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Discovering Your New Life in Christ (Part 4 of 5)

Posted by Diversity in Faith on April 29, 2013 at 7:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Asking, Seeking, Knocking Your Way To Faith


Audio of this message is available at


Download: http://diversityinfaith.sermon.net/da/1200015717

Playback: http://diversityinfaith.sermon.net/da/1200015717/play




Begin sermon by playing video of “Dear God 2.0” by The Roots (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32Qr5oKKP-M&list=PL762B8CE6789C5529&index=4 )


Explain that in this song the rapper raises questions about “why”? He questions where God is and why God allows the pain and the brokeness in our lives.

I think all of us go through experiences at times that lead us to question, to doubt, even to feel tempted to walk away from our call or even to turn our back on the new life with God Jesus makes possible.

Have any of you experienced this? Would you be willing to share an example of a time like this for you?


In our Scripture today we will be looking at an occasion where doubt and questioning overshadowed the reality of the resurrection and almost led one of Jesus’ disciples to turn his back on the new life Jesus brings. As we read this example, let’s consider what this teaches us about how we can deal with our doubts and questions in a way that helps us embrace God’s new life.


Lets read John 20, 24-31 together:

24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came.25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.


Jesus, as we confront our questions, doubts, and deepest fears, meet us through your word and through the bread and cup that symbolize your broken body and shed blood. Open our eyes so we may see you and ourselves more clearly. Help us to know your will and presence more truly. In Jesus’ name.


What is the source of doubt or questioning Thomas faces? What can we learn about the role of questions and doubts in our new life with Christ here?


We are invited by Thomas’ experience to realize three things: first that we need to know that instead of chastising us for questions in our new life, Jesus invites us to take our questions to him; secondly, where to go to renew and strengthen our faith when our path becomes uncertain; and finally, that the new life is not about living without doubts but learning to have thriving faith in the midst of uncertainty.


First I said that we need to realize that instead of chastising us for our question in our new life of faith, Jesus invites us to take our questions to Jesus ourselves. Too often in the church the other message is given: that if you ask question, if you doubt, if you voice uncertainties you are wrong, you are risking your relationship with God, you may be risking your eternal soul and hope of heaven itself. Have anyone of you gotten that message before from churches?


I know I did growing up. I remember being full of questions but getting the sense some of them couldn’t be asked. I remember hearing people be told “How can you even question that? Aren’t you saved?” from friends in the youth for Christ group at my high school; and even from adults at my church to each other. I remember hearing many a sermon where people who questioned the doctrine of the church were painted out to have walked away with God. I remember many a well-meaning church lady and speaking deacon telling people those questions burning in their souls were all the work of the devil trying to lead them astray.


This fear of admitting my doubts and questions plagued me later in life. I remember later in life fear gripping my chest when I saw things that I was taught that didn’t add up and I felt I couldn’t share my questions and doubts about things like my church’s doctrines, my own salvation, or about heaven & hell. Later in Bible college I was shocked to see my professors openly question many of these ideas. I remember it causing a crisis of faith for me. And this same fear made it hard for me to talk in my first years as a minister about doubts I had about what I had always been taught about women not being allowed to be preachers or being gay being a sin.


Though I faced the message again and again “don’t question, don’t doubt, just go along”, this is not what Jesus does. Instead Jesus stands, waiting for Thomas to open up to Jesus about his doubts. When Thomas openly expresses his doubts, Jesus instead of reprimanding Thomas actually works with Thomas to bring Thomas face-to-face with the reality of Jesus’ new life -- and Thomas’s new life in Jesus -- in a way that Thomas receives what he needs for a fuller, more living faith.


I want to suggest that Jesus’ response to Thomas shows us that far from leading us away from God, really becoming open with our questions and doubts can help us produce a fuller faith. This does for Thomas. He not only acknowledges Jesus is risen, but recognizes Jesus is God in the flesh come to save! Ultimately this experience of being open about his questions and searching out until Thomas finds the answers he needs not only makes Thomas’ faith his own but grants him such a real, strong, authentic faith that Thomas willingly risks his life traveling to the furthest reaches of the known world, dying sharing his faith in distant India.


Questioning then is only an obstacle to faith when we ignore those question and push them down. When we let ourselves openly explore our questions before God, looking and listening for God to guide us to answers those questions can actually help us grow.


Interestingly enough this is how early Christians recorded Thomas later reflecting on his own experience. Many sources in the early church remembered Thomas as interpreting Jesus’ command to ask, seek, and knock not being about asking for God to give you this or that material blessing but instead you actively going to God questioning. In one writing, they recall Thomas as saying "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will rule over all." (Gospel of Thomas, Saying 2)


This is what Thomas went through. He questioned -- and his questions at first disturbed him. But his questions led him to a deeper understanding of and knowledge of Jesus, one so personal he touched the risen Lord with his own hands. That experience that came through his questioning made him marvel, opening his eyes to the new life Jesus brings -- and that marveling led Thomas to a life where he could more fully rule all through service, just as Jesus practiced being King through being a servant to all.


This is what I found to be true in my own life. When I quit pushing down my questions and took them to Jesus, opening up to Jesus about them, Jesus led me to places to find answers and to circumstances or people where I could experience things that opened my eyes to see things more through Jesus’ eyes. Some of what I saw like ways people had been hurt by some traditional approaches to faith, like gay men and lesbians who were closer to God than many of the folks I grew up with who put them down, like women who when they stopped being silent spoke more powerfully for God than me -- really disturbed me, shaking up my preconceive notions. But when I let my eyes open I began to see where Jesus was at work and to be able to join Jesus in new ways. So Thomas’ example shows us that our questions, when embraced as another way to connect with God, can strengthen our faith.


I mentioned that this account reminds us where to go when doubts and questions begin to cast a shadow over our new life in Christ, leading us to consider walking away from it. We see this in what Thomas does. Thomas first shares with his friends who walk with Jesus what has happened. Then he goes to where Jesus has shown up alive, bringing those questions with him.


In our lives we can do the same thing -- we can open up to other believers who can listen without lecturing or judging, about our questions. Just through them listening we can begin to sort out what we need from Christ. Who knows? They may have been through something similar and be able to share how they got through it.


Also we can go where Jesus shows up. Where does Jesus show up consistently today? (Allow discussion) Many places -- in Scripture, in meditation, in prayer, in worship at church with songs of praise and the breaking of the bread of communion. Sometimes in nature for some of us we open up to God’s presence; and in serving our neighbor Jesus promises we can find Jesus alive and present in a special way. Often when we are questioning these are the places we turn away from and avoid. Instead Thomas models going to these different places where Jesus shows up alive, and there looking for Jesus to show up answering the questions.


The flip side of this, though, is that this means you and I need to work to be people who can be that friend who listens without judgment, letting another share their doubts and questions who lets them know they aren’t alone. As a church, we say in our mission that we will welcome all people to grow with us in their faith. What can we do to welcome those who join us, like Thomas, full of questions and doubts??


We as a church need to work to be a place where we let people know that this is a safe place to not have things all figured out, to have questions, to search. This is part of why as a church we affirm the faith freedoms -- soul freedom, that we each have a personal relationship with God so no one can stand between another and God to judge if they are right with God; Bible freedom, that we each have the right to study the Bible with an open mind questioning and searching each coming to our own conclusions; church freedom that no one has a right to impose on our church from the outside beliefs, practices, or politics we don’t feel called to and we can’t do that to people in other churches; and religious freedom -- that we have respect other’s paths to faith even if they are different than ours, even if they aren’t Christian, recognizing only God knows who are God’s. We emphasize these to make our church a safe place to question. But being a safe place is about more than saying the words -- it is about being welcoming to the person who doesn’t have all the answers, even the person who says, does, and believes things that you aren’t sure fit your picture about what Christianity is about. Our church needs to be a place that meets people where they are without judgment.


So we need to go with our questions to the place where Jesus shows up, but also we need to work to be people who are safe for people to be honest with about their questions and doubts.


Finally Jesus our new life in Christ is not about living without uncertainties or doubts, but developing thriving faith in the midst of uncertainty. We see this because Jesus says that though its great that Thomas follows trustingly once Jesus helps Thomas find the answers Thomas is looking for, how happy and blessed are those who don’t get those answers yet believe.


Growing up I thought this meant that people would be happy if they just kept mouthing the words, gritting their teeth to force themselves to believe what the preacher taught, even though they had no proof for it and really a part of them was riddled with doubts. Just cover your ears, cover your eyes, and follow blindly.


Since being a pastor I have begun to see what that actually produces -- little old ladies who give away their pension to TV preachers who say “have faith -- God will bless you!” and go without while a con-man preacher uses their money to live in the lap of luxury; parents who hear “your child is healed if you just believe” so they watch their child die because they don’t take her to the doctor; people who cut off their children for being gay because their preacher says to even though deep in their heart they question how that could really be loving God. Blind faith is not beautiful or good. It wrecks lives.


Instead I think Jesus is letting us know that living faith includes ongoing questions, ongoing uncertainty, and embracing the uncertainty as all a part of the new life in Christ. New life in Christ means recognizing you don’t always see, and that is ok. You don’t have to pretend you’ve got it all figured out -- you can trust God without knowing all the answers.


This is why Jesus spoke in parables, using stories and metaphors to teach. These communicate truth but because each person can interpret them differently, don’t give a black and white certain answer. This is why Jesus uses what Buddhist call koans -- short statements like blessed are those who don’t see but believe; or blessed (happy) are those who mourn (are sad); the first shall be last. In Buddhism such statements are studied to help someone get used to uncertainty, to the fact that there are truths that cannot be explained. They help show that to be happy in life you have to be willing to embrace uncertainty as a gift not a curse. I think that Jesus’ statement about blessed are those who do not see but believe invites us to embrace the uncertainty and paradox of life that makes it so first can be last, the sad can be happy, and that we can often believe the strongest and truest not when we are certain but precisely when we have no clue.


Embrace your questions and uncertainties-- they are a gift, the end of which is a thriving faith.


Would you pray with me?


Risen Jesus, who is not only the Answer to our longings, but also the Questioner of our Souls -- do not let us stay content with pat answers, but help us like Thomas to truly ask, seek, knock when we are uncertain, so that we might discover living faith that will last. Amen. (Play “I Hope You Dance” during communion -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmBSGlXqC4Q )

Discovering Your New Life in Christ (Part 3 of 5)

Posted by Diversity in Faith on April 25, 2013 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Becoming God With Skin On

Audio of this message is also available at

Download: http://diversityinfaith.sermon.net/da/1200013726
Playback: http://diversityinfaith.sermon.net/da/1200013726/play


He is risen! He is risen again!

For those who are just joining our series, we are continuing to look at the accounts of the forty days Jesus appeared to the disciples, risen from the dead, and the lessons they teach us about the new life possible for you and me because Jesus is risen.


This week will be continuing with a passage in John 20.19-23.

As you turn there let me set the context:

Have any of you ever felt you were at a point that is hopeless, helpless, and without a future?

I know I have. I remember a time a little after the first church Kat and I planted -- Safe Haven Community Christian Church in Colton, CA. This was our first independent church plant and had begun because of encountering transgendered people who desired to know God and had no place to go to hear about Jesus and be welcomed. We poured our heart, soul, and life into that ministry. We probably spent every waking moment working on it.

And – I can only speak for myself – but I forgot. I forgot Jesus’ example to take time to go out to our quiet place and be. I forgot to make time for my marriage. I didn’t plan how to provide for us in that ministry, being so swept up in the call of God I at least didn’t count the cost.

I remember everything hitting the fan. Finances ran out and we couldn’t pay the bills. We were offered a place to stay with family, but it meant leaving the ministry in the hands of another minister. And our own relationship became strained.

The strain on our relationship pulled so tight it snapped. It snapped as a tire popped on the freeway of New Mexico. I remember the heartache when,watching the car being hauled away, Kat and I talked and it looked like our relationship was over. When she took the bus back to California, and I sat lonely in New Mexico to me it looked like everything was over. My ministry. My career. My marriage. Dark shadows seemed to fall like a solid sheet over me, and I saw no light ahead.

Have you been there?

That is how Jesus’s disciples were at the moment we join them in this text. For them, their world is ending. Their hopes and dreams lay shattered. They know Jesus lies dead, buried, killed as a traitor.


If you would, lets now read this together.

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”



Would you pray with me?

Holy Spirit, mother of all living and light of life, embrace us with your love. As you came on these men and women giving them new life, fall upon us. As we discuss your work and Jesus’ words, help us be made new by your presence. Show us your will. Help us hear your call. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Does anything stand out to you about the new life Jesus brings in this passage?


I have four aspects of the new life that stand out to me here.


First, we find in this story that at their darkest moment, when God seems far away and they have shut themselves off from everything, they find Jesus is already in their midst. In that moment sitting in my car alone, tear-filled and broken, in New Mexico it seemed to me that I was all alone. I wanted to like them shut myself into some cave, lock the door, and hide from the world. When they do this, what do they find? That Jesus appears, standing beside them.

Now some scholars will sit and wrangle over science and metaphysics to try and explain how Jesus walked through a shut door. I think they get this story all wrong. You see I read in Ephesians that when Jesus ascended he rose to fill all things. To me that means that because Jesus is risen, because each and every one of us now share in new life through Jesus, we no longer have a place we can go or a thing we can do where the risen Jesus is not present.

You see Jesus didn’t have to do a magic trick to walk through the locked door to where they were. No Jesus was already there. As Jesus tells them later in Matthew 28 -- “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. All Jesus did was open their eyes so that they could see he was present, though they faced their darkest night and locked the world out for fear.

Friend, do you face darkness? Do you have your moments when you see no hope, and want to lock the doors to the world and its pain. Know that Jesus is already present with you. Jesus is already standing beside you. Always, ever, Jesus is saying to you “lo I am with you always even to the end of the age”.

Turn to someone and say “Your new life in Christ means you are never alone”. Turn to someone else and say “Jesus promises I am with you always, even to the end”


Secondly Jesus shows us that our new life brings peace with God.

What are some barriers to peace with God? How Jesus’ resurrection help us find a new life at peace with God?

You don’t have to wait until you’ve become religious enough, worked hard enough, obeyed enough commandments, or begun to fit another’s image to have peace with God. Peace with God is offered to you and me as a free gift, something we can experience simply by faith, which is trusting God with your heart and life. Have you done that? Will you trust God and accept God’s friendship?


Thirdly we see that Jesus’ new life is not something we experience alone.

This is pointed to by Jesus breathing on the men and women gathered in front of them and saying “receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus is actually acting out a scene from the Bible. Can anyone guess what scene it is?


The scene is in Genesis 2 when God creates the first person Adam. There God gathers up clay and dirt, shaping it into a statue of God, and breathes into it the breath of life. Jesus does the same thing but instead of gathering clumps of dirt Jesus gathers the men and women who have followed him, and breathes on them.


He shows that this new life is not something we can experience on our own. Alot of times people have this idea. They say “I can just worship God at the fishing hole; I don’t need to be around other believers”. But when Jesus breathes the breath of the Holy Spirit on them, it is on them when they are together, gathered remembering Jesus.


Turn to someone and say “I need you, You need me, we are all a part of God’s family”. Turn to someone else and say “You are important to me. I need you to survive”.


You see, you can’t experience this new life all alone but need others to help you grow. How can other people, at church, in our small group Bible studies, who we foster spiritual friendships with, help us grow in the new life Jesus gives us? How can we be ones that help others grow?


