Prayer and the Ministry of the Word

When I was five years old, my family changed churches. We were a family of eight, but my mother, sister and I were the only ones who went to church with any regularity. To be honest, I don’t know what was behind the decision to move. But for whatever reason, we left St. Mark’s and went to the big church on the hill. Funny, what memories stick with you. I remember the car ride on that first Sunday we went to the new church. My mother called to me in the back seat and said, “Carolyn, now this is a big, fancy church, and we have to be very quiet during the service. You can not talk during church.” I didn’t remember talking during church before, but I can tell you, I was very quiet at the new, fancy church.

We must have liked it there because we stayed and you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just like at the other church, we were still among the last to leave every Sunday because my mother would not go home until she had spoken to everyone.

Maybe that’s why I liked communion Sundays so much. It gave me something to do while I waited for my mom. After church on communion Sundays, while my mother talked, I’d go up to the altar and play with all the little cups that were left there. Now, remember – I was five years old. Five year olds eat dirt at home, so church germs were certainly not a threat.

You know how there is always a little bit of grape juice left in the bottom of those little cups? Well, I could take the leavings from two or three little cups and just about fill up another one. And I could usually down three or four shots before my mother caught sight of me. “You cannot play with the little cups!” she’d say, as she drug me off by my arm.

So I find it ironic all these years later that I make my living talking during church and playing with those little cups (though now, they are big cups).

It is a good thing, too, because I didn’t have a lot of other options. I am not particularly musical, not athletic, not brilliant, artistic or technical. I know a little bit about a few things, but not a lot about anything. But I do have one passion. I love the church. I love it! I love the Lord. He is the reason I live. But I am a pastor because I love the church. It fascinates me that Almighty God, in all his wisdom, chose this organism as his medium for sharing His revelation of Jesus Christ. And my passion is for seeing that organism, the Church, work in the way God intended when he passed the Body of Christ from the person of Jesus to the people of God. I don’t claim to know God’s whole vision for that kind of church, but I do believe he is looking for more than just somebody to talk on Sundays who occasionally plays with those little cups. In fact, I believe he is crying out for the people of God to be the body of Christ.

The apostles themselves laid it out. Instead of allowing circumstances to take their eyes off what was most important, the apostles figured out what makes the church powerful. And they defined it with profound simplicity. “Prayer and the ministry of the word,” they said, “are the center of what we do. Nothing should stand in the way of that mission. And secondly, the ministries of compassion belong to the congregation” (Acts 6:1-7, my take).

Folks, that is powerful. This was long before Paul wrote those amazing analogies about the Body of Christ. There were no consultants, no books to read. But the disciples saw not only God’s vision, but the immense danger of taking their eyes off that vision because of some pressure by some group or another to fill some need.

“Prayer and the ministry of the word are the center of what we do. And the ministries of compassion belong to the congregation.”

That’s the Body of Christ. That’s the Church being the Church – not just talking on Sundays and playing with the little cups – but all of us together bearing the good news of Jesus Christ to a world hungry for a clear vision and the honest-to-goodness gospel truth.

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Chosen: Matthew’s Story

This is the fifth in a series of posts about people in our community who have experienced the gift of chosenness. This one is offered by Randy Henning, father of Matthew, who I consider to be a spiritual leader among us. Read on:

My wife Laura and I have two children, Ashlyn and Matthew. Our oldest, Ashlyn, lives in Waco, Texas. Matthew lives with us. Both our children are gifts from God. This story is about Matthew’s life and our church.

Matthew has Down Syndrome. The clinical name for it is Trisomy 21. Simply put, that means that instead of having two “number twenty-one” chromosomes, Matthew has three. I think it is amazing that the thing that makes Matthew different is so small you have to use a microscope to see it. But that tiny difference is profound. Raising a child with Down Syndrome has its challenges, but I can tell you without question that the good far outweighs the bad.

The most important thing to us is watching Matthew grow up in a church family. Watching his faith grow, hearing people say how much he has helped them. That has been priceless. I do not know the extent to which Matthew understands his faith, but what I do know is that he has faith and that God uses him in ways I cannot comprehend. His faith and how he uses it is obviously something pretty special between him and God. Matthew knows himself to be chosen, and it shows.

Before we started attending Mosaic, we didn’t attend church. What led us to start looking? I remember it like it was yesterday. One Sunday morning, my daughter Ashlyn (ten years old at the time) came up to me and asked, “Daddy, why don’t we go to church?” Wham! That question coming from a ten-year-old hit me like a two-by-four.

So we started looking.

For families of individuals with special needs, finding a church can be complicated. Studies say that about 90% of families like ours don’t attend church. Why? Some of us don’t want to burden a system that isn’t prepared for us. Sometimes we feel unwelcome. Many of us have been told that a church can’t serve us or meet the needs of our child. As a result, the special needs population is the most unreached, unevangelized people group in this country.

