Fall Afresh!

The Holy Spirit is given to the Church (Acts 2:1-13)

Feel free to watch the sermon video embedded here, but this will be a brief entry with simply a few questions for your reflection.  A blessed Pentecost to you, and a happy “birthday” to the Church!

  1. How have you experienced God’s Holy Spirit, that is, God’s real presence, in your life?
  2.  How would you say you began your journey with God?
  3. “We don’t get to say ‘Well, we did it!’  It’s always God’s Spirit knocking at our door.” (Pastor Harlan)  Can you describe anything from your life that you know were God-in-action more than yourself?
  4. The Holy Spirit can be unsettling, because God challenges us to find our “blind spots.”  In what ways do you sometimes feel challenged by God’s presence?
  5. “God doesn’t call the qualified, but qualifies the called.”  Is God calling you do something, or become someone, that you don’t feel qualified for?  How does this truth apply to you?

Many blessings!

MM

 

A Remembering Community

Paul’s instruction about taking the Lord’s Supper

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you…”

With these words, Paul is explaining to the early Christians in Corinth something of primary importance for life and faith: the Lord’s supper.

The Hebrew context here is crucial.  Jesus didn’t choose his elements at random.  He ordained this sacramental meal for the Church from that time until today in the context of Covenant.

Through the history of God’s people recorded across the entire biblical narrative, a pattern emerges.  God makes promises.  And people fail to remember (see Hosea 11:1-2 for how God perceives our forgetfulness).

It is no wonder then that when Jesus introduced the bread and the cup as the new covenant in his body and blood, he commanded that we “Remember.”

Of course, remembering that for which Jesus died — the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God — also (ironically) means we can forget.  We can forget the sins that so easily ensnare, and celebrate the liberation Christ won for us!  After all, God in his omniscience is described as effectively “forgetting” that which has led us astray and embracing us, whom he loves so dearly (see the story of the lost son for a powerful image of this).

We come together as the Christ-community and express his love in many ways:  worship, song, prayer, learning, serving, laughing, crying.  When we gather as the Christ-community, we enact that for which the Lord’s Supper stands.  We are doing this in remembrance of Him.

For reflection:

  1. Have you ever experienced the Lord’s Supper (a.k.a. Communion or the Eucharist)?  What was your experience like?
  2. Have you ever forgotten something that you knew you should have remembered?
  3. When someone in our close community forgets something important (like a birthday) what is that experience like?  Why?
  4. Some people think ceremony or tradition is superficial or unnecessary in a  community.  But Jesus clearly knew that ceremony was essential.  What do you think?
  5. What intentional steps can you take this week to “Remember” Jesus’ good news each day?

Many blessings,

MM

Community that Opens Doors

Paul and Silas are Freed from Prison

How many doors do you think you go through every day?  Front, back, side, garage, gates, swinging, revolving, automatic, elevator…prison?

The apostle Paul got himself in a number of tangles as an itinerant evangelist in the first century, and the story linked above is one of the most memorable.  Having liberated a female slave from her spiritual bondage, her owners threw Paul and Silas in prison for jeopardizing their revenue source!  Never worry — God isn’t scared by prisons.

One of the more fascinating characters in this story is the jailer himself.  Frederick Buechner notes that in a sense we’re all the “Jailer.”  We wall ourselves behind the stone and steel of repression, denial, and concealment in an effort to stay safe.  The irony is that we are in bondage.  The good news is that God liberates the oppressed!

When Paul’s prison doors are flung wide open, the jailer knows that he’d be better off committing suicide than facing the punishment for his failure as a prison guard.  But Paul knows better.  Shouting “Don’t harm yourself!  We’re all here!” Paul embodies this poignant truth:

Alone, death seems inevitable. 

But together, God opens doors to new life.

Paul knew that his freedom would be no freedom at all if it came at the expense of his jailer.  His freedom was given by God SO THAT he could be a liberating agent for the jailer.

This story does have a happy ending — the sparing of the jailer’s life and the baptism of him and his family.  But it came at a cost to Paul and Silas — flogging, humiliation and prison.  The reality is that the Christ-community has battles to fight and must at times persevere great challenges.  But the end is worth the means — salvation and feasting as God’s Community.

For reflection:

  1. Imagine you’re Paul or Silas.  What would your first reaction be when your prison doors swung open?
  2.  Have you ever experienced the oppression of loneliness, as the jailer did in his moment of desperation?
  3. Have you ever experienced the joy and freedom of community?
  4. What can you do in the spheres of community in which you live to live out Paul’s message to the jailer: “We’re all here!”  To whom might that matter most in your world?

