Life Happens…..

Life happens, doesn’t? Well it has for me, at least….I started this blog well over a year ago, but shortly thereafter, my story took an unexpected turn. And then a few months ago, things had started to calm done a little bit, and I thought I’d have some time to write…but not so much.

My summer combination of a youth ministry and preaching internship with a full (albeit online) course load kept me from doing much writing at all. And now, I am getting back into the swing of things at school, for my final quarter. Writing time will be almost certainly be nonexistent. I’m taking 25(!) credit hours (including upper-level Greek), actively involved in leadership for two campus ministries, involved with three (including my home) churches, preaching at least five times at various places this quarter, reconnecting with old friends while making new ones, applying for grad school (Rochester College), reading a stack of books that just seems to keep growing (I bought 5 yesterday), looking for my first full-time ministry position, trying to prepare for that ministry, getting back in shape, and beginning the wedding-planing process. But I still want to make a point to do a little bit of writing, for my own sake.

“He dies for lack of discipline…” —Proverbs 5.23

I may adopt Mitchell Powell‘s approach of tweet-like posts at times, but we’ll see. I do know that time for proof reading will be scarce, so I apologize for the multiplicity of typos and poorly worded sentences that are sure to abound!

So even though life happens, I want to make sure this blog happens too. We’ll see how that goes!

Grace and peace,

bms

PURSUED // A Call to Worship

A SUNDAY MORNING REFLECTION:

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” —John 4.23 [esv]

Today, you are pursued. You are earnestly desired. Countless things are seeking your attention. Appointments. Lawns that need mowed and laundry that needs done. Projects. Bills. Practices. Obligations. 1000 other things. But more than anything: the Creator of the world and our Savior is pursuing you.

He is seeking you. He longs for your worship, and he has been passionately pursuing you this week  & all time. You are the apple of his eye, and the center of his affection. He wants nothing more from you right now than your love, your service, your worship.

Would you draw near, to know him more? For he longs for you to know him. . .

He is the Creator of the universe.

He is the Savior of humanity.

He is the Author of our Faith.

He is the Divine Architect.

He is the Grand Artist.

He is all things good.

He is righteousness.

He is forgiveness.

He is lightness.

He is grace.

He is truth.

He is love.

He is peace.

He is wisdom.

He is everything.

He is the only thing.

And he’s looking for you. He’s longing for you. He’s seeking and pursuing you. You are precious to him. His desire for you drove him to the cross. You are the reason he chose the cross…

May we be a people who worship him this day. Deeply. Truly.

So this day. . . would you push the distractions aside? This day…would you yield to him? As we sing, would you make music in your heart? As we pray, would you open yourself to him? As we share in the bread and the cup, would you remember him? As we open up his Word, would you listen to him? On this day, would you be the spirit-and-truth worshiper he so earnestly desires?

Good News Announcing

evangelism….

For some, the mere mention of the word evangelism births a deep trepidation and a shaking fear within them as images of tweed suits, ties, and bible-bashing door knocking flow through their mind. Others chuckle at the awkward and forced conversations they’ve had in the name of sharing their faith. And there are still others for whom a well thought out evangelistic program is foundational to their church expression.

Why are some people so committed to evangelism……usually manifested in (a) intensely regimented programs involving military like-plans, pamphlets, charts/graphs, and questionnaires, or (b) an other-worldly testimony expressed in exclusively Christian language that no one really understands (Christianese)…….and others completely turned off to it? So many in emerging, progressive, post-traditional churches have completely shut themselves off to the idea of “doing evangelism.” And others, in traditional, evangelical, conservative churches agree with evangelism in principle, but don’t really know what it means.

I  was talking with some friends of mine a few weeks back, and the conversation turned to evangelism. Most of the group wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of “evangelism”…at least not in the sense it is typically understood. My mind, as it does most of the time now, had all kinds of incoherent Greek bouncing around inside. I am taking Attic Greek, the literary dialect predating the common Greek the NT was written, and so I haven’t studied many biblical words. But I began to think about the word from which we get the Latinized “evangelize, evangalism, evangelist,” etc. That word is ευαγγέλιον (euangelion). Now, I haven’t studied the word, but was able to break it apart into two words I had studied in class: (eu-angelion) ευ-good, well and αγγέλιον-message, announcement.

It was then that I realized that evangelism is a whole lot simpler than we make it out to be. To evangelize is simply to make a good announcement. To proclaim good news.

Evangelism, by its very nature, is a telling of good news. It is not in its nature a discourse in systematic theology and atonement theory drawn on a napkin, nor is it a vague mystical testimony that requires an interpreter. It is neither too dense nor too thin for practical use. It is good news.

You see, I think we’ve had such a hard time with evangelism, not because evangelism is bad, but because we have misunderstood what it really is. And that brings us to something deeper—perhaps we have misunderstood evangelism because we have failed to fully understand the gospel—the good news. We have flatten the gospel (the good news) so that we can wrap our minds around it, but in the process we have lost so much of “good” of the good news.

As I work through a class on evangelism with the teens/young adults on Wednesday nights, I’ll record some of those thoughts here, and we’ll see if you can’t cut through some of our cataracts so that we may clearly see might mine the depths of the good news.

The Good News of Jesus

We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds. —Psalm 75.1

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. There was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.

God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works, so that no one may boast.For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross,

Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The day is coming when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away, and the sea is no more. The holy city, new Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

A loud voice from the throne saying:

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Behold, I am making all things new.

It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

And behold, I am coming soon.”

Scripture references: Gen 1.1; John 1.1-4; Col 1.15-23; Eph 2.4-10, 12-16; Phil 2.6-12; Jn 3.16; 1 Cor 15.54-57; Romans 5.6-11; Romans 8.1, 31-39; Rev 21, 22

A Deep Peace

God has this inconvenient tendency to call people out of their comfort into a sort of divine adventure. He did it with Abram. He did it with the first disciples. He did it with Saul. And he did it with me.

