Monday, November 26, 2018

Transformed to Transform: Sharing Christ in a Christless Culture

Sunday November 25, 2018
“Transformed to Transform: Sharing Christ in a Christless Culture”
Acts 17:16-34

            Today is the day- Marble Mystery is revealed!  This month we talked about being a winning witness, the priority of praying together, and daring to fail.  Today, we may conclude our conversation on ‘transformed to transform’, but our call to live into this missional ministry does not end as we share Christ in a Christ-less culture. 
Let’s pray… Come Spirit of the Living God, light the fire within us as your people to serve the least, last and lost.  Come Spirit of God, come.  Amen. 
Our final image last week was the image of being and doing church with our center on Christ with one another… and with our other hand and arm reaching out into the world.  No longer can we function as a church with our backs to the world in a closed circle.  Many of you have shared how helpful, exciting, as well as, poignant this image was for you! 
Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but HIS church the Body of Church must make an adaptive change to HOW we are being and doing church in 2018 and beyond.  We have spoken about how the secularization of our society.  The days of preaching to people who have even the most basic understanding of Christianity are gone from our county. Now, I say this not to reminisce about the good ol’ days but merely to establish, again, that where we are as we try to share Jesus to a Christ-less culture. I will be repetitive to what I said two weeks ago- what an amazing, outstanding OPPORTUNITY!!!!!!!!
The truth of the matter is that our culture in America is a mess, but it is far better off than the culture which Paul and the Apostles brought the gospel.  Our story from Acts 17 is where we find Paul in Athens, Greece sharing Jesus with the intelligentsia of his day.
Paul was called to take the message of Jesus to a Christ-less culture so too have we been given this task in 2018 and beyond.  The years and fashion may be different, but humanity’s needs remain the same.  We do stupid to ourselves, one another, and the created world around us.  Our relationships are messy- if the holiday season is any indication- therapists will have overflowing calendars in January to handle all the folks who are trying to recover from being with family (functional- to dysfunctional and in-between).   We need help.  We sin, make mistakes and when we try to fix things on our won… we often make things worse.  We need a HIGHER focus, morality, compass, and source of love, patience, hope, grace, generosity than just ourselves. 
God does not call us to be perfectly successful in our efforts to share Jesus with the world; but God ask us to be faithful.  Paul used his knowledge of the culture, his passion for Jesus, and the opportunity God gave him to share the good news of Jesus.  His faithfulness resulted in people responding to the Holy Spirit.  That is all God asks from us.
 We have heard the story from the gospels (especially Mark 10:13-16’s account) when people brought their children to Jesus and the disciples fussed at them.  When Jesus saw this he was ‘indignant’.  This is an unusual word for Mark to use… which translates as Jesus was very displeased with the disciples. 
What this tells us about Jesus is that investing in children for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven is our obligation, responsibility and joy.  Whether those the kids in our families, in our church, or kids in our larger community, nation or world.  As followers of Jesus we have the privilege to invest in the lives of children in a way that has an eternal. We get to invest in kiddos because as followers our Jesus we playing for keeps!  Jesus lived, died and rose to keep each of us close to God’s holiness both now and in the forever home.  Kids, teens, youth matter to Jesus and therefore they matter to the Body of Believers, Christ’s church at Ridge UMC!
George Barna and his group have conducted research in America for over 30 years. His studies on faith, culture, and church have consistently revealed that almost 2/3 of people who consider themselves Christian made a first time commitment to Jesus Christ before their 18th birthday.  I did.  Did you?  His studies over time have consistently revealed not only the necessity, but the urgency of reaching children and youth with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
I have been told over the years, “you just want to indoctrinate children into your beliefs”.  To which my response has been and is, “I would rather ‘indoctrinate’ a child in love, generosity, hope and service then allow the world to teach them that ‘narcissism is ok, hate is ok, and self-service is ok”. 
Some of you have been curious about our jars of marbles.  When people have asked me about them, I’ve asked a question in return, “what do you think they’re for?”  The responses have been interesting… 1) lost your marbles; 2) a guessing game; 3) growth of God’s love in a person; 4) illustration of how full a jar can get; and 5) it’s lesson about the numbers. All of these are good guesses.  But not right. 
These jars represent the passage of time (marbles are not people- but time)… and that time goes quickly… and time along with opportunity goes by too quickly.  These jars and their diminishing amounts of marbles within them tell the story of the passage of time and our calling to impact lives for Jesus. Marbles represent time because you need to the urgency before us. 
Consider this when a child is born, there are 936 Sundays before they reach the age of 18.  That means Ridge UMC has 936 Sunday for us, the Body of Christ to share the stores of Jesus, light their hearts aflame with the love of Jesus, and to teach them to share His love to others.
In the blink of any eye, this child turns 5 years old, and there are only 576 Sundays remaining before they turn 18.  When they enter 3rd grade… and time of reading and exploration…only 468 Sundays remain to surround them with steadfast love, establish them in the faith, confirm and strengthen them in the way that leads to life!
When a child enters 8th grade (about the time of Confirmation for many of us) there are only 208 Sundays left before this student turns 18.  And then at age 18 (see empty jar) the window of opportunity to share Christ has closed.
Now, I am not saying these children (yours, mine, and our grandchildren) are lost… God is so much busier and bigger than human statistics.  The Barna Research Group does affirm that 2/3 of those who follow Jesus made the decision before they turned 18.  1 in 5 persons accepts Jesus by the time they are 21.  Then after age 21, one person in eight make a decision for Jesus to be their Savior, Lord, Friend, and Hope.
The Holy Spirit is working in the lives of people of any and every age, but the fact does remain that the WORLD we live in would change in a way we cannot even begin to imagine if we would obey Jesus and invest ourselves in reaching and teaching the most innocent and vulnerable among us.  And invest with passion, purpose, and a sense of urgency!
How would our community and, subsequently, our world be changed if we decided as a church, as the Body of Christ, that we will play for keeps and make sure that Every Sunday Matters in the life of a child or teen?
This morning you are invited to come be a part of blessing our newly renovated Youth Space (by fellowship hall).  Come see where and how our church is creating safe space for teens.  Eat a cupcake.  Hug a teenager! High five a youth leader! 
When I first was appointed as your pastor in 2015 (just a little over three years ago) and we gathered in cottage meetings for conversation… over and over I heard from you that Ridge was and is a congregation which places a high value and priority in investing in the lives of young people.  You said it.  Must be so… and we have been living into this vision together.
We have done much to fulfill the vision of a missional church we talked about last Sunday.  With one arm centered in Christ with others, and the other arm reaching out into the world.  We are doing this when we created our Children & Family Pastor position in 2015 and hired Beth Ann in 2017. 
We do this through our keen lay leadership on both our Education and Youth Council teams; through our Winning at Life breakfasts, last day of school ice cream sandwich give-away, sending our youth to church camp, leadership retreats, mission trips, serving as leaders in worship monthly, creating space and opportunity for children and their families to be together in worship, establishing three areas of growth in within our 2019 ministry budget to support children, teens and families, the list goes on and on… but folks, we are NOT done, and there is more we can be about. 
We anticipate our largest class of confirmands this spring.  We will need mentors for each of these students.  We are doing more inter-generational mission work as the Youth and Mission teams are working together to serve our world.  Shoulder to shoulder.  If you want to have hope about the next generation… then some work side by side a youth at the food bank. 
At the close of worship, we will share with you a marble to keep.  Please take this home as a visual reminder to share the Good news of Jesus and invest in the lives of our children & youth is URGENT!  So very needed!  When you see your marble in your home…make a priority to pray together for children, youth and for our congregation here at Ridge UMC, as we seek to be faithfully obedient to the most innocent and vulnerable among us for the sake of Jesus’ love for all.  Let us pray…

