Ecclesiological Etchings: 03-08-14

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Scripture: Psalm 27:3-5 (the Message)
When besieged, I’m calm as a baby. When all hell breaks loose, I’m collected and cool.  I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.  That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, The perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic.

Thought for the Day: This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent, and we will begin a new series entitled: A-Lent-A-Palooza — The Crossing of Paradox.  Each week, we will reflect on one of the Spiritual Disciplines with an openness to see anew the meaning and purpose of the practice.  Too often we approach a certain word with a preconceived idea of its meaning, yet Jesus spun old ideas back on themselves for the purpose of reinvigorating or reinventing them.  Maybe it was because a spiritual practice had become too rote or empty – or maybe it had been co-opted by someone who had an agenda contrary to that of God.  Whatever the case, it appears that Jesus wanted ancient spiritual practices to be understood as life-giving, not life-draining.

This first Sunday, we will discuss silence and meditation.  No one is surprised to hear me say that we live in a noisy and chaotic world.  Quiet, for most of us, is still pulsating with the noise of all kinds of things that we have come to ignore…or have we?  Most of us have learned selective hearing, though our ability to tune things out often keeps us from perceiving that which is really important.  I am reminded of the words of Henri Nouwen: “Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning and without listening speaking no longer heals…”  Silence is not the panacea for the clutter and chaos of life, but it does creates intentional space where the Ever-Present God can be appreciated and heard.  Times of silence better prepare us to return to the craziness of life where the noise and turmoil are less likely to suffocate our spirits.

Prayer: Call to us, O Holy One of the Silence.  Engage us and reveal to us your healing presence made available as we quiet ourselves.  Amen.

IMPORTANT

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Ecclesiological Etchings: 03-07-14

 

Continuing our study 

of 1st Thessalonians…

 

Ecclesiological Etchings-Thessalonians

Scripture: 1st Thessalonians 5:23-28
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.  Beloved, pray for us.  Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.  I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Thought for the Day: This is it!  Paul concluded his letter with a word of blessing, a challenge to the ideal of holiness, and a request that his letter be read aloud to everyone. There is a lot of good stuff in 1st Thessalonians, and it should be read whenever possible.  As Paul pointed out in these final words, he desired that the whole person (spirit and soul and body) be kept strong and as genuine as possible.  Though the letter touches on many important subjects, Paul appeared to want nothing more than to encourage these faithful people in their holy convictions.  We all can run hot and then cold and then lukewarm and then cold again.  Paul wanted this community to remain faithful to the task set before them, and as one who knew struggle and persecution firsthand, he wanted to provide tools that would help them remain faithful throughout any experience that life might dish out.

What is one thing you will take away from your reading of 1st Thessalonians?  How might a renewed commitment to this one thing help you remain strong and genuine in your faith?  What are your holy convictions being challenged right now?  How might Paul encourage you to remain faithful?

Prayer: You have been generous in your love, O Lord, and for that I am blessed.  As I enter into this season of Lent, keep me connected to the words of Paul who invited us to: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.  Amen.

IMPORTANT!!!

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Ecclesiological Etchings: 03-06-14

Ecclesiological Etchings-Thessalonians

Continuing our study
of 1st Thessalonians…

Scripture: 1st Thessalonians 5:12-22
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.  See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

Thought for the Day: Wow!  That is quite a list of roles and responsibilities for the Thessalonians.  It feels as if Paul was getting to the end of his letter and he was attempting to quickly layout all the other things he didn’t get around to mentioning.  I remember my mother leaving town, and though I had an older sibling to watch over me, it would be the first time I’d stay at home without her.  I was taking on a new level of responsibility.  As my mother walked toward the door, it was as if she had a rush of last minute concerns, emergency procedures, tasks and duties.  The list trailed off as she went out the door.

