#Lent14: Dinner With Jesus — Mark Foster

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

In this week’s #Lent14 posts, we are departing from the Lectionary and are turning instead to events during the life of Jesus that involved Dinner Parties.  As we travel in Central Asia, one of the things that we are continually struck by is the amount of life that happens around the dinner table.  In fact, in one Central Asian nation, we were told, “If I invite you for tea, we’re friends.  Yet, when I invite you for food, we become family.”  This week we are joined by four dear friends and pastors to our ministry who have agreed to offer a meditation for us.

Today, we are excited to once again have a special guest post from Rev. Mark Foster. Pastor Mark is the Founding Pastor of Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. He married his wife Chantelle in August 1991. They have two sons, John Mark and Noah. Pastor Mark is led by the Spirit and is passionate about seeing people come to know Jesus. We met Pastor Mark in October of last year when we began to attend Acts 2 UMC. We are blessed to have him as both a Pastor and a friend, and are honored that he has written today’s guest post.

Rev. Mark Foster

Rev. Mark Foster

UNTIL JESUS

Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death…

Luke 22:1-2 (NRSV)

Passover is the quintessential story of Judaism. Israel’s identity is tied to the covenant of land as promised by God. To get to this promised-land, Moses would need to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt to the land which was promised. However, the ruler of Egypt would not let them go until plague after plague decimated everything the Egyptians loved and held dear.

The final plague was a spirit of death that killed the first born of the Egyptians but “Passed Over” the homes of faithful Israelites who had followed the Lord’s instruction to paint their doorposts red with the blood of a spotless lamb. Each year, the families would gather and remember God’s faithfulness. In America, our Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey would be similar remembering God’s provision to the pilgrims. Passover was the same story every year on the same month in the spring for the same people for roughly 1300 years. It was and is the story of how God saved the Jews over and against the Egyptians, ultimately drowning both the Egyptian charioteers and their horses in the Red Sea. And that was Passover, until Jesus… Those two words, “until Jesus” are perhaps the most powerful words in anyone’s life.

I was lost… I had no hope… Despair had overtaken me… Life was meaningless… My addiction had me by the neck… Anger ruled my home… My appetites left me eternally hungry, cold, and lonely… Unforgiveness was killing me… Death had won… until Jesus.

These words were and are so powerful in fact, that it threatened and threatens anyone who made or makes the rules, enforced or enforces proper behavior, was or is responsible for fairness and the Roman way or American way. Until Jesus, might made right. Until Jesus, tax collectors, prostitutes, and children were clearly outsiders. What do you do with someone who blesses, sets free, and welcomes those you have just cursed, imprisoned, and sent away? You kill him.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

Luke 22:3-6 (NRSV)

So what do you do when someone is out to kill you? You prepare Thanksgiving Dinner with your family and closest friends. You invite the betrayer to dinner, bless those around you, thank God for the meal and God’s faithfulness, and do the dirty work of washing feet.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John…

…they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Luke 22:7-8, 13 19 (NRSV)

For more than one thousand years, the wording describing the Passover meal was about bitter herbs, salt water, and unleavened bread… until Jesus. Now Jesus was speaking about “my body.” Jesus was breaking from the traditional language used at the meal each year since the time of Moses.

 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luke 22:20 (NRSV)

The disciples were confused at this point. The covenant was not new, but dated back to the 19th Dynasty about 1350-1200 B.C. And, the blood was of a lamb, not human! The blood Passover covenant was understood as between God and God’s chosen people the Jews… until Jesus. What had been an animal sacrifice to save one people, Jesus changed to His sacrifice for ALL people. All people. Even betrayers?

But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.

Luke 22:21 (NRSV)

Rev. Adam Hamilton points out that for Judas to dip his hand in the bowl with Jesus at the table (as the scriptures indicate) would have seated Judas both in a place of honor at the table and closest to our Lord reclining intimately next to him. This is how Jesus treats those who would do him harm. He blesses. The world had not seen anything like this…until Jesus.

Later, Judas leaves and betrays, Peter protests and denies, the rest run and hide.

The women weep and mourn. Blood and water flow, breath stops, the tomb is sealed. The world shakes, goes dark, and waits. And waits. And waits. Until Jesus… on the road to Emmaus…

… was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:30-35 (NRSV)

It was just another day and another stranger on the road, another meal, another loaf of bread… until Jesus.

#Lent14: Dinner With Jesus — Neal Locke

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

In this week’s #Lent14 posts, we are departing from the Lectionary and are turning instead to events during the life of Jesus that involved Dinner Parties.  As we travel in Central Asia, one of the things that we are continually struck by is the amount of life that happens around the dinner table.  In fact, in one Central Asian nation, we were told, “If I invite you for tea, we’re friends.  Yet, when I invite you for food, we become family.”  This week we are joined by four dear friends and pastors to our ministry who have agreed to offer a meditation for us.

We are honored to once again have Rev. Neal Locke guest blogging for us. Neal and I met 15 years ago as students at Oral Roberts University. I am thankful that all these years later I can still call him my friend. (And, can say that we both successfully graduated.)

Neal, his wife, Amy, and three children, Grady, Abby, and Jonah live in El Paso, Texas, where Neal is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

Rev. Neal Locke

Rev. Neal Locke

A Reading from the Gospel of John

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.

John 2:1-12 (NRSV)

The Word of the Lord.

I have always been a bit envious of Jesus when reading about his first miracle.  The first time I attempted to convert water into a fermented beverage, it took me an entire day of hard work followed by three long weeks of waiting, checking, fretting, adjusting, more hard work (bottling) before finally ending up with a batch of homebrewed beer.  It was reasonably decent, but certainly nothing to summon the bridegroom about.  My first batch was five gallons.  Jesus made about 150.  His work took a matter of minutes. Mine took almost a month.  Even after five years of homebrewing, I am only just beginning to have the understanding and control over the brewing process required to “get it right” every time.  Jesus got it right on his first (and possibly only) attempt.  So forget walking on water or raising the dead–the very first miracle of Jesus is the one that impresses me the most.

But I think there is another miracle at work just under the surface of this story–one that shows up in my own brewing experiences, too:  It’s the miracle of community.  You see, whenever I brew, I typically invite over some friends. Ostensibly, this is because more hands makes the work easier.  But the truth is, I could do it all myself–it’s just more fun with friends and it’s a good excuse to get together.  Brewing involves periods of intense activity (measuring, grinding, mixing, lifting, pouring, cleaning) and a lot of watching and waiting in between.  Those in between times are great for kicking back and talking, catching up on each others’ lives, debating the finer points of NFL quarterback stats, or even going philosophical on the greater questions of life, death, and raising children.  Meanwhile, the brewing goes on, and serves as the larger end we are all working toward–a product that, when finished, we can all enjoy and be proud of.

There is a science to brewing beer, and I’m sure there are plenty of chemists and physicists who can explain the process in the minutest detail.  I’m not one of them.  To me, it’s all pretty miraculous that I simply throw together the right ingredients, follow some time-honored steps that brewers have used for thousands of years, and fermentation happens!  Even those who can explain what happens did not themselves generate the laws of physics and chemistry, so I like to think that God is ultimately part of the brewing process…and it is therefore miraculous (even when it isn’t instantaneous).  The same can be said of the community that brews alongside the beer:  You throw a bunch of people with different personalities, opinions and life circumstances together in my garage for a purpose almost completely unrelated to any of them, and community happens!  I’m sure a psychologist could explain what’s going on and why this works, but even so, it is miraculous.

Given the connections, then, between the miracle of fermentation and miracle of community, I think there are some things we can observe and learn from Jesus in this passage:

1. Be intentional.   Miracles are not spontaneous.  Jesus is reluctant (here and elsewhere in the gospels) to perform a miracle, and would have likely been just as happy to just go on his way without one.  But his mother is insistent, and knows that without Jesus’ intervention, things won’t come together.  Likewise, good beer (or any beverage for that matter) doesn’t appear in my refrigerator just because I like to drink it.  I have to be intentional about either making it or taking the time to find it somewhere else.  Good community is the same way:  it doesn’t “just happen.”  We have to make space for it, cultivate it, and seek it out.  In other words, we have to be intentional about it.

2. Use what you’ve got.   Homebrewers are notorious for re-purposing common household items in order to avoid buying expensive equipment.  Jesus looks around for something to make wine in, sees some large stone jars (which are essentially 1st century Jewish bathtubs!) and says to himself, “Yeah, that’ll do.”  The wine has run out, but there’s plenty of water:  “Yeah, that’ll do.”  While we have to be intentional about community, we don’t have to make it elaborate or overly complicated.  Community forms best around simple things:  food, drink, kitchens, garages, books, games, nature, and even inflatable leather balls.

3. Follow the process.  Since we’re already in the realm of miracles, I’ve always wondered why Jesus didn’t just blink his eyes and have the wine instantly appear in people’s cups.  Why go through the whole ritual of having the servants fill the jars? Why use water? Why summon the steward to taste it when he already knew it was perfect?  None of these things were, strictly speaking, necessary.  But by creating a process, Jesus involved others in the miracle.  He also gave us some things to think about:  There is some pretty deep symbolism and foreshadowing in transforming water (think baptism) into wine (think crucifixion).  Likewise, I could just go to the store to buy beer, but in adopting a process I involve other people. I learn more about what I’m brewing/drinking, and develop more appreciation for the final result.  Community, too, works best when we follow a process:  That’s why our rites and rituals (like worship, communion, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and pot-luck luncheons) are so important.  They involve us with other people, and give us opportunity to contemplate the symbols that draw us deeper in thought and faith.

4. Trust in God for the rest.  In brewing, I am intentional about the process. I use the best ingredients and equipment I’ve got on hand.  But ultimately, I rely on God (the author of chemistry and physics) to make the real magic happen.  Mary shows great faith in her son when she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  She doesn’t ask Jesus if it might be possible for him to help in some way–she knows exactly where human ability ends (“they have no wine”) and where divine ability begins (“do whatever he tells you”).  To put it simply, there are things we must do ourselves (see 1-3) and there are things we must place in God’s hands.  Knowing the difference between the two is important. Community ultimately is a heavenly gift.  So no matter how intentional we are about it, no matter what resources or process we use to facilitate it, when the magic happens we give thanks to God.

#Lent14: Dinner With Jesus — Charla Gwartney

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

In this week’s #Lent14 posts, we are departing from the Lectionary and are turning instead to events during the life of Jesus that involved Dinner Parties.  As we travel in Central Asia, one of the things that we are continually struck by is the amount of life that happens around the dinner table.  In fact, in one Central Asian nation, we were told, “If I invite you for tea, we’re friends.  Yet, when I invite you for food, we become family.”  This week we are joined by four dear friends and pastors to our ministry who have agreed to offer a meditation for us.

Our guest blogger today is our dear friend, Charla Gwartney.  Rev. Gwartney is currently serving as Senior Pastor at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Her family is a great blessing to her…husband, Kurt and daughter, Elizabeth.

Rev. Charla Gwartney with husband, Curt, and daughter Elizabeth

Rev. Charla Gwartney with husband, Kurt, and daughter Elizabeth

A Reading from the Gospel of John

There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:2-8 (NRSV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Anything can happen at the table. Have you noticed that? When people want to really visit, they go to a coffee shop to sit at a table together. When people know the conversation will be difficult, they go to dinner hoping the conversation will be less charged with conflict. When people want to celebrate, they invite people to the table where conversation often leads far into the night and where glasses are raised in toast after toast. I have seen relationships mended around a table. I’ve also seen words flow too freely and feelings get hurt around a table. I’ve seen life-changing announcements made around a table. And, I’ve experienced the everyday ordinary stuff of life become holy around a table. I’m telling you, anything can happen at the table.

What happens around the table in John 12:2-8, however, is absolutely the most extraordinary table event I’ve ever known about, save what happens around the table of the last supper. Lazarus and his two sisters invite Jesus to their home for dinner. In the preceding chapter, we find the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and learn that Jesus loves this family very much. They were important friends and followers. So, an invitation from this family would have been received with joy. Jesus knew that dinner here would include laughter, love and true fellowship. After all, Lazarus had just been raised from the dead and there would be lots to celebrate.

As the story begins in verse two, all feels normal. Lazarus was around the table with Jesus and Martha was serving. So far, this is exactly what we would expect. The men would enjoy a meal together around the table and the women would be gathered in the kitchen preparing and serving the food. But, where is Mary? She enters in verse three and turns this table scene upside down. The scripture says she took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard. Did you know that nard had to be imported from the Himalayas? Who knows what this family was saving this stuff for, but it had to have been one of their greatest treasures – to be doled out one little bit a at a time. It probably was being saved for their family burials and had been brought out when Lazarus was thought to be dead.

Mary takes it all, every last bit of it, and anoints Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. This is an act of over-the-top extravagance and the scripture tells you that by stating that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Oh yes, the women would’ve known about this too, even from another room. For just a moment, take a breath and imagine how shocking this whole scene would be. Mary isn’t supposed to be anywhere near this table. She is supposed to be serving with the other women. And, she sure isn’t supposed to be squandering the family treasure on someone who isn’t even dead yet. I would imagine that every single person around that dinner table is absolutely speechless, their jaws are hanging open to the floor. And then, the aroma hangs in the air so thick they can think of nothing else. Even if they had wanted to lighten the mood – change the subject – there can be none of that. They can still smell the evidence of Mary’s actions!

I’m hunching on this. I have absolutely no evidence to support it. But, I’m hunching Jesus was just as shocked as every other man around that table when Mary walked into the room. I think, though, when Jesus saw her face, he saw a love that must have said even more than the nard. She couldn’t help herself. She risked a public shaming (which she did indeed receive in verse five). She risked her family’s disappointment realizing their treasure was gone. She risked Jesus’ rejection – he didn’t have to respond the way he did in verse seven. But, I’ll say it again, she couldn’t help herself.

This love that can push us to risk everything – that is extraordinary. I wonder, when is the last time you saw that kind of love around a table? I think the table draws out the best in us. I know it drew out the best in Mary. I’m so grateful she threw caution to the wind and showed me what it means to love with abandon. I wonder if Jesus thought about this kind of love when he shared that last meal with his disciples in the next chapter…when he washed their feet? I’m hunching he still remembered the smell of sweet perfume as he washed those dirty feet and reminded them, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” I’ll say it again…anything can happen at the table.

