Tag Archives: John Wesley

Have you experienced highway hypnosis in your faith journey?

Sermon for Sunday, June 25, 2016

 

Scripture connections:

Opening scripture: Psalm 86:11-12, NLT

11 Teach me your ways, O Lord,
that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
so that I may honor you.
12 With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God.
I will give glory to your name forever,

 

Scripture connection: Romans 6:5-14, NLT

     Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

     12 Do not let sin control the way you live;[a] do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 33:20-22, NLT

20 We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.

 

Reflection: Have you experienced highway hypnosis

                        in your faith journey?

 

            How many of you have been driving along a familiar route and suddenly wonder where in the world you are?

One of my most frightening experiences was driving I-70 back from the farm with the kids and suddenly not having a clue where I was. I knew it was I-70, but I could not have told you whether we had gone through Columbia, crossed the river or anything. I just had to keep driving until I could reconnect the location somewhere along the road between Columbia and Hwy 65 exit.

Undoubtedly I experienced highway hypnosis. DriversEd.com explains highway hypnosis:

Highway hypnosis commonly occurs when driving on open highways for an extended period of time. In this condition, the driver operates the vehicle in a dulled, drowsy, trance-like state (Highway Hypnosis n.d.)

Obviously this condition places not only you as the driver, but the passengers at risk.

Highway hypnosis can also describe one’s faith journey. Falling into a drowsy state in one’s life occurs when things are going along without any major pitfalls or peaks. The faith journey follows the same routine at the same time each week, in the same place even with the same people: Sunday school at 10, worship at 11 and then off for lunch. The faith journey highway hypnosis is like taking a leisurely, mid-afternoon Sunday drive with no particular destiny or even route.

An ABC report describes highway hypnosis:

Going into this autopilot-like mode often happens on long, mundane highway drives with few turns or traffic signals, Meehan said. The driver usually can’t recognize highway hypnosis until his environment is somehow jostled — another car cuts him off or he hits a bump. (What you need to know about highway hypnosis n.d.)

Auto-pilot is exactly what so many Christians are operating on anymore. We have busy lives, we have established a routine of activities, we live on limited incomes, we know when we eat and sleep, and even add in our favorite TV viewing. We are on auto-pilot and everything just seems fine.

But is it? Is everything just fine pacing ourselves through the days and weeks of our lives? Are we consciously following God’s call to action? Are we so hypnotized that we are doing nothing to develop our relationship with God? Or, have we become so hypnotized that we have actually lost our way?

Stop and ask yourself about Abraham and Sarah. Did they suffer from highway hypnosis? In reading the account of Abraham and Sarah through the various chapters in Genesis, one might think they were living a mundane life most of the time. They were an older couple with no children, but they were faithful to God.

The life journey of these two certainly did not follow a typical pattern even for the nomadic tribes of the ancient times. They were directed by God to leave Egypt and relocate. They had not been on these roads before, so the possibility of highway hypnosis was unlikely. Their faith journey, though, was filled with potholes that kept them from falling into a hypnotic state.

Think about your own life, now. Have you reached a point that life is mundane and the routines are lulling you into a hypnotic state. Each day is much the same as the other. The routine is the same unless it is interrupted by a doctor’s appointment, a luncheon date or an afternoon of cards—and even those events can become a matter of routine.

If God spoke to you, would you be alert enough to recognize him as Abraham did? Abraham’s faith was so strong that he followed whatever path God sent him on. He believed in God’s promise and that faith was strong enough to guide him in all his worldly choices—even offering the hospitality to three strangers who happen to stop nearby. The result was the long awaited birth of a son even at their advanced age.

Sarah laughed. But Sarah followed Abraham’s lead in faith and the son Isaac was born. Do we laugh at the ideas God is asking us to do? Have we become so hypnotized by the routines of our lives that we do not even recognize God?

In reality, much of our hypnosis in our faith journey could be diagnosed as acedia. This is a very unflattering diagnosis because it means laziness or indifference in religious matters (Acedia n.d.) Another definition from the commentary for the lectionary:

. . . acedia—the inability to care that we don’t care. . . . Acedia is a spiritual foe. Whether the bout is short or long, weak or intense, it has a way of numbing and lulling a person. God seems remote. Our confidence or sense of faith fades. . . . in reality acedia is a serious spiritual disease. (Wilson 2013, 174)

As in any diagnosis, knowing is the first step in finding healing. The concern, now, is how does one heal from this faith journey highway hypnosis. Is there any treatment that is effective, especially for those who are following what has long been the expected behaviors—Sunday school and worship?

In the recommendations from the DriversEd.com site, the key is to

. . . be aware of your surroundings and to avoid falling asleep behind the wheel, take frequent breaks. If possible, avoid driving for long periods of time and stop if you begin to feel tired.

Granted that does not make much sense in terms of faith hypnosis, but the advise listed on the ABCNews site may help:

. . . taking a break every 90 minutes or so, or — if you’re lucky enough to be driving with someone else — switch drivers. Listening to the radio isn’t enough to prevent this daze, and can even contribute to it, he cautioned. And always get at least six hours of sleep the night before a long trip, . . .

The prescription for acedia, or spiritual journey hypnosis, is available and clearly developed in the scriptures. John Wesley also has prescribed a remedy and we know it so well and have heard it so many times that we are lulled into an indifference about how to stay in relationship with God and to follow the recommended route to reach the final destination successfully.

The scriptures are filled with recommendations, but do we read them and study them. Do we commit them to memory so they are there to use and reuse? Are we meeting regularly to study with others and be held accountable for our daily journey? Are we seeing the needs of others and finding ways to meet them? Have we become lazy in doing all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can?

The Methodist movement begun by John Wesley in the mid1700s grew because the service they provided others in need, but also because there was active involvement in small groups that met regularly and helped each other to maintain their journey and to hold each other accountable in their own lives.

Sunday school evolved into a quick fix remedy to the changing culture during the 1860s. The class meetings faded away and about 15 years ago, the value of small group study revived. The small groups of less than a dozen meeting together at different times during the week in homes, restaurants, or church classrooms has ignited the faith journeys of many. The small group has healed acedia for some and nurtured new believers into discipleship.

If any one of us, or the congregation as a whole, has reached highway hypnosis along the spiritual journey, we are responsible for finding a remedy. Even during the 6th century, a monk Dorotheos of Gaza, knew the risk of highway hypnosis among the monks he taught. His example was of a multi-spoke wheel.

God is the hub, each of us is a spoke while the wheel that rolls along the road is the world in which we journey. The closer to the hub we are, the closer we are to each other. The more distant we become from God, the farther we move from each other (Wilson 2013, 175). Class meeting, which can be a Sunday school class, keep us closer to God and prevents us from highway hypnosis/acedia.

Jesus expected his disciples to follow his example in preaching, teaching, and making new disciples for the transformation of the world. The church began as small groups meeting anywhere they could, in secret at times and in the open at times.

Paul wrote letters to the small, new churches struggling to keep their faith. He knew the journey would not be easy so his letters to the early churches were designed to address the very problems that challenged them. He encouraged them. He sent them missionaries from his own followers. He returned whenever he could.

What are we doing to avoid the acedia or highway hypnosis in our spiritual journeys? What are we doing to help others become disciples in Christ? How have we adapted our practices to the shifts in the culture around us?

Just like a fresh cup of coffee or even a cool drink of water can help snap drivers out of highway hypnosis, we need to find the best ways to heal from acedia or even to avoid acedia. We need small group studies and service to avoid the laziness in our spiritual lives.

Closing prayer:

Dear heavenly Father,

 

We are driving along in our lives carelessly.

Wake us up and keep us alert.

Help us avoid the hypnosis of daily life

And find the joy in learning about Christian living

While serving one another along our journey.

Take hold of the steering wheel and guide us along

So we can safely arrive at the ultimate destination

Alongside you and the other faithful in eternity.

 

In the name of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

Works Cited

Acedia. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/acedia (accessed June 23, 2017).

Highway Hypnosis. https://driversed.com/resources/terms/highway_hypnosis.aspx (accessed June 23, 2017).

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

What you need to know about highway hypnosis. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/highway-hypnosis/story?id=21098081 (accessed June 23, 2017).

Wilson, Paul Scott. Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary: Preaching Year A. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013.

 

 

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Stage 4 in Faith: Blossoming in the SONshine

given on Sunday, May 21, 2017:  fourth stage in mini-series of Faith Development

 

Scripture connections: (using the NLT)

Numbers 11:26-29

26 Two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed behind in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but they had not gone out to the Tabernacle. Yet the Spirit rested upon them as well, so they prophesied there in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since his youth, protested, “Moses, my master, make them stop!”

29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!”

 

John 14:15-18, 26-28

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. 18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.

 

I Peter 3:13-17

13 Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

 

Romans 8:1-2

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.

 

Reflection: Stage 4: Blossoming in the SONshine

Clouds. Wind. Severe weather alerts. Thunder. Lightening. Rain. Tornado watches. Flash floods. The spring storms certainly influence what we do or do not do much less it affects our moods. For some, fear overwhelms them, while approaching storms can fascinate others.

Whether one hates storms or loves them, the weather is just as challenging as our lives are. Some days are absolutely a delight with blessings easy to identify. Other days are exhausting and wear us out because we cannot seem to find an end to the problems. I even find that when one light bulb goes out, it is often followed by a group of light bulbs burning out—I have attributed the problem to a light bulb gremlin that gets loose in the house.

Somehow, though, everything changes when a storm passes and the sun pops out and it brightly glows; the warmth it provides seems to reach right down to our inner being; and everything is seen so much more clearly in its light. The tiny sunflower seeds that are planted, germinate, and grow depending on the sunshine to develop a full blossom. A sunflower in full bloom, lifting its head to bright blue sky, is magnificent.

The life cycle of a sunflower seed may be a metaphor for understanding the stages of faith development, but the final stage is absolutely beautiful. The fourth stage of faith development is the same. Remember the first outline of the four stages? Let’s review:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like Mary and the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief. (1) At first, they may think the story is a fabrication, impossible to believe. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally are they able to accept the fact of the Resurrection. (4) Then, as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them. (19912346-2347)

 

[This study note is located with John 20:1 and an almost identical one was found for Luke 24:11-12.]

No timeframe is identified with faith development; therefore, one can only infer that individuals must proceed through these four stages on their own. Each one of us is responsible for our own faith development, but fortunately others can contribute to our understanding of God. Jesus and the Holy Spirit can surround us, but each individual must experience the process independently. That is a tough reality for many of us who would do anything we could to make sure our own loved ones, whether family or friends, do have faith. What we do, though, is pray and simply be there loving unconditionally.

The anticipation of witnessing one’s faith takes us back to the sunflower. Nothing is more exciting as a gardener than seeing the first seedlings sprout up from the soil. There is a sense of hope and anticipation of the end result when those seedlings start reaching upward to the sun. The same excitement is found by Christians either as they watch others begin growing in their faith or their own excitement as they discover how Jesus is involved in their lives.

Meeting Jesus personally comes in so many different ways. Whether that meeting is the result of a life-altering event or whether it is in the simple beauty of a flower opening, God is present in our lives.   The mystery of God may seem impossible; but as God’s story and the records of all the faithful from the Old and the New Testament are checked out against all the historical documents and human experiences, the reality of God still comes in the form of a personal experience.

This week as nature’s fury was unleashed in so many places against so many people, God was present and met them personally. Just like the garden flooded a couple of weeks ago, God is there, too. The garden continues to grow.   God is in all of our lives and when we recognize him we may be like John Wesley and feel our hearts “strangely warmed,” too.

And, as we feel God’s presence in our lives, we reach that fourth stage of faith. With the awareness of God’s presence, there is a drive to share with others what faith in God does in our lives. According to the study note:

(4) Then, as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them.

 

God’s gift of his son Jesus Christ is the key that unlocks the power of God in our own lives and it is so exciting that our lives blossom just like the sunflower does in our own gardens.

As Christians committed to God, we discover that we are also equipped to serve. Even in the Old Testament, the faithful are taught that the Spirit was with them. In Numbers, even Moses tried to explain that the Spirit was with the prophets who were excitedly telling about God out in the open, not strictly confined to the temple. Accepting God and acknowledging that his son Jesus Christ had lived, died and arose in order to erase our sins and provide us eternal life, guiding us is the presence of God with us in the form of the Holy Spirit.

The decision to accept the reality that Jesus died for our sins leads us to baptism. And as part of God’s faithful we commit ourselves to a Christian lifestyle. The excitement of a personal encounter leads us to do all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can for as long as we can. That is a terribly demanding goal, but God is with us in the form of the Holy Spirit and we are empowered to do all of that.

Freed from sin, as Paul writes in Romans 8:2 . . . because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The freedom to live for Christ is possible because the Holy Spirit is part of your own life. The Holy Spirit is the third part of the Triune God and is our personal advocate in our human lives.

In Acts 1:5, Luke writes to Theophilus, John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is God within us and with us [as explained in study notes]:

. . .The Spirit would comfort them, guide them to know his truth, remind them of Jesus’ words, give them the right words to say, and fill them with power. . . . The Spirit is the power of our new lives. He begins a lifelong process of change making us more like Christ. When we receive Christ by faith, we begin an immediate personal relationship with God. The Holy Spirit works in us to help us become like Christ. (19912366)

Life with God is full, busy, exciting, and rich. Others who touch our lives or we touch their lives can see how God blossoms in our life. Accepting God in our life, we are filled with hope. In fact, we become so full of hope and love that it overflows into the work we do and the people we touch.

In the midst of the storms in our lives, look for the Son to shine in and warm your heart. The storms that afflict damage on our homes and communities need us to do whatever we can, to serve as God’s hands and feet to help anybody, no everybody, who needs whatever we can provide. Maybe it is prayers. Maybe it is cash. But most important, we know that by doing we grow in faith, too. God will provide us with the ways and means to serve, we just have to hear his call and then follow.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Day after day, week after week

The stories of hardship fill our ears.

We know you are present with us

By our faith in your son Jesus Christ

And with us through the Holy Spirit.

Guide us in leading others to know you

So they too may find hope and joy

In the promise of life eternal.

Help us to hear your call to action

In all the ways that we can serve

Families, friends and strangers, too,

Because we want them to know

How a strangely warmed heart

Lets us blossom into the glory

Of God’s garden, now and forever. –Amen

 

Work Cited

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

 

 

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Stage 3 in Faith: Grow & Multiply

given on Mothers Day Sunday, May 14, 2017:  Part 3 in mini-series on Stages of Faith

Scripture connections:

Psalm 31:1-5, 14-16
1O Lord, I have come to you for protection;
don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me, for you do what is right.
Turn your ear to listen to me;
rescue me quickly.
Be my rock of protection,
a fortress where I will be safe.
You are my rock and my fortress.
For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
for I find protection in you alone.
I entrust my spirit into your hand.
Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. . . .

14 But I am trusting you, O Lord,
saying, “You are my God!”
15 My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
16 Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.

I Peter 2:1-10

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

     4 You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

     5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem

chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
will never be disgraced.”

     7 Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.”

     8 And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,
the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

     9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.”

John 20:14-18

     14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

     16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

     17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

     18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

 

Reflection: Stage 3: Grow and multiply . . .

Do you know someone who knows Jesus personally?

Or maybe the question is have you met Jesus personally?

While studying the stages of faith development, the third stage is identified as that point in one’s life that they encounter Jesus on a very personal level. That encounter confirms what one suspects to be true but cannot completely say it is true. A personal encounter erases uncertainty. Yet, is a personal encounter required?

Are we like Mary Magdalene walking around feeling lost and alone without her friend Jesus? Are we like the apostles who were frightened and uncertain what to do without Jesus to guide them? These earliest disciples of Jesus did have a personal encounter with him, and even they were unsure. At least they were unsure until the encounter after the crucifixion when Jesus was with them in person again.

A personal encounter with Jesus may not seem possible; yet, in the history of the human experience, the evidence of encounters with Jesus continues to be shared. Still, how does one know that they have indeed encountered Jesus?

Example after example of encounters fill bookshelves. The NBC final segment every evening is about people making differences in the lives of others. Stories of survivors from the Holocaust tell of the faithful who survived due to the intercession of others serving as God’s servants. Even in our classrooms, Jesus is present in the kindness of kids reaching out to other kids who are hurting in one way or another.

Here it is Mothers Day 2017, and many of us might say we have met Jesus in the presence of our own mothers. Sadly, this is not true for all as we have listened to the horror story of childhood abuse. Yet, many of us can say that we have had an encounter with Jesus through the form of a mother in our own lives.

An encounter with Jesus is possible in so many different ways. Today is may seem easy to see Jesus in the face of our mothers, but there are other experiences in which Jesus is present with us:

  • Consider horrific car accidents when no one should have survived, yet the passengers and the driver walk away. Even their stories sometimes include the presence of a rescuer that is never located again.
  • The doctor working with the patient loses a pulse and is forced to turn away from the patient when amazingly the patient’s breath and pulse return. No explanation other than a miracle, and later the patient reports seeing the bright light.
  • A school bus careens off the road, but the driver keeps the bus upright and the kids are safe.
  • A tornado destroys a home, but the husband and wife are alive in the open where once a hallway surrounded them.
  • A refugee washes up on the coast near death, but is rescued by tourists who rush to its side disregarding anything other than this is a child of God.

The list grows and grows, and God’s story is carried on. God’s unconditional love is delivered in unique and surprising ways. Each time someone reaches out to others in any way that they can in all the ways that they can at anytime that they can, there is an encounter with Jesus.

As mothers are honored today, the risk is to say that in our mothers we can see the face of Jesus. Many of us can share a testimony that our mothers were instrumental in our own faith development, but that is not a guarantee. For some of us, the best mothers we knew were really friends, neighbors, teachers, or even strangers who did something that changed our lives for the better.

In my generation, our mothers often were the reason we got up on Sunday morning and headed to church. We did not ask a lot of questions and never even considered that we could do something different. My encounters with Jesus may have started with my mother and my father, but I can include a variety of Sunday school teachers, a choir director, a youth minister, and an array of friends who also guided my faith development.

And then there are the times, when all alone, we confront a hurdle in our lives and Jesus is there with us. No parent. No friend. No teacher. All alone, we face a life challenge when, from outside of our own being, comes an answer or an act that makes all the difference in the world. The voice I hear is recognizable, even though no body is present. At those times, I encounter Jesus and my faith grows even stronger.

The third stage of faith development confirms all that one checks out. The personal encounter is a demonstration of God in our lives and we take ownership of that encounter and then do all we can to make sure that we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. John Wesley kept living the practices of his faith still questioning whether or not he fully believed he was saved by Jesus Christ. His encounter was through the words shared from the Bible and by those in the small group he was attending. He knew because his “heart was strangely warmed.”

Wesley’s personal encounter “ignited” his ministry. He grew in ministry. He multiplied his efforts and proclaimed the Word. His efforts to do all that he could for all he could all the time he could in as many ways as he could made it possible for others to encounter Jesus themselves. He, as well as other theologians, ministers and servants, all become the face of Jesus in our world.

The Word invites each of us to grow in our faith. The scripture from I Peter 2 teaches us that as we learn more about Jesus and practice his commandments, we ‘hunger’ for more in our relationship with the triune God. Peter refers to it as ‘spiritual milk:’

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

The Word continues to nourish us and we can even meet Jesus in the Word, personally, too. The Word calls us to serve in God’s name as shared in Mark 16:20:

20 And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.

Our encounter with Jesus leads us to follow in all types of ways. In the study note for Mark 16:20, the ways to meet Jesus are listed in the very way he served:

. . . . . . But Jesus . . . chose to serve others. He held children in his arms, healed the sick, washed the disciples’ feet and died for the sins of the world. Jesus’ followers today receive the same power to serve. As believers, we are called to be servants of God. As Christ served, so we are to serve. (The Life Application Bible 1991)

By growing in your own faith, you will be multiplying the opportunities for others to experience Jesus personally, too. What began as an impossible to believe story in your life, you have checked out, and you continue to check out as you discover the Jesus encounters in your own life. Your faith is growing and will continue to grow as you follow God’s call in your life.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

We listen to the Word seeking to understand

How Jesus died for our sins.

We want to believe in the stories

And study to check them out for ourselves.

As we learn, we begin to practice

The new laws Jesus taught and practiced.

Slowly our disbelief begins to change

And we are open to meeting you personally.

Open our hearts, our minds and our ears

So we can hear you calling us to serve. –Amen.

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Stage 2 of Faith Development: Checking it out

given on Sunday, May 7, 2017:  Mini-series on the Four Stages of Faith Development

Scripture Connections:

Luke 10:38-42, NLT

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

John 2:23-John 3, NLT

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,[a]you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.[b] Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.[c] So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony.12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man[e] has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.[f]

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.[h]

John 10:1-10, NLT (from the Lectionary)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me[a] were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.[b] They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

John 20:24-29, NLT

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[a] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Reflection: Stage 2 of Faith: Checking it out. . .

Who would have ever believed we could have seven inches of rain in just three days! We are so fortunate not to have the long-lasting effects that so many are experiencing along the small rivers and tributaries in the southern areas of our state. Yet, in the middle of the mind-numbing videos of flooding pops up surprising and unbelievable are stories of survival. What seems impossible to believe is real and God has to be present through it all.

Faith is believing what you do not see. The floodwaters are what we see; but even as the water recedes, we watch to see the reality of what remains. In the middle of last weekend’s storm, we drove past a garden that we knew had been planted, was growing well and was well-tended.

The muddy, floodwater so completely covered the garden that there was not even a clue that the rows of seedlings were even there. I wondered if there was any chance that the garden would survive. Yet nature is resilient, and as I drove past that garden just three days later, the seedlings were once again standing up and reaching for the sunlight.

Checking out something that seems impossible to believe for one’s self is part of faith development. I could not believe that the force of the floodwaters would leave that garden in tact, but when I checked it out, I confirmed what I thought I knew. The same need to check out Jesus’ story is the second stage of faith development.

The story continues to be shared and preserved. Yet, the story of Jesus’ resurrection left so many and still leaves so many with questions. How do you believe something that goes against everything we know. When the body dies, there is no way that three days later it can be missing, much less alive. Even the closest disciples had to run to the tomb and see it with their very own eyes.

And even then, the reaction was of disbelief and fear. There was no rational explanation. Jesus’ appearance as recorded in the gospels provided the disciples proof. Now two thousand years later, we must depend on the words preserved in the Bible to assure us of the truth.

