Midday Prayer

Draw us into your love, Christ Jesus and deliver us from fear.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Midday Prayer from Common Prayer

Surviving A Dry Spiritual Season

I have had several folks ask me about getting through a “dry season” in their spiritual lives. They feel as though God is distant, and their prayers seemingly bounce off the ceiling unheard by our Father. With all that’s going on in our world right now, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and far from God. And if that’s where you find yourself, you are not alone. The Bible is full of those who had amazing highs, and devastating lows in their spiritual walk (David and Paul come to mind immediately). You are safe, and you are loved in a “dry season”, but we don’t want to stay in that place!

Spiritual formation practices using Scripture and the traditions of the Church can help us survive a dry spiritual season, and come out stronger on the other side.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 NIV

Paul knew a thing or two about difficult seasons. At times he was so overjoyed about the work and mission Christ has set before him. At other times he was completely depressed with feelings of abandonment. To the church in Thessolonica facing severe persecution, he reminds them to pray continually.

The Didache (a 1st century Christian treatise) also calls on followers of Christ to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times per day. This is a truly transformative practice! I’ve mentioned to several of you that I have begun reciting the Lord’s Prayer every time I wash my hands throughout the day. Stoplights are also a good opportunity to recite this.

Some choose to pray the Psalms, or the “Jesus Creed” (Mark’s account of the Greatest Command). Whenever that feeling of frustration, or overwhelm sneaks in, once again repeat these words, audibly or silently. However you choose to do it, having the words on your mind and heart is what counts. These practices transform us from the inside out, and move our hearts and minds into closer relationship with God.

I leave you with the words of Scott McKnight on reciting the prayers of Scripture:

“Nearly everybody goes through spiritual dryness in their prayers. But remember this: we pray even when we don’t feel like it, we pray when we don’t want to, we pray even when the words don’t seem to make sense. Why? Because in those prayers the Spirit of God is interceding for us, and taking our times of dryness and sending arrows of communication into the throne room of God where Christ becomes our intercessor, and the Spirit interceding with us in our hearts.”

Scott McKnight, Kingdom Roots Podcast – KR32

What Bugs Bunny Can Teach Us About Following Jesus

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Matthew 7:1-2 NIV

A quick glance at Facebook has shown me that we need this reminder desperately.

Over the past few days I’ve read folks from all political backgrounds judging political leaders, judging neighbors, and judging complete strangers. Disagreement is not judgement. Judgement comes when intent is assigned by someone other than the key figure in question. Let me see if I can clarify using a non-political example.

Bugs Bunny stated this week that he will not be eating green beans for lunch today.

Now you may very much be in favor of everyone eating green beans at every meal. That’s fine. And you are free to express that opinion. Let me give you an example of a completely Christ-like way to do so.

“I disagree with Mr. Bunny’s choice to not eat green beans. I also realize that he has the ability to make choices for himself. Because I follow Jesus, I choose to love my neighbor, and I certainly consider Mr. Bunny my neighbor. I will be praying for him, his family and friends, and I will continuing to eat green beans at every meal. I encourage you to do the same.”

See how easy that was? We expressed our disagreement, but showed kindness toward Mr. Bunny, as well as shining the light of Christ.

Here’s an example of what not to do.

“Stupid Bunny won’t do what we all know he should do. He does this because he hates green bean farmers, hates Looney Toon Land, and doesn’t give a rip about you or me. And anyone who would support him is just as evil as he is.”

Notice how this example assigns intent to Mr. Bunny when Mr. Bunny himself never said why he isn’t eating green beans. Perhaps Mr. Bunny was simply out of green beans. Or perhaps he’s allergic. The idea that he would only do something because of the reason you have chosen to supply is judging him. Jesus says we should not do that.

Now this whole exercise might seem very childish, but it’s clear that this concept hasn’t been grasped by many, and therefore I don’t want to write anything that’s confusing. We are called to not judge.

Our job as followers of Christ is to love. Love those you agree with, and love those you disagree with. Love those you know personally, and love those whom you have never met. This is how people will know you are actually a follower of Jesus.