Not only is it other people we need but we need God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is God as God comes to live within your life, within the lives of others around you like aid filling your lungs, even flowing through your blood. I like to say it like this – we pray to God the Father when we pray in the Lord's Prayer Our Father Who Art in Heaven... God is also our Mother who is within – within us and all living thing. God the Holy Spirit is like that mother within, just as God the Father is like a Father above. God the Holy Spirit’s presence brings life to the plants, animals, and newborn babes. We need to be open to the presence of God the Holy Spirit within our own life, within the lives of every living thing. And important to remember, we need to learn to look for the Holy Spirit to be at work in the lives of those around us -- because in any person, friendly or hateful to us, Christian or of another faith, even hardened atheist, if we look with eyes of faith we can encounter God the Holy Spirit in their life.


My friend Bob McLeod puts it like this, in his commentary on the Gospels:

“A Christian should always be trying to communicate with that bit of [God] that resides in every person. ‘Don’t just talk to that individual personality … don’t just look at that person as someone full of ambition and selfishness and personal strategy. If you try to negotiate with that, the job is far beyond you. Remember instead that in that other person’s heart [God] is trying to reach out to the [Holy Spirit] in you.’ .. [the Holy Spirit] is everywhere and in everything, and if we wish to attach ourselves primarily to [the Holy Spirit], as opposed to a tradition or personal interest, Christ will unlock doors for us in some very surprising ways”


So you, I, all of us, cannot thrive in our spiritual life alone. We need the Holy Spirit and each other to thrive in this new life.


There is a final part to this message is probably best pictured by an exercise a friend from school shared with me. What I am going to do is start with this person here. I am going to whisper something in their ear. Then they will act it out to the person beside them. Then that person will whisper the message to the next person’s ear, who acts it out … until we come to the last person in the room.


OK... what was the message near the end? Wow. Here’s what I said. “...” Notice how different it is!


I share this example because it illustrates the final message about the new life this story gives. After miming shaping them into a statue of God like Adam was, Jesus says “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. How was Jesus sent? John 1 tells us that Jesus came as God -with-skin-on. We are sent like Jesus to be God with skin on, so that when people encounter our life it is like they are seeing God in a way they can touch, they can feel, they can hear.


Obviously we can’t do this perfectly -- because unlike Jesus we screw up. But we can be someone through whom God appears with skin on for others. Have any of you had people whose lives radiated God’s love, goodness, compassion, or mercy in your life in such a way that for you they were like God with skin on?


I know some in your life who brought the presence of God with skin on to you may not have quote a Bible verse to you at all, or even mentioned God directly. I bet if I asked too you probably have some people who did like we did in our exercise and sent mixed messages in their life. Maybe they voiced they were about “God” but their lives sent messages of rejection, condemnation, selfishness, abuse. We can send send the wrong message, failing to be God with skin on -- or embrace our new life in Christ and be God with skin on to others.

How can we be God with skin on ourselves?


Jesus points to one key word in his words on forgiveness -- by radiating forgiveness to others, showing them by how we live that God has forgiven and loves them; showing them God’s forgiveness and mercy. This is a part of what we mean when we say in our church's mission statement that our mission is to welcome all people to join in healing our world.


In closing I want to give you a few minutes to reflect on what image of God you are presenting. I have put some pla-do on the corner table. As you prepare to come to communion, take some of the pla-do and shape something -- maybe a heart for loving, a hug for forgiveness -- of some aspect of God you feel called to put skin on more in your life. When you come to communion, if you are comfortable share what it is before we pray and break bread together.


Remember here at Diversity in Faith you don’t have to be a member of this church or any church to take communion but simply come open to God, ready to experience new life. All are open at Christ’s Table.

Discovering Your New Life in Christ (Part 2 of 5)

Posted by Diversity in Faith on April 15, 2013 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Letting Go and Moving Forward

Happy Easter! He is Risen! (Repeat and explain, until boisterous).


Can anyone remember what we talked about last week?

As you may recall we are talking about the new life Jesus' resurrection makes possible for you and for me. We mentioned that we would each week until Pentecost look at a different time one of Jesus' followers encountering Jesus risen from the dead offering new life to help see what is possible for us with the new life we have in Christ.

Today I want to look at the story of Mary's encounter with the risen Jesus in John 20, verses 11-18.


John 20

11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

What are some things Mary's experience of Jesus taught her about the new life Jesus is offering her?


First of all, Mary Magdalene's story suggests that new life in Christ shows us that God already loves us and already believes in us.


The description in Luke 8.2 of Mary as one from whom seven spirits had been sent out suggests Mary had some sort of mental illness when she met Jesus, since that was a common description for what we call schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder in Jesus' day. Such illnesses rarely just happen. Usually someone is deeply hurt to get in such a place. Likely Mary Magdalene had experienced years of abuse, mistreatment, heartache and rejection before she became mentally ill. Likely she experienced even more after she got the title “Mary with the seven spirits” – crazy Mary! – from those around her. Yet Jesus was different. When Jesus met her he had not judged her. He loved her for who she was. He had shown her a compassion she had never seen. He had treated her as a child of God, dear, loved, accepted just as she was. When she met Jesus somehow she was changed. The Bible doesn't explain how that mental illness no longer wrecked Mary's life, only that Jesus healed it. I wonder if it was less a miracle in the form of hands being set right and more a miracle of the quality of his love. His love was so deep, so true, so healing, that Mary could not but experience and begin to be healed. Around Jesus Mary was no longer crazy Mary but loved Mary, embraced Mary, respected Mary.


Experiencing this healing power of love is a part of what your new life in Christ, when you embrace it, can do for you.


James Allison, one of my favorite theologians pictures the difference between the love our new life in Christ gives us and the love the world has taught us to expect in our old life. I've asked some volunteers who are going to act out the difference.


Old life--

False god: I want to love you, but I can’t love you as you are, because you are sinful and objectively disordered.

Self: Well, what then must I do to be loved?

False god: You must become someone different.

Self: I’m up for it, show me how.

False god: Love isn’t something that can be earned, it just is.

Self: Well then how do I become the sort of person who can be loved?

False god: If I were you I would start somewhere else.

Self: That’s a great help. How do I start somewhere else?

False god: You can’t, because even starting off for somewhere else starts from you, and you can’t be loved.

Self: Well if I can’t start off from somewhere else, and I can’t start off from where I am, what can I do?

False god: Give up on the love thing; just obey and be paralysed.


The new life Jesus offers, which Mary has already experienced, is so very different.

New life –


Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but I’m full of [garbage] how can you love me?

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but you can’t love me, I’m part of all this muck.

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: how can it be me that you love when I’ve been involved in bad relationships, dark rooms, machinations against other people?

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But ...

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But ...

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: OK then, so are you just going to leave me in the [garbage pile of a life]?

Unambivalently loving God: Because I love you, you are relaxing into my love and you will find yourself becoming loveable, indeed becoming someone that you will scarcely recognise.

Self: Hadn’t I better do something to get all ready for this becoming loveable?

Unambivalently loving God: Only if you haven’t yet got it that it’s I who do the work and you who get to shine. Because I love you, you are relaxing into being loved and will find yourself doing loveable things because you are loved.

Self: I think I could go along with this.


The power of God's love heals Mary … and in your new life in Christ, a powerful love is available that when you embrace it is healing for you.


Yet this new life does more. There are suggestions within the Gospel that Jesus not only loved and accepted Mary, but also drew her in as one of his own students, teaching her the Gospel and the Scriptures. Outside the Bible early Christian writings tell stories of Mary Magdalene sitting at Jesus' feet as a student of a rabbi, learning to teach the Bible for herself. Early Christians later call Mary Magdalene an apostle just like Peter, James, and John. Not only did Jesus love her with an unconditional love that helped her accept herself and heal from whatever abuse she had faced but Jesus also believed in her. When others looked at Mary Magdalene they saw a failure, a broken woman, a crazy person. When Jesus looked at her he saw potential. He saw a woman who could be counted on. He saw someone whom God had a plan for. A woman who can be counted on.