To continue developing one’s faith, checking it out and learning about Jesus is simply part of the process of becoming Christ-like. Look at the stories of all Jesus’ contemporaries and how they had to check out The Story:

  1. Mary and Martha knew Jesus personally and valued that friendship. Yet even Martha struggled to follow the cultures custom of hospitality while Mary ignored those expectations and sat at his feet to learn more of his teachings (Luke 10:38-42)
  2. Consider, too, Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader. Something about Jesus and his message/ministry seemed impossible to believe, so he went under the cover of night to talk directly to Jesus. He had to check it out for himself. (John 12:23-3:21)
  3. Finally, Thomas the Apostle had questions. Even after the crucifixion and the resurrection, Thomas struggled to believe what seemed impossible. Jesus understood that uncertainty and stood before him with the open wounds in his hands, side and feet so Thomas could touch them and believe. (John 20:24-29)

Story after story in the Gospels show how people, whether faithful Jews, Gentiles, Roman citizens, or pagans, heard about Jesus and his message/ministry and still struggled to believe.

Change is difficult and then to have this man say he was the Son of God defied, and continues to defy, what humans know to be true. There is no guilt is questioning the reality of The Story, and checking it out is part of learning the truth. Reading the Bible, studying it in community, researching more about the story, and even testing the New Covenant in today’s world is part of faith development.

Whether we are Mary, Martha, Nicodemus or Thomas, we have heard The Story and believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We continue to seek for better understanding so we can grow in our faith. As modern disciples, we do the best we can to live our faith so others may see faith in action.

John Wesley, the son of a preacher, followed his father into the ministry. He was raised knowing the Story, and even he struggled to understand. He continued preaching and searching for answers; and on May 24, 1738, he reported to his brother Charles that “his heart was strangely warmed” (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999) which is referred to as Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience:

About a quarter before nine, while he [a Moravian, reading from Martin Luther’s work] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. 

The brazier’s house was but a few steps away, and John Wesley hastened thither to hail his brother with the rapturous words, “I believe,” and to join him in singing the new hymn, Where shall my wondering soul begin. . . (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999)

Today we continue our own practices in faith. We attend Sunday worship, we read the Bible, we meet with small groups, we worship, and we serve. Or do we? The impossible-to-believe story may be something we have learned, but are we checking it out and learning the reality of the story?

Wesley’s own experience ignited his own ministry and we follow his methods today to continue in our own faith development. Through his work, we have two sets of guidelines that we can follow to continue developing our own faith: the acts of piety and the acts of mercy. Have we used these tools to grow in our faith?

Personally and communally, Wesley recommends that we follow the practices to grow in our faith as well as to share our faith:

  • Works of Piety
    • Individual Practices– reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
    • Communal Practices– regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study
  • Works of Mercy
    • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
    • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

Accepting what seems impossible to believe, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation, is the first stage in faith. The second stage is to check out, to learn as much as one can about Jesus Christ and his ministry. As Wesley did, so do we, and in that process we may experience “a heart strangely warmed” too. Wesley’s ministry became inspired, ignited by the Holy Spirit:

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment. (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

As our faith develops, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our faith practices can ignite our own lives and only God knows what seeds of faith grow into.

Today, we join in the service of the cup and the bread. Wesley called communion, or Eucharist, one of the works of piety. As we join together to share the elements, we are joining in the community of believers. The Story continues because we have checked out the story and believe. We join in sharing the bread and the cup because we are part of the Christian community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, almighty,

We know the story. We struggle to believe.

Even Wesley struggled, but he prayed these words:

O, thou Saviour of men, save us from trusting in anything but thee! Draw us after thee. Let us be emptied of ourselves, and then fill us with all peace and joy in believing, and let nothing separate us from thy love in time or eternity.” (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

And we join in his words,

Seeking to follow Jesus and all the disciples before us.

Lead us in faith so that we may, too,

Have hearts strangely warmed.

 

As we grow in our faith,

May we follow the examples of your faithful

As we serve one another in love.

In the name of God the creator,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

Works Cited

An Account of John Wesley’s Life. General Board of Ministries. 2017. http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/Account-of-the-Life-of-John-Wesley (accessed May 4, 2017).

Chapter VII: The New Birth. The Wesley Center for Applied Theology. 1999. http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/chapter-vii-the-new-birth/ (accessed May 4, 2017).

The Wesleyan Means of Grace. United Methodist. http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace (accessed May 4, 2017).

 

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From Kids to Saints: God is there

given on Sunday, October 30, 2016

Scripture connection: using the NLT

I Thessalonians 5:14-17

14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. 16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying.

 

2 Thessalonians 3:1-3

1Finally, dear brothers and sisters,[a] we ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you. Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.[b]

 

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

11 So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. 12 Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.[a]

 

 

Reflection: From kids to saints: God is there

 

Here we are at the end of October and we are still feeling like summer, but the calendar clearly states that summer is over. The calendar shows us that in this particular week, we are marching straight into November. The seasons are changing and in this one week we go from kids to saints in just 24 hours—well, so it seems.

Tomorrow, October 31, is Halloween (as if I needed to say that). This is a holiday that has gone from simple trick or treat runs from one house to another into an insane retail extravaganza. Halloween seems to be one of those timeless holidays that is no longer just a kid’s event, but now includes all ages—from kids to the parents to the grandparents and even the great-grandparents. One day on the calendar traditionally for the kids takes us into a day for the saints.

As October slips away into November, the “All Hallows’ Eve” becomes “All Saints Day.” Googling Halloween and All Saints Day brought some interesting pieces into the conversation:

  1. Hallow is really a term for Saints.
  2. John Wesley was fond of All Saints’ Day.
  3. All Hallows’ Eve became Halloween.

