A Time to Repent, Reflect

A Time to Repent, Reflect

Did you hear the sounds as you entered the sanctuary tonight for worship?

Perhaps you heard the sounds of familiar friends and family members as we walked into the church. Perhaps you heard the sounds of paper rattling, the echoes of the heater blowing air through the sanctuary, or even people placing their items on the pew. Perhaps you heard the sounds of the organ as the music began to be played to alert us that our worship was about to begin.

But, did you hear the sounds of the trumpet?

At first glance, we are probably wondering if we missed something. We likely cannot recall someone standing before the sanctuary and blowing out the sounds of a deep melody. Yet, did you hear the trumpet? The proverbial sounds of the trumpet that blew out throughout this holy day calling us into this time of worship. The sounds that penetrated our hearts that called us to gather for this important time of holy reflection as a community of faith as we prepare to begin this season of preparation and renewal.

The trumpet sounded today in our hearts to call us to be renewed in our walk and life with God. We gather, as a body of faith, to reflect upon our lives in Christ’s love, to be renewed in our journey of faith, and to set our face towards the cross and the empty tomb. We have gathered to begin this important season of reflection on this Ash Wednesday evening. Continue reading “A Time to Repent, Reflect”

Yes, Love Your Enemies

Yes, Love Your Enemies

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is an important day in the Christian calendar. We studied it, this week, in our Bible Study, but for everyone we’ll give you a brief introduction into what this day is about.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each describe what took place on either Mount Tabor (near the Jezreel Valley) or Mount Hermon (in the Golan Heights). The event is where Jesus’ appearance was magnified before Peter, James, and John and they were able to see the fullness of his divinity. It comes after Peter confessed Jesus as the long-expected Christ, Savior, near Caesarea Philippi and serves as a pivot point in the gospels. From this point forward, Jesus is solely focused on the cross and resurrection that will take place in Jerusalem.

Before they leave the mountaintop, though, there is a voice that comes from a cloud. It is the voice of the Father. In a scene like what took place at Jesus’ baptism, but this time for all to hear, the Father identifies Jesus as God’s son. The voice also says, “listen to him.”

To listen is a command of obedience. To listen is to do more than just be quiet and hear what someone is saying. To listen means to hear what is being shared and apply it into your life. To listen to Jesus means to not just hear what he says, but to put into practice his very teaching.

We might understand that, but there is no place where we have more trouble listening to Jesus than what Christ teaches in Matthew 5:43-48. Once again on the shores of Galilee, Jesus speaks to the disciples and gathered crowd. He calls those who would follow him to do something that is, both then and now, challenging. He calls those who would follow him – seek to walk with the Lord – to love their enemies. Continue reading “Yes, Love Your Enemies”

Why So Angry?

Why So Angry?

Have you been paying attention? There has been a common theme, these last few weeks, of raising the stakes and expectations upon what it means to be a follower of Christ. It began as we joined the disciples and crowds who gathered along the shores of Galilee to hear these teaching statements when they were first delivered. We gather, today, to reflect upon what it means to live for Christ.

Throughout this study of Matthew 5, we’ve talked about some difficult and challenging passages and how they apply to our lives. If you remember, we said Jesus gathered this group together to express what the kingdom of God was all about. This was after people were curious about Jesus after he began preaching and healing throughout Capernaum and Galilee. As the crowds gathered around him, Jesus wasn’t interested in creating a popular movement that gave people what they wanted to hear. He wasn’t there to please the people.

He came to raise the expectations by expressing what it means to follow God and live out our faith. Jesus does not desire disciples who merely just show up or claim a faith in God but never put it into practice. He is interested in disciples – followers of Christ – who seek to become less of their own self and more like Christ every day. Continue reading “Why So Angry?”

One Year Later …

One Year Later …

One year later …

Roughly one year ago, I picked up my son from his therapy center in Paducah, Ky., and began a six-hour journey across Kentucky in a small snowstorm. I was exhausted, jet lagged from having just recently returned from an international trip, and dealing with a bad case of asthma. Yet, go we went. 