Yet as you go through Paul’s list, you note a lot of common sense ideas.  There are good suggestions for any group of people attempting to live together in harmony.  When it was all said and done, it sure appears as if Paul wanted nothing more than for this faithful group of people to remain strong.  When a community of believers is just forming, they can ride the initial enthusiasm for quite some time.  The joy that exists among new disciples can often overshadow petty disagreements, at least for a while.  But I wonder if Paul had some previous experiences with those slightly older communities of faith who, though still followers of Jesus, seemed to lose sight of their mission and purpose.  It happens all the time when a new church community begins to institutionalize.  Suddenly, those who were patient and willing to live at peace with one another, are threatening the very existence of the community with bickering and selfishness.

Though the list might be a bit intimidating, I would encourage you to take just one of the suggested responsibilities (I would exclude the ‘admonish the idlers’) and practice it for the rest of the day.  For example, I going to spend the rest of the day reflecting on the idea of NOT quenching (stifling) the spirit.  Instead, how might I fan the flames of the Spirit in my own life and in the lives of others?

Prayer: Encourage me, Beautiful and Caring God, so that each day I might see another opportunity to strengthen my faith and increase my love of those around me.  Amen.

 

Ecclesiological Etchings: 03-05-14

DON’T FORGET

Today is Ash Wednesday

Come by for Ashes in the Chapel
7-9am
11am – 1pm

And then join us for Pancakes
starting at 5:30pm

and Worship at 6:45pm

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Continuing our study
of 1st Thessalonians…

Scripture: 1st Thessalonians 5:3-11
When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!  But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.  So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.  For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Thought for the Day: The phrase, “There is peace and security,” was a propaganda slogan of the Roman imperial government (The New Interpreter’s  Bible, Vol. 11, p. 726).  Paul used it here to set up a contrast between those who trust in God and those who trust in worldly powers.  This continues on with the metaphorical polarities of light — darkness, sober — drunk, day — night.  This was both a standard by which people could judge themselves and a blatant way of asking, “Are you with God?”

Midway through this passage, Paul shifted from clearly making the contrast to setting forth expectations for those who were believers (light, sober, day).  These are people who consciously make the decision to put on faith and love, hope and salvation.  These are all gifts from God, but a choice needs to be made as it is one thing to say we are in the light and another thing to behave as those who are in the light.  Like always, Paul was less interested in what people might say and more interested in what they did.

At the end of the day, where is your faith rooted?  Who do you trust with your peace and security?  Is it with the things of this world or God?  Not that any of us are perfect, but look at people’s bumperstickers?  Listen to the language people use as compared to the way they distribute their money, use their resources or spend their time.

Prayer: There is so many things that cause anxiety, Lord, and it is easy to think we are capable of creating our own security.  Work within us that we might continue to grow in our trust of your ways, a deep and abiding trust in you as our peace and security.  Amen.

Ecclesiological Etchings: 03-04-14

Ecclesiological Etchings-Thessalonians

Continuing our study
of 1st Thessalonians…

Scripture: 1st Thessalonians 5:1-2
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

Thought for the Day: Again, Paul, his colleagues and the Thessalonians had a certain expectation around a return of Christ.  The expectation had no specific date, but months was probably as far out as any of them would have put the date.  In light of everything happening at that point in history (occupation of Jerusalem, arrests, persecution and growing threats of revolution that would eventually lead to the first Jewish-Roman war), you could understand why people might think this way.  Yet throughout the scriptures, and even throughout Christian history, the use of urgent apocalyptic language was to produce a higher level of holiness.  The intent is less about expectancy, and more about motivating the reader to a specific way of living amidst the difficulties and pressures associated with Christian values in a non-Christian world.

Think about it for a minute—does Paul want people to just sit around and look for the coming of Jesus, or is the invitation to think of every moment as one ripe with the living Christ?  It would be easy to become apathetic or push things off for some vague future date.  In times of difficulty, this type of attitude can lead to a complete loss of the faith.  Paul wished for everyone to be awake and aware, living every moment as if Christ was ready to join them—for in fact, through the spirit, he already had.

Prayer: We are the body of Christ in the world, and you – Lord – have called us to animate this body with faithfulness.  Encourage us, especially in times of difficulty and suffering, to provide a genuine witness to your mercy and love.  Amen.