Monday, November 19, 2018

Transformed to Transform: Dare to Fail

Sunday November 18, 2018
“Transformed to Transform: Dare to Fail”
Acts 13:13; Acts 15:36-40

            We continue our Transformed to transform conversation today. Over half way there.  Our marbles remain in their same containers. I hope you are still pondering the meaning and significance of empty to full marble jars.  Next Sunday we will reveal what these marbles are here to tell us!  This morning we will talk about how daring to fail transforms us to transform in our being/doing church. 
Let’s pray… Come Spirit of the Living God, forgive us for our sins, mistakes, failures… forgive as well for our we use our successes as opportunities to refuse your leadership in our lives!  Come Spirit of God, come.  Amen. 
            Who do you remember said this, “I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”?  Can you guess who said that?  Hint- he was Chicago Bull.  Yes, Michael Jordan. 
            Michael Jordan, #23, dared to fail…and thus was successful!  Basketball and our faith lives have some things in common and some things not.  But the road to success often passes through several pit stops of failure. But a temporary failure does not have to bring our journey to an end. God delights in exalting the humble (Matthew 23:12, James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:5-6). Our two scriptures from Acts are put together today to help us learn from a failure in the early church. 
The story of Barnabas and John Mark is briefly told in the New Testament. But their relationship gives us insight into how churches can serve God. John Mark was a young man who experienced a humiliating failure early in his ministry. He left for the mission field with Paul and company and failed to finish the task. Evidently, when the going got tough, he quit and went back home.
Maybe John Mark he found out that ministry was not easy. Perhaps he left the job because he found his early efforts for God to be more difficult that he had first thought. Could have been physical hardships he hadn’t expected. Maybe he found mission work too emotionally draining. We are never told specifically why John Mark deserted his post.
Yet, as we heard in Acts 15, Paul was not willing to give John Mark a second chance.
Fortunately for John Mark, he had a faithful relative who did not give up on him when he stumbled. Barnabas, a man well known for his ability to consul and encourage, refused to allow his nephew to remain a casualty of his past. Oh, that there would be more Barnabas’ in our world today!  May God’s Spirit put the Spirit of Barnabas’ into the people of Ridge!  We need a revival of Barnabas among us!
Notice what happens next.  Barnabas and John Mark were used by God to multiply the mission efforts of the early church.  Clearly we see that God calls us forward into the future… not to live out of our past.  Moreover, just as we cannot live in yesterday’s failures, we also cannot live on yesterday’s accomplishments (15:36-38).  And this is a message for the church of today.  We cannot live our past into the future… but be present to our future. 
Does God use successes?  Heavens, yes!  Does God use failures? Absolutely! In fact, it could be argued that all of us are hypocrites… we just are hypocrites on different subjects from one another.  And hypocrisy is just one of our sins, failures, mistakes, and foibles.  Perhaps no man or woman is really prepared to serve God until they have failed in the pursuit of success without fully relying on God. Miss a few shots… to win the game later. 
Jesus’ invitation to salvation is for everyone.  His invitation for service is, likewise, for every believer.  That means- do not let anyone tell you that your past failure(s) mean that you are disqualified to serve God. God in Jesus offers forgiveness for every sin.  Once we receive Jesus’ forgiveness that might mean we live with the consequences of our past actions. And that could entail that the focus of how or where we serve God might be different.  But the call to serve remains.  Consider this some of the fastest growing seminaries are those in prisons!  Most of all, any real or perceived limitation should not discourage us or humiliate us anymore!  We are forgiven and freed from shame, guilt, etc. 
Look back at John Mark’s early failure.  It was not fatal. He lived to serve again. Barnabas recognized that his nephew had not shown his best colors when he deserted the work at first. Although Paul was not as trusting of John Mark, Barnabas still had faith in him. Thank God for faithful family and friends who have faith in us when we fail! God’s invitation to serve is really His command to serve and it is valid for every believer, regardless of his/her past.
Today, as we read about the first recorded breakup among the missionaries, we cringe and see it as a potential setback in cooperation and a breakdown of harmony. We are tempted to take sides. But God’s word offers neither explanation nor blame. We are simply told that the missionaries disagreed and went their separate ways.
Remember that everyone does not have to be just like you or me or Beth Ann or Wes or Ann or Richard or Dave to be effective in ministry. Each of us has a different focus and methodology. Not everyone can preach a bold, compassionate, convicting, Biblically sound classroom lessons.  Many people would not even be interested in trying. That is not their calling.
Likewise, not every preacher can minister to all the widows and orphans in the church. Nor can the church staff witness to all the lost in your community. The kingdom work of the church is a shared responsibility. We don’t all have the same gifts and abilities, so God has assigned us to specific ministry tasks based upon our own personal set of ministry skills. A successful, Bible centered, missionally-oriented church is one that can truly say, “It takes all kinds… and they’re all here.”
I would like to ask five (5) people to come up front and help me demonstrate something.  If you folks would come and stand in a circle together.  Hold hands.  This is what church looks like to us.  Doesn’t it?!  Everyone in the circle feels connected and Jesus is in the center.  This is the vision of what church looked like when I grew up and maybe this was the vision of church for your life too.  Or even if you did not grow up in a church family, but are here now… maybe this is what you feel and experience here.  Being together is good.  Jesus at the center of us is good. 
But I want you to notice something with me.  Notice where I am (and you are) in relation to this circle.  I am outside.  You are on the outside.  And being outside the church often means…outsiders only see Christians back sides!  Yikes!  Not always our best feature.  Does this vision of church look inviting?  Does this help you overcome your personal failures to find forgiveness? Does this look like a church being and doing the forgiving work of grace in the world?   Would our friend Barnabas from our story today stand here like this?   
Now, I am going to ask our friends to stay in a circle.  But move just their right hands into a pile of right hands holding together in the middle.  Notice how they are holding each other.  Support, unity, and love are there.  And how Jesus, of course, remains in the center.  Now, friends take your left hands and hold them palm up and look outside of the circle.  
This is what a missional, transformed to transform church looks like.  Connected with each other, centered on Jesus, but reaching out to others…extending Jesus to them.  Rooted inward deeply in love with Jesus… but also, extended graciously outward into our hurting and broken world!  What a vision!
Friends, we have only one message to share with the world.  One message to preach/teach.  Our goal is to preach Jesus, crucified and resurrected.  Jesus loves people.  All people!  Jesus forgives people.  Jesus redeems people.  Jesus transforms people to transform other people.  And clearly, our God in Jesus uses anyone, including former failures.
Ridge is God’s family… and we are challenged to be like Barnabas as we support each other in this amazing calling!  Each of us has a unique set of talents and gifts, as well as a distinctive personality. God calls us to perform tasks for Him that are good matches for our unique abilities.
Most of all, dear friends, if we are going to follow Jesus, if we are going to answer the call of God to make disciples, if we are going to transform the world, if we are going to be and do church in the world, then our closed circle vision of church needs to be transformed into an extended circle of care and compassion… offering Jesus’ hope, unconditional love, and His purposeful meaning for life!  Let’s be transformed to transform. Let us pray…

