Pentecost – When the Spirit Moves Through Children

Almighty God, on this day through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you revealed the way of eternal life to every race and nation. Pour out this gift anew, that by the preaching of the Gospel, your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
– Book of Common Prayer

Spring Break and the Spirit

During one spring break in college, I was a part of a smaller team made up of students from our college ministry, scouting our missionary opportunities in Belize. I spent an entire day in the back of a truck with one of my buddies named Ryan. We were driven from village to village across the country by a man we had met for the first time early that morning. Soon, we pulled up to an orphanage at sundown to join the rest of our group, who had been playing with the children for most of the day. 

I was supposed to give a sermon that night after dinner during worship. Before the trip, I had prepared what I might talk about, what Scripture I could use, what stories I could tell, etc. But after spending a few days in Belize, and an entire day in the back of a truck and helping with various physical tasks, I realized that nothing I had prepared would have mattered.  

When we got out of the truck, Ryan and I made a beeline to this small concrete plot with a basketball goal and joined some of the kids from the orphanage for a game of two on two. It was during this game where I realized that what I had prepared to talk about wasn’t going to work. 

We were called into their bigger room, and I was asked to find a spot toward the front of the room. Sweating and still catching my breath from the game, my mind started to race as I thought about what I would say when I got up to speak. I couldn’t think of anything, so I prayed. I asked that God would still use me and give me words. 

So I stood up, looked at all of the children – ranging from babies to a couple of guys who had just turned 18 and were soon going to be leaving home – and I smiled. The only words I could say were, “Jesus loves you.” I remember asking, “Do you know that? Do you know that Jesus loves you?” And as those words came out of my mouth, every child broke out in song – “Jesus loves me this I know…” 

And as I smiled even bigger, tears started rolling down my face. I have never been so moved by the Spirit in my entire life. 

Pentecost

We are told that when the day of Pentecost came, Jesus’ disciples were together and sitting in a house. Now, we are told that among them were the original 11 disciples, a new guy named Matthias (who had just been added to the 11), some certain women, Jesus’ mom, and Jesus’ brothers. We know they are back in Jerusalem, and they are sitting in a house, and I would guess that they are a bit on edge. Jesus, now risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, has informed them that they are to receive the Holy Spirit and be his witnesses in Jerusalem (where they are), Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Then, as they were watching Jesus ascend, some angels asked them what they were doing and told them to get on with it – to get back to Jerusalem because Jesus has given them something to do. 

But now, they are sitting in a house in Jerusalem – waiting. 

I am sure they were praying. They were probably discussing all of this over and coming up with the best plan as to how they might actually carry out this whole “witnessing” thing that Jesus has given them to do. 

And then, it got really loud…think wind tunnel, the rush of air thundering in your ear so loud that you can’t think kind of loud. And then, tongues of fire. Yes, you read that right. Tongues of fire appear above the disciples’ heads, glowing as they descend upon each of them and rest there. The disciples are then filled with the Holy Spirit, giving them the ability to speak the languages of all who are present in Jerusalem – those who have come to celebrate the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). 

Of course, you are probably familiar with what happens next. Crowds gather together. People are amazed but shocked. The disciples are accused of being drunk at 9 am. And Peter delivers an incredible sermon. Then, 3,000 people come to faith and are baptized. The church of Jesus Christ is birthed. 

For the followers of Jesus today, Pentecost provides the opportunity to become aware of the gift of the Spirit and the birth of the church. Because God’s Spirit came to us, we as Christ’s body have been brought to life and given the power to know God’s will and do it. 

Here is the thing though… 

This world presents plenty of challenges. To be completely transparent, most of the time, I feel like the disciples might have felt when Jesus was ascending to heaven before their eyes. I would surely have been thinking, “Oh no, what now?” Surely they began to feel hopeless or worried, even with Jesus’ final words still ringing in their ears. At least one of them must have asked, “How am I supposed to do that? If they killed Jesus, what will they do with me?” 

Think about your life. If you are like me, there have been moments of doubt, despair, or helplessness – especially when we see racism lead to the death of men who need not have been murdered, or while we live in the midst of a global pandemic. Confusion and weariness are natural feelings that come during such times. 