#Lent14: Dinner With Jesus — Nathan Kilbourne

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

In this week’s #Lent14 posts, we are departing from the Lectionary and are turning instead to events during the life of Jesus that involved Dinner Parties.  As we travel in Central Asia, one of the things that we are continually struck by is the amount of life that happens around the dinner table.  In fact, in one Central Asian nation, we were told, “If I invite you for tea, we’re friends.  Yet, when I invite you for food, we become family.”  This week we are joined by four dear friends and pastors to our ministry who have agreed to offer a meditation for us.

Today, we are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne (@pastornate84), has agreed once again to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Senior Pastor at Vilonia United Methodist Church in Vilonia, Arkansas. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

Pastors Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

Pastors Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

Luke 9:12-17 (NRSV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

My wife and I love to host people for dinner.  We love having people over to enjoy fellowship and food.  One of the things we enjoy doing is making the things we love to eat.  Sounds a bit selfish I know, but oh well, no one has ever complained!  So, I love to smoke meats.  My wife loves to make desserts. Neither of us eat a lot of either though we love it, inviting people over gives us an excuse to cook what we love for the people we love.

For these events, I will make my favorite barbeque and homemade bbq sauces.  Lynn will make her favorite dessert.  Ok, let’s be honest our favorite desserts!  Then we will make side dishes (usually at least 3).  And, on occasion, instead of buying drinks, I’ll make homemade lemonade!  However, inevitably, no matter how much we have planned and prepared.  No matter how many side dishes and pounds of meat we have purchased and made, we will ask one another, “Do you think we have enough for the 8-10 people we are hosting?”  It never fails; we always wonder if there will be enough!  On occasion, I’ve been known to be so worried about it, I go and buy another 8 pound pork shoulder or spiral ham just to make sure!  Of course, as you have probably guessed, by the time the meal is over, there is plenty of food.

It is always dumbfounding the scarcity which controls our minds as we prepare to host others at our home.  Rarely do I trust our estimation and forget how many days after the fact I end up having to eat leftovers.  There is some internal fear which is hard to override.  No one ever wants to host people and run out of food.  And yet, the fear moves from running out to hoarding very quickly.  Scarcity quickly takes control of our minds to the point of over preparation and wastefulness.  “There is not enough,” we think.  We need more! And before we know it, we have way too much.  It is hard for us to believe and comprehend there is already an abundance of food and there will be plenty for everyone.

We find this notion of scarcity within our Scripture passage as well.  The disciples are having a hard time believing that five loves and two fish are going to feed 5000 people.  I can’t blame them.  I would have a hard time believing it myself!  The imminent scarcity of food over rules their capacity to trust the Lord.  How striking is it in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus has already fed thousands of people once and still the disciples are uncertain whether not he can do this again!  They can’t seem to trust the superabundance of God’s grace in light of the reality of scarcity.  As author Samuel Wells says in his book God’s Companions, “There are those who cannot comprehend the world into which he [Jesus] is inviting them.  The disciples, endlessly, fail the test of imagination.”  Their imagination is just too small; God’s gifts are just too great for the minds to comprehend.  If I were a disciple, I would probably start walking around the crowd and start apologizing to everyone I met because I would be certain there would be people going hungry that night!

And yet, the Gospels are a testimony to the superabundance of God. In fact all of Scripture is a testimony to Gods abundance gifts of grace.  Look at the story of Eden, Adam and Eve can’t trust that the Garden will fully satisfy!  To live in the kingdom of God is to trust that there is always enough.  While there are some who can’t comprehend, there are others which simply want to set their face against this idea.  Such an idea may mean a reordering of their priorities.  Take for instance the anointing of Jesus at Bethany.  The Pharisees see only a wasteful act, rather than the abundance of love.  Scarcity, stemming from a lack of trust and faith, can quickly lead to denial of others, division, overindulgence, hoarding, wastefulness, and judgment.

But, “God has given us everything we need to love him. (Samuel Wells, God’s Companions).”  Are we willing to trust these gifts rather than to seek to control them? Holy Week is a stark reminder of the inability to trust God’s abundance gifts.  At times, it is difficult to trust God has given us everything we need to love him.  Circumstances, fear, hurt, pain, stress, and anguish push us into the world where there is not enough.  In turn, love of neighbor, generosity, patience, gentleness all take a back seat.  But during this Holy Week, we are invited once again into the superabundant grace of God who creates a world through the Crucified and Risen One which proclaims in the Kingdom of God there is always enough!  May it be our prayer that God expands our imaginations where we are prevented from trusting that to be the case and that we are able to relinquish control and repent of the times when we have acted counter to God’s abundance.  May we trust the One whom always gives us plenty to love God and love our neighbor.