Transformed to Transform: Priority of Praying Together

Veterans Sunday November 11, 2018
“Transformed to Transform: Priority of Praying Together”
Acts 6:1-6

We continue our Transformed to transform conversation today… still pondering the meaning and significance of empty to full marble jars.  Several of you have made some interesting guesses… Stay tuned because the reveal will be on Sunday November 25th.  This morning we will talk about how praying together is a priority of being/doing church. 
Let’s pray… Come Spirit of the Living God, infuse us with the power of your love, conviction and boldness so that we can do and be your witness in the world in which we live.  Come Spirit of God, come.  Amen. 
Little prayer, little power.  Much prayer, much power.  You and I are transformed by God’s grace in Jesus through the power of prayer…the praying of our own prayers, the prayers of those who labor in love on our behalf, and the prayers of Jesus on our behalf.
So prayer doesn’t need to be an activity, it can be a lifestyle.  But how can we walk in this world and have power-packed prayers?  No worries, God’s Word proves all children, youth and adults can have this.  We were made by God with that fuse intact.
People want power in their life, but they don’t want to pray.  That’s like wanting fireworks but just throwing the rockets up into the sky – you need the match.  I remember when I was ignited to pray.  Do you remember when you were ignited to pray?
I was a novice pastor while serving as one of four associate pastors at Carmel UMC in Carmel, Indiana.  Our congregation was invited to participate in Celebration of Hope (an ecumenical worship celebration move beyond racial, cultural and societal barriers)!  I was the ‘sent’ associate to the planning meetings.  And there I fell in among a group of believers from a variety of background, ethnicities, and denominations.  As any planning meeting has- we were ‘invited’ to sign up for teams. 
For whatever reason, I cannot recall now, I put my signature on the ‘Prayer Team’ sign up list.  Remember I was still a green, wet-behind the ears pastor freshly graduated from one of the most challenging theological schools around… and I was in a prayer group with women and men I never met.  It was intimidating, uncomfortable, and awkward for me for lots of reasons.  I was without a doubt the youngest, most blonde, etc. 
Quickly I learned that this group of praying folks did not talk about minute’ theological points, nor political strategies.  No, rather, they got into a room, closed the door, and opened a portal of love from heaven itself!  They taught me it wasn’t about fluffy prayers stuffed with vocabulary and eloquence of spiritual ascent. It wasn’t about prayers that were required to out-do, not at all; prayer was about the igniting hearts to the fiery love of the Lord. Subsequently, this made the conversation with God in Jesus and Holt Spirit simply pour out with ease.
The fire was ignited… I had experienced it means to BATHE a church, a gathering, an event into one holy missional purpose!  Dang, I thought, as I drove home from each gathering, if this is one small little taste of what heaven’s full-on-worship will be like… I am gonna LOVE it!
We spoke last week about our changed cultural context.  This ain’t our grandma’s world nor our grandma’s culture of church.  What is unchanged is our Grandma’s God remains all powerful, all loving, all knowing, all good, forever & always and unchangeable. 
The culture in which our church exists is a changing river, charting it’s own path without regard to the preferences of previous generational or culture systems… Given this situation is it not surprising that many churches in the US are now focused mostly on survival.  These churches are no longer storming the gates of hell.  They are simply trying to outlast the onslaught of secularism that threatens their existence”(Milfred Minatrea Shaped by God’s Heart).
But there are other churches (of different shapes and sizes) who are beginning to understand the key to a revived spirit is both a focus inward and a move outward into the world- being & doing church so that the faith community of Jesus will not just merely survive, but thrive!  Thriving, by the way, looks like being energized to reconnect with God and His mission… and reconnection well, that looks like igniting a spark!
