NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

Expect the Unexpected

THE RUSH

This is the Pentecost sermon preached on Sunday, June 4, 2017.

Click here to read ACTS 2:1-2.

WRITE “ORDINARY DAY” ON YOUR NOTES

It was just another normal day. Everyone was gathered together. Everyone had been praying for the last 10 days. This was just another average day.

Over the last 10 days, they had been reminiscing. Reminiscing over the incredible things that had witnessed and experienced over the last 50 days. Jesus had defeated death by walking out of the grave, leaving it empty. After appearing to the disciples and even 500 people all at one time, he ascended, was lifted up, into heaven. As he was about to depart, Jesus said these words (that we have come to know as Acts 1:8), “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The disciples gathered together and prayed. I would guess they were bewildered about who/what the Holy Spirit is that is coming. I’m sure they would have tried to recall what their Lord said about the Spirit and what this would mean.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:7-8)

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

So…sitting around, praying, and talking about what they remembered Jesus said about this Spirit. It was just a normal, run of the mill day.

Sure, the city of Jerusalem was filled with hundreds of thousands of people there to celebrate Pentecost. This holiday fest tradition started with Moses, while the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. We read about this in the book of Leviticus. “‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Lev 23:15-16)

Other than the city filled and people were partying, it was really just an ordinary time in the life of the disciples. They were trying as hard as they could to stay on the DL because the Roman authorities and the Jewish Sanhedrin (religious leaders) were on the lookout for them. So they stayed together in one place.

Life can seem like this. We expect the day or the week to go as planned. We like the idea of change but we do not like to change. It seems like it can be more comfortable and easy to live as things have always been. We like to cling to the past because that is what we are familiar with. God does not desire us to live in the past. God does not desire us to play it safe and comfortable. God does not desire us to be the exact same today as we were the year before, or even the day before.

Who-Wants-Change-360x360

Suddenly in the blink of an eye, everything can change! Without warning an illness can occur. Without warning a spouse can file for divorce. Without warning a child can go to their parents and give bad news. Without warning you’ll get feeling to visit or call a friend and find out they needed to talk with you. Without warning, the Spirit of the Living God will come upon you and fill you so full of love and grace that you are different from the inside out which causes your life’s plans to go in a completely new direction.

We have the chance not to view change as negative or bad; but, rather, view change as new opportunities to “declare the wonders of God” to different people and a culture that’s different from how we grew up. God’s Spirit is always at work in and through our lives.

That is what happened on the day of Pentecost 2,000 or so years ago. Nothing was the same after the Spirit came down upon the disciples.

In the classic movie, the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was experiencing a normal day in Kansas. She visited friends, went on a walk, did her chores, and then went back home and laid down to take a nap.

WIZARD OF OZ MOVIE CLIP

  • Things were normal, grumbly, not very happy, until THE WIND came.
  • Picked up the house, Dorothy, Toto and all, and took them to a place where NOTHING WAS THE SAME
  • Little people dancing around
  • Monkeys who could fly
  • Unexpected dangers
  • Friends with unexplainable gifts–Courage, Compassion, Wisdom–without anything to offer a rational explanation for their presence
  • The Emerald City–beautiful, full of promise

That’s how it is with the Holy Spirit.

NOW, CROSS OUT “ORDINARY LIFE”

WRITE “EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED” ON YOUR NOTES

We’ve already established we do not like change. But when the Holy Spirit of God fills us, we are experiencing the power of God dwelling, residing, filling our hearts and our lives for incredible change to occur.

The Apostle Peter took the lead in this moment and stood up to proclaim to the crowd what they were witnessing. Now, you remember Peter, right? He always had his foot in his mouth. He told Jesus what he needed to do on more than one occasion. He denied knowing Jesus. Peter had a lot going against him. However, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood as a superstar, the leader of the disciples to tell the crowd all about God’s promises and about Jesus the Christ.

A favorite question from Charles Wesley, John Wesley’s brother, was “have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?” This was in the sermon “Awake Thou Sleeper”. Nothing is the same after the Holy Spirit washes over you. No longer do you rely on the past to make you comfortable. Now, because of the Spirit, you find your comfort in the unpredictable future and nature of the work God is calling you and I to do right here, right now.

We should never expect to live an “ordinary” life. Because of the grace of God, we are set apart, we are holy. We are the saints of God in today’s world.

The Spirit turns everything we know upside down.

