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

40 Days of Prayer for Washtenaw County

What would happen if all the churches in Washtenaw County prayed day and night ... ? This is the seventh year that the Church in the County is joining together to offer continuous intercession for transformation. Once again churches from many different traditions and descriptions will be crying out as one for a sustained period. What might God do when his Bride gives Him no rest? May this be the start of finding out!

Just how is the 40 Days of Prayer going to work?

More than a dozen churches and ministries are taking 3 days slots, so that together we can pray day and night from Ash Wednesday, February 18 to Palm Sunday, March 29. Our focus is asking God to transform Washtenaw County and each group is organizing its portion of the vigil in its own way. However, each evening there will be an open prayer room from 7 to 8 pm hosted by a church ‘on duty’ for that day. A schedule of these will be available soon.

To further focus our prayer, we are using a booklet called Seek God for the City, which provides a prayer topic for each day. This way even when a group is not ‘on duty’, folks can pray in common with all the other brothers and sisters in the participating churches – These also allow anyone else, even if their own church is not taking a slot this year, to join in this effort. You can get the booklets at the next few prayer meetings or at the office.

There is going to be an opening Kick-off Prayer Meeting on Tuesday 2/17 and a simplified Hosanna celebration to close out the 40 Days. Details for both of these celebrations are still being worked out.

Bringing the Kingdom Near -- Love Your Neighbor

At the start of his ministry Jesus proclaimed ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mark 1:14). The Kingdom not being a place but rather the personal rule of God, Jesus was speaking about himself. In him God was extending his personal reign into this broken world which is in rebellion against him. Everywhere Jesus went he proved his point! As he told John the Baptist’s disciples, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Matt 11:5) Along the way demons fled, storms were stilled and bread was multiplied, too! With Jesus’ death and resurrection and the outpouring of his Spirit, you and I are now joined to Christ through faith and together we are his Body in the here and now, ‘the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.’ (Eph 1:23) That means that wherever we are, the Kingdom of God is now at hand, as well.

Through the simple act of obeying the Lord’s commandment to love our neighbors, we are breaking with a world system in rebellion against God and bringing his Kingdom near. Loving our neighbors might involve ‘binding up the brokenhearted’ or ‘preaching the good news to the poor’, but who knows, as we step out into his near Kingdom we might see ‘the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised’, too!

Let’s ask the Lord to show us simple ways to love our neighbors and look with eyes of faith for what he does when his Kingdom draws near.

The 'Small' and the 'One' by Ned Berube

20141203 Small One Berube Blind man

Ed. Note: Ned and his family moved here from Minneapolis to be part of the The Word of God for a few years in the 1980’s.  He returned home where he has pastored a church, led the Assembly of Renewal Churches and a ministry to pastors called Whitewater.  I found this article by him relevant for us and encouraging.  I have never been the pastor of a really big church. Nor the president of a really big organization. I guess I have a big family (6 kids, 6 grandkids), but I work a lot with "small". I also work a lot with "one". And frankly, I'm quite comfortable with small and one, largely because I think the mission of God on earth, particularly in the 3-year ministry of Jesus, has a lot to do with "small" and "one".

It's of great significance to me that Jesus finishes His 3.5 years of incarnational ministry with a grand total of 120 adults. And He has no apparent angst about the need for larger numbers.

Of course, on the day of Pentecost, we add 3,000 people, but that's beside the point!

 I have been reading through the gospel of John out loud with my wife, and I was struck by this verse in chapter 9 regarding the man who had been born blind and healed by Jesus - "Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him, He said 'Do you believe in the Son of Man?'" (John 9:35)  Here is a guy who clearly has been a figure of "no account". Blind since birth. No doubt a beggar and of little social importance. But this verse says, regarding Jesus, "...when He found him...". Think of that for a moment. The incarnate Son of God decides that this non-important, no-account social pariah was worth finding, and goes out of His way to track him down and secure him in his faith.

 And that's just one of many incidents where Jesus connects to the small and the one.

I'm also quite impressed with what I would call the "reverse evangelism" of Jesus, particularly in Luke 14:25 - "Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them, He said 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate is father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Well, honestly, is that any way to treat a potential congregation? He apparently is just never impressed with big numbers.

One more example. Luke 21:1-3 says "As He looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor window putting in her two small copper coins. 'I tell you the truth, He said, 'This poor widow has put in more than all the others.'" My guess is that his disciples were quite taken with the rich folk dumping in their 401Ks and big bills.  But Jesus notices the small and the one, and that's what He talks about.

