Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

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!

EXTRAORDINARILY ORDINARY

Posted by Lynn Koch on Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ 10:44 AM

All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:3-10

As far as world religions go…   we’ve got a unique one in Christianity. It is the only faith that gives ordinary people an extraordinary status.

First of all…   we are invited by God to live and thrive with a new start in life. No matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done or how messy our life is right now today…   God invites us to start anew. And it doesn’t matter if this is second chances or third, or fourth, or fifth, etc. There’s a parable Jesus tells in Luke 14:15-24 that illustrates what God is like in this regard.  A person of importance hosted a dinner. When this host sent his servant with invitations…   all of the potential guests made excuses as to why they could not attend. The host then said: ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the host said to the servant, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come, so that my house may be filled. (Luke 14:21-23)

The one thing we have to ‘do’ to enjoy this unlimited and unlimitable new start in life is to make Jesus the center of our love and our life. It means following his example, living like him, and putting our trust in him that this new start is the ‘real deal’. Those who have made this incredible step of faith report tremendous joy, fulfillment, spiritual health, positive relationships, and a strong sense of meaning, purpose, and calling in life. Usually, such people can point to someone who reached out, encouraged, guided, and inspired them…   someone who had already made that new start.

We are simply ordinary people made extraordinary by God’s love in Jesus. This is what God has called all followers of Christ to be and do: 1) accept the invitation to new life; 2) repent or turnaround from living for ourselves (or anything else) and make Jesus the priority of our life and love; and 3)put all faith in Jesus that this offer of new life is true, real, and powerful.

If we are finding that our faith lives and our churches are stagnant, immature, or only living a fraction of their God-given power, purpose, and potential it is probably because we have not grasped the real nature, depth, and extent of God’s invitation to us. On p. 68 of Right Here Right Now we read that, “the facts and outcome of redemption through Jesus is that the very life and power of Jesus IS IN EVERY Christian”. In other words, the promise of new life is filled with the life and power of Jesus. When we really tap into it and conform to it…   we change…   and the world changes through us. Think about it…   EVERY CHRISTIAN…   has the life and power of Jesus in them. Combine that with our personal skills, experiences, location, and personality and WHAM…   we are a full-blown missionary equipped and ready to extend the invitation of God in Christ to the world around us. This is very different than our limited traditional notion of the church which identifies more with the institutional aspects than with the missionary aspects.

May God inspire you this week to take hold of God’s extraordinary gift of new life in Jesus Christ

If you are interested in exploring more deeply this section of the book Right Here Right Now By Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford read pages pp. 61-80. You can also watch the authors discuss this section in a video by clicking this link:

https://vimeo.com/18228675

 

Posted by Lynn Koch on Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ 10:43 AM
https://vimeo.com/18228675

Everyday Missionaries

Posted by on Monday, July 3, 2017 @ 3:22 PM

We are off and running with an exciting summer worship and faith-building series: ­Everyday Missionaries! We are empowering everyone at the St. Andrew UMC to step out into our neighborhoods, workplaces, and around town and discover how God is calling us to make a daily difference right here right now.

 Each week we will reflect on Scripture, mission, and insights from the book Right Here Right Now: by Alan Hirsch & Lance Ford. Each post is coordinated with the upcoming Sunday’s sermon, message, and theme. This summer series is part Worship Series, part Book Discussion, and part Personal Practical Workshop.

 Explore and discover the dynamic nature of faith, hope, and love. The power of God’s Spirit moves in our lives and goes ahead of us into the world calling us to be partners with God in bringing healing, grace, hope, and love to one person at a time.

 As God inspires you in this I invite you to practice these few things each week:

 Read the posted and suggested Scriptures. The Word of God is a powerful, active, and living force in the life of faithful people. It provides both inspiration and a solid foundation for faith-filled living.

Pray for God to open your eyes to where God’s Spirit is already at work in the people and places of your daily life. Sometimes we miss God working right under our noses because we’ve focused our attention on where we THINK God SHOULD be working rather than where God has decided to work

Extend yourself to allow something new to happen. We’ve made schedules and routines the masters of our busy lives. We have little space to let God get creative with us…   and little time to respond creatively to God’s call for us to do something new.

Be a ‘Friend-Maker’. Most of us find it at least mildly uncomfortable or inconvenient to introduce ourselves to someone, start a conversation, or to get to know someone new. Our daily lives are filled with people we see every day…   but we know nothing about them. The cashier at the grocery store, the co-worker down the hall, the neighbor next door. When Jesus said ‘love your neighbor’ he meant, among other things, for us to make friends with the people we find in the rhythm of our daily lives.

What does all this have to do with Jesus, our faith, and the church? Well, a close look at the Scriptures reveals that Jesus intended his followers (his church) to GO…  not stick around in their comfort zone. Mark 16, Matthew 28, Luke 24, and John 20 (among many other Scriptures) contain some form of the following Jesus sayings: “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. (John 20:21). In Right Here Right Now, Alan Hirsch says this: “The church that Jesus designed is made for impact. The movement that Jesus set in motion is designed to be an advancing, untamed, and untamable revolutionary force created to transform the world”. (p. 30). And being a movement rather than a fortress has drastic implications for who are as Christ followers, what we do, and how we do it. Unfortunately, most churches today see themselves as a fortress rather than a movement. This is evidenced in their 1) resistance to change, 2) reactive rather than proactive approach to inviting and engaging outsiders, and 3) lack of relevance in the wider culture. Now, with the majority of Christian churches in decline in the US, we are at the critical place where we need to come out of the castle and get onto the horses of the cavalry. The ‘Briefing’ chapter of Right Here Right Now describes this in terms of MOVES.

Move It: Active Christian faith that reaches the world for Jesus Christ is NOT something undertaken by a few ‘professionals’ like pastors and such, but rather something that EVERYONE is called to do in their lives, neighborhoods, and communities.

Move Out: God has gifted every believer uniquely and with the power of God’s Spirit to change the world for the better one person at a time. And, God has called every believer to this mission right here and right now where they are and with their personality, experiences, circumstances, and talents. Everyone.

Move In: If we are the cavalry rather than the castle then our actions must fit. We don’t wait for people to ‘come in’ and learn our churchy language, traditions, and viewpoints on the world. Instead, we ‘go out’ to the people around us at work, home, school, or wherever we hang out. We try and speak their language, respect their traditions, and engage their viewpoints to show them a Christian example and perspective on faith and life.

Move Alongside: We are not in it just for the conversion factor. If we don’t really and authentically care for, love, and have relationships with the people we are trying to reach…   then we are being hypocritical. Jesus calls us to love, love, love neighbor and enemy alike.

Move From: Moving in and moving alongside should never be seen as, or conducted as, ‘watering down’ the Christian lifestyle. There is so much in our culture today with regards to self-centeredness, materialism, sexuality, etc. that Christians MUST provide a living counterexample to by living selflessness, sustainably, and with integrity.

May God's sending move you this week into new expressions of faith, hope, and love!

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