This is a guest blog post from Mary Weinstein, Church Administrator. Mary is a fierce proponent of prayer, and has a desire to see people transformed with a new or growing relationship with Jesus. While generally caffeine,addled, Mary enjoys hiking, reading, and spoiling her cat.
My Dad really dislikes the word ‘dude.’ Growing up if I called him that he would respond by repeating the word several times in an exaggerated tone: “dooooooode, dooode, dooooode” much to my adolescent chagrin.
His point was that ‘dude’ is not a term appropriate for me to use for him. It is not a term that accurately reflects our relationship. How we speak to one another indicates our relationship.
You can tell a lot from how someone talks to another person. How much they respect that person, if they are comfortable with that person, and even how often they speak to him or her in general.
How are you talking to God?
As Christians we have the privilege of talking to God directly. Through prayer we can ask God for help, thank him for his provision, and acknowledge him as sovereign.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer…, 1 Peter 3:12
Although we have the Bible, it can still be difficult to know how, and when to address God. Below are some suggestions on how to approach prayer.
How to Pray
7 Things You Should Do When Talking with God
Below is a list of ways you can approach talking with God. This is not an all encompassing list, but it’s a good place to start.
1.Know God is Always Listening
God has so many names, and all of them reflect who he is. He is our Savior, Lord, Father, Friend (and so much more!). One name for God is Immanuel, which means God with us. God is with you always. He is listening, and he cares about even the tiniest of your needs.
There is no special time or place where you should talk to God. He is with you on the commute to work, in the waiting room at your doctor’s office, and even in the shower. (Coincidentally all good times and places to pray.)
If you had the president's phone number, and had the assurance he would pick up the phone every time you called, and that he would do his best to meet all of your requests, how often would you call him?
Side note here, God is not like Santa in that he is always listening in order to put you on the ‘naughty list.’ He is listening so he can help you, encourage you, and equip you for your daily life. He is a God of justice, but also of grace.
And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.- 1 John 5:15
2. Know God Loves You
God loves us so much that he sent his only son Jesus to die on our behalf (John 3:16). You are loved so intensely by God! The Bible often addresses God’s followers (you!) as Beloved. God considers you Beloved, or: much loved, darling, dear, precious, treasured, cherished, prized.
If God loves you enough to sacrifice his only son, and his name for you is ‘Much Loved’, imagine the conversations he’d like to have with you.
Talk to God with an understanding about how he feels about you, and what he’s already done on your behalf. Approach him with confidence knowing he wants to hear what you have to say, and he’s eager to be glorified in your life.
Need a reminder of who you are in Christ Jesus? Start reading Ephesians.
Who You are In Christ Jesus:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. - Ephesians 1:1
3. Pray All the time
The Bible encourages us to pray all the time. 1 Thessalonian 5:17 calls us to pray without ceasing, literally to never stop praying. We have some limitations logistically in this regard, but the essence of that verse is that we can (and should) talk to God all the time.
If you imagine praying as lofty requests and eloquent language, the idea of praying all the time can seem daunting. But if you are talking to God like a friend (which by the way is how he would like to talk to you), it is much more tangible. Have you ever listened to a small child recounting their day? The story might not be particularly cohesive, or even understandable, but it’s always a joy to listen. That’s who God wants to be in your life. He wants you to tell him about your day, to let him know what you’re excited about. He’s a really good listener, and he is genuinely interested in hearing from you.
If you’re not in the practice of praying regularly, start out by spending 3 minutes in the morning talking to God. Remember there’s no special format or location, and everything gets easier with practice.
4. Pray About Everything
One of the fundamental characteristics of God is that he is ever present, but he is also all knowing, which means he knows what you need (and want) before you ask for it (Matthew 6:8).
God is always with you, and He already knows everything about your life (past, present and future by the way). So there’s nothing you can tell him that will surprise him, and he is aware of everything going on in your life.
There’s nothing your struggling with that God won’t understand, or already know about. So there’s no shame in approaching God with things you might be embarrassed about, or might not feel comfortable telling a friend.
God also promises that if you ask him for things he will give them to you (John 15:7). So if you’re doing the math: the God who is everywhere, knows everything, and loves you-- has promised to listen and answer your prayers.
If you pray to win the lottery you may be out of luck, but if you’re praying for things that align with his word (the Bible), and his Character (also see the Bible), he promises to come through (Matthew 21:22). See a theme here? God is eager to show you how much he loves you!
