Gardendale Nazarene

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Lent | Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

Cross-Shaped Love

One of my favorite flowers is daffodils. What I love about them is not necessarily their bright yellow flowers, but how they are the first to break through the winter ground to remind us that spring is just around the corner. Though daffodils don’t just signal spring, but Easter too.

The season of Lent begins this Wednesday, March 6th. We will begin the season with an Ash Wednesday service at 6:30pm in the Sanctuary. Lent serves as the first sign of the new life of Easter. It, like the daffodils in our yards, is a signpost pointing us to Holy Week and Easter. Originating in the fourth century of the church, the season of Lent spans 40 weekdays beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding during Holy Week with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday before Easter.

Today, Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter. Since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the forty days of Lent, and are referred to as the Sundays in Lent. The number ‘forty’ is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry by facing temptations there. Christians today use this period for reflection, self-examination, and repentance.

I would like to invite you to make this Lent a time of preparation for Easter. To help us prepare, many people fast during Lent. Fasting can be a powerful spiritual discipline. Professor Laurence Hull Stookey writes:

“Fasting can alert us, however, to unacknowledged obsessions we may have about eating [or many other things] that can be tamed or redirected. Fasting can powerfully remind us of our dependence on God and others: Were it not for the One who gives seed to the sower, and for those who plant and harvest, and mill the grain into flour, who bake the bread, and deliver it to the store, we would be permanently hungry out of circumstance, not temporarily hungry out of choice…Lest Lenten discipline and devotion lead to smugness or a false sense of spiritual security, it must be noted that all such endeavors depend on grace. We do not save ourselves by virtue of such spiritual exercises rather, we seek simply to alleviate the blockages that prevent God from acting freely in and through us.

It is my prayer you commit yourself anew to our Savior this Lent. I hope that you take this opportunity to prepare yourself for God‘s work in your life as we journey together towards the empty tomb.

Immersed in the Spirit

Last Sunday morning, I did something I do more than I’d like to admit. The worship service ended and, I opened my notes to realize that I left out a decent chunk of my sermon. Just think, I had another eight minutes worth of notes!

Usually when this happens I think, “It must not have been that important if I forgot it.” This week, however, it’s been different. I keep thinking about it. The good news is that I can share it with you here. So here goes…

The thought centers on John 1:32-34. This passage is John the Baptist’s testimony about his cousin. John is baptizing and Jesus approaches him, John baptizes Jesus, and then John ‘bears witness’ to what happened, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

What I left out on Sunday was this- ‘he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ In just two chapters, Jesus will tell Nicodemus that one must be born of water and of Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. Think about the two images being used here: birth and baptism.

Before we are born, we live in water. When a mother’s water breaks, the child must transition from the womb to outside the womb. We are immersed in that water and our life is connected to the immersion.

In baptism, we enter the water and are immersed in that water. Guess what? Our new life is connected to the immersion!

So what does it mean to be baptized by the Holy Spirit? I believe it’s about immersion–immersion in the life-giving Spirit. Michael J. Gorman writes, “The word ‘baptism’ connotes participation in the fullest sense: it is an image of being completely immersed in a reality outside the self that transforms the self.”

To be a child of God is to be born and baptized with (immersed in) the same Spirit that enabled Jesus to do God’s work. What would your life look like if you saw yourself continually immersed in the Spirit? How would you view your faith, your neighbors, your community, your church?

That is my prayer for this series that we are immersed in God’s mission. May you see yourself immersed in the life-giving Spirit. May you feel the Holy Spirit surrounding you as you take part in the God’s mission!

Depth of John 3

I can remember as a college student when I first encountered the true depth of the third chapter of John. In the eighteen years since college, this chapter has only grown deeper for me.

John 3:16 comes in the midst of this great chapter. I know this is an obvious statement, but the popularity of this verse seems to remove it from the larger story of chapter 3. Many of us see verse 16 as a standalone verse. Let's look at one of the central characters of this chapter.

Chapter 3 begins with the entrance of Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes at night to speak to Jesus. He is a pharisee, one who is well versed in the conversations of faith. He has this religion-thing figured out.