 

Growing up on the farm, eight miles out of town, Halloween was not a significant day for me. In fact, my mom felt it was wrong and only allowed my brother and I to get involved in minimal ways, such as attending the 4-H Halloween party. Yet, she strongly supported us in the UMYF’s efforts to “trick or treat for UNICEF.”

Mom’s discomfort for Halloween came from the ‘glorification’ of the witches, ghosts, devils and other such non-Christian images that seem to promote un-Christian behaviors. Part of her discomfort might have been due to the long-held belief that Halloween began as a pagan tradition. Googling Halloween and reading Wikipedia’s entry might have eased her mind:

It is widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated from Celtic harvest festivals which may have pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, and that this festival was Christianized as Halloween. Some academics, however, support the view that Halloween began independently as a solely Christian holiday.

 

This explanation certainly shows how Halloween and All Saints Day really can take us from kids to saints all in 24 hours.

One of our personal saints is Earlene George. I cannot separate Halloween from Earlene. When she asked if she could have a Halloween event at the church for the local kids, I hesitated. I had to let go of all the negative feelings I had about celebrating Halloween, especially at church, as she moved into action.

When I walked into the church fully decorated for Halloween, I simply had to scream—and then laugh, giggle, and join in the fun. No one witnessing the kids walking in and experiencing all the fun and goodies could question the value of this unusual ministry.   Halloween is for the kids, but the night transforms into “All Saints Day” at midnight.

The UMC denomination does acknowledge All Saints Day as a time to remember and to honor the ‘saints’ of our church, local and global, who are no longer present with us. An article by Joe Iovino on the UMC.org website explains Wesley’s attitude toward the holiday:

November 1 is All Saints Day, a sometimes-overlooked holy day in United Methodist congregations. It is not nearly as well known as the day before, All Hallow’ (Saints’) Eve, better known as Halloween, but is far more important in the life of the church.

 

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from November 1, 1767, Wesley calls it “a festival I truly Love.” On the same day in 1788, he writes, “I always find this a comfortable day.” The following year he calls it “a day that I peculiarly love.”

 

My mom might have enjoyed the Halloween a bit more if she realized the connection to All Saints’ Day. Halloween may be for the kids, but it also connects us to the saints in our lives that we honor the very next day.

Wesley did caution us about holding saints in too high regard:

The Articles of Religion that he sent to the Methodists in American in 1784, include a statement against “invocation of saints” (Article XIV—of Purgatory, Book of Discipline paragraph104). Wesley did not see biblical evidence for the practice and discouraged Methodists from participating. However, he also advised against disregarding the saints altogether. [Iovino]

 

Even though this week we are talking about Halloween and All Saints Day, there is more to the story. God is with us all the time, and as we open the doors to serve the kids in the community, we are also demonstrating the saint-like behaviors that God has commissioned us to do.

Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians are filled with guidelines on how to live and these guidelines are for everybody—from the kids to the saints. In fact, those who live by the guidelines are often considered to be saints in the eyes of those who witnessed the Christian behaviors.

In I Thessalonians 5:14-17, the list of behaviors can be a checklist for us to live by, for us to teach the kids, and for us to determine the saints in our lives:

  1. Warn the lazy. (v. 14)
  2. Encourage the timid. (v.14)
  3. Be kind to everyone. (v. 15)
  4. Be joyful always. (v. 16)
  5. Pray continually. (v. 17)
  6. Give thanks. (v. 18)
  7. Test everything that is taught. (v.20-21)
  8. Avoid evil. (v.22)

 

Consider these guidelines as we open the doors for Halloween, but also as we model our Christian beliefs. God is with us always, and when we live by these guidelines, we can be confident that God is with us from the time we are kids until the time we join those saints who are already in the presence of Jesus Christ.

Following Paul’s guidelines to the Thessalonians will not be easy for the kids nor for any of us as we continue life’s journey. Yet, there are those living saints that are doing all they can to make sure we remain part of God’s family. Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians within the year after he wrote the first one. He heard that there were some problems and he wanted to make sure they remained faithful—that is also an example of saint-like behaviors.

In the second letter, he reminds the members that the main defense if prayer when they are under spiritual attack. He adds that they should study the Bible, memorize scripture, associate with other Christians, and practice what the spiritual leaders teach.

These reminders in Thessalonians are the same ones we need to teach our kids and to practice throughout our own lives. These rules are for kids to saints. These rules transform kids into saints.

This week as we celebrate Halloween and All Saints’ Day, we need to read, study, and practice Paul’s words because God is for kids, their parents, their grandparents and even the great-grandparents. God is always with us and will never fail us, as Paul writes in Hebrews 13:5:

Celebrate Halloween with our kids knowing that everything we do to share God’s love can transform lives through the work of the Holy Spirit and develop saints like those we honor on All Saints Day.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for Paul’s wisdom found in scripture.

Thank you for the gift of your son Jesus Christ

and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

As we depart this morning,

Guide us in sharing the Good News

Through all the means that we can,

even if it is in a treat-filled Halloween.

 

Then, as the midnight hour approaches

May we shift our thoughts from kids to saints

Let the day reconnect us with the saints

of our lives who taught us your ways.

 

In the name of Jesus Christ

and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Know What You Believe: John Wesley’s church

given on Sunday, September 25, 2016

Knowing what one believes certainly is not easy. The demands of our daily lives tend to eat up so much time that careful reflection on who we are or what we believe just seems impractical. Yet, who we are and what we believe are evident to others around us, so we should try to figure it out. Psychologists make careers out of it when life clashes with one’s personal identity.

Why is it important for Christians to know what they believe? Basically what one believes is the very operating system one uses in all the various relationships, work settings, home environments and even recreational times. The choices we make are connected and controlled by the belief system we live. Sometimes what we say we believe and what we do are not aligned causing friction within one’s self as well as friction within personal, professional, or casual relationships.

