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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 6 revisited...

Hello friends. I did not provide a post for John 6 because I was traveling and didn't have access to internet. Steven Gidley, a junior Sports Management mjor at Indiana Welseyan University, called me on it. So, I asked him to provide the post for John 6. He graciously agreed! Thanks Steven! Here are his thoughts on John 6...I will post my reflections on John 16 tomorrow. Blessings!


Post by Steven Gidley:
In John 6 Jesus talks about being the bread of life, but I appreciate most when he talks about the Spirit giving life in John 6:63 and how our flesh counts for nothing. It is so true how we try to do things on are own and never depend on Christ and the blood he shed for are sins. We are tempted to spend our days in the world playing our own religious games instead of allowing Christ to coach us and the Spirit that gives life to consume us. It is so easy to get in a ditch and try to dig ourselves out by our own power instead of leaning on the power of Christ. Today, play the game of life for Christ our coach and allow him full ownership. I am challenged along with you to live in the Spirit, focusing on God rather than earthly things, and giving God all the decisions we must make each day. Have a good day and walk in the Lord today.

Monday, November 29, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 15

On some days, maybe even most, I experience this gravitational pull away from communion with Christ. Whether it is because I'm busy pursuing good things like service to people or because I'm wrapped up in less than holy pursuits like pleasure, accumulation, comfort, convenience or accolades, I have learned that staying connected to Christ, the Vine, takes lots of intentional energy. Jesus says in John 15:4, "remain in me and I will remain in me." Jesus, perhaps because he refuses to be an overbearing deity, waits for us to abide/remain in him before he abides/remains in us. The power we need to overcome the gravitational pull toward the lesser pursuits of life is found in Christ alone. The only problem is that the power of Christ flows most fully when remaining in him becomes our primary pursuit. You can see our circular struggle. We experience power to pursue him only when we pursue him?!!??!?!? What, then, comes first- our pursuit or the power to pursue him?

John Wesley claimed that it is prevenient grace that makes it possible for us to pursue Christ in the first place. So, even the power to resist other pursuits to pursue Christ comes ultimately from Christ. But it still requires us to submit to his loving lordship. Today, I will submit to Christ's loving lordship and, by his prevenient grace, intentionally remain in him.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 14

If I really love my wife then I will love her the way she most wants to be loved. There are five possible primary love languages, according to Gary Chapman,and they are: quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and gifts. Chapman says that the key to healthy relationship is to find out our spouse's primary love language and love her/him in that way. This was a huge wake up call for me early in marriage since I tend to love people the way I most want to be loved and not the way they most need to be loved.

I tend to do the same thing with Jesus. I love him through words of affirmation as I sing songs to him. I love him through the gifts of my tithes and offerings. I love him by spending quality time with him, reading his word and praying. I love him through acts of service done in his name. While Jesus must certainly appreciate all of these expressions of my love, they do not address Jesus' primary love language. Jesus tells us the way he most wants to be loved in today's reading, John 14:15. He says, "if you love me, you will obey me." The ultimate way, then, to love Jesus is to discern his will and do it. Submitted obedience speaks louder than our words, gifts, time, and acts.

Lord, today I will love you through my obedience to your commands.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 13

I have to admit that I have not always done a good job at loving people in the church. I have been judgmental, impatient, and unforgiving at times. While we don't have to like everyone, we are called to, in Jesus' words, "love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34). Again, I confess, I have too often missed the mark of this "new command" Jesus gives us in John 13. Remember that Jesus issues this command just after he washed the feet of his disciples, knowing full well they would betray and deny him. And, shoot, he tells us to love others like he loves us. This means that we too must lovingly wash the feet of those who are bent on betraying and denying our worth, our identity, and our potential.

Lord, Jesus Christ, today I invite your love for me to flow through me to others, even those I do not particularly like. Amen!

Friday, November 26, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 12

Mary anointed Jesus' feet with perfume that was quite expensive, worth the equivalent of a year's wages! Imagine saving up a year's wages, say $50,000, and then throwing it away on the feet of Jesus. It was almost as if Mary did not even consider the enormity of the sacrifice. She was so enamored with Jesus, she gave to him the most precious gift she could give- a small fortune, especially for a peasant Jew.

As I consider Mary's extravagant love for Jesus, I wonder if I am willing to give my most precious possession to him as a sacrifice of love. I'm not even sure what that most precious possession would be. For Abraham it was Isaac, for Mary and Joseph it was their reputation...but what can I surrender to Christ in love for him today.

