Vacation Invitation

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The big story starts in the garden but then flounders as it makes a left turn down my street. The big story of a big God with a heart reaching out in love toward His creation seems to run out of steam when it reaches my street. Here, on my street, the evidence of His heart fades behind red bricks and mortar, children waiting for the bus, neighbors swearing into their phones in cars, and gaggles of teens in the middle of the street, extensions long down their backs. These aren’t scenes of tragedy or mayhem, but scenes of quietly compounding desperation.

The garden … my street. The garden’s promise of fruit and health, of rewarding work and evening conversations, has been reduced to a fistful of bills and contracts, only gently assuaged by the new-car smell enabled by a 60-month lease.

And yet, there’s this allure of the garden, isn’t there? Modern people don’t long for the garden. They long for vacations, but it’s the same desire. We modern people go to TripAdvisor to check out cruises and exotic hotels with bungalows suspended over turquoise lagoons to momentarily escape the red brick-and-mortar realities of the streets on which we live. Fifty weeks of drudgery and snow and unfulfilling jobs are offset by the promises of a website for a bungalow over the lagoon.

But the sad reality of those two-week vacations is that they’re more disappointing than the other 50 weeks. We look forward to them, and then they’re riddled with letdowns and, somewhere in the middle of them, we find ourselves dreaming about home; about our streets where we live. The final days of a vacation are filled with dreams of home.

We are always dreaming of vacations while the real possibility of true satisfaction is hovering nearer than the next mouse click.

Hovering over my street is an ever-present benevolent friend. Hovering, that’s what this big friend of ours does. He hovers, always just accessible. He’s not a “force” or a genie inside us all, but a real presence with a real identity … the good Spirit of God hovering over our streets, over our hearts. And, best of all, He’s good! Remember when we used to call Him the “Holy Ghost”? But that got muddled up with Casper the Friendly Ghost, so now we better name Him the “Holy Spirit.” That “Holy” only means He’s pure and unlike us.

This benevolent friend is how God is active among us. Followers of Jesus can’t opt out of the Spirit’s activity, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. We don’t have the option of somehow stopping short of a Pentecostal experience because the Holy Spirit is not some “Level 2” gaming experience. The Holy Spirit is one with the Father, one with the Son. They are all three, one! These are not three gods; this is One God.

Although, to be sure, like the Ephesians, we can have a partial knowledge and a limited experience of the depth of God’s fullness for us, brought by His Spirit. But make no mistake, the relationship that begins with a transaction (which is what the Ephesians had understood, “the baptism of repentance”) doesn’t end with that transaction. The restoration of all our relationships, the health of all things, the going-forward to well-being …  these are also the work of the Spirit and the expected course of our growth in Christ. This is a delight to be expected by each follower of Jesus.

The big story of the garden, the Spirit hovering over my street and my heart, the co-linking of the transaction of salvation with the relationship of salvation — all of these bring us to spectacular wonderment. When the realization that the Holy Spirit of God is available to us — no, more like wooing us toward a complete overwhelming of everything desperate and unfulfilling in our lives — that realization sweeps us into a euphoric optimistic assurance of a vacation-like release from the oppression of all that is dark and tragic in our streets.

Like viewing a majestic herd of elk or a pride of lions, or standing dumbstruck before Niagara or Half Dome, glimpsing the present reality of our big friend —  the very One who hovered over the inky darkness before creation — floods us with the light of expectation and the assurance of goodness. Regardless of how dismal the situation may be on our local street, there’s a vacation-like healing of mega proportions for us, those on our street and around the globe. Real bungalows for all!

David Roller served for 17 years as a Free Methodist missionary in Mexico and then for 10 years as Latin America area director for Free Methodist World Missions. He was first elected a bishop in 2007.



Give Us This Day Our Daily Work

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Imagine the tallest pile of paperwork that you have ever seen on your own desk. If you hate paperwork piles and systematically deal with paperwork as to prevent such things, maybe you can imagine the paperwork pile on the desk of a co-worker.

One afternoon in March almost 10 years ago, I had a breakthrough. The paperwork pile was at an all-time high. It was the end of the month, which meant that the dreaded and inevitable email would be in my end box. “Please turn in your monthly stats. I am waiting on them.” My co-worker, who sent me this email, also caught me as I tried to slither past her desk. I saw the look on her face, and I heard it in her voice. That look on that day was the beginning of a breakthrough in my thinking, attitude and operating regarding work.

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Calling Down Revival Fire

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“For he will be like a refiner’s fire…” (Malachi 3:2).

Fire is fascinating. It is intriguing to sit around a campfire and watch a burning fire. It hypnotizes onlookers as it dances up and down, and side to side. Experiments take place as those around toss items in the fire to see what will happen. To bring validity to the experience, we call these “memory makers.” Fire can be very helpful and useful, or it can cause great damage and harm. In the right hands, fire can provide needed heat and light and mold the toughest metals. The Bible often uses fire as a metaphor of purifying, judgment and growing closer to God. We might call it becoming more holy or set apart for God’s purposes.

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Need and Provision

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She stood outside my office door, looking forlorn, bedraggled and overwhelmed. I quickly ushered this dear octogenarian inside, out of the cold. I listened as five decades of heartache, verbal abuse and, most recently, realities of pornography addiction came tumbling out. Her husband’s refusal that morning to ever change was the final straw. So she had left, with only the clothes on her back, and found herself standing at my door.

