Gardendale Nazarene

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Archives for April 2015 | Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

Be Transformed, Not Conformed

Last Sunday evening, District Assembly began with a celebration service at Huntsville First. It was a powerful service. Dr. Gustavo Crocker, our presiding General Superintendent, preached from Romans 12:2.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2 ESV).

In this text, you will see that I bolded two words- conformed and transformed. Dr. Crocker challenged us to think about these words. Let’s take a moment to focus on these two words.

Paul is telling us ‘not to be conformed to this world.’ I hope we can all see that each one of us is conformed to something. We live lives in the context of internal and external influences.

The challenge for each of us is be centered upon being conformed not to this world, but to the good news of Jesus Christ. It is this good news that has the power to transform our lives.

Thus far, I think we all would agree with these statements– Paul is urging us to be transformed by the gospel, not conformed to the message of the world.

The issue isn’t this message. The issue is the question rolling around in your mind, “How am I transformed to the way of Christ?” This is where Dr. Crocker’s message hit home.

Dr. Crocker narrowed his focus upon these words, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” What does it mean to have your mind renewed? Amazingly, if one does this, Paul tells us that we will be able to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Renewing your mind, Dr. Crocker argued, involved a couple things.

First, it involves a decluttering of your mind. We fill our minds with all kinds of things- some of these things are good, some bad. Many of us find ourselves focused on the negative of the world. Our minds are cluttered by the 24-hour news cycle, by the internal dialogue to people who have hurt us, by the destructive shards of glass the devil places in our minds to sow unhappiness and resentment.

Paul is calling us to do a little spring-cleaning in our minds. Throw out the things that separate us from the love, grace, and hope of Christ.

Second, we must replace our bad habits with good habits. These are the habits that show the love, grace, and hope of Christ. These habits open up our minds to hearing the voice of God.

This decluttering and new habits open the door for the life Paul is pointing to in Colossians 4:2-6, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should. Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone (NLT).”

May our conversations be gracious and attractive as we are transformed.

New Things

During my earlier years in ministry, one of the most nerve-racking experiences was sitting before the Ministerial Credentials Board of the Tennessee District. Each minister in the Church of the Nazarene is required to meet with this board in the years prior to becoming ordained. I would come into the room, stomach turning, and quickly glance around the table to see who was going to lay the tough theological question on me.

In those six or seven years, there was one year that scared me the most. I walked into the room and saw an older gentleman eyeing me. I knew his face, but I was struggling placing exactly who he was. The men around the table then told me their names and when it was this man’s turn he said, “I am Ray Dunning.”

This was not good– Dr. H. Ray Dunning! One of the great Nazarene theologians was sitting on the board! Oh, the deep question he must have been preparing for me!

The other men began with some questions about my education. They asked about what classes I was taking at Trevecca. Then Dr. Dunning leaned back in his chair and began to speak, “John, What new thing is God doing in your life?”

I can remember his question like it was yesterday. In all of those meetings, Dr. Dunning asked the question that I still think about regularly.

I do not believe that God ever stops working in our lives. I believe He is constantly wanting to do a ‘new thing’. Spring is a reminder in our lives, that new life is always right around the corner. The leaves popping out on our trees reminds us of the life God brings. We serve a God who is always bringing new life.

If you will allow me to borrow a question from Dr. Dunning, “What new thing is God doing in your life?” This spring, take the opportunity to ask God to continually work in your life. Look for God's work- He is there!

May God bring newness to your heart and life!blogEntryTopper

Brokenness of Christ

I turn again today to Living the Christian Year. Bobby Gross writes, “On this holiest of holy days, we are transfixed by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. We experience a range of emotions: sadness, reverence, astonishment, gratitude. Why? Because we understand that what Jesus endured was for us and instead of us. He was wounded for our transgressions and he died for our sins–by the will of the Father and by his own will. His suffering exceeds our imagination and his motive goes beyond our comprehension. We are simultaneously dismayed and grateful: his torn flesh makes us whole, his bruises bring us healing, and his death gives us life.”

