Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

Posted by on Monday, August 14, 2017 @ 11:08 AM
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Body Building

Posted by on Monday, August 14, 2017 @ 11:07 AM

What is the church? Is it a building? Is it a group of people? Is it a 501c3 non-profit organization?

Why do we go to church? Is it to be 'good' people? Is it to show God our love? Is it to do good works in the community? Is it to make friends?

What is the purpose of church? Is worship God once a week? Is it to learn about Christian faith? Is it to practice our devotion to God? Is it to be an example of God's love in action?

 Lots of questions, all pointing to true things about the church...   but not the whole truth

In the Bible, Paul often refers to a group of Christ-followers as 'church'. And, when he says 'church' he means the BODY of Christ. Why would he use imagery of a 'body' to describe God's people: "we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work". (Ephesians 4:15-16)

 When I think body...   I think athletes. There are many different kinds athlete's bodies. They are all shapes and sizes. But, whatever the shape or size, all athletes bodies share three things in common:

1) They are all readily recognized for the type of sport they train for. Bodybuilders are strong with large muscles and runners are thin with wiry muscles.

2)They are complex 'engines' in which each muscle group works together with the others to achieve top performance

2) They are trained and tuned with hard-work, dedication, and discipline that wells up from a LOVE for the sport that they do.

In Right Here Right Now Chapter 7 Lance and Alan take up this discussion of the church as BODY of Christ. They point out that Christ-followers who gather together as the church, do so in a way that is far more personal and involved than merely being members of an organization, or casual friends, or even co-workers. Rather, they characterize people coming together as the 'Body of Christ' as being connected and committed partners together (and together with God) in living, loving, and extending love to others.

 Something really special develops between people who make a daily commitment to love God and each other, grow together, and take on God's mission together. Just coming to the church building once a week on Sundays won't do it. Just participating in the life of the church when it is casual and convenient won't do it. Being a Christ-follower and part of the Body of Christ is a lifestyle and a life journey. One where the joys and benefits can't be realized until we are committed and on our way!

 May you grow in faith and grow together with others into the Body of Christ fit to accomplish great things in hope and love.

Watch this week's video House Churches and Small Groups by Alan and Lance as they discuss this subject in more depth

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Posted by on Monday, August 7, 2017 @ 11:22 AM
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Beyond Me & Mine

Posted by on Monday, August 7, 2017 @ 11:19 AM

Think about how you came to have the best and closest friends of your life?

For most of us...   we first came to know the best friends of our lives through circumstances that 'forced' us together. Maybe we sat next to one another in the same class in grade school or played on the same little league team. Maybe we shared a dorm room together our freshman year in college. Maybe we worked together on the job. Maybe we met because our children became friends with their children and we spent time together while the children played.

So...   what happens when we aren't 'forced' to meet new people and develop new relationships? Sadly, most of us tend to turn inward, grow inward, and invest inward. We concentrate on our family and current friends and make them the center of our social life and sphere of care and concern. We opt for safe, secure, and comfortable interactions with those whom we already know and leave aside the riskiness of going new places and meeting new people, different people, and strangers. The results of this lifestyle is made evident in 'suburban living' in places like here in Toms River. Behind high privacy fences and closed windows and doors are highly private people living very individual lives with very small circles of friendship, care, and concern.

We should all ask ourselves this question: HOW MANY OF MY ACTUAL NEIGHBORS DO I KNOW? Our neighborhood is the most elementary daily space in which we are 'forced' to live side by side with other people who are not-yet-friends. The answer to this question will give us a good indication as to how developed and intentional our friend-making is. As Christians and Everyday Missionaries, friend-making is a vital endeavor and part of the great command that Jesus proclaims: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself" Luke 10:27. In that same story, a shrewd follow-up question by a lawyer in the crowd asking "and who is my neighbor" allows Jesus to more fully turn the command into practical marching orders to bring tangible redemption to people we encounter in our daily life:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend." Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."┬Ł

For Jesus and his followers loving our neighbors is a type of friend-making that goes beyond our families, church families, and current friends. It is intentional and generous, risky and courageous and it results in new deep, abiding relationships that bring tangible redemption to people though love, care, nurturing, and ongoing committed relationship. From the parable:

More than just cultivating safe relationships...   we are called to reach out to the stranger we encounter in our daily path (the man was not known to and not like the Samaritan who found him.

More than just sticking to safe and secure and comfortable places...   we are called to extend ourselves and risk (the person who beat and robbed the man could come back and beat and rob the Samaritan.

More than just providing incidental or superficial care...   we are called to deeply and generously give of ourselves and our resources and commit to a future relationship of care (the Samaritan gave much and pledged much to care for the man he rescued).

