Bewildered, convicted,
witnessing.

The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”

This Lent we continue our focus on the fruits of conviction. Because of our jealousies and selfishness, we face God’s conviction. In our weakness, we chose desire over faithfulness, temporary and fleeting satisfaction over eternal joy, conflict over peace, labor over work, shame, worry, cares, and threats. If we accept our conviction and plead guilty we are given access to the full treasury of God’s grace that starts with His forgiveness, the washing away of our sin.

As new people in Jesus our conviction moves from the conviction of guilt to a conviction in righteousness. We live in the assurance of God’s blessing and become all that God has called us to be.

The story of the nameless Samaritan woman at the well, recorded only in the Gospel of John, is a revealing one, full of many truths and powerful lessons.

This was an extraordinary woman. She was a Samaritan, a race of people that the Jews utterly despised as having no claim on their God, and she was an outcast and looked down upon by her own people. This woman was not welcome at the well while the other women were there – she had to come alone. She was ostracized and marked as immoral, an unmarried woman living openly with the sixth in a series of men.

What happens with this woman is a perfect parallel to the experience of all people. Her conviction by both Jews and her own people was tough to bear. She may have felt terrible about it, yet she refused to admit – really admit – her sin. She persisted in it. Yet God waits to meet her.

Jesus waited for her. Jesus meets her at the well as He meets us when we are in sin and desperate. He is there, even if we haven’t fully accepted our conviction, waiting.

In their conversation, Jesus opens the truths of His care – these truths apply to all of us. He cares, so He encounters us and speaks to us. He has something to give us that no one else can give – living water, truth that gives life. He teaches us about right worship – stemming from Sprit and truth; not just form or function or place. He knows our reality and He holds it up to us asking us to accept conviction – because in the end, we are asked to be honest. He values us enough to not just seek us, but to give us the freedom of choice; conviction or excuse. Like us, she had a choice. Like us, the gifts awaited.

The woman came to recognize God – more than the disciples had. All from one encounter. She went from bewilderment at this encounter, to conviction, to acceptance, to finally witnessing and drawing her community to Jesus. She was saved, fruit from conviction.

Conviction from
the other side.

“Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

This Lent we are focusing on the theme of God’s conviction. Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would come to convict the world – clearly declaring our guilt.

Recognizing the Holy Spirit’s conviction, we have a choice. We can acknowledge and accept our guilt and flee to Jesus. We can declare our faith in him, admit our sin and conviction, and make Him the Lord of our life. In doing that, all sin is forgiven and we have access to the rich treasury of grace and mercy won for us by Jesus.

On the other hand, we can ignore or self-excuse our conviction. We can bury it, and try to fill our lives with the kinds of noise that shuts out the work of the Holy Spirit. When we do that we grow deaf to God’s call. We condemn ourselves to the coldness of outsider status.

For those who accept God’s conviction, who put their faith in the Lord, something amazing happens. They move from the conviction of guilt to a conviction in righteousness. This is what happened 120 years ago.

In 1897, a group of church goers moved from the hopelessness of external faith to the deep conviction born of a declaration of faith in Jesus alone. Today we celebrate and recognize that day.

The Christian conviction they experienced, their acceptance of the Lord over “going along” transformed their hearts. They moved from an outward conformity – casual agreement and compliance with their Church’s religious rules – to a deep conviction in what God promised them.

People can casually agree or conform with a lot of things and not be fully convinced of them or even believe any of them. People can go for many years living a lie, being deceived about what they believe and what they practice. It isn’t until they face the winds of affliction that the truth of their beliefs is tested. That is when they find out whether their house is built on the Rock or it was built on the sand.

The faithful of 1897 found Christian conviction built on salvation in Jesus. With that revelation, they faced the onslaught of the enemy, of persecution, trials, and affliction standing on the Rock. They found out that their old conformity could not carry them.

As they did, we must do. The Lord knows our choice. Our challenge is to examine ourselves to see whether we are in Lord. If we have accepted our conviction and live true conviction we, like they, like the Apostles, saints, martyrs, and heroes of the faith, will move mountains, change the world, bear much fruit, and be truly victorious.

