Answering God's Call

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I have recently been recording some theology lectures for my Parish, St. Francis of Assisi, in Ann Arbor. They asked me if I would do one on prayer a couple weeks ago. I was happy to do so. Prayer is such an essential part of our life with God, and yet it is too often misunderstood. As I was reading and reflecting on what the scriptures and the saints have said about prayer I was struck by a simple lesson. Our prayer is always a response to what God is already doing. 

God is the first mover.
God is the first to show up.
God gives us the first gift.
God speaks the first word.
God is the first to offer His embrace.
God is the first one present.
God offers the call to prayer.
God is the first to know the need.

Our community is celebrating 50 years of responding to God this year. I've been so blessed as we have reflected on our history together about how much people have reflected and prayed about what God is doing as we look to the future. I've decided to create a tool to help us remember to continue to lift up the Word of God Community in prayer. It's included below. I am printing off a copy to keep at my home chapel. Feel free to save it, print it and share it. I hope it will help us remember to listen to what God is saying and respond in faith to Him in every area of our life!

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Would you mind if I prayed for you?

'I just called to say, 'I love you'.'

'I just called to say, 'I love you'.'

Barb and I celebrated our 45th anniversary last month in the small North Dakota town of Williston on our way to Glacier National Park.  After dinner we walked around downtown, all 2 blocks of it, and found an Italian restaurant were we sat outside and ordered some gelato.  The young host, James, came and chatted with us and when we told him it was our anniversary he organized the staff to come out and serenade us!  Later we engaged James in some more conversation and found out a bit about his background, his love of family, and his goal to visit all the national parks. 

As the conversation, and our gelato, was drawing to an end, we said, ‘One of the things that we like to do together is to pray, would you mind if we took just a minute and prayed for you?’  James said he would like that.  After asking what we could pray for we briefly thanked God for the kindness the young man had shown and asked Jesus to bless him and let him experience God as he pursued his life goal.  He thanked us and we parted telling him about how beautiful Michigan is!


Barb and I have been trying to put into effect ‘5 Practices’, recommended in the book Joining Jesus on his mission, by Greg Finke.  These are things that we can do every day to start to engage with what Jesus is doing to draw people to himself:

  • Look for the Kingdom

  • Listen to Jesus

  • Talk with people

  • Do good

  • Pray with people

That is a pretty simple list, and it isn’t really hard to do.  It requires a bit of intentionality on our part but it is actually quite fun and definitely tunes our antennae more to what Jesus is doing in the folks around us. 

Our conversation with James in Williston did not lead to a presentation of the Gospel and praying with him to give his life to Jesus, which would have been very cool if it had!  We were not in a position to do follow-up with him and don’t know what God might do with that brief interaction.  However I am sure of a few things he did experience:

  • Christians being kind and showing an interest in him

  • Testimony that God is near and cares about the concerns of our hearts

  • An example of how to talk to Jesus in prayer, simply and directly

And I believe Jesus was hearing and answering our prayer!

Evangelism and discipleship are very interconnected and I have recently heard a really helpful definition of discipleship which is helping me: Moving from unbelief to belief in the Gospel in every area of life.  As we engage in the ‘5 Practices’ we are offering opportunities to hear and experience things about Jesus and his good news which can help people move from unbelief along the path to belief.  Not too hard for us.  Really good for them.

Interestingly, the song the restaurant staff sang was Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you”.  Jesus is calling to say he loves folks – and using us as his telephone!

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God: A craftsman of love

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It was Thursday a couple weeks ago. We were out in the Garden at Cultivate for harvest.  We do this a couple times a week. We invite community members to come out and help us pick the ripe plants that we then donate to local food pantries. Sometimes I just look around the shop and see who I can recruit.  This time I invited a couple kids who were on their iPads waiting for their dad to finish a meeting. I asked them if they wanted to learn how tomatoes were picked. They were more than interested and their dad agreed to let them participate.

The harvest was good an this particular day.

  • We had tomatoes
  • We had cucumbers
  • We had beans
  • We had zucchini
  • We filled several bins

The kids loved it.

The thing we love is that we can harvest food at it’s best. The harvest was ripe - so we went to hope - located on the south side of Ypsilanti where there is a lack of fresh food and food security  I love going to Hope because you get to see the people you are giving your food to. There’s a dignity in the presentation. They have little farmstand in the lobby. It's well lit and inviting. Often times, if you sit back, you can see the broad smiles on people’s faces as they find that perfect tomato. People seem to come alive. Katie, our garden coordinator talks about how much she loves to bring in the odd foods because she gets the opportunity to teach people about produce (i.e. garlic scapes).

It's amazing how much food our little corner of the earth is able to produce with just a little bit of care. The whole earth is really a gift of God. God gives good things and God gives them generously! 