Lord, show me today what precious perfume I can, in love, pour on the feet of Jesus.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 11

Yesterday our little hamster, named Philly, died. We managed to care for him about 18months before he went the way of all hamsters. Our kids, at least the 7 and 6 year olds, grieved for several hours- a long time for kids to acknowledge their grief. Our 4 year old didn't seem to even notice Philly's passing until, of course, we buried Philly in our yard.

My 7 year old son, Zach, took it the hardest. He lost his appetite and felt sick to his stomache with grief. When I put dead Philly in a plastic ziplock bag, Zach began crying again. I said something insensitive and stupid like "Don't cry, Philly is okay." Zach shot back, "Philly's dead, how can he be okay?" Good question. I was so desperate to avoid the pain of the situation that I denied it. Zach was willing to face the pain without denying its severity.

In today's reading from John 11, we find Jesus not avoiding but going into the pain of the human condition. His friend Lazarus has died and Jesus feels the pain of those who were affected most by the death, namely Mary and Martha. All throughout this story we are struck by Jesus' ability to sympathize and empathize with those in pain. While he does talk about the hope of resurrection, he avoids sugar-coating the suffering of the human condition like some all-too-happy televangelist or like me with my kids at the death of Philly.

Today, I will love Christ by allowing myself to feel for and absorb the pain of the human condition in a manner that causes me to act on behalf of the Marys and Marthas all around me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 10

My goal in these 21 Days of Love posts is to share a succinct application concerning how to lovingly obey Jesus each day. I encourage the IWU students taking the 21 day journey through John's Gospel with me to dig as deep into Scripture as time allows and to post your thoughts with mine.

Jesus says, "My sheep recognize my voice; I know them and they follow me" (v 27). I don't know of a more succinct verse that encapsulates what it means to be a
Christian than this one. There are so many competing voices floating around in my head. There is the voice of my culture encouraging me toward narcissism and apathy. Then, there is the voice that surfaces from within me. This voice tells me to protect myself, to stay guarded, to play life safe, to resist the urge to give all I have to Christ and his purposes. And, finally, there is the voice of Christ calling me to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him. The voice of Christ calls me beyond myself to the needs of others. His voice calls me to risk vulnerability and pain by loving all and loving deeply. His voice calls me to give sacrificially and pray fervently. His voice calls me to optimistically believe in his power and love to accomplish the impossible, at times through me.

Jesus, today I will discren your voice among the voices and follow you lovingly. Amen!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 9

Ironically, the blind man in John 9 sees Jesus better than the Pharisees who are supposed to see and understand spiritual reality. As the blind man speaks, especially toward the end of the chapter, he reveals his wisdom. He, a supposed sinner, sees the Messiah better than those spiritual gurus who were waiting for his coming. The blind man, and not the Pharisses, worships Jesus (v. 38).

Sometimes pastors (aka. "spiritual gurus") like me can be blind to the very realities we claim to see and know. That is, until a blind person comes a long and shows us the way. Sometimes God breaks through my blindness by speaking through people one wouldn't expect to possess much wisdom. Often, God speaks through my children. Other times, he breaks my blindness through something that unbelievers (aka "sinners") say or do. In short, sometimes we spiritual leaders can become blind and need a blind person (aka "children" or "sinners")to rebuke us and show us the way.

Today, I will watch for what God may speak to me and who God may speak through to break my blindness. When He does, I will do my best to heed it because I love Him!

Monday, November 22, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 8

In yesterday's blog I shared how I would lovingly obey Christ by believing in his power and promises. Well, just after I posted, I attended College Wesleyan Church where Dr. Joanne Lyon was preaching on, you guessed it, believing in Jesus' promise to do "greater work" through us than we might anticipate from John 14. God seems to be trying to get my attention. Perhaps my cynicism and skepticism is limiting the greater work he wants to do in and through me to redeem and restore the world. God, I'm listening now:-)

In today's reading I was struck by something Jesus didn't say. Jesus and the Jewish leaders are, as usual, caught in a disagreement. They accuse him of having a demon and being a Samaritan in verse 48. Jesus responds stating "I do not have a demon" in verse 49 but he never denies the claim that he is a Samaritan, even though we readers know he is a full-blooded Jew. Why does Jesus not defend his Jewishness and deny the claim that he is a half-breed Samaritan? I believe it is because deep down inside he identifies with people different from him, even Samaritan women as we discovered back in John 4. In other words, he did not see the need to distinguish himself from Samaritans, although they were hated fiercely by his Jewish counter-parts.