If you need something, ask God for it. I’ve prayed for things big and small from a parking spot, all the way up to world revival.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God., Phil 4:6
5. Trust God Will Answers Your Prayers
In addition to being ever present and all knowing, God is also all powerful. He has all the alls. All the power, that means he can do anything. He’s the type of God that will split entire seas down the middle, rain food from heaven, and raise the dead. I’m not saying he will always do those things specifically for you, but he can (Mark 9:23). Let that settle in for a second.
While God can do anything, it’s important to know that he doesn’t always do things on the timeline that we would like, he operates on his own timeline (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
Sometimes too, his answer to our prayers may be ‘No’ or ‘Wait’, but he is always eager to bless our lives and bring us into deeper relationship with him (Proverbs 3:5,6).
If God is all powerful, eager to move on your behalf, and loves you fiercely, what’s holding you back from talking to him about things that you are worried about?
There is nothing that can come against God’s power and authority. For those of you who don’t naturally trust easily, practice trusting God. Read scriptures that talk about God’s promises, and think about times God has come through for you.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. - Jeremiah 29:12,13
6. Listen to God
It’s easy to get caught up asking for things when praying. There’s a lot going on in our lives, and there are many things we need. God is eager to work on our behalf, and wants to hear those requests.
It is also important to take the time to listen. Have you ever had a friend who only talks about themselves, or only asks you for favors? One sided conversations (and friendships) get tiresome quickly.
God wants to speak with you, which includes speaking to you (Jeremiah 33:3). If you are having trouble hearing God, it may be that you’re not listening. Take a deep breath. Ask God if he has anything he wants to say to you. Actually listen. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back. Make a practice of being quiet and listening daily.
The exciting thing about listening to God is that he has some pretty awesome things to say. He created the universe (Gen 1), he probably has some pretty good insight for your life.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. - 1 John 5:14
7. Honor God by Praising and Thanking Him
I am a coffee person, and I am so thankful when someone hands me that first (or third) cup. My appreciation for that coffee reflects the effort and ability that person put into making it, and their thoughtfulness in giving it to me.
How much has God blessed you with? What abilities does he have that allowed him to do so? Let God know you appreciate all the things in your life today. Acknowledge him as God.
Sometimes when I’m really caught up in worship, all I can say to God is ‘Thank You.’ Thank you for being God. Thank you for making me. Thank you for all that you’re doing in my life today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Thank you that you sent your son on my behalf. Just, ‘Thank You’.
If you struggle with knowing how to pray, ‘Thank you’ is a great place to start.
I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me! - Psalm 66:17,20
How Not to Pray
3 Things You Shouldn’t Do When Talking with God
1.Use Eloquent and Flowery Language
Praying out loud can be really intimidating. Even if you’re by yourself, it’s tempting to throw a ‘thou’ in there to make sure God really hears you. It’s important to know God wants a relationship with you, and he already knows how you speak. Talk to him how you would talk to a close friend, with the same vocabulary, intonation, and frequency. If you naturally tend towards more flowery language, go for it!
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer… - 1 Peter 3:12
2. Ask God for Things You Shouldn’t Have
God is a good father. He is eager to bless you with every good gift. Just like a good Dad though, he’s not looking to feed you ice cream for dinner every night. Good parents discipline their children, tell them no when appropriate, and don’t always give them things they want. Not out of spite or selfishness, but because they want what’s best for their children (Luke 11:13). God is a good father, he will never leave or forsake you. But he may so ‘No’ if you ask him for a Ferrari.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.- James 4:3
3. Tune God Out
Have you ever been introduced to someone, and in the rush of introducing yourself forgotten their name? Ten seconds after shaking hands and you already lost it. God wants to speak with you, but it’s important that those conversations are two sided.
Similarly, if you only ever talk (or listen) to God when you need something, you’re missing out on all of the amazing things he has for you (1 John 5:14).
Questions to Consider
How often do you talk to God, and how do you speak with him? Are there things you’re afraid to ask him for? Do you feel the need to use eloquent language when praying? Are there things you’re hiding from God? What makes you uncomfortable in regards to prayer? Are there people you could be praying for?