However, it doesn't take long in the conversation for us to see that Nicodemus is in the dark concerning this conversation with Jesus. "How can these things be?", he asks.
  • How many time do we approach Jesus like Nicodemus?
  • How many times do we come to Jesus as one who is learned?
  • How often do we think we have it figured out when Jesus is wanting to speak truth into our lives?

Look at what Jesus says in verse 12, " If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"

Another way to say this is, "I want to have heaven-centered conversations with you, yet you are not open to even the earth-centered conversations."

I hope we can find the ability to open ourselves to the heaven-centered conversations Jesus wants to have with us.

Here is my prayer for us- Lord, I know that many times I come to You missing the humility of your servant. I pray that I open myself to what You want to do show me. Lord, open my ears to Your heaven-centered words. Amen.

For God so loved the world...

I would like to spend the next couple devotionals looking at for us to look at one of the most well-known verses and the oft-overlooked next verse.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

I have been challenged by the writing of David Lose concerning these verses. Today, we will look at verse 3:16.

Lose writes, "In this verse, we hear of God’s profound love for the world God created, a love so deep and abiding that God would suffer even the loss of God’s own Son in order to communicate that love.

But as profound as that may seem, the verse is actually even more meaningful when you understand a bit more about the language John employs in it. In fact, in some ways, the key to this verse is wrapped up in the Greek word kosmos, which we translate as ‘world’ and is the root of our word ‘cosmos.’”

Let’s look at a few places Jesus uses kosmos in John’s gospel:
  • John 14:16-17: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
  • John 15:18-19: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
  • John 17:14-16: I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

These are just a sampling of kosmos verses in John, but they help us see what Jesus is saying. Lose continues, “Whenever John uses this word, you see, he employs it to describe a world at enmity with God…The world, that is, cannot even perceive the God’s Spirit of truth.”

How does this change our reading of John 3:16-17? God sent His Son into a world that was in conflict with Him. This is the beauty of the incarnation- God’s act of redemption came into a world that was opposed to Him. God loves you so much that He risks everything for you. As Martin Luther says– this is the gospel in a nutshell.

This is the love and hope that stretches from Christmas to Easter. This is the great story that we must celebrate!

May we join in the celebration this Lent!

True Vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
–John 15:1-5 ESV

“Jesus describes the intimacy that he offers as the connectedness between the vine and its branches. I long to be grafted onto Jesus as a branch onto the vine so that all my life comes from the vine. In communion with Jesus, the vine, my little life can grow and bear fruit. I know it, but I do not live it. Somehow I keep living as if there are other sources of life that I must explore, outside of Jesus. But Jesus keeps saying, ‘Come back to me, give me all your burdens, all your worries, fears, and anxieties. Trust that with me you will find rest.’”
–Henri Nouwen

Identity

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to make my way through a book called Negotiating the Nonnegotiable. Sounds exciting, eh?

It is actually a pretty interesting read and I have enjoyed thinking through the ideas presented by the author. The author, Daniel Shapiro, has spent a great deal of his professional life working with people who are in the midst of conflict around the world– from Serbians to Israelis.

In one of the workshops he runs, he will break professionals into teams (or tribes as he calls them) and ask them to reach consensus on a list of issues in fifty minutes. This task is designed to be nearly impossible. After the fifty minutes are up, he will insert a twist. All the tribes now have to join and agree on one tribe to be the defining tribe of the group.

The point of this exercise is for the people to see how strongly they adopt their first tribe's stances on the issues. Fifty minutes ago, they didn't even know the people in their tribe, now they are fighting to defend their tribe.

Shapiro calls this "The Tribes Effect." The primary point of his book is the issue of identity and how it relates to conflict. People identified with their first tribe and fought to defend a position that they might not have held an hour before.

Where do we get our identity? Theologian David Lose writes, “Our identity comes from the people with whom we hang out and is always received, rather than created. It comes, that is, always as a gift and a promise. And that’s why it’s so important to be reminded that you only know who you are when you realize whose you are.”

You are God’s beloved child.

In these days where the world tells you who you are, we must be reminded of the truth. If your identity is reinforced by who you spend time with, make sure you spend time with the people of God.

My challenge to you is to remind one another whose they are. Come together as the family of God and fellowship, laugh, share meals together, and most importantly, remind each other that they have value, worth, and purpose.