Vision 20/20 Church: Pergamum

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:12-17.

Devotion Focus ~ Matthew 6:5-15.

At the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes care to teach on prayer, providing clear and specific instructions that shape both the disciple’s practice of prayer and the disciple’s heart that offers the prayer.

First – prayer is not an attention-seeking behavior. Prayer is a behavior for seeking the holy, which is accomplished in humility rather than in show.

Second – prayer is to be done in secret. Secret comes from the Greek word kruptos meaning ‘concealed so as to not be made known.’ And yet our God says through prayer in secret God will make the concealed known – God will make Godself known to the one that draws away in prayer. Jesus says in Matthew 10:26, “So have no fear of (coming persecutions); for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” This uncovering – this revealing and making known – displays the power of Almighty God.

Third – prayer is not a floor exercise of thesaurus-al and syntax-ical gymnastics. (Neither should that last sentence have been, if I am honest!) In prayer, speak plainly. As Jesus reminds us, God already knows what we need before we ask.

Fourth – prepared now to pray, we are to pray this way:

  1. Name God and our relationship with God – Father, our Father
  2. Articulate our understanding of God’s preferred future – Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
  3. Ask our petitions – which recognize God as the wellspring of our resources and our redemption – Give us this day our daily bread / forgive us our trespasses

So be it – which is the translation of the word Amen.

This prescription for prayer is quite purposeful. It serves as a guide and as an accountability check. Here Jesus speaks plainly to us about how we should prepare for prayer, offer our prayer, and speak plainly to God in prayer. If we get off track, Jesus’ words are once again our plumb line so that we can come back into proper alignment with God.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, in a similar fashion, articulates our process – dare I say method!? – a for carrying out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In a way, this particular prescription serves as a United Methodist plumb line to both guide and align – check and balance – that we are attending to the work of God before us in ways that are becoming of the gospel as well as embodying our United Methodist history, theology, and polity.

We make disciples as we:

Proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome, and gather persons into the body of Christ;

Lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;

Nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing;

Send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and

Continue the mission of seeking, welcoming, and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.

(¶122 BOD 2016).

Take note that it says what we are to do, but not always how we are to do it. I find this to be both liberating and infuriating. This is our invitation to discernment with God’s Holy Spirit. God has set us this task and by assessing and accessing individual and collective skills, disciple-making will occur. What sets this process into motion is our making ourselves available to be used by God – is our response to God’s Spirit stirring our hearts and then committing to do something about it.

I am also comforted that disciple-making occurs without us, even, at times, in spite of us if we are really in a spiritually-mutinous season. This truth does not mean that we should not try. This truth means that while we are invited to join God’s work that accomplishing God’s work is not solely dependent on us.

God is moving. God is speaking. God is saving. You. Me. All. I believe deeply that everything we do as the Church is about and should promote the Kingdom. If it is about and does promote the Kingdom, then we will and should keep doing it to the health and growth of God’s reign on earth. If it doesn’t, then we need to stop it or modify it until it does. Because friends – because Church – the Kingdom has had to wait long enough.

Prayer: “Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere; open my heart and let me prepare love with thy children thus to share. Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!”* Amen.

*”Open My Eyes That I May See,” The United Methodist Hymnal 454.

Lord of the Dance: Wanted! Dance Partners

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:16-20.

An often quoted African Proverb says,

If you want to go fast, go alone. 

If you want to go far, go together.

I am the kind of person that wants to go far…but it is sometimes hard for me to ask for someone to go together with me.

It takes courage to ask for help. It takes courage to forage a new path or to return to a well known trail with fresh eyes and perspective. It takes courage to share a vision for what you want to accomplish, for what change you want to make, for who you want to be.

Why does it take courage? Because there is risk involved.

  • Risk that you or your idea will be rejected.
  • Risk that you will make a mistake.
  • Risk that you will embarrass yourself.
  • Or possibly the worst – risk that you will fail.

I, for one, prefer to limit the witnesses to my rejection, mistakes, embarrassments, and failures.