God believes in Mary when no one else does. God believes in you. Turn to someone and say “God believes in you more than you believe in yourself”. Turn to someone else and say “With God all things are possible for you”. This is a part of what new life in Christ is about.


Not only does this speak to us about our broken pasts. But also as a church we say our mission is to welcome all people, without prejudice, into finding their place in God's family. What can we do to let the Mary Magdalene's of our community find their place in God's family, despite everything the world says about them?


Secondly, I think its important to notice that she is shown that seeming ends and broken places can be places we experience this new beginning.


Mary Magdalene already had a lot of broken places in her life, as we just discussed. And now Jesus, the first one to believe in Mary, the first to show her unconditional love, had been taken from her – beaten, left for dead. To Mary it must have looked like an end, another broken place in our life. To Mary this new life in Christ must have looked like a dead end all of the sudden. Yet in encountering the risen Jesus Mary finds out things are not always what they appear.


Early mystics used to say that God allowed broken places in our life not to harm us but so they might become windows through which the light of God shines through. Now coming to the tomb Mary doesn't see signs of death but is surrounded by signs of new life: She sees angels like the ones who appeared to the prophet Daniel proclaiming a new day was dawning. She sees Jesus alive again – appearing like a gardener who brings life out of dead ground. That Jesus is like a gardener is important because Adam was created as a gardener. This is a sign of God has begun making all things new. What looked like the ultimate brokenness is not an end but a new beginning. Through the resurrection life Jesus gives Mary, her broken place has become a window through which God’s light shines through.


What is your broken place? The fact that you have been born again to living hope means that if you open yourselves to the light of God in this dark place, the brokenness you feel need not be your end but can become a window through which God's light shines into your life and, through you, to others.

As you invite the new life Christ makes possible into that broken place it can become a window, a place in your life God's light shines.


Finally a part of entering new life is to quit clinging to the old. Jesus hints at this when Mary so glad to see him greets him with his old name – Rabboni, or teacher-- and grabs on to him, literally clings to him so as to not let go. Mary in some way wants to hang on to how she had come to know Jesus and who it had made her be.

On the one hand, who can blame her? Jesus had loved her like no-one else. In a land where she was known only as crazy Mary, in a world where women were to be seen not heard, Jesus had taken Mary on as his student, breaking all the rules to teach her Scripture, and to equip her just as much as the mean in his life to be able to teach the disciples.

Mary saw Jesus and hoped this meant she could cling to him, and keep to the life she knew. Jesus says – no, you cannot cling to me. You cannot cling to how you have known me – as teacher – or how you have known yourself – as student. You certainly can't cling to the names the world gave you of crazy, of useless, of worthless. Instead you must let me go ahead of you, prepare a place for you, and then you must follow me into a role of life, a place of life you could not expect.


It is easy for us to do as Mary and try to cling to our past, or dig our heels into our present. Even though the new life is available to us, we can refuse to embrace all its benefits when we do this. We can cling on to the way of relating to God we always have had. We can cling to those old patterns of life that are destructive. We can live in the past, reliving over and over again our abuse, our heartache, our pain. We can can continue to stay hooked on the bottle or the pill. We can even cling by clinging on to a picture of Jesus or a way of worshiping or serving God we have come to be comfortable with, forgetting that Jesus always goes ahead of us, preparing a place for us, calling us to follow him out of our comfort zones to something new.


What are you clinging to, instead of letting it go so you can see Jesus go ahead, prepare a place for you, and call you out of the comfortable into the new?


I have placed two things in this room I want you to engage with as we close.

First in the corner I have placed a big cardboard window. Take a moment as we end and go to the window and write down a broken place in your life right now. As you do so invite the life of Christ into it, so it can become a window through which you see God. Take time to ask and look for God each time you face that brokeness, so God can show you how it is becoming a window.


Also I have placed strips of paper on the table beside them. I want to challenge you as we conclude, to think of what things you have been clinging on to which have kept you from fully entering into the new life God has for you or, if you have entered it, what comfort zones you are clinging to that keep you from fully being God's light and love to others.


Take time before you come to the communion table to figure out what it is. Write them down on the slip. And then pray a prayer giving that to God. When you feel you have – whether this week, next month, or next year, come back here and lay that strip on the altar to God.


As you do so I am going to play a song whose chorus I think beautifully pictures God's word to us as we cling to our past, or let broken places hold us back.


So pray and give over to God whatever holds you back. When you have done so, feel free to come forward for communion or prayer as you feel led, knowing that here at Diversity in Faith you don't have to be a member of this church or any church but simply to come ready and open for God to join in communion or prayer at the Lord's Table.

Discovering Your New Life in Christ (Part 2 of 5)

Posted by Diversity in Faith on April 15, 2013 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Letting Go and Moving Forward

Happy Easter! He is Risen! (Repeat and explain, until boisterous).


Can anyone remember what we talked about last week?

As you may recall we are talking about the new life Jesus' resurrection makes possible for you and for me. We mentioned that we would each week until Pentecost look at a different time one of Jesus' followers encountering Jesus risen from the dead offering new life to help see what is possible for us with the new life we have in Christ.

Today I want to look at the story of Mary's encounter with the risen Jesus in John 20, verses 11-18.


John 20

11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

What are some things Mary's experience of Jesus taught her about the new life Jesus is offering her?


First of all, Mary Magdalene's story suggests that new life in Christ shows us that God already loves us and already believes in us.


The description in Luke 8.2 of Mary as one from whom seven spirits had been sent out suggests Mary had some sort of mental illness when she met Jesus, since that was a common description for what we call schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder in Jesus' day. Such illnesses rarely just happen. Usually someone is deeply hurt to get in such a place. Likely Mary Magdalene had experienced years of abuse, mistreatment, heartache and rejection before she became mentally ill. Likely she experienced even more after she got the title “Mary with the seven spirits” – crazy Mary! – from those around her. Yet Jesus was different. When Jesus met her he had not judged her. He loved her for who she was. He had shown her a compassion she had never seen. He had treated her as a child of God, dear, loved, accepted just as she was. When she met Jesus somehow she was changed. The Bible doesn't explain how that mental illness no longer wrecked Mary's life, only that Jesus healed it. I wonder if it was less a miracle in the form of hands being set right and more a miracle of the quality of his love. His love was so deep, so true, so healing, that Mary could not but experience and begin to be healed. Around Jesus Mary was no longer crazy Mary but loved Mary, embraced Mary, respected Mary.


Experiencing this healing power of love is a part of what your new life in Christ, when you embrace it, can do for you.


James Allison, one of my favorite theologians pictures the difference between the love our new life in Christ gives us and the love the world has taught us to expect in our old life. I've asked some volunteers who are going to act out the difference.


Old life--

False god: I want to love you, but I can’t love you as you are, because you are sinful and objectively disordered.

Self: Well, what then must I do to be loved?

False god: You must become someone different.

Self: I’m up for it, show me how.

False god: Love isn’t something that can be earned, it just is.

Self: Well then how do I become the sort of person who can be loved?

False god: If I were you I would start somewhere else.

Self: That’s a great help. How do I start somewhere else?

False god: You can’t, because even starting off for somewhere else starts from you, and you can’t be loved.

Self: Well if I can’t start off from somewhere else, and I can’t start off from where I am, what can I do?

False god: Give up on the love thing; just obey and be paralysed.


The new life Jesus offers, which Mary has already experienced, is so very different.

New life –


Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but I’m full of [garbage] how can you love me?

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but you can’t love me, I’m part of all this muck.

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: how can it be me that you love when I’ve been involved in bad relationships, dark rooms, machinations against other people?

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But ...

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But ...

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: OK then, so are you just going to leave me in the [garbage pile of a life]?

Unambivalently loving God: Because I love you, you are relaxing into my love and you will find yourself becoming loveable, indeed becoming someone that you will scarcely recognise.

