The Armor of God

            My brother, who is a museum curator, likes to tell the story of a trip he made to an auction in Europe with the expressed intent of purchasing a medieval suit of armor for his museum.  The story gets very interesting when he gets to the part when, after the successful purchase of the suit, he was faced with the issue of getting it back to the US.  Suffice to say that he learned how heavy medieval armor can be, and how people look at you funny on an airplane when you have a suit of armor in the seat next to you! 

            The apostle Paul also knew something about suits of armor.  In his letter to the Ephesians, most likely written while in was in prison, he tells them that they must put on “the full armor of God” in order to stand up to the forces that were aligned against them (he calls them the “devil’s schemes”).  When he then goes on to specifically name different parts of what a typical Roman soldier would have worn for protection (helmet, sword, belt, shield, etc.), historians speculate that he was perhaps looking at a prison guard standing outside his cell when he wrote those words. 

            Toward the end of August, we will be looking at this famous passage in detail in our Wednesday and Sunday worship services by examining each piece of armor and the element of faith that Paul assigns to them.  For his audience who faced the daily threat of persecution, these images would have been crucial to their survival.  For us, even though we live in a time and place when any persecution we face for our faith is usually subtle, it is still hard to argue that we don’t need to put on the “full armor of God”.  These days,  the forces aligned against us are things like materialism , individualism, secularism, apathy, and other cultural influences that threaten both our faith as disciples and the existence of our church.  Given the power of these forces, to put on the “belt of truth” and the “shoes of peace” and the rest of the armor is just as critical for us every day is it was for those first Christians.

            So I hope that you will join us for what promises to be a very relevant look at Paul’s timeless image of the “full armor of God.”  My guess is that if you do, you will never look at a suit of armor the same way again!

Blessings,

Mark

Worship Changes and Bible Studies

I share two reminders with you:  First, as our summer worship schedule change takes place over the next few weeks, it’s my hope that you will find the schedule to be amenable to your own summer schedules.  I would also urge you to invite any friends, family members, neighbors, etc. for whom Sunday morning worship doesn’t work for whatever reason to our Wednesday evening services.  As I’ve said before, one of the advantages to offering a service during the week is that it is an opportunity to reach out to persons we might not otherwise.  But it begins with our invitations!   One other note is that the Sunday and Wednesday services will have different themes and messages so that if you attend a Sunday service and then the previous or following Wednesday service, you will not be getting a rerun!   You can see the worship schedule for July elsewhere in The Hotline.

            The other reminder is about our upcoming Bible study opportunities for which you can sign up over the next few weeks.  In the fall, we will begin a 30-week Disciple study entitled “Jesus in the Gospels” as well as an 8-week Invitation to the Old Testament study.  (There will also be an Invitation to the New Testament class offered in early 2016).  These shorter studies are in the style of the Disciple program,  but are designed for those who are unable to commit to the year-long classes.  You will find the sign-up sheets for these opportunities in the narthex where you can also indicate what day and time of week would work best for you.  As always, we will try to schedule the classes to accommodate as many persons as possible.  As always, I look forward to journeying and learning with you! 

Blessings,

Mark

A New Creation

On the last three Sundays in June, we will be exploring some of the major themes of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.  Corinth was an interesting place—it was a major crossroads of the ancient world, filled with people from all different backgrounds and places.  Members of the Corinthian church struggled both with the outside moral influences brought in by those from diverse cultures, as well as with conflict within the church brought on by perceived feelings of superiority that some had over others due to their advanced education (or “wisdom” as Paul calls it) and wealth. 

            And so while Paul’s theme in 1st  Corinthians focuses on the need for unity within the congregation, the second letter is more about how they are to function as followers of Christ in the outside world.   In the midst of this letter comes one of my favorite verses of the entire Bible when Paul reminds his readers/listeners that “if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation!”  (5:17a).  Actually, the more literal translation of that verse is “if anyone is in Christ—there is a whole new world!”

            And so the questions we will be exploring during these weeks will be ones such as “As you look at your life, can you envision a “whole new world” for you personally”? And keep in mind that Paul is talking about way more than just getting out of the “ ruts” that we may be in—he is talking about a whole new way of living.  And then perhaps a tougher question would be “As you look at the world (and all of the unrest and violence that is all around us), is it even possible to envision the “whole new world” that Jesus came to bring about?

            We can only answer these questions if we can see the promised “whole new world” as being a better place than where we currently are.  When we do that, we realize that Paul is offering us a vision of the kind of new world that is only possible through God’s gifts of grace, hope, and forgiveness.  And the best news of all is that these gifts are offered to us every day as followers of the one whose life, death, and resurrection made them available to us without price.  When we accept these gifts,  we can then joyfully go about the work of bringing about God’s “whole new world” to those around us.

