Stronger

“Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10 NIV)

Beware!  We are now entering that time of the year that is deadly to our diets and way too generous with our waistlines. Or, more to the point, the time of year when our waistlines become more generous. The time of year between Halloween and the New Year.

It starts off innocently enough. You pass out candy for the trick or treaters and hey, why not have one  for yourself? They can’t hurt you. After all, they are fun sized. A little fun couldn’t hurt.  And perhaps I’ll go through the kid’s candy they collected. I don’t want them to have too much sugar.  In  way I’m doing them a favor by eating it.

We steam roll (mmm rolls.) into Thanksgiving and we don’t stop eating until we come up for air sometime after New Year’s Day.  And often dive back in for the Super Bowl.  All of which can be devastating to our waistlines, not to mention our cholesterol levels, sugar levels etc.

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Now this is not meant to shame you into not enjoying oneself during the holidays. Actually far from it. It does, I hope, serve as a reminder that God calls us to be good stewards of all that we have including our health. And so in the middle of enjoying the Holidays,having some moderation, eating as carefully as we can, and experiencing isn’t a bad precaution.

Exercise is , of course, critical to our overall well-being. I appreciate the current trend in exercise that moves us away from a certain weight or becoming too thin. Body shaming, especially for young ladies has become an increasing problem that can out our youth at risk both physically and emotionally.

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We are finally realizing that overall health is more important that  reaching a certain weight.  Exercise now is about strength. We strengthen our core. We strengthen our cardiovascular system We streghten our muscular system. There are plenty of studies that say when we work on our strength, especially with some sort of weight training we can actually strengthen  our skeletal system as well.

The results are that we can stay stronger and healthier longer in life often avoiding many of the stereotypes of what it means to be a senior citizen.  Many assisited living facilities have state of the art gyms and are often full of people experiencing and putting many younger people to shame.   I recently saw a piece on a man who is over 100 who completed a marathon. That might boggle the mind now, but as we continue to work on our strength that could become a common place event.

Of course that fellow didn’t reach his 100th birthday and decide to run.  He came from an active lifestyle that give him much of the strength he needed to be able to run. He needed the strength to be able to withstand the righteous of training as well as the race itself.  From his story, and many others, it should become obvious to us that becoming stronger produces untold benefits.

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So what are you doing to get stronger spiritually? What are you doing to strengthen the spiritual core of your life? What are you doing to provide your spirit with the type of “cardio vascular” strength that will enable to run the race Christ has set before you?  Are you more concerned with looking good as a “church goer” or do you want to become stronger in your discipleship?

It seems to me that while most Christians agree that becoming spiritually strong is a good idea few of us truly engage in the proper practices that will produce the results we want. Or we engage in the wrong practices, often working hard yet we don’t really feel as if we are any stronger.

How do we become srronger spiritually? Look again at this verse from Nehemiah. It might be a fairly well known verse, even if you don’t know where it comes from. But here Nehemiah proclaims that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”  Read it again.  The Joy of the Lord is our strength.  It doesn’t say serving on a committee is our strength.  Our being involved in a church service project is our strength. Not even teaching Sunday School is our strength. Nehemiah, who was in the middle of a building project by the way, didn’t say the stewardship and tithing is our strength.

Now these are all things that we as Christians ought to do. Please understand this. All I am saying is the bible doesn’t say, as important as these things are and as necessary as they are, they aren’t in and of themselves the well strong from which we derive our strength.  No, our strength comes for the”Joy of the Lord”.  How does the joy of the Lord make us stronger?

The Joy of the Lord comes when we learn to enjoy the presence of God and the Body of Christ.  I really think they are inseparable. If you don’t enjoy being in the body of Christ how can you enjoy being in God’s presence? And surely if you don’t enjoy, really enjoy, being in the presence of God how can you find any joy from being a part of the Body of Christ?   God loves it when we spend time with Him and when we enjoy spending time with one another. The more we cultivate a heart sensitive to the presence of God and appreciative of being  a part of the Body of Christ, as faulty as it may be at times, the stronger we will become.

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We become stronger when we live our lives in a way that makes God happy. The Joy of the Lord is our strength. I’ve had many conversations with people over the years asking me “What is my purpose in life?” I’ve found what they usually mean is “What should I be doing as a job?” The truth is living a life that gives God joy is our purpose in life. and the more we live a life we believe will give God joy the stronger our spirits will become.

Laugh more.Chrisitnas take themselves far too seriously. Now we should take the Trinity seriously. And we shoud take our salvation and the salvation of the world seriously. But joyless Christians don’t do anyone  any good. Whenever we laugh, as long as it doesn’t demean anyone else, we invite ourselves in the presence of God.  If God is the creator  of joy wouldn’t it make sense that we would honor the creator by enjoying His creation? Take time today to laugh at something, even if it’s yourself.  You’ll be the stronger for it.

Strengthening your spirit won’t just happen. You have to work at it. You have to train. Butt its worth it. The Joy of the Lord is our strength!

 

Amen.

Yoga Pants and Adulting

“I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”  (1 Corinthians 1:32 NIV)

There are times when I read the newspaper I have to check to make sure I’m not reading the latest issue of “The Onion” or the latest parody from “The Babylon Bee”. My go to rule, is that if I read something and it’s so out there no one would believe it, it’s probably real. Only parody writers hold things in check because “no one would really do that.”

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I resisted the temptation to check what I was reading as I came across an article in the newspaper today. It seems that a man in New Jersey dared to write in a letter to the editor for the local paper that he hated yoga pants.  He went on to say they were a horrible fashion trend and that not only should most women not wear them, they are almost always, unless actually going to yoga, inappropriate attire. In a few days three hundred women, and others appeared at his doorstep staging a protest.  I’ve copied the link here for your convenience.

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2016/10/24/women-defend-wearing-yoga-pants.html

Now let’s let a few things sink in. This guy isn’t a governmental official. He isn’ passing legislation. He voiced an opinion. In a letter. To a newspaper. Essentially, someone these people  did not know made a comment about fashion.  All of these people could have simply thought, “Well since I don’t know you. I don’t care about your opinion” and turn to the comics to read “Pearls Before Swine”  Or even simply thought a few namaste thoughts (sorry!!) about the fellow and go on with life.

Instead they are so outraged they put on their yoga pants and this guy has 300 people tracking Ugg prints in his yard and spilling pumpkin spice latte on his begonias. He has claimed that he received some death threats, which seems to be a bit of a…wait for it….stretch. But in this day and age who knows

 

So before weImage result for yoga get into the meat of the blog today let me share a few random thoughts on this particular protest. First if the worst thing that happens to you is an unknown person disagrees with your fashion choice you ought to consider yourself a fairly blessed person. Secondly, how dull is your Sunday afternoon that 300 of you have nothing better to do than stand in the yard of a guy you don’t even know?  Third, let’s be honest.  Not everyone looks good in yoga pants. I’ve been to the State Fair. A culture that loves the bacon cheeseburger on a donut bun and the deep-fried Oreo might not also be able to have  a love affair with yoga pants.  Yes, of course you have the right to wear them. And this poor sap probably has the right to say not everyone can pull the look off. Franky I’m surprised people in love with yoga pants weren’t more flexible or willing to bend over backwards to be forgiving.

Bad puns aside, it does point to one of the issues we struggle with in our society today. Our culture’s tendency to live in a perpetual status of preadolesence. You know the age where everyone is self centered. Where not only is everything offensive and worthy of an eye roll, but also must be pointed out and ridiculed. A culture where heaven help the person who dares disagree with anything we might want to do.

I’ve noticed that in our preadolescent culture becoming an adult, maturity, has become a thing to be ridiculed. There once was a time when becoming an adult was not only an expected outcome in life, but one people looked forward to experiencing. Now we don’t even talk about being an adult or reaching a level of maturity as a thing anymore.  Being an adult is not a stage, but an activity. We have comments such as “I don’t want to adult today”  or “I’m tired of adulting”. As if being an adult were a verb or an activity. Can you get the underlying sentiment? I adult until I don’t have to and can then retreat into my preferred preadolescent status.  The problem, of course, is that when we see maturity as something we only have to do for  awhile we miss out on becoming an adult. And  experience all that we were meant to experience and enjoy in life.  In short, we miss out on the good stuff.

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That’s Paul’s frustration with the people in Corinth. Paul writes, in short, “You’ve become a bunch of babies. You’ve stalled in your spritual maturity. There is so much more of Jesus I want to give you. But I can’t because you aren’t grown up enough to digest it.  You’ve been created for a banquet and are satisfying yourself with formula. Jesus wants you to become his but you try to keep one foot in your child’s life in the world before you knew Him.

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So how do we stop “adulting” spiritually and become mature in the faith? We need to make the choice not to stay where we are. It’s not so much an immaturity issue as it is a lordship issue. Are you willing to submit even your spiritual maturity to God?  Find ways to stretch yourself spiritually. Move away from the formula. Attend a Bible study, small group or get involved in a ministry that you have always said, ‘that’s not really for me.” You don’t have to stay there forever. But it’s not bad to spend a season trying new things to mature your spiritual palate.

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Find some mature Christians to spend time with.  We tend to rise or sink to the level of our surroundings. By taking time to intentionally surround yourself with some people who have spiritual depth you’ll discover new depths and maturity yourself.

Physically our bodies mature with the appropriate nutrients. What are you feeding your soul?  Feeding your hearts the equivalent of spiritual Cheetos will delay your growth  Take a note from John Wesley and attend to all the means of grace (scripture, worship, the sacraments, study, silence, service) that you can as often as you can. In other words, put yourself in a place where you have the best chance of maturing.

No spiritual maturity isn’t easy. You have to forgive and learn not o be offended by people who disagree with you. You run the risk of offending others with the Gospel as well as your refusal to back down from your faith.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.  And before you know it being an adult is who you are, not just what you do every now and then

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

Changing A Life

“The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4 ESV)

 

 

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“NO. You’re wrong.  In fact, you are so wrong in the history of people being wrong, you might be in the top five.”  Wow that felt good. Have you ever had a time, when you just needed to tell people how wrong they are? I’ve found, especially lately, scrolling through social media that it’s become almost my “go-to” response. Which is probably not a healthy thing

It’s also, I’ve discovered not only not healthy, but a bit of a waste of time. I’ve never, in all the time I have glanced through social media, ever seen one person change their mind.  think about that. I can’t remember anyone responding “why your thoughts are cogent and well put together.  I have completely change my ideas on this.”  Ever.

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It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. I t could be a discussion over who is the greatest centerfielder of all time. Or which political party is the best chance we have for our future. Or which presidential candidate is the worst.   Or theological stances, views of the church etc. No one’s mind ever changes. Trust me, I’ve tried, at least on the theological ones. I try to leave the political ones alone. Not because I don’t have any pretty deep-seated political convictions. But as a pastor, I have to shepherd people on both sides.

But when you get into the realm of belief, Christianity, the church or our denomination I figure most bets are off. And the stakes are higher. And so, for a while I entered into several debates and discussions over our faith and our denomination, especially as we sail through some pretty rocky waters at the moment. My arguments were strong, logical and backed up both with Scripture and the history of the church. And not one person changed their minds.

It’s pretty clear to me that while debate can be fun and has its place, it really doesn’t change anyone.  And while we may not care if we change anyone’s political viewpoints, we ought to care about changing the hearts of other people. Our Great Commission from Jesus at the end of Matthew is to go and make disciples.  It’s very clear. It’s not the role of just professional clergy. Jesus has given you a job. One job really. Make disicples.  And at the foundation of making a disciple is transformation. Changing their hearts. Changing their minds. Moving them from where they are into the community of the Body of Christ. How well are you doing your one job?

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We often fail to do our job because of one of two reasons. We either don’t do it at all, expecting it to be someone else’s job. Or if we do, we try to argue people into the faith. If you can’t reason with someone over who is the greatest center fielder, how can we ever assume we can argue anyone into the Kingdom of God? Usually those arguments result in hurt feigned anger and a loss of relationship.

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So how are  we to live out that great commission? Perhaps a pivotal moment from the life of CS Lewis can help us.  In his day Lewis was probably the best known apologist for the Christian faith.  His way with words, logic and keen mind  allowed him to argue for the faith over and over again.

In 1948 He had a debate with a young Catholic philosopher named Elizabeth Anscomb over a chapter in Lewis’ book Miracles. To every one’s surprise, she tore apart Lewis’ arguments. Lewis himself admitted he had lost the debate. The loss caused Lewis to abandon Apologetics altogether.