Verses to Meditate
1 John 5;14,15
2 Timothy 3:16
This is a guest blog post from Mary Weinstein, Church Administrator. Mary is a fierce proponent of prayer, and has a desire to see people transformed with a new or growing relationship with Jesus. While generally caffeine-addled, Mary enjoys hiking, reading, and spoiling her cat.
Anyone who knows me well (or has seen my Instagram feed), will know that I am slightly obsessed with my cat- Samson. An orange mass of fur and sass- he is the undisputed boss in my house.
Last night I came home to Sampson with a tail full of burs. And I mean full. He's a long hair guy with a big bushy tail- and it was one huge matted blob of burs.
The Holy Spirit is an awesome, encourager, and He loves to bear witness to the gospel (John 15:26)- so He often will remind me of scriptural truths using examples and situations in my life.
This week, He used some Vermont burs to remind me of some truths about our community, and the burden of sin.
Four Truths About Sin
1. Sin is destroying those around you.
When Sampson initially came up to me, I immediately felt empathy. The poor thing was having difficulty walking, and he knew he was in a bad way.
We live in a world that is full of the consequences of sin. We see hurting people all around us every day. Maybe you are struggling with something right now.
Sin is a result of willful disobedience of God- sinning begets death. In our immediate context we see sin resulting in disease, loneliness, heartache, broken families, lies, etc. In the Bible, sin is likened to a pit, or falling into a pit.
Sin is hurting you, and that hurting you see is a result of sin.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.- Psalm 40:2
2. Sin is easy to get into quickly, and deeply.
I don't know how Sampson got himself so full of burs, but I imagine it didn't take too long. He's got a big ole' bushy tail, and burs are designed to stick to fur. He had some on his legs- back, tail and tummy- and I can see how they easily spread from one area to the others (maybe even as he was trying to get them off).
Once you allow a small sin- bigger ones always follow.
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.- 1 Corinthians 5:6-7
3. People need help to get out of sin.
There is little chance Sampson could ever remove all of those burs on his own. He attempted some furtive leg kicks- but it took a pair of scissors and some dedicated time for me to clean him up.
You cannot get out of sin on your own.
So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many...- Hebrews 9:28
4. We shouldn't be gentle with sin.
In attempting to help Sampson be free, it didn't take long for me to see the necessity of breaking out the scissors. And I had no problem cutting out big chunks of fur, not because I want a bald cat, but because there was no other way to get all those matted chunks out.
Sin is insidious, and should be rooted out aggressively.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. - Col 3:5-6
Questions to Consider
1. How deeply does the hurting and sin around me affect me? Do I keenly feel the suffering of those in my community? Do I see sin with empathy? Where am I overlooking sin in my own life?
2. Am I available to share about Jesus with people who are seeking or questioning? Where are areas of temptation that could lead me into sin? What am I doing to avoid sin at all costs? Where does sin need to be rooted out around me and in my community?
3. Am I being too soft on sins in my life? Am I doing those around me a disservice by not telling them the truth in love?
Verses to Meditate
Practical Steps on How to Be a Christian in a Divisive World
There are social forces at work that would like to tear apart the church that I call home. That church is made up of people from all across the political spectrum. They love Jesus and each other. And that feels like a little miracle at a time of outraged polarization.
It’s a time of sifting and tribalism, a time of ferocious line drawing. At church we insist that the only lines worthy of drawing are the lines that intersect in the shape of a cross. But there’s pressure and we feel it. There is the pressure to sort ourselves out politically, to spare ourselves the discomfort of a shared space.
Too often the only remedy that gets prescribed is civility. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against civility. In fact civility is always a good approach because it is virtuous and better than incivility. But that’s like saying that in the face of a hurricane it’s good to use an umbrella because an umbrella is designed to protect and it’s better than no umbrella. Alright, but woe to the floodplain dweller who, being armed with an umbrella, neglects the sandbags. Mere politeness will not carry this day.
Below are several suggestions for a robust approach to church life in polarizing times.
Measure the health of your church by ideological diversity rather than purity.
Putting all my cards on the table, I am personally a conservative in the William F. Buckley mold. And, of course, I think I’m right to be or I wouldn’t be. But that set of convictions and principles will not mean anything in heaven. That identity will have no use and will score me no points in heaven. There will be no progressives or libertarians there either. But heaven will be full of people who had thought of themselves as Republicans and Democrats and all manner of other things.
The point is that church, being heaven’s porch and foyer, is something that ought to transcend and redeem all these other things. Being proud to have a church that is made up of all conservatives or all progressives is like boasting of having a hospital whose patients are all the right kind of sick. We measure a hospital’s praiseworthiness by how it refuses to turn away and how it insists on healing the patients who come through its doors, no matter their symptoms. Let it be so with the church.
Go with mission, not affinity.
At a time when thought leaders are calling for people in their political camp to literally disown family members in the opposite camp, affinity is too weak a glue to hold a church together. Affinity produces real unity, but it’s unity that’s real shallow.
A shared mission, on the other hand produces a more resilient unity, one that can survive all manner of ideological differences, so long as it’s a worthy enough mission. That’s why a mission like that of Google (to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful) is weak enough to produce an ideologically uniform corporate culture, while that of the the United States Armed Forces (to defend the security of our country and sustain American influence abroad) accounts for the fact that the military is one of our last reliably diverse institutions.
Any church might have such a compelling mission, if only it wants it.
Do not identify with your positions.
One of the great shortcomings of our diminished American intellect is the failure to hear an argument against my belief without experiencing it as an attack against my person. When I make the mistake of allowing my beliefs to determine my identity I effectively erase the distinction between the personal and the political, and I eliminate the possibility of repentance, of having my mind changed.
Your political positions (right or wrong) should have no bearing on who you are in Jesus, and you should not feel personally threatened when someone challenges your beliefs.
You are not the moral sum of the positions you have taken.
On a similar note, our body politic has been infected by the poisonous notion that holding the right views is what makes you a good person. It’s led to the curse of what we call “virtue signalling.” And it is completely incompatible with our Christian faith. As Christians we must reject the notion that believing the right things, or even doing the right things, could make anyone a good person.
We should despair of ever making the case for our own goodness and focus on the holiness that comes when we accept that Jesus alone is good and that he has given my political opponents the same benefit of his righteousness on which I am so desperately dependent.
Think about Satan
When people accept the proposition that their own political positions make them uniquely good people, it is a logical consequence that they decide about their opponents that they, believing all the wrong things, are not so much mistaken as bad. The growth of this dismal notion is illustrated in this graph from “Prius or Pickup?,” by Hetherington and Weiler.
Theologian Andrew Wilson has suggested that one of the things that has left room for the growth of this thinking is that, culturally, people don’t take Satan seriously. When you don’t have actual demons to oppose you make demons of your opponents.
The church ought to be better on this count. We know that Satan is real and that he prowls about. Believers who see the church as the place from which they wage spiritual warfare are much less likely to wage ideological warfare in the pews.
“Follow this one simple rule!”
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20
Finally, let me say that the goal must be about preserving the conditions for diversity of all sorts: not the diversity itself. When John Wesley presided over the great Methodist Revival in the 1700’s, one of its most compelling features was the way in which it was radically inclusive of poor, working class believers at all levels of the movement.
But when the Methodists from the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum took to heart the message of holiness and grew close to their Methodist brethren from different backgrounds a funny thing happened. They grew prosperous. And no one took that as evidence that the Methodist movement had betrayed its inclusive ideals.
We should hope that a similar thing will happen: that believers who share in Jesus’ blood and anticipate the same eternity, might end up sharing similar convictions about how to arrange our civic polity here. And we for our part must be content to let the Holy Spirit bring that about, rather than trying to make it happen on our own terms.
I owe my faith first of all to God, who is the “author and perfecter” of my faith.
But along the way the Author of my faith has used a lot of human authors to deepen that faith.
Following, is a list of five novels that have informed and shaped my faith. They are not perfect and they are only some of the books that God has used in my life but I commend them to your consideration.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Lewis famously said that Aslan, the great lion in the title, was not exactly meant to be Jesus, but was written in such a way that when Lewis’s young readers did meet Jesus they would “recognize” him.
My father read this book to me when I was a child. I read it again in my teens. And I have read it through a couple of times now to my own children. And the betrayals still sting and the magic still thrills.
Because of this book my relationship with Jesus is more personal than it would be otherwise.
Takeaway quote: “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Wonderful Fool, Shusako Endo
Much less famous than the later Silence, this is my favorite of Endo’s novels. As with Silence, Wonderful Fool follows the story of a devout Westerner in Japan, cataloging the improbably ways in which a man deemed ill-suited to mission work might accomplish that work by being a wonderful fool.