It can lead to a deep loss of hope. It can lead us into a place of complacency.  

Enter Pentecost. God’s Spirit rushes in and shakes us out of our complacency and renews our hopes. Though things may be dire and life may present incredible challenges, the good news we learn from Pentecost is that Jesus was not lying when he said he would “be with us always until the end of the age.” The Spirit of God enables us to live out and live for justice, peace, mercy, and love. We are given new life, the church is born, and we celebrate the power of life in the Spirit. 

This is the life we are called to – a life in the Spirit where we live in relationship with God, with our selves, with our neighbors, and with the world around us. A life seeking God’s Kingdom and His will to be done. 

Little Children and the Spirit

I felt a little bit like the disciples might have felt when Jesus ascended as we pulled up to the orphanage that evening in Belize. I had prepared and knew that I had been given an opportunity to share about Jesus. Before leaving Chattanooga, I had thought through some ideas for a great sermon. But then I got to the children’s home, played with them, laughed with them, and got to know them. I started to think, “Oh no. What now?” 

And then, at the mention of Jesus and his love for us, the Spirit rushed in. Instead of a wind tunnel and the sound of air so loud and intense that one could not hear themselves think, the Spirit moved through little children. Sweet, innocent, and beautiful children. As the Spirit moved, I stopped talking and got out of the way. As the Spirit moved, all I needed to do was watch and receive. And that is the heart of Pentecost, isn’t it?  

Let the Spirit move. Watch. Receive.  

May we have eyes to see this Pentecost. May we have ears to hear. May we have hearts open to receive what the Spirit may be trying to do in us.

 

[author] [author_info]Michael is the grateful husband to Sara. They are the lucky parents of their son, Grady. Michael has earned a B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, and a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary. Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, and playing with their son. Being from Memphis, he is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.[/author_info] [/author]

A Call to Remembrance

Remember and Honor

“Hello, this is the Stricklin residence.”

I will never forget where I was when the phone rang. It was a typical Saturday in October. Dad had gone to pick-up take-out from our favorite Chinese restaurant, and mom was cleaning the house while I sat in the coveted pink recliner – dad’s chair – and watched TV. 

Like a good daughter, I quickly emerged from my television-induced stupor and answered the phone. 

The very brief conversation that followed is a bit of a blur. I re

member someone with a very authoritative voice telling me he was trying to contact my father. He had a rank and title that sounded military, but I can honestly say I was too shocked to understand the details. I quickly ran the phone to my mom and thrust it into her explaining that SHE needed to talk to this man.

It wasn’t long after that I was back in my chair trying to eavesdrop on the conversation in the other room. Soon after, my very strong mother came speed walking into the living room looking f

or her cell phone. With tears in her eyes she said these words, “It’s Adam. He’s dead. I need your father.”

Adam Quinn was a member of our church. He was the eldest son of one of the sweetest couples that I’ve ever met and the older brother of the coolest kid in the youth group. I never had the chance to know Adam in the way others did, but I have been honored to call his mother, Sherri, one of my adopted moms.

You see, Adam was serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division. His pregnant wife, Faye, was also in the military and anxiously awaited Adam’s return from the war so they could begin their life as a family of three. Unfortunately, Adam never returned home. He noticed a friend of his had not been able to rest after driving caravans for multiple days – so Adam said he would take his place. It was during that last drive that they encountered a car bomb outside Kabul, and it was there that Adam left this world.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 ESV

Memorial Day is a time where we gather to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country. We remember people like Adam who lived out John 15:13.

For a long time I found great sadness in this day. I focused on the loss that my friends had experienced. I focused on the missed school plays, graduations, and life events. I thought about everything that could have been.

That is not what Memorial Day is about.

In that same chapter we read the following:

12 “This is my commandment, that you love 

one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Jesus does not stop after verse thirteen. He has chosen us, appointed us to more. We are not called to remember the sacrifice of others so that we mourn their loss. We remember their sacrifice as the greatest example of God’s love. The love that God then calls us to share and demonstrate to one another (17).