I have described myself as a "church guy". My favorite section of the week is Sunday morning. I like going to church. And not just well done, powerfully preached, amazingly worshipped, utterly friendly church. I like being in the ordinary, not-so-well-done group of folks that's simply acknowledging God and the work of Jesus. And for that matter, one another. I'm not flying a banner for mediocrity here, but the fact of the matter is that no one church can compete with the excellence of the best church out there, wherever that might be. I think Jesus notices the small, the simple, and the one. And if we don't, we will tend to compare ourselves with the big, the splashy, and the many.

All of this is to say that I am quite content with connecting to the leaders and teams and churches that God has brought into my path. I don't wish it was bigger, or more spiritual, or more gifted. If Jesus were walking this earth, I'm quite sure He would continue to relate to the people nobody else was terribly interested in, and the smaller gatherings that don't seem to have much potential.

One disclaimer to end. I honestly don't think that Jesus despises the big and the many. He's quite good at what He does. My call, apparently, is to the small and the one, and to that end I appeal for your prayers.  God help me to keep the heart of Jesus before me.

Ned

'Set' Up For Success

Grafting

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last...

John 15:16

Sometimes I get uncomfortable with parts of the ‘abiding’ chapter, John 15.  It is all well and good to think of abiding/resting in Jesus, but he also talks about us being ‘appointed’ to bear fruit and showing we are disciples by bearing much fruit.  I can hear this as ‘required’ or ‘demanded’ to bear fruit—and lots of it!  Just a bit of pressure there! 

In the Vineyard

Reading this passage recently, I was struck by the word ’appointed’.  It seemed a bit more empowering than my usual reading of ’required’.  I did a bit of study and the Greek word means ’to place’ and could be translated as ’to plant’ or ‘to set in place’.  Obviously ’appointed’ is a good translation. 

The professor I had for my brief study of Greek wisely told us not to change our theology based on insights gained from just two semesters!  However, given the extended grape vine analogy Jesus is using in the teaching here, I wondered whether you could gain some insight by thinking of ‘set in place’ in terms of ‘grafted in’.  One method of grafting grape vines is to take a bud from a plant and ‘set it’ into a slit in a healthy vine.  It then draws life from the vine and grows and does what it is designed to do—bear fruit. 

Set’ up for success

Such a ’set in’ bud is being ’set up’ for success!  It is placed where it can have access to all it needs to fulfill its destiny of grape-making.  I find it encouraging to think in these terms.  Jesus isn’t establishing a hurdle for us to jump over, but choosing us and then implanting us in himself, the Vine, so that we can have access to all the resources to fulfill our calling/destiny of fruit bearing.

You will notice from the graphic above that after the bud is set in place, it is bound around to keep it there.  What a great reminder that the Vinedresser, the Father, binds us to Jesus in love through the work of the Holy Spirit.

We were made for this.  We have been chosen for this.  We have been set in place for this — that we would bear fruit and so show that we are being conformed to the image of Jesus, the true and fruitful Vine.  

Take 2 -- Joan K. O'Connell

 

Cinematographers film multiple takes.

Writers rework.

Oil painters paint over.

 What about Jesus followers? Are we sensitive to "take 2" options?

The other day, I was visiting with a new mom in her home, bringing by some modest meal fixings, emptying the trash, washing up some dishes: the usual things one does in that setting, minus any offer to pray.

[She is not professing Christian; I felt unsure about praying with her.]

So, when I thought it was time to go, I asked if I could give her a hug, looked her in the eye, compassionately wished her well and took my leave.

Traversing the few steps to the car, I heard that Voice. The One who loves us both encouraged, "Go back and pray with her."

"Really, Lord?," I countered. "But…"

"Go back and ask if you may pray with her, please."

"Ok. I'm going."

Tapping gently on the screen door, I stepped back into the house where this exhausted mommy was stretched out on the couch, resting with her newborn and munching on the fabulous chocolate almonds I'd included with the food offerings.

We had a brief but welcomed time of prayer and blessing.

Obedience by second chances. Thank you, Lord.

 

© 2014, Joan K. O"Connell. All rights reserved.

 

How Human Was Jesus? ? -- Patrick O'Connell

If this title doesn’t strike you as ‘odd’ you may be like I was a few years ago. As I’ve reconsidered the question using contemplative prayer, I find my life and my relationship with him being transformed. I know a man who is just like me (minus sin) who lives [walks, talks, discusses things, plays, prays for things, has personal preferences, favorite songs, and loves beauty…] in heaven with my Father. Now, I know he happens to also be fully God, but that does not diminish the human reality of this heaven dwelling man, Jesus. Somehow, my post-resurrection imaginings had over-emphasized the fully God side of his personhood to the point of obscuring my ability to see that what in fact awaits each true disciple of Jesus: a post-death extension of our human existence (minus sin) in heaven with this human friend and savior, Jesus. Humanness is not something to be overcome. Humanness is, in God’s words “VERY GOOD”! Humanness (minus sin) is eternally beautiful and precious.