Convicted and
choosing freedom.

“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”

God set forth very clear directions for the young couple in the garden, the archetype (i.e., model) for all of mankind. Through them a state of sinfulness entered the world. This is not to say that we are born evil or full of sin, but like that couple, we easily fall into sin because of its allure; because we follow their model.

If we take apart the story of that couple, we see the draw of evil played out in its essence. They had everything – all of God’s gifts – food, peace, work, nothing to be ashamed of, no worries or cares, no threats. But there was that one thing, out of reach, like an apple high up in a tree.

Mmmmm, look at that, just out of reach and something to be jealous of. Why can’t I have it? Who is God to put obstacles or limitations in my way? Who is God to keep the tasty treat of full knowledge away from me? Who is God to be God – I should be god!

The young couple’s choice born of jealousy became the model for the worldly. We now have desire over faithfulness, temporary and fleeting satisfaction over eternal joy, conflict over peace, labor over work, shame, worry, cares, and threats.

Because of their choice, they had to face conviction. God enters the garden, to walk with them, and finds them guilty. Judgment falls upon them as it does on all of us – because of choices. Convicted because we, like they, fail to say, to proclaim: I will obey. I will rely.

Jesus comes into the world, as the Father did, to walk with us. He brings a new example, a new archetype, a new model for our lives. Fasting, tired, hungry, weather beaten – there it was – all power, all the food and power one might enjoy, and the fleeting promise that He could do it all without facing any consequences. Facing the same temptations that young couple faced, He chose differently. He said, I will obey. I will rely on the Father alone.

We certainly stand convicted because of our choices. The natural outcome of our choices is a judgment of guilty. It is certain death. Yet the new model, Jesus, because of His choices, because of His obedience brings us the grace of God, acquittal, the abundance of grace, and the gift of justification.

These things come to reign in our lives when we chose differently as Jesus did – You, Father, are God. I will obey. I will rely on You alone. I choose Your freedom.

He will come to convict the world of sin, to show the world what has God’s approval, and to convince the world that God judges it.

St. John relates Jesus’ last words before his arrest. Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is coming to convict all of us. We should be thankful! This conviction by the Holy Spirit serves two purposes. It is a starting point and an ongoing call. The Lord convicts those who are His children. It is proof that we belong to God. A believer’s conviction leads us to continuing repentance and to seeking closer union with God. Let us start Lent right, let us plead guilty, repent, and live God’s life more fully. If we recognize what the Spirit is doing for us we will be ready to truly rejoice at Easter.

Join us this Lent as we walk with Jesus so that we, together, may rejoice in His resurrection. Check out our great Lenten events, participate in directed giving, reflect during our devotional exercises, go on retreat with us, order some Easter food, and look at other great events for the months ahead.

You may view and download a copy of our March 2017 Newsletter right here.

Hit the
road.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?”

Two weeks ago, we discussed using this Pre-Lenten season as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to warm up and prepare for the living of God’s life. We then came face-to-face with our competitive natures and how we can turn them, use them, for God’s work, not to battle each other but to build up the Body of Christ. These are both aspects of preparation – getting us ready spiritually and mentally for our Lenten journey. Are we warmed up and ready? Are we ready to compete to build the Kingdom?

We now come to how we are to live day-to-day, the words of Jesus we need to make real going into Lent.

This is the hardest part of our preparation because it is where the fullness of the faith lived life confronts us hardest. Sure, we can warm up, we can feel our competitive instinct kicking in. I’m ready to go, but then the reality of the race confronts us head on. We begin to doubt again – but the road will be bumpy, I’ll get a pebble in my shoe, my muscles will be sore, the couch looks so much more comfortable.

The couch is that comfortable place that will eventually kill us. If we sit in our habitual sins, if we rest where we are, if our charity and love do not increase, we are just inviting that heart attack. The heart attack will be that final realization that we haven’t pushed ourselves enough, we haven’t gotten as close as we can to God’s ideal life.

Jesus illustrates the various cares and worries that keep us sitting on the couch. These are the things that weigh down on us – for His listeners it was clothing, food, drink, housing, and length of life. Some of these things may be our worry, but we can certainly substitute a lot of other stuff that bears on us while we sit on our couch.