For us, it was easy to find a church that would let Matt sit in a pew or chair. But to find one that would let Matt participate? Not as easy as you might think. Then a reading tutor shared with us that her church had a desire to serve all individuals, including those with special needs. One Sunday, we visited. Thirteen years later, we’re still there.

I can honestly say that both our kids would not be who they are today without the people of Mosaic. You don’t know what it means to us that they let Matt be Matt. They let him worship how he feels led, even if that means taking a lap around the church or standing up front during worship. Matt has built relationships within the church. He feels welcomed to join in prayer with leaders (often, they ask him to lead those prayers). He finds his pastor every Sunday morning for a hug, and he always asks her to mark his Bible with the verse for the day’s message. Matthew has even been invited to serve communion. Matt has grown in his faith his way, and I’ll be honest … I wish my faith and relationship with the Lord was as strong as his.

Matt’s faith bears fruit. One of Matt’s teachers shared with us that on a day when her son was scheduled for a driving test, she was anxious and Matt responded not only with concern but with faith. He gave her a note that said, “Be happy. God loves you, and I love you, too.” He then proceeded to lay hands on her and prayed over her right in the middle of class! If he’d not had an accepting church family that let him grow in his faith, that may not have ever happened.

Another time, a student at Matt’s school shared with my wife that she was in the lunch room one day when some friends started to make fun of Matt. She spoke up to her friends and said, “You know, I go to church with Matthew and he’s a pretty cool kid. You should get to know him better.” That’s the fruit of authentic community. Made me proud of my church. If it takes a village to raise a child, our church has been our village.

As parents of a special needs child we want the same thing for our kids as other parents do. We want a place where they are welcome, safe, and accepted for who they are. The difference is, its a lot harder to find for us and you can’t imagine what a great gift it is when we do find that place. This month, our church will open its doors to a new ministry that offers therapy sessions for kids with special needs during the week. In August, we’re adding a once-a-month family night out for families with exceptional kids. We’re calling it Exceptional Circles.

One night a month for two or three hours might not sound like much to a typical family, but to a parent of a special needs child that can almost feel like a miracle. I’ll be honest: Matt is easy. We could leave him with just about anybody and he’s fine (most of the time he’d rather us not be there anyway!). But there are parents out there who never get a break. You can’t imagine what a gift a couple of hours a month can be. I know some parents that have taken advantage of something like this and you know what they did? They went home and slept.

Having a place like Mosaic, and ministry like Exceptional Circles could be a real blessing to a family with children with special needs. A place where they are not only welcome but accepted for who they are. We want everyone to have the blessing of a community like ours to share the load and offer Christ. For us, it has made all the difference.

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Supernatural Ministry in the UMC

This article ran this week on the WCA website. I’m reposting it here in its entirety for those who may not travel in UMC circles with the prayer that the Holy Spirit might spark a theological revival rooted in the supernatural in our day.

Thomas Jefferson once took a penknife and cut most of the miracle stories out of the Bible, leaving only the teachings of Jesus. He included the tomb but cut out the resurrection. What was left, mostly the teachings of Jesus, Jefferson entitled, “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.”

What Jefferson did to the Bible with a penknife, many contemporary Christians unwittingly do with their lives. Especially in the U.S., much of Christian culture has managed to surgically remove the supernatural from the experience of Jesus of Nazareth. We’ve fallen out of the habit of talking publicly and passionately about how to transform lives. We will talk about decline in church attendance, the cultural shift away from Christendom and the declining morals of our society, but we have neither the vocabulary nor the comfort for talking about the spiritual realm. And yet, according to Jesus himself, the work of God’s people is to expose the Kingdom through the supernatural work of casting out demons, curing disease, healing sickness and seeing people transformed by truth.

In fact, this is the prescription offered by Jesus himself when he sent his followers out on their first evangelistic mission. We find the charge in the first verses of Luke 9: “One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2, NIV).

I am fascinated by the contrast between what I read in these verses and what I see in the current western culture. What he sends these followers to do carries the power of real transformation. This supernatural sending exposes the Kingdom of God in a way much contemporary ministry does not. In this season of change in our denomination’s life, how can we recover this charge? What does it look like for Wesleyans? I suspect it begins with a commitment to a Kingdom-down worldview.

