In this second in a series on the parables of Jesus we see that Practicing the Kingdom means treating all with grace and respect. The parable use familiar language and images to give us a peek into God’s thoughts and God’s ways.
Sometimes reconciliation is impossible. What if the effort at reconciliation is ignored or rebuffed or dismissed? Even more, what if the offense is so great or so prolonged, that there is simply no way to restore the balance?
The church is a mission. A movement. A cause. Missions is not a program of the church. The church is a program of God’s mission in the world. Jesus didn’t gather his disciples together except to train, mentor, coach, equip, and empower them to be sent out. Church is the community of believers in which we practice our faith SO THAT we can share the faith we’ve been practicing in words and actions. Committing ourselves to the practices of spiritual growth is a key to being an effective partner in the Jesus Mission – there is no doubt.
The Twelve Minor Prophets, carry a similar theme: the unfathomable and infinitely faithful love of God that offers to rescue us from our faithlessness. What follows in Malachi, however, is a sometimes contentious dialogue: “You love me, God? Show me your love!”
We live in a world of risk, uncertainty, and conflict! The people of Zechariah's day, also sensed gathering dread and anxiety as forces seemed to be preparing them for some kind of life-changing and maybe world-altering conflict.
Joyfully, God intervened peonally to deliver His people and set things right throughout the world.
And God will save our world today through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Haggai's four brief sermons are a wake-up call to a spiritually slumbering community. He called the people to authentic worship, trust in God's word, personal holiness, and obedience to God's leader, Jesus.
What does the Lord require of us? The vast majority of Americans believe that God is either content with us or indifferent toward us. And we return the favor. Just 31% understand God as being not only engaged in the world but also having expectations for human behavior.
People are loyal to their own tribe or social group. It is a dynamic of conformity; there is pressure in the group to conform -- viewed as something very positive and pressure to avoid being like people from another "tribe" -- which is viewed in the negative. In contemporary society this tendency is known as "tribalism". What does this "new tribalism" have to do with God's Word to us through the Prophet Obadiah?
Habakkuk’s written work is not directed at the people. It is a complaint against God. It is an unusual insight into the heart and soul, the expectations and the anguish, of one of God’s prophets. Habakkuk's words ofttimes echo our own experiences. These words may allow us to step into a very difficult, sometimes poignantly painful, place in our own struggles and questions of faith. When violence and corruption abound and evil appears to rule, we may be tempted to wonder whether God really cares about us or is really in control of the world.
Does it ever seem like the world is spinning out of control? State Politics? U.S. Political Gridlock? International Anxiety? Intergalactic Threat? Denominational Unraveling?
The Prophet Nahum invites us to steady faith in anxious times. Nahum’s message from the Lord to the people of Nineveh, in the late seventh century, was that evil will not go unpunished. This week, through Nahum, we are provided with an awesome revelation of God’s nature and character. It is simply this: The Lord is slow to avenge; but his justice does not wait forever.
Abraham and his descendant, Jacob (whom God later called Israel) were chosen with the particular purpose of being the conduit through which Yahweh God would bless all the peoples of the earth. However, the people of Israel and Judah, the northern and southern kingdoms, had made a choice. They wanted to be comfortable rather than different because of their faith. They would give their devotion away if allegiance to Yahweh God became socially awkward, politically risky, or personally costly. In the eighth century B.C.
The dominant theme of Amos’ writing is an unwavering call to social justice as the expression of true faith in Yahweh, the God who is known for his faithfulness and mercy, but also his justice and righteousness. He spoke out against the neighboring kingdoms, the enemies of Israel.
In considering God’s judgment against his people today, in considering the plumb line of God’s righteousness and justice now, we should look at the churches, the congregations, the communities of believers – for we are God’s Israel (Galatians 3:26-29).
We have idols of our hearts that separate us from the Lord; yet, the Lord is willing to redeem the situation if we return.
You don’t have to wait until Jesus returns for the judgment. In fact, most of us needn’t worry so much about his coming to us as we should recognize the certainty that we are going to Him. Our expiration dates are one day closer tomorrow morning than when we woke up this morning.
During that time, in the Kingdom of Israel, you would see assassinations, idolatry, and immorality and nobody seemed to be interested in hearing the Word of the Lord. Then God called his prophet Hosea and told him to get married and raise a family. But God didn’t tell him to marry with a single woman. He was told to marry with a woman who would reflect the same level of purity and devotion that Israel demonstrated toward God. He was to marry a prostitute which indicated that the people of Israel were in a bad relationship with God.
