Godspeed: Pace

God is a great gift-giver, even though we often neglect or refuse his gifts. One of the most famous is this invitation from Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Right away in the next verses, Jesus shows us one of God’s main gifts — Sabbath.

Sabbath basically means “rest,” and ever since the beginning, it is the way God has set the pace of our lives. It’s even one of the ten commandments! Over the centuries, there have been countless interpretations of what it means to honor the Sabbath, and during Jesus’ earthly life there were two basic approaches, which I’ll call External and Internal.

The external approach is like the “letter of the law.” You consciously choose to do what it says, regardless of circumstances. The internal approach is like the “spirit of the law,” when the focus is on whether or not the law’s goal is being met, and then adjusting your practice accordingly. These two basic approaches are the crux of many arguments about how to honor the Sabbath: either an objective or subjective approach. But an either-or misses the mark.

Jesus’ approach to Sabbath was both-and: we both make intentional, measurable choices to shape our lives around the Sabbath (external), and we remember the purpose of Sabbath and make occasional adjustments so the purpose is being met (internal).

When Jesus’ followers picked grain on Sabbath, they weren’t abandoning God’s law. They were hungry. And Jesus used the occasion to show us that in every situation we can shape our lives around God’s pace — we can intentionally set aside time and adjust when we need to.

One of the most helpful ways to understand Sabbath comes from the Jewish theology of the temple. In the Godspeed documentary series, N.T. Wright highlights that “The Jews will tell you that the Sabbath is to time what the temple is to space…the temple is the place where heaven and earth meet, and the Sabbath is when our time and God’s time intersect.”

Are we accepting God’s invitation to experience this intersection of the divine and earthly? To fully know that God is both transcendent and imminent; both beyond us and intimately near? This is the gift of Sabbath, and we’re being invited back to set our pace by it and live at Godspeed.

For reflection:
– Take a look at this week’s schedule. Consider canceling one appointment or somehow opening up just one hour to create Sabbath-space.
– Consider what you might do in your Sabbath-space that lifts your spirit heavenward (plain old idle time rarely does the trick); make a list and fill your Sabbath-time with those activities.
– As you make a habit of creating small Sabbath-spaces in your schedule, challenge yourself to gradually increase that space with the goal of having a full day each week that is an experience of God’s presence.

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Godspeed: Presence

If you heard there was a disease that was rampant throughout your community, would you want to know more about it? Given the emergency status of the measles outbreak in Washington state alone, my guess is you would.

There is a problem that is robbing people of a sense of ease in their daily lives: a “dis-ease” called busyness. Busyness may even be more harmful than most physical diseases because unlike those, busyness often feels good while we experience it. Being busy can make us feel important or productive. And most of us do little or nothing to become less busy.

Spiritually, one problem with busyness is that it also robs us of our ability to know God’s presence. Last week, we looked at the notion of “Place” and remembered that while we often ask “Where is God?” God is asking the same — “Where are you?” In a culture that is increasingly competitive and socially networked, our answer might all too often be “Where am I? Well I’m busy, of course.”

The story of Ruth is well-known among students of the Bible, but you rarely see it on wall posters or verse-a-day calendars. And yet it is one of the most powerful stories of commitment to presence in scripture. Ruth herself is a widow with a chance to start over. She has every reason to think of her own best interest. But instead she sets that aside and chooses to live fully present with her mother-in-law Naomi, for the rest of her life: “Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:17)

To be sure, there are many demands on our daily lives that we cannot run from. Life happens. Nevertheless, we are invited, and even commanded, to keep an account of the lifestyle we can choose and decide whether or not we will choose to be open to experience the presence of God.

For reflection:
– Make a list of the things in your life keeping you the most busy; which do you have the power to change (don’t forget to include how you spend your spare time).
– What is standing in the way of being fully present to God? Being fully present to the people in your life?
– What are some simple choices you could make to become more fully present, even just for the next week? Journal about your experience.

Many blessings,
MM

Godspeed: Place

“There’s no place on this earth without the potential for unearthing holiness.” –Eugene Peterson

This Godspeed concept challenges us to live at “Godspeed” – a way of life that puts us in the place to be face to face with God and with each other. And ever since our human parents were infected with sin, we as a human race have been hiding from God and yet, in the depths of our hearts, desiring to know where we can find God.

This tension is found in John 4:19-26. Jesus is in the middle of an exchange with a woman who had been running, hiding through a maze of relationships, an outcast who was seeking water from a well in the middle of the day. Jesus has just had a very direct conversation about her personal life. Jesus in essence is saying, “where are you in your life right now?”

