Spring is here! I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some changes. You know what I mean, the gray dreary skies of winter, the cold ground and trees and landscape with hardly any color. That’s all changed now as everything in God’s creation becomes alive again with vibrant colors. Even the birds that have hung around all winter are getting more color. The male Gold Chickadee has a new gold coat that he shows up in at our bird feeder and a Baltimore Oriole, a new arrival is showing off his pretty coat.
Nice weather is also time for some changes around the house. Did you ever hear of “spring cleaning?” Well let me tell you around our house that means more than just “regular cleaning.” It means moving furniture, polishing things, getting into tight places with a mop that hasn’t been touched for a while. I’m not complaining, I’m just stating a fact. Change is hard work.
For instance, our deck is 21 years old. It’s still in pretty good shape, as far as still being sturdy is concerned, because over the years some nails pounded here and some sanding done there has kept it that way. The problem is that even though I clean it every spring, it is now time to re-stain it. After Linda and I spent many hours brushing and spraying, it looks as good as new on the outside.
I think about how much time we spend making our material possessions look new and how much time we spend in changing our spiritual lives. When you think about it, the process of real change for the Christian is on the inside and not on the outside. That’s what Jesus was trying to explain to the religious leaders in the scripture above. Paul said: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come!” (2Cor.5:17)
In the weeks leading up to Easter as we read and prayed through our Lenten study book, we had many opportunities to grow and change.
When I look in the mirror, I see my physical reflection. I need to remember that only God can see the “real me” and with the Holy Spirits leading He will continue to do some serious “house cleaning.”
Next men’s breakfast:
Saturday | May 21st | 8 a.m.
Ma Maw’s Diner | Baltimore
At 7:24 in the morning and the evening or near those times, I’ve been praying, “What’s next, Papa? What dream do you have for our church that only You can fulfill? Let New Zion see the new possibilities you have for us to reach new people and make new disciples for Jesus Christ. Amen.” It is my prayer that you have been joining me as well. I’ve also been using the Lenten prayer guide to pray for specific ministries of New Zion and also for our surrounding communities. I’m looking forward to seeing how God is going to answer those prayers. I’m expecting great things and for God to do a work in and through us as the church.
All this prayer is for us to be the church God has called us to be. A group of us sensed God’s call to spiritually rebuild New Zion and have been meeting together on Sundays after the second service for food, prayer, and training in revitalization by Thom Rainer. This is by no means a closed group; it is open to any-one. Feel free to ask someone who has been attending about it. If you plan to join us, please let me know or another of the group so we can have enough food for everyone. This group is not formed just for education, but also for action. It does no good to learn if we aren’t willing to implement what we learn.
Revitalization means to live again. After 200 years, there are some areas where our vitality as a congregation has ebbed away. There are others where it has died. There are still others where life still thrives. As we approach Easter, the time when we celebrate God raising Jesus from the dead, what better time is there than now to focus on God breathing new life in us as the church. Jesus’ resurrection changed every-thing. The disciples were changed. They went from a fearful group huddled together in an Upper Room to a group moved by the Spirit boldly proclaiming the Good News on the streets of Jerusalem and beyond. The world was changed. They realized the truth that Jesus was who He said He was after the resurrection. The whole calendar system changed to reflect Jesus as the hinge of history. The world was impacted as the Christians ministered to the sick and dying without fear because of the promise of the Resurrection.
We are praying and working with God to revitalize New Zion Church because we want to be a 7:24 church. A 7:24 church is not just a church that prays at 7:24. It is a church that hears God’s word and then acts on it. Hear Jesus’ word found in Matthew 7:24 (NRSV), “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” That’s why we are asking God, “What’s next, Papa?” That’s why we will be taking practical steps toward revitalization. We want to be a wise church built on the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ. He is the only firm foundation for New Zion. It is not enough for us just to hear, we must act on them. Let’s move forward for the glory of God allowing Him to breath new life into us. He is the Resurrection and the Life.
Adventurously expecting God’s work in us,
Verizon Wireless created one of the most memorable marketing campaigns ever in 2005. In their commercials a so-called “test man,” accompanied by a crowd of network engineers, travels the country asking the simple question, “Can you hear me now?” in an ongoing exercise to determine the reliability of the mobile phone carrier’s network.
The “catch phrase” caught on. The company’s market share went up and employee turnover went down. It seemed people could relate to the struggle to connect. Folks were tired of dropped calls and unreliable communication systems. And Verizon sent a message that they wanted desperately to connect with its subscribers and wanted its subscribers to be able to connect with each other.
At the risk of selling Him short, God has done the same. Even when the Kingdom had split in two, He kept sending His message. He gave the people of the Divided Kingdom some 208 years to decide whether they would “accept” or “reject” His call. He sent His own “technicians” to get the message out. We call them “prophets.”
The job of the Verizon technician is unique. But not nearly as unique as the task given Hosea. Hosea, himself a prophet, appeared in a down time in the nation of Israel. The reality is that people often hear best when things are at their worst. So Hosea signed on with God. But God gave him a most unusual assignment. Hosea’s life would be his message. He was to marry a prostitute named Gomer and love her. What an incredible request! (Just imagine a young man with a seminary degree in hand trying to explain that one to a pastor search committee.)