It would take us a night’s rest and a few extra hours to arrive in Huntington, W.Va., and Beverly Hills UMC to meet the people and visit the church where we would be appointed for the first time. That moment marked a new period in my family’s life, leaving what we had known to go into the unknown of a familiar state with a desire to help share the love of Christ. Continue reading “One Year Later …”

Reversing Church Decline

Reversing Church Decline

Noah loves balloons. Every so often, we will purchase some for him, especially around his birthday, that he can enjoy and play with.

Sometimes it is my responsibility to blow up the balloons. With my asthma, I don’t always have the lung strength to blow them up myself. I am thankful for the ability to purchase small tanks that allow me to blow up the balloons that, in turn, give Noah some joy and pleasure.

One of the things about balloons is that over time they lose air. You don’t always notice it happening, but air can seep through the balloon and, thus, shrink its size. Sometimes, it takes a while to notice that the balloon doesn’t have the same amount of air that it did before.

I believe sometimes the church is just like a balloon. Sometimes we don’t always recognize issues or periods of decline until it is entirely noticeable. When we begin to notice issues or decline when it is reached the point that ignoring it any longer would harm the long-term operational structure of the local church.

The truth is that the church has often struggled with issues. As well, in many ways, we have been in decline, as a Methodist movement, for a more than just a handful of years. By percentage of the population, by some accounts, we have been in a state of decline since the 1880s. It was easy to miss for a long time, because the church was able to maintain its funding and support levels.

That isn’t the case, currently. Continue reading “Reversing Church Decline”

The Living God

The Living God

Throughout the summer and fall, especially as we have looked at the Gospel of Luke, we have gone on a journey with Jesus. During this journey, Jesus has traveled the shore line of the Sea of Galilee, made his way down the Jordan River, over through Jericho, and visited other important areas of Galilee and Judea. His journey has been focused on taking him to Jerusalem to meet his accusers, to face the cross, and experience the resurrection.

Yet, we have also shared how Jesus used the journey to engage people along the way about what it meant to follow him. He used the time, truly, to talk about discipleship. For Jesus, discipleship is more than just saying you are a “Christian” or being a member of a church. Discipleship is about completing following Christ by abandoning our own self and ideas for how life should be and completely dedicate ourselves to following the life of Jesus. This is a life of deep commitment and engagement with the Lord that is a lifelong journey.

Much of the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem was focused on discipleship and following him completely. Even when he reaches the Holy City, Jesus continues to talk about the responsibilities of following him and how it challenges the ideas of the world. This is the case as we turn our focus to Luke 20:26-38, where we find Jesus teaching in the Temple during the lead up to the Passover celebrations. Continue reading “The Living God”

The World Turned Upside Down

The World Turned Upside Down

I had waited four years to see it.

For four years, I tried everything that I could to convince people – especially Abbi – that I needed to go to New York to see this one show. That didn’t work. When it left New York and started a nationwide tour, I began to calculate Christmas gifts and possible vacations for the family. That still didn’t work.

It wasn’t until the week before we moved here that I, finally, was able to sit in an auditorium and watch the one show I had been dying to see. That show was Hamilton. I loved it, and if it wasn’t for the cramped seating, I would have danced in the aisle the entire show. The show is right up my ally: hip hop music to American history. You can’t go wrong!

One of my favorite songs from the musical describes the events surrounding the victory at Yorktown. With the musical’s focus on history and catchy lyrics, it told how the Americans secured the victory and, ultimately, the war on the shores of the James River in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia. It did so with a refrain that was sung in the background to describe what took place: the world turned upside down.

The world turned upside down! I love that refrain. I love how it speaks to history. I love how it speaks to the moment of the unexpected becoming reality. I love how it gives us, even, a way to consider what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into the world. Continue reading “The World Turned Upside Down”