The relationship we maintain with God is the most critical one we have during our earthly lifetimes. A healthy relationship with God places us in an excellent position to develop and to maintain healthy human relationships. Plus life challenges are handled with less destructive force when God is part of one’s operating system.

United Methodists follow John Wesley’s inadvertently developed theology that could be termed ‘practical theology’ for his followers in order to take the Bible and move it into action. Wesley modeled how religion was a lifestyle rather than a Sunday-worship event. He delivered the Story to the unchurched, the poor, and the laborers in any way he could—even though he was raised in the Anglican Church attended by affluent and influential people.

Reviewing the various types of theology, I discovered how creation theology seemed be a positive fit for me; but knowledge not implemented fails God. Certainly knowing what one believes establishes one’s foundation, and God asks us to use faith knowledge as our operating system. We are to be God’s presence in this real world and that means we need a method to do God’s work. Wesley provides that structure.

Wesley was born into a faith-filled world. The son of an Anglican priest, the family environment placed Wesley in direct connection to religion. His family also struggled with the structure of the Church of England. Wesley saw the world around him and coupled that with Jesus’ model of living to develop the methods that put scripture into real life application. No easy task, for certain, but as he refined his faith and his methods, he demonstrated how the Holy Spirit works through God’s faithful.

Wesley lived what he read in scriptures, but he struggled with many of the same issues that Christians today do. How does God work in our lives? My perception of Wesley’s own story is that one simply must begin by living in the world as best as one can. He was fortunate that his parents were educated and determined that all their children were, too, despite the financial stress it placed upon the family. This history is repeated in Christian families throughout time.

Yet, Wesley struggled to understand God. He saw the poverty and the injustices in the world around him. As Wesley continued developing his faith, he could not ignore that world. He saw the people who were suffering and were unable to manage due to harsh work conditions, poor economic situations, and even deplorable health situations.

Wesley took God to the people. Not only did Wesley live his faith personally and actively within the community, he took God’s story to the people. He preached the Word. He demonstrated how to live faith actively and he studied struggling to fully comprehend God.

The practices that Wesley used became the structures of the Methodist denomination. Using small group study structures and the acts of piety and acts of mercy, he established the methods that put God’s words into action.

The Methodist denomination developed from Wesley’s disciplined approach to living his faith. The personal struggles Wesley experienced to discover what God’s grace means and how to live in a faithful relationship with God provides a model of holiness that continues to lead others to Christ and to transform the world one person at a time. In fact, God’s grace reaches out exponentially when Wesley’s model is implemented individually and corporately. This is a structure I want to follow.

Wesleyan scholar Hal Knight shares how God’s grace interacts in our lives: “Grace is relational, an encounter with the transforming presence of God’s love, eliciting our response.” The four levels of grace makes faith an active process, even developmental, which for an educator provides more clarity how growth in one’s faith leads to the Kingdom of God. Wesley outlines the four levels of grace as a map for our lives.

Born we are granted prevenient grace even before we can cognitively recognize it. As we grow, we become conscious of God’s presence in our lives. Educationally this might mean that the rote learning that attempts to develop an awareness of God’s presence begins to become an internalized knowledge, and with that new understanding the comprehension of God’s presence—justification.

Developing knowledge begins with introduction of an idea, which is then practiced and/or committed to memory one way or another. Once a knowledge base is in place, practice moves to different frameworks as the student sees the knowledge in different settings. For instance, number facts must be learned, but until the student begins using number facts in calculations the new knowledge is still unused. Now the student must begin applying the knowledge in real-life settings—sanctification when talking about one’s faith.

Sanctification moves the Christian into action. Developmentally the Christian is now able to take the awareness of God’s presence in one’s own life and aid others in the discovery of God, too. Sanctification, as Knight states, transforms Christians “. . . to be a loving person.” This leads the Christian to the final state of grace known as perfection. Knight states:

Christian perfection comes when the holy tempers of love for God and neighbor fill our hearts and govern our lives. While we never entirely do God’s will (“involuntary transgressions” remain), we can be freed from intentional sin and motivated by love. Wesley believed Christian perfection was a promise of God that could be attained before death, followed y continued growth.

 

Wesley articulated the developmental process of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven and argues that reaching such an internalized relationship with God is possible even within the confines of an earthly existence. This is a religion that makes sense in a world that battles evil continually. This is a religion that provides hope to those in the worst of circumstances. This is a religion that puts theory into action. This is a denomination that works now as much as it did in the past and will in the future. This what I believe faith is in my life.

As part of our community, knowing what you believe transforms you into the Christ-like figure you are. Knowing what you believe defines the quality of your life regardless of life’s challenges. Living what you believe draws others to God as they strive to be more like you and that is how we share God’s story and bring others to Christ transforming the world one person at a time.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

How easy it is to live our lives with little thought about our faith.

We can become numb to the needs of others if we ignore You.

We fail to practice what we believe,

so we fail to fulfill your commandment.

 

Help us, Lord, to follow Wesley’s model of faithful disciplines.

Help us to see those in need, sick, lonely, and lost.

Help us to find ways to share what we believe

so others may discover your saving grace.

 

Thank you for loving us despite our failures.

Thank you for teaching us how to love one another.

Thank you for granting us the presence of the Holy Spirit

so we may serve as your disciples in our own community.

 

In the name of the Jesus Christ, amen.

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Why am I a church member?

given on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Scripture connection:

Ephesians 2:19-21 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.

Ephesians 4:12-13 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Reflections:

 

How many of us have moved from one community to another? We are living in an extremely mobile society and communities are so different in our country that stepping into a new community is frightening.