So often this neighborhood is forgotten. Many don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The limited food that is available is too often the scraps. They are people who live in the cracks and margins we too often ignore. Mary, the food coordinator, came up to us and said how much she appreciated our harvest deliveries. She often tells me that she sees our pictures online and hopes that that food is coming her way. But on this specific occasion, she told us that many people admire our produce and comment on how lovely it is and how great that it is going to the people that can least afford it. 

Part of being a follower of Jesus is learning the nature of God's generosity. I am personally very inspired by the story of the wedding of Cana. The fact that the wine Jesus offered was a superb vintage touches me. God doesn't just meet our needs, he does so as a craftsman who cares about excellence. We can follow his example. How we give can be done as a craft. We can offer what is best. I am proud that this is what happens in this garden. We have grown a beautiful space that is the envy of the community in many ways, but then we give it away. I am so humbled by the ways that God cares for us with the earth and everything in it. One way to worship our God is to join him in his work of giving good things.

Roots & Fruits

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Isaiah had a message for King Hezekiah when it looked like Jerusalem and all of Judah with it was going to be extinguished by the Assyrians:

This will be the sign for you, O Hezekiah:

This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.  

2 Kings 19:29-31

Hezekiah had every right to be afraid and discouraged.  Only a remnant of Judah as left in Jerusalem.  The obstacles they faced where humanly insurmountable.  And they were being offered an apparently reasonable way out, surrender and get moved to a different land as good as their own. 

But God had a different solution.  Trust in him.  Wait patiently.  Step out again when the time is right.  And you will bear fruit.  It will be the LORD God Almighty’s doing.  Easy for Isaiah to say.  Hard for Hezekiah and the people with him to do!

We have recently completed a community consultation where we concluded that the LORD God Almighty is directing us to ‘return to our roots’, to continue to pursue the mission and call he has given us with renewed intentionality.  Easy to say, hard to do!  In fact, we are not able to do it.  Looking at our size, our age, our situations, it humanly possible.  We need the ‘zeal of the Lord Almighty to accomplish this’.

We are not the nation of Israel under the leadership of Hezekiah and the threat of Assyria, but I believe Isaiah’s word still speak to us today.  We have gone through a time of ‘eating what grows by itself’ and ‘what springs from that’, living off the Lord’s gracious provision in the past.  As for Judah, there comes a time for action.  Now is a time for stepping out in faith ‘to sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit’  -- acting in faith to plant/invest what we have been given and look to the Lord to cause it to bear fruit. 

Isaiah describes this process as ‘take root below’ -- sink our roots into the Lord, the giver of life --, and to bear fruit above – be channels of his life going forth to others.  This the promise that Jesus speaks of in John 7:37-38

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

As we ‘return to our roots’, the Lord is calling us to let those roots drink thirstily from his water of life so that streams of his living water can flow from us bearing fruit for others. 

Look out! Pursuing the call to serve.

We have been talking a lot lately about living a three-dimensional gospel. What this means is that we have a Christian life that is:

  1. Upward focused (We are passionate in our relationship with God)
  2. Inward focused (We are radical in our commitment to one another as a community)
  3. Outward focused (purposeful in joining God in word and deed to a world in need)

One of the biggest challenges of living as a Christian Community is keeping the outward focus strong. We can pursue a relationship with God and build our commitment to one another all within the confines of a Church building. However the process of joining God in his mission requires us to leave the comfort of the Church for the messiness of the mission-field.

There are many ways we can serve outwardly. It can be as simple as taking time to get to know your neighbors or as dramatic as selling all you have and moving to a nation in another hemisphere. God invites all of us to listen to His voice and respond to His personal call to share his love to our neighbors both near and far. One of the key ways God calls us is to open our eyes and lives to serve the people around us. Jesus Himself promises us that he can be found among those in need (Matthew 25:31-46). Helping to serve our neighbors is one of best ways we can give honor and draw glory to God (Matthew 5:16). Serving others is also an essential part in preaching the Gospel. As Jesus sent his disciples out he commanded them not only to teach people about him, but to seek out the sick and the needy (Matthew 10:8). James even reminds us that the religion that is pure and holy before God is not only that which takes our own need for a savior seriously but also that which cares for the most vulnerable (James 1:27). 

Discerning God's voice in our lives can sometimes be difficult, but when it comes to serving outward it doesn't need to be complicated. Look at everything God has given you and then look for opportunities to share it with those in need. John the baptist lays it out simply for us in Luke 3:11, "anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same."

May we live with open hands and open lives ready for God to use us!

Along the way discipleship

Matthew 28:18-20 is the famous ‘Great Commission’ passage:

And Jesus came and said to them “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

This commission is not ‘great’ as though there are other, lesser ones.  I think this is it!  It is ‘great’ because it is the only one and it means joining with Jesus in his commission.  We get to do what Jesus did, and actually is still doing! 