—–

12013X: God"s Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics God’s Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics
By Samuel Wells / Wiley-Blackwell

#Advent13: What’s in a Name? — Mark Foster

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings. We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

Rev. Mark Foster

Rev. Mark Foster

Today, we are excited to once again have a special guest post from Rev. Mark Foster. Pastor Mark is the Founding Pastor of Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. He married his wife Chantelle in August 1991. They have two sons, John Mark and Noah. Pastor Mark is led by the Spirit and is passionate about seeing people come to know Jesus. We met Pastor Mark in October of last year when we began to attend Acts 2 UMC. We are blessed to call him our Pastor, and are honored that he has written today’s guest post.

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

— Matthew 1:18-25 (The Message)

The Word of God for the people of God.

​Sometimes what you see or experience is so great, beyond description, beyond expectation, that one name simply won’t do. The baby gets two names. The first is “Jesus” – the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua which means “Jehova is salvation.” Another way of putting it is that Jesus means “The Lord saves.” Or you might even say that the angel commands Joseph to name the baby “Savior” because “He will save!” The New Revised Standard Version puts it, that Joseph being a “righteous man” which can also be translated as a “just” man had planned to dismiss her (Mary) quietly. “But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (emphasis mine).

The angel is direct. One, do not be afraid. This is the normal conversation starter between heavenly beings and mortals. We need this instruction daily. Joseph had reason to be afraid. While the Law of Moses required capital punishment in cases like these (Deuteronomy 22:23-27), by this time in Jewish history, the penalty was rarely death. Rather, it would be a severe, humiliating, public penalty. In Joseph’s circles, to be described as “righteous” meant that one did the right thing at the right time and was a follower of every detail of God’s law. Yet, the Spirit is at work with “just” Joseph so that he is already going beyond the letter of the law and acting out of love and mercy on Mary’s behalf.

​The second command from the heavenly messenger is that it is Joseph’s responsibility to name the baby. “You shall name the child, accepting him as your own and adopting him into the Davidic line as an authentic ‘son of David.’” Joseph names him Jesus. This places Jesus in line with the prophecy. Remember that this is not something that by law Joseph would have to do. The voice of God through the angel leads Joseph to name the baby Jesus. This naming reflects the great story line of Moses and Joshua where they save God’s people from Egypt and guided them into the promised land through the Red Sea and the Jordan River.

Jesus too will save HIS people from their sins. But who are Jesus’ people? One might think that it is the Jewish people, but as the plot develops in the gospels, Jesus’ people are ALL people. “For God so love the world (kosmos)” moving beyond any border, culture, race, or time! This turns out to be a point of great conflict that will ultimately lead to Jesus’ death. Jesus’ life was one of inclusion with the poor, with a Samaritan woman, with prostitutes, with tax-collectors, with lepers, and with as many other categories as the religious leaders of the time decided were “on the outs with God.” Simply put, they would say, “he eats with sinners.” When the rest of the religious leaders of the time were running from the hurting and broken of the world so as not be made unclean, Jesus was running to them. He washed them and made them clean.

Ironically, the mother of our Lord and Savior certainly would have been thought of in the category of “sinner” by the religious folks of her time. Mary was an unwed pregnant teenager who in her culture would also be an adulterer due to her status as betrothed. Interestingly, Matthew describes Joseph becoming aware of Mary’s pregnancy, yet not knowing of its divine source. This “in between time” of seeing trouble, but not yet seeing divine action, presence, or proclamation represents the hardest times of life.

​Perhaps this is why Jesus also receives a symbolic name, “Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Never again do we need to wonder, “Where is God in this?” The answer is in every place, in every time of trouble, even when we can’t see it, even when we don’t feel it, and even when we forget it; the truth of Jesus remains that he is “Emmanuel – God with us!” In our feast days of celebration, at the weddings where water turns to wine, at the graves of those we love like Lazarus, in the wilderness, in the garden, when we are on trial, betrayed, denied, beaten, whipped, bruised, alone; we find that we are never alone because everywhere, beyond the end of time, we have received the gift of Emmanuel – God with us that neither life nor death nor anything on the earth, above the earth, or beneath the earth can take away. I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what the church claims this Christmas Eve. Tonight, light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not and cannot overcome it. Tonight, God is with us. Let the angels sing, the saints rejoice, the demons shudder, for the Lord of Life is alive and well. Jesus “God saves” is with us!

#Advent13: Guest Post – Nathan Kilbourne

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings. We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

We are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, has agreed once again to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Senior Pastor at Vilonia United Methodist Church in Vilonia, Arkansas. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

Reverends Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

Reverends Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”

— Isaiah 7:10-16

The Word of God for the people of God.