Yes, healing comes through grief. And as Christians we grieve the loss of life. But this Memorial Day I urge you to remember those who have sacrificed and remember God’s love and be grateful. Remember that we worship a God who understands loss. A God who understands sacrifice. He knows the brokenness of the World and He redeems it! Praise God!

We do not celebrate war. We do not celebrate death. What we celebrate is the visible reminder of God’s love. Greater love has no one than this. We remember, and we take that love with us into the world.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://www.christchurchbham.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/G_M38-1.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]Mary Lytle is the Minister of Communications at Christ Church United Methodist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Asbury University and a Master of Arts in Ministry from Asbury Theological Seminary. Mary grew up as a preacher’s kid in Deland, Florida. Now, Mary lives in Helena, Alabama with her husband George. She has a passion for discipleship and young adult ministry. George and Mary hope to positively impact the University of Montevallo campus where George is the newest Mathematics professor. [/author_info] [/author]

Let’s Shake On It!

It seems awkward to think about what Sunday morning hospitality at Christ Church will be like after we finally get through all this Covid-19 stuff.  So much of my Sunday morning ministry is displayed by a heart felt “good morning” (usually 2-3 feet away from the recipient), a firm welcoming handshake, and a smile.  But recently, I have heard from at least one of our country’s top disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, that we “may never shake hands again.”  How can that be I ask myself?

For centuries the handshake and others forms of touching have been the foundation of cultural and professional hospitality between individuals. According to Manners & Customs of Bible Times (Gower, 2000 p.189), the traditional greeting “involved the laying on of hands on each other’s shoulders then a pulling together and the giving of a kiss, first on the right cheek and then on the left.”  Samuel kissed Saul when he anointed him (1 Samuel 10:1), Simon the Pharisee failed to greet Jesus in such a way when he came as a guest to his home (Luke 7:45), and Paul wrote “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16).

Years ago, I remember leading First Methodist Opelika Alabama’s Prison Ministry away from simply putting items (candy, books, paper and pens) on a table for the inmates to grab and take as they please.  Instead I encouraged volunteers to hold the items in their hands and then give them to the inmates who desire them (and to do so with a smile looking them in the eyes).  I called it the giving of God’s Grace, and it became a form of greeting that was transformative to many of those inmates. They didn’t just take something, they received something!

So, what will the good people of Christ Church be able to do when we are finally invited back together?  How will we greet, and fellowship, and worship together?  Unfortunately, I do not have an answer for you at this time.  But I believe God has an answer.  I have faith that God will show us how to lovingly greet one another, how to have a cup of coffee and joyful fellowship with each other, and how we will stand together and praise His Holy Name.  I believe that so strongly that I am willing To Shake On it!

Grace and Peace,
Scott Kaak
First Impressions Minister

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Mom Time – Hope During Quarantine

Women's Resources Christ Church Bham

She doesn’t have words for this
But does she need them
When the whole world trembles with the same fear
Grieves the same loss of the illusion of control
Grabs at the same threads of hope
Watches the same sun move across the same sky
Waiting for the resurrection
-Michelle Windsor

 

Hey Mommas,

I am writing this the day before Easter Sunday. How strange that my feelings of sadness about our current world mixed with doubt, fear, anxiety must have also mirrored that of Jesus’ followers.  And yet, I know there is hope tomorrow.  There is joy and song and new life.  There is a hallelujah that is bubbling up from my throat that I almost can’t contain.

I read the above poem on Instagram this week and it just hit home for me.

I don’t have words for what we are all going through.  Do I even need them?

We are all trembling together.  We are all staying home keeping our babies safe, happy, and entertained.

We are grieving the control and routine we used to have.  The leisurely walks through Target are a thing of the past.  The carpool lines, play dates, library trips and playground visits are nonexistent.

We are grabbing at threads of hope or toilet paper.  Maybe it’s the hour when our husband (whose job is essential) walks through the door or clocks out at his home office, maybe when the mail arrives with our stimulus check, or even the baby’s nap.  Yet none of those things offer the everlasting hope and always leave us wanting more.

Watching the same sun move across the same sky, Waiting for the resurrection.  Waiting for the quarantine to be lifted? No, something better is offered.  The weight of sin has been lifted.  He has risen (Mark 16:6).  We know that our Redeemer lives (Job 19:25). Even in our hard, long days of isolation, we are not alone. We are not dead in our sin; we are alive with Christ (Col 2:13).

Mommas, I don’t know if we will get to meet this summer for Mom Time. Nothing is guaranteed. Was it ever?  What I do know is that you are not alone. And in these heavy days, cling closer to the cross. Lean into his words in scripture. Abide in him.  I know I have good days and bad days as this time marches on but the more I rely on him, the more precious this time with my family is becoming. Remind me of that again at bath time!

With Love,

Emily Perry
CC Women’s Ministry Team

What is Holy Week?

By Michael Bowman

If man had his way, the plan of redemption would be an endless and bloody conflict. In reality, salvation was bought not by Jesus’ fist, but by His nail-pierced hands; not by muscle but by love; not by vengeance but by forgiveness; not by force but by sacrifice. Jesus Christ our Lord surrendered in order that He might win; He destroyed His enemies by dying for them and conquered death by allowing death to conquer Him.”
― A.W. Tozer
Holy Week is, simply put, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

This is the last week of Lent, where we remember the last week of Jesus’ life on Earth.

 

Palm Sunday

We begin with Palm Sunday, where we remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19). Most Palm Sunday services begin with what is called “the Procession of the Palms,” where the congregation is given and holds palm branches as they make their way into the church to begin the service.

You may have heard Palm Sunday referred to as Passion Sunday. That is because we are on the very cusp of Christ’s “passion week,” where God takes the brokenness of his people onto his own self, in Jesus, and, by doing so, makes all things new.

The significance of Palm Sunday is the transformation that takes place before us. Everything is about to change. At the begging of the week, we cry out, “Hosanna!” Yet, soon, these cries will turn from, “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!”

And this transition, from celebration and excitement to the bloodthirsty cries for crucifixion and death, is the tone of Holy Week.

Jurgen Moltmann reminds us, “At the centre of Christian faith is the history of Christ. At the centre of the history of Christ is his passion and his death on the cross” (The Way of Jesus Christ, 151).

This is an ominous beginning, but we can take heart because we know what’s coming. There will be a resurrection. Yet, we must remember, there is no resurrection without first having death.

 

Maundy Thursday

As we make our way through the week, we find ourselves at Maundy Thursday. This is the night that we reenact the last meal that Jesus shared with those who were closest to him, his closest friends…his 12 disciples.

Most Maundy Thursday services will recall Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. In this very act, and in participating in such an act ourselves, we are able to realize that our own spiritual maturity begins when we love without expecting anything in return.

In fact, we might find ourselves praying, as St. Francis did, that God would “grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.” As we retell and remember the story of Jesus’ last night with his disciples, we are able to “make real once again God’s love for us and to illustrate how we are to love” (A Pilgrim People, 16).

Each year on Maundy Thursday, we remember that we are all called to be a community of love and embody the story we tell the world. In breaking bread together, we are reminded of the ultimate Sacrifice.

 

Good Friday

And then, we wake up the next day to Good Friday. A day in which we remember all of the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion.

The story of Good Friday brings us to the reality of suffering in our own lives and the lives of those around us. Yet, it also reveals to us that, even in our suffering, we are not alone.

Remember when Isaiah foretold Jesus’ coming, the prophet said that he would be called Immanuel, God with us. God is with us. He put on flesh to be with us. He gave us his Spirit to be not only with us but live inside of us. That means that even in death, suffering, pain, mourning, or hurting, God is still with us. So Good Friday may be a day of sorrow, but it is not a day of hopelessness.

On Good Friday, we remember Jesus’ death, but we are reminded of what this death allows us to see: his sacrificial love for us. In the death of Jesus, God was able to free the world from the stronghold of evil.

John H. Westerhoff III shares with us, Good Friday “is the story of the death of Jesus from God’s perspective; it is the victory of God not in spite of death but by and through death. The cross has become the tree of life.”

 

Holy Saturday

The next day, Holy Saturday is a time of solitude and sabbath. It is a chance for us to meditate on the time that Jesus was dead and buried. This Saturday is one of anticipation because we know the end of the story.

We know that death is not the end. We know that, soon, Jesus is walking out of that tomb. Yet, we wait with anticipation and longing. We await the coming of the third day, where our true hope is found.

 

Easter Sunday

Morning breaks the next day as the story continues.

Three words ring in our ears, playing over and over again in our minds, bringing warmth to our cold and weary hearts: Christ is risen!

On this day, everything that we believe about God is at stake. Our very faith hinges on it. If Christ did not rise, then we are still lost and bound for death. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead! The story of Easter is the story of how God acted on behalf of his creation. On Easter, God made everything new and redeemed all things.

Because of Easter, you and I are new people living in a new world.

We fell away from what we were intended to be, as beloved daughters and sons created to bear the image God. Yet, on Easter, our image was restored. We have been mended back together, and our broken relationship with God has been made right again. This does not mean that evil no longer exists, for it does. However, its power is no longer final. We are living in the already but not yet, where all is now new, and yet God is continuing to restore all things. And this is what we come together to celebrate on Easter Sunday: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
[author] [author_info]Michael is the grateful husband to Sara. They are the lucky parents of their son, Grady.
Michael has earned a B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, and a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary.
Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, and playing with their son. Being from Memphis, he is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.[/author_info] [/author]

Lent: Life from Ashes

By Michael Bowman

Our creation story in Genesis tells us that God made man (Hebrew word, adam) out of the dust of the ground (Hebrew word, adamah). God makes woman the same way. And God has a great plan for their lives.

The man and woman, as they walk with God in the cool of the day, learn how to be fully alive, how to tend and care for the garden, as well as how to tend and care for one another. Being fruitful and multiplying, as God had commanded them, became a natural part of what it meant to be alive. All was well.

That is until the man and woman wanted more. There was one forbidden tree that seemed to offer the more that the man and woman were looking for. They wanted to learn good and evil for themselves…they wanted to be like God. As they reached for that forbidden fruit and took turns eating it, they did, in fact, learn new things, but it was not quite what they expected. With each bite from the forbidden fruit, the man and woman learned fear, blame, guilt, and shame. When God comes looking for them, the man and woman now hide.

Then, the man and woman are sent out from the garden by God, and they learned a new reality – death.

“…you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:19

Or, as Eugene Peterson translates this verse, “…you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt.”

These words ring out from sanctuaries and chapels, homes and cathedrals, throughout the world every year on a Wednesday (known as Ash Wednesday) that begins a season known as Lent.

As it goes, people will enter into these sacred spaces and as these words are shared with them, a mixture of oil and ashes will be smeared (the church-y word is “imposed”) on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. This mark is a reminder of our mortality as humans – that one day, we will face the reality of death.

Lent has begun, and the reminder of the reality of death will ring in our ears for the next 40(ish) days.

HOW WE GOT HERE:

Advent begins the Christian year with the pregnant expectation of new life in God. At Christmas, birth has been given to new possibilities of life in God. During Epiphany, we, like naive children, or like the naive magi, dare to dream big and impossible dreams and journey after a seemingly unreachable star not knowing what may be waiting for us when we arrive.

And then we come to Lent. Lent is a season of adolescence. We have spent the last two months as childlike dreamers, but we now recognize our innocence has been lost. At Lent, we come to a full stop and take an account of who we are, or maybe who we have become. We look inward and focus on the difficult realities of ourselves, others, or the world around us. We allow ourselves to ask questions, work through doubt, and even wrestle for our identity and purpose.

Matthew tells a story in his Gospel about a ridiculous looking and sounding man named John. John baptized people, so he was known as John the Baptist…because that’s what he did (kind of like how Big Bird is named Big Bird because he’s a big bird…okay, sorry for that). Jesus, who happens to be John’s cousin, shows up one day to be baptized by John.

As Jesus comes up out of the water, God speaks and shares with everyone present exactly who Jesus is – “my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Holy Spirit descends and rests on Jesus like a dove. Then, the Holy Spirit immediately sends Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1). Notice, Jesus was not led by the Spirit into public ministry – preaching, healing, etc. – but into the wilderness to be tempted.

This is meant to cause the reader to remember the story of God’s people when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. The Book of Exodus shares with us how God’s people, the Israelites, spent 40 years in the wilderness (the desert) before God led them into the Promised Land.

