This last Sunday we got to explore the "Birthday of the Church" and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is often the least understood of the Trinity - almost as confusing as the concept of the Trinity itself. How can God be three and one at the same time? And how exactly do we understand God as Holy Spirit?
Part of the problem is that humans and human language are limited and God is limitless. As a result, all of our language about God tends to fall short. The best we can do is to say what God is like - understanding that any of our metaphors will be deficient in some way.
With that said, however, the best images we have for the Trinity describe the interrelated expressions of the "three persons" of the Godhead acting in perfect unity. See the table below for examples.
In each of these examples, there are differences in the three terms and yet it is impossible for any aspect to function or exist without the other. And in each of these, the Holy Spirit plays the critical role of unifying action. In the Bible, it is the Holy Spirit which hovers over the waters of creation, inspires God's people to create and live, and empowers believers to live out their purpose of worship and witness.
May we receive the gift of God's Holy Spirit to us with gladness! And may we yearn to know God more and more.
[For more on the Holy Spirit, check out this great video from The Bible Project].
Why do bad things happen to good people?
That perennial question has haunted many spiritual seekers trying to reconcile the notion of a "good" God with the brokenness they see in the world around them.
Through the narrative of the Gospels, however, the question is answered with a different question: Why did the worst thing happen to the best person?
This week we reached the climax of our journey through the Gospel of Mark as we read of Jesus' last moments on the cross in chapter 15:33-39. In a moment of staggering realism, Jesus cries out feeling abandoned and forsaken by God the Father. Jesus, the only sinless person, was betrayed, arrested, abandoned, falsely accused and condemned, mocked, tortured, and executed.
God incarnate forsaken by God transcendent... How can God forsake Himself?
The truly profound revelation in this cry is that God out of the depth of His love emptied Himself in the person of Jesus so that humanity could be rescued in the depths of our brokenness. On the cross, Jesus took on all the weight of sin and death. Three days later, He demonstrated the futility of death's sting through an empty grave.
In one of my favorite songs by Matt Maher, the all-to-familiar questions we ask about pain and suffering in the world are met with the revelation of the Lord's nearness. God, where were you when everything came crashing down around me? Where were you when I was lost and afraid?
You were on the cross. All alone. Forsaken. Dying for us.
May we live today in the knowledge that Christ has suffered with us through the worst that life can bring...and in the knowledge that Sunday is coming. The grave does not have the last say. And one day all things will be restored.
We're approaching the end of our first Greenhouse Cohort, a group designed to invest in leadership development for those who want to serve God's kingdom more intentionally. This week we talked about the discipline of witness through testimony. We don't often think of witness, or evangelism, as a spiritual discipline, but remembering and retelling the good news of Christ to others actually does just as much good for our spiritual life and development as it does for others!
What is Witness?
Whether you realize it or not, if your faith in Christ is at all public knowledge then you are a witness for Christ. People will associate you and your behaviors with the name of Jesus. In this way, witness can be somewhat conceived of as a passive thing. But real, healthy and vibrant Christian witness comes from a life lived intentionally trying to bring glory to God and God's kingdom. In fact, the word we translate as "testimony" or "witness" in the NT is marturia, the same word from which we get the idea of martyrdom. Martyrs aren't glorified because of their death alone, but because of how their sacrifice amplifies the message of their witness. Marturia - witness - is a life lived and a life spent testifying to the good news of Jesus.
So that's all well a good. But, you may ask, do I really need to SAY things to people? Why should I have to do anything beyond trying to live a decent, godly life? Well, firstly, Jesus specifically commands us to tell others about the good news of life with God (Mark 16:15) - so that's a part of living that decent, godly life!
But the real selling point for me is that intentionally witnessing to others is one of the most joyful acts in your Christian life! There is no greater joy than sharing your heart with someone else and seeing them encounter Jesus in a new way because of your story. The problem is that we often make sharing our faith with others all about convincing the world of what we believe in debates about religion. Healthy witness is about shining a light upon the hope and love that has captured our hearts so that those who are hurting can find it as well.
So what's your story? Where does your story intersect with God's larger story of redemption in the world? How have you been changed because of that? Go and tell it!
50 years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his final speech - a rousing call for justice and an end to segregation, even as he acknowledged that may not live to see it. His words held even more profound weight when he was assassinated just one day later.