In an earlier Outlook article, Walter Fenton referenced a post by Dr. Wes Allen, Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology. In his diagnosis of our current UM conflict, Dr. Allen offers an insight about the starting points of those on either end of the theological spectrum. “Traditionalists emphasize the vertical relationship characterized in the command to love God with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. In traditional evangelical vocabulary, this is often expressed in terms of the importance placed on individuals having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ… Progressives (and to a great extent, moderates)… start with the horizontal relationship. In this view, the command to love our neighbor as ourselves is seen as the primary (perhaps even synonymous) expression of loving God with our whole being…”

“There is much overlap,” Allen says, “between these two positions (obviously conservatives care about social ethics and progressives care about individual morality). But with the different emphases, the depth and width of the chasm between these vertical and horizontal starting points has become so significant that at times the different UM camps seem to be practicing two different religions or Christianities…”

I agree with this diagnosis. The root of our current impasse is in what leads. Is Christianity primarily a belief system emphasizing social justice, or is it primarily an encounter with the One, True God that emphasizes — even insists on — ongoing supernatural transformation? I am convinced that authentic Christianity is a Kingdom-down proposition. If we want to see the Kingdom come, it will happen as we openly, boldly acknowledge that Jesus was and is not just a great cultural stabilizer but also a supernatural God whose resurrection leads those who follow him directly into the supernatural realm. Our call is to receive the power and authority offered us by Christ himself — and on the resurrection side of this story, that includes the Holy Spirit — and then to go out as he sends to drive out death and expose the Kingdom of God.

This is our call. Friends, we are not sent out with an eyedropper full of Holy Spirit so we can run a friendly non-profit. If we are going to give the world a better definition of “church,” then we need the infilling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit so we can live out a bold charge to cast out demons, cure disease, proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick. I believe the Lord longs to see his Church acting as if he is a supernatural God and ours is supernatural power. I’m advocating for a renewed Methodism that is a partnership with a supernatural God who does supernatural things. Surely Jesus means for Methodists to have the Holy Spirit, too!

After all, miracles are the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Without miracles, we lose the divinity of Jesus. Without the virgin birth, Jesus is just another kid born to an unwed mother. He begins to look more like Buddha or Mohammed and less like a God in the flesh. Without miracles, we lose hope. If Jesus didn’t supernaturally conquer death, we have no assurance of an afterlife nor any reason to assume that the cross has power to cancel sin.

Without miracles, we lose touch with the essential character of God. Through the epic miracles of Scripture (the parting of the Red Sea, the miraculous catch of fish, the woman whose oil lasted through a famine, the drowning of a legion of demons), we are drawn into the realm of God’s Kingdom and influence. Miracles are a foretaste of coming attractions, when every tribe and tongue is standing before the throne, crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God!”

This, I believe, is exactly what Jesus means to do when he sends his followers out with power and authority to cast out demons, cure disease, proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick. He is calling them to look for signs of the anti-Kingdom, directing them, “Wherever you see them — demons, disease, sickness — take the authority invested in you to cast out darkness and proclaim the victory of the Kingdom of God.”

With all due respect to President Jefferson, this is what it means to be a Christian, and I hope this is what it looks like when Wesleyans embrace supernatural ministry. It is to declare the one, true God and his supernatural revelation through Jesus Christ, as we are sent out with power and authority to fulfill this bold charge: Cast out demons, cure disease, proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick.

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The insanity of pluralism

There is an old tale about four blind men and an elephant (this is not a politically correct tale, just an old one). As the story goes, each man is stationed around an elephant, their experience of him limited by what is within their grasp. The man standing by the leg decides this must be a tree. The man holding the tail declares it to be a rope. The trunk is determined to be a snake. The massive side of the elephant must be a wall.

Each of them interprets their “elephant” according to their own experience and the moral of the story is that none of us has the full range of truth. We each have our corner of it and our unique perspectives color our understanding of the whole. In other words, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians each have just a corner of the truth, though we are gathered around the same God.

And that, brothers and sisters, is just plain bad theology. For starters, it is an insult to every religion. To say all of them are equally right is to ignore the obvious and opposing differences. No serious Hindu can lay claim to one god, exclusive of all others. No faithful Muslim will embrace the Trinity (and in fact, considers that doctrine heretical). Jews are still waiting for their Messiah, while Christians cannot imagine a God without Jesus. To say these varied theologies are simply parts of the same “elephant” is to willfully deny their distinctives.

James Heidinger walks out the logic behind the theological liberalism of the 20th century here, a logic that highjacked most mainline denominations, the United Methodist Church among them. The dismantling of orthodox theology began with the character of God (“Perhaps this is not an elephant after all”), its trickle-down effect impacting everything from our view of humanity to our understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ. Heidinger writes:

“Liberalism believed that just as Christ differs from other men only comparatively and not absolutely or substantively, neither does Christianity differ from other religions. It is just one, perhaps one of the most important, among the world’s various religions, all of which stem from the same basic source. Thus, the church’s missionary effort should not aim to convert but rather to promote a cross-fertilization of ideas for mutual dialogue and enrichment. The Christian faith is neither unique nor intended to be universal. Thus, the church’s worldwide missionary mandate was denied.”