All my life as a believer I’ve grappled with what it would look like if I finally and decisively chose to live with unrestrained devotion to the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. Wonderful Fool has given me a picture of what that might look like and a reason to keep aiming for it.
Takeaway quote: For the first time in her life Tomoe came to the realization that there are fools and fools. A man who loves others with an open-hearted simplicity, who trusts others, no matter who they are, even if he is deceived or even betrayed-- such a man in the present-day world is bound to be written off as a fool. And so he is. But not just an ordinary fool. He is a wonderful fool. He is a wonderful fool who will never allow the little light which he sheds along man's way to go out.
Godric, Frederick Beuchner
The only Vermont author on this list, Beuchner has one of the strongest evangelical followings of any non-evangelical novelist.
And reading a novel about a Catholic mystic of the Middle Ages written by a Mainline Protestant of the present time is an interesting exercise for an evangelical.
Any number of Beuchner’s novels could have been on this list, but what Godric in particular gave me was an appreciation of how the “earthen vessels” Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 4:7, in which our treasures are hid, are just dirt. We are just dirt. And that is jarring but not inconsistent with our identity as treasure bearers. Beuchner’s heros are uncomfortably earthy, I will warn. But they also aspire to holiness.
Takeaway quote: Lust is the ape that gibbers in our loins. Tame him as we will by day, he rages all the wilder in our dreams by night. Just when we think we're safe from him, he raises up his ugly head and smirks, and there's no river in the world flows cold and strong enough to strike him down. Almighty God, why dost thou deck men with such a loathsome toy?
Manalive, G.K. Chesterton
A book length exposition of a notion expressed in his seminal Orthodoxy, Chesterton’s allegorical depiction of Innocent Smith’s adventures and subsequent “trial” shares many of its authors best qualities. It is robust and fun-loving, endued with wonder and irrepressibly wry. It is not the best novel ever written.
There are problems with it. But as an antidote for modern ennui and an important tonic for modernism it is indispensable. (Warning - Chesterton’s depiction of a Jewish character is uncomfortable because of language we might interpret as anti-semitic. I have examined Chesterton’s life and writings and come to the conclusion that he was not an anti-semite, but these remain uncomfortable passages.)
Takeaway quote: Madness does not come by breaking out, but by giving in; by settling down in some dirty, little, self-repeating circle of ideas; by being tamed.
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
There is simply no more harrowing depiction of sin and its consequences than Crime and Punishment. Read it and you will be horrified to find yourself hiding behind the same door and burying the evidence beneath the same rock with the book’s tormented protagonist.
And at the same time the book conveys a grace the more magnificent for being occasioned by a sin we’ve been made to feel with such vividness.
Reading Crime and Punishment feels a lot like experiencing Walker Percy’s “eucatastrophe,” and when you’ve turned the last page you will breathe a sigh of relief.
Takeaway quote: Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel
One final note.
Not one of these authors is what we would consider an Evangelical Christian, with the exception of Lewis (with a few qualifications.) And Lewis was an Episcopalian.
Other authors whose books might have made it onto the list would include J.R.R. Tolkien, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Graham Greene, George McDonald, and Alan Paton. Not a conventional Evangelical on the list.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of that. But, if nothing else, it means that I should be grateful for the other branches of the Christian church for what they have to contribute to my own. And it causes me to ask what about my own faith tradition might be equally valuable to the other streams of the Christian faith.
Five Things the Counter-Cultural Church Has to Offer the World.
We believe that God has called the church to be a potent counter-culture, one that is neither relieved when it has something in common with the world’s culture, nor alarmed when it is starkly different from the culture surrounding it.
What Does a Counter Cultural Church Look Like?
When the church is counter-cultural it is neither for or against the prevailing culture: it is simply a winsome and compelling alternative to that culture.
Five Gifts to the World from a Counter-Cultural Church
Following are five things that the church has to offer the world if it is truly in the position of being counter-cultural.
Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.- Psalm 127:3-5
As Aaron Renn has pointed out in his “Masculinist” emails, the church needs to do a better job of preaching what it practices. Our biblical convictions lead to some beautiful families. Families where the children are healthy, where the men are strong in the way of men, and the women strong in the way of women.
