Happy New Year, Christian Church!
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
As we start the New Church Year in the Season of Advent, 2020-2012, would you pray with me?
Dear Lord, you've provided real and overwhelming challenges for us in the old church year. Also, you've provided new coping skills for us to deal with those challenges. Through your grace in troubled times, we have found love. Through your love we have found peace. We have prospered in the midst of a crippling pandemic and devastating financial times. You've given us hope---as well as help---in finding ways to make things work for us. We are grateful. We trust you to carry us through more difficult times to come.
We are not afraid. We promise not to complain. We will stand fast. We will not fall short of our precious responsibilities. We ask you give us courage and insight. Help us to carry the message of Jesus so that it will take hold and work for others. We want to reach out to our neighbors who don't know Jesus Christ.
NORMAL PEOPLE---EXTRAORDINARY MESSAGE
Lord, we are not religious fanatics...just simple people of faith...and yet...we've set aside the tools you've given to provide for others the assurances and peace and joy we have in you. Lord, we're not ashamed of the Gospel, but often enough, it has seemed that way. We're going to start something "new and beautiful" in this new year to grow your Kingdom in our faith community and our community at large. We're not afraid.
"...for you didn't receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship..."
[Saint Paul in] Romans 8:17
"...and do this, understanding the present time...the hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed..." [Saint Paul in] Romans 13:11
Instead, we will commit to concentrate upon changing ourselves first. When we have done this essential change in our lives and mission goal...in these days---we'll be ready later to become the experienced evangelists your Kingdom needs. In so doing we will be equipped to do it quietly in love with grace. People need the Lord just as we do. We're not going to hide the Jesus we know from others any longer.
Lord God, in this plan to establish your Church anew in our community, help us to model the mind of Christ. Shower the Holy Spirit upon us, pour your Holy Fire over us! We're ready to be set on fire for Christ
We want to prepare to pass it on---that is, dear Lord, not religion---but the wonderful gift of faith with no strings attached, your unconditional love. We don't want to force ourselves on others, but we want it to be our way of doing and saying things in your holy name. First, we'll prepare ourselves on how to reach out being the person we are.
NONE OF US IS BILLY GRAHAM
Lord---understanding that you know us---we won't do that until we're good and ready. Start that process of discipling us in our heart of hearts now...well in advance of the upcoming calendar year. We know, once you allow "breathing space" for us---it will happen "naturally" in a supernatural way. If we don't start now, we'll be like a plant without roots or water. We'll just wither away and die. Make us ready, Jesus! Send us your Holy Spirit! We plead with you, Master! Use us for your glory---for the good of neighbors and family.
We pray in your name. Amen
It would normally be about four o'clock a.m. at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, where our beloved Non-commissioned Officer would roust us out of our beds in his "unique loving" way. (Just kidding, of course.) He'd gravelly grind the words out in such a soft and gentle way, so sweetly, "I'm going to be yo' Mutha' for the next twenty-four weeks...listen up, Chil'ren, get yo'r-selves in gear...'Else I might do somethin' rash...y'all get a'move on...!!!"
As I recall, you really didn't have the opportunity to suggest to him that you had a special personal way to leisurely get up in the morning...or that you always had your cup of coffee "before" your shower...or that you didn't like people shouting over you as you were suddenly awakened. Listen. You did as your "Mother" commanded and demanded of you. Marine Corps training didn't include "personal innovation", so to speak.
The lieutenant literally ran down from the top of the hill, bent down, and pulled the guy's face out of the mud. He shouted to the poor fellow, face caked with mud, "...Marine, who told you...you could rest!!!"
On the obstacle course on another occasion I had just completed the fifty pull-ups required, when the same lieutenant shouted in my ear, "...ten more, Marine..." In boot camp you were pushed to the hilt. You had no excuse for failures. It was always these words, "No excuse, Sir!" Some recruits thought it was hell. Some of the fellows actually liked it. They just thought it was the greatest. The sergeant just kept that chunk of chewing-tobacco in the side of his mouth no matter what. Often, in my mind, I would think, "...I have some idea about why he was divorced..." All in all, a bunch a boys became men. On graduation day, we marched at "8th-and-I" in Washington D.C. All the guys looked sharp. I felt so proud to be among them. We had all strangely changed. We didn't have any more flimsy excuses. We didn't complain. We were totally equipped for anything and responsible for each other. It was a good feeling!
Sometimes, considering those experiences long ago, I've wished over the last fifty years that discipline in the Church was more like that in the Marine Corps. Personal and group honor above all. No excuses. All for one and one for all. The notion that everybody in your group is essential. No one gets left behind no matter what the circumstance. The purpose of the organization is to get the job done absolutely right, honorably, and efficiently. Live your life fully, but never at the expense of your brother or your sister.
In the Marine Corps, you have no enemies in your unit...the guy you don't like very much, may be the guy you crouch together with, after all your other comrades are dead, and the two of you are back to back to cover 360-degrees, around the foxhole you have to occupy, to survive.
However, in the Church, it hasn't always been that way. In the Marine Corps you're forced to do the needful and to adopt a more disciplined way of living and conducting yourself. The true Christian Church, on the other hand, is an organization that has a different motivation factor in developing those excellent and good characteristics...not by being strictly and forcefully trained...but by allowing the indwelling of the Spirit of God to have sway in your life. The Marine Corps seeks victory. The true Christian Church seeks surrender, surrender of self without exception. It surrenders to God through Christ Jesus...and rather than being motivated by an "outside" force...the true person of faith is motivated mystically by an "inside" power---that being---the indwelling, the infilling, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus answered, "Truly I say unto you, I tell you the truth, no person can enter the Kingdom of God unless that person is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You shouldn't be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again!' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you can't tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is for everyone born of the Spirit." John 3:5-8
Now what is this understanding all about? What was the "strange warming experience" or the "second blessing"? It was the experience of once being baptized with water, a saved person receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit with "fire" and great power, thus, the second blessing. As Jesus seems to suggest in the third chapter of John's Gospel, a person needs to be born of "water" and "the Holy Spirit" or of "fire". After water baptism, when we become a child of God, there is a second blessing which happens to complete or fulfill our initial Spiritual walk with the Lord, allowing us to have that sense of honor, of Spiritual discernment, of personal duty, and of responsibility---a United States Marine would have in context with the military experience. Yes, we must be born of water...and the Spirit...
It is more powerful than the experience of being a Marine. It produces, in an entirely different way, the motivation and superior human response to God's calling that the Marine Corps couldn't possibly do. That is because it's supernatural. Once a person has been exposed to what's happening on the inside spiritually---human nature is turned inside-out! The change is not "change" per se...the change is transformation...
For me and perhaps you also, these have been and are manifestly strange and unusual times. I have never experienced what I have over the last eleven months. Some of us may think we are doomed by the coronavirus pandemic or our present economy, but I'm just not that pessimistic. I truly sense the Lord's coming blessing upon our local churches and our beloved fellow Christians, and even upon those who do not know Him. The Lord is calling us in this time of anxiety to bring assurance and peace to those who need to know the Savior. And so also, I sense the Lord calling us to ready ourselves for a great awaking of the Holy Spirit in our midst, brought on by the pandemic as a blessing, rather than God's curse. The Lord is calling us to trust in Him and to sense His blessing in what may seem like impending disaster and destruction. But, the Lord is in control. His purpose in our lives is not the punishment, that, at least, I know I deserve, but rather the blessing of peace, goodness, and prosperity...and the salvation of many. As a pastor in His Holy Church, I would like to encourage all of us to take hold of our calling to bring many to Christ.
"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant, brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen!" Hebrews 13:20-20-21
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Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough