wonder how many people are going, “duh! Of course prayer is first!” I would also believe there are people reading this now who are thinking they haven’t taking the time to pray.

I love this quote, “When we pray it does not nudge God to move more; it instead opens our eyes to God’s activity around us.” This is what we do when we communicate with our Creator, we pay attention to His work and activity all around us so we can join right in.

When we pray, it is very easy to fall into the trap that when we say “amen” that they prayer is over. Remember the Apostle Paul writes, “pray continually.” This is not just about finding ways to talk with God what’s going on with our world. It is also about being in tune with the voice of the Creator that is speaking constantly. Prayer is a communication where we should be listening to God more than always just talking to God.

Prayer opens our eyes to the work that God is doing all around us. Several years ago, I heard a story about people praying for their food in a restaurant. The prayer kept getting interrupted because another person was not doing well. They were visibly upset and sitting alone. The people praying kept their eyes closed, finished the prayer, and enjoyed their food. All the while, the person sho was upset just sat their nursing an almost empty cup of coffee.

Paying attention to the voice of God, even during our prayers, is important. God maybe speaking to us to go and tend to the hurt of another. We may be the answer to another person’s prayer. We can miss so much if we do not pay attention to what is going on around us – to what God is doing in the midst of the situations of the people around us.

Blessing Work

As we take time to pray, it is easy to ask God to “bless our work.” God is always working and is asking us to join Him in the work. This is a great chance to seek to bless the work God is doing by joining is and show His glory through your and my life.

In the community, organization, church you are in, or moving to, how many times have we assessed the situation and have said, “I know what needs to happen. Let’s just get to work!” I am completely guilty of doing this many times.

See, when we walk in and “get to work” we tend to focus on our own agendas and seek to make everything the way it should be. Yes, there is always work to be done; but what if God has sent us to where we are for something greater, something more important that just restructuring? What is God sent you there to simply be a reminder of His presence?

Yes, we are all reminders of God’s presence in the world; but what if God is simply wanting us to work on loving the people where they are exactly? If we begin by focusing on the organizational structure or focus on what’s wrong, we can easily miss the people there.

Prayer is the most important thing we do. It is what guides our steps, helps us understand and see where God is working. Prayer helps us see our mission, especially when we are actively listening.

Remember these words from Hebrews 3, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

I pray your new venture is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit working within you. I pray the people around you are seeking to live life to the fullest and seek the Kingdom of Heaven each day.

Finding Joy

ADVENT WEEK 3: Joy

How have you been taking the time to prepare to truly and fully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this year and prepare yourself for his return? What does this look like in your day to day life?

Everything in our lives will not go as planned, and people will frustrate us and cause things to happen. Disasters are common in many places around the world. Disasters can and do cripple people physically, mentally, relationally, financially, and in so many ways. How can we live with such devastation, such grief in our world?

Let’s continue our journey through Luke this week by looking at Mary’s (Jesus’ birth mother) response to her situation after she travels about 80 miles to see her cousin Elizabeth. Remember, the angel told Mary she would have a son and give birth to the Messiah and then she went to see Elizabeth who is also pregnant and will give birth to John the Baptist.

Luke 1:39-56 (CEB)

“Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.”

What stands out to you? Re-read the passage and this time try to see where you would be in this story. What character do you resonate more with? Or are you a bystander? What do you see, hear, feel (physically and emotionally)? This is one of those passages we can hear over and over, making it an ordinary passage of scripture.

Mary has just been told that she would give birth to a child, and she has not even been with a man. No one else in her community heard the angels proclamation to her, so they would have thought she committed adultry. This was a serious crime that was punishable by much more than just being sent out and told never to return. She faced the possibility of being stoned to death, and the child inside (our Savior, Jesus Christ) would have not survived.

How would you feel in this situation? We know what Mary did. Mary sang. She sang a song that gave praise and glory to God for how he has looked favorably upon her and how he will fulfill everything he has promised. I’m not sure about you, but when I hear bad news or know I’m about to walk into a bad situation, the last thing I want to do is sing. But this is what Mary did.

In everything she was facing with her family, her town, her husband, Mary still experienced joy. A joy beyond comprehension. She was more than just “happy” because happiness is an emotion that fades away based upon our circumstances. Mary experienced and proclaimed joy with what was happening to her. Joy is not an emotion, but a state we get to be in. God gives us this incredible joy so we can live in peace, even when everything else is going wrng or we do not think we can handle it. We keep the hope because we know God will keep his promises. We can live in love with those around us because God love us.

True joy is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Even when he was on the cross, I believe he still had the joy of God within him, even if he wasn’t happy about what was happening to him. If we allow God to work in our lives it is amazing what we are able to handle and what we see changed around us.

This advent season, with a week and a half left until Christmas, I invite you to take time out of your days and think about all God has done in the world, in your life. Think about what God is doing in the world and in your life. Thinking on this will help us remember all God has done and is doing so we can keep our hope and trust in him that he will continue to great and  mighty acts in our world and in your life.

Experience the joy that Christmas brings and allow it to transform your life so everyday is filled with incredible joy, joy from heaven.

Confidence in Prayer

Someone just asked their friend to pray in public. The friend felt fear creeping in. “What if I say the wrong words, that other person has much better prayers than I do!” These are thoughts that are not uncommon. It is scary, at times, to speak in front of a group of people. But prayer is different.

Prayer is not about what people are listening; it is more about our God who is listening. God is truly the only audience we have when we pray. It is to him that we bear our heart and soul. No one can take this away from us, unless we begin to focus on the people present and wondering what they are thinking of our prayers.

One way I have found to help with my personal prayer life is to pray the prayers the human fathers of our faith prayed. Saint Augustine, Saint Francis, Tertullian, John Wesley, etc. For our Anglican brothers and sisters in Christ, and something we can utilize, there is the Book of Common Prayer.

The people of our faith tradition have beared their heart and soul communicating with God. We can use those prayers and make them our own. The human heart is always searching for the same thing, purpose through a relationship with God.

So, how can we become more confident in our personal prayers? Several years ago, I was listening to a great friend of mine praying with a group of college students. The time spent in that prayer setting was incredible. What did they do? My friend led the students through the Lord’s Prayer, taking it line by line and encouraging each student to focus on that line.

For example, he would say something like, “Our Father, who art in heaven…God you are the One who created everything in our universe, including us. You are enthroned in the great glory of heaven and we get to talk with you because you are our Father.” WOW! Think of the power this would bring to the live of those praying. Not only are we speaking directly to God, our Creator; but we are recognizing his position, his power, and realizing that because he is our Father, we have a direct source to receive this power from. After each line in the Lord’s Prayer, my friend invited the students to pray on their own; praying for the specific concept of the phrase spoken and prayed.

What this showed me was we need to be able to address God through prayer; but at the same time, we have the opportunity to learn to pray in agreement with God’s plan. This is why I believe Jesus said, “ask anything in my name and you will receive it.” We do need to take heed, though, because when we pray, we get to communicate with our Father in heaven about his will, not necessarily our will. Our hearts become so connected with God that we begin to desire the things he wants, especially when we focus on what it is we are praying.

Taking time to pray daily, for any length of time is what we should be doing. Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5 to “pray without ceasing.” The way we live our lives is truthfully a direct reflection of our prayer time with God. But what if we feel like our prayers are too shallow, or they are not going beyond the roof of the house? We trust, that somehow God hear each and everyone of our prayers no matter how big or how small.

Over the course of this next year, I am inviting you to take some time to grow in your daily prayer life. Begin with a simple “thank you” to God for everything he has given and has done in your life. The simple act of saying “thanks” is a great mental and emotional reminder that all we have is from God our Father who gives us everything we need (Matthew 6).

Spend a few days with the simple “thank you” prayer and see how your communication with God changes each day. Watch how you’ll begin to experience, as Paul says in Philippians 4, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”

I also challenge you to look into prayer books, especially ones from the early church, and pray the prayers the early church fathers prayed. The heart and mind they had in many of the prayers is something we can strive for because the mind of Jesus Christ was being formed in them as it is in us.

Finally, I encourage you to look at the 10 Commandments, Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer. These can be found in many church hymnals, online, the Book of Common Prayer, etc. Read through and meditate on the words and take time to pray, line by line, and talk with God through these prayers, creeds, and commandments.

