Friday, August 28, 2009

The God we believe in

The following was a devotion that Amy Coles, our District Superintendent shared with us today:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to
proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year
of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:17-19)
As a part of the New District Superintendent and Director of Connectional Ministries Orientation
that I’ve been attending this week, we used the following Affirmation of Faith:
I DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE GOD of the magistrates
nor in the god of the generals or of patriotic oratory.
gloomy hymns and vacuous sermons
nor in the god of courtrooms or
of preambles and epilogues to eloquent speeches.
I DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE GOD of good fortune of the rich
nor in the god of fear of the wealthy
nor in the god of happiness of those who rob the people.
in the image and likeness of the powerful
nor in the god invented as a sedative
for the misery and suffering of the poor.
sleeps within church walls
or lies hidden in church safes.
I DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE GOD made out of lies
as fragile as clay pots
nor in the god of the established order
which rests on disorder
and acquiesces in it.
put human beings before law
and love in place of old traditions.
He had no stone on which to lay his head
and mixed with the poor.
He appeared before judges
who tried to find him guilty.
He was seen with the police as a prisoner.
He entered the governor’s palace to be flogged.
His tunic was woven entirely of blood.
He had escorts to clear his way before him to Calvary,
where he died, between thieves,
on the cross.
is no other than
the son of Mary,
Jesus of Nazareth.
Every day he dies crucified by our selfish acts.
Every day he rises from death by the power of love.
[Fred Betto (Brazil) in Em Tue Gracia (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2006), 131-133]
To complete the affirmation, we were invited to complete this affirmation of our faith:
THE GOD I BELIEVE IN calls us to …
What would you say? Some of my thoughts included,
See and treat all people as beloved children of God;
Work for justice and peace for all;
Be in ministry WITH the least, the last, the lost;
Share the Good News in words and actions every moment of ever day;
Follow Jesus, Make Disciples, and Transform the World.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


"So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, 'Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders but eat with defiled hands?' " (Mark 7.5)
It seems that the human tendency is always to push religion to a simplistic list of rules when what God offers us is not rules but relationship. In Ancient Israel, many (including some of the kings) thought that as long as they offered the prescribed sacrifices and observed the prescribed religious holidays, then they were in compliance with God. The problem is that God didn't just want their outward formal observances, God wanted their heart.
So, when Jesus came, he challenged the "traditions of the elders," those man-made rules and regulations that so many had substituted for a real living relationship with God. In this verse, the Pharisees (religious leaders in Jesus' day) were upset because Jesus' disciples did not follow the ritualistic hand washing that they taught everyone to observe. (Sanitation was not the issue here.)
The issue was that the Pharisees claimed that if you didn't meticulously follow the 613 laws of Judaism, plus countless more rules and regulations invented by human tradition, then you were a terrible sinner and could expect judgment from God. They had taken God's laws (which were meant to protect us from harm) and woven them together with their own human traditions. In some cases, they even regarded the human traditions they taught to be more important than God's laws. (see Mark 7.9-13)
Periodically, throughout our history, we've needed people to come along and call us away from counterfeit religion where rules and regulations are taught as the way to righteousness back to what religion is supposed to be about: A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ONE WHO CREATED US. That's what Martin Luther and John Wesley's ministries were all about.
Remember today that your life with God is more about relationship than rules. Be leery of rules and regulations that are not found in the Word of God, the Bible. Yes, God has given us laws to protect us from things that would harm us in this world. Those laws are there for our good. (see Exodus 20.1-17). The laws are boundary markers, just like a fence around a steep cliff. What's in between those boundaries, though, is the opportunity to know Jesus, the Lord of lords and King of kings, personally. That's what Jesus desires for you this day, not just adherence to a set of cold, impersonal rules.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


"My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1.2-4)
This is a challenging Scripture to me. I don't like trials and suffering. I like it when things are running smoothly and things are happening as I prefer. But James is reminding me that there's some things I might not learn if I always got my way. James is reminding me that there's some hard lessons I might not ever learn unless I go through some trying times.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, knew about trials. Here's what he had to say about them: "Pleasure and pain, health and sickness, riches and poverty, honor and dishonor, friends and enemies, are all bestowed by [God's] unerring wisdom and goodness with a view to this one thing. The will of God, in allotting us our several portions of all these, is solely our sanctification; our recovery from vile bondage, the love of his creatures, to the free love of our Creator."
In other words, God wants us to grow up in Christ! God wants us to die to self and let Christ live in us. There must be something about human nature that we don't learn lessons like that if our whole life is easy and goes our way. As the old saying goes, "there are some lessons we only learn on our knees," lessons that we learn as we go through trials and are nudged to look to God for help, guidance, and strength.
I don't like trials and suffering, but looking back on my life, I am sure that I have grown the most during some of those times. I am sure that I learned new levels of dependence on God's grace. I learned more about trusting God in the storms than I did on the sunny days.
How about you?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


"Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice . . . May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor." (Psalm 72.1-2, 4)
This prayer for the king of Israel is very interesting. Notice what the intercessor asks for: that the king, the leader of the nation, would care for the poor, "give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor." This is a unique prayer for the leader of a nation! That the psalmist would single out concern for the poor and needy and judgment for those who oppress the poor is significant.
It was a strong expectation in the life of Israel that the king (the leader of the nation) would care for the poor and needy and would enact justice for them. In fact, it was commanded by God in many places in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). The Torah was the framework on which the nation of Israel was built. It was the rule, the standard, the boundaries for the abundant life God had promised Israel. Some of these laws included leaving food in your fields so the poor, the alien, the widow, the orphan could glean from it. Don't take someone's coat as a pledge on money owed to you. And one of the most radical: Every 50 years, land was supposed to be returned to its original family owners to insure that there would not be rampant homelessness in Israel.
Of course, Jesus picked up these same themes in his life and ministry: concern for the poor, the sick, the needy, the outcast.
Now, we aren't kings, but we do have the same call to reach out to the poor and needy. How might we do that today? Here's some ideas:
1. Bring canned meat to church this month. This goes to the Stanly Community Food Bank
2. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
3. Sponsor a child through World Vision, Compassion International.
4. Look around you for those who may need your help. Your classmates, co-workers, neighbors, even your own family members may need assistance.
5. Support a missionary. (Want to know how, call me!)
6. Pay for the person behind you in the drive-through.
7. Go on a mission trip.
These are just a few ideas. What others can you think of?