One last thought.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12 NIV

Take a recent example from your own life. Maybe a recent conversation you had with someone. Perhaps a Facebook or Twitter post you wrote about someone. Would you want someone to talk about you the way you did in your conversation/post?

Let’s take it a step further. You will one day be judged eternally by Jesus himself (Mt. 25:31-46) And since he’s already told us that we will be judged in the same way we judge others (Mt. 7:1-2), then do you really want Jesus judging you the way you just judged someone?

As followers of Christ we are commanded to love one another (basically all of 1 John), and to not judge others.

May our thoughts, our words, our social media posts, and our conversations with others reflect the mercy we have been shown in Christ Jesus.

Faith or Fear?

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

Psalm 56:3 NIV

During these strange days of the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to lose our discernment. We’re bombarded with information coming at us from all directions. 24 hour continuous TV coverage of sick people, or possible sick people, or the stock market falling, or the sky falling. It seems to never stop. And it’s enough to drive a person crazy!

So how do we know what information is helpful, and what information we should ignore? Simple. Ask this one question.

Does this build my faith, or my fear?

Pretty simple right? Much harder to apply though. We get sucked into the vortex of the news cycle. There’s always another case, there’s always another news report, there’s always another distraction. We want to be informed (and we should be informed), but be careful where you are getting your news from. Not everything on the news is beneficial. After all, CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, and any other member of the alphabet soup news media is ultimately trying to accomplish one thing: make money.

“If it bleeds, it leads” as the old expression goes. And if the most engaging news story is the Coronavirus, they will report on it non stop, even if there is nothing new to report. And this type of news builds our fear, not our faith.

So how do we build our faith instead of fear?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Romans 10:17 NIV

If you want to build your faith instead of fear, turn off the news and open your Bible.

Every day we are trying to offer Christ-centered, Spiritually fulfilling content to build your faith, not your fear. Sunday morning livestream Bible studies, Monday blog posts, Tuesday videos, Wednesday morning Bible studies, Wednesday evening prayer time, Thursday afternoon Bible questions are answered, Friday blog posts, and Saturday we rest.

And we’re not the only ones pushing out Biblical content. It’s my opinion that the Gospel is being preached more in this time when we cannot meet than it has ever been preached. Virtually every congregation is trying to get the message of Christ broadcast wherever they can, which sadly is a brand new concept for some of them.

This is a wonderful time to grow in faith, but you have to say no to fear.

So this week before you click on the news story, or before you watch the news, or before you have that conversation with your friend who swears the sky is falling…ask yourself:

Does this build my faith, or my fear?

I look forward to opening God’s word with you on Sunday morning at 10:00am CST on Facebook, our church website, and on YouTube. Until then, build faith.

3 Sins You Likely Ignore

Most followers of Jesus could probably recite the fruit of the Spirit. But Paul actually gives two lists in this passage; one list to live by, and one to avoid. Unfortunately we don’t do a very good job of avoiding the so called “acts of the flesh.” Do you know what’s on the list?

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 NIV

Some of these are fairly self explanatory, but I’d like to focus on three that you may not have paid attention to. The first is discord. The Greek word is eris and is translated as discord, dissension, rivalry, arguments, strife, and quarrel in your New Testament. The second word I’d like to look at is dissensions. This Greek word dichostasia is only used here and in Romans 16:17 to instruct the church to stay away from those who cause “divisions.” The last word I want us to look at is factions. The Greek word is hairesis which is translated as factions, heresies, sect, and party (group).

Most of us would heartily agree that sexual immorality, fits of rage, drunkenness, orgies, idolatry and the like are clearly wrong. Of course living like this would keep someone out of the kingdom of God (v. 21). But causing division? Arguing? Rivalry? Really? Yes! A divisive person “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

It’s clear that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament hated division. It’s almost always listed along with all those sins that we hate. And yet we seem to be ok with division for some strange reason. The only time it’s really ok to divide is from a divisive person. The church is supposed to have nothing to do with people like that! (Rom. 16:17)

So before we speak we need to check our hearts, check your motives, and carefully watch our words. We are the people who are called to build up the body of Christ, not tear it down.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:9 NIV

Stop Acting Like Satan

For the next 5 weeks the attention of our bulletin articles will be to support our readings from Immerse: Messiah. If you haven’t decided to join us for Immerse yet, it’s not too late. We have 5 groups meeting on 5 different days in 5 different locations. Hopefully you can make one of them fit into your schedule.