But we have been so fearful of marginalizing single people and broken families within the church that we have actually downplayed one of the things about the church that makes us the most counter-culturally valuable. There is a real hunger in the world for the sort of stability and beauty of the sort of families that are on prominent display in the church.
As our culture’s sense of humor veers further and further in the direction of the ironic and the absurd, the church’s counter-culture provides a lovely alternative. The humor of a biblical culture is, perhaps, best described as mirth. It’s simple humor, the froth skimmed off of joy’s overflowing cup. It might be wry, but it’s never at anyone’s expense.
I’m much more likely to laugh at church without having heard a joke than I am to laugh while scrolling through Twitter, reading “joke” after “joke.”
And you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons...- Deutronomy 30:2
This is, perhaps, the other side of mirth’s coin. Living as we do in an age of irony people are largely deprived of real mirth on the one hand, and of real earnestness on the other. To be earnest, heartfelt, and passionate is to open yourself up to the sniping of our culture’s ironic “cool kids.” But there is a human need for earnestness. Regarding the nourishment of our souls, irony is nothing but empty calories. Earnestness is bread a meat.
And if there is one place in our world where you can expect to get a healthy dose of the earnest each week it is church.
4. The Bible
My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. -Psalm 119:28
The sharp and dynamic word of God is something that the church has to offer, so long as we are prepared to be counter-cultural. The world needs it. Let it be ever on our tongues and ringing from our pulpits.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.- Ephesians 2:8-9
Our culture is remarkably graceless. It can be very permissive and it can be extremely unforgiving, but grace? Absent. And people are hungry for it. The church is never so counter-cultural as when it is full of people who, having been objects of grace, are energetically agents of that grace.
During his life, Jesus set an example of consistently serving, blessing, healing, and teaching those around him. He lived a counter-cultural life by being different from those around him by loving them. However, he also was obedient to the rules of his government.
Jesus sent an example of living in the world, while living for His. We are called to do the same today.
We're doing something as bold as the coffee we'll be drinking as we do it! On September 9th, and the second Sunday of every month thereafter, we will be taking our Forest Dale worship experience to the Center Street Bar in downtown Brandon. We say "the Center Street Bar," for convenience, but what we're actually referring to is the classroom space next door to the bar.
We're excited about this move and what it might mean for the people of our community but we understand why it might be a hard thing for people to share our excitement. We love the places we worship, the sacred spaces where we have encountered God and grown with His people. And we should love those spaces so much that it's hard for us to leave them for even one Sunday a month.
But sometimes it's necessary for us to step out, nonetheless.
Following are three reasons for why we are taking this particular step and why you might consider joining us.
1. For Downtown Brandon
It's no secret that there has been some construction going on in Brandon of late. The result is going to be wonderful, but the process has been painful. And we, as a church, have decided that we love Brandon more than we hate construction. By taking our worship downtown we are expressing solidarity with the people and businesses located there and doing our part to combat the effects of the prolonged roadwork.
2. It's in our DNA.
Sometime in the early 1950's North Chittenden Wesleyan Church (one of our two parent churches) had a special service to celebrate it's hundredth anniversary. There were folks from Forest Dale Wesleyan, local dignitaries, the town brass band, and even the governor. In fact, there were so many people and so much musical energy that at some point the floor gave way. Dust from the crawl space filled the air and everyone scrambled out onto the lawn. After a few minutes to collect themselves a crew was recruited to go back inside and carry out the organ, with the help of which the service continued exuberantly on the grass. Thats who we are. Our worship is less bound to a building than to the One we're worshiping.
3. We're Fishers of Men.
When Jesus told his disciples that he would make them "fishers of men," the kind of fishing he had in mind was boat fishing. Peter and the others must have loved their boats the way fishermen do. But they loved their boats because of the fish the boats helped them to catch. And if a particular boat became ill-suited to the pursuit of the biggest schools of fish they would have happily climbed into a better boat. We love our buildings in Forest Dale and we believe that God still has big plans for them. But we are hopeful that the Center Street location might be a boat that would let us "sneak up" on some fish who'd never get reeled into the Forest Dale location, those fish having made up their mind about that place a long time ago.
If you wear glasses, you can relate to the blurry world experienced for the first seconds of each day. For a brief time, the world is fuzzy and incomprehensible. Confusion is quickly snuffed out as you put your glasses on- but the ability to clearly see generally trump's any other sensory loss.