Make Ashes A Part of Your Wednesday

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Ecclesiological Etchings: 03-03-14

Continuing our study
of 1st Thessalonians…

Scripture: 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.  For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Thought for the Day: Here is a passage that might be a bit confusing to some.  It is clear that early in Paul’s ministry, he believed in the imminent return of Jesus.  It could happen any day.  Since this was the first letter that Paul wrote, or at least the first we have, it portrays an early Pauline theology.  Paul has certain expectations, that later in his career, won’t carry the same authority.  In this passage, Paul was clearly stating that many who were alive in Thessalonica would still be alive at the return of Jesus.  As far as I know, there is no one from 1st century Thessalonica who is still alive, so that was a mistaken point by Paul.

With that said, there is something else that should not get lost within Paul’s words.  He was speaking to a very specific and difficult issue among the Thessalonians.  Since they, like Paul, believed Jesus’ return was coming in their lifetime, what would that mean for those who had died in the period of waiting.  Were they simply lost?  This is where Paul the theologian became Paul the pastor.  He responded to these heartfelt concerns with real compassion.  In the end, he encouraged the Thessalonians to trust in God who would not let anyone, dead or alive, slip away from the divine reach.

Paul was still speaking theologically, but he was doing it with a pastor’s heart.  He understood how destructive and unhelpful anxiety within the community could be.  There was a recognition of just how difficult it would be for the Thessalonians to love as Christ had loved them if they were consumed by fear, the fear of death.

Think about it for a minute: when something is weighing heavy upon your heart, are you at your best?  Are you able to offer your finest at work, home or among your friends?  Probably not!  Paul offered comfort, and though he might not have gotten the timing correct, he was correct when it came to the basic theological premise that there is nothing, including death, that can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Prayer: Could it be, O Lord, that I have gotten a few things wrong in my understanding of faith?  Most definitely!  But I pray that you will keep me connected to your love that bridges every divide, a love that can cover a myriad of mistakes.  Amen.

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Ecclesiological Etchings: 03-02-14

Ecclesiological Etchings-Thessalonians

Continuing our study
of 1st Thessalonians…

Scripture: 1st Thessalonians 4:9-12
Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Thought for the Day: The Apostle Paul was demanding, though complimentary.  As we’ve talked about in earlier sessions, Paul heaped praise upon the Thessalonians for all the good things they had done.  In this passage, he continued with more affirming words.  It sounds as if they are doing such an amazing job that they have, in fact, reached the pinnacle of faithful living.  Then Paul added the words, “But we urge you…to do so more and more…”  Don’t you imagine a few folks in Thessalonica who were having these words read to them in worship would have whispered to their neighbor, “Really!  What does this guy expect of us?”

Paul’s expectations were high, though it was not just in regard to the Thessalonians ability to love, but to make sure that they were living complete lives of integrity.  Paul wanted to make sure that “outsiders” (not a negative exclusive term in this context, but simply describing those who were currently not part of the faith) clearly observed genuineness among the people of faith.  Perfection will never be reached, and there will always be failures, but Paul pushed the churches to recognize how easily the point of our faith can become derailed.  Too often within the churches of Paul’s day (and today as well), individuals would do small things that were contrary to the faith.  These little things were not only noticed by the outsiders, but they became the focus.  Suddenly the conversation was not about God’s amazing love revealed in Jesus Christ, but some side topic that distracted everyone from the main point.

Where have you seen the church lack integrity on the little things, yet it was these little things that were noticed and became the place where a majority of the church’s energy was spent?

What are a couple of things that might help the church maintain a high level of integrity and keep attention on those things that will ultimately change lives?

Prayer: O God who is always closer than our imagination could perceive, encourage me to maintain Christ-like standards in all my activities.  I can only hope that what I say and do will guide the attention of others to you.  Amen.

TODAY IS A BIG DAY
FOR CYPRESS CREEK
CHRISTIAN CHURCH

One Sunday Service
10:30am

For the Ordination
of
John Frey
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