So what does it mean?  Libraries have been written on this, but the Lord has been emphasizing a couple of aspects to me recently that I have found very helpful and encouraging.  I hope you will, too!

Along the way

‘Go…make disciples’.  It is easy for this to sound like a direction to drop everything we are doing, join a mission society and move to foreign places – go, get out of here.  That ‘go’ word isn’t really a onetime action.  It would be better translated ‘going’.  So the commission is ‘going…make disciples’, or ‘as you go…make disciples’, or maybe ‘along the way…make disciples’. 

The point is that this is a continuous activity.  We don’t have to leave where we are.  Rather, as we go through our life we should proceed with an eye toward making disciples; be making disciples continuously, intentionally, in everything we are doing. 

This takes the pressure off the fear of having to go to Outer Mongolia and at the same time it opens up all of life to the ‘great’ commission.  We all get to do it, all the time – along the way.

Make disciples

This understanding of go/going/along the way leads to a re-examination of what Jesus meant by ‘make disciples’.  In modern Christianity we equate this with leading people to a commitment to Christ, or training them in the Bible or theology.  It is something done by evangelists or teachers or pastors, often in classes or book studies. 

Jesus defined it for the disciples as ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’, which included the way of disciple making itself.  Jesus lived life with the disciples.  Sometimes he taught formally, often he used the circumstance of the moment to prompt instruction.  They observed him and he observed them and they talked about it.  They lived life together and in the process Jesus intentionally passed on his life to them. 

A helpful description of this sort of discipleship is ‘helping people move from unbelief to belief in every area of life in the light of the Gospel’.  This involves the head (understanding), the heart (believing/accepting), and the hands (actually doing!).  It is a cumulative, really, life-long process.  And it is one that every believer with the life of Christ in them can participate in. 

We can all be helping those around us on this journey from unbelief to belief – along the way!

A New Kind of Family

Family is the most basic expression of God's kingdom in this world. It is a community of love which reflects the community of Love that God Himself is in Trinity. At it's best Family is the hearth of worship which feeds the fire for God within the hearts of it's members; it is the open door which offers hospitality new life and new relationships; it is a living proclamation of the Gospel to the world that it goes out to serve. Family can be made up in many ways. Of course there is the nuclear form; with parents and their children. There is also the more extended version which includes grand-parents, cousins, aunts and uncles. The biblical version of family, although it values these formations, offers a more radical vision.

In the Gospel of Matthew we read:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12: 46-50)

Jesus taught that the fundamental kinship that he built was not based on the relationship that individuals had to him through his earthly mother, but rather the relationship that they had to him through his heavenly Father.  Jesus promoted a affinity of mission over that of kith and kin. As followers of Jesus this too becomes our modus operandi. We are to be people who are actively seeking to join the mission of the Holy Spirit in our own family lives. This functions in two mandates Christian families are called to follow:

  1. We are called to be active in equipping members of our family and community to live as disciples of Jesus Christ
  2. We are instructed to invite in those who God sends us into our families to join their life to the life of God in us.

The first mandate means we need to be intentionally building our families with an outward focus. Following Jesus rarely results in comfortable lethargy. Jesus calls the community into a passionate relationship with God and a radical mission to care for one's neighbors and the world. Family life in the Kingdom of God is missionary in character. It is seeking always to invite those who God sends into it. As Christians we need to take serious stock of the patterns and habits we have formed and ask for God's direction as we make decisions about new commitments in the future. Consider periodically writing out a typical week's activities with as much detail as possible. Pray over that list and ask the question, "what would you have me do here God, and who you would have me do it with?" 

The second mandate means that we are always attentive for opportunities to serve and share our life and faith as we go about our lives. Our stance should be invitational. We are always offering an invitation to those we encounter to encounter love. Sometimes it can just be seeing the person in front of you and hearing where they are serving in some small way. At other times God may be leading you to develop a friendship, or even invite them into the family that God has. As the Lord brings forth new Children of faith he will recruit families to adopt these new members of his family into their own life together. A great resource that many use to help them in their discernment of who these people are is outlined here

Taking these two mandates seriously can completely transform how your family functions without necessarily adding anything new to the calendar. Life on mission with God isn't about adding mission to your life but making your life a mission. 

(Photo by delfi de la Rua)

The “Has-es” and the “Has-nots” by Patrick O'Connell

In Matthew 13:10 Jesus is alone with his disciples after proclaiming to the crowds the famous "Parable of the Sower." The disciples ask him,

Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

I don't know about you, but the first time I read this I was offended. I mean, Jesus’ reply just didn't fit with my understanding of his character. Where is the love in simply dividing the population into those who have been given special knowledge and those who have not? Doesn’t this smack of stoic fatalism? Is there no hope for change?

Then, in verse 15 he says, “For this people's heart has become calloused.”

So what does "calloused hearts" have to do with speaking in parables? Is Jesus choosing to speak in parables because he knows that if he speaks directly about kingdom realities to certain people he would prematurely expose the condition of their hearts?  Would speaking more directly possibly stir up anger, creating more, not less resistance to understanding the ways and the truths of the Kingdom? Perhaps by using parables he’s making space for a variety of responses: those with calloused, unbelieving hearts might dismiss his story as mere nonsense, they might derive a partial understanding of his wisdom, or they might leave pondering his words until the spirit of God reveals truth … eventually leading to repentance and new life.

Often in my relationships I do not exhibit such patience and foresight. I love to talk with those, who like me, appreciate and enjoy searching scripture to mine the multiple gems and wise perspectives that it contains. However, if I run into somebody who doesn't share my appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the word of God, fearing disapproval, I quickly change the subject. Whereas Jesus, despising the shame, lovingly continued to share about the Kingdom, asking his father for a catchy story to illustrate truths.   

So in the end, Jesus is concerned about the "has-nots”. I believe our Father is graciously inviting us to share in the joy of creating heart softening stories. If we followers of Jesus commit ourselves to look for those God-orchestrated opportunities to talk with our friends/ neighbors/ family/ coworkers, asking him to help us find parable-like personal stories about how we experience new life, then God might just use these to reveal to them one or more of the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven.

Advent: Praying for a Sword Day! By Phil Tiews

… the king sprang suddenly erect.  Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had heard a mortal man achieve before:

Arise, arise Riders of Théoden! 

Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!

Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,

A sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

Ride now, ride now!  Ride to Gondor!

 Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away.  Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it.  After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them… For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.

This passage from J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy might seem out of place as we approach Christmas, but over the years it has come back powerfully to me as I pray during Advent.  In Advent we are asking for the King to come, and the Bible makes it very clear that when He comes a second time it will be very different than His first coming:

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 
His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 
He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 
And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 
Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 
And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.                                                                          
Rev 19:11-16

Sounds a lot like the ride of Théoden!  That day will be ‘a sword day, a red day’ and the King of Kings will sweep His enemies before Him.  He will establish His Kingdom and there will be none to oppose Him.  I think this is why we love stories of rescuers arriving in the nick of time to set people free from the attack of evil.  It touches on the Great Story which God has put deep in our hearts, the Hope of the coming of the King to put all things right.

However, as we wait, King Jesus has taught to pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven’.  That ‘sword day’ will not come fully and finally until Jesus returns, but right now, every day in small and large ways, incrementally, that day is to be pressed out in the world around us.  We are to ask for, expect, and participate in His Kingdom, His rule, His rescue to break in.  We are not to hunker underground and await His coming, but to pray and be part of His Kingdom coming daily until the day He comes to finish the job.

As I have prayed and thought on this, I realize that for me to live and believe this way, His Kingdom is going to have to come more in my life, too!  I have enemies of fear, of slavery to approval, of unbelief that need to be swept away for me to be a partner is seeing the Lord’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.   Freeing me to witness boldly, to pray for healing, to work for reconciliation, to address wrongdoing.  So this Advent I am praying for the Rider on the White Horse to sweep through my life and rout these enemies so that I can be part of the pressing out of His rule and will now – until the final ‘sword day’.

Excavation

 

As those in Christ, we talk about being baptized in the Spirit and filled with the Spirit, and the language makes it sound like the life of the Spirit is coming from outside. But a better understanding is that God has placed his own Spirit within us and we are now filled from the inside, like a well filled from the boundless supply in the aquifer.

Read More

How well do we know what we know?

The encounter between Jesus and his relatives and friends in Nazareth makes a great “human interest” story.  [Note: some commentators suggest the single story here represents a condensation of several interchanges]

You can find it in Luke 4:16-30. I believe it's the first time Jesus visits his hometown since he left to submit to the waters of John's baptism; was publicly affirmed by his father's voice,  “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”;  was pruned and tested in the desert[and found pure] then returned "in the power of the Spirit" demonstrating and teaching about his father's Kingdom in various Galilean towns.

With all the outrageous reports which precede him, can you imagine the level of curiosity his homecoming generated? What will he look like? Will his face shine like they say Moses' did? Will his voice be different; will he sound like a great prophet? I imagine those looking for outward manifestations were totally disappointed. Nope, he just looks like the plain ordinary carpenter/ construction worker who for years trudged up and over the hill with lots of other townsfolk to labor on one of Herod's building projects.

Then Shabbat arrives and of course he goes to synagogue. The reading for the day is in the Isaiah scroll. He takes time to go find the part we now call Isaiah 61. While everyone looks on intently, he reads what might be called his mission statement:

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
            because the Lord has anointed me
            to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
            to proclaim freedom for the captives
            and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

 

He sits down and explains that the time that Isaiah speaks about is now.
And the crowd response??
Surprise? Incredulity? Excitement? Skepticism? Anticipation? 

The text indicates a favorable response at least initially:

"All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips."

I can almost hear the comments…  "Ah, such beautiful words of hope and inspiration", "Don't you love the poetry of Isaiah? He says such amazing things!", "When did he start to speak like this?", "What do you think Jesus means when he says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing?"

And as time slips by without much evidence of miracles or powerful, multiple healings, his poll ratings begin to slip…

Hey, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” after all. "He's nothing that special!"

And so, Jesus decides to help them understand the connection between their disappointment at not seeing the new thing God is doing and their reluctance to put their trust in him due to their lack of faith, born of familiarity.

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

Not only is he calling them out for their lack of faith, he's even audaciously implying that despised foreigners might have more!   That's just too much to hear! No sincere, faithful, law-keeping Jew needs to tolerate such unfounded accusation!!

Away with the impostor!!

"All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way."

Lord, this leaves me wondering...

       How am I like the good, faithful, God-fearing Jewish neighbors of Jesus who couldn't hear and believe the message of the new things God was doing in their land because of familiarity with what they 'thought' they knew about Jesus?

       Do I have preset ideas about the Kingdom which are not correct and need examination?

       Does the way I live demonstrate I doubt my true identity as your well-loved child?

       Do I believe that pure and holy evaporates when exposed to sin? Or do I have confidence that pure and holy has power to overcome and transform sin?

       Am I rubbing shoulders regularly with well-loved human beings who haven't yet come to know you?

       Am I an active or passive ambassador for your Kingdom?

Father, I do believe. Help my unbelief! Open my eyes to see who you say I am, that I might integrate this into my daily behaviors: that fear would take a back seat in all my encounters. That I would believe you truly want to use me as your active ambassador: motivated outward by the same love which compelled Jesus out of his comfort zone in heaven to live and die for the sake of LIFE eternal.  

This Jesus…both Lord and Christ

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.  Acts 2:36

We ordinarily think of Acts 2 in association with the celebration of Pentecost because it records that amazing day when God poured out his Holy Spirit on the waiting disciples.  The result was the first time that the disciples, now Apostles, ‘went public’ with the gospel after the crucifixion of Jesus.  This Easter I was drawn to the fact that their first public proclamation was about the resurrection.  It points to just how central Jesus’ resurrection is to the gospel, and thus to Christianity. 

Peter’s message is pretty simple.  Jesus of Nazareth was a man, but you knew he was something special because God made it clear by working miracles, wonders and signs through him.  Despite this, you put him to a shameful death on a cross.  But God didn’t let you stop him, he raised Jesus up just like he had promised to do centuries ago through the prophet David.  It’s not just that you put a good man to death, or even a prophet, but you can ‘be assured of this: God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ’.  This is big trouble! 

He is a man.  Shared our life.  Experienced our sufferings.  Resisted our temptations.  Was fully identified with us.

He is Christ, Messiah.  The one who is to redeem Israel.  The only one able to offer a sacrifice to atone for our sin.

He is Lord.  God has set him as his right hand, the place of rule over all things.  There is nothing in heaven or on earth that is not under his dominion.  He will put all enemies under his feet.

Using Psalm 16 and Psalm 110 Peter makes it clear that his hearers, and indeed all of us due to our sin and rebellion, are responsible for the crucifixion of ‘this Jesus, … Lord and Christ’.

What are we to do? On that day in Jerusalem Peter’s hearers asked, and the question rings down through the years to us today. 

There is no justification or rationalization, no making it up to God somehow.  There is only one response possible:  ‘repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins’.  We can only turn from own path, humble ourselves and align ourselves with this Jesus and gratefully receive the forgiveness he has purchased for us.  Being united with his death and his resurrection through baptism ‘in the name’.  We fought him, but he gives us new life united with him.  More than pardon, he gives us the gift of his own Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to make this union possible. 

The resurrection is the reality which ties together all the most basic truths of the Story of God: our sin; Jesus’ incarnation, atonement, resurrection, ascension, glorification; the gift of the Spirit; the hope of Glory.  No wonder that Peter chose the resurrection for the theme of his first sermon.  No wonder that we so joyfully celebrate every Easter:

The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad;

The Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.

From death to life eternal, from earth unto the sky,

Our Christ hath brought us over, with hymns of victory!

Marked

Ex 13:16 “This ceremony will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. It is a reminder that the powerof the LORD's mighty hand brought us out of Egypt."

Eph 1:3 “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”

Rev 7:3 "Don't harm the land, the sea, or the trees until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads."

Rev 13:16 “He required everyone--small and great, rich and poor, free and slave--to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead.” [NIV]

My friend Emily asked, “What did you feel when they put ashes on your forehead? Does it seem like God is marking you, as we’ve been studying in the book of Revelations?”

Well. There’s a good question. What do I feel at this point in the Ash Wednesday service, besides self-conscious and vulnerable, walking up to the front of the sanctuary, with a person of the cloth so close, touching my face, looking into my eyes.

“You are dust and to dust you will return.” (Gen 3:19)

My mortality noted, I feel a humble pause. “Amen,” I usually assent.

My friend, meanwhile, shared some of what she was feeling as the pastor “marked” an ashen cross on her forehead this year: her first encounter with this tradition.

“I know they say repentance and all that, but I keep thinking this is like Jesus marking and claiming ME for him.” But felt like Jesus saying, I AM HIS, and HIS ALONE...and that I also am loved and a daughter of God, and he has done everything for me, given up his life, etc., etc. I just felt like I was being claimed and marked.”

Previous to her mentioning this to me, Ash Wednesday has been a private, usually somber event for me, one person in the midst of the congregation, preparing myself for the solemnity of the forty days. By sharing her experience and posing the question to me, “How did you feel then?” my friend invites me to look up: to deepen my faith walk, inspired by another’s moment with God.

Thank you, Emily.

 

 ©By Joan O'Connell - February 2016Used with permission.

Tour Guide

By Patrick O’Connell

I find that it is helpful to restate familiar scripture in different words.  It prevents me from glossing over profound truths because I have heard them so often.  Recently, I re-prayed a favorite psalm in this way.  Any resemblance to Ps. 23 is not coincidental!
 

Father,

What an adventure life is with you as my tour guide...

You've made such comprehensive arrangements for accommodations, food, daily activities, and marvelous relationships.

When I think about it, I realize you've already been down every path my seemingly random life takes me; thus I can really relax and refuse the burden of self-reliance. Ah! How life-giving!

Even when things look completely out of control and the result of evil designs, I know that if I stay real close to you, you'll defeat my foes for me and I'll make it through unscathed: faith intact.

Though my enemies lurk nearby, you invite me to dine and dance, to laugh and sing in your shadow-shattering presence.

When I view my life through your God-breathed perspective, it infuses me with such faith that I just know my life will consist of an acceleration of joy as you reveal more and yet more of your goodness and continue to mercifully forgive my many mess-ups as long as I live.

Look up and Breathe

By Jack Flanagan

I have recently been reflecting on Jesus’ upward gaze and breathing, the in and then the out of it, and how this points out something of the Christian life.  It applies to our individual relationship with Jesus as well as our life as The Word of God.

The Lord invites us to look up, to the Father, to Him and to the Spirit, and then breathe in and receive.  The breathing out action follows and shows how we can bless others, how we can lift up to the Lord those before us and to love others, how we share the grace of God with others.  How we speak words of life within our families, to our children and grandchildren, and with our neighbors and with our world.  To people of peace in our path.

But first, looking up, the upward gaze.  Jesus looked up to His heavenly Father, in thanksgiving, for guidance perhaps – so he could see and then do what the Father was doing.  I suspect Jesus looked up often, checking in with the Father, perhaps uttering a short expression of praise and honor and thanks.  He looked up before multiplying the loaves and fishes. 

He was in constant communion with His Father, and in looking up he received, too.  He breathed in the Father’s love and life and Spirit.  His every breadth was one of receiving, not just inhaling oxygen, but the very breadth and life of God, the Spirit. 

But this inhaling was not just for his own benefit, but so that he now, full of the breadth of God, could then bless and heal and deliver and multiply.  He was dependent upon His Father.  So that in all He did and said, the Kingdom of God would come forth.

And so can this be in our life, one of looking up to the Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, acknowledge our dependence upon Him, praising Him throughout our day, receiving God’s Breadth and joy and grace, and then exhaling in love and grace and blessing to others.  In this way, God’s kingdom can be built.  May this be our heart.

This pattern applies to our community life as well.  The prayer meetings are opportunities for us to come into the Lord’s presence, to look up and turn to the Lord God Almighty, to bow and worship, and then to breathe in His Spirit.  He is so wanting to impart to us all our hearts need and can receive.

Then, as we go out into mission territory; we’re breathers, breathing in the Spirit and breathing out all the grace and goodness and blessing of the Lord to a dying world.

At our June gathering, the Lord spoke to us many things.  This gathering followed Supreme Court’s decision regarding same sex marriage.  “We are in a new day, a new chapter in our country.  You can see signs of turmoil, it is a tempest, it is darkness as never before and it will grow worse.  But you are my children and you have light upon you…”  Another spoke of how in the past we depended upon the government to hold back the darkness and felt safe because the government held back darkness.  And yet another referenced Ps. 118.8-9: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.”  Yes and amen.

So, look up, be good inhalers, find your refuge and confidence in Him, so that you can be effective stewards of his grace and light that He has promised to us.

Does God need me?

If you’re like me, you keep asking God what He wants you to do and how he wants you to do it; sometimes in a very conscious/ direct way and sometimes passively, almost subconsciously.  You may also have short or long periods of time when you wonder if what you’re doing with your life really makes much difference.  The Lord spoke to me recently both through Scripture and in personal prayer about this issue. 

In the familiar passage in Ephesians 4, Paul addresses the need for the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to diligently employ their gifts to equip the people of God and bring them to maturity.

 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Check out verse 16 again.

16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

The Scripture is pretty clear that the Lord has a vital role for all of us, and I experienced the Lord expanding this for me in prayer, as well.  I wrote this in my journal and it seems to me that this word is for more than just me, so I would like to share it with you, as well.   

So, when you have some time… (5-7 minutes?)… You say you DO have that much time right NOW? Oh, good!  Then read on…

I invite you start by remembering you are present right now to your friend and redeemer, Jesus; to your Father, all-powerful creator God; to your Advocate, Life-empowering Holy Spirit.

Now that you’ve cognitively remembered this try:

Closing your eyes, taking 3 slow breaths, and picture each member of the family Trinity entering your personal space with plenty of time to just be with you.

Now, if you would, s-l-o-w-l-y read this message…. And, if it works for you,  where you see the blank, [_______], insert your name.

________,  my well-loved child: cherished, reconciled, saved [and being saved], awake [and being awakened], surrendered and surrendering, joy receiver/ joy giver; my question for you is simple. Will you let me expand and calm your heart of fear? Will you trust me to answer your prayer to become the human being you and I SO want you to become? Spirited, alive, boldly joyful yet constrained by love? Content; knowing you lack nothing; ever conscious that I am pleased with you; that all is well?

You know that I reign over all and have power to deal out mercy and justice; to care and provide; to correct and direct at a personal and global level.

However, I really want, I need you to do your particular part of this work; Yes, I need you to reign as I would over that which I’ve given you, to join me in healing, directing, encouraging, and proclaiming my Kingdom. How? Simply by saying “Yes” to each request, each nudge of the advocate, each wash of my shared emotion, each mind picture of Kingdom activity which I show you. Might your “Yes” make you sad, happy, angry, joyful, grief-filled, grateful, thankful, patient, peaceful, or content?

Yes, my well-loved child it will. And as you say “Yes”, I will challenge and then extend your comfort-zone of faith. Come ever closer to me. Come, come close! Do not fear. I am here!

God has created us each differently with a unique but important role to play in extending his Kingdom.  Let’s live into our calling in Christ.

 

Open the Oikos Door

Open the Oikos door, Peter

Open the Oikos door, Peter

Barb and I recently got a chance to visit Israel.  Lots of great stuff, but the Lord focused my attention on ‘oikos’.  No, not yogurt!  ‘Oikos’ is the Greek word for house.  And also for household.  Biblical society was structured around the extended family households -- ‘oikos’.    This reality found physical expression in architecture.  Houses were built around a central courtyard with many rooms for family members and work areas for the family business. These houses were also called ‘oikos’.  A house was not just a building, but also network of people who live in that building.  So when we read in Mark 1:29 that Jesus entered the house of Andrew and Peter or in Matthew 10 that Jesus sent his disciples out with instructions to enter the house of a worthy person, we should understand that they entered into the house and the household, the relationships, as well. 

What was an ‘oikos’ for? Protection and Provision.  Obviously there is strength in numbers, and the actual buildings formed a secure compound, usually with only one or two doors to the outside.  But the ‘oikos’ was an economic unit, as well.  There were no companies or multi-national corporations.  People worked with relatives and close connections in a family business.  Andrew & Peter were fishermen, as would have been their relatives, and they cooperated at times with James and John and the Zebedee household.  Once I started looking through the lens of ‘oikos’ I began to notice how central it is to the New Testament, and it has begun to impact my understanding of Jesus’ mission  --  and ours. 

When Jesus called people to come and follow him he was drawing together an extended spiritual family – a new ‘oikos’.  So much so that early on his natural family, not yet understanding what he was about, came to take charge of him and he said that his mother and brothers and sisters are actually those ‘who do the will of God’. 

When Jesus entered the ‘oikos’ of Peter and Andrew, he took it over and transformed it!  He didn’t join them in the family business as a fishermen, he changed the family business to be his – fishers of men.  The family business was not just providing for itself, but now it was reaching out to others, because that is what the head of the family, Jesus, does.

