Recently our church family began serving a newly-opened retirement community and we are just getting to know some of the residents there. So far we are conducting a worship service that the residents are free to attend (or not attend), collecting large print books for their library, and I am visiting to eat lunch once a week.
So yesterday I was eating lunch with Rick (not his real name). He’s a retired father of 4 with fascinating stories to tell about the dozen or so states he’s lived in while he was a career man.
I noticed Rick sitting alone and decided to introduce myself. “I’m Bill.”, I said. “May I join you for lunch?” He looked at me quizzically and replied, “Suit yourself. I’m not much of a conversationalist.” I sat down. I ordered a salad and the broccoli soup. The soup never came but the salad was amazing and huge so I didn’t miss the soup anyway.
During our conversation Rick asked me a question that vexed me so powerfully that I sidelined my prepared blog for today and am writing this now. Rick, I think, was having trouble believing that I was there without an agenda -other than to just love on and serve the fine folks in that community. Then he asked me the question. I might, in fact, describe his query as the throwing of a dart. His question caught me off guard and penetrated my heart.
He asked, “What would you say your primary function as a Pastor is?”
I was stunned. I gave him an adequate answer I hope, but last night lying awake at 2 AM I thought of a better answer. Isn’t that just the way it often happens?
My ministry as a Christian and as a Christ-centered Pastor is simply to participate in what the Father, Son, and Spirit are on about.
The Blessed Trinity has, as I see it, one primary goal and that is to see to it that the entire human race comes to know the Father with the Son in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. In the finished work of Jesus Christ humanity has been brought into eternal objective Union with God. The primary function of the Church is now to educate the human race, to declare their identity in Christ, and to work alongside the Holy Spirit to break the chains of brokenness and bondage.
So when Rick (again, not his real name) asked, “What would you say your primary responsibility as a Pastor is?”- a better answer would have been, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…” Isaiah 61
I’m sure there has been one — perhaps even many over the past nearly 400 years since the holiday’s inception in 1621 as our country has gone to war repeatedly — but this is certainly the first one like it in my memory.
I have never seen so much anger and fear as is in our country currently. Our anger is driven by our fear of the unknown, and right now, our fear seems to have no bounds. In many cases, friend has turned against dear friend for the way they voted in the recent election. If that’s happened to you, I’m sorry. I know how that feels, as I have experienced it too.
It’s so easy to feel indignant and to try to defend yourself. But it’s really not about you at all. It’s about fear.
We all have a choice to make as to what role fear is to take in our lives — our lives, not those of others. Indeed there are reasons to fear, and for certain sectors of the population, those reasons feel especially intense right now. They fear with reason. (And to those who are fearful right now, please know that I stand with you, and that I see and hear you. Many do.)
Certain opinion pieces and predictions of what is happening in our world have made my heart beat fast with worry and dread too. This is nothing entirely new. Since the moment I learned I was to become a mother nearly twelve years ago, I began to worry about the future of our planet and what kind of place it was going to be for my children.
But every year, I learn more of the truth in the words of some remarkable individuals, which I share with you below. I share these not to say that fear is unwarranted, but that like a bright light in the darkness, there is always hope.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom
“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” ~ Swedish proverb
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” ~ Winston Churchill
“That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.” ~ Chinese Proverb
“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” ~ Arthur Somers Roche
“Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face.” ~ Nelson DeMille
“It is not the cares of today, but the cares of tomorrow, that weigh a man down.” ~ George MacDonald
“How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
So don’t worry about these things, saying, What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” ~ Jesus, Matthew 6:31-34
I find it remarkable that it is rarely a young person who has this kind of wisdom to impart. The young simply haven’t lived long enough to see that, for the most part, the things we fear the most never do eventuate — and, if they do, we are given the strength to survive and to endure. We do not walk through our suffering alone.
Also, while I used to view the command to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” as a conditional, if-then statement, I no longer believe that this is the case. I believe the Kingdom of God is all around us as evidenced by Creation, and within us — we have only to open our eyes to it and to live in light of it. In doing so, we become conscious of the fact that God has given us and every living creature everything we need.
Someday the walls around us will blur and melt away, and a new world will be revealed in all its fullness.
Until then, it is natural and entirely human to worry. But we must never lose heart.
When I tuck my daughter in at night, and see some childish worry etched in her face, I say to her, “Hey, who carries your worries at night?” She relaxes and smiles, “You, Mom.”
Likewise, only much more so, our Father God is able and willing to carry our worries for us.
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. I Peter 5:7
This Thanksgiving, try to fill the space inhabited by your worries with gratitude for what you have this day instead. Gratitude truly is the antidote to worry, as indeed is action.
Do what you reasonably can to make the world a better, brighter, kinder, gentler, more hope, love, and grace-filled place. As always, this starts with how we treat those around us, and those we encounter.
Lay bare the torch within you that is Christ.
And make a daily practice of gratitude.
You’ll be amazed to see what happens.
~ by Jeannine Buntrock
Image courtesy of Daily Hope.
“8 “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work. God’s Decree. 9 “For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” – Isaiah 55:8,9 (The Msg)
No matter what outcome you expected in this year’s 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, and the troubles going along with it, you have a reason for surprising hope! However, in the grace of God (and by God, I mean the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!), you are going to have to bear with a little counterintuitive thinking and acting to see and experience it.
I cited the bible verse above as a reminder of this counterintuitive difference between God’s thinking and ours. It might also be helpful to remember that one definition for “counterintuitive” is “something that doesn’t seem likely to be true when assessed using intuition, common sense, or gut feelings.” – Wikipedia
Another word for counterintuitive is “unreasonable”. I like that word because it really hits at the heart of our wrestling with God in troubling times. His talk and approaches just don’t seem reasonable from our (often painful and woefully blind!) vantage points! Understatement! Hmpf!
However, let me try to point you to a counterintuitive but surprisingly hopeful way of receiving this relational God – Father, Son and Spirit, revealed in Jesus:
God is pleased to be hidden and found in our human troubles!!!
THIS IS a central point in understanding God’s Good News as Good News! Right in the middle of mankind’s troubles, and when it seems all is lost, God so loves the world and sends his only Son into it (John 3:16-17), to save and not condemn it. He sends himself, personally, into our troubles! The Father then sends the Spirit through the Son, into our troubles, that we might participate in his kind of self-giving love along with him (Acts 2:33)!
You see, God IS love (and unconditional love at that!), so the God-logic is simple really! God loves us, humanity, despite our sinful condition, and therefore, in order to love us where we’re at, he comes to us where we’re at – in our troubles!
That is why there is no need to fear troubles, ULTIMATELY; rather we should seek and expect to find God in even the thorniest situations! In Jesus, God Reveals that he comes to fallen humanity exactly where it is: in our places of brokenness, poverty, homelessness, racism, misogyny, criminality (he died as a criminal even though he wasn’t one!), weakness, bondage, demon-possession, over-taxation, foreign occupation, sickness, failed political systems, and even death! REALLY! God, in Jesus DIED with, like, and for us, remember? John 19:30.
From Genesis to Revelation, in the bible, the great Revelation is this Relational God Who is with us in every kind of trouble, meeting us there to redeem and restore us from it in the most counterintuitive way possible – being with us in and through the mess! Ha! This is one reason why my bible reading is so awesome! God encounters me there as THIS God in OUR TROUBLES! Our fallen intuition, common sense and guts simply can’t get us where God actually is – with and for us unconditionally, even in our troubles! Yes, God is good and not intimidated by our troubles in any way! He goes where Unconditional Love goes when it Loves Unconditionally!🙂
We tend to run from this “holy” God, or picture him running from us, neither of which is true holiness as it pertains to God. THIS is holiness: God, the Holy One, doing what he ACTUALLY DOES, coming to us where we’re at to love us, and taking our troubles up into himself in Christ, healing us of them! For clarity, this love isn’t a warm and fuzzy substance apart from God, like warm jelly in a bowl, where everything “feels good”! No! God is himself this love! This means that love is the up-close and personal being of God, Father, Son and Spirit! It is the whole God Revealed in the person of Jesus, determined to judge and discern our troubles AS trouble, and getting rid of them (ouch and “suffering succotash” as Sylvester the cartoon cat would say! haha)
God judges and discerns us in this way for the sake of saving US, and growing us up to be and become all he has made of us in the humanity of Christ, eventually, without any troubles at all! Rev 21:4
Yes, If you want to find God these days, you’re going to have to be open to finding him right in the middle of the troubles in this world, even troubling elections and other insufferable ills! Not because God is evil or because he initiates our troubles, or because he’s naturally there and likes trouble – No! – BUT because we are his children in trouble and in need of him, and he is pleased to show up and be for us where we are at, by grace!
(Haven’t you noticed more people alert, and in prayer, and awakened to God at this election time when, to many, he also appears to be hiding? Ha! See! He’s both hidden AND found in troubles! Heehee)
Please remember that God is not ultimately found in things that are “going right” (even though He is found there too, being good and righteous), or “going wrong”. He is found in himself! He is found wherever he wants to be found and not where you want to find him! He is found by grace, and as grace, and not by works, morality, or the Republic, or the democracy, or wherever else you want to box him in (Except evil! God can’t be found as evil, or creator of evil, but only as the one who opposes it, makes it work on our behalf, and gets rid of it from the INSIDE out as he did in Jesus!)
“15 Truly you are a God who has been hiding himself, the God and Savior of Israel.” – Isaiah 45:15
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
*photo courtesy of testimoniesofhope.com
Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
I first heard that line from The Princess Bride when I was 15, watching the movie for the first time at summer camp. As a teenager it struck me as odd. I had not yet experienced life as pain and I questioned whether such an observation was really true.
I have seen the movie many times over the years and it has become one of my favorites. I no longer question that line, however. It is exactly right.
A good portion of our consumer economy is premised on the idea that pain can and should be avoided. We are bombarded with the message that medication, alcohol, food, cars, and a host of other products can remove the pain. We are bombarded with the message that the “winners” in life have no pain because they are successful and can acquire the right products to avoid ever having to feel pain. The “losers” in life, by contrast, are jacked up and out of luck.
This is a profound lie and we all know it, if we’ve lived long enough. Pain is integral to existence, it permeates our day to day to life and it can threaten to derail our lives if we are not careful. Jesus knows this better than most. He prayed that the cup of pain would pass from him – as we all do – but he also prayed that God’s will for his life would be done – as we all aspire to do.
Life is pain. So now what? Will we run from it, self-medicate it away, and try to shop it out of existence? Or will we follow Jesus in the path where he trusts the Father and relies entirely on the Spirit? As the Book of Common Prayer says:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
~ Jonathan Stepp
Thursday, October 13, 2016 – Beginning
Message One: GCI Norfolk Pastor Calvin Simon “May I Have This Dance?” “https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/16-10-13_sermon1_calvin-simon_may-i-have-this-dance_john-14-15.mp3”
Message Two: GCI National Ministry Coordinator Jeff McSwain “Slaying Grace” “https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/16-10-13_sermon2_jeff-mcswain_slaying-grace_john15.mp3”
Friday, October 14, 2016 – Morning Seminars
Seminar One: GCI National Ministry Coordinator Jeff McSwain “Reading Scripture With Jesus As Your Lens”
Seminar Two: GCI Baltimore Timothy J. Brassell “Proclaiming The God Revealed In Jesus”
Seminar Three: GCI Richmond Pastor Bill Winn “Spiritual Versus Secular?”
Friday, October 14, 2016 – Evening Messages
Message Three: GCI Regional Pastor Paul David Kurts “You Will Do Greater Things” “https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/16-10-14_sermon3_paul-david-kurts_you-will-do-greater-things_john14.mp3”
Message Four: GCI Richmond Pastor Bill Winn “I Am In You” “https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/16-10-14_sermon4_bill-winn_i-am-in-you_john14.mp3”
Saturday, October 15, 2016 – GCI Intern 15 Min. Messages
Message Five: GCI Intern Cory O’Neal “The Way, The Truth, and The Life” “https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/16-10-15_sermon5_cory-oneal_the-waythe-truth-and-the-life_john14.mp3”
Message Six: GCI Intern Cara Garrity “Sitting In Broken Places With Christ” “https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/16-10-15_sermon6_cara-garrity_sitting-in-broken-places-with-christ_john14.mp3”
Message Seven: GCI Intern Corey Lewis “Bearing Witness To God In The World” “https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/16-10-15_sermon7_corey-lewis_bearing-witness-to-god-in-the-world_john17.mp3”
Message Eight: GCI Intern Eddie Lowe “Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled” “https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/16-10-15_sermon8_eddie-lowe_do-not-let-your-hearts-be-troubled_john14.mp3”
Sunday, October 15, 2016 – Conclusion
Message Nine: GCI Baltimore Timothy J. Brassell “God Speaks And Acts In A Trinitarian Way” “https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/16-10-16_sermon9_timothy-brassell_god-speaks-and-acts-in-a-trinitarian-way_john16-17.mp3”
In the Wendell Berry book, Jayber Crow, the main character (Jayber) tells a lie as a young man in order to disguise his aimlessness. He is hitchhiking and a man he knows from his childhood gives him a lift. Jayber is now about 19-20 and he knows the man does not recognize him. Jayber never intended to rob the man but he made up an elaborate lie about a sick mother and hungry brothers and sisters and that he had to go to the city to find work to support them. The truth was, he was lost emotionally and did not know what to do with his life.
When the man dropped him off at his destination he shoved a 5-dollar bill into Jayber’s jacket pocket. Jayber took the money, he needed it, but it was a liar’s wage and he knew it. The 5 dollars became a shameful burden for Jayber.
Well, by and by Jayber made his way back to his home town and became the town’s only barber. The memory of his lie and his “liar’s wage” would not leave him, nor would its shame. One day the man who’d given him the 5 dollars, so many years ago, came and sat in Jayber’s barber chair. Seeing that he was the only customer in the shop Jayber took the opportunity to confess his crime and offered to repay the 5 dollars. The man refused the money by saying, “I already got 5 dollars.”
Do you see it?
Forgiveness, true forgiveness does not require repayment. Since the man had forgiven Jayber he was no longer in a place where he had to have the money back in order for their relationship to be whole. It was not easy for Jayber to accept such free and honest forgiveness but he did and he and the man never spoke of the 5 dollars again.
In the Atonement the Father, Son, and Spirit forgave humanity’s Sin and sins, we were no longer under any obligation to repay a debt. Most amazingly the Father, Son, and Spirit do not even want our attempted repayments. There is no need for penance, no need to try and balance the scales, no need to try and make up for our sins. It may be necessary and beneficial to try to make restitution to a person we have wronged. It may be helpful for us and for them but it will never improve the unconditional forgiveness we have all received in Jesus.
The statement from Jesus on the Cross: “Father forgive them…” is a done deal for us. Trust me there is nothing you can ever give back to triune God that you perceive you have taken. I can almost hear Jesus now, when I let guilt creep into my life over wrongs I’ve done, “Hey Bill, I already got 5 dollars!”
As Hank Coates has written: “Jonah, the Prophet who ran away, is the Lord’s. And the Lord won’t let Jonah go. And the Lord gets what the Lord wants. And what the Lord wants is that all people come to know his saving love that stands on the side of the oppressed, makes the crooked straight, and releases the captives from their chains.”
That’s what this message is all about as a local Church heads “outside the walls”, witnessing in Word and Deed to God, Father, Son and Spirit – The Lord! Check it out!
*photo courtesy of shainadomatilia.wordpress.com
“God loves me. Jesus loves me. God sent his son,” she declared, if a little woodenly.
I smiled and agreed. It’s comforting to hear those words from one’s child. But I wondered at the same time, what does that mean to a three-year old?
On one hand, it means everything. Mom and Dad love me. My brother and sisters and grandparents love me. Of course “God” loves me! Of course “Jesus” loves me! Of course “God” wants to give me wonderful things — who wouldn’t??
This kind of childlike trust and acceptance is after all, exactly what Jesus said he wants.
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:3
But on the other hand, it doesn’t mean very much! According to famous psychologist Jean Piaget, a three-year old inhabits the illogical Pre-Operational Stage of Development and will for several years to come. It won’t be until she is approximately 12 years old that she’ll be able to begin to grasp abstract ideas, such as an invisible but real God. It will be many years after that that she’ll begin to grasp through experience what true, unconditional love and sacrifice are.
So basically, at this point, Sunday School is indoctrination. Indoctrination that some say will serve the purpose of planting a seed — but which I hope will be one of many factors nurturing the seed planted already — divinely — there. (“Indoctrination” has come to refer to a religious environment that does not allow the learner to question or criticise beliefs — but originally, it meant simply to teach.)
But in order to develop a deep spiritual life and a faith that will survive the unavoidable storms of life, my daughter will need to progress past Sunday School to wrestle honestly with her hopes, doubts and questions about the reality of a dark, dying world bathed brightly in the healing, transformative light of an eternally loving God.
Unfortunately, it’s not a given. Many adults never do progress past Sunday School — past rudimentary, exclusive Christian belief — and spend their lives justifying why they are more “holy” and beloved than others because they act, or do not act, in certain ways.
I know I’m not alone in having believed once that I needed to earn love and acceptance — from my parents, the people around me, and from God. It was never true. I was always loved and accepted for my true self. My parents tried vehemently to warn me against certain life choices purely because they loved me and did not wish to see me hurt. And they felt my pain when I was hurt.
As a parent now, I understand that. I also try vehemently to warn my children against destructive life choices. And I feel every ounce of their pain.
So does God. But, just like a good parent, he doesn’t walk off the field when we make poor choices anyway. He walks with us.
I came late to my ten-year old son’s football game recently, to see that his team was, once again, significantly behind the other. Tears leapt to my eyes, and certainly not because I was disappointed in the score, but because somehow seeing him losing only highlighted the strength of my love for him.
It was a powerful moment, and I feel that in those moments, we catch glimpses of how God feels about humanity. We feel his joy at our successes, his sorrow in our pain, his quiet, steadfast presence in our loneliness and abandonment.
What I felt in that moment was how much God loves us when we are losing.
There is nothing more transformative than seeing that we are loved when we don’t deserve it.
To him, we are not losing, but growing. And to him, there is no deserving it.
So lose sometimes, dear one — but grow! Allow some of your false exterior, the one we all carry, to be sloughed off as you see that yes…
God loves you. Jesus loves you. God sent his son.
For always. No matter what. Without condition.
This, you can never lose.
~ by Jeannine Buntrock
This message of Good News is proclaimed to a congregation on mission with Jesus “Outside the Walls “of their Church bldg., literally.
The Gospel proclaims God, Father, Son and Spirit as the God who calls human beings to participate with Him in a special and gracious way that He provides in the power of the Holy Spirit. It reminds every member of Jesus’ Body that, even like God’s great leaders such as Moses, we can often keep giving God excuses as to why we don’t follow through on what He says. In the Light of His provision and grace Revealed in Jesus and in the power of the Spirit, our Father’s command comes to us through the Apostle Paul all the same, “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”
Check it out!
*picture courtesy of buildingabrandonline.com
There is an obscure short story by Edgar Allan Poe called “The Oblong Box,” and recently I had my beginner composition students write a literary analysis about it. The story is told from the first-person perspective of an unnamed narrator who must travel by boat from South Carolina to New York. He’s pleased to find out that among the other passengers, there’s an old artist friend and his new wife traveling. The narrator has never met the artist’s wife, but in past conversations the artist has regaled her beauty and goodness, so the narrator is looking forward to being properly introduced. The trip is delayed a few days (due to unforeseen circumstances, says the captain), but finally the narrator boards the ship, only to find his artist friend in a foul mood, the artist’s new wife looking decidedly plain yet flirting wildly with the other men on the boat, and the pair accompanied by a large oblong box addressed to his wife’s mother in New York. The narrator assumes the large box contains a painting, a replica of “The Last Supper,” though the contrast between the new wife’s appearance and what he had been told by her artist husband has him stumped. The narrator later learns [spoiler alert] that the artist’s dead wife is in the box, and the woman pretending to be his wife is her maid. The deception was necessary because at the time of the story, passengers would refuse to sail on a ship that was transporting a dead body. After a turbulent storm sinks the ship enroute, the crew and passengers must flee to the lifeboat. The artist refuses to leave the oblong box and instead, he ties himself to it and jumps overboard with it to his death.
I find this story insightful when considering the importance of the grieving process. The artist, wracked with grief over the loss of his wife, could tell no one, not even his narrator friend, that his beloved wife had died. He could not grieve what he had lost, nor could he receive support from others as he made the slow transition back to a new normal. Few people would discount the importance of grieving when it comes to deep losses, such as the loss of a loved one. However, the nature of human life is one of change and impermanence, and it’s worth considering how important it is to handle all of life’s changes in a similar fashion.
The book of Lamentations shows us that the nation of Israel was no stranger to grief, longing for what was once good but had passed away. The first chapter and first verse in Lamentations reveal the grieving that took place over Jerusalem’s destruction: “How deserted lies the city, /once so full of people! / How like a widow is she, /who once was great among the nations!/ She who was queen among the provinces /has now become a slave” (NIV). This poem demonstrates that acknowledging something good and beautiful is gone is the first part of grieving.
Sometimes the change is for something just as good or maybe better. However, any change means that something is being left behind, even if it is just the familiar. If it is something that you don’t want to let go of, it is important to be thankful for what you had and acknowledge your loss as you let it go. This could be the loss of youth or the loss of a career, but any change, even good change, means that something is going to be different. And this difference brings uncertainty.
By allowing ourselves to grieve the change and impermanence we face as human beings, we are better equipped to handle the uncertainty that comes from learning to live with different circumstances or in some new way. We reach out to others for support and comfort until we find our new normal, and we permit God to minister to us through others. By allowing ourselves to feel and express our loss and our uncertainty, we navigate the waters of grief without tying ourselves to that oblong box and throwing ourselves overboard.
~by Nan Kuhlman
photo courtesy of Hande’s blog