With so much of our world determined by what we see- what we allow ourselves to see, and more importantly what we actively avoid seeing is important. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” -Matthew 6:22
Is Willpower Finite?
The man who looks at everything coming within the field of his vision is no healthier than the man who chews and swallows everything that comes into the vicinity of his mouth.
And most of us put very little effort into resisting our gluttonous eyes.
But Jesus made it very clear how he feels on the subject. He would rather see us pluck out an eye than gratify its sinful impulses. And we get it. After all, we have regrets about things we’ve seen and wish we could unsee. All of us have those regrets.
But resisting the tyranny of our eyes can feel like trying to defy gravity. Whatever victories we enjoy are fleeting. The gravity of sin is always felt, even when we are ascendant.
So what’s to be done?
In his book, “Willpower,” author Roy Baumeister addresses the prevalent notion that we all have a finite amount of willpower which, once exhausted, leaves us utterly at the mercy of whatever temptations assault us. He does this by covering all of the social science research that points to the fact that willpower is something that can be increased over time by those who are interested in doing so by building on incremental victories.
Now those of us who belong to Christ know that there is a supernatural dimension to the matter. We believe that God considers every temptation resistible and that he has given us his Holy Spirit to aid in the resistance. But we also believe that it would be presumptuous to leave the Holy Spirit to do all the resisting while we coasted.
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” -James 1:14-15
So for those who would like to grow in sanctification, this matter of the eyes could be a helpful place to start.
4 Ways To Guard Your Eyes in Our Society Today
Its not reasonable to expect to run a marathon if you’ve never run a mile. If you want to have more control over your eyes- you need to be training them.
The following are some helpful suggestions about how to get better at averting your eyes.
“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” - Luke 11:34
With television, advertising, the internet, and other outlets at the tip of your finger- it can sometimes be hard to tell where to draw the line on what is acceptable to view. Here are some suggestions of things you should consider not viewing. This is by no means a comprehensive list- but consider some of the items below, and allow yourself to be convicted where needed.
What to Avert From
Here is a partial list of things to avert your eyes from:
“Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” -1 Timothy 4:15
Our Father is the God of abundant grace regardless of what you struggle with, or any bad habit you’re moored in. If you are struggling, lean on his strength. At the same time, work towards strengthening your habits daily.
"Colossians 1:15-17 “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see–such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.”
God relates to nations in much the same way that he relates to individuals, and Furnace Brook is located in a place with a strong sense of identity. Vermont is as distinct a place as any of the 50 states, with geographic, historic, and social boundaries that anyone might cross, but no one can ignore.
And it’s a wonderful place. It’s incomparably beautiful with a good quality of life. In fact, it’s so good a place that most of the people who enjoy it would scoff at the idea that it might possibly be improved by something as backwards as religion.
5 Reasons Why Vermont Needs Jesus
But here are five reasons why we think that Vermont needs Jesus.
5. Vermont is already a religious place, but without religion.
There is a strong religious impulse in Vermont that has somehow survived the collapse and absence of traditional religion. Vermonters are very concerned with being good people, but their piety gets expressed in a hodgepodge of quasi-religions. For some Vermonters the farmers market has taken the place of church, for instance. And we yield to no one in our love of fresh, local produce, but what makes for a good diet still does little to save a soul. The religiosity of Vermonters would be better spent on a religion that has saving power for both this life and the life to come.
4. The heroin epidemic.
We fully support the efforts of law enforcement to prevent the trafficking of narcotics along with all the crime that attends it. And we fully support the efforts of recovery centers, and the Department of Children and Families, and dedicated healthcare providers and a host of others to stitch back together the pieces of lives fractured by heroin.
But this is as much (or more) a spiritual problem and our best efforts will not solve anything apart from a dramatic change in our state’s spiritual landscape.
3. An entire class of Vermonters is languishing and being priced out.
This is related to the preceding point, but a lot of working class Vermonters are feeling left behind by an economy they feel is arranged mostly for the benefit of affluent people with different values. Recreational drugs and departure are both common responses to that perceived reality. But Jesus is, historically, very good for people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. He gives them worth, purpose, and skills for successful living.
2. The burden of beauty.
Bear with me here; this is going to get a little deep. We can respond to beauty in one of two ways. We can experience beauty with decadence or sublimation. Decadence is when we give ourselves over to the selfish enjoyment of that beauty, as though the beauty of our environment was for the benefit of our pleasure. And sublimation is when we are so moved by the beauty that we offer ourselves in service to the beauty and to the One who can take the credit for it.