This is the elephant redefined as chameleon. It will be what we need it to be, abolishing the need for absolute truth. It sounds gracious and accepting, doesn’t it? Except that it further diminishes the integrity of not one religion but all of them.

Liberalism also minimizes (or squelches) any evangelistic urgency. This shows up in our current UMC conversations as American UM Christians debate the importance of an African connection. Some would say that unless he is Christ for the whole world, he is Christ for none of it. Others would say that African theology is as “local” as African culture.

To say that somehow, we’ve all grabbed our own corner of the elephant is to say that the elephant itself is a donkey on one end and a peacock on the other. To call either an elephant is to misdefine the thing. In the story of the elephant and the blind men, no one is right. This elephant isn’t a snake or a tree or a rope or a wall. It is an elephant. The blind men can all be equally wrong, but they can’t be equally right.

Truth is not relative. 

There is a later version of this old story that includes another character. A king in possession of his sight eventually shows up to tell the blind men they have got it wrong. Their experience has deceived them. This is, in fact, an elephant.

And so it is with Christianity. Someone from beyond has come to reveal to the world the heart of God. He has seen what we cannot see and has come to tell us what truth is. Or more precisely, who truth is. Truth is a person, and his name is Jesus. To believe in him alone for salvation is to be a Christian. Nothing else counts.

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Fetching Grace

Mephibosheth.  Sound that one out, then imagine yourself with the burden of that name hanging around the neck of your life.

Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s son. David found him when he went looking for a way to make good on a promise he’d made to Jonathan years before. It was a vow to honor Jonathan’s family — any time, any place. One day long into his reign as king, he goes to the palace staff and asks (2 Samuel 9:1), “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” At the question, someone remembers Mephibosheth.

His name, by the way, means “shameful thing.”

Mephibosheth had bad feet. When he was five years old, a nursemaid dropped him or let him fall and somehow his feet were damaged. So now, here is a boy named Shameful with feet that don’t allow him to play with the other kids or follow in his warrior-father’s footsteps. After his father’s death, they did with him what they often did with kids like him. They sent him off to someone willing to keep him as a servant for the cost of room and board.

So a guy named Shameful who is labeled as Lame gets shipped off to a place called Lo Debar, which means “place of no pasture,” or sometimes, “place of no word.” No word.  No blessing.  No intelligence.  No honor.  This is where Mephibosheth lived.

Then, completely out of the blue, King David sends for him. The Hebrew word used here literally means something like “fetch.” Someone has called this act of David fetching grace. Don’t you love that? It reminds me of Jesus’ word to his followers: “You did not choose me, but I chose you …”

When Mephibosheth was presented to David, the king said, “Don’t be afraid, for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father. And I will restore the land that belongs to your family.” The story ends with Mephibosheth living in Jerusalem, eating at the King’s table.

And this is the place in this Old Testament story where Jesus shows up. As I consider Mephibosheth coming to live with David, I realize there is no miraculous healing. David doesn’t hire great doctors to fix him up. Mephibosheth comes as he is and as he is he is welcome at the table of the King.

Welcomed, not as a servant but as a friend.

In that scene, Jesus says to us also, “You don’t have to be different than you are to sit at the table and be part of the things I have for you. We are not all sitting around waiting for you to be better, different, healed. You have been chosen as you are, loved as you are.”

Transformation will come in the nourishing, of course (we are Methodists, after all, who believe sanctification is the other half of salvation). But transformation begins with an invitation to the table. Come as you are.

And right here, right now, I want to thank Jesus for that word. Isn’t that exactly what he did for me? For you? After the resurrection, he showed up to this woman who would have been an outcast in her world, once crippled by demons. He showed up to her and her circle, and to those guys walking down a road toward their house in Emmaus. The story says, “He was known in the breaking of the bread.” He was known at the table, in the conversation, in the moment.

Jesus came bearing the inestimable power of friendship. He comes bearing a rare kindness, for the sake of the Father, saying things like, ““Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. ”“I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.” “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.”

Friendship is the gift of the Kingdom. Jesus came to us as friend, and invites us to befriend people in authentic ways. This is how the gospel gets rooted. It gets rooted in the soil of community and it bears the fruit of friendship.

(This story is also part of the Encounter Jesus study, available at seedbed.com)

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Cheap Kings, Fake Lords and the Crucifixion

We were made for God. In our unfallen state, it is a perfect fit. Somewhere early on in the history of the world, however, we decided we’d rather be our own masters. We rebelled against, pushed against, rejected the plans of (design of) the God who loves us, and began making our own gods.