The more we pray, the more we pray with a friend, the more we pray with others, the more confident we will become in our prayer life. We can be assured that God is hearing each one of our prayers, that Jesus Christ is the high priest who is our mediator, and that the Holy Spirit cries out to God what we really need to say (Romans 8:26).

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” Colossians 1:3-6 NIV

Peace: Have No Fear

ADVENT WEEK 2: Peace

The four weeks leading up to Christmas is a time we should take each year to prepare ourselves Jesus Christ coming into the world: a time of celebrating his birth, and also preparing ourselves for his return. When we take this time seriously, we have the opportunity to again place our hope in God through Jesus Christ, to experience the peace and joy the Holy Spirit brings us, so we can truly live in love and experience true life, life in the presence of God here and now AND in the life to come.

This week, our scripture focus brings us to The angel’s proclamation to Mary she is the one to give birth to the Messiah, Emmanuel, Jesus the Christ.

Luke 1:26-38 (CEB)

“When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.” Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.”

More than likely, these are words you have heard many times. It is too easy for us to read a story, scripture passage, message that we have heard time and time again and think we know what it says. Remember, “God’s Word, is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) so each time we carefully read it, we can experience God speaking. Take a few minutes to reread the scripture passage again.

What stands out to you? What have you not noticed before? What do you hear, feel, touch, see? If you placed yourself in this passage, where would you be? What would you be feeling?

Mary is in the middle of her day, when angel appears to her and delivers this incredible news. Mary, like us, would most likely have responded in fear at first. Thinking about what would happen to her and her family, to her husband, if this all came to be.

Fear seems to make sense. We say we need to protect ourselves, so our self-preservation instincts take over. We are all driven by fear on some level. We save up excess money for the future because we get fearful we don’t have enough. We buy many imperishable foods because we’re fearful a storm will come and take out our power. We give our kids everything they want because we’re fearful they will through a fit in public. We buy the best and most expensive clothes, toys, electronics, houses because we’re fearful people won’t like us or we won’t feel valuable. Fear if kept unchecked will result in a person feeling anxiety, then turning to stress, then turning to anger. But, this is not how God desires us to live. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear… The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Everything around us can be chaotic, messy, scary; but God gives us grace so we can live in peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of Jesus Christ around us and within us. Mary could have stayed fearful; but soon she would have the physical presence of Jesus the Christ growing inside her.

So, we can choose to respond in fear, or trust God, even when it seems impossible. This was Mary’s stance. She did wonder and ask how this can be since she has not been with a man. But the angel told her, “nothing is impossible with God.”

Many people get stuck on the question, “how can a virgin give birth to a baby?” If we stay in this Lin of thinking we will miss a much more important question: “How big is your God?” Here’s what I mean:

  • Is God big enough and grand enough to create the world in 6 literal days and give it the appearance of age?
  • Is God big enough to create a world, set it in motion, create the math, science, down to the smallest detail for the world to evolve and get ready for humans over a few million or billion years?
  • Is God big enough to shut the door of an ark, fight battles for the Israelites, bring a whole nation into the promised land?
  • Is God big enough to supply the missing DNA needed to give birth to his son here on earth?

We do not have to have all the answers; but we can trust that God can make it happen. Personally I find great peace in this because I know God is holding a tight grip on us and is giving us everything we need.

Mary really did not get an answer as to how, exactly, this was going to take place except for hearing the “Holy Spirit will overshadow her.” But she resolves to step out in faith and trust that God’s plan for her life is much better than anything she could have dreamed of or planned. Which brings us to a final thought.

Was Mary’s life easier because she said “yes” to God? No. Too often we have this idea that following Jesus makes our life smooth and easy. Following Jesus does not mean this. If anything it makes out lives harder because we have to go into the world to shine his light. People will look down on Jesus followers because they don’t understand or know. We get to help those and be in relationship with those who everyone else says is scary or dangerous. We get to go to places that we hear on the news is war torn and in complete chaos. But…

We don’t need to fear because the real presence of Jesus Christ is with us.

This Advent season, take time to experience the peace of Jesus Christ in your life. Fully embrace the grace God gives, fear not or be anxious about nothing because the best task is to focus on Christ.

In the words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)