In accepting Jesus as our salvation, we were regenerated and inherited a great promise. He now confronts us with what we have done with that salvation. Have we boxed it up, put it in our laps as we sat back down on the couch or have we put it all into action?

Warmed up and ready? Ready to compete to build the Kingdom? Sure – but ready is not enough. Now is the time to get off the couch, to take the pain, to accept it with joy. Faith in Jesus, acceptance of His promises requires us to hit the road, to go. The grace of Jesus is not a cushion for our pews but is that adrenaline we need to reject worry and do all needed to seek only the kingdom.

Donna Hanson Munafo had a vision several years ago to visit a different “church” each Sunday morning and then share her experiences. After each visit she posts her impressions and thoughts to her Church Journeys website. Donna’s passion and purpose is to edify and encourage area churches, help bring unity to the Body of Christ and give insight to those who have never been to a particular “church.”

Donna wrote a beautiful reflection based on her visit with us last Sunday.

Thank you for visiting our parish and for your beautiful work for the Kingdom.

Extraordinary
life.

So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

Last week we discussed using this Pre-Lenten season as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to warm up and prepare for the living of God’s life. Getting ready to engage we now come face-to-face with the reality of competition.

We could categorize this time of year as the season of competition. A couple of weeks ago we watched football’s ultimate competition, the Super Bowl. That competition encompasses a time of preparation and training and a whole season of smaller competitions. This weekend is basketball’s All-Star game and all the competitive/show-off events that surround it. March madness is ahead and of course the various musical, stage, and movie award nights have taken over our televisions.

Throughout history people have enjoyed competition. Economists tell us that competition is an essential force in maintaining productive and efficient markets. Even the human quest for love is not free of competition. For most people, there is something compelling about competition. Perhaps that’s because, as some argue, “competitiveness” is a biological trait that supports the human need for survival.

In this season of competition, Paul asks us to check our competitiveness because life in Jesus is not a rivalry, trial, match, race, or struggle. It is a gift given and by grace we already own it. We own the whole promise of God. We can trust that God has placed us where He wants us, where we can make the most difference, while we rely on His grace. But what to do with our competitive nature? Do we deny it or pretend it doesn’t exist? Do we sublimate it? That wouldn’t last too long; only as far as the next time our favorite team plays or we go after that item that’s on sale and that everyone else wants.

Paul isn’t denying our competitive nature, or saying we should ignore it. The message is that we need to bring our lives – our physical and psychological selves, our gifts and competitiveness – into accord with the way life should be. This is the life the prophets proclaimed and that Jesus revealed. Our competitive nature is real and is to be used to glorify God and to build up His body.

But Pastor, how can we do that? How to make Jesus’ way real and tangible. How do I make competition work for good? Our visitors from Church Journeys did exactly that. They took Paul’s words to heart and have focused on ending the sorts of competition that separates the Body of Christ into the factions of Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world into a shared journey that builds up and glorifies what God is doing in our community, right here, right now.

As they have done, we need to set our competitive ambitions and energies on the very hard work Christians need to live (not just do). Stretched and ready, we need to take on those who would strike us by offering ourselves up as a complete sacrifice. For those who would seek our coat we need to hand over our wardrobe. For those who would demand a mile of us, we need to be ready to walk the entire journey with them. We need to use our competitive energy for a love that surpasses that of the world, a godly love that embraces enemies and persecutors.

Making Jesus’ way real and tangible requires we live the big above and beyond; our competitive instinct turning us from ordinary to extraordinary people taking all that belongs to us and competing to “be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.”

Stretch
out.

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; He has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.

Health and exercise experts advise us to stretch before exercising – in other words to prepare before doing.

The benefits of stretching include increased flexibility, range of motion and injury prevention. Websites and exercise books list myriad benefits derived from stretching including: Stretching encourages an optimistic outlook; Improves our posture; Enables flexibility; Increases stamina; Decreases the risk of injury; Gives us more energy; Promotes blood circulation; Improves performance; Reduced soreness; and Reduces cholesterol.