Friday, August 21, 2009

a place of springs

"As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools." (Psalm 84.6)
Psalm 84 is an "ascent psalm." This means it was most likely one of the psalms (think praise song or hymn) that pilgrims sang on the way up to the Temple of God in Jerusalem. In this particular psalm, imagine that the pilgrims are passing through an arid stretch of land. Their water jugs are getting low. The word "Baca" means "weeping." Perhaps they have faced a host of terrible hardships along their pilgrimage. Perhaps it is a time of national disaster. Or perhaps the territory they are passing through has been through some serious trials. What happens next is the key to the verse.
As the pilgrims pass through the area of "weeping," they make it a place of springs. (Water was always at a premium in a region where deserts, droughts, and famines were common.) The springs represent the fullness of God's blessings and provisions for his creatures.
Maybe you are going through a season or time of "Baca/weeping." If so, be encouraged this day that Baca will not last forever. "Though weeping may tarry for the night, joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30.5) When we are in the midst of Baca, it is good for us to be with the people of God. Notice that in this Scripture, relief came in the form of community. We all need the community of faith, the Church. In our individual and corporate times of trial, it is good to borrow each others' faith. It is good to hear our sisters and brothers in the faith "sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs." (Ephesians 5.19) In times of Baca, it is good to feel the presence of the Church and hear our brothers and sisters pray the Lord's Prayer with us.
In your time of Baca, remember that you are not alone!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Psalm 84:10: "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (NIV)
The humility of this Psalm 84 always strikes me. The writer of this Psalm would rather be a doorkeeper, a lowly servant, than to enjoy all the fruits of sin and wrongdoing. I am sometimes reminded that there is a profit to be made from participating in things that God's Word clearly says are wrong. The lucrativeness of the pornography industry is an example of this. Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, lives in a mansion. Drug cartels in some parts of the world possess all the expensive toys money can buy.
Now, most of us are probably not tempted to found pornographic entertainment industries or to become drug lords. But we are subtly tempted each day to "sell out" to the world and its value (or lack of values) system. Will we "fudge" the details at work to get ahead? Will we cheat on that school test to move up in class standings? Will we participate in hurtful gossip about another person that somehow seems to make us popular?
These are questions that are worth our consideration. Will we trust what we can gain from honest work and truthful conversation? Are we satisfied with the gifts that God gives to us or do we always want more?
I'm reminded of a great prayer that makes this point: "Lord, let me have just enough. Do not let me have too little lest I be tempted to steal. Do not let me have too much lest I be tempted to trust in riches. But let me have just enough."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eating Flesh-Drinking Blood???

"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." (John 6.56)
Eating flesh and drinking blood? Is this Jesus' words or a line out of a horror movie? These words are indeed Jesus' words. And it has nothing to do with gory scenes.
Jesus is talking about Holy Communion, the meal of the Church. As we receive Holy Communion (or the Lord's Supper) we receive a spiritual blessing. As Christians, we believe that once ordinary items like bread and juice are blessed with the Communion Prayer, they come to represent Jesus' body and blood. It is a sign and symbol of Jesus abiding (or living, dwelling, making his residence) in us. And what a powerful reminder it is! God created us as material/physical beings. He knew that we would need physical reminders of the spiritual presence of Jesus. That's what Holy Communion is all about. In this humble "meal" of bread and juice: 1. We remember that Jesus gave it all on the cross for us an for our salvation 2. We come together as sisters and brothers in the family of God 3. We are strengthened for the spiritual journey we call life 4. We look forward to the heavenly banquet we will eat with all the saints in perfect communion with God the Father/Son/Holy Spirit. What a privilege and blessing it is!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Psalm 111.10a)
Fear? Is that really the word the writer of this Psalm meant to use? It seems so negative. It seems so old-fashioned. It seems so punitive.
The word in the original Hebrew of this Psalm is "Yur'ah." It means "fear, terror, awesome or terrifying thing (object causing fear), fear (of God), respect, reverence, piety revered."
So, any attempt to soften the meaning to only "admire, look up to, etc." is misplaced. God is the all-powerful God of the Universe. Fear is appropriate for One who can create the whole Universe with one Word. It seems in our society today that there are many who seem to fear nothing. I still see that bumper sticker around: "NO FEAR." True fear of the Lord of the Universe might not be a bad thing.
But the interesting thing is that we are not only to "fear" the Lord. We are to love the Lord too! And the kind of love that the Lord shows us is evidence that God doesn't just want to be feared. He actually wants to have a relationship with us. Scripture shows us that God does not just want us to fear him like we would a prison guard or oppressive dictator. God wants us to know him and for us to let him know us. So, the fear is in the context of a God who loves us.
Fear God as the One who commands us to be obedient and holds our lives in his hands. Love God as the One who chose to come in the flesh of Jesus Christ and extend grace and mercy to us. Fear God as the One who expects us to actually follow his commands. Love God as the One who gave those commands not so we would miss all the fun, but so we would be protected from a lifestyle that leads to sorrow and death.