Self: Hadn’t I better do something to get all ready for this becoming loveable?

Unambivalently loving God: Only if you haven’t yet got it that it’s I who do the work and you who get to shine. Because I love you, you are relaxing into being loved and will find yourself doing loveable things because you are loved.

Self: I think I could go along with this.


The power of God's love heals Mary … and in your new life in Christ, a powerful love is available that when you embrace it is healing for you.


Yet this new life does more. There are suggestions within the Gospel that Jesus not only loved and accepted Mary, but also drew her in as one of his own students, teaching her the Gospel and the Scriptures. Outside the Bible early Christian writings tell stories of Mary Magdalene sitting at Jesus' feet as a student of a rabbi, learning to teach the Bible for herself. Early Christians later call Mary Magdalene an apostle just like Peter, James, and John. Not only did Jesus love her with an unconditional love that helped her accept herself and heal from whatever abuse she had faced but Jesus also believed in her. When others looked at Mary Magdalene they saw a failure, a broken woman, a crazy person. When Jesus looked at her he saw potential. He saw a woman who could be counted on. He saw someone whom God had a plan for. A woman who can be counted on.


God believes in Mary when no one else does. God believes in you. Turn to someone and say “God believes in you more than you believe in yourself”. Turn to someone else and say “With God all things are possible for you”. This is a part of what new life in Christ is about.


Not only does this speak to us about our broken pasts. But also as a church we say our mission is to welcome all people, without prejudice, into finding their place in God's family. What can we do to let the Mary Magdalene's of our community find their place in God's family, despite everything the world says about them?


Secondly, I think its important to notice that she is shown that seeming ends and broken places can be places we experience this new beginning.


Mary Magdalene already had a lot of broken places in her life, as we just discussed. And now Jesus, the first one to believe in Mary, the first to show her unconditional love, had been taken from her – beaten, left for dead. To Mary it must have looked like an end, another broken place in our life. To Mary this new life in Christ must have looked like a dead end all of the sudden. Yet in encountering the risen Jesus Mary finds out things are not always what they appear.


Early mystics used to say that God allowed broken places in our life not to harm us but so they might become windows through which the light of God shines through. Now coming to the tomb Mary doesn't see signs of death but is surrounded by signs of new life: She sees angels like the ones who appeared to the prophet Daniel proclaiming a new day was dawning. She sees Jesus alive again – appearing like a gardener who brings life out of dead ground. That Jesus is like a gardener is important because Adam was created as a gardener. This is a sign of God has begun making all things new. What looked like the ultimate brokenness is not an end but a new beginning. Through the resurrection life Jesus gives Mary, her broken place has become a window through which God’s light shines through.


What is your broken place? The fact that you have been born again to living hope means that if you open yourselves to the light of God in this dark place, the brokenness you feel need not be your end but can become a window through which God's light shines into your life and, through you, to others.

As you invite the new life Christ makes possible into that broken place it can become a window, a place in your life God's light shines.


Finally a part of entering new life is to quit clinging to the old. Jesus hints at this when Mary so glad to see him greets him with his old name – Rabboni, or teacher-- and grabs on to him, literally clings to him so as to not let go. Mary in some way wants to hang on to how she had come to know Jesus and who it had made her be.

On the one hand, who can blame her? Jesus had loved her like no-one else. In a land where she was known only as crazy Mary, in a world where women were to be seen not heard, Jesus had taken Mary on as his student, breaking all the rules to teach her Scripture, and to equip her just as much as the mean in his life to be able to teach the disciples.

Mary saw Jesus and hoped this meant she could cling to him, and keep to the life she knew. Jesus says – no, you cannot cling to me. You cannot cling to how you have known me – as teacher – or how you have known yourself – as student. You certainly can't cling to the names the world gave you of crazy, of useless, of worthless. Instead you must let me go ahead of you, prepare a place for you, and then you must follow me into a role of life, a place of life you could not expect.


It is easy for us to do as Mary and try to cling to our past, or dig our heels into our present. Even though the new life is available to us, we can refuse to embrace all its benefits when we do this. We can cling on to the way of relating to God we always have had. We can cling to those old patterns of life that are destructive. We can live in the past, reliving over and over again our abuse, our heartache, our pain. We can can continue to stay hooked on the bottle or the pill. We can even cling by clinging on to a picture of Jesus or a way of worshiping or serving God we have come to be comfortable with, forgetting that Jesus always goes ahead of us, preparing a place for us, calling us to follow him out of our comfort zones to something new.


What are you clinging to, instead of letting it go so you can see Jesus go ahead, prepare a place for you, and call you out of the comfortable into the new?


I have placed two things in this room I want you to engage with as we close.

First in the corner I have placed a big cardboard window. Take a moment as we end and go to the window and write down a broken place in your life right now. As you do so invite the life of Christ into it, so it can become a window through which you see God. Take time to ask and look for God each time you face that brokeness, so God can show you how it is becoming a window.


Also I have placed strips of paper on the table beside them. I want to challenge you as we conclude, to think of what things you have been clinging on to which have kept you from fully entering into the new life God has for you or, if you have entered it, what comfort zones you are clinging to that keep you from fully being God's light and love to others.


Take time before you come to the communion table to figure out what it is. Write them down on the slip. And then pray a prayer giving that to God. When you feel you have – whether this week, next month, or next year, come back here and lay that strip on the altar to God.


As you do so I am going to play a song whose chorus I think beautifully pictures God's word to us as we cling to our past, or let broken places hold us back.


So pray and give over to God whatever holds you back. When you have done so, feel free to come forward for communion or prayer as you feel led, knowing that here at Diversity in Faith you don't have to be a member of this church or any church but simply to come ready and open for God to join in communion or prayer at the Lord's Table.

Discovering Your New Life in Christ (Part 1 of 5)

Posted by Diversity in Faith on April 7, 2013 at 8:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Discovering Your New Life Now

 

 

Happy Easter! He is risen!

 

 

It sounds weird to hear a week later doesn't it?

 

 

Last week we celebrated Easter – remembering how God willinglyoffered God's self to us in Jesus, dying our death, tasting our hell,and then rising victorious over it on Easter Sunday. Last Sunday wesaw the wonder of how the first Christians came to the tomb of Jesusexpecting to say a final farewell, only to find Jesus had gone onahead of them. They found Jesus already to be alive in their life,calling them out of their pain, heartache, despair, and loss into anew future.

 

 

And then … a week passed for all of us. A week where I bet many ofus gave no thought to the Easter story. A week that for some wasfull of energy and joy. So many exciting things going on … who hastime for prayer, or new beginnings? For some it was a week that madethe thought of new life hard … so many shadows, heartaches, andpains falling over the horizon of their lives.

 

 

Suddenly last week's celebrations look so far away – and Easterseems just a day on some distant calendar, something that happenedthere and then, with no pressing meaning for today.

 

 

The early Christians knew this and for this reason, before the daysof commercialized Easter sales and chocolate bunnies, they chose tocelebrate Easter for over a month. For 40 days they would take timeout each Sunday to celebrate the resurrection – greeting each otherwith “Happy Easter!” and “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

 

 

Because of this – and because of how easy it is to forget – Iasked Jo and Kat to let me speak the next several weeks, to help ussee what it means that Jesus was not just alive again one day, some2000 years ago, but continues to be alive today, as a living presencein our life, and as someone who goes ahead of you and me calling usto join him in a new future.

 

 

So lets try that again – “Happy Easter!” “He is risen!”

 

 

The next several weeks I want to look at just one result in our livesthat the fact Jesus is risen brings to us, but before I get into whatI have for us – can anyone share what it means to you personallythat Jesus is not just some dead historical figure but stillrisen today, right now is a living presence in your life, ?

 

 

(Allow discussion)

 

 

There are more wonderful results to Jesus being risen, alive andpresent in our lives today, then we could hope to ever address. Theone area I want to focus in on the most comes from 1 Peter 1.

 

 

 

 

1 Peter 1.3-4

3 May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! Onaccount of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have beenborn anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christfrom the dead. 4 You have a pure and enduring inheritance thatcannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heavenfor you.

 

 

What does this verse tell us Jesus' resurrection brings?

Jesus' resurrection brings a new life for you and me. This iswhat it says we have been born anew through the resurrection of JesusChrist from the dead.

 

 

You see somehow through Jesus' death and resurrection, God not onlydid something to Jesus but to me and to you.

 

 

Turn to somebody and say You no longer have to live the lifeyou've always had anymore. In Jesus you've got a new start.

 

 

Early Christians put it like this – God became a son ofhumanity, so that sons and daughters of humanity might becomechildren of God.

 

 

(Pass out “birth certificates” and say:)

 

 

Write your name on this birth certificate.

 

 

Let it remind you -- you have a new life. The moment Jesus roseagain, it is as if from God's perspective you and I were born asecond time.

 

 

What does this rebirth mean? It means the moment Jesus rose from thedead, you were included. From eternity past, before time was time,Jesus as God the Son had always been embraced by the love, mercy, joyof God the Father; from time before time Jesus had joined the Fathermoving through life in the warms of the mothering Holy Spirit of God. This embrace, this love, this dance Jesus shared in is the dance atthe heart of the universe that makes the atoms dance, the planetsspin in their orbits, and life work.

 

 

What does this rebirth mean? Before we have a choice in the matter,before we can do right or royally screw up, before we can be hurt bythis world or hurt others, God already was looking at you, looking atme, and seeing us as God sees Jesus. Think about for a moment,through Jesus' resurrection there has never been a time that God didnot look and you and say, Tricia, look, this is my child. There willnever be a time that God does not look at you, Jowancka, and say“this is the one that I love”. There is never a moment God isnot looking at you, Jeremy saying – this one, right here, is theone in whom I am well pleased.

 

 

What does this rebirth mean? The moment you took your first breath,God was already loving you. The moment you took your first step, Godalready was offering to embrace you. The moment you first forgotGod, first lived as if God didn't matter, God was still loving you,calling out to you, and letting you know there remains a place foryou in God's family.

 

 

On Easter morning God the Father, Son, and mothering Spirit extendedtheir arms opened wide and said “welcome home”, freely offeringyou and me a place in that dance of love. You and I are alreadyincluded.

 

 

But it seems very quickly in life we get a very different message,don't we? We hear from our parents that we are not well-behavedenough, or athletic enough, or pretty enough. Some of us only hearit – some feel it with the slam of fists against our bodies, beingbeaten and put down from day one.

 

 

We hear it from classmates who tell us we will never be good enough. We hear it too just as much when others are told we are the head ofthe class and always have to live up to perfection. We hear it inthe names we grow up with – wimp, dweeb, ditz and clutz, nerd,spazz, cripple or faggot or dyke, …

 

 

And on a level we come to believe it – to believe we aren't worthit. That we can only be accepted if we are thinner, or stronger, orsmarter, or get better grades, or are straight or able-bodied. INother words, someone other than who we are.

 

 

And so we end up entering a life that goes nowhere in big and littleways.

 

 

For some it is by trying to live as if they are someone they are not– acting straight while knowing deep down you aren't, strivingforever to fit that image of the skinny girl you never will be or thetough guy you know you aren't; trying to fit some white orable-bodied picture of what life is about.

 

 

For some it comes through trying to deaden the pains with drugs oralcohol, or thumb the nose at those who have judged by living with achip on your shoulder or in ways that give up all sense of right orwrong. “If I can't be accepted by others, especially God, I'lllive for me”.

 

 

For some it may even be through living out someone else's dreams. Myfamily depends on me. I am the first who can make it. Everyone is counting on me … when deep down the path you aretaking is another's dream, another's hope, another's future. Whereyou are living out another's expectation, trying to be the hero toyour family, your hometown. Trying to fit a picture you know deepdown isn't you.

 

 

Yet God all along is looking at you, looking at me, saying “You,you, you, you, you are my child, you are the one that I love, and itis in you that I am well-pleased, just as you are”. All along thevoice of Jesus is calling out from the cross saying “It is finished… all that is necessary to be included, accepted, loved, just asyou are, is done”. All along Jesus stands risen ahead of you,calling out your name in love.

 

 

I still remember when I came to know and experience that for myself. I had grown up in a real strict offshoot of the Seventh DayAdventists –one that felt not working or doing sports Friday nightand Saturday and not eating pork was too liberal. So I grew up witha real strict view of God, thinking I had to jump through a bunch ofhoops to get God to like me. I never felt I could do enough toplease Good. And it scared the hell into me. They preached a lotabout the Second Coming – and gave me a picture of a God out to getme, ready to judge me, … one that could give you nightmares. Godwas more to be feared than loved.

 

 

At school I'd always felt left out. My church background set up someobstacles, but also I'd never been a jock. I was the one called geek,dweeb, nerd. Not fitting in or being accepted.

 

 

Then in high school a friend asked me to join the campus Christianclub. There I was really accepted by the kids in the club. There I learned of a God who you could come to as a friend, just as you are. I still remember nearly falling out of my chair when my friend ShaneBrown prayed a prayer saying “God you must be smoking crack” whenhe was thanking God for being crazy good to him that week. I stillremember the sense of being embraced by God I felt the first time Ijoined them in singing out songs of praise to God from my heart. Ifound out that God could accept and love me for me, even me,and God was someone I could relate to as a friend. I tried it out.

And one day it clicked. I remember I was listening to a Christiansong about the blood of Jesus and the thought struck me, clear asday: I did that for you Micah. I came for you. I died for you. If I shed my own blood for you, how much are you worth to me? WouldI just give up on you? Just abandon you if you don't live up to somerules, or fit some image? No nothing can separate you from my love.

At that moment tears in my eyes I know God had accepted me, now andforever, and I was safe in God's arms.

When we realize that for ourselves we come to know we have a new life– not defined by our past, not defined by society's labels, buttotally bound up in God's grace, in a God who believes in us morethan we believe in ourselves. The next several weeks we will belooking in the resurrection accounts in John 20-21, and at accountsof what a new life in Christ can be like, including how to fullyexperience that life.

 

 

Are any of you willing to share about when and how you first came toknow God had accepted you, embraced you, in Jesus?

 

 

Can anyone think of ways that any benefits discovering your new lifein Christ has brought you?

 

 

As a church, we say our mission is to welcome all, without prejudice,to join us in discovering friendship with God. How can we helpothers come to discover this new life or new start with God?

 

 

 

 

As we conclude I want to encourage you to take time to reflect on whoyou are in Christ. As you prepare to come forward to the Lord'sTable, I want to challenge you to embrace who you are in Christ. Iam going to play a song in the background entitled “Child of Mine”.   (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOnBsHp3mIc )So often we walk around with all kinds of other identities, nameswe have been called. I want to encourage you as you listen to thissong to think of one of those names and write it down on this slip ofpaper. When you are ready, come down to the front and lay that slipdown letting God know you are giving up the old life defined by thatlie. Then look yourself in the mirror, telling yourself who you are– the child of God, whom God loves, and in whom God is wellpleased. And pick up a slip with the writeup describing who you areto God. Then feel free to go back to your seat and commune withGod, come forward for prayer, or come forward for communion.

 

 

 

Up coming events at Diversity in Faith

Posted by Diversity in Faith on April 6, 2013 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Greetings from Diversity in Faith.

I hope everybody had a great Easter holiday.

Thanks to everyone who helped make our Easter cookout a success.

We have some upcoming events at Diversity in Faith I want to make sure you know about.

First, tomorrow at 4 PM we are packing packs for the homeless at our normal meeting location.

Also, after church we will be having a quick business meeting.  During the meeting we will be voting on deacon Jowancka Mintz's ministry, and whether to ask her to continue to serve as a minister of the church for the next year as a licensed minister (deacon), whether to place her in as a pastor, or whether to have her take a break from ministry.