In both stories, one may notice how God provides for Jesus and his people. When the devil leaves Jesus, we are told the angels minister to him. Even while the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness, God provided them with “manna” that they may continue to be fed.

LENT FOR YOU AND ME:

During Lent, we not only remember these stories, but we enter into our own wilderness – whatever it may be. Our journey in Lent begins with a reminder that we will die one day – all of us. Throughout Lent, if we allow it, we enter into the wilderness and face head-on our present temptations, the threats of evil in our world today, our biggest questions and doubts, how we may need to die to ourselves to make more room for Christ, and all of the ways in which we have misplaced our loyalties or our desires. In the wilderness, we can see more clearly the places in our lives where we need healing most, the aspects of who we are that need to be made whole, or the dead places in us and around us that need to be restored back to life.

“Lent invites us to risk the journey through death to life, to enter a wilderness filled with danger, to enter the desert where both God and the evil one dwell.” – John H. Westerhoff III
(I can’t get through one of these without quoting this guy…)

If you are like me, you may want to skip Lent completely. It might sound because Lent, as a whole, sounds too sad. Maybe, all you know about Lent is that we are supposed to give up sugar or Facebook, and you don’t want to give up either. Or, maybe, you would rather skip Lent and get to Easter, because Easter means feasts, time with family, pastel colors, and smiling faces.

The good news for us is that Lent is a season devoted to giving us room to remember just how easy it is for us to forget that we are totally dependent on God and his grace for life, itself.

Lent is not a season to be skipped over. The season is set aside to allow followers of Jesus to form new habits rooted in spiritual disciplines. It is a time where God’s people rid themselves of comforts or things of this world, to create more room for God in their lives. Really, Lent can be thought of as a time where we open our broken selves to God to allow him to make us whole.

Though Lent is 40-plus days long and can feel long, the wait is worth it. Lent ends with perhaps the biggest and greatest celebration of the entire Christian year…

Easter is coming.

Yet, to skip over Lent would be to miss the point of Easter.

Without death, there is no resurrection.

The apostle Paul said it another way – “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies…What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 15:36,42)

We begin Lent with ashes being smeared onto our foreheads and being told that we will die. We are adolescents searching for our identity in the dark. Yet, we end Lent with an acknowledgment of who we are and what we live for, on the cusp of our new story – we are to become witnesses and recipients of God bringing the dead back to life.

HELPFUL PRACTICES:

Again, most people think Lent is a time where we are supposed to give up stuff we like – social media, sugar, fatty foods, laughter, or fun (just kidding about those last two). But this would be missing the point.

This Lent, try something different.

First, go to an Ash Wednesday service and be reminded of your mortality. Then, give yourself time and space each day going forward to look inward. Enter into the wilderness, knowing that you are not going alone – the Spirit is with you. Search for how you have been trying to define yourself, for the ways in which you have done wrong, for the questions and doubts that you may have, for the areas in your life that need healing, or for the dead parts of your life that need to be brought back to life. Ask God to help you. Fast. Give yourself time for silence. Read the Scripture. Listen.

As you do this, you may begin to find broken areas of your life. Offer these areas of brokenness to God. Allow him to make these places whole.

Dare to remember that God made life from ashes, and he is going to do it again.

Don’t Miss Christmas

Don’t Miss Christmas

By Michael Bowman

 

After All

 

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the
brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known
the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him
perfectly in heaven; wherewith you and the Holy Spirit he
lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
 
 
Here we are at the culmination of the chaotic and craziness that is our consumeristic holiday season as we know it. We have come to the day that we have been anticipating and singing about. The day that we have been frantically buying gifts and wrapping them so that they can be torn into this morning and possibly even forgotten about this afternoon. It is Christmas.
 
In the midst of the cultural craziness, we chose throughout Advent to slow down and to pay attention to all that was happening around us and within us. We stopped “doing” and we began “waiting.” We were, of course, eagerly anticipating Christ’s coming, remembering he has already come and that he is coming again. And after all our waiting, Christ has come.
 

So, pause. Do not miss it.

