If you’re a fan of sports, then you have probably been keeping up with all the preseason news on your favorite NFL team. You have very likely read about how they did with their draft. You probably follow the camps and the preseason games (which mean very little).
And you probably can’t wait for the regular season to start.
As a pastor and a sports fan, I start to look at Church the same way. Obviously it’s not really the same. There is no off season when we are doing the work God has given us.
But there are seasons.
For students, we have a 9-month season, a golden opportunity, where they are constantly in the playing field (read: mission field). Have you ever considered school this way?
The government tells us our children need to be educated. They are thrown together with other students of various backgrounds. Despite their lack of desire, they have to be there. What better opportunity is there for Christians to have influence on their community?
While summer is low-key, the fall is when the community gets back to a bigger schedule. Our children’s, youth and college ministries are all kicking off into their regular schedules. We will invite students to come and be a part of our family in worship, in Bible studies, in evangelism training and a whole lot more.
We may not have a preseason as a Church, but you better believe the season of opportunity is upon us.
Are you ready?
Standing roughly seven foot, smiling down on all who enter through the ramp door, is a beautiful sunflower. Last summer the seed for this beautiful plant was produced in Northern Michigan as a part of hundreds of other seeds taken from the same plant. Many of those seeds from the same plant have produced wonderful flowers, both here and in Michigan. But many of the same seeds planted with love and attention have not gone on to produce anything. In some cases the plants were eaten by rabbits, in other cases they were accidentally cut down, and in one case they were even accidentally killed with weed killer.
Why didn’t every seed produce the same result?
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Several new books have been recently added to your WLFMC library for your enjoyment and helpful guidance in your Christian walk.
†Popular author Wanda Brunstetter’s newest book, the second in her “Prairie States Friends” series, The Gift is now on our shelves, ready to be checked out.
†Beth Wiseman, another familiar writer of Amish-focused novels, is beginning a new series, “Amish Secrets” with Her Brother’s Keeper that will keep you involved as she introduces a sensitive family situation.
†In a very different genre, a delightful collection of tales about real dogs and their families, A Prince Among Dogs by Callie Grant is a book to fill odd spare moments with thoughtful and inspiring accounts of the impact dogs have on those who incorporate them into their families.
†Have you ever wondered what it means to be “blessed” in your walk with God? In The Ultimate Blessing, Jo Anne Lyons presents a unique introduction to the broader meaning of what it means to be blessed that is challenging while informative. We tend to equate blessing with material prosperity, success, good health, etc., but Lyons points out that we need to learn that God’s blessing on our lives impacts every facet of our being as we experience His presence and power in our daily walk here. This book will help you discover the blessing that is deeper and more satisfying than personal comfort.
*The following is excerpted from an online article from MediaPost.
One of the easiest traps to fall into when thinking about teens is to think back to your own teen years for guidance or inspiration. Those halcyon days of yesteryear may be wonderful to reflect on and reminisce about with friends but, trust me, they aren’t going to help you understand the current crop of teens. Why? Because the teen experience changes all the time.
There are some very obvious things that have changed from one generation to the next. Technology, clearly, has changed a lot. Mobile, which has completely redefined our world, is less than a decade old. The Internet as a popular medium is less than 25 years old. Tech will continue to race ahead but think about other some of the other, more subtle changes. The media mix, for example, or going to the movies, or getting together with friends. All of these things have changed in ways that reframe the teen experience.
Here are a few representative examples of how life as a teen has changed.
- Driving The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that, in 1996, 85% of high school seniors had their driver’s license. According to AAA, in 2014, only 54% of teens get their license by the time they are 18. The freedom of the open road just isn’t what it was. In part, the drop in driving rates is attributed to the recession; but many teens also report not needing to drive.
- Summer employment In 1994, almost 55% of teens had summer jobs. Today that number is just under 35%. That’s a pretty big drop and one that impacts not only teen income but also the amount of idle time available to kids, and you know what they say about idle hands …
- Marijuana use In 1996, the National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that 49.6% of high school seniors had used marijuana. In 2013, 41.3% of all high school students reported having smoked marijuana. This gradual decline is seen in virtually all substance categories. Cigarette smoking, for example, was reported by 65% of high school seniors in 1996 but by 2013 only 41% of high school students had ever even tried a cigarette.
