Rise and Tell

Christ ascended into Heaven in Acts 1:1-11, and the disciples were left with three things: the power of the Holy Spirit, a task to spread the Good News and a promise that Christ would return. We too are in that same situation. Christ has risen. We have received the Great Commission, and we know that someday Christ will return. Thus, it becomes our task to tell by power of the Holy Spirit. 

Real Family Values

“Family Values” has become a Christian buzzword that often gets used as a weapon by a particular branch of Christianity active in the American political sphere. However, Acts 10:44-48 reminds us that there certainly is something to this idea of Christian families being key sites for the transmission of the faith. Through the efforts of a Roman Centurion, his whole family joins the early Christian movement. The message of Christ speaks to more than just nuclear families and affects vastly more than the raising of children, but there is a certainly a place to talk about transmitting Christian values at home. 

Take a Look in the Book

Picture the scene in Acts 8:26-40. An Ethiopian eunuch is riding in his chariot reading scripture. Philip notices this, chases him down, climbs into the chariot, and interprets scripture for the eunuch. In this way, the Gospel reached Ethiopia (at least as the story goes). There is a great cinematic character to this scene, but it also stresses the importance of scripture. Sometimes, it is not just handing someone a Bible that matters but knowing enough to help people understand it. In the somewhat altered words of Reading Rainbow, take a look in the book.   

A Psalm 23 Community

One way to look at Christian community is as God’s presence in our lives. We see the face of God when we are cared for by our brother’s and sister’s in Christ. Psalm 23 is the go-to comfort scripture of the Bible. It can be seen in hospitals, funeral homes, retirement communities, and churches. Psalm 23 and John 3:16 are the two most memorized Bible verses out there. Psalm 23 does not say that we will not face trials, but that God will be with us in the midst of those trials. One of the most important ways that this happens is the Holy Spirit moving through Christian community. 

Love is the Point

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is not about romantic love. We keep reading it at weddings, even though it is actually about a community fighting with each other and Paul putting an end to it. In part, it is because we interrupt Paul mid-thought such that we lose the context. If you read 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, you get a much stronger picture of Paul blasting those who divide a community around which gifts are most important and grounding the Christian faith in unconditional love. The church as a whole can and should be a site for this kind of love. It is a beautiful statement about love in scripture, but maybe, it’s not quite the marrying kind. 

We Built a Tower

The real sin of Babel, as told in Genesis 11:1-9, is not trying to reach God but of building a fortress against being scattered. They used their unity to erect a fortress against change and diversity. God intervened so that God’s people would indeed fill the earth. This story of God’s people building mighty structures to resist change and diversity does not belong only in the recesses of Biblical history. The modern mainline churches have also built their own towers – of denominational structures, and God is doing some scattering. 

Why We Lay Down Palms

At the end of the passion narrative, Christ defies death with resurrection. Before that, he stands in defiance of death by choosing to enter Jerusalem knowing full well what awaits him there. Mark 11:1-11 makes this abundantly clear. Jesus knows what is coming, and he goes to Jerusalem entering with great fanfare. Even though he must have known that gut wrenching feeling of certain pain and death, the mounts a colt or a donkey and rides in triumph. 

Why We Take Communion

The sacrament of Communion comes out of the Last Supper told in Luke 22:14-20. It is a ritual that we repeat over and over. For some, it is celebrate once a month. Others do it more often or less often. Still, it is part of the fabric of church life, but it is also deeply linked to our Christian identity. As a sacrament, it is a means of Grace; whereby, we know the Holy Spirit is present in the meal. With that, it is one of our ways of coming back to God from our wanderings and be bound together more tightly as the Body of Christ. 

Why We Worship

Many church things, we do so often that we stop understanding the reason behind them. This comes up from time to time in the life of the church, when we wonder about certain traditions or special events, but the fact is we do the same with the Sunday morning service itself. We do it every week. We think its important to do, but do we stop to think why we do it? Psalm 100 serves as a way of reminding us what is actually occurring in worship. We encounter the presence of the Living God. We may see God other places during the week, but we know that God, the creator the universe, is literally there in worship every week. To me, this way of seeing it raises the stakes for what is really going on every week. 

Breathe in Power. Breathe Out Action.

The full armor of God, that Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-20 gets interpreted in a lot of ways – often in terms of spiritual warfare. There is another, less violent, way of thinking of this text – Wesley’s image of divine respiration. For John Wesley, God breathes power on us, which gives us the power to respond. The full armor of God can be seen in this same way. God is cladding us with what we need to be God’s servants. 