Many blessings,

MM

 

The Prophet’s Dream

Acts 2:14-21

Jesus’ community has always been fundamentally counter-cultural. Where else do people of all generations and walks of life gather for a common purpose? And not to consume goods or experiences either, but really the opposite. To give. To create.  Not even for their own sake, but for the sake of the Master.  This radical, purposeful community defined by God’s presence and work in the world — this was the dream of the prophets.

The counter-cultural purpose of Jesus’ community reflects its counter-intuitive nature: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v.21).  It cannot be earned with moral behavior.  It cannot be acquired through transcendental enlightenment.  This is the grace and mercy Jesus showed Peter around that fateful campfire, when he forgave him his denials and restored his belonging and purpose in Christ’s community.  This is the same Peter who preached in Acts 2 on the prophetic dream of Christ’s community.

The problem is that one dream can be co-opted by secular, cultural “dreams” of community and contentment.  But if dreams are by nature creative and unique, like the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, then we must be open and responsive to God the Holy Spirit. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be swept into the habit of dreaming the same materialistic and self-aggrandizing dream as the bulk of our population. “When the whole population dreams the same dream, empire is triumphant.”*

We are called to be animated by a different narrative, and our experience of Jesus’ community will be only be what we make it.  God’s grace is unconditional.  Our choice to respond in gracious and merciful community?  Well that’s up to us.

For reflection:

  1. Describe the prophet Joel’s “dream” in your own words.
  2. Do you see his dream anywhere in the world today?
  3. Many people would respond positively to Joel’s vision — what makes the Christian response unique?
  4. If our community is “up to us,” what is one thing you can do this week to move one step closer to experiencing the community that Joel describes?
  5. Do you see any opportunities at UPPC to either find this community or to create it?

***JOIN US to explore Group Life together! 

Sundays in May  |  9:15-10:15  |  Gym.

Blessings,

MM

 

 


*Walsh, Brian J., Sylvia C. Keesmaat.  Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire.  (IVP, 2004).

Stumbling Blocks to Community

1 Corinthians 8

We’re following the overall Biblical narrative of God’s covenant community, beginning last week with the establishment of the covenant.  But almost immediately, God’s community began to replace God in their hearts with idols (see Exodus 32:1-14).  And of course there was a pantheon of “deities” in the 1st century Roman culture of Jesus and the apostles.

In this chapter, Paul begins a long discourse on an issue that was threatening to divide the young Christian community in Corinth.  Some of them understood the “gods” weren’t real, while others were still struggling with that concept.

But the problem wasn’t really idol worship itself.  It was the way that people “in the know” about it didn’t act with love toward those still trying to figure it out.  They were basing their behavior on their knowledge, rather than the more important ethic of love.  So Paul reminds them: “Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up” (8:1).

When Christ’s community comes to enjoy being “in the know” about something, it’s easy to grow complacent and to forget that there are plenty of others who would like to be part of the community but feel like outsiders–like middle schoolers trying to find a seat in the lunchroom.  If someone wants to experience the Christ-community but is given the cold shoulder, that very community can become a stumbling block to them.  But in the Christ-community, it should never be difficult to find a seat at the table.

In our congregation, there are many types of smaller communities, or “group life.”  Ministry teams, music groups, youth groups, small groups, groups of friends, parent support groups, etc.  And those groups are a blessing from God to support and encourage us in life and faith.  So rather than becoming so accustomed to our groups that they become like closed clubs, how can we leverage the blessing that they are to “build others up” who may be longing for community?

For reflection:

  1. What kind of “Group Life” do experience in your church community?
  2. When is the last time you invited an outsider to consider being part of your group?
  3. Why can it be challenging to invite people in our group life?
  4. What are the potential repercussions of group life that tends to be insular or “closed”?
  5. Is it possible to experience both the intimacy of healthy group life, while also being intentional in helping people find or create community?

 

Peace,

MM

 

The Story of the Covenant

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

It’s interesting how knowing more about our past informs our present, and even our future.  When I was in high school, I didn’t understand why the study of history was interesting; it seemed like a bunch of irrelevant black-and-white photos and phrases like “Federal Judiciary Act of 1789.”  Ugh.

Thankfully, I later learned more about how history impacts the present, and that intersection is really where knowing our history becomes not only interesting or relevant, but crucially important to our identity and future.

And Moses knew this.