May you go into your neighborhood this week and notice those with whom you have been 'forced' onto the same daily path. Love God...   Love Them...   not just for a moment but for a lifetime.

Check out this week's video by Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford entitled 'Oh Raaawb" to go deeper into this dimension of living as an everyday missionary.

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Posted by on Monday, July 31, 2017 @ 12:32 PM
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Choose Your Treasure

Posted by on Monday, July 31, 2017 @ 12:31 PM

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it". 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? (Mark 8:34-37)

In the Twilight Zone episode entitled A Nice Place to Visit, which aired in 1960, a bank robber named Rocky is killed by police in a robbery attempt. In the afterlife he finds himself in a place that caters to his every desire,  every luxury, convenience, and entertainment is at his fingertips. Early on, he is ecstatic and wonders how he, a sinner, could've found enough favor with God to end up in Heaven. After awhile, however, Rocky becomes bored and dissatisfied. It seems as though having everything his heart desires just isn't enough to make him happy. In fact, he grows increasingly miserable every day. Finally, at wits end, he asks his host if he can leave 'Heaven' and go 'to the other place'. In a shocking revelation (the likes of which being what made the Twilight Zone series famous) Rocky's host begins to laugh and inform Rocky that he WAS in ‘the other place' and he could never leave.

Certainly a dramatic story...   and certainly a story with a kernel of truth. We've all had the experience of feeling empty and unfulfilled even when we have acquired most everything we could want or need. We' e all spent time, energy, and money buying bigger, better faster, and more things we think will finally bring happiness to our lives only to find out it was just another wild goose chase. After having this experience a few times we would think we would learn our lesson...    but so often we continue to do the same thing: chase after the things our culture (our consumer culture) tells us we must have to be happy like fame, fortune, pleasure, comfort, convenience, etc. The truth is that we can never have life and life to the fullest by living for ourselves. The more we get, the more we have, the more we indulge in, at some point just serves to make us tired, irritable, and feeling empty. We thought we were entering Heaven...    but realized we got caught up in Hell. It's a terrible twist of events.

In the Mark 8, we read of another 'twist' that is counterintuitive to us. Jesus says "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it". For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? It turns out that the path to true happiness and full life is to give ourselves away to Jesus. If we follow him, do what he did, and live by giving, serving, and generously sacrificing for God and for others we will find true life and true happiness. And this true life and happiness is found even when we don't have a lot of stuff and even when the living and working of life is hard.

On p. 127 of Right Here Right Now Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford they spend some time talking about how the wealth and prosperity of the United States has NOT increased our sense of happiness or well-being. In fact, quite the opposite is true. It seems that the more we get...    the less happy we are. Christians who are everyday missionaries must both themselves overcome the temptation to equate consumption, material possession, wealth, fame, pleasure, comfort, or even safety and security with happiness, and also live in such a way that shows the Jesus lifestyle of giving, serving, and generous sacrifice for God is the path to true happiness even though it is often without material reward.

May you live fully and happily this week as you give yourself away to God in Jesus...    and may your life's example help God set others free.

For more in-depth discussion check out this week's video by the authors Lance Ford and Alan Hirsch Laodicean Cul-de-sacs posted on this blog

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Posted by on Monday, July 24, 2017 @ 8:48 AM
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Believing Is Doing

Posted by on Monday, July 24, 2017 @ 8:44 AM

James 2: 14-26

1What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill" and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder". Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness┬Ł and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

I am a physical fitness enthusiast! I love running, biking, swimming, lifting weights and many other activities. At my best, I also like eating lots of fruits and vegetables, getting a good night's sleep, and managing a healthy stress-level. The challenge I am always facing is NOT whether I really believe that a good diet, good sleep habits, exercise, and stress-management are good for health and physical fitness, rather, it is whether I am actually DOING it as opposed to just believing in it! Think about it, it is much easier (and a no-brainer) to believe in good health and fitness habits than it is to practice the habits day in and day out. In the end, the proof is in the results, right? If we commit to a year-long daily practice of exercise, good eating and sleeping habits, and stress management we WILL see a trend of increased health, vitality, and fitness both physically and mentally. If we commit to nothing more than the BELIEF that exercise, good eating and sleeping habits, and stress management increases health and vitality we will see nothing.