Ignition is prayer… little prayer, little power.  Much prayer, much power!  God has chosen us for His Missional purposes.  Appointed you and I.  We are to go and bear fruit.  I appreciate the formula: “Prayer + Faith = Power, Power + Obedience = a changed world.” (leave slide up)
To thrive as the church out in the world… we need to recognize that 1) Corporate prayer is on par with preaching and teaching as a priority.  2) Praying together is a vital key to opening God's presence and work among His people in unique ways. 3) The tendency among believers, is to think of prayer gatherings as the extra-curricular activity.  A car’s engine may be built to perfection but, that engineering marvel will not power the transmission to move your car… unless the spark is lit!
God wants you and I to experience much power to fuel our lives and our witness in the world.  Yes, we are called to pray personally… but also as a body of believers… so that God’s mighty workings increase exponentially and His purposes are accelerated. Understand that I am not minimizing personal prayer. Instead, this is a reminder that in order to thrive and not just survive in our context personal prayer alone will not result in the working of God to the degree needed for spiritual transformation in our lives, our church, our cities, and our nation.  Being and doing church means praying individually and TOGETHER.  Much prayer, much power.
Consider the story from Acts 6, the Church in Jerusalem faced one of its first dilemmas. As the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. The Twelve Apostles summoned the whole company of the disciples and began to problem solve.  Now I've always heard that this meant that the apostles delegated ministry responsibilities to others so that they would be freed up to spend time in personal prayer and receive a fresh word from the Lord to preach to the people. But that is not accurate.
The apostles are not referring to the need for personal, private prayer. Instead, they are talking about the ministry of mobilizing the people of God to pray together. They were marking out the two ministries they must especially do as church leaders.
Think about this -every occurrence of prayer in Acts preceding Chapter 6 (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31) pictures the apostles leading others in prayer. Not one reference points to their private prayer time; the focus is on God's people praying together.  So by testimony and by example, it is plain that the apostles placed a high premium on the people of God praying together. They considered guiding the corporate prayer life of the church just as critical a priority as the preaching/teaching of God's Word. Ever wonder how they could do amazing things? Fuel was ignited through their praying together. 
And the apostles prayed together because their Jesus did it!  The apostles learned their leadership patterns from the Master. Ransack the Gospels for Jesus' teaching and practice of prayer, and you will identify 37 verses, sometimes repeated in more than one Gospel. Of those 37 instances in which Jesus refers to prayer, 33 of them were addressed to a plural rather than singular audience. In other words, Jesus' instruction decisively leaned toward praying with others, not just praying in private. 
God in the Spirit uniquely and powerfully works- where 2 or 3 are gathered in prayer.  So the apostles made it a practice and a priority to teach about praying with fellow believers and to practice it because they had heard and seen Jesus emphasize the same thing. 
Moreover, consider this… in almost every quarter of the globe, Christianity is advancing... except for four primary areas: North America, Japan, Australia, and Western Europe. Guess what one of the common denominators is everywhere Christianity marches forward? Christians spend time in prayer together. Track what God is doing in Korea, in China, in India, in Eastern Africa, and you will find behind the scenes prayer meetings. 
I know what you're thinking. Our prayer meetings, when we have them, don't seem to convey that sort of power. And you're right.  God’s Spirit is calling us to strategic shifts in how we spend our time together.  Maybe one of you has the burden on your heart to start a prayer group. Or a calling to begin a focused prayer team on our ministry together. So, as we progress in that direction, you be the change that's needed.  So let’s begin by praying differently and praying together for a little practice… 

Transformed to Transform: Winning Witness

Sunday November 4, 2018, All Saints Sunday
“Transformed to Transform: A Winning Witness”
Acts 4:23-36