That’s why he commanded the budding nation of Israel to never forget who they were.  As J.A. Thompson notes: “The original covenant [with Moses at Mt. Sinai]…was not simply an event of the past which concerned Israel’s ancestors only, but was the concern of Israel in every age.  The original Israel held within it all later Israelites.”*

What’s interesting is that, anticipating the need to “pass the baton” of nationhood from one generation to the next, Moses gave instruction about how to explain the “stipulations, decrees and laws” of the people.  The answer: Learn our story.  Tell our story.  

The connection between ancient Israelites and today’s worldwide community of Christians is, of course, Jesus Christ.  Jesus fulfilled the original covenant, and thus established a new covenant in himself, rather than in the Law.  Those who are in Christ therefore also share in the story of the covenant people, all the way from the beginning.

For reflection:

  1. What are some of the stories from your personal life that still inform who you are today?
  2. What do already know about the Bible and the story it tells?
  3. What do you still need to learn about the Bible?
  4. Learning and telling the story of our faith is always done better in COMMUNITY.  Are you connected to “Group Life” at UPPC?

 

 

 

 


*J.A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008) 128.

Between Two Fires

There are two things every human being needs:

Belonging and Purpose.

In John 21:7-17, after having denied even knowing Jesus only a few nights beforehand, a despondent Peter goes fishing with a few friends.  And because of the overflowing grace of Jesus, Peter and his friends are stunned to experience Jesus, now alive in his resurrected glory, cooking breakfast for them on the shore.

What follows is one of history’s most…awkward exchanges.  Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  (Note: if you have to be asked three times, you must not be showing the love too well.)  Of course, these three times echo the three times Peter had denied Jesus just a few nights earlier.  Jesus is reinstating Peter as an apostle.

Jesus is taking a dead relationship and resurrecting it, by giving Peter a renewed sense of belonging and purpose.

Even in this moment, Peter must have felt like a fraud.  He knew what he had done, and how he had failed.  But if we’re honest with ourselves, we should all feel like frauds to some extent.  All have fallen short of the glory of God, Paul reminds us, so we rely on the grace of God for giving us a seat at his table.  Because of Jesus, we know we belong.

But belonging is just the beginning.  Belonging exists to strengthen and empower one’s purpose.  One doesn’t belong on the football team just to talk about football, or on the fire department just to watch movies about fires.  Jesus gives Peter his purpose: “Feed my sheep.”  Because of Jesus, we know we have purpose.

For reflection:

  1. Where do you find a sense of belonging and purpose?
  2. Do you see yourself as having the ability to help other people find belonging?
  3. What role can you play in helping others find purpose?
  4. The apostles catch 153 fish — far more than they needed in that moment.  What does that tell you about God’s plans for the world?

Blessings,

MM

 

 

 

Easter 2018: The Cross of Christ Saves

Are you good enough?

 

One of the most popular truisms of our time is the notion that “good people go to heaven.”  Of course there are dozens of subtly different takes on this idea, ranging from complicated systems of karma to the simple axiom that you get what you pay for.  But the core of the idea is the same: good people get rewarded, even in the afterlife.

The problem with the idea is that the definition of “good” is so blurred that one can never know if one is good enough.  Where is the line?  How much good must outweigh the “bad?”  How much lawfulness outweighs lawlessness?  And what happens if you were 49% good, but 51% bad?  Does it seem fair to be 100% condemned if you weren’t 100% bad?  And even then, what if just tipping the goodness scales (i.e. 50.1% “good”) still isn’t good enough?  What if dwelling in the presence of God requires 100% goodness?

Well here’s the bad news — it does.

So here’s the good news — Jesus was.

And here’s the truth — good people don’t go to heaven.  Forgiven people do.

In Luke 23:39-43, the thief that hung on the cross beside Jesus fully admitted his own guilt.  Still, he hoped Jesus would have mercy on him.  Unfortunately for him, he was long past any chance to be good enough for it, and he knew it.  So when he asks Jesus to remember him, what would be a “just” response?  What would have been fair for Jesus to say to him?

The Cross of Christ is scandalously unfair, in fact.  Good thing it’s unfair in our favor.  Just as Jesus’ crucifixion was unfair against him.  But he was willing to endure that injustice so that he could give the thief the answer that we would all want to hear: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The glory of Easter is simply this — Jesus is the first born of the resurrection life, never to die again.  And by his mercy and grace, he invites us to partake in it with him by faith.

For reflection:

  1. Have you ever heard that “good people go to heaven?”  Where did you hear it?  Did you believe it?  How do you feel about that idea today?
  2. If we do have to be “good enough” to be saved, what does that imply about the character of God?
  3. Many people have heard the gospel before but choose not to believe and follow Jesus.  What might be standing in their way?  Is something standing in your way?

