Faith Beyond Sight: Embracing the Promise

Have any of you ever seen the Angel Oak in Charleston, South Carolina? It is 65 feet high, has a circumference of 25 and a half feet, and shades 17,000 square feet. Its roots grow deep into the earth, while its branches stretch towards the heavens. Thought to be three to four hundred years old, this oak was a silent witness to centuries of change, its resilience a testament not to the visible strength of its wood but to the unseen depth of its roots. Similarly, our faith journey, especially during the reflective season of Lent, calls us to anchor our trust not in what we see but in the eternal promises of God, as exemplified in Romans 4:13-25..

Paul’s letter to the Romans is a call to a faith that defies human logic and sight. In Romans 4, Paul recounts the story of Abraham, a narrative not just of historical significance but one that holds deep relevance to each of us today. Abraham’s journey was marked not by unerring certainty but by a faith that looked beyond the visible. It is this ‘faith beyond sight’ that forms the core of our message today, inviting us to explore the depth of trust Abraham had in God’s promises, even when everything that was happening around him seemed to contradict them. 

Lent is a season of introspection and spiritual renewal, a period where we should be reflecting on our personal walk with Christ. It challenges us to consider the foundation of our faith: Is it built on the shifting sands of human assurance, or is it rooted in the unshakeable promises of God? The faith Abraham showed is a reminder to us of the power of believing in what we cannot see and the transformative impact this belief can have on our lives.

 Abraham’s story is an invitation to journey through Lent with a renewed perspective on faith. It beckons us to look beyond our current circumstances and to trust in God’s promises even when we can’t see the path ahead. This message is vital in today’s world, where uncertainty often clouds our vision, and fear can overshadow our faith. Yet, like the angel oak, our strength lies not in what is visible but in the depth of our trust in God’s word.

Triumph Through Trials

Lent, a period of forty days, not counting Sundays, holds a place of great importance in the liturgical calendar of the United Methodist Church. This time, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with Holy Week, is one of deep spiritual reflection, penance, and preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. In the United Methodist tradition, Lent becomes a spiritual discipline journey aimed at drawing believers closer to God and reflecting on the sacrifice of Christ for humanity’s salvation.

Lent stands on dual themes of repentance and renewal. This time challenges believers to scrutinize their lives, confess their sins, and bring themselves anew to God’s will. It is a time for United Methodists to practice self-denial, fasting, prayer, and acts of service, akin to Jesus’ time of temptation and fasting in the wilderness. These are not aims in themselves but rather means to spiritual growth, increased fidelity to God’s commands, and preparation for the joy of Easter. 

The text in 1 Peter 3:18-22 relates specifically with the themes of suffering, sacrifice, and salvation that lie at the core of the Lenten observance. This scripture describes Christ’s suffering as “once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”—a plea to reverence the sacrificial love and ultimate victory over sin and death that Lent prepares believers to celebrate. Here, the language of baptism resonates with the idea of the believer identifying with Christ’s death and resurrection, a fundamental element of Lenten reflection. Thus, Lent takes on a character in which believers can meditate on the depth of Christ’s sacrifice, the power of his resurrection, and the meaning of our baptismal vows. 

In the spirit of 1 Peter 3:18-22, the Lenten practices often involve fasting, prayer, and acts of charity to embody Christ’s sacrificial spirit. Fasting is a tangible reminder of Christ’s own suffering and is a discipline of self-control, and prayer deepens the believer’s communion with God. Acts of charity and service mirror Christ’s command to love and serve one another, echoing his own ministry to the people. Through these practices, we are invited to experience a profound journey from ashes to resurrection, deeply rooted in the Gospel, embracing the fullness of Christ’s sacrifice and the hope of salvation.

The Journey of Transformation: Lessons From Elijah and Elisha

Transfiguration Sunday marks a special moment on the Christian calendar, falling on the last Sunday before Lent. It’s a day that bridges the joyful revelations of Epiphany with the deep reflection and penitence of Lent. This celebration is about remembering when Jesus was transfigured on a mountain, a miraculous event that Peter, James, and John witnessed. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke share this story, telling us how Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. This wasn’t just a moment of awe for His disciples; it was a powerful demonstration of Jesus being the human and divine meeting point, reflecting His divine glory and fulfilling the prophecies and laws of the Old Testament, with Moses and Elijah appearing alongside Him.