Ironically, the woman shifts the awkward personal conversation to the hot topic of the day– which location is the place where God is to be found? I think the original hearers would see the humor in this. She’s staring the God son in the face… proposing where he can is found.

And of course Jesus gets right to the point: God is not in Rome or Mecca. Not in the places where you think you must go to find God, Jesus said. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (4:24).

I’ll never forget a moment 5 years ago when in the middle of the week, a couple came into our sanctuary and was right here on the stairs weeping, full bodied grief and they were desperate. They were pleading with God to take care of their baby girl, just months old, who passed away in her sleep the night before. They were stricken with overwhelming grief and even though they weren’t people of faith, they sought the only place they could think of to find God. This place. And they met God here through the people of this church.

But was more profound was that the concept of where God was found (here in sanctuary) was changed when I shared that I was actually standing outside their home the night before. As it so happened, I was helping my brother move and his home was down the street. I had heard the wailing and went over, praying in their front yard. I had unknowingly been part of God’s bringing many people to them over that awful time. God was present, God was moving toward them. Not only in a sanctuary but their home. You see Jesus is revealing the way of Holy Spirit as fundamental about this sanctuary as it is everywhere else:

Jesus redeems the idea of Place not by making it insignificant but by making all places significant because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is here. Spirt is here. In fact, part of the point of Jesus’ mission, to bring the life of heaven to birth on earth, was that from now on holy mountains wouldn’t matter that much. The Holy places wouldn’t have a monopoly on the encounter with God.

For Reflection:
– Do you have any “sacred” places in your life? What makes them so special?
– Can you envision the place you are right now as a sacred place? What would have to change to make it seem sacred?
– This week in prayer, each day make yourself fully available to God, like Isaiah did, and pray: “Here I am, Lord.” Journal about your experience.

This week’s post comes straight from UPPC senior pastor, Aaron Stewart.

The concept of “Godspeed” is inspired and informed by the work of Matt and Julie Canlis in their documentary film and study sessions. Learn more at http://www.livegodspeed.org

The Manger Is the Message

In Philippians 2:6-7, we read about the second person of the divine Trinity, the Son of God, “making himself nothing.” What does Paul mean? The theological term for this is kenosis which essentially means “emptying.” But it doesn’t mean Jesus was no longer divine, but rather that Jesus refused to take advantage of his divinity as he lived out his human life. He fully entered the brokenness of humanity — the brokenness we do and don’t create ourselves.

Jesus was born into an ethnic minority that had experienced the ravages of persecution and genocide throughout the generations. Jesus reveals a God who identifies with refugees, the poor, and the underprivileged. If you’ve ever had a personal experience of a truly impoverished person, you’re not likely to forget it. Pastor Aaron shared a story of meeting a boy named Pedro in Mexico who had only two things to his name: one square of toilet paper a day, and a tattered toy bear. That was it. Something runs deep within each of us that screams “This just isn’t right.” Not because the goal of life is to have more stuff. But because of the injustice of a child living without the essentials of a healthy life. And Jesus himself claimed to be Pedro’s servant by taking Pedro’s form.

In Luke 4:17-21, Jesus himself recalled the words of Isaiah, who described the purpose of the Messiah. And as followers of the Messiah, we the Church have not only a lot of work to do, but a clear manner in which to do it: with humility. Thomas Merton wrote: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire about whether or not they are worthy.”

As we move into 2019, consider the impact of not only bringing the good message of Jesus to the broken world, but embodying that message in the same way Jesus did: with humility.

For Reflection:
– What would it look like for you to take a step toward serving your community with more humility that you did last year?
– What might be holding you back from serving more humbly? Money? Time? Fear? Consider bringing those obstacles honestly to God in prayer.
– If you live in the UPPC community, consider new upcoming opportunities to serve.  Visit UPPC.org > Serve

Down to Earth: Flesh Comes Down

I’ve noticed a disconnect in our midst.  Pretty much everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve talked to bemoans the divisiveness in our culture these days.  No one seems to be celebrating it.  But on the other hand, most people seem to also agree that the divisions are increasing, not decreasing.  So, why the disconnect? 

One possible reason is because of all of the talking.  Beyond interpersonal dialogue, the internet has become a free-for-all of anyone’s ideas about anything.  So much talk that can lead us to create our identities around ideas, rather than actual issues.  And these “identity-based ideologies” are “by the far the more potent predictor of social distance.”*

In his brief letter to the Philippians, Paul is writing  to a church struggling with divisiveness, and he offers one of the most theologically and poetically rich passages about Jesus in all of scripture, and maybe in all Christian literature.  In only 3 verses, Paul describes the lengths to which God went to surpass mere talk of love and instead show his love to us in the flesh.