The tough assignment was made even more difficult as Gomer left Hosea. She would conduct her ‘transactions’ with customers and all the time in her mind believing they were the ones supporting her. In reality, though, it was Hosea who continued to care for her and provide for her necessities even during her times of unfaithfulness.
God tells Hosea to go and demonstrate his love for her, so he does. Now picture this scene, as ugly as it is: Hosea pays some Hebrew “pimp” for some time with his wife, Gomer. When she enters the room expecting her next customer, she comes face-to-face with her husband. It is then that Hosea tells her again he loves her and wants her to come back home.
It’s the lived-out message that Hosea later gives in words. And it’s the same message God sends today. He loves us—even in our extreme unfaithfulness. And he wants us to come back home, even though we have abandoned him. But much like a call on your cell phone, you can hit the “accept” button or the “reject” button. You have the power to send God to voicemail and make him wait. Or you can answer his call today. The people of Israel had 208 years to pick up and they never did. The network is clear. The message is reliable. Can you hear him now?
*From material provided with The Story. Used with permission.
The decisions you make and the actions you take affect those around you.
Rehoboam learned that lesson the hard way. Rehoboam followed his father Solomon to the throne of Israel. Solomon had exacted harsh labor on the people. A delegation, led by Jeroboam, went to the new king and asked him to take away the harshness.
In private, Rehoboam asked his elder council what he should do. They advised that he become a servant to the people, lighten their load, and the people would always be faithful servants to the king.
His circle of younger friends gave him just the opposite advice. They told him to work the people harder. He liked that idea, told the delegation his plans, and wound up with a divided kingdom.
At one time or another all of us are impacted by someone else’s decisions or actions. When we suffer the negative consequences of another’s wrongheaded decision, God can redeem the situation. Although Rehoboam wound up ruling only two tribes—Judah and Benjamin (as opposed to Jeroboam’s rule over ten tribes)—it was through Judah that Jesus came to us. God can work, and often does what seems to us as his best work, in situations that seem the most difficult.
We should always consider how our decisions and actions affect those around us. In “systems thinking” it is said that “you are the highest leverage point in any system you are in.” More simply stated, you can make a difference. You are more “powerful” than you think you are––no matter your station in life.
Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s use of the South African rugby team to help heal a nation divided by apartheid. In one scene of the movie he explains to a team member, “Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here.” He knew his actions would have a ripple effect on those around him. Eventually the blessing of that “ripple” washed across the nation.
Rehoboam made a bad decision, but it was really his father Solomon’s actions that divided the kingdom. He forsook the one true God and chased after other “gods,” he neglected to serve the people and instead forced them to work harder, and he was focused on himself, as reflected in his accumulation of wives, gold, and horses in direct disobedience to God’s counsel. His son Rehoboam was merely living out consequence of those decisions and actions.
Learn from Solomon’s mistake. Love God first. Love others second. And serve those that do not yet know God. You will be surprised to see how far your ripple will travel.
*From material provided with The Story. Used with permission.
New Zion United Methodist Church will present its annual live nativity from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12.
Members of the church will portray the nativity Bible characters. Live animals will be included in the scene, as well as music. Live music and a secret family gift shop where all items are $1 will be available inside the church. There will be crafts for the children and free refreshments for all. Donations will be collected for the food pantry
Reflecting back over my life as Christmas and 2016 approaches, my mind went back when I was much younger living at my parents home as a child with my sister. I remember playing Christmas music on the phonograph and enjoying the decorations. I also remembered my excitement and the anticipation, but before that, we couldn’t wait until the Sears Wish Book would come in the mail.
The first Sears Wish Book was printed in 1933. (I don’t remember that. I looked it up.) Over time it has diminished in size and was even discontinued at one point. It was revived in 2007, but the one I saw was nothing in size compared to the books I remember from my youth. Children today don’t really need one. They have the Internet and their high tech toys to cruise the information highway to identify their holiday “wants.” Because of that, Sears went to an online version now and only print a hard copy in Canada. “Back in the day,” the Sears Wish Book helped us answer the seasonal question: “If you could have anything for Christmas, what would you ask for?”
Every year my sister and I would look through the catalog and either dog-ear a page or circle our choices in pen. We didn’t want Santa to miss our requests.
You may not need the Sears Wish Book today, but you have some wishes too, don’t you? So for Christmas this year, how would you answer the question, “If you could have one thing in the world, what would it be?”
Solomon had to answer that one. He asked for wisdom. And God gave it to him. But by the end of his life he had accumulated more and more: more gold, more horses, more wives. He had it all and wanted more. In the midst of all these gifts he lost sight of the Giver. He turned away from God and lost it all.
Another King gave us another path to follow. He had it all and gave it all . . . for us. In the Christmas season, or any season for that matter, you can guard yourself from the tyranny of too much stuff by giving. Simply give so that others can simply live. That’s what the King born as a baby in the manger did.