While being all alone might temporarily shield me from public awareness of my shortcomings, being all alone also means that I stew longer in my own mess without any one there to offer comfort or encouragement.

I believe this is one of the reasons that Jesus encouraged the disciples to be in partnership with one another and others in the growing Kingdom. Jesus knew what they were risking as they served! Jesus knew they would experience hardship and discouragement. Jesus knew they would experience rejection and so he said to them, “‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:10-13).

That they – the disciples – went out together – in Jesus’ name and carrying forward God’s preferred future for the world – ensured that they would and did go far

Are you someone that wants to go fast or far? With whom are you traveling? How have you been encouraged and offered encouragement? What vision is God raising up in you to share with someone? What risk do you face in sharing this vision? What do you risk in not sharing this vision?

Prayer: “I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee, but they would not dance and they would not follow me; I danced for the fishermen, for James and John; they came to me and the dance went on. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.”* Amen.

*”Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 261. 

Longing for Spring: Spring

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 5:12-16

If you were raised in Florida – or have spent a significant amount of time here – you know that our state is a wee bit confused about the seasons. Some would argue that we only have two seasons: hot and more hot, but that is not so! We experience all four seasons in Florida…three are just very brief in light of the main season of Summer.

Our seasons are also out of order. In my experience we have Summer – Winter – Fall – Spring and sometimes Summer charges in before we even have the benefit of experiencing all of Spring. I thought that would be the case this year. The last bit of Fall concluded a few days before Holy Week began. We made our way towards the cross as the last few dry leaves made their way to the ground. New growth pushed forth. The vibrancy of green was amazing. I sat at the picnic table on the TUMC Bean and wondered at the beauty of the green on this sweet gum tree shading our parking lot. What a vision of Spring.

And then someone cranked up the heat. Spring felt like only a brief memory. Summer arrived and when Summer arrives so early we know it will be a sweltering one. That’s what has made these last few days a true gift. We received a break from the heat and retreated back to the coolness and refreshment of Spring. It is not so much a break that it feels like Winter again; we are not retreating for hibernation. We are retreating for refreshment, growth, and strengthening so when the temperatures indicate Summer has arrived in full force (and will stay so till around December 2…) we will be able to handle the heat. We will be able to stay in the proverbial kitchen. We will be conditioned. And we will continue.

In our Scripture text for this week we read “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). This was a time of Spring for the Early Church. The first bud of the resurrection is Jesus and numerous others followed his leading. In Jesus and through his disciples the people experienced profound healing and teaching that changed their lives. These experiences anchored their faith. These experiences drew them one to another and as a community to their Lord. There was great excitement – excitement they could not contain. So they told others. They brought others from their homes to experience it for themselves. They believed in what was happening. They believed it would change the world. And they wanted to be apart of it.

In the Wellspring Class this week we discussed the nature and mission of the church – church universal and church United Methodist specific. United Methodists believe that the church is first and foremost a worshipping community and the church is the greatest arena for disciple-making to occur. The church is where disciples are made so that we then will go into the world and make disciples. And friends, we have to believe that this is what God wants for us – for Tuskawilla – for Christ’s Body – for Christ’s bride, the Church.

In his letter to the Romans Paul boldly questioned, “If God is for us, who is against us” (Rom 8:31)? The answer is “no one and no thing.” God is for us. And God wants us to experience this Spring, this renewal, this great addition of believers in the Lord to the present believers in the Lord, and together that they would experience a deepening of their faith in the Lord. Belief that God has this desire for us unites us one to another and unites us in the Lord. And this belief sustains us when the heat gets turned up – and I am not just talking about the temperature outside. This belief sustains us when we face temptation, trial, suffering, grief, addiction, loss, and death. This belief helps us spring or bounce back in response to the pressures and burdens of this life. This belief shelters us as we experience the winters in our faith.

God is for us. I cannot say it enough. God is for us! And God was us to experience this Spring.

Holy God, lead us in being your church, in serving our neighbors, and welcoming great numbers of the faithful to your family. Help us believe and through us bring about your mercy, grace and peace.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Summer and winter and spring-time and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.