 

 

The Birth, According to…

 

In our Bibles, we are fortunate to have four different Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. That is, four different narratives telling us about Jesus and the life he lived– all that he did and said. It is interesting, however, that only two of them actually give us an account of Jesus’ birth: Matthew and Luke. And even in these two gospel accounts, the birth narrative focuses more on those who actually took notice of the birth rather than the birth itself. 
 
This is significant. The authors want us to take notice of who it was that actually recognized that the Christ had come. Because it may not be exactly who we might have guessed. So who was it? Who were the ones who actually took notice that the Savior of the World had been born?
 
According to Luke, the only people who noticed were some shepherds sitting out in a field watching sheep do sheep things when an angel of the Lord showed up out of nowhere and began talking to them. Even if it was good news, this had to at least startle the shepherds. But then, as the angel told them about this baby that has been born, an entire angelic army appeared suddenly, shouting out, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14 NRSV)
So the shepherds looked at one another (probably picking their jaws up off the ground) and said together, “We got to go to Bethlehem and see what this is all about.” (My translation of Luke 2:15-16.)
 
In Matthew’s account, we jump from an angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph to some “wise men from the East” showing up in Jerusalem asking King Herod where this newborn “king of the Jews” is so that they may “pay him homage.” It needs to be noted that the word used in the Greek here for “homage” is translated throughout the New Testament as meaning to kneel or prostrate oneself in reverence or respect.
 

But who were these “wise men?”

 

 

We Three… Dudes?

 

 

These “wise men” or “magi” as most scholars agree are better referred to as astrologers. They were not kings, and there is no evidence that there were only three of them (don’t believe the Christmas carol.)

These men studied the stars, and in their studies, they had been led to believe that a great new leader had been born in Judea. Being “from the East,” these men were likely Gentiles. Fast forward in the story and we find these “wise men,” following a star (how’s that for a GPS?), arrived to see the newborn king, though he was no longer a newborn but a toddler close to the age of two. And as soon as they step into his presence, the men knelt down and worshipped Jesus, offering him gifts fit for a king. 
 
Now, why is it important we understand that in our two Gospel accounts that include a birth narrative, the only people who took notice of Jesus’ birth were some shepherds who were working a late shift and some Gentile star-gazers? 
 
Because seemingly everyone else missed it. 
 
Where were the priests? Where were the good, highly religious and ritually-pure folks? Where were those who never missed a prayer service? Where were those with “perfect attendance” in Sunday school? Honestly, where were the God-fearers? Where were those who knew their Scriptures, who memorized and followed their Torah? Do you mean to tell me that the ‘religious elite’ missed the birth of Jesus?
 

It can’t be more clear: they all missed it.

 

 

The Free Gift of Christmas

 

 

So, here is my plea for you (and me) this Christmas: let’s not miss it.
 
We know how chaotic this time of the year can be. We know how easy it can be to get swept up in the consumeristic cultural Christmas of our day. It is easy to even believe that Christmas is about gifts, receiving or giving, time with family or friends, or Santa Claus. It is easy to use the nostalgia that Christmas offers to escape the harsh and difficult realities in our daily lives. And all of this muddies the waters of what Christmas truly offers us. 
 
Christmas is a season of possibilities
 
In the middle of our distortions, God comes to us. At Christmas, we retell and remember the story of God coming unexpectedly as a baby born to a poor and lowly family…to a virgin and unwed mother…born homeless and born to die…so that the world might be made whole again. He came quietly, almost unnoticeably as we have seen, showing up in the middle of the everyday jumble and mess of life. His birth was easy to miss, even then.
 
May we not be those who miss it. The Creator of the universe, as Eugene Peterson translates the disciple John’s words, “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” And with him came new possibilities for the dark world the moment he was born.
 
Christmas reveals that God comes for all people – those who are eagerly looking for him and even those who are not – offering new possibilities…offering new life. Light is now shining in the darkness, and the darkness did not and will not overcome it.
 
Jesus is here. Come now and adore Him.

 

 

Michael Bowman is the Student Minister at Christ Church UMC.  He is the grateful husband of Sara and dad to Grady. Michael earned his B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, where he met Sara. He also holds a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary. Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, playing basketball, and playing with their two dogs, Gus and Lily. As a good Memphis native, Michael is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.