Disappointed. I’m certain that is what Ahaz felt when he received the word from Isaiah regarding a child being born named Emmanuel. Ahaz was looking for a little bit more reassurance. He feared the Assyrian kingdom at his doorstep and the power it may be able wield over the Davidic Kingdom. This kingdom had already been compared to a stump by the prophet Isaiah, not a flourishing tree. Even then, a shoot growing from the stump is only assurance that the kingdom has a chance at survival. Who wants survival? Isn’t it best to be powerful? Isn’t it better to have large armies to be able to fend off enemies? A stump and shoot? A child named Emmanuel? What good is this? How does this calm fears and alleviate anxiety?

It is easy for us to overlook the significance of the promised presence of God when facing the giants in our lives. We look for miraculous signs in the midst of overshadowing pressures and problems. We seek calmed storms and straight paths; yet, the winds continue to blow and the paths are rocky. However, during this season, we are reminded that sometimes, what we need is reassurance that God is still looking out for us. Yes, though the powers of Assyrians, Herods, and the like seem to be winning a child will be born named Emmanuel, God with us.

Though we do not get exactly what we want, God is still Emmanuel, who reveals himself in ways we might not expect, for example, in a child. In looking for the miraculous, outstanding, world altering movements of God, we may miss that God just might show up in the vulnerability of a child and in the promise of that life will continue. Sometimes God simply gives us enough to sustain us in the storms and Ahaz missed the message of Isaiah. Though it seemed insignificant compared to the insurmountable evils surrounding him, Isaiah was providing a message of hope, a message that God will continue to be with his people. Isaiah provided a glimmer of light, but Ahaz missed it.

At times, just a glimmering of hope can help us weather the storms of life. As preacher Peter Gomes once remarked, “We are able to bear this present darkness because we believe in the coming dawn…a dawn in which the shadows and shades of night are seen for what they are and are not.” Even when it is only a glimmer of hope, such can be enough to bear the present darkness.

During this Christmas season, as we await again the coming of Jesus the Messiah, let us not forget that often God shows up in seemingly insignificant ways that we might easily overlook. God shows up in Bethlehem, an insignificant place, to Mary and Joseph, insignificant people, placed in a manger, an insignificant place, and brings hope. God may show up in your life in a seemingly insignificant way. Yet, God can take what is insignificant and make it significant. Pay close attention, even the crumbs which fall from the table of God are enough.

 

#Advent13: Righteousness and Justice

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

Charla, Elizabeth, and Kurt Gwartney

Today, we have a special treat. Our friend, and one of the Pastoral staff at our home church, Charla Gwartney is offering our Lenten reflection. Rev. Charla Gwartney serves as Executive Pastor at Acts 2 United Methodist Church, overseeing administrative details of the congregation. She is blessed to be a part of a growing congregation with a heart for ministry. Her family is a great blessing to her…husband, Kurt and daughter, Elizabeth. They live in downtown OKC and enjoy the urban life of Oklahoma’s largest city in their free time.

A reading from the Psalms.

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.  May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.  May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.  May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.  May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.  In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

— Psalm 72:1-7 (NRSV)

The Word of God for the People of God.

As I write this, the world is mourning one of the greats, Nelson Mandela. He died on Dec. 5. He was 95 years old. Many people know more about Nelson Mandela than I do. I simply know that he stood for forgiveness when he had every right to stand for revenge.

I know that he spoke words of peace to those who oppressed him (and others who shared his skin color.) I know he was imprisoned unfairly. And, I know that when he was released, his country was able to endure revolution without the bloodshed that often accompanies such change. I know that Nelson Mandela spoke truthfully about justice and righteousness and I know that it brought him trouble.

When the writer of this scripture prays for a king, I think the psalmist is hoping for one like Nelson Mandela. “May he judge your people with righteousness and your poor with justice…May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” Leaders like Mandela are few and far between. It is hard to find people willing to speak up for those without a voice and endure the price of speaking up. More likely, those in power are lulled into believing that power is evidence of God’s blessing. This blessing belongs to them, rather than being entrusted to them for sharing with all those God loves.

It is hard to argue with the witness of scripture – God has a preferential option for the poor. And, God asks leaders to care for the poor. This kingdom Jesus teaches us to pray for (…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven) is a place where all come to the table and share together in God’s abundance.

On the same day that Nelson Mandela died, workers in fast-food restaurant chains were protesting a wage that forces them to rely on government assistance. A recent study found that 52% of fast-food workers rely on government assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid. This news surfaced at the same time that McDonald’s purchased another luxury jet for its executives, costing $35 million. What should we do with that? What should we do with this reminder that the world Nelson Mandela imagined has not yet come to pass? What should we do with this reminder that the world Jesus teaches us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer…that the psalmist is lifting up…is conspicuously absent?

For me, this is the hard part of Advent. I love lighting the Advent candles and proclaiming that light has overcome the darkness. I love special family traditions, like Advent devotionals and calendars that build expectation. I love the music, food, extra time with family and friends. But, there is this part of Advent I can’t ignore – the call for justice and righteousness. The psalmist prays for a king that will bring a kingdom mirroring God’s priorities. The stories of this season remind us of a babe born in poverty, facing the risks that so many who are poor still face…hunger, danger, no access to basic necessities.