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Excellence and Expansion Converge at E3

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Three years ago, pastors and other local church leaders gathered regionally for Equipping for Excellence (E2) to hear from Free Methodist bishops and other ministry experts. The sequel, Equipping for Excellence and Expansion (E3), arrived this year, and, unlike many movie sequels, it proved to be as acclaimed and popular as its predecessor.

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Lacking and Wanting?

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“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1).

I consider myself a “Bible-believing Christian,” but I admit that when I just read this familiar verse, I had second thoughts. After all, there’s not much in my bank account right now, I drive a shaky 14-year-old vehicle (one passenger told me a ride is like being in an airplane at takeoff), and the HGTV folks could get several episodes out of upgrading my home and yard. Many of my fellow Americans would say I lack plenty.

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What It Means to Love God

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“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

There is a seemingly paradoxical relationship in these two statements. Love God who is love. We are told by John that love comes from God, and those who love know God and those who do not love do not know God. But how can we offer love back to the very source of our love? We take a drink from a mountain spring to refresh ourselves, not to pour it back into the stream. The spring does not need the water we have taken, because it has a source we cannot see or add to. But still the command is to love God.

So if this is our command, we have to examine how we can fulfill this command, not as a regulation to be met as a condition of salvation, but as a response to the incredible grace that has been poured out on us. Our response has to flow from that place, because as John points out, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). We also know from the Old Testament that sacrifices offered out of obligation were rejected and that what God longed for from His people was their hearts — broken and contrite before Him, hearts that loved. The question we have to answer then is what does it mean to love a God from whom we learn what love is?

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A Testimony of God’s Love

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“Sweet are the promises, kind is the word,
Dearer far than any message man ever heard;
Pure was the mind of Christ, sinless I see;
He the great example is, and pattern for me.”

“Where He leads I’ll follow,
Follow all the way.
Where He leads I’ll follow,
Follow Jesus ev’ry day.”

William A. Ogden in “Where He Leads I’ll Follow” (1885)

Of the hymns we sing today, this is one that has guided my life since an 8- or 9-year-old little kid in northern Minnesota began to follow the Lord’s call. The songs that touched my heartstrings then still touch my heartstrings today.

“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”

–  Charlotte Elliott in “Just as I Am” (1835)

I may come across as hard as steel sometimes, but God has given me a heart that is tender and caring. Like in the first hymn, I’m still following Jesus. We go way back.

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Dinners With Refugees

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Free Methodist bishops have called church members to “embrace all” and “go global.” Dearborn (Michigan) Free Methodist Church Associate Pastor Megan Weber is embracing people from around the globe without leaving Dearborn. She recently began hosting community dinners at which local believers dine with refugees.

“Community dinners are a place where we can lay aside our agenda — or our need to convert the other — and just be, and listen, and let God develop trust and relationship.” Weber said. “I am just trying to be a good steward of the experiences God has given me and the doors He has been opening in our community in working with refugees.”

Weber said her vision has been influenced by authors Hugh Halter and Carl Medearis. Halter teaches that Jesus’ life and ministry took this order: incarnation, reputation, conversation, confrontation, transformation. Medearis writes, “The distance between Jesus and people isn’t doctrinal. It isn’t political or social or even theological. It’s a matter of personal contact. Jesus collided with two fishermen, and their lives were changed.”

“We need Free Methodists colliding with people that are different than them,” Weber said. “As we invest in the lives of refugees, we are living out the incarnation where we are gaining a reputation, and there is opportunity for conversation. When we become good listeners, others trust us with their hard questions, but that first comes in setting aside agenda.”

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Love That Won’t Let Go

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In a 1975 movie, Monty Python set out on a farcical search for something that had captivated the imagination of Western Christians since the 12th century, the Holy Grail. The story of this most publicized and precious relic in the history of Christendom originated in the year 717, when a hermit monk reported he had a vision about the dish Jesus used at the Last Supper. During the medieval period, the mythology surrounding the Holy Grail expanded, and it came to be recognized as an object that could bring healing and even eternal life. Reportedly, it was not just the dish that Jesus used at the Last Supper. It came to be described more like a chalice, and it was understood to be the very chalice in which Joseph of Arimathea (the man who buried Jesus) was said to have collected the blood of Christ at the foot of the cross.

Shortly after Christ’s death and resurrection, Joseph was said to have traveled to what is today Great Britain, taking the chalice with him. But alas, the chalice went missing. This was a convenient turn of events for King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, because their search for the Holy Grail kept them busy for a very long time. Similarly, real-life Crusaders who sought to rid the Holy Land of Muslims also pursued the Holy Grail on their journeys that ironically mixed violence and faith. Along with Monty Python in modern times, cultural icons Indiana Jones and his father, Dr. Henry Jones Sr., also obsessed over finding the Holy Grail in the 1989 movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Historian Richard Barber, who has written a book on the topic of the Holy Grail, tells National Geographic, “There are so many people out there looking for the thing. Actually, it’s more exciting that someone can imagine something in the 12th century … that is still a hot concept 800 years later” (fmchr.ch/nggrail).

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