Today we enter the Pre-Lenten season of preparation – a time for stretching. The Church asks us to prepare ourselves for the Lenten journey so that our Lenten workout will pay off.

Athletes would attest that failure to stretch before getting into the game will almost certainly result in injury. So it is with our Lenten journey. Will we go into Lent without having prepared? Will we wonder somewhere around the fourth Sunday in Lent – Am I getting anything out of this? Has my prayer life, charity, evangelization, sacrifice, repentance, or forgiveness increased or am I in the same place I was on January 1st? Have I improved?

Stretching for God results in the same good that athletes get. Our outlook becomes more optimistic because we get a better picture of God’s mercy. We see the beauty of what He has done for us, of His promise, much more clearly and we become joyful in that knowledge. Our spiritual posture improves – we begin to carry ourselves as people of faith in all that we do. We become more flexible – not in terms of accepting sin or saying that it is ok, acceptable, allowable, or a choice – but in removing judgmentalism and replacing it with compassion. Our spiritual stamina increases – we can pray, read scripture, and do good works longer and without distraction. Best of all, our preparation, our stretching decreases the risk of self-injury. We learn to turn away from sin, to stop harming ourselves and others by our sinful action or inaction, by our words or by our failure to speak God’s truth.

Will our blood pressure and cholesterol improve this Lent? While scientific studies differ on the benefits of spiritual practice, we do know that if we sacrifice and avoid temptation then our spiritual and physical health will improve.

Sirach reminds us that by stretching out to God we will be saved. Now is the time to renew our stretching out to salvation.

Stop being
bland.

Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

We all face the challenge of blandness. We get bored, complacent, and just don’t have the energy we used to. It certainly isn’t an age thing, for it happens no matter our age.

It happens in our relationship with God. A friend once told me that he gave up going to church because he’d heard it all before. There was no new sermon, was no new inspiration, the same platitudes got trotted out season after season, year after year.

We crave stimulation and newness for very healthy reasons. If we do not receive proper stimulation, boredom creeps in. When boredom is left unchecked, disgust forms and leads us into cynicism, anger, and distrust. Unchecked boredom is a red flag. This red flag can result in two outcomes.

The red flag can cause us to go off the rails; lead us to reinventing God. Boredom becomes license to add to and change God’s teaching, or to turn God from what He is into a false image created to satisfy and justify our sinful desires. This is damaging Christianity.

On the other hand, we can use this red flag as God intended. It should drive us to dig deeper, to invent anew, and to be creative. Digging deeper, creativity, and newness are hallmarks of healthy Christianity.

If we are feeling bored with the Jesus we think we know, we need to dig deeper. Read and study more – find that aspect in His eternal and infinite perfection that we haven’t plumbed yet. Learn and enter contemplative prayer. We could spend an entire lifetime and still not grasp everything in just one aspect of God’s life. We won’t get bored doing this.

If we are getting bland in our practice of Christianity, let us resolve to add something new to the life of the Church. A new ministry? An added form of prayer? Lead a bible study in our homes or at work. Gather a focused prayer circle to pray for those who have struggles in our parish family. Make it fun, interesting, and new. In the process, we share our faith with new people and expand our family.

Let us get creative. Let us work together to do exactly what God commanded through Isaiah: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Because then our light shall break forth like the dawn, and any wound shall quickly be healed.

When we end blandness, when we make a new and creative difference, the glory of the Lord dwells with us and our light shines.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Christians, in attempting to understand the tremendous nature of God, Who sent and sacrificed Himself out of love for us, adopted the Greek word agape to describe God’s love for us and how our love is to be. Agape is love that is universal, unconditional and extraordinary. Agape its stronger than circumstances… We are invited to accept God’s real love and to let it envelop us. Accepting His love we are overcome by its unconditional nature. We move from saying, ‘How can He love me.’ to swimming in the sea of His tremendous love, letting it draw us in, allowing it to refresh and renew us and finally allowing it to become agape love in action in our lives.

Join us as we move from the season of Christmas into the Pre-Lenten season. Check out all the great events we have planned for the month ahead, find some beautiful prayers, reflect on the true meaning of stewardship, and so much more.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2017 Newsletter right here.