Follow him on Twitter: @bichaelmowman

A Closer Look at Advent

By Michael Bowman

ADVENT… 

is the beginning of the Church year. It is our starting point.

Advent begins a six-month period of time where the Church focuses on and relives the story of Jesus.

 

Advent is a quiet season that invites every one of us to slow down. It is a season for fasting, for paying attention, for contemplation, and for preparation. It is a place in our American cultural calendars which comes just after Thanksgiving ends, and the world around us begins its frantic decorating, whirlwind of present-purchasing, and calendar-filling amounts of party-going. In the midst of all this, Advent offers us the opportunity to slow down and wait. But wait for what?

 

Each Advent we step back into the story of Jesus. We are reminded that the Savior of the world has come and He is coming again – by the way, Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival.” At Advent we wait with anticipation, with expectation, and we prepare for the coming of Jesus.

 

We remember that the Savior of the world came as a baby to a family that was not perfect, to a family like yours and mine that had its own scars and wounds that needed healing; families that, as my good friend Tom Fuerst once wrote, “only God could love.” (Fuerst, Underdogs and Outsiders)

 

Advent reminds us that our Savior loves being in the middle of all human activity, whether it be good or bad, clean or dirty, put together or falling apart, seeking redemption in each and every aspect of human life.

 

ADVENT IS A PARADOX 

Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “I think the Church is the only thing that can make our terrible world endurable and the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the Body of Christ and on that we feed.” Advent is meant to remind us that this is true, and it is a bit paradoxical. We make up this Body of Christ, yet we also make up this world. We are meant to be lights in a dark world, but often may only make things dimmer. And Advent is a season full of paradoxes.

 

John H. Westerhoff III has noted the paradoxes at play in Advent: “longing anticipation and patient watching; transforming the way we envision life and yet living prepared; waiting for what never seems to come and continuing in hopeful trust; desiring to give up control and opening ourselves to few possibilities for life.”

 

Even further, it offers a contradictory way of being in the midst of possibly our most chaotic and distracting season of life: the holidays.

 

As the world continues in its race of consuming more and doing more, with no end in sight, Advent invites us to try a different way. The holiday season brings with it an ever present reality of chaos and distraction. It brings with it bad memories, and reveals the hurts or wounds within our families or relationships. It throws in our faces false hopes and false joys with propositions of, “If you buy this you’ll be happy… if you get her this she will love you… if you spend time with those you love this holiday season then all the bad things in life will disappear…”

 

Advent reminds us of something more. Advent is a season where doing really isn’t allowed. We are not meant to “do.” During Advent, we are meant to “wait.” We wait and long for the coming of the One who will make all things new, who will wipe away every tear, who offers us real life (and life abundantly), who cares about our hopes and dreams, who truly sees us, truly knows us, and truly loves us simply for who we are. We can’t buy that like a present to fit perfectly under our will-trimmed tree. We can only wait.

 

Think about the paradox of Advent as good news. Jesus, the Savior of the world has come, and He is coming again.

 

THE INVITATION

Let me invite you, this Advent season, to slow down. Don’t give in to the chaos or the distractions. Find moments of silence throughout your day (for those of you like me, this sounds terrifying, so I get it.) Seek out moments of solitude where you can really reflect on what is going on within and around you.

 

I invite you this Advent season to be present – with yourself, with your surroundings, and with others. Pay attention. Pray. Meditate. Be vigilant and actively watch for Jesus. Listen to others around you really well. Be slow to speak. Slow down enough to get in touch with yourself again, with your hopes and dreams, your longings and desires. Take notice of these things.

 

Let us take this time to clean out the chaotic and disorderly parts of our endlessly busy lives and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Decorate. Be hospitable. Prepare for a party! Make way for coming of the Lord. The former things are passing a way, and all things are being made new.

 

Michael Bowman is the Student Minister at Christ Church UMC.  He is the grateful husband to Sara and dad to Grady. Michael earned his B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, where he met Sara. He also holds a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary. Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, playing basketball, and playing with their two dogs, Gus and Lily. As a good Memphis native, Michael is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.

Follow him on Twitter: @bichaelmowman