Why We Reach Out

Creflo Dollar wants a $65 million jet in order to better reach people for Christ. Matthew 28:16-20 and the various other Great Commissions sprinkled throughout the Gospels make clear that Creflo is onto something – at least somewhat. Making disciples for Christ is our divinely ordained task – not some side activity. Yet, a jet might not really be what is needed. A better interpretation of Matthew 28 is not “go” but “as you go” that is to say that we should look only at distant continents but the three feet around us. It does not take millions of dollars, a megachurch, and G650. God empowers us all to reach out as we go. 

Water the Seeds

The basic principle of Chaos Theory is that small actions can have major and unpredictable effects. The parable of the mustard seed is another way of saying this. Something very small can grow into something very large and meaningful. In Luke 13:10-21, the parable of the mustard seed is preceded by Jesus healing a woman – empowering her and moving away from the margins back to the center. This is the combination of the a concrete example of the Kingdom and a parable visualizing that same of idea of small actions – growing into something much larger. 

Playing a Team Sport

The age-old joke about the difference between Anglicans and Methodists is that Anglicans can look each other in the eye at the liquor store. This is a humorous way of pointing that the United Methodist Church has an uncomfortable relationship with alcohol. It is not, however, purity for purity’s sake. The temperance history comes out of passages such as 1 Cor 8:1-13, where one’s choices do not just affect the individual but impact the community. One person, as an individual, may not have a problem with alcohol, but another in the community might. It is about an internal ordering that considers your siblings in Christ. 

Real Fishing

I drive Sidney crazy every time I argue with street preachers in public. The often hateful message that they share really gets under my skin, but in Jonah 3:1-10, Jonah seems to be declaring doom in the streets and gets results. Well, maybe, but the words get really important. He could have also been proclaiming a message for the people to turn around – rather than one of total destruction, and there are a lot of ways to proclaim rather than just stand on a box spewing doom. 

Calling Communicated

Pastors talk a lot about their call stories. It’s something we are asked to do a lot, and one’s calling is often a major life event that sticks with us. However, it is all too easy to think that callings are for pastors alone. John 1:43-51 and 1 Samuel 3:1-10 can teach us that calling is grounded in God’s deep knowledge of the individual and is for everyone at every life stage. Callings may look different overtime, but on some level, we all have one. 

What Comes Before

Missionary groups often make the claim that they are “taking Jesus” to some place, but that is not exactly what is going on – especially in a modern world. From a Methodist theological perspective, God’s grace is already there. From a realistic logistical perspective, in the 21st century, there are already Christians on every continent and most countries. Looking at Acts 19:1-7, maybe we need to take a different look at where God’s grace is and how it got there. 

A Rut in the Soul

The things that we do all the time leave their marks on us. Our bones tell the story of how we lived our lives. Trauma, joy, and education permanent alter the structure of our brains. In a similar way, our discipline in spiritual practices better tune us into how God is moving. The author of Luke 2:22-40 goes out of his way to point out how devout Simeon and Anna were, and it is these devout individuals who are able to recognize the infant Christ in the midst of an everyday scene. Their life pointed towards God allow them to better see what God is doing in everyday life. 

The things that we do all the time leave their marks on us. Our bones tell the story of how we lived our lives. Trauma, joy, and education permanent alter the structure of our brains. In a similar way, our discipline in spiritual practices better tune us into how God is moving. The author of Luke 2:22-40 goes out of his way to point out how devout Simeon and Anna were, and it is these devout individuals who are able to recognize the infant Christ in the midst of an everyday scene. Their life pointed towards God allow them to better see what God is doing in everyday life. 

Love

Do you really know what love is? Do you? Really? Looking at the story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, there are plenty of examples of what love is, but Christ’s birth is also, in some ways, a story about what it means to love. Luke 1:26-38 details Mary’s encounter with the angel and her acceptance of her role in Christ’s birth. Mary shows a love that looks to God and a love that can truly bear all things. 

Joy

There is a definite temptation to jump straight past John the Baptist onto Christ. We are Christians after all. The interesting though is that John the Baptist was doing some pretty incredible things – drawing huge crowds, calling for repentance, and washing people clean. In the context of a world that had not yet met Christ, it becomes reasonable that some thought that John the Baptist was, himself, the Messiah, as seen in John 1:6-8, 19-28. Thus, we move from a joy, John the Baptist, to a greater joy, in Christ. 

Hope

Advent and Christmas are not the same thing. Culturally, we tend to flatten to two together into the “Christmas season,” but liturgically, Advent is its own special time, a time of waiting, a pregnant time. It is the time of year where we remember Mary and Joseph’s waiting and in that way are reminded that we are also a people who are waiting for Christ’s return. This is the message of Mark 13:24-37. Christ will return. There will be signs of it, so we must keep our watch. Advent reminds us how to do that.