We begin a new conversation this month that centers around the mystery of these marbles.  Check out these five containers.  Each has a very specific amount of colorful marbles in them.  No, your pastor as not (yet) lost her marbles.  Curious about what these marbles represent or mean within our series Transformed to Transform?  Stay tuned because the reveal will be on Sunday November 25th.  This morning we will talk about how we are a winning witness of Jesus in the world. 
Let’s pray… Come Spirit of the Living God, infuse us with the power of your love, conviction and boldness so that we can do and be your witness in the world in which we live.  Come Spirit of God, come.  Amen. 
            Witness…can be or do.  Be a noun like “she was a witness of the car accident”.  Do the work of witness like “his writings witness his inner toughness”.  God’s Holy Spirit seeks to move into your life and mine that we become both. Be a witness.  And do the ministry of witness-ing. 
As we paused this morning to honor, remember and celebrate this year’s class of Ridge saints… I was mindful that from the youngest to the oldest within this group are witnesses who were friends of Jesus and who shared how Jesus impacted their life others through their everyday actions with others.  From the youngest John Rogers and his music ministry in our Ridge praise band to the oldest Russ Altherr serving meals to the homeless on Mondays; our Ridge saints have shown us how to be and do witness work for Jesus. 
You could say that today’s message on winning witness is about communication. Specifically, we will examine how to effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in 2018 and beyond. I am sure as I speak the introverts in the room have a growing sense of fear or anxiety.  Talking about sharing Jesus with others brings up all sorts of mixed emotions, past hurts, or even a sense of overwhelming angst. 
But what if… sharing Jesus with others- being and doing the witness work is not what you think it is?  Not knocking on someone’s front door.  Not telling someone what they are doing wrong in life.  Not imparting guilt, shame or some other coercive strategy to win someone to Jesus. What if sharing Jesus is something else?!  What if a winning witness is much more joyful, empowering, hopeful, and contagious??!! 
As we heard read in our Acts reading today we learn the baby church or early church… understood the being and doing of ministry… together.  These early Jesus followers understood that God calls every follower of Christ to witness on a daily basis by using every means of communicating the gospel of Christ to a lost and dying world.
For sharing Jesus to be effective, the saints must recognize that God's evangelistic call extends to all Christians. It is not limited to certain groups, leaders, staff, or clergy in the church. God does equip the church with ‘evangelists’, but we must not confuse the gift of an evangelist with the commission of sharing how Jesus has changed your life.
Look again at the use of the plural pronouns in our Bible reading! Verse 31 indicates that the apostles were joined by the rest of the church in speaking the message of the gospel. In an amazing answer to prayer, God empowers ordinary Christians with extraordinary boldness to witness for Christ. God will do the same for you and me!
Your personal time with Jesus (in prayer, reading, listening to Christian music, sharing in quiet, serving to help someone else) fuels your sharing of Jesus with others.  Verse 13 says the community took note that these men had been with Jesus. Then in verse 20, Peter informs the religious leaders that he is simply speaking about things he had seen and heard. These verses obviously refer to the apostle Peter, but the text reveals a simple yet powerful truth for all believers to embrace.
You and I talk about those things that interest us. Grandparents talk about grandkids. Some people talk about favorite restaurants. Others talk about sports. As we spend time with Jesus which strengthens our faith… the result will be that we have something to share with others about how Jesus has healed us, comforted us, transformed us, challenged us, forgiven us, and sent us out into our circle of influence to pass along the best of what we have gained. 
Ridge these past few years has been undergoing a shift in our perspective and understanding of what being church means.  Our leaders have been learning about what is happening in dying churches and what vibrant growing churches are experiencing.  One of the key difference in a vibrant church is a huge shift in our understanding of what a winning witness for Jesus looks like.
Consider this slide (show Attractional vs. Missional church).  For many years with the way our culture used to be… churches in America could operate with an “attractional” model or mode.  We evangelize or market to people by to get them to come to us.  We try to produce events and worship that are attractive to a demographic.  But, you say, our world is very different in 2018.  And indeed it is different. 
Overall, the Church’s (Protestant and Catholic alike) influence on Americans is beginning to fade. A growing number of Americans have given up on God—or at least on organized religion. They have become “Nones,” a term popularized by Pew Research. And their numbers are growing.  Pew’s 2007 Religious Landscape study, which surveyed 35,000 respondents, found that about 16% of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. By 2015, that number had grown to 23%, almost one in four Americans.
A changed cultural context provides you and I as Jesus followers with an unprecedented and amazing opportunity!  The mission is every before us- to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  A missional church… “is a reproducing community of authentic disciples, being equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim God’s kingdom in their world.” 
Which means consider what a missional church looks like.  “Our evangelism is relational.  We invest in people and society, living out our faith in Christ.  We find ways to go and live like Christ with people in their regular everyday activities.  Living like Christ is distinctly different, but not irrelevant.”
I read a quote recently by a French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divine the work, and give orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” 
Many of us who have been a part of church for decades have spent years drumming up people, gathering word, dividing the work of church, and so on… but as I read Acts 4, as I pray, and as I consider the mission field of Northwest Indiana before us…if Ridge is to accomplish God’s purpose as a winning witness in our world we need to do more than apply marketing principles- you and I need to yearn for the vastness and endlessness of a relationship with Jesus!!  As we yearn…we share our yearning with others. 
The children’s song, “We Are the Church” (#558 of United Methodist hymnal), reminds us that being a community of people who follow Jesus is not about our building, our church bank accounts, our organ, or our guitars.  Rather, being church is about being a unique, significant sort of people. Therefore, you could say that technically, no one ‘goes to church’… because we ‘are the church’ with one another and toward the world around us. 
To be church as a winning witness looks like (show 2nd slide) …switching from a consumer mindset of church which has said, “I go to church where I am fed, have my needs met, and have professional teach my children.” To be a Missional Church which means “we are a body of people sent on a mission who gather in community for worship, community encouragement, and teaching on God’s Word, in addition to what we are self-feeding through the week.”  We are the church- we are the witness (doing and being Jesus) to the world.
Sure Ridge has great resources, but resources do not reach people. People reach people. When was the last time you invited someone to sit with you in worship?  Invited someone to come to one of our special events like Trunk r Treat, Winter VBS, or Christmas Eve worship?  Or when was the last time you offered a kindness to a stranger?  Called the local synagogue this week after the horrifying events of last week, Tree of Life?  Raised a Habitat wall shoulder to shoulder with people of different faiths? Told a friend how Jesus met you in answering your prayers?
We are all called to be winning witnesses of Jesus who spend time with Christ and share with compassion as we expect our loving God to use our winning witness to save souls.  This is how we are transformed to transform. Come be church with us!  Let us pray…

