Transformation Day 5

In the last few days I have written at the very end of long days. I
write this one at the beginning of our last day here. When class comes
to
an end at noon today, Joleen and I will be taking some vacation time
for renewal and refreshing. Therefore, it will be several days before I
am able to offer some final reflection on this week, but that will give
me an opportunity to try to process all that has happened in my heart
this week.

Up to this point, I’ve been reflecting on each day at a time. After I’ve had a chance to do some deeper reflection, I
hope to do some reflection on the week as a whole in the coming days.

On deck for today, we’ll mainly be wrapping up the class with final
words from the Scotts. As we have everyday, we’ll open with devotion.
After the devotion, I will be reviewing an article by Jim
Collins called "Level 5 Leadership." And at the end of the day, we will share in a time of holy communion.

But perhaps the most exciting thing about the day will be what we’re
secretly planning. Since the Scotts have been so generous and
giving this week, on Wednesday I
felt strongly that we, as a class, needed to do something to
honor them. I
began coordinating an effort to honor and bless the Scotts at the
end of the week. It finally looks like that will come together nicely.

So, when they invite me to offer my review of the article, I’ll
interrupt their schedule and the class will present the Scotts with a
framed group photo (that we took yesterday) as well as written
blessings from each of us. Finally, we will gather around them (as they
had us gather around one another all week) for a special time of prayer
for them and their ministry. It should be awesome!

BTW, I do hope to lead a review and discussion about the article, but it may depend on how much time our "interruption" takes.

Anyway, thanks for praying. This has truly been a transformational
experience for me. I look forward to sharing more after I’ve had time
to process all of this!

Transformation Day 4

We’re nearing the end of this transformational journey. It’s been a
great week, and now we just have a half day to go. I am
anticipating more good things from God, and a wonderful conclusion to an awesome week.

Class time continues to be productive, and today Joleen and I had lunch
with Molly Scott. It was a nice time of getting better acquainted with
her. Interestingly, last Saturday evening, we arrived at the Beeson
Manor (the on campus hotel) as they were checking in, so we got to meet
them then. We enjoyed meeting them.

This evening, most of the class went to dinner with the Scotts. I
always enjoy our final evening here when many of us usually get
together for dinner. By this time we’ve normally developed a greater sense of
community.

As I said on Monday, though, I felt we were well ahead of the game in terms of the
level of community. That was true, and the sense of community has
continued to grow throughout the week. I have really enjoyed my time
with the people in this class!

Well, that’s it for now.

Transformation Day 3

Another wonderful, but oh so intense day. Unfortunately, I do not have
enough time or energy to write much. I’m sure I will have to do some
writing/reflecting a few days after this week is over, once I’ve had a
chance to catch my breath and process all of this.

It was another long day, spending all morning and afternoon in class,
although most of the afternoons have included some individual and small
group time as well. And again tonight, we gathered for a time of
worship, sharing stories, and prayer.

During our prayer time tonight, the group intensively prayed for Joleen
and I. It was an incredibly moving and powerful experience, as they
prayed regarding a need in our lives. I hope to share the results of
this prayer time in the not-too-distant future!

The things that impacted me most today are really a couple things that
impacted me yesterday; they were simply amplified today; things like
"not playing the game," and the need for courage. I’ve always known
these things, but I have a sense that they are non-negotiables for a
life of, not only a Christ-follower, but one who serves God by leading
others in the kingdom of God.

Finally, one thing the Scotts are doing this week is inviting 3-4
people to lunch with each of them, separately. Today, Joleen and I, and
a couple others, had a nice lunch and conversation with Jim, and
tomorrow we’ll have lunch with Molly.

The best thing about this week, really, is that we are not only
learning stuff, we’re also experiencing God in the midst of the
learning! For that I am grateful.

Transformation Day 2

It’s been a long day, and I’m beyond ready for bed. But I want to reflect briefly on this day.

Yesterday I felt (hoped!) that the day would be foundational for the rest of the week. I really think that each day will build on the work of the previous days. That was certainly true for today.

This is an intense week, schedule-wise. But today and tomorrow are especially intense days because, in addition to our 8:30 am – 4:00 pm day, we’re also gathering for two hours each evening (7:00 – 9:00 pm) for worship, sharing stories, and prayer. Tonight’s worship gathering was intense.

Every time I come here I’m impacted by the quality of people who are scattered about doing ministry for the kingdom of God. I count it a real privilege to be a teammate to these people in Christian leadership. We enjoy gathering with different people for lunch (locally). And many time, a group of us will travel 15-20 minutes to Nicholasville for dinner. Tonight, seven of us had a nice meal at a two-week old BBQ restaurant called, Sonny’s. It’s a wonderful time of fellowship!

Today, Joleen and I had lunch with two other students. One guy audits a course every six months. That’s unusual enough, but what makes the story amazing is that the guy is 78 years old. Around 1990, he sold his medical practice to go to seminary. He spent most of his years in ministry as a “church troubleshooter.” He also lifts weights and walks everyday. It’s inspiring to see that kind of commitment to God. You don’t have to coast in the remainder of your days. You can keep following God, and be even more radical and daring as you get older!

The first thing that impacted me today occurred during Dr. Molly Scott’s morning devotion (which focused on John Wesley’s sermon on Christian Perfection). I was impacted by the commitment, passion, desire both Jim and Molly expressed to keep growing, even though both are in their 60s. They don’t want to coast. Jim added this evening that he wants to be even more radical, more daring for God.

We spent most of the day reviewing our work on our “personal life plans,” and then beginning to work on our “personal ministry plans.” The challenge here is that for most of us (if not all of us) separating these two plans is hard work. Most people (especially men) define who they are by what they do (i.e. their job). I’m currently wrestling with this myself.

The tendency for many, including ministers, is to “play the game.” Playing the game involves making the right people happy (in the church or denomination) and not making the wrong people angry. But it’s impossible to “play the game” and also be faithful to God! I don’t want to play the game!

We watched a couple clips from the movie, Instinct. We watched one clip early in the afternoon and one toward the end of the afternoon. As we neared the end of the afternoon, a scene from the first clip really burned in my mind. I don’t have the energy to describe the scene, but what I sense God doing (or wanting to do) is to strip away my illusions (of control). I’m thinking about sanctification (a focus this week) as a stripping away of illusions.

I thought of Abraham being “severely tested” by God with the sacrifice of his son. That involved stripping away oh his illusions. I thought of Jacob, who was in control (or so he thought), wrestling with God. God stripped away his illusions. Paul, on the road to Damascus, certainly had his illusions stripped away, didn’t he?

So, what is God wanting to strip away in my life? Well, that’s going to take some serious thought and prayer. But I know what my response must be: abandonment, reckless abandonment. Following Christ is either done with “reckless abandonment” or else it’s not true Christianity!

That’s what sanctification is all about, a process of moving from “casual” to “complete.”

O God, don’t ever let us settle for casual Christianity. Give us courage to follow you with complete and reckless abandonment. Strip away all of our illusions. But please be gentle with us. Thanks you so much for your grace which is at work in each of us!

Transformation Day 1

Our first day of class was very good. It was a day of getting acquainted with each other (reacquainted with some). The day began with Dr. Jim Scott leading a time of devotion based on John Wesley’s message, The Scripture Way to Salvation.

Our devotional time included a nice time of singing and praying. Lecture and discussion rounded out the remainder of the morning, which was a review of some of the reading we had done prior to this week of
class (in preparation of the work we’ll do this week).

This week, we will develop a “personal transformation plan,” a “personal ministry plan,” and a “church transformation plan.” This is what makes this class more than an academic exercise. We’re not just talking about transformation; were actually seeking transformation and being intentional about developing a plan for transformation in our own lives and in the lives of our churches.

This afternoon, we jumped into this process, beginning with some individual time to work on our “personal transformation plans.” Essentially, this process involves developing a personal strategy for achieving spiritual transformation in our own lives. In order to be pastors and leaders who bring about transformation in our local churches, we must first be transformed ourselves.

After our individual time, we gathered in “quads” (groups of four) to discuss what we had just worked on. This will be our small group for the week. We concluded the day with a video (of a church that went through this type of transformational planning) and some summary discussion.

