I am reading a collection of essays entitled For the Beauty of the Church, in which Andy Crouch, theologian and cultural anthropologist, says, “Prayer brings us into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade. It aligns our life with the one who suffered most deeply on behalf of all that is broken in the world, and through whose sufferings the world has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved.” ( p 39)
When I read that, I was reminded how easy it is to fall out of our routines with spiritual disciplines during the changing seasons. Getting up earlier, going to bed later, kids out for the summer, etc. As we begin this summer my hope is that each of us would be intentional about our prayer life. Not because we are praying for something specific or are petitioning God in one way or another, but that our prayer time might become an avenue through which we stay connected to God.
Let’s be a people of prayer this summer, and as we commit to this discipline I know that we will see our hearts remade and realigned to the heart of God.
In Christ, Will
Published on Thursday, June 13, 2019 @ 1:20 PM EDT
Yesterday morning as I came out of the house, I spotted something strange and unusual in the neighbor’s yard. A cat was lurking under the bushes and intently staring in a certain direction that was alarming to me. The cat was staring toward my birdfeeders. I watched him for a moment and noticed how focused he was on the birds that were gathering for their next meal. This cat was ready to pounce at the first opportunity and consume his next meal.
I was running a little bit late and was concerned about making it to church on time. I had a decision to make - would I ignore the cat or would I try to shoo him away? I decided to help the cat reside someplace else. The birds were important to me and were safe for the moment. Mr. Cat would need to look elsewhere for something to consume.
As I was driving to work, I thought about the encounter with Mr. Cat. How many individuals, relationships, businesses, churches, and even countries have been negatively impacted by the things they choose not to shoo away? Those notions or ideas that are most often focused inwardly and based on fear and / or selfishness which organizations or individuals allow to linger, nearby, can cause great suffering and pain.
In the scripture, God was warning Cain about something he was allowing to linger in his soul and God says in Genesis 4:7 “if you do what is right, will you not be accepted? If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it “
Thoughts come to us each day that can either help us do good or lead us to do harm to ourselves or others. We may not be able to control thoughts that come into our minds but we can certainly control how long they lurk or linger. Should we not quickly shoo those thoughts away like jealousy, anger, envy, pride, and lust. Should we not seek to run away from those thoughts that lead us into a deeper darkness of selfishness . If we let them linger around they just might consume what is important to us - our relationship to God and each other.
What we focus on is what we become like! May we focus this day on God’s goodness and grace. There is a saying by some Sudanese Christians, “God is good all the time and all the time I am a witness!”
Shoo away those “cat-like thoughts” seeking to consume you and allow the melodies of the birds to bring joy to you this day.
– Blessings, Mark
Published on Thursday, May 30, 2019 @ 3:48 PM EDT
Lately, I have been reading through a few of my old books. One that caught my eye is a book by Jim Harnish, a retired UMC preacher. The book is: You Only Have to Die, a concept most of us don’t really want to talk about. The book is about how UMC congregations can become the catalysts for our vision to “Go make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
He has a chapter on worship where he makes four points as to what worship really is. The 4th point is: Worship Motivates Ministry. I will quote part of that chapter. “What we do in worship and what God does with us is not an insignificant thing. In worship we are dealing with the reality of God’s power to transform the world. The God who meets the world in its suffering calls us to go into that world as the channel of God’s redeeming, liberating love. Genuine worship motivates us for obedient ministry in the world.”
He then uses the analogy of the church as a professional football game, in which the stands are filled with 80,000 spectators needing exercise watching 22 players that need a rest. Then he points out that genuine worship “never leaves us as spectators. It motivates us to do something that we would not otherwise do.” I honestly don’t think that this means making some Facebook post, or tweeting, or even writing a letter to the editor. I have honestly found that most of those “suffering, marginalized people” could really care less about our votes, tweets and posts.
What they care about is, are we out there with them. Read Isaiah 58 if you want God’s definition of real worship.
How are we going to worship God Monday through Saturday of this week? Being a spectator, Geaux Jesus!
Published on Thursday, May 23, 2019 @ 4:21 PM EDT
Hebrew Bible scholar Susanne Sholz says, the “Bible has undoubtedly shaped culture but culture too has shaped the biblical meaning – which itself is shifting, turning and open rather than historically fixed, static and closed.” Within this paradoxical statement are some very strong implications and challenges. More importantly, I believe there is an implied underlying message of caution regarding the use of scriptural verses as slogans for current moral agendas.
Some readers might think there is legitimate reason to discard the Bible as our solid foundation due to perceived limitations of human writers and their use of past or outdated expressions. However, rather than discarding certain portions of God’s Word meant to guide the reader, by faith, we see God’s Word as inspired by the Paraclete (Holy Spirit). It is only through Divine revelation of hermeneutical context that we will understand.
As the Church seeks to live authentically, may God empower us to genuinely engage and appropriate scripture, without using it as motivation or support for promotion of personal views. Let us seek to understand, acknowledge, embody and amplify social ethics that positively exemplify God’s message for all.
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17 (CEB)
– – Linda I. McDaniel
Published on Thursday, May 16, 2019 @ 2:51 PM EDT
I am reading NT Wright’s biography of Paul right now as a part of my devotional routine. It has been helpful to me to pair this book with my reading of Acts for sermon preparation and a small group that I lead on Tuesday mornings.
Early on in the book when reflecting on Saul’s conversion story and the hope which filled Saul’s heart as a zealous Jew, Wright says, “Hope and Optimism are not the same thing. The optimist looks at the world and feels good about the way it’s going. Things are looking up. Everything is going to be all right. But hope, at least as conceived within the Jewish and then the early Christian world, was quite different. Hope could be, and often was, a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark. It depended not on a feeling about the way things were or the way they were moving, but on faith, faith in the one God.” (p 45)
Wright goes on to say that Hope in this sense is not a feeling but is rather a virtue. In fact, Hope is one of the three theological virtues in Christian tradition. We live in a world where unsubstantiated and over zealous optimism has harmed lives and weakened relationships. We live in a world that desperately needs the HOPE that is made possible through the person and work of Jesus Christ. I wonder what the world might look like if the cliché phrases of blind optimism were replaced by proclamations of deep, powerful, and transformational hope?
As we seek to live faithfully this week, may we strive to offer the virtue of Hope, in the name of Jesus, to all that we meet.
In Christ, Will
Published on Thursday, May 9, 2019 @ 4:01 PM EDT