In remembrance of Martin Luther King's legacy and pursuit of justice through nonviolent action, let us follow in his footsteps, fighting for injustices we see around us, standing up for our peers, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Let us not forget the ways we can be God's light to our brothers and sisters despite the darkness that may seem to be closing in around them.
One of my favorite stories on being "born again" comes from singer/songwriter Rich Mullins. He said he was being interviewed by a representative from an evangelical program that wanted to have him as a guest but felt like they needed to check him out beforehand because of rumors they'd heard.
They asked him how old he was when he became a Christian, and he said, "I guess about 2 or 3." "So young?" they responded, "What happened?" Rich said that in Sunday School they sang a song, "Come into my heart, Come into my heart. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus..." The woman said, "Well, that's not what I meant. You couldn't have possibly been old enough to understand what you were praying." And then Rich responds, "Lady...we never understand what we're praying. And God in His mercy does not answer our prayers according to our understanding, but according to His wisdom."
Rich goes on to talk about how he was baptized at the age of 10 because after saying a bad word in front of his mom he knew he'd sinned and needed to get right with God. The lady pressed further and said, "No, but what we really want to know is when were you born again." Rich said, "Lady, which time?" He goes on to explain that he used to get born again about once a year, then at college it turned into more of a quarterly thing. Finally, by the time he hit his forties, he was getting born again about 4-5 times a day.
When Are We Saved?
As a Christ follower in this faith tradition we call Brethren, I believe that people ought not to be baptized until they can really understand what is they are professing when they call Jesus Lord of their lives. Rich's story brought up a great question, though. When do we ever really know what we're praying when we ask God into our hearts? I think we have to admit a certain amount of ignorance out of humility. We never know fully what we are getting ourselves into, but in faith we attempt to put our whole selves in God's hands. And in our imperfection, we have to continually give ourselves over to God as we mess up and discover parts of ourselves that we didn't even know we had that must be given to God.
Brethren have put voice to this process by saying, "I am saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved." Salvation is not an event, but a process. What Jesus accomplished through his life, cross, and resurrection is being accomplished in us continually and will someday be accomplished in its fullness when all things are made new. Accepting salvation as a free gift of grace (Eph 2:8-9) is the first step of working out that salvation through an active faith made concrete in our lives (Phil 2:12, Ja 2:18).
As a pastor, this makes my job both way more difficult and way easier at the same time. It's more difficult because I cannot simply get folks to pray a prayer and be settled til they get to heaven. I have to actually love, care and invest in them. Yet it's also way easier because it means I have the opportunity to freely meet them where they are and guide them through the next step in their journey with Jesus. It's an enormous privilege. It also gives me the freedom to acknowledge that I am still being saved in the process as well. I am still learning and growing. I am still making mistakes, being forgiven, and being healed.
What about you? Where are you in the process? I invite you today to have that conversation with Jesus, and invite your friends and family as well.
The following is an article written by former pastor of GFBC, John Drexler. We reshare his gracious words here with great affection. Pastor Drexler currently serves at First Brethren Church of Burlington, IN.
I grew up in an Independent Baptist Church in New Jersey just 8 miles west of Philadelphia. I knew virtually nothing of the ordinance of foot-washing until I applied for admission to Grace Theological Seminary, a Grace Brethren School located in Winona Lake, Indiana. The application asked if I practiced foot-washing as an ordinance (the last few words helped me realize they were not talking about personal hygiene). I asked my dad, a Baptist pastor, for his opinion. He explained that he believed the Act was for the disciples benefits, but the message of service was the lesson to be learned from Jesus's action.
So, off to seminary I went, ready to defend myself against those who would attempt to compel me to wash someone's feet, or even worse, allow someone to wash mine. I had some very dear Brethren friends who attempted to show me the error of my ways, and even took me to a threefold Brethren communion service. This only served to make me more adamant that this couldn't be a Jesus-ordained practice, because it was too, dare I say, yucky.
Now jump ahead nearly 30 years. I was asked to preach at the First Brethren Church of Goshen, a very loving community of believers, as their pastor. This meant (horrors) I would have to participate in the foot-washing portion of the communion service. In my research, I was amazed at how Jesus's words seemed to be addressed to the whole Church, not merely just the disciples. He said, "I have set you an EXAMPLE (emphasis mine) that you should do as I have done for you," and "now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:15 and 17 NIV) That was all I needed to erase my Prejudice, but it still seems so awkward and personally invasive.