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Waiting on the Lord is like Waiting on a Geyser

Our second week of vacation was spent in the very first National Park, Yellowstone. To be honest with you – none of our family had any real idea how truly wondrous and amazing this area is until we saw it for ourselves!  Diverse, awe-inspiring, strange eco-systems, and sweet wildflowers fill the over 2 millions acres of Yellowstone National Park.
1000 miles of hiking trails, 290 waterfalls, plus all sorts of wildlife bison, elk, eagles, foxes, bears, oh my- Yellowstone has just about everything!  Including a grand canyon- who knew?! Resting on and around the world’s largest caldera (with a super volcano underneath) YNP contains ½ of the world’s thermal features…including mud pots, fumardes, and hot springs such as mammoth, or grand prismatic, or blue star, or geysers such as Old Faithful. 
Our family spent an entire morning hiking all around the board walk which surrounds the great geyser basin.  We were joined by a pack of enthusiastic geyser watchers.  This experience for me was another God-moment during our trip.  I had never been a geyser watcher before.  Did not know anything about these thermal features.  Waiting on geysers (which may or may not spout off on time or late or early or not at all) means you watch and wait with a lack of Kronos timing… more like Kairos timing (or God time).  All that is to say putting aside a watch meant I had time to meditate and ponder!  As we walked, waited, sat and contemplated how geysers work and why they do what they do, another scripture came to me… this one from Revelation, And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new”(Rev 21:5). 
God is making things new with through the bubbling works of these thermal features.  Sometimes I forget that while God created all things in God’s timing of 7 days… that does not mean God’s creating power is inactive or has stopped in 2018. 
Yes, Glacier and Yellowstone both show off the evidence of how God creates with the use of force such as tectonic plates of earth crashing into one another.  Giant sheets of deep dense ice banging around and dragging rock and debri for miles.  Moreover, Yellowstone shows off what kind of debri a super volcano leaves by creating either an another mountain range or swallowing a range of hills into its’ molten lava! 
But sitting there quietly waiting on that board walk- I heard God’s creating power!  These gurgling, bubbling springs with their mineral deposits showed me how our earth is still being shaped… and likewise, so too are we!  Graciously slowly… new things are taking shape at Yellowstone which is why you need to go back for another visit!  At least my family and I do.
God is trustworthy and more reliable than any geyser in YNP (yes, even more reliable than Old Faithful)!  Remember who God is and what our God is called?  God’s name is El hanne’eman which in Hebrew means God is faithful!  Jesus is faithful in shaping and re-creating me every day.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!(2 Cor 5:17).  If God is doing new things each and every day in such an ancient and wondrous place- how much more is God’s Spirit doing inside you and your life and in me and mine! 
On a final note about our morning spent geyser watching.  Our tour guide wanted to make sure we enjoyed several of the geysers.  He was especially excited to share with us one called Beehive.  In fact, here is a picture of Old Faithful going off with the indicator of Beehive geyser going off at the same time! And when Beehive finally went off… we spent the next 6 minutes running up and down the boardwalk trying not to get soaked in the ice cold water… because it shoots our boiling but falls back down ice cold.
What a fun surprise to get cooled off and drenched by the ongoing handiwork of God’s creating power!  My prayer is that you too are living into God’s faithfulness as God’s Spirit guides your path and creates newness in your life! 