Humanity has had this propensity nearly as long as we’ve existed. By the time the Ten Commandments were delivered, idol worship was enough of a problem to deserve a prime spot in the list. Commandment #1: You shall have no other gods before me. You don’t have to say things like that to people who never choose other gods. By its presence and prominence, we can assume this was an issue, has always been an issue, is still an issue. Our preference given our fallen tendencies is to choose gods of our own making. Tim Keller writes some terrific stuff about this (look up Counterfeit Gods).

The very act of the crucifixion says so much about this conflicted relationship we have with God, how far God will go to prove his love and Lordship, and how far humans will go to avoid surrendering to that love and Lordship. We have a spiritual problem that we chronically attempt to fix with a physical solution. We think, “If I can just be my own master, then I can find my own fix.”

The great irony is that we put God on a cross but keep our sins to ourself. And yet, the cross is such a beautiful invitation to believe that God on the cross is God for us (Keller says until we believe that, we won’t have courage to deal with our idols). It is an invitation, as Oswald Chambers has said, to press into the crucified flesh of Jesus everything that breeds death with the assurance that Jesus will carry those things we give him in a way that doesn’t breed shame or loss but freedom and life.

Write this question down and deal with it: What things in my life need to be pressed into the death of Jesus? What parts of me have more in common with death than life? What inferior gods and nagging demons, what things that need to die, am I dragging around when the best thing I could do for myself is press them into the crucifixion? Because “this Jesus whom we crucified” has power even while he is on the cross and this Jesus whom we crucified offers to take our place at the point of death. Because you see, while sin-carrying is death for us, it is victory in the flesh of Jesus.

Hear this: Christ alone has power over the things that breed death in us.

Resurrection invites us to stand up again (the Greek word literally means “to stand up again”). The principle of resurrection says that if I will press the things that breed death into the flesh of the crucified Jesus then when he is resurrected, when he stands up again, I can stand up again, too. I can be resurrected, too, even if I’ve found myself in a valley again, spiritually poor again, stuck again, idolizing again, going around that same tired mountain again, living that insanity of doing the same things again and again … looking for a physical fix for a spiritual problem. Even if I am there again, the crucifixion invites me to press my tired, dead “again” into the cross of Jesus, so I can stand up again inside the resurrection of Jesus.

Earlier this year, I broke through into another spiritual place. Before it happened, sensing a breakthrough but not there yet was a painful place to be. I hoped I was right. I trusted God. But man, that pressure when you’re right up against that moment of spiritual breakthrough can be pretty intense. You may have felt it before yourself, even if you didn’t know what to call it.

On a Monday morning, I got my breakthrough. I was on my knees, actually, and I heard the Lord ask me to stand up again, just like resurrection. I heard the Lord inviting me to place a part of myself under his care. I heard him invite me into healing. He showed me how I’d been protecting that broken piece of me, trying to accommodate it while I lived my life. And I could see how trying to run my life on two tracks at once, just how impossible that is. I needed to hand some broken part of me over to Jesus and let him be Lord. Such freedom!

In that moment, Jesus had just invited me to press into his crucified flesh something that was breeding death, with the assurance that Jesus will carry the things we give him in a way that doesn’t breed shame or loss, but freedom and life.

My friend, you now have that same power to stand up again even if you’ve been knocked down. You now have the power to tell your idols, all those cheap kings and fake lords, to submit to the one Power who wants to bring you from death to life and can bring you from death to life. Because Jesus is Lord, you now have the power God has to break through barriers and begin again.

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How to live like Jesus is Lord

So much of what we teach is all the don’t’s of Christianity. You know, “Don’t drink, don’t chew, don’t dance with the girls who do.” But Jesus didn’t come for the don’t’s. Christ isn’t just a fast from sin; he is a feast of truth and grace.

The Messiah has come and his coming is like the coming of a bridegroom to a wedding feast. This longing we have for something more is a longing for a wedding feast, for new wine, for a new beginning. It is a longing for what we’re made for. It is a longing for truth … for life.

The story is true, my friends! Jesus is worthy! The cross is glorious! The good news is worth believing! The Kingdom to come is an absolute assurance and the resurrection is proof. Are you living as if all this is true? Are you living as if Jesus really is Lord?

How to live like Jesus is Lord:

Let the dead things die. Toss the old habits that are not working for you any more. Toss the old, dead rituals. Some of us are still waiting for 1953 to roll around again so we can get back to a more comfortable religion. Some of us actually crave dead religion. We want to be okay with sitting in a church building once a week and calling that Christian. But folks, Jesus is doing a new thing! He is moving in power all over the world right now. He is revealing himself to non-believers, and creating miracles in spiritually dry places. It is time to join him. It is time to toss the things you keep wanting to come back that are never coming back, both in your spiritual life and in the rest of your life. Let the things that have no life for you die so you can begin to live like Jesus is Lord.

Learn to feast. Psalm 22 and 23 are some of my favorite places in scripture. These two psalms contain the essence of the Good News of the New Testament. Psalm 22 contains the seven last words of Jesus on the cross. This is the scene of Jesus taking on our sin and dying our death. This is Good Friday.

Then Psalm 23 takes us through Saturday, that dark time between the crucifixion and the resurrection. It walks us through the valley of shadows, the valley of death. But it points us toward a rise on the other side of that valley where there is a table set by God himself: “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” This is about how to walk through trouble with a feast mentality. This is a song of death and resurrection.

I remember reading this line one evening years ago. It happened while I was sitting in the chapel of our church. Every Wednesday we offered communion there. I was the pastor who served communion for those services. Steve usually came and I specifically remember one week when he came to take communion. It had been a hard week for him. He is a teacher, and it seemed like that week he was struggling more than usual with classroom discipline. Like that semester he had every demon in Morgan County taking history from him. It was a rough time.

So as he walked up to the altar, I was reading this very line from Psalm 23 about God preparing our table in the presence of our enemies. I looked up from that line to see my husband kneeling at the altar, his hands out to receive the elements, all his enemies weighing heavily on him — the students, the work, the tests to be graded. I thought to myself, “Here it is, being lived out right in front of me!” God had invited Steve to a feast. In the face of so many enemies, he was invited by the Lord of the Universe to come to the table, to get his cup refilled, to receive God’s goodness and mercy, and to remember that even with so many demons hanging on, God was with him. God was on his side. God is on his side, and on yours and mine.

This is the feast being set before us. It is a feast of truth and grace. And this is what it means to get a feast mentality: It is to set your face toward that table while you’re still in the valley and trust that the story is true even when life is hard.

Get a resurrection mindset. Resurrection is the center of the good news about Jesus Christ. And now, with that power firmly established in the Kingdom of God and with Jesus as our bridge God is able to confidently say to all humanity, “It is finished! He has done it! You now have the power I have to break through barriers and begin again.” And that message is not exclusively for Easter. That message is for us. This is our story now. Because the resurrection is true, we now have access to this same infinite power that is stronger than even death itself. When we talk about “begin again” religion, which is what Jesus preached, we’re talking about the kind of life that goes through death. We’re talking about transformation. We now have the power to bring everything out into the light and then put everything that isn’t eternal to death … so we can really live.

This is the good news! Those who are in Jesus never die. This is what it means to be “in Christ.” It is to proclaim with Peter: “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” And to believe that by claiming that, I am tethering myself to a power greater than sin, greater than death, greater than darkness.

A resurrection mindset can change the world, and can certainly change your world. I’m praying for you as you enter this season beyond Easter Sunday, that you will embrace the resurrection of Jesus Christ as your permission to live wholeheartedly into the life he has designed just for you.

Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Hallelujah!

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Jesus is Lord over death.

I’m inspired by this. I’m energized by this. Our hope is built on this: After the blood flowed and the body of Jesus was laid in that tomb…

…after the verdict was pronounced over his body — “Death!”…

…after the stone was rolled over the entrance and the guards were posted…

…Jesus — in his body — tore down the door of hell, walked through it to the other side. Jesus kicked down the ultimate barrier that stood between humanity and eternity. Death no longer has any sting.

Because of Jesus.

For us, this is an unfathomable gift. This changes everything. Because he was raised to life after death, I can have life after death. Jesus now holds that power. Because he has conquered the one thing all humans most fear, we can live fearlessly even in the face of death itself. What a profoundly relevant truth! If I have no fear of death, then what can I accomplish in this life? If I’m not afraid of death, then what has power over me?

Jesus has all the power!

This is the big message of the Bible. There is power in the name of Jesus and in no other name. When Peter, the disciple of Jesus, finally and fully internalizes this truth and preaches his first sermon, this is his bottom-line point: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Peter makes it plain that the one his enemies crucified not only lives but lives in power. Carries power. Jesus, having conquered his own crucifixion, now lives as both Messiah and Lord, both savior and sanctifier.

Jesus, who we believe to be the Son of God, gave up His place as God to become human and lived a sinless human life. He was and is all God, all human, fulfilling hundreds of prophecies written hundreds of years before he came. Because he’d lived this sinless life, he became what they called in the Old Testament system of sacrifices a spotless lamb. Jesus gave himself to this. He allowed a group of men who were against everything he stood for to arrest him. They accused him of blasphemy because he claimed to be God.

This Jesus, whom you crucified …

This Jesus has become both savior and sanctifier. This Jesus now has power to conquer everything in us that breeds death. Sanctification is about allowing the Holy Spirit to lead as he flows through us, sending us toward life — toward perfect love, perfect joy, perfect peace. We believe Christian perfection (or entire sanctification) is the trajectory of authentic discipleship. John Wesley claimed full sanctification as the unique contribution of Methodism to the Body of Christ, that we were given to this call, to raise up a people dedicated to taking faith to the radical edge. Kevin Watson goes so far as to say that if we are not teaching and preaching the doctrine of entire sanctification, we are taking up a needless division in the Body of Christ.

Entire sanctification is our answer to a God who has entirely conquered death. If Jesus has power over death, then I by taking Jesus as Lord now have power over all my unholy desires, all my broken parts, all of my fallen nature. I have power to place all of it in submission to the Lordship of Jesus, expecting his perfection to reign in me. Perfection is a radical expectation and yet we are called to this by the very cravings of God. Be perfect, Jesus says, like your Father is (Mt. 5:48). And how is our Father perfect? In the ways he loves. In the ways he gives. In the ways he keeps his heart open.

This is where holiness begins. It begins in the heart. Whether you are in the midst of vocational ministry or just trying to follow Jesus in your work as a banker, I cannot stress enough the importance of setting the trajectory of your life and work toward Christian perfection. Whether you reach that high and lofty goal or not is not the point. I’m not even concerned with whether you think it is possible. What matters is where you are headed.

I can promise you this: Jesus is Lord over death. In your response to life, in the practice of your faith, in the framing of your hopes and plans, are you headed toward death, or toward life?

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Jesus is Lord of love.

Dr. Jacques Pye is a follower of Jesus who serves Christ as an emergency room physician, husband, father of six, and a writer of Christian worldview science fiction. I invited him to share this week because I knew he’d bring a deep theological perspective to this topic. And indeed, he has. Read on: 

In the liturgical church, today is Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. “Maundy” long had connotations of gloom, sadness, even despair for me until I learned that “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “command.” At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Today is Maundy Thursday because on it, Jesus gave us the command, not the option, to love.

But why should we obey? For that matter, why should we obey any of the actions He tells us to do, such as bless those who persecute you, pray for those who mistreat you, or go and tell others about Him? We should obey because Jesus is Lord.

What is the impact of these three words: “Jesus is Lord”?

The Greek word for Lord, kurios, means master, one who has authority over someone or something. Jesus is Lord over creation and over us. Colossians 1:15-17 tells us,

“He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (NASB)

Jesus is the Lord of, the authority over, creation because He existed before creation and all things were created through and for Him. In our daily lives, we accept the proposition that the person who creates a business has the right to run the business. In a sense, the business owner is lord over the business. In the same way, though more fully, this relationship of Jesus as creator to us, His creation, gives Him the right to rule over us.

Because Jesus is Lord over us as created beings, he has a right to expect us to obey His commands and obedience ought to change how we approach all of life.

Jesus is Lord over us because He has paid the price for our redemption from sin. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sinned in their disobedience, they, and all of us, became separated from God. But God in His love for us did not want us to stay that way. Jesus, in perfect love and union with God, came to pay the price for our sin.

In the Old Testament, a relative could redeem a Hebrew who had sold himself into slavery or who had become destitute. This person was called a kinsman-redeemer. In our natural state we need a kinsman-redeemer, because we have no way to pay the price for our sinful, rebellious nature, other than to die ourselves. Philippians 2:8-11 tells us that Jesus,

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (NASB)

As redeemed people, as those who have passed from darkness into light, as those who have come into the loving presence of our Savior, we acknowledge Jesus as Lord over the power of sin. Our sin. When we accept Jesus as the payment for our sin-debt to God, we accept Him as Lord and acknowledge His authority over us, his people.

Jesus is Lord. He always has authority over us as creator and as redeemer, and He always loves us. The things He asks of us, though they may be difficult at times, are for our benefit and come through His heart of love. Through His lordship over us, Jesus seeks to mold us daily into His image, an image of love vertically for God and horizontally for other people.

As you celebrate Maundy Thursday, rejoice that Jesus, who is Lord, on that night, fully cognizant of the coming horrors of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, gave us the command to love. Go out, knowing that the One who is Lord always walks with you and enables you to love just as He loves.

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Jesus is Lord of the valleys.

Today’s post comes from Elizabeth Glass-Turner, Managing Editor of Wesleyan Accent, writer and speaker. She reflects on the power of the Lordship of Jesus in hard times. Read on …

Sanctification is fun when it’s under our control.

Out of the corner of our eye, we have peripheral awareness of how close to being faith consumers we really are. We choose to go to a conference so we can grow spiritually. We choose to show up to Bible study so we can grow spiritually. We choose to read a book so we can cry or become more efficient or grow spiritually.

We choose.