It is not just the young who will have dreams for the future and dreams for the work to bring about the Kingdom of God, it is the elderly people who will also have these dreams because God’s work is never done. It doesn’t matter the age of the person, God can and does incredible feats through each person.

We often go to the older people to get some vision, to get some perspective and wisdom. Because of the Holy Spirit of God being poured out on all people, wisdom will also come from the young, the one people look down upon because of their age.

It is incredible what the Spirit does in each person and as a community! Was Kansas different when Dorothy returned? No. DOROTHY was different! She had seen what life is supposed to be like. Not gray and gloomy; but full of joy, wonder, and unconditional love and grace.

WRITE “NOTHING IS THE SAME” ON YOUR NOTES

My friends, the Holy Spirit is here. Allow this Spirit to wash over you. Be filled with the fire (passion) of God and remember from where you came from and where you’re going.

John Wesley has a great quote we should remember, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

Hold fast and firm to the Spirit and trust that his guiding work is taking you to the paths, places, and people God is desiring you to connect with to proclaim and declare the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. What an exhilarating rush this is when the Holy Spirit fills us and guides us!

Each day, I pray we wake up with an earnest desire to seek the Spirit. May this be our song everyday:

“Holy Spirit You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence Lord”

Rise and Walk

Click here to read today’s scripture: Acts 3.

One of the best lessons I have heard from prayer reminds us to pay attention when we are praying, especially in public. So much of the time, we tend to want to be by ourselves. We’ll have our eyes closed. We’ll try to keep everything quiet. But then, what if the noise is too much to turn off? What if we keep getting interrupted while we’re praying?

There are times, I believe God allows interruptions in our prayer time with him because he is desiring us to connect with other person who is in need. If our prayers are communication with the Creator, should we be surprised when he is asking us to be an answer to another person’s prayers?

Peter and John, in today’s passage, are on their way to pray at the appointed time. They had a schedule. They had things to do. That’s when they got interrupted by someone asking for help.  Granted, this was someone who asks for help all the time by begging for money, for food, etc. We have seen this kind of situation in our day to day lives. The same person asking for assistance. Sometimes we give them the pocket change we have. Sometimes we’ll buy them food. But is this what they are really after?

In the short term, we are all looking for what we need in that moment. We all need food. We all need some sort of currency. But don’t we need relationships even more? Don’t we all have a need, deep down, to know we are valued?

As I am writing this, the day before it’s published, I am convicted. As a husband, as a father, as a father-to-be, as a pastor I am constantly around people who need something from me. Can I give them everything all the time? It is challenging and I would burn out and run out of care quickly. What I can give more generously than anything else is a relationship.

Now, this also means that I can point them to Jesus Christ as much as possible so they have an opportunity to experience grace, to experience his love, to experience being valued. It is through Jesus’ love and grace for me that I am able to go out and share his love with all those I come in contact with.

The apostles had three solid years with Jesus. They had a great relationship with him. It is because of that relationship they were able to go and share the good news of Life. When they came across this man who was begging for food and money, they did not really have any to spare. But they did have something very valuable. The gift of grace. The offered him Christ.

“Rise up and walk.” Go into the world knowing you are loved by the Creator. Get up and realize you have been given gifts and talents to be part of another person’s life. Rise, share God’s love through acts of mercy, yes; but also through compassionate words. Give what you can. Rise up in the strength of Jesus Christ. Go on your way. Since he changed your life, go with him to change the world.

Rise up and walk.

Renewal

Happy New Year to everyone! I pray this is the start of an incredible year for you. It is easy to go into a new year and keep it business as usual. After all, we have our own schedules, our own ideas, our own tasks, and habits that we have to keep doing, right?

Yes and no. At the start of a new year, we have this opportunity to refocus and re-evaluate where our attention goes in our life. We get to see how much we actually focus on ourselves more than we focus on others. Or we get to see how much we devalue ourselves in order to put others above us.

For many, new year resolutions are about losing weight, becoming more spiritual or faithful in their faith, being better spouses, doing better to make sure those we’re in relationship with know they are valued. These are all well and good to aspire to. The main thing I invite you to think about is “why?” Why are these resolutions being made? What is the motivation behind them?

John Wesley encouraged the Methodists to re-committ themselves to Jesus Christ at the beginning of each year. I have found this practice to be incredible because the focus gets back on Jesus Christ, what He is doing in us and how He invites us to participate in His work in the world. We get to be reminded we do not live this life alone, we have the Holy Spirit with us each day.