But it was not because he feared failure or losing a debate. Rather, Lewis began to realize that argument and debate is simply not how God tends to move in a person’s heart. No, Lewis saw that God changes hearts through narrative and relationship. The narrative of the bible changes lives. When someone shares their story of how God transformed them, that changes lives.  Notice how many times, when Jesus changes someone’s life, he asks them to tell someone. It’s also about relationship.  Jesus doesn’t change the hearts of the Pharisees when he argues with them. But He does change the lives of the disciples in whom He invested over three years of relationship.

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Interestingly enough, Lewis abandons Apologetics and arguments, but begins to write the Chronicles of Narnia. Not as parables, but as stories. Why? Because Lewis knew that the narrative story and the relationship someone might have even with characters in a book, could point someone to Jesus.

If you want to fulfill that great commission? If you really want to change someone’s life, then stop arguing. In fact, stop debating altogether. Invest in a relationship. care about people, get to know them. And tell your story. Tell the story of how Jesus changed your life. And watch the transformation unfold.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

Follow Closely

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

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I broke one of my cardinal rules the other day.  I engaged in a political debate on social media.  My reasons for never getting involved in these debates are two fold. One is that, while I have definite ideas and impressions about political candidates, I have to pastor everyone in the church.  I’ve seen far to many good relationships turn sour over such arguments, so I tend not to get into them.  I don’t mind supporting ideas and causes, but not a candidate, at least publicly.  The other reason is that arguing political candidates on social media is a huge waste of time. I’ve followed many threads and not once have I seen anyone’s opinion changed.  I haven’t even seen any even modified a bit.

But the other day a friend put up a post, why they were endorsing a particular candidate. One of the reasons they were supporting this person was because they considered them a Christ-follower. While I stay out of public debates on political candidates, I feel calling someone a Christ follower puts them in my wheelhouse.  In short, I disagreed, my friend took offense and it pretty much went downhill as you would expect it to.

My friend argued, with merit, that we can’t judge if someone is a follower of Christ when we don’t really know them. There is some truth to that.  My counter argument was if indeed this person was a follower of Christ, wouldn’t we see more of Jesus in them?  While one may not be able to judge what a person believes from a distance,  one can discern their proximity to Jesus by their behavior.  I wasn’t arguing if they believed in Jesus. I was arguing that to be called a Christ follower, what we might call a disciple, ought to involve more than belief. It ought to bring a radical transformation of heart and life.

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And that’s where many of us struggle. We are fine with belief. We believe things about Jesus and Christianity.  We can stand up on any given Sunday, recite the Aposlte’s Creed with polygraphic assurance. But, as James would remind us, the devil can do the exact same thing. (James 2:19).  Belief is not enough. To truly be a disciple of Jesus means we  allow Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to do the difficult, often painful work of transforming us into the shape and the image of Jesus.

I am reminded of the story Billy Graham told many years ago of a Gangster who came to one of his crusades in Chicago. Convicted by how God moved through Graham’s words he came forward and accepted Christ into his heart. Afterward he was able to arrange a meeting with Rev. Graham. As they talked, he was astounded to hear that Graham actually assumed that the gangster would leave his life of crime! It had never occurred to the criminal that giving his life to Jesus meant that he couldn’t also be in the mob and continue his illicit businesses. You see he wanted the belief without the transformation.

But, really are we all that different than the mobster? Many of  us want belief and assurance of heaven without the radical transformation now. So we follow Jesus, but we follow from a distance less something might happen to us.

The people in Corinth had the same problem. while they believed, the way they lived and treated one another clearly demonstrated a lack of transformation.  This is why Paul reminds them that when he came he told them of one thing, and one thing only. Christ. and Him crucified.  Paul says I came to bring you the only thing that matters. Jesus the Son of God was crucified for your sins, rose from the dead and defeated all the powers of hell destroying both sin and death.  Because of Jesus, you can live a different life.

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This is the message of John Wesley, who went into the fields and the coal mining camps looking at the forgotten of the world, the refuse of society and preached to them a new life.  Wesley truly believed that the grace of Jesus Christ could transform anyone into  the image of Jesus. He championed more than belief. He championed transformation.

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That’s our heritage as Christians and as United Methodists.  It’s time we reclaim it again. Because what will change the world and redeem it is not a political faction, but the church radically transformed by Jesus taking his light to a darkned world.

Are you a Christ-follower? Or merely a believer? Come and follow Him again. Allow your life to change the world around you. Follow Jesus, and follow Him closely.  Amen.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><