Community

Click here to read Acts 2:42-47.

Imagine Utopia, a perfect place were there is no conflict and everyone has what they need. Sounds like a great place? John Lennon thought of how the world would be different if we simply “Imagine”[d] doing things out of love rather than doing things out of self-preservation; but doing things for the betterment of society. That song has some good concepts in it; but it also takes away religion and faith and when a community is living out their faith, much good does come from it.

John Wesley was a genius at placing people into small groups to help foster spiritual growth with the new converts. He did this in a way so they could worship, develop relationships, and get accountable with how their life was being lived. We see the model he used as a similar model from how the early Church took care of believers spiritual needs. This is a perfect example to show how we need each other to grow in our faith. Individuals grow more spiritually when connected into a community fostering encouragement, empowerment, and growth through God’s grace.

Take some time to re-read the passage today.

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

What is one thing that stands out to you? Why? One thing that stands out to me is “the believers devoted themselves…” So one question that brings up for me to ask is, “how devoted are you? How devoted am I?” This is an important question; but we should be careful not to think that if we do all of this “stuff” for God then we are good and stay in his graces and earn salvation. No. This kind of life that is described and lived out is not to earn grace or salvation; rather it is a response to God’s free gift of grace.

So, as the believers devoted themselves, they took time to study the scriptures together, pray as a group, be in fellowship with each other. Unity within a community does not mean that everyone does the same exact thing the same exact way. Unity means that we all unite for a common purpose and goal in order to live together peacefully.

So imagine a world where we devoted ourselves (as a response to God’s grace) to the studying of scripture, meeting together (not just on Sunday mornings); how much would we see the mighty and awe-filled acts of God in our midst because we’re open to them? Be prepared for the work of God in our midst and just see how people flock to a community true to their faith and devoted to God in all aspects of their life.

What does this kind of life look like for you?

Let’s pray for revival and God’s presence to be known all around us so others know and experience the Kingdom of Heaven.

REDEEMED: The Thief & The Garden

Holy week is about to be upon us. This is the final week of Jesus’ earthly life right before the cross on Good Friday. People seem to approach Holy Week in different ways. Some like to dwell in the darkness and focus solely on the gruesome cross. Others take the time to go through this week recounting the last days of Christ. Still others seem to skip or avoid Holy Week altogether and go straight to Easter Sunday and the celebration that Christ has risen.

Yes, the Christian faith is based upon the risen and living Christ. When we take the time to study and go through the final days of Jesus Christ, we remember the resurrection could not have happened without the crucifixion. Everything toward the end of the week is built on top of the events that happened at the end of the week. I invite you to take time to remember and go through Holy Week events, activities, worship services, etc. As you do, I hope the power of Christ’s resurrection means so much more than it may have before.

The scripture I would like you to look at this week is found in the Gospel of Luke. Click here to read Luke 23:32-43. Jesus is lifted up on the cross and is placed between two other criminals. This is an incredible passage that shows the hearts of the two criminals hanging there with Jesus.

(Brief side note: When you think about the cross, try not to image it as a tall structure. The cross would not have been as tall as we might try to think. Think of the cross as actually about eye level. Bystanders would have been able to see the agony and details in the faces of those hanging. Spoken words would have been heard easily.)

One of the criminals was taunting Jesus, right there with the crowd who made sure Jesus was crucified. The other was attempting to show mercy to Jesus, who had the same fate as the other two yet did nothing to deserve the cross.

When I read this I think about our daily conversations. How often do we avoid talking to Christ (through prayer) or about Christ when we are in mixed company because of the reactions people might have? One person boldly proclaiming Christ or praying to Christ in public will have a better chance of hearing from Jesus Christ then a person who refuses to speak. Now, this is not saying that we have to force conversations to happen. Instead, like the thief who spoke mercifully, we speak when it comes naturally in the conversation.

Because one thief heard God’s promises spoken to him before he died, he was able to die with his soul being at peace. We do not have anything in scripture that Christ spoke to the criminal who went with the jeering and taunting of the crowd. I believe the same is true for us today. When we take the time to talk mercifully to and about Jesus, we experience a peace in this life that doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. When the world is in turmoil, we can have a supernatural peace.