God Lesson from the Trail to Avalanche Lake

God’s creation is wondrous, beautiful, diverse, and intricate!  Like many of you the most engaging ways to explore and appreciate God’s creation happen when we explore our local, state or national parks.  Over a year ago while my family and I enjoyed the Great Smokey Mountain Park in Tennessee, we make a family pact to visit and explore more of our national treasures.  The Psalmist says, Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them”(Psalm 111:2).  And so too our family discovered that we find ourselves renewed and refreshed as we ponder and delight in God’s wonderful creation!
Within our country we have 58 national parks!  In early July my family and I spent a week in the “crown of the continent” otherwise known as Glacier National Park. The continental divide meanders through/under and within the park… or the area of the park was created over it!  This is a land shaped by fire (from lightning storms) and ice (from glaciers)! 
Over a million acres has been dedicated to Glacier and Waterton.  Established in 1910 as a US national park people come from all over to hike the 743 miles of trails in Glacier NP The magnificent area was named as the first international peace park because Glacier NP and Waterton NP are located in Montana and a portion of Canada. 
People come to see grizzlies and mountain goats in their habitats; or be amazed at the modern engineering marvel the Going-to-the Sun road which connects the east and west portions of the park; and/or marvel at the cool moist movement of the 26 glaciers that remain.  Did you know that Triple Divide Peak is the only peak in the world which supplies 3 different oceans?! the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic.
My family and I ran out of words to describe the beauty and wonder of this portion of the US.  Majestic.  Dramatic.  Beautiful.  The huge rocky landscape made us feel grounded and calm.  We simply could not say, “WOW”, often enough!  Our God formed and shaped this part of our world with the powerful push of glacier moving ancient rock.  Therefore, the experience of being there felt like rocky terrain and densely wooded areas as well as the open meadows, offer a profound and deep quiet to your soul.  We can appreciate why at least three native tribes as far back as 12,000 years ago visited this place as a holy site.  Because this place is holy, indeed! 
Like 50% of the visitors to the park the Knight family decided to go on a hike.  We selected the hike to see Avalanche Lake because it did not sound too hard.  Assumption #1.  My family had each of their own special moments on our trip- but this 6 mile hike was when the Holy Spirit reminded me of an important lesson. 
We started in the lush, moist hemlock and aspen forest. Quickly the terrain pushed us upwards so that our elevation shifted at least 500 feet on the way up.  All the guidebooks said this was a doable hike… not too easy, but certainly not a trail exclusively for professional hikers! 
But have you ever been on a hiking trail that did not have any trail signs?  Perhaps a beginning marker sign… but nothing in between to note your progress on the path?  That was the case for this trail.  No signs.  No markings.  While we met lots of families and individuals going up…there was nothing to tell us how far we were from the lake or how close.  The twists and turns of the path and with the gradual elevation going up and down did not give us much of a sense of where we were on the journey.
To be completely honest with you- as we hiked on- shedding jackets and then other layers of clothes as the day got warmer and we got sweatier- I began an inner conversation in my head.  “how much further?”  “why aren’t we there yet?”  “Did I lead my family on a huge mistake?”  Anxiety.  Not knowing.  Feeling kinda ‘blind’… all brought up an inner uneasiness in me.  Maybe you like to know where you are too.  ‘caused an interesting spiritual lesson.
As we meandered along, we asked a traveler who was coming down, “how much further?” to which their non-committal response only caused me more inner frustration. Suddenly when we came to a clearing… for a pause to drink our water and take this photo, I heard a voice in my head say, Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path(Psalm 119:105). 
Interesting scripture to receive in the daylight, but a good reminder that God always knows where I am. As I thought about that verse I realized afresh that I am not supposed see any further than my feet. God’s Word is a lamp to my feet… scripture does not say God’s Word is a lamp for the next ¼ mile ahead of my feet!  Be where I am - is where and when God in Jesus will meet me. Do not worry about the next ¼ mile until I get there.
We enjoyed a rest on comfy log and visited with a park ranger.  And then we began our trek back down… recognizing where we had been before and yet still not knowing mile markers or specific points to share with other future travelers.  Instead we offered words of encouragement and promises of “it’s worth it”.  The journey and it’s lesson for me was worth it to be reminded God is faithfulness in the midst of such staggering, and powerful beauty.  Good to be reminded how significantly small I am compared to our Lord’s faithFULLness!