            I would encourage you during the month to take some time to read 2nd Corinthians in its entirety.  You will find in it some great advice on living through the ups and downs of life as those who are recipients of God’s promised “whole new world”. 

Blessings,

Mark

Something New for Summer

  Here is a “heads-up” as you plan your summer schedules!  After much discussion and feedback from individuals and our ministry teams, the Leadership Team has approved a worship schedule change for the weeks between the 4th of July and Labor Day holiday weekends.   So this means that after we have a single worship service at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 5th, beginning on July 8th our contemporary service that normally occurs on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. will be moving to Wednesday evenings at 7:00 p.m.  This will also allow our 11:00 a.m. service to move to 10:00 a.m. for the Sundays from July 12th through Labor Day Sunday, September 6th (when we will again have a single service at 10:00 a.m.).  The final Wednesday night service will be on September 2nd .    We will then return to the “normal” schedule on Sunday, September 13th.  The 8:30 a.m. service will continue at its regular time throughout the summer except for the holiday weekends.

     This change is in response to feedback from the large number of individuals and families who are gone during many summer weekends as well as others who would appreciate an earlier time for our latest service of the morning to allow for family outings, etc.   My personal experience also tells me that another result of having a weeknight service is that we might attract some new folks who for whatever reason are unable to attend worship on Sunday mornings.

So…mark your calendars now!  And get the word out to your friends and neighbors.  I look forward to trying this schedule which hopefully is more sensitive to vacations and other summer plans that we all have.  Come fall, we will assess the success of the change as we continue to always look forward with a vision of greater inclusion for all of God’s children in the life of our church.

Confirmation Sunday

One of the greatest joys in my pastoral role is the opportunity I get to carry out the rite of confirmation to students who have completed the requirements of the confirmation program. I am always honored to be a part of such an important time in their faith journey as they become full members of the congregation by answering the questions that for most of them were answered for them by their parents at the time of their baptism.  On Sunday, May 4th, I will have the privilege of confirming Nathan Fox, Maddie Roush, Baylee Yeomans, Tyler Barnes, and Kyra McNulty at the 9:30 a.m. service. (the students will also be recognized at the beginning of the 11:00 a.m. service).   This celebration will be a culmination of a journey that includes participation in classes and field trips as well as an overnight retreat.  The program has been led again this year with great enthusiasm and commitment by Dennis and Debbie Korn. 

Everyone is also invited to a reception in the East Room at 10:30 a.m. that morning to officially greet and welcome the students into the HUMC family.  Please plan to be a part of this celebration!

 Blessings,

Mark 

A Note from Pastor Mark

A while back in our Christian Believer classes, we spent some time studying and discussing the Holy Spirit and how it works in our lives.  As we watched a video presentation by the commentator Gordon Fee, we were somewhat startled when he called the Holy Spirit the “neglected member of the Holy Trinity” and a “sort of Divine step-child”.  But then as we began to discuss our understandings of the Holy Spirit, we realized that we had many different experiences and definitions around the actions of the Holy Spirit.  This was not surprising—for most of us, it is the Father and the Son that are more easily understood and grasped, while the Holy Spirit continues to be the member of the triune God that can often fly under our “spiritual radar”.  And so we do tend to neglect the kind of self-examination and prayer that it takes to fully be aware of the Spirit’s power working in our lives.

            Perhaps a part of our problem in being fully aware of the action of the Holy Spirit is that the Bible gives us so many names for the Holy Spirit, especially in John’s gospel  (“Teacher”, “Advocate”, “Friend”, “Counselor” to name just a few).  And while we are familiar with the story of the Holy Spirit coming down as fire at Pentecost, most of us are less familiar (and comfortable) with so-called “spirit-filled”, “Pentecostal” worship practices.

            On the other hand, the scriptures do give us some helpful reminders of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:3 Paul says that “no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”  In other words, he is stating the reality that the Holy Spirit in within all of us Christians (whether we are always aware of it or not).   Right after that verse, he goes on to list numerous “gifts of the Spirit”, which remind us that the Holy Spirit gives each of us tangible gifts to use in tangible ways to serve others. 

            The book of Acts is also very helpful in showing how the Holy Spirit can act in our lives.  While most of us know this book as the “Acts of the Apostles”, actually it is more accurately an account of the “Acts of the Holy Spirit”, since again and again, the apostles are only able to do their work through the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through them.  Given the nature of these stories, I am excited that from the Sunday after Easter (April 12th) through Pentecost Sunday (May 24th), we will be embarking on a worship series entitled “Acts of the Spirit”, where we will be examining a number of these  stories that show clearly the Holy Spirit acting in the lives of the apostles.  It’s my hope that by hearing and studying these stories in creative ways, we will begin to more fully understand how the Holy Spirit works in our lives in the same kinds of ways.  And even more than that, it’s my prayer that we will come to a new assurance that all acts of God are acts of the Holy Spirit!

In the Spirit,

Mark