Tag Archives: spiritual growth

Embracing A New Normal

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This is an exciting time for Christendom. I’m reminded of the scripture found in Isaiah 43:16-21, MSG Bible, “This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, The God who summons horses and chariots and armies—they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.  It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards—Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sunbaked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.”

COVID19 has created a new normal in this global society for years to come. Even the church has been affected. I illustrate:

  • Churches have remained empty, but functional
  • Ministers are learning to adapt from traditional building worship to online, teleconferencing, and live streaming platforms.
  • Steward Boards and Officers are creating ways for members and friends to give online, by mail, or text to give.
  • The class leader system is resurfacing due to necessity of the hour.
  • District, Regional, Episcopal, and Connectional meetings are being reshaped for online delivery.

Indeed, this is a new normal. When I was in the military, we had an exercise called running in place. It was excellent for getting our heart rate up but did little for moving forward. There was forward momentum nor forward progress. I wonder if we are changing to reflect God’s new move or just running in place, waiting for things to return the way they were.

I believe this is a time to examine our ways as a denomination. I believe we should ask the question what rituals, meetings, gatherings, modes of operation and methods have become too cumbersome to serve this present age. This is a challenge for our College of Bishops, General Officers, Presiding Elders, Pastors, and Lay Leaders.  We can not assume that we will ever go back to business as usual. Can we discern what God’s new normal is for our church?

Matthew 9:14-17, MSG Bible, reads, “A little later John’s followers approached, asking, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don’t?”

15 Jesus told them, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!” 16-17 He went on, “No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.”

In the age of G5 and Corona Viruses (of which many other strains will arise in the coming months) what of our structure can we renovate to “serve this present age.”  In a cultural slang, we have heard it said, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” Meaning, preserve the essentials, throw out the excessive or nonessential. This is the question for every leader and the College of Bishops are wrestling even now to establish such distinctions.

This is new for us all and we all must support our leadership, adjust to the new normal, and remember our theme for this quadrennial which I doubt was designed to address this pandemic but which certainly is apropos for this pandemic.  Our theme is “Getting back to the basics as we envision our way forward taking care of God’s business.”  This is both prophetic and relevant for our present circumstances and for moving forward into our new normal.

Let us unite to pray, fast, and seek God’s hand at work in this present age.  Are we the church being led by God’s Spirit, able to answer this challenge, and meet the needs of the present age or are we kicking and screaming to return to the old way?

Well I believe conditions force us to rethink what is Methodist and what it means to be a Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. I believe we have the right leaders, in the right places, to receive from the Lord – through collaboration, deliberation, and experimentation – to guide us boldly into this new normal.

The Louisiana Region Annual Conference is strategically forming a plan to move from the precautions of social distancing due to the Corona Virus pandemic to one which will address the critical facets of the brick and mortar Annual Conference in light of the new normal.  To that end, we have cancelled our normal Annual Conference and are looking at the legal and traditional requirements to necessary for the Teleconference Annual Conference format.

We trust that the good people of the Louisiana Region will engage in this discussion with your Pastors, Presiding Elders, and your Bishop.

 

I’m Pressing On in Christ

http://bible.com/72/php.3.13-14.hcsb Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

Someone once said change is difficult. However, that perspective is generally directed toward those being asked to change. I have discovered personal change is not simply difficult rather it is an excruciatingly painful process.

I have a comfort zone in every area God confronts and changing remains frightening. I now realize that change challenges my beliefs, paradigms and emotions. Change demands I accept the fact that what I have been is no longer a valid philosophy for where I’m headed. Change doesn’t involve just habits; change involves my mindset. Breaking out of my comfort zone then is really breaking out of old patterns of thinking. Patterns I have relied upon for over 59 years must be shed as a snake sheds its skin in order to grow.

Thus, I join Paul in stating that change is a constant “press.” I must put pressure on those stubborn, clingy, ideologies that hinder my growth. I am pursuing the destiny God intended for me before the foundation of the world. What an exciting challenge that has been and will continue to be.

Signs of Pentecost

Scripture References:  Exodus 19: 18-20; Acts 2:1-4, 14-36 

The sound was deafening. Here I sat at the train tracks, seemingly for 10 minutes because I had heard the unnerving sound of the train blast and the engines roaring. I had stopped at the tracks and the crossing rails were down, but no train. I thought, I’m going through this train stop right now. But suddenly, as I prepared to move forward, I saw the train. I stopped and waited for that train to come speeding by. What I had heard was an echo; the train horn had sounded but the wind had carried the sound miles down the track before the train’s arrival. That’s how it was on the day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover commemorating the day God gave his law to Moses.

Move 1

 The children of Israel had arrived at Mt. Sinai; the dawn of a new era was just on the horizon. Moses had gathered them around the mountain to meet the God who had delivered them with a mighty hand.

On that morning a thick darkness fell over Mt Sinai engulfing that majestic mountain. Rolling thunder and lightning fire made for a frightening yet memorable arrival: God, Jehovah Adonai, El Shaddai was on his way to meet the people he had chosen to live in covenant with him.

Moses remembered the scene. He said: “18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. 20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So he [Moses] went up.

 One hundred twenty people met in the upper room for worship service, bible study,and prayer. And after they had elected Matthias to replace Judas as an Apostle, Pentecost arrived. Pentecost Sunday, the day of the harvest, a day for them to reap the blessings of God with joy. And all they heard initially was a noise, a loud, booming noise, one that could be heard throughout Jerusalem, just like that horn on that train.

The scene echoed in the minds of those men and women waiting in the Upper Room for the promise of God’s Holy Spirit. They knew that God’s arrival would come in such a way that it could not be mistaken. It was no coincidence that the giving of the Law and the Coming of the Holy Spirit both came on the day of Pentecost. When the Law was given, “thunder rumbled and flames broke forth on the top of Mt. Sinai, and God’s Spirit engraved the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone. Here there is also a sound and flames. But not on some distant mountain peak. Now the wind sweeps into a house in Jerusalem; the flames divides to rest on every believer. And, enabled by the Spirit, all were “declaring the wonders of God” showing that God’s Law is now being engraved on human hearts. ” (Richards, 1994, p. 281)

Just as the Law signaled a new day in the lives of the Hebrews, Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit would signal a new day in the lives of the New Testament believers in Jesus. Never again would they be ruled by fear. This day, Pentecost Day would be their day of empowerment to do the work of Jesus in the land. For indeed Paul was right when he wrote concerning the Spirit, “7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Lord, have mercy!

Move 2

 But what’s all the fuss about. Why does the church continue to celebrate Pentecost? Could it be possible that the church could experience more than one Pentecost, more than one infilling of the Holy Spirit? I dare say it could, should, and does. All that is required for this renewal is apostolic preaching, praying, and praising to be done. C. H. Dodd in his classic work, Apostolic Preaching, distinguishes six recurring themes in such preaching. One such sermon is recorded in Acts 2:14-41. I don’t have time to adequately discuss these now, so let me just enumerate them for you.

 An apostolic sermon 1) announces that the age of fulfillment has dawned. In other words, God has kept his promise; the Holy Spirit is present in the world. 2) Jesus is identified as the source of this new age; 3) Jesus’ resurrection and position at the right of hand of God makes this salvation efficacious. 4) The Holy Spirit is God in the Earth today and as such the Holy Spirit seals us until the day of redemption. In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee of our salvation. 5) Jesus Christ is coming again to retrieve his church, his bride and present her to his Heavenly Father in victory. 6) Every apostolic sermon should end in a call for repentance and invitation to discipleship. Put simply preaching where Jesus is the main attraction reignites burned out saints, heals broken down disciples, and sets free those captive to sin and satan. When the saints get excited about Jesus, the Holy Spirit gets excited about the saints. Lord, have mercy! But let us move on here.

 Prayer and Praising will cause the Holy Spirit to reignite the flames in any believer’s heart. They will be able to face situations with boldness and faith rather than cower in fear. The book of Acts presents countless examples of the Holy Spirit refilling the believers in response to such praying and praising.

 In Acts 4, the believers were threatened with punishment, even imprisonment if they would not stop declaring the Name of Jesus. So they prayed: “29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And God moved: 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”

 And might I add right here that the emphasis is not on speaking in tongues, the emphasis is on power, the ability to get supernatural results when facing adversaries to the will of God. I stop by to tell somebody today that when you receive the filling of the Holy Spirit, you’re going to get positive results against the enemies of your God and His Christ. Hallelujah!