Leaders are especially susceptible to falling into the trap of believing more has to be done in order to gain more followers or become more productive. The truth is that when we keep our hearts and minds focused on Christ and His mission in the world, we see what is really important and have the chance to reorder our lives for His glory.

So as we begin this new year, I invite you to get with a group of people (you choose the size), and take time to recommit your work, relationships, your life to Jesus Christ this year. Here is a video of the covenant service you can use to worship together:

Here is the outline of the worship service, along with responses, so you can print and use on your own: http://www.seedbed.com/john-wesleys-covenant-renewal-service-for-today/

Happy New Year!

Sin & Redemption 

Sin. Sin is a condition that many people do not take serious enough. Humankind has had to live with and experience the effects of sin throughout human history. In the creation story of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, we can see that God created the world, and it was good. There was an intimacy between God and humans with God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day to be with Adam and Eve personally (Genesis 3:8). God was looking for Adam and Eve after they had tasted and eaten of the forbidden fruit. From this time forward, sin has left a mark of humanity and creation. The intimate relationship between God and humans was broken.
As we begin to look at sin, the Hebrew and Greek words used in scripture help to understand what sin is. One of the Hebrew words is chata (khan-taw’). The New Testament Greek has a word with a similar meaning as the Hebrew word. Hamartia (ham-ar-tee’-ah). Both words basically mean to “miss the mark,” or “failure to hit the mark.” Looking at sin with these two words could make it seem like sin is no big deal. These words show there is a “mark,” a bullseye we are all striving for to hit. Our next question would have to be “what is the mark we are supposed to hit?”

Adam and Eve has a perfect communion with God in the beginning. After the fruit was eaten, we can now begin to look through the scriptures to see how sin impacted and affected every part of creation. This is what is known as “original sin.” Throughout the centuries there have been different understandings and teachings on what original sin is and how we are effected by it today.

In the book, Responsible Grace, Randy Maddox describes a western viewpoint and an eastern viewpoint on original sin. “This term was used to refer to both the event of Adam and Eve using their self-determining power to turn away from God, and to the effects of this ‘Fall’ upon subsequent humanity.” (Maddox 74)

For most people within the Western Church, the teaching has predominantly been 1) all humans have “inherited” the guilt from the original sin and 2) God’s judgement will be upon us because we are depraved to the point that we can do little more than to sin. (MADDOX 74). Eastern churches have had a different understanding and teaching about original sin. Their teaching has been “the true significance of the Fall was our loss of the Spirit’s immediate Presence, resulting in the introduction of mortality into human life.” (MADDOX 74) John Wesley tended to favor the eastern church’s teaching on original sin, thus he began teaching about prevenient grace, grace that God gives to humanity even before we realize God’s presence with us and around us.

Now it is important to examine a couple reasons why people sin today. Two ideas seem to give good reasons why people sin and they come from two different people who lived roughly 150 years apart, Saint Augustine and Iranaeus. These two views also display the differences in the Western and Eastern Church teachings.

Justo Gonzalez and Zaida Maldonado Perez write about the differences in these two early church fathers. “The most common way of interpreting the story of the first temptation is that Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be carried away by ambition when the serpent promised they would be ‘like God.’ In that case, pride is at the very root of evil.” (Gonzalez 69) This teaching is very much in line with the understanding of the Western Church today. This has been a dominate teaching since the time of Saint Augustine (AD 354-430)

Iranaeus (AD 200s) taught something that is in line with the Eastern Church’s understanding on sin. “Adam and Eve were already like God, who had made them after the divine image and likeness. Therefore, sin, is not in ambition, but rather in the lack of faith, in not believing what was already a reality, that they were “like God.” (Gonzales 69)

These two understandings and teachings help show how sin can come about in our day and age. If the root of all sin is pride, then the poor and oppressed people should stay exactly in the state they are in and should not aspire to have or be more. If the root of sin is forgetting the image of God in us, the poor and oppressed should demand respect and justice because they are like everyone else, made in the image of God. (Gonzalez 69)

In either case, the effects of sin are prevalent throughout all of creation. We see this throughout the Old Testament book of Genesis all the way through the last book of the New Testament, Revelation. The very next chapter after the Fall, in Genesis 3, we see the damage sin can do. “Missing the mark” for God’s perfect will for our lives can and does lead people down a path that they would not have gone. Pride and forgetting the image of God in humans is clearly evident when Cain murdered Abel over the offering sacrifice. Throughout the genealogical lines listed beginning in Genesis 4 through chapter 5, we see sin taking a stronger and stronger hold on the people.