And, so it is with our faith life. We simply do not grow in our faith and relationship with God unless faith and relationship with God is a PRIORITY that we live and practice every day. It's really that simple...  not easy...   but simple. Our Scripture from James reminds us that even though we don't WORK for God's grace and favor and relationship...   the reality of God's grace and favor and relationship in our lives (if we have made it the priority of our lives) will be evident in our daily life and actions. Many of us try and balance all of our competing personal priorities (career, family, financial security, hobbies, lifestyle, comfort, entertainment, etc.) and faith winds up being just one small piece of many. This would be OK if faith was something we checked off a weekly 'to-do' list, but the Scriptures tell that the daily active life of faith IS in fact the full life God has promised us. It's not just one piece of the way we live our overall lives...   it is the priority that defines our overall lives. It is the principle and practice we live and organize our life around...   faith determines the 'to-do' list.

Our challenge in this is summed up well on p. 115 in Right Here Right Now (I'm paraphrasing the quote from theologian Johann Metz): Are we Christians really changing our hearts, or do we just believe in a change of heart while remaining essentially unchanged ourselves? Are we living as disciples, or do we just believe in discipleship and remain essentially undisciples ourselves? Do we show real love, or do we just believe in love and remain essentially unloving ourselves? How we answer these questions will give us a straight assessment of our current faith commitment. How we courageously live into these answers today will give us a maturing and ever-deepening faith journey tomorrow.

 May you live an active life of faith this week!

Check out Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford's video From Paper to Pavement posted on this blog for more in-depth discussion of this week's principles and practices

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Posted by on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 @ 1:32 PM
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Love Love Revolution

Posted by on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 @ 1:29 PM

Where I grew up in Northern NJ all of the homes in my neighborhood had front porches. People would always gather on these porches. Even strangers and those whom we wouldn't necessarily invite into our homes for a formal visit were welcomed onto the porch. Porches are inclusive places, gathering places, but they are also transitional places, connecting the intimate inside with the big-wide-world outside.

 One thing about Jesus is that he is always drawing the circle of inclusivity larger and wider than any of his followers are comfortable with. Jesus is fond of inviting people onto the porch. He gives them a personal level of care and concern, inviting them into relationship with himself, making room for the least, the vulnerable, the children, and the outcast. In Mark 9 Jesus makes sure his followers know that the circle of God's acceptance is wide: "whoever is NOT AGAINST US is for"(Mark 9:40) Unless someone is standing against Christ and the faith, they are to be counted as potential allies, friends, brothers/sisters, fellow sojourners. In many instances we who are the church have reversed the circle Jesus drew with the one we are more familiar with:  "whoever is NOT FOR US is against us"Oftentimes we exclude others because they are not like us.

 In John 4, the story of the woman at the well shows us that the process of sharing the truth, faith, and love of God STARTS with inviting people onto the porch, into the circle. In other words, building relationships with people is where our mission begins. The woman at the well was a stranger, and in Jesus culture she was someone to ignore and avoid. But, because Jesus took time to invite her into conversation, listen to her, and extend to her the invitation to begin a faith relationship with him, she was inspired to turn her life around for the better AND tell all the rest of her friends and neighbors.  Isn't this the way it is supposed to be for us who are Christ-followers? Through real relationship-building with people around us, even those who are different or considered outside the circle, we can inspire faith, hope, and love.

 How many people through the ages has the church turned off or turned away? How many people has the church turned from being 'not against us' to being 'not for us' because we excluded them for being different, or failed to invest the time building a relationship with them. How often have we failed to invite people into the circle or onto the porch?

 The 'Meet the Extras' chapter of Right Here Right Now reveals that our culture is really not oriented towards the porch. Our American sense of individualism puts such a high value on things like privacy, personal space, emotional boundaries, and a 'be and let be' attitude, that we are much more suited to be 'back-deck' people rather than 'front porch' people. The only problem with the back deck is that only our own inner circle can get there. Most of us find it uncomfortable to initiate meaningful and friend-making conversations, invitations, relationships with ANYONE new, strange, or outside our personal circle. We are uncomfortable on the porch! How can we be witnesses, examples, and missionaries for Jesus  in our neighborhood if we aren't comfortable or equipped for meeting and greeting on the porch areas of our lives? How can we express care, compassion, and authentic friend-making with new people from behind the fences of our 'back deck' areas of our lives?

 Alan Hirsch says (on p. 92 in the Just Sayin' section: if we are truly committed to bringing Jesus as the center of our lives among others and to see the church renewed in the mission of God, we will lead it towards a greater respect for the unbeliever, a greater grace for those who, though they don't attend church services, are nonetheless marked by God's Image. It will lead to a greater respect for people in general.

Check out the video 'Meet the Extras' to get some more insight on the book and this topic...   I've added it to the blog

 May you go this week and expand your circle, relax on your 'porch', and invite some new neighbors into your life with Jesus!

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