And my wish? That you visit the manger and find him.
Our yearly Advent Ingathering will begin November 29th. You have already been generous with your giving to Samaritan’s Purse Shoe Boxes with your filled boxes and monetary donations. The current total is 126 boxes.
The Advent Ingathering Donations for this Christmas will be four worthwhile charitable groups. Please give generously to these groups. We will collect money throughout Christmas. Mark your offering “Advent”. We will divide the money equally among the four groups.
1. Baltimore Food Pantry — With our support and the support of the community, they are able to serve over 56 families each week.
2. Good Neighbors in the Village – This group supports the summer lunch program for the children, the senior citizen’s chair volleyball & weekly lunch. They build and install ramps for the northern portion of Fairfield County with some monetary assistance from Fairfield County Center for Disabilities.
3. UMCOR – Flood relief for Charleston, SC.
4. Kokomo Urban Outreach – After the Mission Team traveling to the Outreach Center, there is much need to help a town greatly affected by the auto industry lay-offs.
When Pope John Paul died, a man named Rogers Cadenhead quickly registered the web address www.BenedictXVI.com, thinking this might be the name chosen by the new pope. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, he did choose the name Pope Benedict XVI, causing some to question what the Vatican would do to get the rights to that domain name.
Cadenhead didn’t ask the Vatican for money. Instead, in a humorous manner on his blog he suggested a few things he would trade for:
1. Three days, two nights at the Vatican hotel.
2. One of those hats (referring to the bishop’s hat).
3. Complete absolution, no questions asked, for the third week of March 1987. *
Are you wondering what Rogers did the third week of March in 1987? Me too, but does it really matter? Most of us have at least a week for which we’d love to have total forgiveness.
We discover in The Story that David did. One day when the army is at war, David, who is the commander of the nation’s military, neglects his duties and stays behind. He sees Bathsheba, seduces her, gets her pregnant, murders her husband, and tries to cover up his actions by deceiving his general and soldiers. Then, he marries Bathsheba and she bears their child.
It looks as if David will get away with all of this, but he doesn’t. God sends his prophet Nathan to confront David by telling him a story about a poor man with one lamb. David knows something about sheep and shepherds, so he listens. Nathan says that the poor man has a rich neighbor who needs to slaughter a lamb to feed a guest, but instead of taking one of his many sheep he steals the poor’s man’s one lamb.
David is incensed and says that man should be put to death. Nathan then declares, “You are the man!” At that moment David must have wished he had bought a domain name that he could swap for absolution. He may have wanted to make excuses. Explain things away. Blame it on Bathsheba for taking a bath in broad daylight where he could see. But instead of making excuses, David confesses. “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13).
And God did with David’s sin what he will do with yours and mine. He put it away (Psalm 103:12-13).
You can do what David did. Whatever your “third week of March” might be, sit down with it, yourself and God. Confess your sin, and then, let another shepherd from Bethlehem forgive it. That’s better than any domain name you might secure.
The world is going crazy! Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming! We need to make the stores profitable. We need to lavish gifts on ourselves and those we care about even those that have need of nothing. We have to hang greenery and go to parties. We need to make sure everything is ready because Christmas is coming! The presents need wrapped. The toys need put together. The stockings need stuffed. The feast needs to be bought. Christmas is coming!
All so we can rip open packages and see expressions of joy on faces for a few moments on Christmas day. Then as the day goes on and the newness wears off and the toys break or the clothes don’t fit, all that stuff is set aside for a Christmas feast with family and friends. Then the next day is spent exchanging the gifts that weren’t quite what were expected and followed perhaps by starting to take down all those decorations we spent weeks buying and putting up because we’ve got to go back to work soon and the drudgery will begin once again.
Maybe I should have started this out by saying that the world has gone crazy, at least here in the U.S. This craziness has been going on for years. For back in 1957, the year I was born, Dr. Seuss wrote about a creature that didn’t like Christmas at all and particularly didn’t like the way that the Whos down in Whoville celebrated it. So the Grinch thought,
“I must stop this whole thing!
“Why, for fifty-three years I’ve out up with it now!
“I MUST stop this Christmas from coming!
. . . . But HOW?” *
Dr. Seuss was fifty-three when he wrote this. So the craziness of Christmas that the Grinch hated must have been happening as long as Dr. Seuss could remember. So Dr. Seuss had the Grinch steal all the decorations and presents and fixings for the feast and climb to the top of Mt. Crumpit to dump it, but before he did, he paused to hear the boo-hoos of the Whos. Instead he heard singing, softly at first, but then the singing grew. He was surprised.
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!” *
Christmas is coming! But where does your Christmas come from? If you woke up on Christmas morning and everything was gone, would you boo-hoo or would you sing. Does your Christmas come from a store or does it mean a little bit more? Even if all the trappings are taken away, do you still have a reason to sing?
* Geisel, Theodor Seuss. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss [pseud.]. TM & © 1957, renewed 1985 by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. New York: Random House.