I need to see this side of Advent too. I need to be reminded that vulnerability carries its own power. I need to remember that the blessing God has chosen to give me is intended to benefit all of God’s children.

I am grateful for the life Nelson Mandela lived and for the witness he proclaimed. But, if that is the only witness made, the light can’t overcome the darkness. No! God calls all of us to speak truth to power, to stand in solidarity with those who have no voice, and to care for those the world would rather ignore. May it be so.

#Advent13: The Peace of Jerusalem

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

Rev. Neal Locke

Rev. Neal Locke

We are honored to once again have Rev. Neal Locke guest blogging for us. Neal and I met 15 years ago as students at Oral Roberts University. I am thankful that all these years later I can still call him my friend. (And, can say that we both successfully graduated.)

Neal, his wife, Amy, and three children, Grady, Abby, and Jonah live in El Paso, Texas, where Neal is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

A reading from the Psalms.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.  Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”

For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,  I will seek your good.

— Psalm 122:6-9 (NRSV)

The Word of God for the people of God.

The etymology of the name Jerusalem is shrouded in the dim mysteries of the ancient past, and will likely never be fully uncovered or agreed upon by scholars. But regardless of its true origins, a Hebrew psalmist in the time of David (such as the author of Psalm 122) would have certainly recognized in the latter half of the name the root שלם (SLM), from which we get the Hebrew word shalom. Incidentally, this is also the root for سلام (salaam) – the Arabic word for peace. Whether the occurrence of these letters in the name is coincidental or not is irrelevant—in the craft of skilled poets, words become more than their origins or parts, so we find in Psalm 122 a prayer for Jerusalem that “peace may be within you.” And indeed it is.

When we think of cities, ancient or modern, the word “peaceful” is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. Cities are full of people and buildings, bustling with commerce and activity. Cities are noisy, busy, restless and chaotic. How could Jerusalem in the time of David have been any different? How could it possibly have been a place of peace? Honestly, I’m not sure it ever was. Few cities have been sacked, besieged, invaded, captured, recaptured, destroyed and rebuilt as many times as the city of Jerusalem. Today it is still claimed by and fought over by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. In Psalm 122:7, the reference to “walls” and “towers” are an indication that even then, Jerusalem was a city built for war, not for peace.

I believe that Psalm 122 is not an acknowledgment of Jerusalem’s past or present reality, but rather a cry of the heart, a desire for how things might be: “May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls; may security be within your towers.” The last two lines of Psalm 122 are also a call to move from prayer to personal action: “For the sake of my relatives and friends, I will say, peace be within you. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

Like Jerusalem, all cities (no matter how busy or chaotic) carry within them the roots of peace, including our own. This peace may not be embedded in the city’s name, but certainly peace is embedded in the hopes and aspirations of those who dwell within it. This peace begins when we pray for our city, pray for the people and buildings and institutions inside it. Equally important, peace begins when we rise from our prayers and begin to work alongside those people and institutions, always seeking the good of the city for the sake of the Lord our God.  

Lent 2013: Guest Post – Rev. Charla Gwartney

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

Charla, Elizabeth, and Kurt Gwartney

Kurt, Charla, and Elizabeth Gwartney

Today, we have a special treat. Our friend, and one of the Pastoral staff at our home church, Charla Gwartney is offering our Lenten reflection. Rev. Charla Gwartney serves as Executive Pastor at Acts 2 United Methodist Church, overseeing administrative details of the congregation. She is blessed to be a part of a growing congregation with a heart for ministry. Her family is a great blessing to her…husband, Kurt and daughter, Elizabeth. They live in downtown OKC and enjoy the urban life of Oklahoma's largest city in their free time.

A reading from the Gospel of John.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

— John 12:1-11 (NIV)

This passage is a beautiful picture of unconditional and unrestrained love. Mary’s devotion to Jesus seems to overwhelm her after supper. She can’t help but pour herself out for Jesus, to express the fullness of her love for this man. A pint of pure nard? Suffice it to say, that is a lot! The house would’ve smelled of that fragrance for weeks. It was a huge sacrifice financially – a year’s wages. And yet, the way the scripture reads, it appears Mary never gives it a second thought. She seems glad for the opportunity to offer Jesus a sign of her love.

The way the scripture is written, we can see the contrast between Mary’s response to Jesus and Judas’ response to Jesus. Mary willingly and gratefully makes this sacrifice. Judas, on the other hand, is all too ready to point a finger. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” The scripture gives us no indication that the perfume belonged to anyone but Mary. It was completely hers to use however she chose. Judas, on the other hand, takes even what is not his and uses it however he choses. This is a powerful contrast indeed.