Last night as I had the opportunity to pray with many of you at our communion service, I was reminded of a post from one of my friends, Christa Klosterman, from seminary. She captures, in a beautiful way, the connection between the Upper Room and the events of Good Friday.

“When I moved into the parsonage, I became the caretaker for the 20-year-old Concord grape vine in the backyard. This past weekend, with my mom's help and wisdom, I made communion juice for both of my congregations for the coming year. The juicer I used heats water under the grapes and ‘steams' them until they break open, thus releasing the sweet juice. At the end there is also some stirring and mashing to get all the juice out of those grapes. I don't think I will ever serve communion the same way again. Broken and poured out is the goal of the juice making process and a visual reminder of this peculiar plan God has for rescuing the world through a broken, defeated body. You can't get to that sweet and tasty juice without the breaking. Perhaps there is a drawback to buying communion elements ready-made at the store?”

I love the connection this imagery makes between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Grace is demonstrated in the brokenness. Today is the day we remember that we are given life through the brokenness of our Savior.

The Beauty of Christ's Love

Today is Maundy Thursday. It is beginning of a three part observance called the Paschal Triduum. These days begin at sundown on Thursday and concludes at sundown on Sunday. It is my hope that we view Easter in the greater context of this observance.

I believe that looking at Easter as the celebration at the end of a longer observance, shows the events of this week in their proper context. This context brings out the beauty and richness of Easter morning!

One book that I have found myself drawn to year after year is Bobby Gross’ Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God. In this book, Gross gives us a great description of Maundy Thursday:

“On Maundy Thursday, the eve of Christ’s death, we focus our attention on the Passover meal he shared with his disciples. On this night he instituted what would come to be called the Lord’s Supper, in which the eating of bread recalls his broken body and the drinking of wine remembers his spilled blood. By his atoning death he inaugurated a new covenant with all who put their faith in him. Also, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in an extraordinary gesture of humble service, after which he gave a new commandment or mandate (Latin mandatum, from which we get “Maundy”). So we think today about self-giving love, Christ’s for us and ours for one another.”

As we focus today on that Upper Room, I would ask that we focus on the beauty of Christ’s love for His people. What strikes me about this story is certainly Christ’s actions, but on another level is how Christ turns the events back to his disciples.

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
–John 13:14-15 ESV

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
–John 13:34-35 ESV

The beauty of Maundy Thursday is that the actions of Christ did not end in that room. He showed us what love is and what love truly looks like. Observing the Paschal Triduum is best displayed as we live out Christ's self-giving love in our world.

Peter's Denial

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

–Luke 22:31-34 ESV

If you are like me, I read the story of Peter’s denial with a tinge of hopelessness. “If Peter can’t stand, how can I stand?”

I believe a closer examination of these three verses breathes life into a dark time in Peter’s life. The Greek text reveals something the English translations miss.

The uses of the word you in verse 31 is plural. Here Jesus is speaking to the eleven disciples before Him.

However, Jesus changes the number of the word in the next three verses. Each time you is used, it is singular. Here Jesus is addressing Peter. You will note, that I bolded the singular uses and italicized the plural uses.

Why is this important? Here is a fact we often miss- Satan demanded all of the apostles. Then we read that Jesus prayed specifically for Peter. Look at what Jesus prayed, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

When I read the stories in the remainder of Luke’s Gospel and in Acts, I think Jesus’ prayer was answered. No where do we read that Peter’s faith failed. We do read that his courage failed in his denial a few verses away.

I know each one of us has a time (or multiple times) where we feel our courage has failed. The important thing is not that your courage failed. The important thing is that your faith didn’t fail.

Do you want to know the incredible thing? Jesus is praying for you that your faith may not fail! Then we hear Jesus give us some instructions for once we realized we have failed, “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus is praying for your faith to not fail and this Holy Week, my we rest in that fact that the King of Heaven is praying for you!