Sometimes I can tend toward distinguishing myself from instead of identifying myself with others who are different. It seems to me that if I am going to love Christ I must love what he loves- people, all shapes, sizes, styles of people. Lord, give me a large-hearted love toward the Samaritans all around me so that I see them not as half-breeds who are different but as those who share with me a common human struggle and a common Creator. I will lovingly obey you by lovingly identifying with all of the people you created. Give me grace to do this Jesus-style.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 7

I can be a skeptical cynic sometimes, like the brothers of Jesus and the Pharisees. Belief in anything has never come easy for me. But in verse 38 Jesus calls me to believe in him, to be different from those first Century cynics stationed all around him and his ministry. Today I will love him by having the audacity to believe him enough to obey him. If I really believe that Jesus is who he says he is and that his promises are trustworthy and true, those beliefs will shape the level of my obedience to him.

Friday, November 19, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 5

Jesus was quite consumed with glorifying the Father. One gets the sense, when reading John's Gospel, that Jesus did not engage in any ministry unless it both helped the marginalized or broken (ie. the guy waiting for a dunk in the pool earlier in this chapter) and glorifed the Father. In fact, perhaps the two are one in the same- everytime we glorify the Father we dignify the broken and everytime we dignify the broken we glorify God.

Today, I will love Jesus by keeping my motives for ministry in check to his motivation for service: to glorify the Father by giving dignity to the broken. By God's grace and in the power of the Spirit, I will release those motives for ministry that are safe, self-serving, and shallow.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 4

Jesus, in verses 1-9, exhibits two qualities that I want to imitate out of loving obedience to him today. First, although he is exhausted he initiates a conversation with someone. When I am exhausted, I tend to run from people. I’m embarrassed to admit this but there have been times when I have seen someone I knew at Walmart and, because of fatigue, instead of striking up conversation I hid behind a box of cereal or ran down a different aisle when I saw them coming. Jesus, though exhausted, mustered up the energy to converse with a woman who was in desperate need of a friend. Out of loving obedience to Christ, I will do the same today no matter the level of exhaustion I may feel.

Secondly, Jesus not only overcame his fatigue to reach out to this woman, he also overcame the social “lines in the sand” that the people of his day would draw. The woman is actually surprised that Jesus, a Jewish male, would speak to her, a Samaritan female. Who would be surprised if I, a white Christian 30-something male, reached out to them today? I hope you will lovingly obey and imitate Christ with me today by befriending people who might be surprised by our interest in them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 3

John the Baptist says about Jesus, “he must increase, but I must decrease” (v.30). I’d have to look at the Greek to see the correct word order, but in this English translation John focuses first on Jesus increasing. If I (ego) am going to decrease it will be because Christ is increasing in me. To put it bluntly, it is virtually impossible for me to decrease and be “crucified with Christ,” to borrow from Paul, without Christ increasing in me.

It took lots of humility for John to move over, in terms of his preaching and baptism ministry, to make room for Jesus to increase in ministry scope. Yet, the effective minister knows that she is most fruitful when ego is gone and Christ reigns in and through her.

So, I will lovingly obey Christ today by making sure that I don’t seek to outshine him (as if I really could). In other words, I will make sure that in my words, thoughts, and actions I invite him to be more prominent than me so that people come away more impressed with who he is than with who I am.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 2

Jesus goes ballistic in the Temple courts, chasing away those who were exchanging money and selling goods. The reasons for Jesus’ anger has more to do with injustice than buying/selling in the Temple. The people exchanging money were charging exorbitant exchange rates to people who had to use Jerusalem currency in order to buy an animal to be sacrificed at the Passover. To make matters worse, the people selling the animals to be sacrificed were marking up their prices dramatically. In short, the religious leaders (Sadducees) who ran the Temple were making it nearly impossible, financially speaking, for poor pilgrims to worship in the temple. Jesus’ anger is aimed toward those who are taking advantage of the poor.

Through this passage, I have learned that I can lovingly obey Christ today by challenging injustice, oppression, and greed. Today, I will seek to be a voice for those who experience the injustice of racism and exclusion, among other things. Today, I will drive out of the Temple (the church) anything that oppressively prevents all people from worshiping Christ freely. Lord, give me courageous love.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

21 Days of Love: John 1

In verse 47, Jesus describes Nathaneal as a person “in whom there is no deceit.” Self-deceit is sometimes hard to detect. We are so good at fooling ourselves and others, but Jesus sees into us. Today, I am going to lovingly obey Jesus by recognizing my propensity for deceit and committing to being true to God and the people around me. I will love Christ by being who he has called me to be, without apology or regret. If an occasion surfaces today to be dishonest/deceitful or honest/true, I will choose truth.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What Makes the Church the Church?

As part of my Doctor of Ministry program, I travelled to Houston, TX with the nine other pastors in my cohort. This learning adventure was called “Church Immersion.” The goal of the trip was to explore as many diverse expressions of the local church in the Houston area as possible in only three days. Needless to say, by the end of the trip our heads were spinning with ideas and questions.