This peace reminds us we have been redeemed from the curse and slavery of Sin and death. Jesus speaks of bringing the criminal into paradise. The Greek word used for paradise is describing a garden. This could mean the Garden of Eden: God’s garden.

Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17).

Jesus came to redeem the world. His life, death, and resurrection redeemed you. You and I are able to come into the presence of God and experience paradise in a broken world. Jesus came to redeem and to restore creation back to it’s original state of perfection.

One day the Kingdom of God will be known fully here on earth. For now, trust that Jesus Christ has redeemed (paid the cost for) the world, which includes you.

This is why it is important to go through Holy Week and allow yourself to experience and meditate on the events that lead up to the cross. Jesus Christ’s actions on the cross and his victorious resurrection are revealed to us in a more powerful way than when we skip the activities of Holy Week.

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

REDEEMED: The Unfamily Becomes Family

Last week, I invited you to think about your faith story and how you are different because of the grace of Jesus Christ. If it wasn’t for his mercy and his grace, we would not be able to experience hope, joy, love, and peace in this world. We would constantly shift from emotion to emotion. That kind of rollercoaster emotional ride is challenging. But because of the firm foundation Christ’s grace can and does offer, we are able to experience the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

As you think about your life before and after Jesus Christ, think about how powerful it is to have gone from not knowing the family of God to coming into full knowledge of what it means to be part of the family of God. We really go from not feeling like we belong to realizing that through God’s grace we can become his children and have a Father in heaven we belong to (John 1:12).

The story of Ruth is a great story of redemption. Throughout this season of Lent, we have been examining and discussing our redemption through Jesus Christ. I invite you to read this week’s passage, Ruth 4:13-17. To put this passage into context, feel free to read the entire book (it’s only 4 chapters long).

Ruth decided she was not going to leave Naomi, her mother in law, as she was going back to her home land. Naomi had lost her husband and her sons, so she had no more family ties where she was living. Naomi was lost. Ruth, a Moabite (foreigner), her daughter in law, said she was not going to leave her. Naomi told Ruth to stay and get a new husband. Ruth did not listen to the request, and went on with Naomi.

I wonder if you have ever felt like Naomi at times. Walked through times when it seems like no one else would be there for you. Even wondered whether or not you belonged. In times like this, we would try to turn down the offer of our friends and family to be with us because we would not want to burden them.

But, aren’t you eventually glad there are people who stick by us even when we don’t want them to, or ask them to? We should be joyful we have people that want to be with us in times of grief, despair, loneliness. However, there are times when it just feels like we don’t belong.

I am sure there are people who might read this blog post today who find themselves in this situation. I am sure there are people who are wanting and are trying to show their friends they are loved, they belong. These are people we should keep in our lives.

See, when we read the story of Ruth, we can see how Naomi lost her family and Ruth was not part of a family (after her husband died). This can leave us in a pit of despair. But God. Those two words change everything about our lives and our circumstance. But God used Naomi’s one of relatives (Boaz) to restore their position in society and put them back in relationship with a family. Ruth bore a son. It is through her lineage that came our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Just like Naomi and Ruth finding a new place in a family, we find that Jesus Christ brings us into his family. We are grafted into the family of the King of kings. We belong. As we look at the cross, we see just how much Jesus wanted to have us know the love and grace of God.

You belong. Trust and know that God loves you.

If there has been someone who has walked with you through hard times, I invite you to find a way to say “thank you.”

May the joy of the Living God continue to fill you life with a sense of joy and of belonging.

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

Giving It Up

Lent is coming upon us. No, this is not the lint we find in our pockets or in our dryers. This is a special time within the Christian Church calendar. This is a time of sacrifice, self-denial, repentance, self-reflection, etc. so we can be fully ready to experience the joy that comes on Easter Sunday when we celebrate the truth Christ has defeated our last enemy, death, and we can joyfully proclaim “Christ is risen!”

To get to that place of complete joy, we have to realize there is a time of preparation that should take place. Easter doesn’t just happen. Christ didn’t just rise from the grave. He made preparations. Jesus went with intentionality to Jerusalem, prepared his disciples, went through public humiliation, flogged, died, and was buried. So much happened in the life of Jesus before he rose.

The 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) is a special time. Many people, around the world, participate in some sort of fasting. Fasting is supposed to be challenging for us. One of the aspects to remember about fasting is that we are removing anything that takes us away from experiencing the joy of God’s presence that is with us always.

One of the practices I have done each year is to add something new to my days. This has been a great practice for me because doing a new spiritual discipline or a new kind of devotion or prayer has taken time away from doing something else. Adding something new each lent has been a powerful way to more fully focus on the life of Christ and how we have the opportunity to experience Christ daily and in new ways, if we’re open to his presence.

My question for you is, “what is part of your life that takes your attention away from God?” This is what we should give up for Lent. When we give up something, it is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to remind us that, just like we are tempted to partake of what we gave up because we think we need it, Jesus Christ was tempted in the wilderness. He overcame the power of temptation from the evil one and remained focused on his life calling and his life mission.

Now, here is the challenge. Instead of giving up something like chocolate, or similar, I challenge us to give up something more challenging. (Note: If you crave chocolate and have to have chocolate everyday, this might be a good challenge to give up because it might take your attention off Christ.) Some ideas are giving up a certain TV show each day/week, and spending time in a spiritual discipline (prayer, worship, silence, solitude, etc.) either on your own or with your family. We can also fast from food, whether it be one meal a day or only eating in the evening. There are several ways we can cleanse our hearts and lives by giving something up in order to fill our hearts more with heaven. I am including some additional articles, at the bottom of this post, that could prove helpful for you to fully immerse yourself in the season.

Now, after Easter, whatever we gave up, we do not need to begin again. This is where it gets really difficult for many. Giving something up in order to fully experience God should become part of our everyday lives, even after Easter. If what you give up really does take your attention off Jesus Christ, then keep it out of your life so you can more fully have your life devoted to God.

The day that begins the season of Lent is Ash Wednesday. Many people go to worship, go to a church building and get the sign of the cross on their foreheads in (usually) palm ashes. This is to remind us that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” Just like we are only dirt when we don’t have a physical body; we are truly nothing without the grace of God in our lives. The ashes are supposed to remind us we need Jesus Christ daily.

I pray Lent this year helps you fully prepare for the joy of Easter. May Jesus Christ continue to make himself known to you daily, and may you know more fully the presence of God in your life.

ARTICLES:

“19 Things to Give Up For Lent that Aren’t Chocolate” http://www.dailyworld.com/story/opinion/2017/02/16/19-things-give-up-lent-arent-chocolate/98005614/

“10 Ideas for a More Meaningful Ash Wednesday” http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/10-ideas-for-a-more-meaningful-ash-wednesday

SENT OUT: to Make Disciples

I invite you to click on this link to read our scripture for this week: Matthew 4:12-23.

In our church we have been going through a 5 week sermon series called “SENT OUT.” Jesus invites his followers to go into the world on mission to help people experience the Kingdom of God here and now AND in the life to come.

It all starts with knowing our Identity: children of God…this gives us purpose. Our purpose is to follow Christ in all aspects of our daily life. While we are following Christ, we have opportunities to lead people to find faith in Christ and make disciples for Jesus Christ.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of discipling another person in the faith?

Does the thought seem nerve-racking? Does it seem like something to add to our already busy schedule? Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go into the world and make disciples…” In other words, “as you are going on with your day and wherever you are, make disciples.”

This is through our actions, yes; but also through our words.

Jesus went to the villages. Jerusalem had heard the proclamation of God’s Kingdom on earth because of John the Baptist. Jesus continued the same message by going into the surrounding villages.

In “The Bible” miniseries, Jesus calls Peter in the boat to follow him…Peter asks, “what are we going to do?” Jesus says, “change the world.”

The whole point is to work with God to change the world.

Jesus called out to the people who would be his successors. I love how my wife puts it, “Jesus didn’t say ‘come follow me and learn from me.’ He said ‘come follow me and change the world.’”

Jesus wasn’t interested in people simply learning from him. He was interested in people coming along while changing their hearts and lives so they can experience the Kingdom of God and show others.

It’s all about transformation.

Jesus goes to the places most would not have looked to find the best help. Rabbis chose the students who would follow and learn from them. Jesus saw these men at the seashore and called to them with the invitation to “follow.”

When Steve Jobs started Apple computers, he demanded perfection and finding the right people who had the heart, determination to do the impossible with computers so our everyday lives would be easier.

In the movie “Jobs”, Steve Jobs (talking to John Scully advertising executive he acquired from Pepsi) “Do you want to sell sugar water the rest of your life?”

That’s a question we should always ask ourselves: do you always want to be a ________ and only known for that the rest of your life? Or, do we want to be known as people seeking after the heart of God and showing them true joy, peace, happiness, hope, and love that is a gift from God, our Creator?

How does this really apply to us today?
– Remember the beginning of the scripture? Those living in the dark have seen a great light…the world is not beyond redemption…remember that God called his work “good”
– Following Christ is much more than coming to worship on Sunday…it’s a lifestyle that begins anew each day. My favorite bible verse is Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your heart.”
– Seek to build relationships wherever we are so “they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
– There are always ways to show grace and the love of God through Jesus Christ in our day to day life.
– Jesus calls you and I to this mission of helping others find faith in Christ

It is by grace that we have been saved, not by our own works so that no one will boast. We have been called for and by this purpose. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

See the best in the world. Like Christ, ask people to come along with us to follow Christ.

Steve Jobs and Apple were instrumental in changing the world through technology.

Transformation begins with receiving the grace that God has given and allowing His love into our lives daily. This gives us strength and wisdom to disciple (help others follow Christ) so we can go with Christ “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”

The Kingdom of God is here. May we know this peace daily and share the good news.

Love Changes the World

 

Every person has a story of how the world is not how everyone else sees it. Every generation tells of how the world is completely different from how “it used to be.” What do we mean by this? I think we are all trying to tell how the world is changing, in our own way. Some say it is worse; and some say the world is better. How we view the world is really dependent on where our faith truly lies.

In the time of Jesus, there is Caesar Augustus who has it in his mind he is the true ruler of the world. He has human power, makes decrees and assignments everyone listens to and obeys out of fear, and sees the world as his play area. We have people like this all around us. People who are truly great because they are living out the grace of God through their lives, and people who are only great in their own eyes simply because they have certain titles, material goods, positions, etc.

When God came down in the form of Jesus Christ, the world was and is changed completely. Nothing is the same since God personally intervened. This is the gift we celebrate at Christmas time. This is the gift we open and fully receive at Easter. It was the power of God’s love that completely changed and is changing the world.

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

The first thing we should see is that love changes the world and gives us power.

The decree of Caesar to go to your hometown for a census to be taken is a good way for him to assert his power. He did this so he could know how many people are in the empire. Not so he could see how blessed he was to be able to lead that number of people; but so he could know how many people to tax and line his pockets. When Caesars of the world today get in power, it is usually for their benefit and not for the benefit of the people.

But God does something completely different. When the angels gave the proclamation that Jesus was born, the shepherds, and us today, are invited to partake in the presence of God. Caesar’s goal was to increase taxation and he could create laws for this. God is the only One who has the power to break us free from the law of sin and death. This is where the true power lies, and we get to receive this power within us, to go in the power of God to make a difference in the world because of the love He has for us. We get to go in the world and be instruments of guiding people to receive the power of God as well.

Love not only changes the world by giving us power; but now we are given a new pride and purpose for our life and work.

The work leaders do may or may not have a lasting impact in the world. It all depends on who they are doing the work for.

After the shepherds left the scene of baby Jesus, they not only returned to their work (tending the flocks); but they have greater purpose now. No longer where they simply shepherds doing menial tasks and a lowly job. Now they get to do their work for the glory of God because they had been in the presence of God, Jesus Christ. This is true for us too! After we have an encounter with God, we experience His powerful love, and we are changed forever. Everything we do is done to serve Him and give Him all the glory. No one can take away the work we do with God for showing others the Kingdom of Heaven that is right here among us. But when we do things for our own glory and purpose, we seen the work we do does not last beyond our time allotted.

“C.S. Lewis once wrote about the nature of humility in the Christian life, saying something like this: the Christian life is to play great parts without pride and small parts without shame. The shepherds’ role was not great by human standards, but it mattered little to them. Serving the Lord with pride and purpose in tending the sheep was a source of joy because they were in God’s presence.” The same is true for you and I. The work we do really matters because we are in the presence of God.

Love changes the world and allows us to ponder and think about all God has done, is doing now and will do in the future.

Not only have we been given great power in the love of God, greater pride and purpose for the work we do, we also get to ponder what it is God is leading us to do and praise Him for all he has done.

After the shepherds left, Mary “pondered” the shepherds visit. The shepherds would have also thought about what the angels told them. They had been given a grand message.

Now that same message is entrusted to us. Think about the things of God and we will see this world not as a place that cannot be redeemed and put right. We will, instead, see the world anew. God allows us to be part of this great work He is doing. The world is not too far gone. The world is ready to be changed and recreated. As we look outside, at the world around us, we should not allow the negativity to steal our joy in Christ. Instead, break through the negativity and show the world the incredible love of God through our actions, our words, and even our thoughts.

It is awesome how communities of faith can gather to worship and demonstrate the love of God in their communities which goes out and changes the world.

In the churches my wife and I are blessed to pastor, we have seen awesome things this year and are excited what the next year will bring. Some of the things we have seen happen in our community are:

  • Recovered from a tornado and rebuilt the church building
  • Baptized 6 people this year
  • Restarted Sunday School for children, teens and adults
  • Started young adult Sunday school
  • Impacted 280 children plus adults in our Trunk or Treat
  • Youth mission trip
  • Choir cantata had 175 in attendance plus choir
  • Children’s Christmas program (11 children and adults helping)
  • 31 coats for kids
  • 50+ shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
  • Helped people this year with utilities and other benevolence
  • families receiving Christmas gifts this year
  • Night in Bethlehem community event saw 175 people plus many volunteers
  • Provided food for backpack lunches to those kids who don’t have food on the weekends
  • Provided lunch for the school personal as appreciation before school started
  • Provided school supplies
  • Countless prayers, visitations, and so much more
  • This does not even include all of the missionary, evangelism, and life saving work around the world by the global United Methodist Church
  • When we let the grace of God grow in us and we stop living for ourselves and our comfort, Imagine how much we’ll see and experience God’s grace, mercy and power through us this next year!

To some, this list may not seem like much; but there have been many lives impacted in our community because of the love of God that shines through these churches.

God’s love through us changes things, changes our world, our community, us. His power is the most powerful force in the world.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

 

 

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.

Telling the Story Again

First Week in Advent

Luke 1:1-25 (Common English Bible)

Many people have already applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us. Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus. I want you to have confidence in the soundness of the instruction you have received.

During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old. One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers[a] back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.”

The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they wondered why he was in the sanctuary for such a long time. When he came out, he was unable to speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he gestured to them and couldn’t speak. When he completed the days of his priestly service, he returned home. Afterward, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She kept to herself for five months, saying, “This is the Lord’s doing. He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people.”

We have begun the season of Advent; a time of preparation and anticipation. Anticipation for the celebration of the Christ Child born and return, and preparation in our hearts and lives to fully experience the season in all it’s glory and joy.

This time of year, it seems we mainly focus on the birth of Jesus Christ. Many of us can tell this story by heart. Because of this, we can miss what was going on. We hear about God who came down to earth in the form of a human, Jesus Christ; but does this reality affect us as it did the first time we heard it?

Re-read the first paragraph of the scripture above (first 4 verses). What do you notice?

Luke is writing to Theophilus (name means “lover of God”) to show him the carefully researched life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Luke was disciplining Theophilus so he could understand who Jesus was and is, and so he could grow in his faith. One of the parts of Christianity we miss, at times, is we are not called to simply be disciples (one who learns). Yes we are supposed to grow in our faith and continually learn more about God who moves in and through our lives; but we cannot stop at this point. Our more important role as Christians is one who goes to make disciples for Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). When we step out to tell the stories of our faith to other people, something remarkable happens: we grow in our faith and have greater understanding of and a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Look at the next few paragraphs in the scripture above. Zechariah, a priest, is worshipping in the temple when suddenly he encounters an angel (messenger from God) to tell him he is about to be able to conceive a son; and he is to name the boy John.

Zechariah was worshipping God in, what I perceive to be, a quiet room. How many of us can say we have had an experience like this before when we worship? The reality was, he was simply doing what he was supposed to do. Even when we are just doing a task to check it off our list, God can and does allow us to encounter Him. The question we would have to ask is, “are we ready to experience God because we expect to?”

After this encounter in the temple, Zechariah has to somehow tell his wife, Elizabeth, they are going to have a baby. Do you see what happened here? Zechariah was told he and his wife were going to have a baby and Zechariah had a part to play after hearing the news.

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son woudl be the forerunner for Jesus who would be born six months after John. Imagine the stories told to John and the rest of the family and friends as to how and why John came to be born. My kids love to hear about times when they were younger. They love to hear what life was like before they were born, and how the world is a better place now because they are in it.

Stories of our faith are important. We have to begin with the back story to set the tone when we tell them because the impact of the story changes if we skip directly to the climax.

As we begin this Advent season, let us remember the stories and truths of our faith so we can pass them on to those are us. Seek to become a disciple maker and trust your faith will develop and grow deeper.

Remember this: When God intervenes in our world, everything is different!

#ComeLordJesusCome

Giving Thanks Daily

Today is Thanksgiving. This is a day we set apart to be thankful for the blessings in our life. We will give thanks for the people, our vocations, our lifestyle, God, etc.

What if today, we call this a “day of new beginnings” and talk about all the ways we are thankful everyday? It is easy for many to give thanks one day a year. How would it change our families, our workplace and coworkers, our community, our churches if we remembered to give thanks daily and live in constant joy?We are a blessed people because we have the Spirit of the Living God within us and all around us. We get to share joy daily, live in peace if we choose, share our hope, and be beings of love and light in our day to day lives. What great things to be thankful for!

Over the next few mornings, I invite you to pick a Bible verse on the link below, thinking about all the ways God has blessed, will continue to bless, and is blessing our lilies today. Then, say a prayer of thanks to God, then remember how we can be people of cheer and gratitude. Yes, cheerful people, even if you happen to be out this Friday (or tonight) shopping for Christmas gifts.

http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/thanksgiving-bible-verses/

How are your thankful today?

21 Daily Questions

Let’s say you and I were sitting down at a coffee shop today and I asked you two questions: “How is it with your soul?” and “How is your walk with Jesus Christ?” Do you think you would have an answer?

How many of us would have an answer we would be comfortable sharing? If we were to talk about the state of our soul, we may have an easier time talking about it in terms of our emotional state at the time. However, if we begin talking about our walk (our relationship) with Jesus Christ, we would most likely begin talking about all the stuff we do for Christ. In a way, we still have a works based idea of salvation and relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was an Anglican priest and was very systematic and methodical about his faith and how he ordered his day. He was constantly on a spiritual journey, as I pray we all are. Part of what he laid out in the small groups he helped to establish, were accountability questions that he encouraged the people to ask each day. The result, if answered honestly showed the people called Methodist was a deeply committed relationship top Jesus Christ, sharing their faith, and growing the church.

This past Sunday, I encouraged our congregation to begin asking these questions (at least 3 each day) so we all can grow more in our personal discipleship as well as help guide those we are discipline.

These questions, at first glance, may seem like a lot; but they are some great accountability questions for us so our faith does not get stagnant and we rely more on the Holy Spirit’s guidance throughout our lives.

The final question, “Is Christ real to me” is definitely one we should ask and I would add, “why is he real to me?” and “how is he real to me?”

Hopefully going through this daily journey does not make us more prideful in our faith, but more humble; especially as we share our faith more through our actions and our words.

Here is the list of 21 questions. You are encouraged to begin asking these questions daily. I would love to hear how these questions and your answers are aiding you in your walk with Jesus Christ and your personal and social faith development.
JOHN WESLEY’S 21 QUESTIONS

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Am I honest in all my acts & words, or do I exaggerate?

3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?

4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?

5. Am I self‐conscious, self‐pitying, or self‐justifying?

6. Did the Bible live in me today?

7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?

8. Am I enjoying prayer?

9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?

10. Do I pray about the money I spend?

11. Do I get to bed on time & get up on time?

12. Do I disobey God in anything?

13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?

16. How do I spend my spare time?

17. Am I proud?

18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican? (Look at the example in Luke 18:9-14)

19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward, or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?

20. Do I grumble & complain constantly?

21. Is Christ real to me?