These changes, occurring over the span of 20 years or more, make it critical to remove your memories from the way you think about teens. Asking teens directly may net some useful insights but perhaps the most effective approach for understanding teens is to observe and engage with them in their natural habitats.
Have you ever tried a new and exciting diet?
Several years ago, I watched in horror as my friend ate two large pieces of greasy beef. There was no bun, no lettuce or anything else for that matter. There was just meat — and lots of it. What surprised me more than the fact that he could consume so much meat was that he was proud of himself for being on a diet. Why eat a salad with no dressing for lunch when you can eat 32 ounces of ground beef?
Most people know that the basic ingredients to weight loss are a balanced diet and exercise, yet fad diets continue to pop up. They are often startlingly different in content, but what they tend to have in common is the promise of a shortcut.
There may be another reason for so much literature available on diet, exercise and weight loss: It is easier to think about losing weight than to actually do it. It is easier to read a book about diet and exercise than to prepare healthy food and commit to regularly exercising.
Diets are similar in this way to Christian discipleship. I am confident that you could read a book about Christian discipleship every day from now until you died and you would not have read every book written on discipleship.
Like dieting, Christian discipleship is not that complicated. The reason there are thousands of books on Christian discipleship is not because nobody has figured out how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, or because we can’t quite figure out what a mature disciple looks like. Rather, I suspect there are so many books on discipleship because it is easier to read about discipleship than to be a disciple. It is easier to think about what it would be like to live lives of radical faithfulness to the God Christians worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit than it is to actually live such a life.
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by Sabra Dyas
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. — Ecclesiastes 4:9
There is no better word for understanding the word “partner” than “relationship.” Living in relationship with others has a “good return” or reward because “two are better than one.” When we work together, our work multiplies. Working together is a natural opportunity for the kingdom of God to advance here on earth. When we become interested in building God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, the risk involved in partnerships becomes minimal. When we focus on the kingdom of God, we desire to live in relationship with others, building the kingdom together.
The primary Greek word for “partnership” in the New Testament is koinonia. This word appears 19 times in the New Testament. Perhaps the most common translation of koinonia is the English word “fellowship.” It can also be translated into other English words such as “participation,” “sharing” and “association.”
When we live in relationship with one another, the key motivator becomes loving one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34, 15:12). With this motivator, competing with each other loses its appeal. We become focused on advancing others for the kingdom of God. Time here is short, and we all should be working at great lengths to advance His work on earth regardless of differences. Those very differences can unite us to become stronger witnesses — not pull us apart or cause division.
Often what gets in our way is becoming shortsighted and forgetting what we already have. We fail to see those God has already placed around us to partner. Many churches toil and labor trying to build the kingdom, but they realize their resources are minimal. When our eyes become opened, we unite together as one, set aside our differences of interpretation, and become disciples building together with multiplied resources. We become stewards of God’s resources in such a way that “for His kingdom” becomes the umbrella under which we distribute resources. We cross over the lines of fear and allow His perfect love to cast out fear
(1 John 4:18).
Partnering can become messy. Ask Paul and Barnabas someday (Acts 15:36–41). But allowing fear to stop us results in sin and unsaved people.
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“Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to Him and as was His custom, He taught them. Some of the Pharisees tested Him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’
‘What did Moses command you? ‘He replied. They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’
‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.’
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, (if you want to know Jesus’ definition of marriage – there it is) and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.’”
Jesus said when a couple is married, they are joined together. They “tie the knot” as the expression says. “Tie the knot” is an old marriage custom of tying a couple’s hands together as part of the ceremony.
Jesus goes on to say, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” God wants the marriage union to be permanent and last a lifetime.
But we know there is an enemy who comes to steal and kill and destroy (John 10). His goal is to snap apart the union…to break the tie between a husband and wife.
Some of the ways the enemy tries to snap apart a marriage are…
- lack of communication
- trust issues/jealousy
- life changes
- spiritual differences
- parenting issues
Every marriage feels the pull of the enemy trying to snap it apart. But the key to a marriage that withstands the pressure is found in Ecclesiastes.