We visited a church focused on addiction recovery called Mercy Street, which was co-pastored by my friend Sean Gladding. During the service people stood up and shared how many days they were sober. People clapped and screamed in celebration. At times we couldn’t tell whether we were in an N/A (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting or a church service. The worship experience had a raw realness to it that moved me to tears then and now.

We visited the Lakewood Church, pastored by Joel Osteen. This was a very different kind of church that seemed to be reaching a very different group than Mercy Street was reaching. While Lakewood Church, for a variety of reasons, was not my “cup of tea,” the singing was as lively as I have ever experienced. Our cohort had a chance to visit for a few minutes with Joel and Victoria Osteen before heading off to another very different kind of church.

Our group arrived late to participate in the worship service of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church, led by Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell. Windsor Village is the largest African American United Methodist Church in the country. As you may have guessed, members of my cohort were the only Caucasians in attendance that day, so we sort of stuck out a bit as we’re hunting for seats about half-way through their service. We were met with warm hospitality and an excellent sermon preached by Kirbyjon in the African American style I have come to appreciate. I can still remember the mantra he used throughout his sermon “stay in your lane!” My cohort spent an hour with Pastor Caldwell hearing him describe the church’s missional heartbeat for community development.

My head still spinning from the diversity of the churches we already visited, we met with Jim Herrington. Jim was the pastor of a mega-church who endured some inner angst over the question, “am I making disciples who are making disciples?” He left his large church, purchased a house in a rough section of Houston, and started a house church. We met with Jim in his living room for two hours as he described his new ecclesiological outlook. He leaves the lower level of his home unlocked so that prostitutes, runaways, transvestites, the homeless, and the addicted can have a warm place to sleep, food to eat, and a community to experience. He invites these “friends” to join them for worship in the upper level of the house.

We also toured Second Baptist Church, which sits on a very, very, very large campus with a full-service café and bookstore. The place was humongous. This church is led by Dr. Ed Young Sr., though you may be more familiar with his son by the same name who pastors Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX. We met with one of the staff pastors, another of Dr. Young’s sons, in a meeting room almost big enough to fit a football field (preacher’s exaggeration). Despite the size of the church, the sanctuary had maintained a traditional look with stained glass, altar, and a large pulpit. It was, oxymoronically, a traditional mega-church.

I think it was that evening when we visited Ecclesia, a well-known emergent church led by Pastor Chris Seay. This gathering took place in what felt like a Starbucks café. The room was packed with several hundred people, most of them in the 16-35 age range. As the preacher sat on a stool and spoke for about 35 minutes, artists were spread out all over the room painting to their heart’s delight. The room was dark, candles were lit, and the music was melancholic but worshipful.

The six churches I described above are extremely diverse in their approach to worship and discipleship. They are each reaching different segments of people. Mercy Street is connecting predominantly with addicts, while Second Baptist is reaching many of the wealthy elite of Houston. Windsor Village is reaching hundreds of African American families, while Ecclesia is connecting mostly with single white young adults.

While I have my preferences and ecclesiological convictions about what constitutes “church,” I am realizing more and more that when it comes to church, “one size does not fit all.” It really does take all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. Case in point, the church in which I cut my teeth in ministry back when I first came to Christ at the age of 18 is not the church I would likely attend today. At different points in my spiritual journey different churches appealed to me, mostly based upon the spiritual formation needs I had at the time. I am not a supporter of “church-hopping,” but simply pointing out that as we change so do our ecclesiological needs and preferences. This tendency only becomes detrimental when we allow our needs and preferences to become a non-negotiable “gospel.”

The “church immersion” education opened me up to the substantial diversity that exists within the Church of Jesus Christ, and we visited churches within 50 miles of each other! Not only did I learn to appreciate the diverse expressions of the Church, I was forced to really grapple with some major questions. What constitutes church? Beyond worship styles, architecture, and demographics, what makes the church truly the church? What, if anything, binds all of these diverse churches together?

These are some of the questions we hope our students at Wesley Seminary will be able to answer as they make their educational journey. Students will be exposed to and explore all kinds of models and methods for “doing church.” More importantly, however, students will learn to do this exploration girded with the wisdom of biblical exegesis, church history, and systematic theology. Our aim at Wesley Seminary, then, is not merely to develop students to be pragmatic cherry-pickers, applying to their ministries whatever model or method is effective in some other context. Our goal is higher- to develop ministers whose practice is wedded to and guided by the biblical, historical, and theological foundations that make the church the church. This goal has led Wesley Seminary to join together what has been traditionally torn apart, namely practice, bible, history, and theology. We believe our students will be better-prepared for ministry because of this re-wedding of disciplines that have too often been separated into silos.