Remember we are having refreshments each Sunday after church.  Please feel free to bring some.

Our sermon series this month is coming from Pastor Micah Royal, and has the theme of discovering new life in Christ.  This week we will be studying 1 Peter 1, and from the next week til the first Sunday in May we will be going through John 20-21.  Please feel free to study the end of John along with us.

On May 12th we will have guest speaker Ashley Young sharing a word with us. 

Also on May 19th, we will be having a special open mic style service where we celebrating the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost by each using our Spirit-given gifts to worship.  So plan to come that day with something you can share to express worship -- perhaps a song to sing or play, a poem to read, a story to share or act out, a dance to perform, a piece of art to share, a testimony about how God has moved in your life to share.  

Remember we have Sunday services at 5 PM at the fellowship hall in the office of St James Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, NC at 1424 Morgantan Road.  Most Sundays we have choir practice at 4 PM.  The first Sunday of the month we pack bags for the needy and hold a business meeting to plan outreach ministries of the church after church.

 

May you experience Christ alive and present with you.

Micah Royal, co-pastor, Diversity in Faith

How You are Making a Difference

Posted by Diversity in Faith on February 26, 2013 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I wanted to share something amazing that happened yesterday.

Before I do let me say what a joy it was to catch up with all of you who made it to our 2nd anniversary celebration Sunday.  

Also thank those of you who turned out last night to welcome back one of our members who had been called to work with our military overseas for several months.  I know it means alot to have a church family welcoming them back with open arms.

Some church events --We put together Cody's bags Sunday at 4 PM, and every first Sunday.  We have a short business meeting after church.  Also we have Bible study each Wednesday night at 6 at Pastors Kat and Micah's home.

That said, let me tell you about something very moving that happened yesterday:

Katharine Royal, Stella, and I were going back home after one of Stella's routine doctor visits. We always carry several Cody's bags, bags the church puts together of pop-top canned food, water, toiletry items in the car. We started these bags a few years ago after William Bozzo met a man named Cody who was homeless and told him "I don't want money; just a bite to eat" and Billy put together his own makeshift bag. So Kat, Stella, and I get to the corner of Martin Luther King and Ramsey and see a young guy, long brown hair and beard, with a sign asking for help. I roll down the window and ask Stella, who is sitting by our Cody's bags, to pass a few up. When I hand them to the man he is so thankful -- telling me what the toiletry items especially mean to him. I can tell he's having a bad day, so I say "What is your name?" Looking me in the eyes he says "Cody". The light turns green and I have to go... we call Billy. It is the same Cody. The whole time I feel the presence of God. To me this moment reminds me of how important the Cody's bag ministry is ... please continue to support it. First Sunday of every month at four we pack bags for the needy and have them available every Sunday. Right now we need pop-top cans of food, and some hygiene items -- as well as lists of resources to put in the bags. Also it reminded me of the feeling I shared a few weeks ago of us needing to look for ways we can extend our outreach to the needy as a church. I know Tricia Verhoye-Cook and Cynthia Smith have some ideas they want to share Sunday. I know I'd love it if we could find ways to both meet immediate needs and also, like Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, drive a spoke into the wheel of injustice by helping be a community that helps people break the cycle of poverty & homelessness someday. Let's not forget our part -- every little bit to make a difference is a big deal. Don't forget it. -- Pastor Micah, Diversity in FaithAlso last week I ran into a family that had seen our church turn out to be a part of the "Wall of Love" surrounded a family of a dead soldier whose funeral was being picketed by a hate group.  They told me what it meant to know people of God were there sending the message that God is love, and God's love extends to all.  Each of you are making such a difference.

Let's be the change we want to see in the world!

--Pastor Micah

Christ's Victory over Family Brokeness

Posted by Diversity in Faith on May 16, 2012 at 10:25 PM Comments comments (0)

This is the sermon Pastor Micah Royal gave on Mothers' Day Sunday 2012.

Feel free to hear this sermon at http://sermon.net/diversityinfaith/sermonid/119915387    

 

During testimonial time, have individuals share positive stories of mother figures in their lives who have touched them in some special way.

    To begin sermon play video of Kelly Clarkson's “Because of You”. (Watch at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ra-Om7UMSJc&ob=av2n )

    I want to begin my sermon with this video clip because of the fact that sometimes on mother's day we overlook the experience of people whose heart cry is reflected by Clarkson's words.  In this song she sings of a parent who fails to be there for her in the way she needed growing up, and how that failure to really be the parent who was needed leaves her shaken up and broken throughout her life.  Though its words are aimed at Clarkson's father, I have met many a person whom I have counseled who came to church broken and hurting, feeling unable to live life to the fullest because of the pain and brokenness of a mother who failed to live up the positive image of motherhood we usually picture on mother's day.

    I remember just such a conversation from a young lady in a church who grew up with a father who was abusive and alcoholic.  Her mother ignored the alcoholism of the father, covered it up, and instead of defending her children let them become beaten and abused.   Years later I met another young lady who grew up with a mother strung out on drugs who not only beat her but allowed men to use and abuse her.

    Some of us, though I doubt most of us, know such extreme pain at the hands of our mothers. Many of us have wonderful images of motherhood we can look to either in our biological families or in strong women in our lives.  Many of us here also know the pain of being rejected by our families for who we are, of feeling neglected or used by those who should be there for us, and have experienced patterns in our own families that wound us deeply.  My wager if I was a betting man is that most of us in fact are a mix – having many beautiful things to thank God for in our families of origin, but also points of deep pain and patterns which we must work against daily.

    As we continue to celebrate Christ's victory in our lives, does God's Word give a word of hope or a word of encouragement to those of us who face such brokenness, who like Clarkson can will full hearts cry “because of you”?

    I think so.  I believe there is hope for each of us, for our families, especially when they are torn apart through cycles of brokenness.  Turn with me if you would to Exodus 34, beginning in verse 1, to verse 9.  

The context for this passage is family.  The Bible is a tale of families.  Beginning with Adam, we see choices families make that shape the generations to come.  Sometimes we see wonderful choices – such as Abram's choice to embrace the God that is and commit his family to following that living God, not just the comfortable faith he grew up with.  Sometimes we see horrible choices – such as Abram's choice to have a child with a servant girl, stand by while his wife Sarai abused that firstborn boy, and then watch his son Ishmael be sent out into the desert as if to die.  This patterns of blessing and brokenness in families continue on through Genesis into Exodus.  In the book of Exodus when God calls Abraham's descendants out of slavery and into freedom, we see the brokenness and the blessings that occured in families come to head in this same family of Abraham.  When we join them in Exodus 34, the brokenness of their background raises its head as they repeat the same family pattern of rejecting a real relationship with the living God for their own comfortable human ideas about who God is, which Abraham had promised to break when he left all to follow the God who is.  Exodus 34 shows us God's response when this family of promise falls into the same bad patterns that have hurt their family over the years.  In this short passage of Scripture I believe we are given words of hope and healing for each of us who have been broken by family pain, or whose families are in crisis.  

 

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain. No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.’ So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, ‘The Lord.’ The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,

‘The Lord, the Lord,

a God merciful and gracious,

slow to anger,

and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,

keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,

forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,

yet by no means clearing the guilty,

but visiting the iniquity of the parents

upon the children

and the children’s children,

to the third and the fourth generation.’

And Moses quickly bowed his head towards the earth, and worshiped He said, ‘If now I have found favour in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.’

 

God who has birthed us to life, lifting us from our mothers' wombs and placing each of us in families, help us to discover the victory we have in You, the power of your love to overcome our pain and brokenness, granting us healing, hope, and comfort.  Open our ears to your words, and our hearts to your living Spirit.  In the name of the One born of mother Mary, Jesus our Savior, Amen.