We choose the parameters of our growth. Where we next discern/feel/think that God is leading us. What we will “give up” for Lent. The solution is perceived as whatever antidote to lukewarm faith fits the bill. I’m not sure the problem is lukewarm Christians, though. I think the problem is more the insidious mindset that is entangled in our approach to faith: that we set the table, invite the guests, and choose the menu of our own spiritual growth. That we’re in charge. That we can choose what outcomes we want to see in our spiritual life. That we control how we want to be made Christlike.

If you can choose what to give up for Lent, you’re living in a place of blissful abundance. Don’t take it for granted. Years back during Lent several areas of life imploded at once. In the wake of the economic collapse in 2008, there was a lot of scarcity, especially in certain areas of the country. My household was affected directly, and I remember writing a short reflection including the comment, “What do you give up for Lent when you’re already in a season of scarcity? What does fasting look like when the cupboards are pretty bare?” Lent had changed from practices I chose and controlled to something outside my control, and I didn’t like it.

God had allowed my chosen self-denial to be replaced with real desperation.

It was awful, and there’s no good way to spin or market it.

It hadn’t really occurred to me before what fasting sounded like to people who struggled to afford groceries, or who waited for their food stamps to be refilled. One day during that time — when the news was full of stories of foreclosures, whole subdivisions emptied, when the rust belt was contracting and people moved across the country away from their lifelong hometowns in order to find work — I came across a story of a humiliated woman who drove a luxury car driving to the food bank she used to donate to. In desperate tones she explained a paid-off, reliable vehicle was one of the only decent assets she had left and it didn’t make sense to trade it in for a cheaper but possibly less reliable car. But that meant that she was driving to the food bank in shiny German engineering.

Before the housing market crisis and Wall Street meltdown, if this woman had chosen to live on a strict budget, she would have been living in self-denial; it’s the removal of options that leads to desperation, no matter how well-resourced or well-connected you’re accustomed to being. Sometimes we instinctively recoil from people going through hard times, as if back in our minds is a hidden, primitive instinct to label tragedy or suffering “unclean.”

How did God let me learn about what Lent looks like when circumstances careen out of control? Several times over the years something would happen – why around Lent? – completely out of my control.

I’m trying to be pious and become Christlike, God. Why won’t you let me?!

In 2017, I had a completely unforeseeable health crisis and after misdiagnosis and falling asleep night after night praying I would wake up the next morning, eventually had emergency surgery and a painful recovery.

That’s a bit more “from dust you come, to dust you shall return” than I meant, God.

In 2018, my husband was stricken with a serious set of grave symptoms that left him on bedrest all winter. I joked that I was fasting from certainty. It wasn’t that much of a joke. Finally, he found relief in the spring.

Well someday I’ll get back to a normal Lent.

In 2019, his symptoms returned. The relief that had helped before hasn’t yet this time. Again, a Lent full of doctor appointments, insurance arguments, hours spent on hold, notes documenting symptoms scribbled down.

Will I ever get back to a normal Shrove Tuesday pancake supper?!

To proclaim that Jesus is Lord means this: I won’t always get to decide how or by what means I grow spiritually. What does the fruit of the Spirit look like when a doctor’s office receptionist is callous, flippant, or rude? What does it look like to be Christlike when you’re grieving lost opportunity due to difficult-to-diagnose chronic illness? What does joy look like when you realize your kids will be spending part of their spring break accompanying a parent to another physician appointment?

None of this fits on the brochure for “Christianity: Come Join Us! Really, It’s Not that Bad!”

I can’t guarantee you stability in this life. I can’t guarantee you won’t face tragedy. I can’t guarantee you won’t experience mind-numbing grief.

I can witness to the goodness of God, though.

I can, and will, bear witness to the power of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

I can worship God from inside the blasting, scorching furnace, while evil asks, “Didn’t I put three people in there? I see a fourth man, and he looks like the Son of God.”

If I let go of the outcomes I hope for, I can grab onto the person of Jesus.

Jesus is Lord, and nothing in heaven or hell, nothing on earth or out past Pluto, no entity or circumstance can erase the goodness of God. Jesus is Lord and victory belongs to him even when I don’t get to choose the battle.

Please God, I’d like to go fight in that battle over there.

“This is what I have for you.”

I’m so much better over there, you gave me gifts for it! I’m sure that’s where you need me.

“I need you here.”

That doesn’t make sense.

“No, it just doesn’t make sense to you.”

It turns out getting up and responding to altar calls is pretty good practice for the much harder business of following Jesus in the dark.

There will be times you get to choose and pursue ways to grow spiritually.

There will be times you are thrown into a whirlwind, into a vortex, and forced to respond.

In all things, Jesus is Lord, and nothing can force us to stop testifying to the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, whether we like our circumstances or not.

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