So, how has this been transforming?

Keeping in mind these truths, I’ve simply been carrying on a prayer conversation with the Father asking Him to make me willing to be more human. I practice listening for, and then rejecting, lies which try to discount or disqualify various healthy human joys, passions and pursuits on the basis of their lack or overt ‘spiritual’ significance. I, at times, pray with engaged imagination “Father, reveal to me the ‘me’ you imagined when you said ‘Let there be a ‘me’!”.

As I’m slowly discovering the ‘me’ God envisioned ‘me’ to be, I’m simultaneously finding myself Spirit- empowered to put on (almost like putting on a robe) greater confidence, behaviors, and even different language rising forth from this more fully human version of myself.

It’s exciting. It’s a process. It’s scary at times. It’s an adventure I will (with God’s help) not draw back from. In the end I believe it’s a part of my faith walk I’ve been missing; It’s a pathway to the life of passionate-compassion, mercy, patience which will continue to make me an effective, compelling human witness to the love of Jesus, our savior.

My next prayer is this: that I may learn how to pass on to those whom God sends me this love and passion for God and a determination to do the same for those God sends them.

Cost of Reproduction

seedsprouting

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  John 12:24

For a kernel of wheat, reproduction is a total commitment!  As Jesus made clear to His disciples, unless it dies, it remains as it is—a single seed.  Ironically, when it dies, it becomes many.   

Drive to multiply

We see the commitment to reproduction demonstrated throughout nature.  Plants devote their energy to producing scores, hundreds, thousands of seeds in a bid to create a few or even one scion.  Animals invest their strength, time, their very lives to producing, protecting, and launching a succeeding generation.  This is powerfully and poetically portrayed in  the documentary March of the Penguins . A ‘must see’ if you haven’t already.

God the multiplier

This drive of nature is much more than a practical necessity.  It reflects the very nature of God.  His first command to Adam and Eve, freshly made in His image, is that they ‘be fruitful and multiply’.  Their fruitfulness was to reflect the Fruitful God, source of all life. 

When God decided to hit the ‘restart’ button on His plan of salvation through the calling of Abram, multiplication was again His goal.  He promised that Abram/Abraham would be the father of descendants as numerous as the stars. 

There were a lot of Jews in the world when Jesus was born among them, but these were not the promised multitude.  It was not those born of blood nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God, through Jesus, that were given the power to become children of God. (John 1:12-13 reordered) The Father is devoted to having children, many children, more numerous than the stars or sands of the sea shore. 

How committed is the Father?  ‘He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all’ (Rom 8:32).  How committed is the Son?  He came … ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28).

Partners in reproduction

And this is where you and I come in!  As those made in God’s image, filled with Christ’s Spirit, drawn to life in His Body, we are now to share in His sacrificial commitment to reproduction.  Jesus’ instruction to his disciples was to ‘go make disciples of all nations’ (Mt 28:18).  Jesus makes it very clear that this is the top priority.  He says that this is how the ‘… Father is glorified,  that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples’ (Jn 15:8).

Frankly, hearing this I start to get uncomfortable.  All nature points to the costly commitment to reproduction (ask any Mom about that!).  God speaks of and then acts with total commitment to multiply His family.  And then He invites me to join Him sacrificially in the process of reproducing disciples.  But I’m not that committed to it!  Sure, I would like to see more people become children of God.  But am I really willing to be the kernel of wheat falling into the ground and dying for it? 

A preference for leaves

There are other things which tug at me.  Renewal,  cooperation among Christians, growing in character, worship, maybe wisdom, good things all — and, of course if I am honest, pleasing myself!  

Is this not maybe true of much of the Christian church, and even us here in The Word of God?  The costly investment in disciple making is for individuals and ministries what a special call, not so much for ordinary Christians like us.  But are we really reflecting the driving passion of the Father’s heart in this, He ‘who so loved the world that He gave his only Son’ (Jn 3:16)?

Fruitfulness unleashed

The Father fully understands our situation.  He knows that we prefer growing branches and leaves to making the tremendous investment in fruit.  He is the Vinedresser who lovingly prunes us that we may bear fruit.  I see this not as a threat for low performance, but as a promise to conform us to the image and priorities of the Son, empowering us to do what He does — bear fruit/make disciples.

What fruitfulness would be unleashed if you and I and the whole church, were to make the same costly investment in bringing forth the next generation that we see all around us in nature, and supremely in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?