I went to Ohio State, assuming I would put in a few years work doing some exciting things in athletic training and would eventually settle into a career in sports medicine, with all the comforts that would come with that salary. I was looking forward to it. During my senior year of high school, I had wrestled with the idea of doing ministry, and even did some ministry that summer with my youth group but God had a different path for me. I got a full scholarship to Ohio State, and had a terrible experience leading my youth group that summer. God had lead me to OSU. Apparently ministry wasn’t for me.

But during my freshman year, God went to work on me. He started to change my idea of what discipleship and the sacred assembly was all about, and with that change, a fire was stoked in my bones for God’s kingdom work that refused to be calm enough and comfortable enough for me to pursue my career plans. There was kingdom work to do at OSU, and I had to be doing it. I didn’t feel right doing anything else.

The summer after my freshman year, while I was sitting in my home church office, I got a call from my OSU campus minister, inviting me to take leadership of the ministry starting the next year in an internship. So I dropped my anatomy classes, picked up some communication classes and opened myself up to God’s call. I had fought it for years, but could fight it no longer. I would pursue ministry.

Over the next year, God confirmed in me a call to minister to his people, and I got to experience the joys and frustrations of that call. The internship was difficult, but it was also one of the most formative experiences of my young life.

As my junior year approached, I was preparing to take over almost all of the leadership of the ministry when I found out that the church leadership had decided to take the ministry in a different direction and that an intern didn’t fit within that plan. It had nothing to do with my service—in fact, they hoped I would stick around, but they didn’t need my help anymore and my internship would be ending at the end of the month….

So I found myself without the job that had come to dominate my life. Questions flooded my mind. Why? What’s the point? Does this mean I shouldn’t be in ministry? Do I stick around? Do I finally go to a Christian university and study bible? Do I change churches or campus ministries?

What now? What do I do now?

In this period of uncertainty, I tried to figure out what I needed to do. Where I needed to go. How I could create for myself a level of certainty. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t have the ability, the talent, or the wisdom to figure it out. In a very real way, I felt like I was being tossed about in the roar of the storm. I had given my life to God. I had heeded his call for me. I had given up the sports medicine that I loved so I could pursue a life of ministry, in his service. But I found myself without direction, without purpose, without a plan, and without any means to figure it out myself. Was God in any of this?

It was in this time of uncertainty that God used sacred music to bring about a deep peace within me. The day I found out my plans were being tossed into in the wind, and everything I had envisioned for my near future was but a whimsical dream, two songs were playing within my soul. These songs, one written in 2008 and the other in 1752, sustained me through this time. I can’t explain why these songs played so persistently in my mind, but I’m grateful for it. They offer a message of hope and peace that is made real in Jesus and what God has accomplished through him. These songs were a word of good news to my soul, and even now, almost a year later, they breath good news into my world of uncertainty and questions.

I Will Rise (2008)

Be Still My Soul (1752)

These songs reminded me that God is on my side. They remind me that God is in control. They remind me that my help is in the name of the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth.

Psalm 124 [esv]

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the LORD who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

Blessed be the LORD,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

Ultimately, God is working in Jesus to make all things new. The grave is overcome. The victory has been won, and God will lead us through thorny ways. And because God is faithfully working through Jesus, I can leave to him to order and provide when I can’t do it myself. I can trust him to be faithful through every change. Because he is God.

And more than anything else, we look forward to this eschatological hope: That one day, we will meet together at last. We will rise and fall in worship, and be together with our God.

He is faithful. He is working. He is in control. Now that is a deep, abiding, peace.

—bms

Ethic Marked by the Cross

“His baptism is the inauguration and his cross is the culmination of that new regime in which his disciples are called to share. Hearers or readers may choose to consider the kingdom as not real, or not relebant, or not possible, or not inviting; but . . . no such slicing can avoid his call to an ethic marked by the cross, a cross identified as the punishment of a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life.”

—John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus

[from the frontof Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp]

An Introduction | hope-rising

I am one of those crazy people who think you should watch the road when driving. I’m also one of those crazy people who think that guys should still open doors for girls. And I’m one of those crazy people who believe that Jesus was actually serious about the things he said.

sun risingMy life, over the past few years, has been a divine adventure in pursuing this crazy, radical truth—that Jesus actually meant the things he said. I know it sounds crazy to take Jesus at his word, but I would argue that, as people who seek to follow in his steps, we have no other choice. I am convinced that when Jesus says “Follow me,” he calls us to follow him completely.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, the more I dive into this life of discipleship, I encounter more questions than I get answers. Sometimes it makes me miss the days of my comfortable religion, when I could simply have someone else do the thinking and working for me. In those days (all of 2 years ago), if I was really bothered by something, I would ask a question and receive a regurgitated stock answer, and that stock answer would be good enough for me. I miss those days. But I am so grateful for the people who have challenged me to read, think, pray, and live Scripture.

This post’s title, hope-rising, is a reflection on the gospel-truth, that as we continually seek and ask and knock, hope will rise out of the dust and the mess. Though we royally jack things up, though we are so quick to disregard the extraordinary life Jesus has called us to, though we are in such a rush to be comfortable, and though we all are chief-of-sinners, God can still make sense of it all. It’s an assertion that God is still working, and all we need to do is open our eyes to it. And when we do, when we choose to take Jesus at his words, we will see hope rising as the sun bringing light to a world of darkness.

For God has given us grace and righteousness through Jesus, and that graces clears the way for an extraordinary life of discipleship. And that indeed is good-news.

—bms

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