For meditation:

Imagine that you are the thief on the cross.  There is no longer any denying that your mistakes have caught up with you.  And Jesus is so close you can speak to him.  What would you say?

A blessed Easter to you,

Pastor Mike

 

 

 

Lent Prayer Guide, week 6

Week 6, March 25th, Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week

The Cross of Christ: The Treasures that Come from Suffering

Silence

Close your eyes and take five deep breaths.  In this moment of silent time, let your daily concerns fade into the background of your mind.

 

Pray

(Pray the following slowly, intentionally, and in silence)

Loving God,

I am just beginning to realize how much you love me.

Your son, Jesus was humble and obedient.

He fulfilled your will for him by becoming human and suffering with us.

I ask you for the desire to become more humble

so that my own life might also bear witness to you.

I want to use the small sufferings I have in this world

to give you glory.

In your grace, strengthen my life by the example of Jesus.

He was never apart from you, and knew the treasures for which he died:

The salvation of this world you love.

Help me to feel how close you are.

To remember the treasures you promise in spite of suffering,

and to live in union with you.

Amen.

 

Read

(Read the following passages slowly, intentionally, and aloud)

 

Matthew 26: 6-13

6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

 

Romans 5:1-8

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

 

Reflect

  1. It is easy to consider the “waste” of the extravagant material value of the perfume the woman anoints Jesus with.  Why did Jesus defend her choice to use it the way she did?
  2. What does Jesus’ reaction tell us about the value of money from God’s point of view?
  3. What does this memorable event tell us about the “treasures that come from suffering?”
  4. Early Jesus followers knew full well that their lives would entail hardships.  What kinds of hardships might you endure as a Jesus follower in your context today?

 

Read

(Read the passages above again, aloud)

 

Pray

(Pray the prayer above again, intentionally, and now aloud)

 

Action

What can you do, this week, to courageously endure a hardship for Jesus’ sake, remembering the treasures that Jesus promises those sufferings will lead to?

 

About Lent: Lent is a season during which we remember the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.   This guide is designed to be a guide for those who wish to wholeheartedly enter into the story behind Lent, just as Jesus’ disciples did.  You may have been following Jesus for decades.  You may have never set foot in a church.  At the foot of Christ’s cross, none of that matters.  All that matters is that God gave his only begotten Son to save the world.  To save this town.  To save you.

For the season of Lent, I’m going to pause my normal routine of summarizing and reflecting on the sermon, and offer this resource for guided prayer and scripture reading.  To use this guide, simply follow the instructions for each part, giving yourself enough time to absorb the content and enter in with your body, mind, and spirit.

Lent Prayer Guide, week 5

Week 5: The Cross of Christ Reconciles Us to One Another

Silence

Close your eyes and take five deep breaths.  In this moment of silent time, let your daily concerns fade into the background of your mind.

 

Pray

(Pray the following slowly, intentionally, and in silence)

Loving Lord,

it’s so hard to love the world sometimes

and to love it the way Jesus did seems impossible.

I am far too inclined to seek comfort,

And stay as comfortable as possible.

Help me to be inspired by Jesus’ love and

guided by his compassionate example,

journeying with those who are suffering.

I need you, God, to give me support in this journey.

Show me how to unlock my heart.

Let me be less fearful of the pain and darkness

that will be transformed by you into Easter joy.

Amen.

 

Read

(Read the following passages slowly, intentionally, and aloud)

Matthew 27: 45-46

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). 47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

Hebrews 5:7-9

While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.

Reflect

  1. When Jesus cries out the words of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) how does it make you feel?  What questions does it raise?  What questions does it answer?
  2. What can we learn from Jesus’ own prayers?  How did he pray?  Why was he heard?  Were his prayers always given a “yes” answer from the Father?

 

Read

(Read the passages above again, aloud)

 

Pray

(Pray the prayer above again, intentionally, and now aloud)

 

Action

What can you do, this week, to intentionally set aside your comfort and enter into someone’s struggle?

 

About Lent: Lent is a season during which we remember the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.   This guide is designed to be a guide for those who wish to wholeheartedly enter into the story behind Lent, just as Jesus’ disciples did.  You may have been following Jesus for decades.  You may have never set foot in a church.  At the foot of Christ’s cross, none of that matters.  All that matters is that God gave his only begotten Son to save the world.  To save this town.  To save you.

For the season of Lent, I’m going to pause my normal routine of summarizing and reflecting on the sermon, and offer this resource for guided prayer and scripture reading.  To use this guide, simply follow the instructions for each part, giving yourself enough time to absorb the content and enter in with your body, mind, and spirit.