Gardendale Nazarene

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Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

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!

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.

Mediate the Presence of Christ

Some of my favorite memories from my days in seminary was the opportunity to spend time with my great uncle, Milton. I didn’t know Milton and his wife, Tommie, growing up because Milton was the District Superintendent of South Africa. By the time I was in seminary, they had retired to Kansas City.

I enjoyed sitting in the living room with Milton and hearing his stories of life in Africa. See, Milton and Tommie, were serving in Africa during the Apartheid. Milton was tasked with bringing together Nazarene churches of British descent and Afrikan descent. These two groups were politically at odds with one another and there stood their district superintendent to bring them together in Christ.

He told me one night he had two 'uniforms’ he wore while he was in Africa. One uniform was a clerical collar. The collar told all whites he was clergy and placed a hedge of protection around him wherever he went. The second uniform was a black dress shirt and a bright white tie. This outfit performed the same function in the Afrikan churches. He had to keep the two outfits with him at all time, because as he put it, “They were my bullet-proof vest.” This ‘uniform’ was a reminder to the people that God was present. When they saw someone in this ‘uniform’ they knew God was there.

I think about Milton's 'uniform' when I think about Paul’s words in Colossians 3:
  • Colossians 3:12-14 NLT- Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
We, too, are to put on a uniform. This outfit is tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. We might not be in the dangerous environment of Africa during the Apartheid, but the Gospel also calls us to put on new clothes. Don’t ever think you are not the presence of Christ whereever you are, you are. The minute people know that your heart is singing the name of Jesus, you are marked.

We have a priestly role in the world. This is not just for pastors. It is for all people- moms, dads, husbands, wives, single, divorced, widowed. It is for bankers, nurses, doctors, accountants, teachers, plumbers, electrictians, executives, builders, professional drivers, cooks, servers. These lists could go on, but the point is- it is our job to mediate the presence of Christ to other people.

How do we do this? We do this first by putting on our ‘new clothes’ as described by Paul. We do this when we live out the Gospel because we know that it is true. We mediate Christ when we intercede for other people. We are the presence of God to other people in the midst of their pain and suffering. We do this by living life together.

May we clothe ourselves as God's holy people that He loves!

A Covenant-Keeping Forgiven People

This Sunday, we are moving our series on Cross-Shaped Faith into Paul’s epistles. This week, we will look at one of my favorite Pauline passages, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. Today, I’d like to look at a bridge from the Upper Room in John 13 to Paul’s writings to the Corinthians.

There were two major points in last Sunday’s sermon:
  • Christianity requires a unique act of cleansing to have a relationship with Jesus (John 13:8b-10). Christ's death brought forgiveness and salvation.
  • Foot washing is an enacted-parable of servant love, mandatory for disciples of Christ to replicate (John 13:14-15).

Forgiveness is the requirement for participation in this new life with Christ. It is the start of transformation into Christlikeness. But Christ did not merely die to forgive sins. He died to create a covenant-keeping forgiven people, a people devoted to this crucified and resurrection Lord. This new community is to embody His servant love. Look again at Jesus’ mandate to the 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).

We’ve talked about cross-shaped faith having a vertical and horizontal dimension (faith comprises a vertical relationship with God and horizontal relationships in our love of neighbor). Don’t miss the vertical dimension of the cleansing forgiveness of the Christ and the horizontal act of foot washing.

As we move into 2 Corinthians, Paul is working hard to show the church in Corinth that they are this community of forgiven people and this changes everything in their lives. As Paul writes, “...those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

It is my prayer that as His community; we hear Paul’s call to action this week. May the message of salvation through Christ be visible in our midst!

Righteousness, Peace, and Joy

Last week’s devotional ended with the statement, “The cross is always and essentially the embodiment of love. If we have experienced this kind of love poured out by the Holy Spirit into our hearts, then we must join with Paul in putting others before ourselves. It is the way of the cross. It is the way of Christ.”

This statement flowed from Paul’s writings to the church in Corinth. The essential argument is putting others before ourselves for the sake of Christ. This argument is not confined Corinthians. Matter of fact, it enhances the way we read Romans 13 and 14.

Let me give you some quick context of Romans. The church in Rome was a divided church like many of the New Testament churches. This division fell along the lines of Jewish and Gentile believers. The disagreements usually centered on three primary issues- heritage, circumcision, and dietary laws. Paul speaks directly to these issues throughout Romans.

As Paul brings Romans to a close, he deals with the dietary issues similarly to the arguments in Corinthians. Look at a few excerpts from Romans 13 and 14:
  • Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
  • Romans 14:7-8 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
  • Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
  • Romans 14:17-19 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building.

All of these passages are pointing in the same direction and Paul summarizes it all for us at the beginning of chapter 15- “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself…” (vss 1-3a).

As we will see on Sunday, Cross-Shaped Faith is a faith of sacrifice and suffering. This is in the pattern of Christ himself. I hope that as you prepare for worship; you read through John 13. It is a powerful story of Christ placing Himself before His apostles as He washes their feet.

“Lord, help me embody these words of Paul. Give me patience to bear with the weak, knowing that I too am weak. May peace mark my life and may I build up my brothers and sisters. Help me see that your Kingdom is about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Sprit. And, Lord, remove anything in my life that is a stumbling block to another. In your precious name, Amen.”