The effect from original sin do not take away the free will Adam and Eve had in the beginning. People have had the choice to follow God or take their own path whether based on pride, or forgetting they are made in the image of God. The choice to follow God is evident within the story of Noah and is evident all the way through the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. With each story we read, God is gracious enough to find ways to cleanse the sin and give people chances to follow and know the One True God as their Creator.

The Grace of God came into full fruition through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God made flesh and dwelling among us. It was his life, death, and resurrection that shows us how serious sin is and how loving and gracious God is that our sin would be paid for through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)

His was the perfect life that we should all aspire to live. Jesus lived and loved as God intended us to live and love like from the beginning. Lest we think this life was easy for Jesus, we can read of his life in the Gospels and remember the writer of Hebrews who wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)

Sin does have lasting and damaging effects in our world. All we have to do is turn on the television to witness that. But, the beauty of it is, we do not have the last word on sin, God has the last word. God has defeated and broken the chains of sin and death that enslaved humans and makes us think we lack the freedom to not sin. Because of grace, we have the freedom to follow Jesus Christ and allow his grace and love to transform us.

Bibliography

Campbell, Ted. Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials. Nashville: Abingdon, 2011. Print.

González, Justo L., and Zaida Maldonado Pérez. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002. Print. 

Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville, TN: Kingswood, 1994. Print.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Our Lives Look Different

Christmas is a wonderful time of year for many and a tragic, depressing or sad time of year for many. This time of year for others is…frustrating.

Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of the Christ child into the world, and into our hearts once again. How we live demonstrates our devotion for Christ. This does not mean that we earn our way into God’s favor or we have to work to get grace. What this does mean is that our lives should reflect the outpouring of God’s grace upon our lives. Our lives should be different from those who do not believe (either never believed, or have fallen from belief).

Our scripture for this week is Jesus speaking of the end of time and about the Son of Man’s (His) return in glory. You can read the scripture for this week here.

What stand out to you today? One thing I would like to bring into the conversation is, how we react to this passage, about the end of time, shows how we’ll act toward God and others here and now. We do not know when the end will come and when Christ will return. Jesus says to “be on guard so your hearts will not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…” We are to live as people of faith with hope in all God has done, is doing and will do in the future.

We do not have to be worried or be part of anything that will take our minds and hearts off of Christ. We trust that Christ is with us and will continue to be with us during difficult times. So, what we watch on media, what we read, what we write should all be different from those who do not have faith.

Our love of and for God and people should set us apart. It is through our actions and our lives that may people will see and experience Emmanuel (God with us). God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is working in and through us to show the world He is here and is working for restoration and reconciliation.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Preparing for What?

We have just entered into the season of Advent. This marks the beginning of a new Christian church year. Advent is one of my favorite times because we have the opportunity to focus on the actions God took by becoming man, Jesus Christ. We are invited, once again, to deepen our faith and allow the message of the Christmas Story – the birth of Jesus Christ to change our hearts so we can work with God to change the world. Let’s make this season come alive with deeper meaning and joy.

As we begin this journey, we begin with a scripture passage of Jesus talking about the end times and the return of the Son of Man in glory. We will be asked some questions this week that I pray will cause us to really think about who Christ is to us and how His birth turned the world upside down.

You can read the scripture for this week here.

Today, we begin our journey by asking the question,”what are we preparing for?” It may seem a little strange to start the season of Advent with a passage about the end times and the Son of Man returning; but this is an ancient tradition that has helped Christians through the centuries to prepare their hearts and lives to fully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

We are preparing our hearts, our lives, our eyes for God’s actions in the world. Think about it, when we talk to God (pray), do we expect God to act? Another way to put it, when we pray for rain, do we pray with an umbrella in our hand or simply wish for it to rain without trusting that it will? God is acting in our world. Jesus said, “let those with eyes see and those with ear hear.” Do we notice all God is doing, even in the midst of turmoil?

We are also preparing for the birth of a Savior. This Savior is different. We do not have a Savior that will make our lives easier; but a Savior that will be with us every step of our life journey. When we need strength and endurance to endure hardships or difficulties in our life, Christ is with us.

We prepare for something new. Births of children are always the reminder of new life. This Advent, I hope we experience the new life God gives us each year, each day. We can trust that, even in the darkest times, Christ is with us in glory. Are we ready to celebrate His birth? Are we ready for His return?

How will we prepare for the birth of Christ in our hearts and lives this year so it’s not something we go through, but rather something we live for.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.