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What would you do with unlimited authority? It is not dissimilar to the “What would you do with three wishes?” question. The common answers on the latter lean toward personal benefit — a million dollars, a perfect body, a new house, or some form of celebrity status. But we know the better and nobler answers would be less consumptive and self-serving: world peace, better circumstance or health of others, and an end to poverty.
Back to the authority question. Hopefully, if you had “all authority” at your disposal, you would leverage it for the good of others. That is what Jesus did with His.
Jesus, after His resurrection, claimed to have seized all authority (Matthew 28:18). So what did He do with it? He told His disciples to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19–20).
I find it interesting that the authority was His to do with as He pleased, and what pleased Him was to benefit two groups of people. He used it to empower people to build other people. It was the ultimate “for the benefit of others” activity. Everyone wins with this use of Jesus’ authority.
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John Wesley lived in a time when the church had grown weak and inept, and the faith of many had grown cold. We find ourselves in a similar situation today. We live in a pluralistic culture in which attitudes about Christianity range from mild interest to indifference to outright rejection. Our culture still contains Christian ideas, such as going the “second mile” or being a “good Samaritan,” but Christianity is no longer the dominant voice shaping our culture.
Wesley’s solution in his organization of Methodism was to look to the primitive church. He saw the church of the first 300 years as the prototype of a vibrant expression of the faith that would turn the world upside down once again, creating committed and passionate disciples. We also look back to our past — to Wesley or the primitive church —for our model.
One of the key foundational texts for early Christian discipleship was 2 Peter 1:3–4: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (ESV). The theological term for this process is “theosis”: being renewed in the image and likeness of Christ. Wesley called this process of discipleship “sanctification.”
Discipleship is not a nebulous endeavor. It is something with an end result: a disciple. If we are talking about making disciples of Jesus, there is only one entity that has been empowered to do that: the church. A strong church is an underlying assumption in all of the early church writings and practices. In the first three centuries of the church, the overriding concern in discipleship was to ensure that it was within the framework of true Christianity. There were myriad versions of Christianity during that time, and most of those alternate versions of Christianity were very individualistic in their approach to the spiritual life. Everyone was on their own personal journey. A church was an optional add-on for them. True Christianity, however, saw the necessity of the church in Christian growth and discipleship.
Jesus said all authority in heaven and earth was given to Him, and then He immediately told the church to make disciples. Today, we tend toward the alternate view of individualism when it comes to faith: We are all on our own journeys, and — while we may like a particular congregation for its music, teaching, preaching or fellowship — church itself is not really necessary for our salvation, let alone our spirituality or discipleship.
To talk about disciples, we have to talk about the church and its place in our lives. Otherwise, we will end up with ancient church practices in a framework of individualized spirituality and a personal journey that is not entirely Christian.
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by Jeff Finley
The church in the United States is having a rough time of it lately, according to the news media and pollsters.
Recent headlines include “Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian” (New York Times), “Millennials Leaving Church in Droves” (CNN), “Christians in U.S. on Decline as Number of ‘Nones’ Grows” (NPR) and “America Is Losing Its (Christian) Religion” (The Week).
The headlines resulted from a Pew Research Center survey, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” (fmchr.ch/pewacrl), that found “between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4% to 70.6 %.”
The church isn’t just struggling to win new converts. It’s struggling with discipleship.
Definitions of “discipleship” vary, but I like the wording on the website of the Akron (New York) Free Methodist Church: “Discipleship is to become more like Jesus.”
We are called to be disciples of Jesus and to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). But how do we go about making disciples?
One answer may be found in the “Book of Discipline”: “Free Methodists today seek to continue the mission of first-century Christianity which was recovered by John Wesley and the early Methodists, who declared they existed ‘to raise up a holy people.’”
In this issue, you’ll learn more about the discipleship practices of early Christians and Wesley, an 18th-century British evangelist who spent time in America. You’ll also hear from Bishop Matthew Thomas, who will speak this month at General Conference 2015 about making disciples.
For evangelicals, the Pew survey wasn’t as bleak — only a drop of 1 percentage point since 2007 — as it was for other Christian groups. Still, we and our fellow evangelicals should stay committed to living out the Free Methodist Church’s mission “to love God, love people and make disciples.” ν
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