When African American W.J. Seymour who began the Pentecostal movement discovered that white men who spoke in tongues, could still continue to practice racism, he became convinced that “the dissolution of racial barriers was the surest sign of the Spirit’s Pentecostal presence.” (Williams, 2007, p. 219) In other words, the surest sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life is whether that person loves his brother or his sister not how many tongues he or she can speak.

Well did Paul exclaim, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Move 3

 Finally, because of the arrival of the Holy Spirit, we see a church transformed. It moves from being a church in waiting to a church in action. It moves from being a church in exile to a church engaged in its community. Signs of the Holy Spirit in the earth today can be found in the results Christians get when they are combatting institutional racism, policy brutality, poor schools, homelessness, child abuse and sex trafficking. When Christians stand up for the lost, the left out, the outcast, and the rejected in this world and see laws revised or initiated that care for the poor, widowed, orphaned and immigrant, that is a sign that God’s Spirit is present in the earth. When researchers find cures for terminal illness and pestilences around the globe, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is present. When communities of faith join together to combat discrimination in whichever form it raises its ugly head, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is present.

 When people of all nationalities come to realize that all lives matter, the black, the gay, the bisexual, the inter-gender, the transsexual, the bisexual, the queer and the asexual, that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is present. When same sex couples can live in freedom to exercise their rights as human beings to live free from discrimination and hate crimes that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is present.

Two Texans were traveling together on vacation. They decided to stop at one of the natural wonders of the world, Niagara Falls. As they took the beautiful drive from Lake Erie to the falls they were filled with admiration and awe at the size and power of the Niagara River. They were particularly impressed with the rapids just above the falls and stopped there to look. From there they could see the massive mist cloud that always hangs over the precipice.

One of the men, having already been there, said, “Come and I’ll show you the greatest unused power in the world.” Taking him to the foot of Niagara Falls, he said, “There is the greatest unused power in the world.”

Ah, no, my friend, not so!” was the reply of the other. “The greatest unused power in the world is the Holy Spirit of the living God.” (Green, 1989)

And that is why the church must rise in this hour to fight against oppression, discrimination, and injustice. The church proclaims that the Holy Spirit is present, yet the adversaries of God win victory after victory. Church, it’s time for us to stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit and counterattack. We need to stand full of fire and passion that will burn away the enemies of God’s attempts to cause division, strife, war, and decay in our communities and in this world Let’s not leave the Holy Spirit dormant; let’s get filed up, let’s get fired up and stand, hallelujah!

Conclusion

 Beloved, let me proclaim to you “The Holy Spirit is present.” God, the Holy Spirit is present to heal, save, and deliver. This is good news! Pentecost is here in 2015 and the same Holy Spirit that moved in the book of Acts wants to move in Grambling, Louisiana today. It’s time for us to get excited about the Holy Spirit and turn this city upside down for Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we ask that your Holy Spirit would reignite the fire of action within us in such a way that we will work for a better Brambling, a better Louisiana, a better America, and a better world. We pray that you will through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit give us a steadfast mind that will not accept mediocrity nor accept second class existence in the world you have created for all of your children. Loose us now from the spirit of fear and endue us with your Spirit of boldness to stand against such apathy and slothfulness that would cause us to remain careless or unconcerned. Holy Spirit reignite fires of passion in our hearts and give us God’s wisdom on how to proceed to be people who will make a difference in our world. In Jesus Name, we pray, Amen.

References

Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Richards, L. O. (1994). The Victor Bible Background Commentary New Testament. Wheaton: Victor Books.

Williams, D. K. (2007). True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. (B. K. Blount, C. H. Felder, C. J. Martin, & E. B. Powery, Eds.) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

From a Caterpillar to a Butterfly

What did the caterpillar feel as the cocoon slowly engulfed its body? Metamorphosis is a scary proposition. Trust in God has to be firmly established in order to surrender to such a process.  And that’s why it doesn’t happen overnight.  Salvation is instant but sanctification takes a lifetime. Therefore, it’s important to be patient with oneself.  Even the cocoon took time to transform the caterpillar.  When your transformation seems problematic or unusually delayed, trust the God of the process.  God has designed the process to fit your true self.  For God loves the caterpillar just as much as God loves the butterfly.  God loves the you you are now just as much as the you you are becoming.  So love yourself and love the journey.