When I first moved into Lexington, I knew it would be a challenge as I had always called Winter Wonderland in Montgomery County home. Certainly I had moved to Columbia for my college years, but home was still that farm about three miles from Buell, population around 30, and eight miles from Montgomery City, population around 2,400 and the county seat.

I knew the community and its people. I knew its values, it economic base, and the traditions that were all part of that community. Lexington was a state away and I knew no one on the west side of Missouri. I moved into the new community and felt totally alone.

The one place I recognized and knew was the Methodist Church, and that is where I felt safe and accepted. The church was my community even on the opposite side of the state from where I grew up. I stepped into the sanctuary and was at home. The stained glass window was the same one I had in my home church. The music was the same; the messages were the same. I was at home.

Belonging to a Methodist Church created a home wherever I was. Even the move from Lexington to Warrensburg was easier because I simply moved into my church. The setting was different this time as the stained glass window I knew was not there, but the music, the liturgy, and the messages were familiar.

The people there were still the same family members I had known in Lexington and in Montgomery. We all believed in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. My baptism as a child was just as valid in any church as it was in my home church. Only a request to change membership was necessary to be automatically included in the ‘new’ churches I attended.

When I hear someone ask why he or she should be a member of a specific church, I cringe. Church membership is not the same type of membership that one might have in a professional or social club. Church membership is merely a step in one’s spiritual journey that is unique to each individual.

Today belonging to a church may be more important than ever. Our 21st century culture brings each and every one of us into close proximity to each other. There is a global community and what affects us in our own homes may very possibly affect someone else half the world away.

The same sense of proximity makes the role of Christians even more critical. What we do can have a ripple effect that really can provide a positive—or negative—influence on someone in a different country with different life circumstances, different traditions or customs.

What we do in our church does make a difference and as a member of a local church community, we are empowered to make a difference that can be combined with other local church efforts to create a powerful difference in ministry.

Believing in God, our creator, and in Jesus Christ, our redeemer, is personal, true. But when joined together with other believers the power of community worship and service grows our faith journey in ways that can only be explained by understanding how the Holy Spirit works within us.

This is why we need to be church members—to make a difference as a body of Christ rather than as a lone believer doing all that one can do by one’s self. Stephen Covey, one of the most respected authors in time/business management, would say that working in a team creates synergy making the results more successful, more dramatic, and more lasting.

The value of being a church member depends on understanding what church membership means. Answering that can be as basic as understanding the principles of team dynamics, but church membership goes beyond a work setting or a sport competition.

Church membership places believers in settings that Paul and the earliest disciples knew first hand. Church membership is designed to spread the Word in ways that change lives and the world that one could not do alone.

John Wesley saw that working in small groups addressed spiritual growth in a systematic way holding each other accountable for their actions as well as assisting in understanding God’s Word and its application in one’s immediate culture.

Small group study leads to small group actions. Small group actions spread God’s love and grace more effectively than any person could do by his or her self. Small groups working collectively with other allows for God’s Word and work to grow even faster and further—mathematically it is called exponential growth.

Rick Warrens, even though he follows the Baptist doctrine, his message of living purpose-driven lives follows the Wesleyan format of using small groups or class meetings to grow in faith and in service, also. His spiritually successful movement is one our generation has witnessed.

In all of the small, early churches that Paul established to the Wesley’s class meetings and Warren’s small groups, the role of the church member is the same: live a Christ-centered life and do whatever you can to spread the Word and make disciples of Christ. At the same time, all the work that one does to meet the needs of others in all the different ways possible is what Christians do.

Being a church member looks like Jesus. Being a church member looks like being Wesley and Warren. Being a church member looks like the members of our church who have served one another in our own community with love and grace in so many different ways. We recognize them and we try to model their examples in our own lives.

Being a church member and working side by side with others who believe in God and serve as God’s emissaries in our own communities makes a difference in our own faith journeys as well as in the lives of those around us. As a church member teaming up with others in the church, God’s actions can reach out to others more effectively and efficiently.

Being a local church member provides us a personal safety net when challenges become so overwhelming we feel lost. We can turn to each other with confidence that our church family will guide us and put their arms around us to provide the grace and the love that we need as we struggle through the challenge.

Being a church member means we can join together to defend ourselves from evil but also work to keep evil from invading our community. As a team, we can rally to the needs of others struggling with financial battles, with addictions, with broken relationships, and with life challenges of raising families.

Being a church member creates a family when forced to leave one community and relocate in a new community. Church members hold in common the same values whether in one’s home community or whether located in a community in a different town, state, or even country because God’s love reaches everywhere in this world.

Question: Why are we church members?

Answers: (1) We are church members because we believe in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (2) We are church members because we can grow in our own faith journey through the small group studies, fellowship and Christian relationships. (3) We are church members because as a team we can make a difference in a world–whether local or global–that is challenged with all types of evil challenge whether man-made or nature-made. But maybe most importantly, (4) we are members of The Church because God commissioned us to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world; and working together we can accomplish more than we can by ourselves.

Closing prayer

Dear Lord,

The Word clearly tells us that we need to be in fellowship

with other believers.

Thank you for this community of faithful believers

with whom we join in fellowship.

Jesus demonstrated how fellowship and worship

with other believers strengthens our faith.

Thank you for those who lead our small groups

as we work to learn study and to serve.

The earliest disciples accepted their responsibility

to grow the church by telling the story.

Thank you for our brothers and sisters in faith

who encourage us in our local and global missions.

Faithful leaders throughout the millenniums

have guided The Church’s growth.

May we work together to learn and to grow

in our personal faith journey.

Today a revival is underway in order to spread the Word

in as many ways as we can whenever we can.

Guide us, Lord, to find the best ways to preserve

and to spread the good news of your grace and love.

In your holy name, amen.

 

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