This transformation of the ‘oikos’ Peter and Andrew  into that of Jesus hit me profoundly when I was looking at the ruined threshold of the door to what is believed to be their ’oikos’.  We are told in Mark 1:29-34:

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother–in–law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon–possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

I am sure that the folks in Simon and Andrew’s household were thinking, ‘It’s good to have the Messiah in our ‘oikos’!  We get sick and he can take care of us!’  But Jesus wasn’t in THEIR ‘oikos’, they were now in HIS ‘oikos’!  So that evening he told Peter to open the house/household door to the sick and demon-afflicted and the town outside so that he could heal them.  The door to Jesus’ ‘oikos’ stands open.  Peter and Andrew and their household were no longer about protecting and providing for themselves, but as the ‘oikos’ of Jesus were joining the new family business of seeking and saving the lost.

We are Jesus’ ‘oikos’.  He is saying ‘open the door’.  Are we ready?  Let’s join him in the adventure.

 

 

Prayer Summit

For 15 years pastors and leaders of Christian ministries in Washtenaw County have been stepping aside from the press of ministry to take several days simply to be before the Throne of God and seek his face on behalf of our County. The annual Pastors Prayer Summit, as it is called, drew together 25 leaders from widely different backgrounds to pray with one voice for most of 3 days at the beginning of February. The Summit got off to a late start on Monday, 2/3 due to 14 inches of snow which blanketed the area Sunday night. However, by mid-afternoon everyone had dug out and were able to make their way down to Michindoh Conference Center near Hillsdale, Michigan. The ‘Summiteers’ are used to persevering, not only through the usual poor weather that time of year, but through other obstacles, personal and spiritual. Prayer is spiritual warfare. But the Lord is faithful and has worked powerfully in the Summits over the years. May of the participants feel it is a highlight of the year for them.

One of the most significant aspects of the Summit is that it brings together leaders from such diverse backgrounds. In the relatively small group of 25 folks we had mainline and independent church pastors, men and women, African-American and white, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor and beyond, old and young, charismatic and traditional, and more! Despite these differences, we experienced being ‘one in Christ’ as we worshiped, prayed for one another, and interceded for our County.

Toward the end of the meeting the pastors from the eastern side of the County issued a brotherly challenge to those on the western side to see who could bring more new folks next year. May they both win so that more pastors and leaders are able to enter into the sense of partnership in the Gospel that the Lord forges through the Prayer Summit.

Churches Join to Pray for County

Churches join to pray for County Once again this year, The Word of God is joining many churches around Washtenaw County for the 40 Days of Prayer vigil. From Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday some church will be praying each day for the Lord to transform Washtenaw County, that ‘his kingdom come, his will be done’. Our block will be from 12:01 am on Friday 2/27 to midnight on Sunday, 3/1. On Friday and Saturday evenings we will be having open prayer meetings from 7 – 8 pm at The Word of God Meeting Room, 3800 Packard, Ste. 260, and we will incorporate the 40 Days prayer into our regular prayer meeting on Sunday 3/1 at 4:30 pm at Covenant Community Church, 5171 Jackson Rd., Ann Arbor.

There are several ways you can participate:

  • Sign up for a 2-hour slot during our Block. Pray however you like during that time, for the whole time or just a portion of it. You can sign up online here.
  • Join in an evening prayer meeting with us, or another church. Each evening the church or group in charge of the Block will hold a prayer meeting for anyone in the County. Generally these will be at 7 pm. check www.impactwashtenaw.com for details of time and location.
  • Pray daily using the Seek the Lord for the City guide. These are excellent resources for giving a biblical focus for our prayer for the County. All the participating churches will be using them, and we will be joining with folks around the US who are praying for their cities using these guides, too. The booklets are available at the prayer meetings and the community office, or you can get an app by going to http://waymakers.org/

 

In Luke 18:7-8 Jesus says, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Let’s be among those who in faith cry out day and night for the Lord to bring his justice on the earth.

Annual Concert of Prayer -- Marilyn Geyer

The annual Concert of Prayer at The Bible Church on January 21st was really something. It was very well attended. God seemed very present. The prayer-leaders were dynamic, enthusiastic, and friendly. People jumped right into praying with each other as if we've been friends for years. Bill Kangas did a great job leading worship. The Bible Church was very welcoming. I felt we really were brothers and sisters. People seemed to get along very well together. Some of us stayed pretty late! It was wonderful having so many pastors at the prayer service. I recognized Pastor Mike Frison (Knox Presbyterian, PACT) and Phil Tiews (The Word of God, PACT, Covenant Presbyterian) Pastor Ted Jungkuntz (St Luke Lutheran) and Pastor Bryan Schindel (Cross & Resurrection Lutheran), Deacon Rich Badics (St Francis Catholic) Rev, Levon Yuille (The Bible Church) Pastor Tom Humphrey (Church of the Nazarene, PACT) and Pastor Mike Byrum (Summit International, PACT). There may have been more! Special thanks to Phil Tiews for putting the service together and Deacon Rich for jumping in to help on pretty short notice (and doing a GREAT job.)

Marilyn Geyer