Here are a few things that I’m thinking about at the end of this first day …

First, I believe that today was foundational for the rest of the week. In other words, we laid the groundwork for the work God will do during the next four days.

Another sense I have is that I “fit” here. I’m not sure I can communicate this very well, but I’ll try. I will never forget our orientation weekend here in January 2004, gathering with about 10 new students, all wondering what we were doing here and feeling that we were in over our heads. Dr. Leslie Andrews, the d.min. director, encouraged us, saying that we were there because they believed in us. I was grateful to hear that, but today, I really gained a new awareness of God’s grace that has brought me to this place. I am humbled and filled with gratitude for God’s goodness and faithfulness!

There is a wonderful sense of community, a sense of community that I’ve never felt in any of my previous classes this early in the week. Usually about the time we obtain this level of community, it’s time to go home. Part of this may be due to my acclimation here and gaining experience here, but this still causes me to be excited about the rest of the week.

Also, the Scotts are extremely gifted teachers. They are very authentic people who genuinely care about people and have a passion for training leaders. The class format has so much variety, and there are so many little thoughtful details that make the class very special! Again, I can only look forward to the next four days.

Finally, I’m grateful for Asbury. The school’s motto is “Where head and heart go hand in hand.” That appears to be so true, based on my experience, so far. The last thing I want is a purely academic experience. I love reading and learning, but if it’s not connected to the “heart religion” that I’m sold out to (i.e. Christianity, the Way of Christ), I don’t want to have anything to do with it. Heartless religion kills!

So, as the first day comes to a close, I am simply grateful for the foundation that was laid today, and look to tomorrow with excitement and anticipation about what God will do throughout the week.

From Wilmore, KY

No sermon from me today, but I thought you might like to know what we did on our day away. Joleen and I are, of course, in Wilmore, Kentucky this week for a class at Asbury on "Transformation of the Church," taught by Drs. Jim and Molly Scott (more on that later).

Whenever we’re away from our own churches (on vacation or at school) we like to visit cutting edge churches for inspiration and as part of our ongoing education and formation.

We had trouble settling on a church; there were several good choices. But as we neared the end of our 10.5 hour trip, we considered the possibility of driving 73 miles (about 1.5 hours) to Louisville to visit Southeast Christian Church where Bob Russell is the senior minister. Southeast is the seventh largest church in America. It’s also the largest church we’ve ever attended; it’s currently running about 18,000 in three weekend services (one on Saturday evening and two on Sunday morning).

We’ve been to other large churches — North Point in Atlanta, Cincy Vineyard in Cincinatti, Ohio and Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, but those were smaller, 6,000, 6,000, and 3,500, respectively, as I recall.

Southeast has an awesome campus — a huge entrance and an unbelievably large atrium, with steps, escalators, and elevators leading to multiple levels, it appeared. We parked in the back of the lot (as we always do; although in Alexandria, Barree, and Petersburg, that usually takes no more than 30 seconds to get to the entrance, while at Southeast, it took 5+ minutes, and that in extreme heat!).

Even though the sanctuary seats several thousand people (18,000 in three services, with plenty of available seats in the 11:15 am service we attended), I was surprised by the intimacy of the room — there wasn’t a bad seat in the room. The sanctuary is in-the-round and has two balconies (though the top one wasn’t being used).

Dave Stone (one of two preaching associates in addition to the senior minister) preached today and did a great job. They’re doing a series called, "You asked for it", based on questions congregational members asked. Today’s message was on "Questions I have about family." Again, I thought it was very well done.

For the preachers who read this sermon blog, you might be interested in
the following observations …

  • The message was conversational
  • Dave stood the entire time behind a clear, pexiglass pulpit, and appeared to preach from a manuscript.
  • Dave used humor very well (which means it was just enough, but not too much).

Well, back to our class that begins tomorrow. I’ve had a sense for several weeks that this is going to be a great experience. It’s not going to be simply an ivory tower, academic exercise; rather it looks to be a course that is designed to be experiential and transformational. In reality, how do you talk about spiritual transformation without experiencing it?

Because it will be transformational, it will also be extremely intense, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. It will be both draining and energizing/empowering as we are stretched by the Scotts, by other students/pastors, and mostly as we encounter and are stretched by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

I am very excited, and I want to get out of it all that I possibly can, so I would appreciate your prayers this week. I don’t want to return to be the same person I was when I left. I want to be a transformed person, a transformed Christ-follower and pastor.

We submitted our pre-class work to the Scotts last Monday, and on Friday, the professors informed us (the class) in an e-mail that a number of their friends are praying for us, "prayer warriors," who "are praying for miracles for each of (us)." In their e-mail they expressed great expectations for this class as well, affirming the work that we had submitted earlier in the week, and saying that they sensed that this class is "different." They are "thinking that (this class is) more spiritual, deeper in the faith, and more spiritually hungry than (they) have seen through the years."

Because of that, i believe it will be an even more meaningful and impacting experience for all involved. As you can imagine, Friday’s e-mail from the Scotts caused my anticipation of what God is going to do (which was already higher than usual) to go off-the-charts!

So, please pray, and all check back here throughout the week. Time permitting, I hope to write something here each evening about something that God really presses upon me on that particular day. So, you may want to check back here during the week.

So we would appreciate your prayers that this will be a great week for us, our classmates, and our professors. Pray that it may be a week that will impact not only each of us, but also the people we serve, and the communities we all seek to reach for God’s revolution!

Thanks!

Fruit of the Spirit 6: Endurance

Today, we’re wrapping up this series on the “fruit of the Spirit.” We’ve been looking at some of the fruit in the life of a person transformed by the Holy Spirit. People who are being transformed by the Holy Spirit have a mission passion, holiness of heart and life, spiritual freedom, and their lives are characterized by generosity.

Take a moment and think think about someone you know who seemed to handle adversity extremely well. No matter what happens to them, it seems, they rarely complain, they always have a smile on their face. Think about that person for a moment. What was it about them that makes
them able to handle adversity?

“Hard times bring out the best in people and the worst” (Winston Churchill)

Then think about the adversity you’ve experienced in your life. How have you handled it? Have you responded well? Is there anyone besides me that can stand to build more endurance?

Just this week (recent weeks, in fact), Joleen and I have needed a great deal of endurance! We have a lot of schoolwork to complete, that’s due tomorrow. God seems to always come through, doesn’t he?

The hard reality is: Life is hard! It’s full of tests! So we’d better develop endurance!

Need God?
I’ve heard people say, “I don’t know how people make it without God.” I agree completely, but apparently you don’t have to be a follower of Christ to be able to handle adversity. There are people in the world, it seems, who somehow manage to survive. But, I believe that Christ-followers ought to handle adversity better than anyone; they ought to have more endurance than others, because God is our Helper and Sustainer! So, let’s talk about building endurance. What does Scripture have to say about endurance?

There are so many stories in the Scripture of people who have endured through all kinds of adversity. I think of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Job, Nehemiah, Joseph is a great story. And, of course, the greatest example of endurance is Jesus.

Paul
But today, I want to look at Paul. Paul experienced a tremendous amount of adversity in his life, most of it because he was fully devoted to being led by the Holy Spirit to serve Christ in the world!

In fact, in one of his letters (2 Corinthians 11.23-28), Paul lists some of the troubles he’s experienced as a Christ-follower: Jailed multiple times, whipped too many times to count, faced death again and again, 39 lashes, 5 different times, beaten with rods, 3 times, stoned once, shipwrecked, 3 times, found himself in many dangerous situations, faced danger from Jews, Gentiles, even so-called Christians.

Finally, he says, “I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”

Paul knew something about trials and troubles. And, fortunately, he also knew something about endurance!

Full-on for God!
The thing I love about Paul is his all-out passion for God. He held nothing back! Christianity is either a full-on adventure of following God, or it’s nothing! Wesley distinguished between “almost Christians” and “altogether Christians” (or we could say, “casual Christians” and “complete Christians”).

The life of following Christ is a journey. And an important part of that journey is endurance!

Read Romans 5.3-6 and notice the process Paul describes. Paul gives us a good picture of the process we experience in the life of following God.

Suffering > Endurance > Character > Hope

Suffering leads to endurance. If we’re going to grow as Christ-followers, it all starts with a willingness to obey God, even if that obedience brings hardship and trouble. We’ve got to be ready to suffer for Christ!

“Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.” (J. Willard Marriott)

I love the word “endurance,” as well as it synonyms: perseverance, patience, fortitude, and steadfastness.

Why build endurance?
Because life is a marathon! In life, we need to be marathon runners, not sprinters. Now there’s nothing wrong with being a sprinter, unless you’re running the race of life!

When I was a kid, I was a sprinter, and I was usually the fastest kid (or one of the fastest) in my class! But I remember my first long distance run in elementary school. I must’ve started out as a sprinter because halfway into the race I was in dead last, way behind everyone else. But in life, we
must be marathoners, because when we’re on the long journey, we’ll get tired, our muscles will burn, and we’ll be tempted to quit, wondering if the journey is worth it! The journey can get pretty uncomfortable at times. Life is hard, and following Christ is even harder!

So we must build endurance. The more endurance we have, the longer we’ll last, the farther we’ll go. Small trials won’t derail us as quickly, and we’ll have more “oxygen” for the journey. We’ll be
healthier, and most importantly, we’ll finish the race (which is really what it’s all about)!

Physical Endurance
Athletes and weightlifters know that the way you build strength differently than you build endurance. To build strength, you lift heavy weights, but do fewer reps; to build endurance, lift lighter weights, but do more reps.

“Endurance is related directly to the ability to tolerate high levels of fatigue and all the discomforts that come with it.” (Sportislife.com)

When building endurance, muscles literally go through a transformation. As you do rep after rep, you actually increase the number of capillaries in the muscle, which increases blood flow and oxygen to the body. The end result is that you can endure more.

And there’s another benefit: Most endurance athletes (such as runners) have slower and deeper respiration than the average person. I heard recently that 99% of our energy should come from breathing, but most of us access 10-20% of it. Also, we eliminate most of the waste/toxins from our bodies through breathing: 11% by way of the commode, 19% through perspiration, and 70% through breathing. Amazing!

I love that because, in the Scriptures, God is Spirit, wind, and breath. At creation, God breathed into Adam and Eve the breath of life. In Ezekiel 37, in the valley of dry bones, God breathed new life into
the dead bodies. After the resurrection, Jesus breathed on his
disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And a few days later, on
the day Pentecost, there was a rushing mighty wind, the Spirit and
Breath of God! Just as we should get virtually all of our energy
through breathing, spiritually we should also get our energy from the
Breath of God, the Holy spirit.

Building Endurance
Well, endurance is very important to our physical bodies. But it’s even
more important to our spiritual bodies! Here are some tips …

Begin with the end in mind
Know that it’s not an easy journey to follow God! And building endurance is hard work!

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans
for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
(Jeremiah 29.11)

Bounce, don’t splat!
There are two kinds of people: Bouncers & Splatters. Splatters hit
bottom and splat; bouncers hit bottom and bounce back up! Robert
Schuller calls it “bounce-back-ability.”

Don’t take shortcuts
There will be many detours along the way, but beware of so-called shortcuts! Never look for the easy way out!

Be courageous
“The frontiers of the kingdom were never advanced by men and women of caution.” (wife of Archbishop Mowll)

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” (J. Oswald Sanders)

Improve your AQ (adversity quotient)
“The measure of how you respond to adversity.” Resiliency.

Paul Stoltz, who wrote Adversity Quotient, says there are three kinds of people: Quitters, Campers, and Climbers. Paul was a “climber”! Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

“True service is never without cost.” (J. Oswald Sanders)

“Scars are the authenticating marks of faithful discipleship.” (J. Oswald Sanders)

Stick-to-it-iveness
Stick-to-it-iveness is another word for endurance. How willing are you to stick to it, to stick to the journey? (Post-Its vs. Duct tape)

“So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.” (Galatians 6.9)

“But those who endure to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24.13)

Don’t “hit the wall”
Athletes know that if you continually push yourself too far, you’ll hit the wall. To guard against hitting the wall, we need to practice the sabbath.

Keep growing!
“People either grow or turn rancid and sour” (Peter Drucker).

Enjoy the journey!

“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” (James 1.2-4)

“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Philippians 4.4)

Trust God
Because the way is unpredictable, we need trust — to trust God!

“There are many things in your life that you cannot understand. But be patient, for when the hand of God is upon something, it may grind very slowly, but it will form the finest thing possible if you dare to wait until it is completed.” (Smith Wigglesworth)

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3.5-6)

“The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives.” (Psalms 37.23)

Psalm 23

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Jesus, Matthew 11.28)

Benediction
“… be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Jesus, Matthew 28.20)

Fruit of the Spirit 5: Generosity

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20.35b)

"Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need." (Proverbs 21.13)

"So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and
give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate
time. Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone,
especially to our Christian brothers and sisters." (Galatians 6.4-10)

Generous people make the world a better place!
Generosity is a fruit, and it’s connected to gratitude. In fact, John
Wesley believed that there were two words that sum up the Christian
life: gratitude and benevolence (or generosity). Gratitude leads to
generosity! Generous Christ-followers are eternally grateful for what
God has done! Generous people, it seems to me, are also genuinely happy people.

“The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve” (Albert Schweitzer)

And because they are generous, people’s needs are met, one at a time —
the hurting are cared for, relationships are built, and ministry
happens!

Generosity costs!
Generosity isn’t easy and it isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s hard
work, and it will cost you — time, energy, and money. It’s
especially hard when you feel like you don’t have much, if anything, to
give!

“If you give something that you can live without, it’s not giving.” (Mother Teresa)

Generous people are people who are willing to sacrifice themselves to help others.

“We have not even begun to be Christian if we think of giving to Christ
and to his church in terms of as little as we respectably can.”
(William Barclay)

Generous people see themselves as stewards or trustees. They know that
everything they own belongs to God and that God has entrusted them with
resources — time, talents, treasures — to use for the benefit of others.


”Bounce your last check!”

That’s the title of a chapter in Leonard Sweet’s SoulSalsa. In other words, don’t hold anything back. Give it all!

“The man who dies rich, dies disgraced.” (Andrew Carnegie)

“A man is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” (Jim Elliott)

Matthew 6.19-21

A “missional focus”
We’re in the process of developing a missional focus. At the heart of
any effective missional focus is a servant’s heart/attitude! We will be
searching for more effective (missional) ways to serve! Churches that
serve, thrive!

“If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.” (C. T. Studd)

Rebekah’s Story
There’s an incredible story about generosity in Genesis. It’s the story
of how a wife was found for Isaac. It begins when Abraham sends Eliezer
to his homeland to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer leads a group of men
along with 10 camels. Along the way, Eliezer asks for God’s help in
finding the right woman. When Eliezer arrives at the well, he sees a
young, unmarried woman approaching, and he asks for some water. She
lowers her jar and provides water for him.

That would have been enough, but Rebekah goes beyond the call of duty
and brings water for his camels. One account I read stated that camels
are able to travel great distances without water, because of the
construction of their stomachs. They’re able to store excess water
which is gradually released into the camel’s system as needed. A
camel’s water capacity ranges from 8 to 15 gallons, so Rebekah was prepared to
draw at least 80 gallons of water for Eliezer’s ten thirsty camels.
This would mean quite a number of trips up and down steps to a well.

The Genesis account indicates that she had to go down to the spring to
fill her jar, language which may mean that she descended steps into a
large hole to reach the water of the spring and then had to carry that
water up out of the hole (Genesis 24.16). All in all, Rebekah here was asking
for a lot of work. And notice how she did it according to Genesis
24.20: "She quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to
the well to draw …"

Amazing! Rebekah didn’t simply do the minimum; she went way beyond the
call of duty. She did what was asked of her, and then some!

“Everybody can be great … because everybody can serve. You don’t have
to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject
and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul
generated by love.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

Reflective Questions
1. Am I generous with my time, energy, talents, and money?
2. What are some ways I can be more generous in these areas?
3. In what way is God leading me to be generous to someone this week?

Free to Be Me

John 8.31-39

"If you were Abraham’s children," said Jesus, "then you would do the things Abraham did.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Thus states the Declaration of Independence.

This is fourth of July weekend – the time we gather to celebrate everything American, especially the freedoms we enjoy. Tomorrow our nation will be 229 years old.

The Selfishness of Human Hearts (Dennis and Barbara Rainey, "Moments Together for Couples")  Alexander Fraser Tytler lived at the end of the eighteenth century, but his book The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic sends a chilling warning today. Tytler found that ancient democracies waned under the selfishness of human hearts. He wrote: "The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence:

  • From bondage to spiritual faith;
  • from spiritual faith to great courage;
  • from courage to liberty;
  • From liberty to abundance;
  • from abundance to selfishness;
  • from selfishness to complacency;
  • from complacency to apathy;
  • from apathy to dependency;
  • from dependency back to bondage.

Maybe this could be said of the Church and therefore of our individual Christian lives as well.

It certainly is true of the Jews to which Jesus is speaking in John 8. In chapters 7 and 8 Jesus is revealing more and more of who he is. Some accept and some reject. There is no middle road. Jesus makes sure of that.

The words I read to you from John 8 Jesus is speaking to “the Jews who had believed him.” Jesus calls their bluff. Jesus tests them to see how much they really believe. And John 8 closes with “they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” With believers like that, who needs enemies?

Let’s look closer at the story. Why are they not believers? Because they are not free. This passage is about freedom-true freedom. And these Jews do not possess that kind of freedom. They claim to be free, they say they (Abraham’s descendents) have never been slaves of anyone. But Jesus is not speaking of national freedom, he is speaking of inner freedom, a freedom of the heart. Spiritual freedom is freedom from sin.

Jesus goes on to say that they do not possess this freedom because they do not do the things that Abraham did-they are not doing godly things.

"Help us see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right." (Peter Marshall, Before the U.S. Senate)

This passage opens “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

"No man in this world attains to freedom from any slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude."  (Phillips Brooks, 1835-1893)

The Bible is filled with paradoxes: God is strong and mighty and yet mild and gentle. We have to die to find life.

George Matheson hymn: “Make me a captive, then I shall be free.”

The word captivating has captive as its root. We speak of something captivating someone’s attention. I remember as a teenager, I’d be captivated by a tv program and my mom would come in and talk to me and I’d never hear her. I was focused on one thing.

~What captivates you today?
~What holds your attention?
~At what or whom do you sit at the feet of?
~What do you make your rule of life?

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

One of the world’s uses of the word freedom is the phrase “Free to be me.” In Genesis when God created humankind, he says, “Let us make people in our image …” We were created in the image of God, but when sin entered into the world that image was marred, distorted by sin. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came so that we might once again be restored to the image of God. In believing, in following, in learning to walk in the ways of God, I find the real me! You find the real you! Jesus is the one who sets me “free to be me.”

In a moment we will share in the Lord’s Supper together. Let us remember together the price that Jesus paid for our freedom. Let us with thankful hearts meet him at this table. Let us come and leave at the altar all that binds us, all the things of the world that grab our attention, all that keeps us from embracing wholeness, and let us go forth in the freedom of Jesus Christ, free to be all that God created us to be.

Fruit of the Spirit 4: Freedom

This Sunday begins our fourth year in ministry together, and I’m
excited about the future. At this moment, we don’t know exactly what
our future looks like, and that’s a wonderful-but-scary thing. We have
great opportunity before us, but it’s a future that requires faith. But
are we not people of faith?

Therein lies the problem. Somewhere along the line, we (as a church
and as a denomination) stopped being people of faith; we stopped being
missional; we stopped being a people sent into the world to form
disciples of Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the line, we stopped being
about the people out there, and became a club for the people in here.

But if we’re going to survive, it’s going to be because some people
of faith take stand and say enough is enough. We’ve been wandering in
the wilderness too long. It’s time to move forward!

My goal is to
empower people of faith to embrace an unknown future — and for some of
you to say, “We are people of faith. We don’t know what the future
holds, but we are people of faith, faith in the God who has an amazing
history of doing incredible things!”

It won’t be easy. With any change there will be people who resist,
and there will be loss. But if we make the right changes, the gains for
God’s kingdom will far outweigh the losses.

Well, we’re working
our way through a series on the fruit of the Spirit, talking about the
fruit of lives transformed by the Holy Spirit. Today, we’re looking at
(spiritual) freedom.

Imagine that you have been taken hostage. You are being held
captive. You can’t do what you want, and you live in constant fear. You
wonder if you’ll survive or ever be set free.

Imagine, then, one day being rescued. You are free!

How would you feel? What would you do? And, how would you live your life to be differently?

Once we were slaves to sin and death. Once we were in bondage, held
hostage by sin. But, "When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at
just the right time and died for us sinners" (Romans 5.6).

Why did God do that? We certainly didn’t deserve it! We are not
“saved” because we are good people and deserve eternal life. We are
saved because we were ungodly people. God only saves ungodly people!

Romans 8.1-3 and Galatians 5.1-4

Who’s in control?
It’s all about control! Who’s in control? Who’s in charge?

Spiritual freedom involves freedom from sin and freedom to follow God!

Romans 8.6-9

Taking Risks
I
can’t think of anyplace in Scripture where God ever asked anyone to do
something that was easy! When God has control of our lives, he leads us
to do things that require faith! That’s why we’re called people of
faith.

“Do not follow where the may lead. Follow God, instead, where there is no path, and leave a trail.” (Unknown)

Missional Methodism
The
Methodist movement started out as just that, a movement. In the early
days of the movement in America (also the early days of America),
Methodists went wherever the people were. The world was truly their
parish!

In the early days of the movement, most Methodist churches were
located in the cities. But the people started moving out into the
country, and the nation became more and more rural. The Methodists left
the relative comfort of the cities (at the time) and started churches
all over the country, because that’s where the people were.

The Methodist Church reached its peak in 1925, in terms of
percentage of the American population. That was at the same time that
the rural population in America peaked, with 75% of Americans living in
rural areas.

Today, however, 75% of the population live in non-rural areas. But
we stopped going where the people were, and today, 70% of UMCs are
located where 30% of the population lives. We are strategically located
for a world that no longer exists!

Charles Berkheimer wrote a history of Methodism in the Williamsport
District here in the Central PA Conference (“Origins of Methodism in
the Williamsport District”). He wrote …

“Let us
begin with some highlights of the history of Methodism in Sugar Creek.
The building is a living symbol of Methodism missionary and church
building policy. One building was built in 1822—the third building used
by the Methodists on this plot of ground. It was erected here because
this was the central place for Methodists in Sugar Creek. But by 1857
the settlements at Burlington and West Burlington had been made and the
people living there built meeting houses more to their own needs at
that time, abandoning this meeting house as a regular preaching place
after only 35 years. Methodist preachers always went where the people
were. This building served its purpose and others took its place.”

Imagine
the church folk of the mid 1800s in the Sugar Creek area. They were so
committed to the Gospel and going where the “unchurched” were that they
abandoned their church building after only 35 years. They abandoned it
not because it was structurally unsound, not because it was too small,
or not attractive enough. Berkheimer says they abandoned it to go where
the people were.

So, how do we get back to being missional again?
It
starts by being people of faith, and walking in the Spirit. Walking in
the Spirit is hard to define; there’s no formula. For me, it means
staying connected to God and the faith community. It means that the
Holy Spirit is my compass! When I get off track, when I get lost, the
Holy Spirit finds me and points me in the right direction, and helps me
get back on track.

Reflection Questions

  1. Have you experienced spiritual freedom?
  2. Who/What is controlling you?
  3. What are you driven by?
  4. Are you walking in the Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit your compass?

Scriptures for the journey …

  • For you have been called to live in freedom … (Galatians 5.13)
  • If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Galatians 5.25)
  • Let us not become conceited, or irritate one another, or be jealous of one another. (Galatians 5.26)
  • For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So
    you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. (Romans 8.14-15a)
  • So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise.
    Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days.
    Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you
    to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life.
    Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. (Ephesians 5.15-18)