Vermont is so beautiful that if its beauty doesn’t result in worship it will result in something subtly poisonous and dangerous to our souls.
As wonderful as Vermont is, it is not perfect. It has skeletons in its closet. There is plenty of corporate sin to repent of. And the idea that we might go on perpetually enjoying God’s blessing while stubbornly rejecting his lordship is a flawed notion.
If you are an American Christian in 2018 there is a sad likelihood that it has been some time since you paused to savor anything.
And that’s not just a shame: it’s shameful. If God is the giver of every good and perfect gift, we are all too often the ingrateful and distracted recipients of those gifts. We might prefer that the sandwich taste good, but we also insist on eating it in so hurried and distracted a fashion that we scarcely taste it.
The Christian Discipline of Savoring
This is a problem for at least three reasons:
2. Sensation Overload
Second, God wants us to be sensitive to stimuli. It is Satan who desires that we be made numb and indifferent. And what he has accomplished through idolatry he is just as pleased to do through devices and a relentless pacing of life. Our frenetic lives and our blunted senses serve Satan’s purposes better than those of the God who created us.
3. Experiencing Grace in the Everyday
Third, the good gifts of God are means of grace to those who receive them. The delicate reach of a twig, the late day sunlight completing its journey in rosy triumph on the rough trunk of a white pine, the way the neighbor’s cat stretches on its morning stoop in what might be worship. The way cool water perfectly satisfies the parched tongue, the way lettuce tastes better for having been crunched between one’s teeth, the pleasure we might take in bathing and being clean. These are all things that have been salvaged from the shipwreck of Eden and as such are means of grace. They make the desert island on which Adam’s sons and Eve’s daughters washed up more survivable. But they also point us away from the desert island to the Promised Land across the waters and to the One who will, in time, bring us there.
5 Ways to Stop and Savor
So if we agree that we would be better disciples and happier people if we savored more what must we do to resist the tide of our culture?
I’m sure glad I’m not a gatekeeper. That’s a crummy job.
Whether you are deciding who gets to come into our country or who gets to eat at your restaurant, there will be lots of dilemmas and lots of penalties for getting things wrong and some penalties even for getting things right. Being a gatekeeper is an exhausting business, and rife with second-guessing.
The Gate of Salvation
Now as a pastor I do have to be alert for false teachers, it’s true. And not just anyone can be in leadership. But the gate that I am most concerned with, the gate of salvation, is self-enforcing. It is of specific and unbudging dimensions. I can’t change that gate to suit anyone who finds it too narrow, nor can I block the entrance to that gate for anyone narrowed enough by desperation to find it well suited. Anyone might enter by that gate, but no one gets to enter on any terms but those of the gate.
And so, I am not a gatekeeper, but there is a real sense in which the gate keeps me. The church I pastor serves as both porch and foyer for that beautiful door that leads to the life of salvation. I can not lead the church any distance from that door and have it remain a church.
And in this church I lead there are those who voted for Trump enthusiastically and those who revile him no less now than they did during the election. There are those who would be welcome to eat at the Red Hen and those who would rather protest outside it. That’s a good thing. I am determined that this virus of gatekeeping not infect our church, that our boasting be about the Host and the menu, rather than the guest list and the likemindedness of those on it.
The Crisis of Grace
There has been a lot of recent talk about the lack of civility and respect in our culture. And it is evident that both are lacking. But the current crisis is not a crisis of civility or respect. It is a crisis of grace. We are dismayed by the effect of living in a graceless culture, one in which everyone gets what he deserves and no one is allowed anything that he doesn’t deserve. A graceless culture has some appeal to those who are convinced that they themselves are deserving.
But those of us who’ve been steeped in the gospel know that our hope for this world and the one to come hinges on grace, on us getting exactly what we never deserved. And so we react to the graceless culture with great sorrow, and we insist that even if the angry gods of the hour squeeze grace out of every other public place in our culture, that grace will nonetheless be the lovely condition of the church.
Being the objects of grace ourselves, we extend that grace to our co-worshipers with gospel liberality.
But this condition that distinguishes us from so much of our culture is fragile and if we are determined to bring lots of people to the gate without being gatekeepers there are some things we should keep in mind:
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog