Gardendale Nazarene

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Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

"In Christ"

Sunday, we are beginning a new series on the Sermon on the Mount.  I have to say that I’m really excited about this series.  

As I have been writing out my ideas for this week, I realized that I have too much material. So today, I’d like to get you thinking about Sunday and the direction for this series.  

Let’s start with a couple statistics:
  • The phrase “in Christ” appears over fifty times in Paul’s letters.  
  • There is an additional forty appearances if you add “in the Lord (Jesus/Jesus Christ)” and “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  
These phrases have been a source of discussion for Bible scholars for years. What does Paul mean with the term “in Christ”? Some have argued that “in Christ” is similar to a membership card. I only carry two membership cards in my wallet- the Jefferson County Library card and a Costco membership.  

Neither of these memberships really change anything. One of them allows me to walk into a library and leave with a book or a DVD for a couple weeks. The other card allows me to enter a store and spend more money (and get a bunch of free samples!).  I’m not changed as a person because of my library card or Costco membership.  Membership does not always equate to transformation.  However, to be “in Christ” is a life-changing transformative event.  

Let's look at a few Pauline passages where he uses this phrase:
  • 2 Corinthians 5:19- For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.
  • Galatians 3:26- For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
  • Galatians 3:28- There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • Galatians 5:6- For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.
Sunday, we will be looking at Colossians 3 as foundation for this series.  Look at how Paul opens the chapter, "Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God."

To be 'in Christ' is way more than a membership card!  It is a change in reality, hope, love, and life.  On Sunday, we will look at what it means to be 'in Christ.'  Here's four points that we will look at: 

To be in Christ is to know:
  • We have been raised up with Jesus to new life.
  • We have been given a new identity, one in which Christ dwells.
  • We have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
  • Our citizenship is now in heaven. 
May we live into the beauty of knowing that we are in Christ..."For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God..."

grace and peace,

Pastor John

Reorientation Psalm

Sunday, we will wrap up our series on the Psalms of Orientation. This week, we’ll look at a Reorientation Psalm. These psalms play a vital role in our lives because they give voice to the times of loss and hurt with a new sense of hope.

Last week with the Disorientation Psalms, we looked at speaking to God through loss and hurt. This week, we turn the corner to address the disorientation in new terms.

Walter Brueggemann writes, “…the Psalms regularly bear witness to the surprising gift of new life just when none had been expected. That new orientation is not a return to the old stable orientation, for there is no such going back. The psalmists know that we can never go home again. Once there has been an exchange of real truthfulness, as there is here between Yahweh and Israel, there is no return to the pre-truthful situation.”

That is the beauty of these psalms. They invite us into the reality of truthfulness with our God. I believe we would all affirm God's knowledge of us. Many of us learned Luke 12:6-7 in Sunday school as children. "What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows."

If God knows us that well, why do we think we hide parts of ourselves from Him? I know it’s a little scary to think anyone knows us that well, but you are valued by Him.

This Sunday, we will look at Psalm 27. I encourage you to read through it and prepare your heart for God's voice. It is my prayer that we can join the psalmist and pray, "Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me! My heart has heard you say, 'Come and talk with me.' And my heart responds, 'Lord, I am coming'" (Psalms 27:7-8).

May we come and talk to Him.

The Conversation of Faith

Last week, we began a four-week series on the Psalms of Orientation. Sometimes, the Psalms are seen as quaint poems that we use during difficult days or at funerals. I hope during this series, you will see the deep truths they teach us.

Walter Brueggemann reminds us of the beauty of the psalter, “The Book of Psalms provides the most reliable theological, pastoral, and liturgical resource given us in the biblical tradition. In season and out of season, generation after generation, faithful women and men turn to the Psalms as a most helpful resource for conversation with God about things that matter most.

The Psalms are helpful because they are a genuinely dialogical literature that expresses both sides of the conversation of faith. On the one hand, Israel’s faithful speech addressed to God is the substance of the Psalms.

The Psalms do this so fully and so well because they articulate the entire gamut of Israel’s speech to God, from profound praise to the utterance of unspeakable anger and doubt. On the other hand, as Martin Luther understood so passionately, the Psalms are not only addressed to God. They are a voice of the gospel, God’s good word addressed to God’s faithful people.

In this literature the community of faith has heard and continues to hear the sovereign speech of God, who meets the community in its depths of need and in its heights of celebration. The Psalms draw our entire life under the rule of God, where everything may be submitted to the God of the gospel."

This week, as we look at Psalm 113, I pray that you will open your heart to God's good word addressed to you.

Breathe New Life

We usually look at the church calendar as having two significant Sundays throughout the year- Christmas and Easter. These are two very important Sundays, but there is another that usually is left off the list. Not only is this an important event in the church year, it is also in two days! This Sunday is Pentecost.

Pentecost is the celebration of the birth of the church. It is a fulfillment of a promise made by Jesus just one chapter prior to the event’s recording in Acts, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The word “Pentecost” means “fiftieth” and refers to the fiftieth day. Pentecost Sunday occurs 50 days following Easter Sunday (counting Easter Sunday since it is the first day of the week). Those 50 days span seven Sundays after Easter, so Pentecost is the seventh Sunday after Easter (7 weeks times 7 days = 49 days, plus Pentecost Sunday).

There’s a lot to celebrate at Pentecost and I’d like to give you something to think about as you prepare your heart for worship this Sunday.

As most of you know, we just returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest. It was a celebration of our 20th Anniversary coming in a couple weeks. We drove over 2200 miles in a rental van from Seattle up to Vancouver, BC and then down through Washington, Oregon, and finally California.

One of the National Parks I was looking forward to was Redwoods National Park. It’s indescribable. Let me make two statements- I love trees and I love woodworking. With these two loves, it was hard for me to walk pass huge fallen redwoods and not think of what could be made from the dead wood lying on the ground. It seemed like a waste–rotting wood just lying there.

As we hiked along a trail, I noticed the ferns growing on the older fallen redwoods. These where not little ferns, some of these ferns were four feet tall (I attached a picture below). As I studied these fallen giants, I realized the ecosystem living on the forest floor nurtured by the rotting trees. There were mosses, lichens, ferns, worms, other trees, bugs, chipmunks, and squirrels (and this is just what we could see).

One afternoon, Jake and I hiked a few miles by ourselves and one question kept going through my mind, “Isn’t this just like our creative Creator?” What I saw as a waste, God’s creation was using to bring about new life. In the mighty Redwood’s death, new life was being formed, nurtured, and thriving.

In just two days, we come together to celebrate what God did in a group of people hiding in a room. They had seen their Lord crucified, buried, and resurrected. But it all seemed like a waste, didn’t it? Then our creative Creator said, “I’m not through bringing life to your pain, loss, and suffering. In you, I’m bringing about something new- a people shaped by their Lord and the good news of resurrection.”

We all experience pain and loss. We all have those moments where life feels like a waste. The question for us this Pentecost is, “Are you going to allow your Creator to bring about something new in you?” What about our church? Will we allow God to breathe new life into us?

Our Creator is a creative God. Pentecost is the day we celebrate a community called together to worship the one true God; to confess His Son Jesus as the one true Lord; to live as disciples conformed to His love as displayed on the cross by the power of the Holy Spirit, and to live as people participating in His new creation even now. That's the church!

May God breathe His forming, nurturing, and life-giving breath into your lungs this Pentecost!

Holy Week- Good Friday

John 19:1-22 New Living Translation (NLT)
19:1 Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. 2 The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. 3 “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.
4 Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” 5 Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”
6 When they saw him, the leading priests and Temple guards began shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
“Take him yourselves and crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”
7 The Jewish leaders replied, “By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”
8 When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. 9 He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. 10 “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”
11 Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
12 Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’ Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

Hymn:
Hail, O once despised Jesus!
Hail, O Galilean King!
You have suffered to release us,
hope, salvation, joy to bring.
Hail, O, agonizing Savior,
bearer of our sin and shame;
by your merits we find favor;
life is given through your Name.

13 When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again. Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement (in Hebrew, Gabbatha). 14 It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate said to the people, “Look, here is your king!”
15 “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”
“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.
16 Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.f

Poem:
He fulfilled all righteousness,
standing in the sinner's place;
from the manger to the cross,
all He did, He did for us.

So they took Jesus away. 17 Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). 18 There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.
21 Then the leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”
22 Pilate replied, “No, what I have written, I have written.”

Prayer:
Most holy Lord and God,
holy, Almighty God.
holy and most merciful Savior,
our eternal God!
Grant that we may never
lose the comforts from Your death.
Have mercy, O Lord.

By Your cross and suffering,
By Your sacred wounds and precious blood,
By Your dying words,
By Your atoning death,
Bless and comfort us,
gracious Lord and God.