The season of Lent is a time for me to look at what is really in my heart. I find that I have a bit of Mary and a lot of Judas. I do have a desire to love Jesus unconditionally and without restraint, but there is also a strikingly powerful desire to be in control. I want to examine everyone else’s sacrifice and pronounce judgment, while still holding on to my own. It is hard for me to release my tight grip on control and relax into the place of complete trust and devotion.

So, what are the results of my choices? Looking at the difference between Judas and Mary, the contrast is again clear. Which of the two could put their head on the pillow at night and rest with peace? Many a night, I have wrestled with the need to hold onto it all – to stay in complete control – refusing to release. Those are hard nights and I’m sure Judas had plenty of them. Mary, on the other hand, probably put her head on the pillow with a “good tired” that night. She had spent herself in self-giving. She had done what she felt called to do. Certainly, it was tiring, but she also had contentment and peace about it that allowed her to rest and trust.

Jesus saw her gift for what it was – a powerful offering of unconditional love and devotion. He also saw her gift as participation in the very will of God. This act of anointing was really about preparing him for burial. The power of what Mary did for Jesus can only be truly appreciated in this context. She did what she felt led to do, not knowing how it fit perfectly within God’s will. God used her gift to bless Jesus in a powerful way and allowed a beautiful foreshadowing of what was to come.

I want to love like Mary loved. I know and understand Judas’ response much better than Mary’s – that is just the truth about me. But, I also know the depth of angst I feel when I refuse to let go, refuse to trust, refuse to see the blessing poured out in front of me (smelling up the whole house). I want to gratefully and graciously be poured out for my Lord. I want to participate in the bringing of the Kingdom of God. I want to leave an aroma in the air I touch that reminds others to love deeply, without caution, and unconditionally.

Lent 2013: Guest Post – Rev. Nathan Kilbourne

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

Reverends Neal and Lynn Kilbourne

Reverends Neal and Lynn Kilbourne

We are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, has agreed once again to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, AR. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

A reading from Paul's epistle to the church at Philippi.

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

— Philippians 3:1-14 (NIV)

It is easy to boast in our achievements. When we were kids, I’m sure we all have uttered the words, “Hey mom, watch this! Hey dad, look at what I did.” We starve for attention. We want people to notice who we are and what we can do. We hold up our accolades and our abilities hoping people might congratulate us or pat us on the back.

After all, we are taught and learn in our world that what is important is setting ourselves up over and above everyone else. What matters most is how we rank against others. For instance, we have all had to take tests like the ACT or SAT. Such measure our competency; and yet, the competency level is often displayed as to how one performed in comparison with others. You ranked higher than 55% of the student population in your language skills. Bell curves mark our distance from others. While I’m not launching an onset against our grading systems in America, I find it enlightening as to the kind of attitude it creates among us. We find ourselves battling (or succumbing to) feelings of superiority or inferiority based on how we perform. We are measured over and against one another and learn to hold our achievements high so that all can see.

Lent is however is a time of relinquishment. It is a time in which we lay down our crowns. We shed our achievements. And we put aside own gains. Why? Because all such achievements, all such gifts, all such ability is only possible through grace. Moreover, all those things which we hold as important or meaningful, in the end, lack substance or ability to sustain.

Paul certainly held all the accolades. He was an accomplished individual. He had all the reasons to be confident as he tells us. He had followed all the Jewish laws. He dotted every “i” and crossed every “t.” He was a zealous individual when it came to his religious studies. Paul was so good that he eventually became a Pharisee, a well respected teacher and keeper of the Jewish faith. Even more so, he was known as a great defender of the faith, persecuting dissenters known as Christians. Paul was a well accomplished, zealous individual, striving by his own great power and strength.

And yet, when Paul encountered the presence and grace of Christ he realized all such things were rubbish, meaningless, when compared with knowing God in Christ Jesus who relinquished all that others might live. Such is counter intuitive to a world built on accolades and achievements, a life built on self-fulfillment and self-aggrandizement. Paul came to the realization that righteousness, of which he was so zealous, came as a gift of God. It wasn’t by his own efforts that such was achieved. Rather, life itself was a gift and the path of righteousness was not one built on achieving at the expense of others but learning to live a life of relinquishment. Resurrection comes through sacrifice and surrender.

The goal to which we strive as believers is to know Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). In other words, it is to live in the path of Jesus, who though he was in form of God, considered it nothing, and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2). Our goal is about taking the grace given to us in Christ and putting it to work in us. It is about inhabiting a different way of life counter to the life of achievements and accolades. Indeed it is a striving, a movement, a goal. But it is a goal different than the goals we have learned to hold up and to show off. Instead, we show off not ourselves, but the power of God working in us to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves. May this Lenten season be one full of knowing Christ, and the surpassing knowledge of his grace, and may we be willing to relinquish those things which do not reflect the Spirit of Christ.