"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Monday, April 28, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 17

The writers of the notes found in the Wesley Study Bible (CEB) rightly point out that the admonition found in chapter 17 verse 1 to avoid causing another to "trip and fall into sin" is accompanied by an instruction to be sensitive to each other. Indeed, throughout our pursuit of personal holiness we must avoid behaviors and actions that might cause another to "stumble." However, we are also told in verse 3 that we are to warn our brother or sister when they sin. Then, of course, should they heed our warning and "change their hearts and lives," we are to forgive them...both as often as we are asked for forgiveness and even when we are not. 

Faithfulness to living lives of love and forgiveness, as illustrated here by Jesus to the disciples, sounds simple enough but is by no means easy. This is why the apostles said to Jesus, "Increase our faith!" (v. 5) In my estimation, we in the church today need to make this same request in earnest.

Jesus, increase our faith!

There is a balancing that must be achieved when we accept the Christian responsibility of disciplining one another. In true Wesleyan fashion, our approach should be one that is "both/and" rather than "either/or." In other words, we both demonstrably live lives of love and forgiveness and ask others to do the same. Sadly, it seems that our approach is off kilter. 

Our focus (or at least what social media and the press would have you believe) tends toward, "Either change your hearts and lives or you will stand in judgment." Obviously, there is truth in this statement. But, when it can also be legitimately interpreted as, "Do as we say, not as we do," we have missed the point.

Wesleyan theology and Methodist history together emphasize our responsibility as Christians to "watch over one another in love," and to "discipline one another" when necessary. However, an extremely important aspect of this, one that needs to be reclaimed in the church today, is that such accountability was lived in a small group experience among people who were a community in the truest sense of the word. They were not mere acquaintances who self-identified as Christians, rather they were brothers and sisters united in close Christian fellowship. The very heart of this experience known as the "class meeting" was soul-tending. The members would begin these meetings with the question, "What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?" Of these meetings, Francis Asbury is quoted as saying that the "most profitable exercise of any is a free inquiry into the state of the heart."

The state of the heart is what matters most to God, so it should also matter most to us. Call me a cynic, but much of the rhetoric in the church today doesn't seem to reflect this truth. If it did, we wouldn't spend so much time arguing over issues we believe might be threatening the church.  What if, instead, we spent that time doing what we are really called to do? 

Loving God.

Loving our neighbors. 

Making disciples.

Reflecting on this chapter has helped me realize that, in spite of my desire to live in authentic Christian community with those I care about, I do very little soul-tending. And so, I am feeling compelled to make more time to ask those around me, "How is your life with God?"

How about you?

Monday, April 21, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 16

The Common English Bible leads off chapter 16 with the paragraph title, "Faithfulness with money." Did you know that money is mentioned more than 800 times in the Bible? If you're so inclined to begin looking for all these references, I defy you to find just one verse that views debt in a positive way while you're at it. It is as if God and the writers of the Bible anticipated that we would have significant problems with money and possessions. 

Jesus himself has strong words about money and possessions in our reading this week:
"Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (Luke 16:10-13, CEB, emphasis mine)
Much can be written about the two parables Jesus uses in this chapter to teach his disciples and the Pharisees about money. I think, however, I am going to keep it simple and sum things up this way: 
  • God is just in His judgment and generous in His mercy and grace. No one can outgive God. After all, did you happen to hear the good news this past week about God's ultimate gift of salvation?  
  • Let us remember that we help spread this good news, in part, through our faithfulness with money. John Wesley had something to say about this in his sermon, The Use of Money, which can be summarized by this statement, "Having first gained all you can and secondly saved all you can, then give all you can." 
  • The point is, we are a people who have been given much. And so, much is expected. At a minimum we should all strive to give back to God in proportion to what we've been given. If every Christian around the world gave in such a way, imagine what could be done for God's kingdom on earth. I'll conclude this week by sharing this video that goes a long way toward illustrating what can happen when we are faithful with our money, giving toward God's purposes in the world and serving the least, the last, and the lost.

Monday, April 14, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 15

The Common English Bible has but one paragraph title for all of Luke chapter 15 - Occasions for celebration. These occasions are the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son.  They are occasions for celebration, of course, because all three things that had been lost were found. 

We know God experiences great joy over changed hearts and lives (v. 7), but what about our response when God has found us? I think our response should be, in just one word, worship. 

There are plenty of worship songs that sing about this...Amazing Grace being the most famous, I'm sure. Another one I have always been rather fond of is And Now My Lifesong Sings because of the idea it conveys that our lives are songs sung to God. My friend and colleague, John Webster, beautifully sang this song in our chapel last week specifically for this blog on Luke chapter 15. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 14

In my opinion, one of the greatest things to happen to contemporary worship music is an incredible band from northern Ireland called Rend Collective. I mention this because I thought of their song, The Cost, when reading Luke chapter 14.

I'm saying yes to You and no to my desires,
I'll leave myself behind and follow You.
I'll walk the narrow road,
'cause it leads me to You,
I'll fall, but grace will pick me up again.

I've counted up the cost,
Oh, I've counted up the cost,
Yes, I've counted up the cost,
And You are worth it. 
I do not need safety as much as I need You,
You're dangerous but Lord, You're beautiful.
I'll chase You through the pain, I'll carry my cross,
'Cause real love is not afraid to bleed.
Jesus, take my all,
Take my everything.
I've counted up the cost,
               And You're worth everything. 
          (© 2011 Thankyou Music)

Back to Luke chapter 14...Jesus says not once but three times to the large crowd traveling with him, "whoever doesn't...cannot be my disciple." (vv. 26, 27, 33) Why? 

It is important for us first to remember where Jesus is going as He addresses the crowd. (And it is appropriate to find ourselves here this week, too, considering that Holy Week is next week.) Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem...on his way to the cross. And so, Jesus is inviting those with "ears to hear" to really think about what they are doing and to decide if they are willing to go all the way with Him. Jesus is inviting them to "count up the cost" of following Him because the commitment that requires is far greater than they know. 

I invite you to join me in using the words to this song as a prayer throughout the remainder of Lent. May your pilgrimage continue to both challenge you and renew your Spirit. 

Peace to you, friends.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 13

The first paragraph title in chapter 13 of Luke's gospel (Common English Bible) is:
Demand for genuine change
Repentance, an earlier theme in Luke, is appearing here again. Not once, but twice, Jesus says, "unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die" (vv. 3 and 5).

This familiar call to repentance, to "change our hearts and lives," brought to mind one of my favorite songs...Give Us Clean Hands by Charlie Hall. In my mind, this is more of a prayer meant to be sung than anything else...and perfect for Lent.
Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts, let us not lift our souls to another...

This video was filmed by my trusted colleague, Josh Wilson, in a garden outside Trinity's beautiful chapel.  

Give Us Clean Hands words and music by Charlie Hall.
© 2012 Sixsteps//Worshiptogether