When the time finally came that I was to attend my first Brethren communion service as a participant, I looked forward with dreadful anticipation of someone washing my feet other than my mom or myself. I spent a few minutes explaining to the folks the whys and wherefores of foot-washing and why I believe Jesus ordained this to be perpetuated in His memory. I spoke to them of how it in itself has a threefold purpose (3 is a big number in the Brethren denomination). First, it speaks to us of service and serving one another. Secondly, it teaches humility. It's tough to be proud when someone far more Godly than yourself is on his knees washing your feet and explaining the love of Christ. And finally, it's because of the need for daily spiritual cleansing through the Word and confession of sins. Jesus said on that same occasion, "a person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean though not every one of you. (John 13:10 NIV )
So, I ventured forth for my first experience with foot-washing. We had a wonderful saint of God in our congregation at that time, Dr. Charles Munson, a former professor at Ashland Seminary. When this dear old man got down on his knees to wash my feet, I felt somewhat like Peter; terribly unworthy of his serving me. After he was helped to his feet and sat down, I in turn washed his feet. That was glorious.
I still can't say that after 13 years I enjoy having someone wash my disgusting feet, but I believe that is what the Lord commanded, and in doing so I am blessed.
As we approach Easter, our congregation is already making plans for gathering together for Communion on Maundy Thursday - March 29, 6:30PM. This year we once again have the pleasure of joining our sister congregation, Jefferson Community Church, as we remember this special night together.
As Brethren, we uniquely relive the love Jesus displayed to his disciples during their last meal together by sharing a meal together, serving each other through washing one another's feet, and finally sharing in the bread and the cup (the symbols of Christ's body and blood given for us). It’s more than just a strange tradition we preserve for fun. Sharing in the common meal, the humble service of footwashing after Jesus' example, and the remembrance of his gift for us forms us as a people when we engage in this together.
In our meal together, we celebrate the abundance of God's provision in love and the joy of his presence with us. In the service of footwashing, we enact the same servant love that bound the twelve together in that upper room. In the sharing of the bread and the cup, we remember Christ's body given and blood shed as a reminder of the love that compels us together to give up our lives as well in favor of a love still greater.
Sharing in Threefold Communion together is a physical reminder for our community that we were made to serve one another in humility, to share community in love, and to give our lives like broken bread and poured out wine for the sake of the world’s salvation - just like our Savior did for us.
I hope to see you all at our Three-fold Communion service! May the family come together to tell the story once more.
Check out these pictures from our recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic!
Once again our nation is facing tragedy in the aftermath of a mass shooting, and once again folks are taking to social media to vent their grief and frustration, and subsequently debate positions on gun control. And I fear that once again, we will soon move on, maybe with some taking a leave from social media, and then we'll forget all about those left hurting. The cycle is predictable, and little changes.
But what if there WAS something you could do? What if there was a productive way to respond that didn't involve Facebook or Twitter debates?
Right Place. Right Actions.
Part of the frustration we have with social media is that, despite all our methods of communication, messages seem to get lost in the wrong places. Your voice may be heard, but often only by folks who share your viewpoint or those who want to pick a fight. And neither groups likely have any decision making power to begin with. Our righteous desires for justice and restoration for a broken world get imprisoned by digital social bubbles.
Why waste your time on something that doesn't matter?
As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment." Instead of sowing discord, let's learn to direct our energies in more productive ways.
Our friends at the Brethren National Office have already offered some helpful words of advice on how we can think about and respond to such tragedies in a more Christlike manner. See the links below for Steven Cole's comments on a Christ-like posture for using your influence and Patrick Sprague's comments on how we can respond to mass shootings with lament. These are excellent resources for how our faith ought to shape the way we think about these issues.
But here, I'd like to offer some the healthy and productive ways to use your voice and actions to make a difference.
For Christians, our first and ultimate hope is always Christ. That hope is then made tangible in the ways that we engage with others in service and relationship. Finally, that corporate expression of faith helps to inform how we engage in democracy - sharing our concerns about justice with those who shape policy and practice in our world.
Social media can be a helpful way to hear diverse perspectives, but it should never take the place of prayer and community action. Like Jesus, our love in action should always be incarnated in relationship. So how is God inviting you to respond today?
An Aid for Goshen, IN Residents
If you're like me, you might wonder where to even start when it comes to contacting your representatives. Here's some handy information on our national and district representatives. If you live outside of Goshen, your representatives will obviously be different. But y'know, just Google it.
And if you're wondering where to start with prayer, come on over to Goshen First Brethren and we can give you some pointers.