Today is the introduction to a summer sermon series through the Minor Prophets. The Minor Prophets provide examples that invite us to view our current situation from the perspective of God's revelation.
In the next 12 weeks we will have a sermon giving an overview of the prophet and his writing. In reality, however, the sermon each week will focus on a particular verse or set of verses as a sampling of God’s Word to us through the Minor Prophets.
Last week we understood that basically money is a means of storing value and of exchanging value. We can turn our money into educational experiences for children, trip, paint to change the color of the bathroom, or a haircut. But, we can also exchange our money for Kingdom of God initiatives? And, here at First Church, that's exactly what we're doing. We are reaching out to the community-at-large with initiatives like:
Jesus said that money was his primary competitor for worship, devotion, and allegiance. There is an enchanting and enslaving quality to money. So how much money do we need; that is, how much is enough? How do we avoid devoting ourselves to dollars and cents? Is there a way to break the cycle of fearing I won’t have enough on the one hand and being fascinated with more and more and more on the other? Proportionate giving from our income is a confession of trust in God’s provision and a practical partnership for the healing of the world in Jesus’ name.
While we live in a world filled with evil, injustice, and oppression, we live by a dream of God's peace among the nations, between people, and within our own lives.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace -- his followers are people of peace.
Today, we take a look at the Holy Spirit and the long haul of life. Living under the influence of the Holy Spirit over the long haul is not so much to seek the Spirit as to marinate in the Spirit; to settle into the Spirit.
Simple practices allow us to marinate in the Holy Spirit and so be shaped by the Spirit’s work within. We can tend to God’s Spirit-breath within us by living simply, listening attentively, studying intently, and acting deliberately.
Today we come to one of the most challenging aspects of living daily under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is wildly contradictory to the American way of life.
When we talk about the most mystical and powerful force in the universe, the Holy Spirit, it is almost always in individual terms.
But in our focus on the individual – the focus of so much in our culture – we miss the witness of the Scripture that the Holy Spirit also fills, anoints, and empowers whole communities. The place of God’s presence, the house of God, as it were, is the community of believers…together
In this second of the Fresh Air series, we will focus on how we may release the Holy Spirit’s presence and power among us on a daily basis. How do we experience the freedom of the Holy Spirit? How does the Holy Spirit have access to us every day?
We cannot “live the Christian life” without the Holy Spirit. The best we can do is either sentimental aspirations or moral exhaustion. Neither is what the Scripture describes as being a “believer” The role/ministry/presence of the Holy Spirit is generally perceived as leading to either ecstasy or steadiness of some sort. The Scriptures embrace both – and much more.
What happened to our Easter spirit? It’s Easter Monday and we’ve just celebrated Jesus Resurrection. Then why are we just feeling empty?
If God is doing a new thing in us, why does everything just sort of feel like the same old thing? We might have more in common with the earliest believers than we know. After reading and re-reading the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, we might think that it was all kind of a letdown for them too! In John 20:10 it was written of the disciples, “Then they went home.”
The resurrection of Jesus is not an odd event within the world as it is but as the prototypical and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation. (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, HarperOne, 2008, p. 67.)
On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey; the people of Jerusalem were excited about his coming. The religious leaders told Jesus to quiet the crowd. However, they couldn't dissuade him from his mission because he had proven his power over nature, sin, disease, and even over death.The Disciples thought God’s redemption plan had failed when Jesus was nailed to cross but Jesus resurrection proved that God’s plan was a success. Jesus was redeemed in death and he redeemed us all with his resurrection.
How long until God judges the earth and vindicates suffering and death? Or, another way to ask it: “How long until we can see that the suffering and waiting has been worth it?” Even more directly it might be: “Can we trust you, God? Is there any meaning in all this? Why us? How much more do you think we can stand? What are you doing, Lord?
This Lenten season invites us into this murky place in which we may find ourselves torn between wanting Jesus to be our Good Shepherd and waiting for him to act on our behalf.
Psalm 130 gives us hope with this admonition....
Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard, summarized a recent Gallup poll that "An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait …. Our national gloom is real enough, but it isn't a matter of insufficient funds. It's a matter of insufficient certainty."
What can we do with the anxiety and uncertainty that keeps whispering in our ears and echoing in our minds? Doctors and therapists suggest many treatments; but, perhaps, who we really need is Dr. Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Let the words of Psalm 23 comfort us:
This week we come to admit that sometimes our hearts grow cold. We may have some sort of spirituality or faith, but honestly, God seems like a distant relative we see only at weddings and funerals. And so, we might conclude this whole church thing is irrelevant. The value equation doesn’t work. We’ve got better or more pressing things to do. Right? Maybe. Yet there is an itch within us, a restlessness, about who we are, why we are here, the purpose of our lives, and where the future takes us. We are all looking for meaning, purpose, and hope. Where do we find it?
The Lenten season, this time of seeking an honest assessment of ourselves and our relationship with God, with others, and with the Jesus Mission, seems particularly difficult. During this Lenten season, we are particularly focused on the kinds of things that happen in our lives which may undermine our confidence in God’s promises. The choice to follow Jesus is a choice about the path we take during the journey of our lives. Each day we are confronted with the choice between fear and faith, anxiety and anticipation.
The “me” we present to others, whether in digital media or personal conversation, whether by the symbols of our consumer choices or credentials of education or employment, we often use to hide the “real me” from others. We seek to control the information we reveal about ourselves so we can control the perception others have of us. While this can take a lot of forms, from low tech to the digital world of social media, it is a very long established pattern among us. So how do we break this pattern of "hiding ourselves" from God and others?
We were created to live in community. That’s it. You and me were created to be an ‘us.’ God’s very essence - the thing that makes God, is the perfect harmony of 3 persons living in community with one another. God is 3, (the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), yet they are one! It’s not a matter of how God behaves, or how God chooses to work; it’s that his very existence is a community.We are like God in our capacity to love, our ability to give life through childbirth, our passion for creating beauty out of raw materials. And our need to exist, just as God does, in community.
For five weeks we have been focusing on how our vision as a congregation gets off of the page and onto the street, out of the liturgy and into our lives, beyond our intentions and into action. We want to take the step from being a spectator of the Jesus Mission and become directly involved ourselves. We want to actually help others become friends of God through faith in Jesus Christ. We need to Share Our Stories!
Most of us don't realize how important we are to others. With God's grace, we are all gifted with Natural and Spiritual gifts. Natural gifts are those abilities inherited from our parents and nurtured in the context of family. Spiritual gifts, on the other hand, come directly from the Spirit of God. The “Holy Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” Natural gifts are imparted at our natural birth; spiritual gifts are given when we are born again.
We have several obstacles that get in the way of passing the living water of salvation along to others.
Our aversion to sharing our faith is at least three-fold:
1. It seems contrived
2. We aren't sure we have a faith worth sharing
3. We risk a relationship
Mostly our intention to share our faith in Jesus remains just that: an intention without any real impact.
Sharing a meal together is a universal way of strengthening relationships and sharing everything from the latest weather report and sports scores to the deepest matters of the heart.
In the living of our lives in relationship with others we become bridge people for the power, grace, love, truth, and presence of God. Today, in the second part of the B.L.E.S.S. series, we take up listening as a means of blessing others.
Though our congregational vision statement says we want to invite others to follow Christ, we are very poor at it. We need both understanding as well as practical ways to engage others in authentic conversations about Christ.
Our new series, B.L.E.S.S. invites us to begin our journey to engage others with Prayer.
Baptism is a sign that God has forgiven us for our sins. The water of baptism is a reminder that God has cleansed us. Baptism imparts the Holy Spirit into us. By this act God has given us the opportunity to reach out to others with his message.
Epiphany, a traditional observance of Christians, recalls the arrival of the Magi from the East. We think of the Star of Bethlehem guiding the Magi from the east, of course. But the Light of Christ is much more challenging to us.The Bible says that with the arrival of Jesus, God's light has come into the world.
But many actually prefer the darkness to the light. We would rather remain in the shadow lands of the soul than let the light of Christ shine into the nooks and crannies of our desires, thoughts, actions, and loves.
Everything in life is a transition. When we are in a transition, we understand that we move to another stage in our lives; and we think that everything changes. But it isn’t necessary for everything to change. The fact is when we transition or "cross over" we just move to another stage in our lives. We see every day is not just as another day, and we see that it means something more.