 

    Does anything stand out to you from this passage that speaks to our experiences of motherhood and fatherhood that left us broken and wanting?  How about our cycles of brokenness in our families?

    There are Three things that I see as important to us this Mother's Day which God reveals in this event in the family of Abram:

    First, God reveals to us God's name, and it is Mother.

    Secondly, God demonstrates that through working together with God we can heal our brokenness and break the bad cycles in our families.

    Finally, God shows us hope that ultimately healing and love will overcome all that is broken in our families.

    First, I say that God tells us God's name and it is Mother.

    How many of you grew up with the idea that God could only be called father, never mother?

    I know a lot of people who grow up with this idea, an idea a lot of churches reinforced, that God could be known as father but never mother, that God was an old man in the sky.  For me the main image I had for God growing up was God as soon-coming king, an angry king ready to judge me and condemn me.  When God appears to Moses at this family crisis when the whole family of Abram looks like it will fall apart – have you been there in your family? – God reveals to Moses and to all of us that this is not who God is.

    First God says God calls God's self Yahweh.  A lot of times we think this God is giving a formal name for God, like when I say I am Micah Royal, or you are Miss Jones or Mr. Gibson... but if you pick apart the “name” of Yahweh it really isn't a name at all.  Yahweh is the Bible word for “is” or “to be” turned into a noun.  Literally it just means “the One that is”.   What God is reminding them w that they don't worship a God who can be boxed in by their notions or images or whom we can totally wrap our minds around.  God is bigger than any of our ideas about or images of God.  Our God is the God who is who God is, who will be who God will be.

    So instead of naming God or giving Moses another image for God that can be turned into a statue, God describes God's character.   God is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”.   What does this tell you about God?

    What is interesting here is that up to this point, where God reminds them that God can't be boxed in by any human image or name for God, God has been pictured by them just as I grew up picturing God: as a king, as an angry jealous father much like the fathers they had known, whose first word to us is “no” and whose character is “jealous”.   This isn't who I really am, God is saying, this is your idea of me.  Instead I am “merciful and gracious”.  Literally “merciful” comes from the word for “womb” in Hebrew.  It is an image for how a mother feels for the child moving in her stomach, for the child nursing at her breast, for the little one she nurtures, feeds, and cares for.   God is saying I am not like the angry parent you knew who uses, abuses, manipulates, and controls.  I am the loving mother who will not let you go.

    Scripture portrays this well when it quotes God as saying in Isaiah 49:15-16, ““Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands...”  In the Psalms God I pictured like a mother hen who, if you ever watch one, shelters its babies under its wings to protect it.  

    So God is not just angry father but also loving mother.  What does this love look like?  This love is the power of God at work in our lives from beginning to end.  It is steadfast, more powerful than any disappointment, more lasting than any anger God might have toward you for your failings.  It is strong enough to enable God to forgive any and all of your mistakes.  God is the one whose love like mother's milk strengthens us, heals us, grows us, into full and abundant life. God's love is like the wings of a mother bird that which lift her babies into the air so they might be able to soar.  Ultimately God's love is for you and me the reality of which the best motherhood is but a crayon drawing.  Ultimately God the Spirit is the ultimate mother whose love sets us free.  As we come to know know God's love personally we can begin to experience what true motherhood should be and find healing if our experience of mothering was not healthy.  Jesus later goes further by imagining himself as a mother bird sheltering us under her wings, portraying Creator God as a Father with the same selfless love depicted here.  So ultimately coming to know God's mother-love in the depths of our heart fill us with the healing we need which can begin to undo the damage done by fathers or mothers who have let us down.

    Next we see that God's love has the power, if we will work together with God, to heal our brokenness and set us free from the destructive patterns we find ourselves in.  When the Bible talks about how in Adam's sin all die it is not saying somehow we are all born guilty because of what someone else did.  No, it is talking about what Exodus describes – how when we are born, before we are aware of it or have a say in it, what we have modeled to us shapes us, sometimes blessing us but often warping us.   So a child born to a parent that is on the bottle learns often to drink to solve their problems or to think supporting people who drink or do drugs in those habits is love.  A child who sees people who don't ever talk about how they feel from the time they are little may learn to hide who they truly are.  If we don't break these patterns in our lives, we will continue them into adulthood and pass them onto our children.  In fact many of the most harmful things in families are things that go back may generations which keep being recycled and repeated.

    Exodus 34 acknowledges this: yes, the sins of the fathers are visited to the third and fourth generation; and no God cannot always rescue us from their consequences.  To do so would be to rob us of our dignity, steal our humanity by making our choices not matter.  But we are told that God's love, God's grace, is a thousandfold more powerful and enduring in our lives.  

    This means that God's love can break the chains of alcoholism, addiction, co-dependency, self-loathing, accepting abuse or being an abuser, the inability to make a relationship last. These cycles repeated in your family over and over again can end.  God's mother-love that will not let us go, the same love that we see at work raising Jesus from the dead, can set you free. Setting you free begins the healing of your family.  If you do the heart work of really examining your life, putting your relationships into the hands of God, and allowing God to break these cycles.  God's help may come too with the help of others such as those who have gone through what you have, pastors, therapists, friends. With God's help those cycles can be broken.

    Finally this image of God as mother includes a promise that ultimately all will be well not only in our biological families but throughout the whole human family.

    We have examined the hope that God's love will give us victory over the brokenness in our biological families.  Often when we look around, as many of us did this week on Wednesday morning, and lament, aghast at the hate in our world and community, the homophobia and bigotry, the gangs and war, racism and sexism, mistreatment of the least of these.  We can feel hopeless and powerless in the face of all this injustice and pain.  In those moments we need to remember that Exodus follows Genesis, which pictures all of us in its geneologies as all descended ultimately from the same two people, so no matter what religion, language, nation, race, tribe, or background, we're all one human family.  This means that not only can God's love conquer cycles of brokenness in our biological families, but also God's mother love will not abandon any in our human family and will certainly break these cycles in which we reap pain, heartache, and evil upon each other.  God's love is a thousandfold stronger than them.

    This promise that God is giving both to your immediate family and the human family in general is beautifully pictured by the visions of a lady in medieval England.  Looking around at the horrors of the black plague, of abject poverty, of war, disease, and tyrants all around her, Julian of Norwich fell to her knees spending months in prayer lamenting how dark her days were.   In A Revelation of Divine Love, sister Julian writes of the vision God gave her then of the Trinity appearing a loving mother: our Creator as a mother who births us into life; Christ our Savior as a mother nursing us with life and strength from her own body; and our Sanctifying Spirit present to us as mother-love surrounding us in an embrace.  In the midst of her vision, Julian saw the Trinity holding all of life like a tiny seed in God's hand, safe and secure, and heard the Spirit say “all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well”.  I want to conclude my sermon by playing you a modern rendition of this vision, by Meg Barnhouse.  It beautifully pictures the promise of Exodus – that God's mother love can show you the love you have always needed, healing that brokenness; that God's love can conquer the brokenness in your family and cycles that wreak heartache; and that God's love will conquer all that is broken in the human family.  This is the sure and certain hope – love will conquer hatred; light will extinguish darkness; justice and peace will overcome bigotry, oppression, and violence, both in our families and in our world.  All shall be well; all shall be well; all manner of thing be well.  

    Play clip.  (Read lyrics or listen to this clip at http://www.megbarnhouse.com/music-27.html)

    End in prayer.

 

 


God's Plan -- Love

Posted by Diversity in Faith on May 16, 2012 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (0)

A number of our church members shared their testimonial to speak out against bullying by faith leaders, and in the support of equal rights.  Watch them at www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6K6jEukOyE

Victory in the Midst of Mental Ilness -- 5/6/2012

Posted by Diversity in Faith on May 16, 2012 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (0)

On this 5/6/2012, we did a special presentation on mental health awareness in honor of mental health awareness month.

Listen to the full program at http://sermon.net/diversityinfaith/sermonid/119910539


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