From the Well 6/15/2017

Romans 5:1-5 (MSG) 
1 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us-set us right with him, make us fit for him-we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. 2 And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand-out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. 3 There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, 4 and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. 5 In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary-we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

The Catholic priest Brennan Manning once said, “I used to be Snow White, but then I drifted . . .” We walk the road of discipleship carrying all of our imperfections and mistakes that make us human. We follow Christ knowing that we have the peace that only God can bring. When we stumble over our imperfections--when we fall--God picks us up and puts us back on the path because we are loved. Life is never perfect and often it is very hard but we are never deserted or left alone. God is always there.

In a letter written several months before his execution by the Nazis, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the presence of God and how God strengthens us in the face of all that life can throw at us. In conclusion, Bonhoeffer wrote with confidence,

God does not always give us everything we want, but He does fulfill all his promises, i.e., He remains the Lord of the earth, He preserves His Church, constantly renewing our faith . . . gladdening us with his nearness and help, hearing our prayers, and leading us along the best and straightest paths to himself.[1]

Bonhoeffer certainly hoped for a different path in his life but he followed the path before him with faith and with the knowledge that God’s peace was enough to carry him through. Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York, NY: Little Brown & Company, 1996), 49.

From the Well 6/2/2017

Ephesians 6:10-20 (NRSV)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. 

The writer of Ephesians is in prison, probably chained to a Roman guard. To encourage the Christian community in Ephesus, the writer looks at his Roman jailer and decides to use the soldier’s armor to symbolize or illustrate the qualities of God that the Ephesian Christians need as they engage the community and world. The writer’s suggestions not only speak to the Ephesians but also to those of us who are attempting to be faithful in our twenty-first century discipleship.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we must cinch on the belt of truth so we can stand up to the untruthfulness that so often invades and threatens our morality and ethics. We must don the breastplate of righteousness to guide us in our decisions. Our feet need shoes of peace in a world that too often chooses aggression and war. We need a shield of faith to bolster us during those times of difficulty and pain. There needs to be a helmet of salvation to remind us that we are always being held in the loving arms of God. We carry the sword of the spirit so we can bring positive change to our communities and the world. We need to pray so we might have a transforming and sustaining relationship with God. Finally, we need God’s Word as a road map for our lives.

Being a followers of Jesus in today’s world is not natural or easy. Thus the writer suggests that we shouldn’t go out unarmed. It’s tough out there. The world speaks a different language and certainly has a different agenda than the church and its followers. Disciples of Jesus Christ must be in the world speaking a different language, the language of love.

Gerhard von Rad suggests in his, Old Testament Theology, that in the days of the Roman empire an emperor could not be everywhere in his realm. So the emperor made statues of himself to be erected throughout the land. These statues or images where to show everyone that the kingdom belonged to him and no one else. We are God’s images that are placed on the face of the earth in order to show that the earth belongs to God. So put on the armor of God and get out there. As Thomas Merton once said, “Our real hope is not in something we think we can do, but in God, who is making something good out of it in some ways we cannot see." Put on the whole armor of God and trust that you can make a difference with God’s help. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well 5/25/2017

Ephesians 4:29-5:2 (MSG) 

29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. 30 Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted. 31 Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. 32 Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. 1 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. 2 Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

The Benedictine nun, author, and speaker, Joan D. Chittister, told this story at a conference on the Rule of Saint Benedict:

There was a Benedictine community to whom nobody came. As the monks grew old, they became more and more disheartened because they couldn't understand why their community was not attractive to other people. Now in the woods outside the monastery there lived an old rabbi. People came from all over to talk to him about the presence of Yahweh in creation. Years went by and finally the abbot himself went in the woods, leaving word with his monks, "I have gone out to speak to the rabbi." (It was of course considered humiliating at the time that a Christian community had to go back to the synagogue to find out what was wrong with them.)

When the abbot finally found the rabbi's hut in the woods, the rabbi welcomed him with open arms as if he had known that he was coming. They put their arms around each other and had a good cry. The abbot told the rabbi that his monks were good men but they spread not fire, and the community was dying. He asked the rabbi if he had any insight into the work of Yahweh in their lives. The rabbi replied, "I have the secret and I will tell you once. You may tell the monks and then none of you is ever to repeat it to one another." The abbot declared that if they could have the secret, he was sure his monks would grow.

So the rabbi looked at him long and hard and said, "The secret is that among you, in one of you is the Messiah!" The abbot went back to the community and told his monks the secret. And lo! As they began to search for the Messiah in one another they grew, they loved, they became very strong, and very prophetic.

Chittister ended the conference with these words: "From that day on, the community saw Him in one another and flourished." Enough said. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well 5/11/2017

Ephesians 3:14-21 (MSG) 
14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit-not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength- 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you'll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20 God can do anything, you know-far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. 21 Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

A group of children ranging in age from four to eight years were asked: "What does love mean?" There answers were amusing and at times profound.

"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other."

"Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your french fries without making them give you any of theirs."

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."

"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you."

"Love is what makes you smile when you are tired."

"It is when you tell someone something bad about yourself and you're scared they won't love you anymore, but then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more."

"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."

"There are two kinds of love: Our love and God's love. But God makes both kinds of them."

These answers affirm that children may know more about love than adults. The writer of Ephesians reminds us of what it is like to be loved and to love radically. Interestingly, the writer does NOT pray that we would know that God loves us, rather he prays that we would know God's love. I'll say that again in case you missed it. The writer does not pray that God's people would know that God loves them, but that they would know God's love. Here's the question: Do you know God's love, or do you only know that God loves you?

An intellectual understanding of God's love (knowing that God loves you) is not the same as experiencing God's love. The writer of Ephesians describes God's love as having width, length, height, and depth. In other words, God's love is as vast as the universe. 

Jesus shows God's love by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and comforting the least, last, and lost. He shows God's love by washing His disciple's feet. We know God loves us but do we know God's love to the point that it transforms our life and the lives of those around us. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well 5/4/2017

Ephesians 2:14-15 (MSG) 
14 The Messiah has made things up between us so that we're now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. 15 He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

A professor of English was discussing the power of words with his freshman class. He emphasized the importance of a rich and extensive vocabulary. He said to the class of freshman, “Use a word ten times and it will be yours for life.”

As he continued his lecture, a young man in the back of the room closed his eyes and whispered under his breath: “WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY, WENDY.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all we had to do was repeat a word ten times in order to make it ours, to make it true, to make it a reality? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all we had to do was repeat the words peace, reconciliation, grace, love, acceptance, and unity in order to make them happen? Ephesians 2 tells us that Christ came to tear down the walls of division and rejection. Jesus came to build bridges not walls.

The name of “Jesus” means “Savior”or “The Lord’s helper” but the name “Jesus” is the also the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” Remember that Joshua “Fit the Battle of Jericho . . . And the Walls came a-tumblin down.” Jesus was well named because Jesus was a wall-breaker. Jesus broke down the walls of Rejection and division among people. Jesus built bridges of peace, reconciliation, grace, love, acceptance, and unity. Those are words worth repeating! Think about it.

Matthew

On another note, below is a letter from the District Superintendent of the Yadkin Valley District of the United Methodist Church confirming my reappointment as one of the pastors at Clemmons UMC. I want to share this with you, first, to say thank you for the honor and privilege of serving such a great congregation as Clemmons UMC. We have one of the best staffs in the conference and a faithful congregation that understands the important of mission, ministry, and discipleship. I'm excited about moving into a new year (my 7th!) and all the opportunities that are in front of us. I'm grateful to a pastor at one of the greatest and best appointments in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.