In Jesus, God is present in the flesh. 
Jesus’ birth in the manger is much more than just the arrival of a great prophet or teacher.  And Paul describes God’s presence in Jesus in two distinct ways.

1) In Jesus, God is present in the flesh as God.  
Jesus “very nature” is God, and he shares “equality” with God.  Paul begins this way because if we miss Jesus’ divinity, we miss the miracle of Jesus’ birth in the flesh.  It is precisely because Jesus’ very nature is divine that his birth fulfills the promise of Isaiah, that God would dwell with us.  Jesus’ birth as God among us fulfills the deepest human longing to be near the Creator.

2) In Jesus, God is present in the flesh as human.
God’s choice to be human does not empty him of his divinity.  The phrase in the NIV “made himself nothing” can be misleading.  The Greek verb kenoō denotes an emptying but is used figuratively to connote a neutralization of effect, or an emptying of significance.  So Jesus did not relinquish his equality with God, but rather chose to lay his divine power aside in his life in the flesh.  N.T. Wright puts it this way: “The decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience — this decision was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine,” which is to offer self-sacrificial love.**

Jesus’ human life reveals what it means to be divine, and also what it means to be human.  It is to be God’s image-bearers, capable of loving our communities as God loves — in the flesh.  

Faith in Action: 
1) What is one practical step you could take this Christmas season to embody God’s loving kindness in person?  Who needs to hear in your voice or see in your face God’s down-to-earth love?
2) Maybe even more challenging — from whom are you longing to experience that in-person kindness?  Is there someone who should know that you need to reconnect, even reconcile with them? 

Many blessings this Advent,
MM   

*”Why Has America Become So Divided?” Psychology Today, 9/5/18.
**N.T. Wright, NT for Everyone, Philippians 2:6-8.

Old Self, No Self, New Self

Colossians 3:5-17

“Put to death!”

That’s a pretty strong way to make one’s point, don’t you think?

Most of us don’t think of being in life-or-death situations all that often.  There are exceptions, of course.  Professions like police and military create more life-or-death situations than others, perhaps.  Also, people struggling with illness or injury, or people in certain violent areas of the country or world think about their life or death, to be sure.

But how often do we think about our spiritual life as one of “life or death?”  Paul puts it in those terms.  In Colossians 2 and 3, he reminds those who are in Christ that they “have died with Christ” and have also been “raised with Christ.”  Now here, he exhorts us “put to death” that which leads to death, while “clothing ourselves” with that which leads to life.

There are three essential sections to this passage: Old Self, No Self, and New Self.

  1. Old Self.  Before one finds life in Christ, one’s earthly self is perhaps all that matters to them.  The problem is that the earthly self has an insatiable appetite, which is why feeding it alone eventually reveals itself to be a futile exercise.
  2. No Self.  Of course Paul doesn’t deny our existence or even our individuality.  But his language in verse 11 is specific: “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”  The labels we inherit from our earthly cultures are made null and void in Christ.
  3. New Self.  Therefore, we are able to live out Christ’s virtues (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love) freely, without fear and without the futile motivation of serving our own needs.

In other words, because Christ is all, and is in all, when we are poured out for others’ sake as he was, he fills us with the fullness of his own life (see Col. 2:9-10)!

For reflection:

  1. What aspects of your “old self” are you ready to “put to death.”
  2. What aspects of your “old self” would you rather not let go of?
  3. What labels do you carry?  How does finding your identity in Christ set you free of those labels?
  4. Of the behaviors Paul lists in vv. 12-17, which do you find easy?  Which do you find difficult?  How can these more difficult virtues guide you in your prayer life?

Many blessings,

MM

Raised with Christ

Colossians 3:1-4

Where we “set our minds” is of the utmost importance!  When we live with and for Jesus, the reality of the Kingdom of God becomes clearer and clearer to us.  But this is no pie-in-the-sky pining away for utopia.  It’s not about letting our imaginations conjure a fantasy we wished we were living in.  It’s an acknowledgement and daily awareness of a reality that at one time we could not see, but in Christ we begin to see.

The first two chapters of Colossians focus largely on “what is true.”  In chapter 3, we see Paul turning the corner to the always-important question: “What does this mean for our lives?”

Having established that “you died with Christ” (2:20), Paul begins here with the encouragement that having died, we are also raised with Christ.  And that means new life in every facet.  We have new identities, new spiritual family, new purpose, and of course, new vision.  It was this kind of “kingdom vision” that set apart all the great ancestors of the faith, described in Hebrews 11.

For reflection:

  1. If the Kingdom of God were fulfilled today, what would it look like?  Use your imagination!
  2. Read Isaiah 61:1-4.  Take some time to visualize how the Messiah, Jesus, can transform people’s lives.
  3. Pray: what is God calling you toward, as God builds his Kingdom in this world through you, Christ’s body the Church?

Many blessings,

MM

 

Jesus Rescues

It was Bible Day Camp at UPPC all last week!  And that means that our regularly-scheduled series was on hold this week as we celebrated all the KIDS!

The overall theme of the week was Shipwrecked, and you can see tons of photos of all the fun on our UPPC Facebook page.

There was a unique focus each day, and together they all had something in common.

  1. Loneliness.  We know Jesus understood this, in his own life and as he interacted with various people.  There was a woman who was isolated for twelve years because of a medical condition, and Jesus “rescued” her by giving her dignity…and of course physical healing as well.
  2. Worry.  Everyone worries, right?  But it rarely does much good.  When Jesus is in the home of Martha and Mary, Martha is “worried and upset” about many things, but Jesus reassures her that only one thing really matters: himself.  He rescues her from the notion that she has to be good enough and invites her to enjoy his presence.
  3. Struggle.  There are internal and external struggles of course, and sometimes they even overlap.  A very wealthy young man approaches Jesus, asking how to inherit eternal life.  But when Jesus tells him to sell everything, he struggles with his dilemma.  The good news is that Jesus looked at him and loved him, unconditionally.
  4. Wrongdoing.  Everyone has done wrong at some point or another, but not everyone’s sin has been retold for centuries the way Peter’s denial of Jesus has been.  Even though Jesus didn’t “rescue” him that night, he sure did the next day — on the cross.  The same place he rescues each of us from the sin that otherwise holds us down and leads to death.
  5. Powerlessness.  Like Peter, when we do wrong we often deal with regret, or being powerless to change things.  When Peter felt powerless after his denial of Jesus, Jesus came to him — resurrected, never to die again.  What’s more, he didn’t leave Peter (or any of us) powerless.  Jesus empowered him to be the rock of Christ’s church and begin sharing the good news throughout the known world.

All of these things share in common one universal human feature:  weakness.  That’s why the “Shipwrecked” theme is so great.  When we are truly shipwrecked in our loneliness, worry, struggles, sin, or powerlessness, Jesus’ love remains constant, the Holy Spirit remains present, and the power of God is made perfect in our weakness.

For reflection:

  1. One question this time!  Consider any one of the five human attributes above.  Rank them in order, from the most relevant to you right now, to the least.  Bring each of them to God in prayer and ask God to make his power perfect in your weakness.

 

Many blessings,

MM

 

The Foundation of Subversion

Paul lays the groundwork for the subversive message of God’s Kingdom

When Julius Caesar died, it was said that he arose to the heavens as a star and was thus deified.  His adopted son, Octavian, who would later be more famously known as Caesar Augustus, identified himself as the “divine son.”  Therefore, Augustus’s rule was meant to be seen as divinely ordained and empowered; he was the “son of god.” And in the chaotic aftermath of Julius’s assassination, the message was clear — all one had to do was give complete loyalty to Augustus, and in return he promised peace — the PAX ROMANA.

Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus’ birth would be accompanied by the appearance of a star?

Is it any wonder that the angels proclaimed: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” ‭‭(Luke‬ ‭2:14‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Is it any wonder that Jesus would be known as the Son of God?

The apostle Paul writes his letter to the Colossians in a most ironically appropriate place: a Roman prison.  And from there, Paul not-so-subtly lets them know that in Christ, a new, different, and subversive kingdom exists.  No promise of “pax” from a human king will do, as all human kings and queens, systems and militaries, philosophies and ideals fall short of the glory of God.  This is why Paul will urge in chapter 2: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”

This is not competition between forces.  This is God’s desire to see the people of the world experience shalom, holistic all-around peace, that can only happen in dependence on Christ.   This is Paul’s motivation for so strongly emphasizing Christ’s supremacy — the desire that the whole earth would know God’s everlasting peace.

For reflection:

  1. Have you ever put your trust for “peace” in your life in something that disappointed?
  2. Where do you place your trust now?
  3. How does Paul’s undercutting of human authority make you feel (nervous, relieved, angry, confused, etc.)?
  4. Are there any changes you can make your life, so that you can “continue in your faith, established and firm, and not move from the hope held out in the gospel” (Col. 1:23)?

Many blessings,
MM

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