This week what really stood out to me was from Romans 14 (Immerse pg. 198). After talking about differing views about food between Gentile and Jewish Christians in Rome, he also talks about calendar differences between the two. Coming from very different backgrounds means they obviously have very different practices. Yet Paul’s goal is not who is right and who is wrong. Instead his goal is unity. Each group should be fully convinced they are right before God (even though they are not practicing the same things!)

Again, Paul is concerned with their unity, not uniformity!

He then summarizes his argument, and gives us some clues as to what might be happening in Rome.

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, 

“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, 

‘every knee will bend to me, 

and every tongue will declare allegiance praise to God.’ ” 

Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other.

Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

Romans 14:10-13 NLT (emphasis added)

Apparently these Roman Christians were spending a great deal of time accusing and attacking each other. That’s acting like Satan, not Christ. (FYI – “satan” means accuser)

Paul isn’t concerned with matters of opinion, he’s concerned with infighting that might ruin someone’s faith in the Lordship of Christ. Specifically in the context, don’t appear to be worshipping idols (which are demons – see Deut. 32:17 & 1 Cor. 10:20) and in doing so cause another person to fall into this practice.

The history of the Church is full of those who excelled at accusing and condemning other Christians. Sadly this is not just a sin of the past. It still happens today, and people lose their faith as a result. This is exactly what Paul is telling us not to do!

Disagreements will happen. God knows that. Paul tells us to seek unity, not uniformity.

But the moment we let these disagreements turn into accusations and mud slinging, we’ve joined team satan. (Rev. 12:10)

And that’s simply not a team I’m willing to be a part of. How about you?

The Only Thing That Counts

For the next 6 weeks the attention of our bulletin articles will be to support our readings from Immerse: Messiah. If you haven’t decided to join us for Immerse yet, it’s not too late. We have 5 groups meeting on 5 different days in 5 different locations. Hopefully you can make one of them fit into your schedule.

Our readings for this week will take us through the 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. One of the things that has really stood out to me in Paul’s letters is how he calls us to love as Christ has loved us! Paul comes back to this theme in practically all his writings, but let’s just look at a few verses in Galatians.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5:6 NIV

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14 NIV

Paul is writing to a group of Gentiles (non-Jews) who are wrestling with their identity in Christ. Apparently there was a particular group of Jewish Christians who were discouraging the Gentiles in Galatia by putting them down, specifically as it related to following the law of Moses. I can almost hear them saying, “Of course you know you aren’t real followers of the Messiah unless you are just like us and keep the entire law of Moses, circumcision and all!”

Paul writes this part of Galatians to encourage the believers. Their identity isn’t found in the law of Moses. Their identity isn’t found in circumcision or non-circumcision. Rather their identity is found in the way they love others as Jesus had loved them. Through humble service to each other, and loving those around them, they were fulfilling all the requirements of the law. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

I’ve been blessed to see some excellent examples of this in the lives of some of our East Side family members the last couple of weeks. I’ve seen people quietly and humbly tend to the needs of other church members. I’ve seen people abandon their own schedules in order to assist both members of our family, and people in our community we are trying to reach. I’ve seen people sacrifice time, money, and talents all in the name of loving others for the sake of Christ.

Jesus made it very clear. The world will know who his disciples are by the way we love.

So I ask you: How well are you loving your neighbors? How well are you loving the “others” in our community? When was the last time you went into the mess in order to lovingly bring someone else out of it?

Loving “others” is radical. Spending time with them, listening to them, praying with them, feeding them, caring for them…the Kingdom of God is made to do exactly this. Read Mark’s Gospel, and make note of what you see Jesus doing.

And then “go and do likewise.