The Transfiguration holds deep meaning, offering a glimpse into Jesus as the Son of God and the promised Messiah. It highlights Jesus as the connection between God and humanity, with His divine glory presented alongside His human nature. Transfiguration Sunday encourages us to ponder the majesty and mystery of Christ’s divine identity, reminding us of the glory that, though hidden in His earthly life, will be fully unveiled when He returns. The voice from the cloud, affirming Jesus as God’s beloved Son, ties this event back to His baptism, emphasizing His identity and purpose. This day isn’t just about understanding Jesus’ divine nature; it’s an invitation for us to listen to Him, follow His teachings, and begin our own transformations.

Transfiguration Sunday calls us to marvel, reflect, and change. It invites us to look upon Christ’s glory, allowing it to transform us and to carry that light through Lent and beyond. It’s a day when believers worldwide are reminded of the journey ahead, inspired by Jesus’ teachings and love, moving towards spiritual growth and enlightenment. This celebration shines as a beacon, revealing Christ’s divine mystery and greatness, urging us to witness His glory and step forward in faith, ready for renewal and a deeper commitment to God’s call on our lives.

2 Kings 2:1-12

Entrusting the Harvest to God: The Parable of the Weeds

Alistair Begg, a respected pastor and host of the “Truth for Life” radio program, found himself at the center of a debate following comments he made during a promotional interview for a book last fall, which resurfaced and went viral on social media. He recounted advising a woman whose grandchild was getting married to someone who was transgender, suggesting she attend the wedding and bring a gift as a gesture of love despite her not approving of the wedding. Begg’s stance is based on the belief that showing love and compassion, even in situations one may personally disagree with or disapprove of, is crucial for Christians, drawing on Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies and emphasizing the importance of not being judgmental or critical.

This advice sparked a backlash from some of Begg’s conservative Calvinist and evangelical supporters. Begg was scheduled to speak at the Shepherds Conference, a Reformed evangelical pastors’ gathering, but withdrew after discussions about the potential distraction his involvement could cause due to the controversy. His advice also led American Family Radio to drop his “Truth for Life” program from their lineup, citing the advice as unbiblical and not aligning with their expectations of adherence to Scripture.

Begg’s position highlights a nuanced and deeply personal approach to engaging with LGBTQ+ individuals within the context of faith and family relationships. He advocates for a balance between adherence to one’s beliefs and the imperative to show unconditional love, even when facing complex and divisive issues. This controversy reflects broader tensions within Christian communities over navigating the intersection of faith, love, and societal changes.

In light of Matthew 13:24-30, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, I see Begg’s stance as the embodiment of the parable’s lessons of coexistence and patience until the time of harvest. The parable teaches that good and evil will grow together until the end of the age when a final judgment will occur. Applying this parable from Jesus to the controversy, Begg’s advice suggests a posture of patience and love towards all, trusting in God’s ultimate judgment, rather than preemptively separating or condemning based on current understandings of morality and theology. This approach challenges believers to reflect on how to best represent Christ’s love in a complex and divided world, even when it means navigating difficult and controversial terrains.

Daily Prayers

Seeing Clearly: The Parable of the Speck and the Plank

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NIV)      

Matthew 7:1-5 unravels some deep insights about judgment and self-awareness, presented by Jesus with an understanding that transcends time. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” He advises, urging us to look inward rather than outward. It’s all too easy to slip into the habit of critiquing others, isn’t it? We often amplify their flaws through our own prejudices and life experiences while missing the core values of empathy and comprehension that Christ so perfectly exemplifies.

Jesus then uses a powerful metaphor to drive his point home: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” This isn’t just about what we see with our eyes; it’s about the perspective of our hearts and minds. The contrast between a minuscule speck and a massive plank is stark, compelling us to first address our own flaws before attempting to fix “others.” This lesson isn’t just about holding back judgment but also about embracing our imperfections with humility. In our day-to-day interactions, are we too preoccupied with the minor faults in others, ignoring the significant ones in ourselves?

This passage is an invitation to introspection. It encourages us to delve into our own hearts and scrutinize our motives, biases, and actions. This self-examination reminds us of our need for grace and mercy – the very elements we should be offering to others. Jesus isn’t just suggesting we avoid judging others; He’s calling us to actively pursue self-betterment and personal growth. Let’s keep this call in mind as we go about our lives. Let our speech be laced with kindness, our thoughts grounded in love, and our deeds a reflection of the understanding that we, too, are constantly evolving, molded by our Creator’s hands.

Let’s allow this passage to rekindle our commitment to living by Christ’s teachings. We should strive to be attentive listeners, measured in speech, and patient in our reactions, as James 1:19 recommends. Let’s seek the wisdom to view others with compassion and the bravery to face our own faults with sincerity and humility. As we ponder these verses, may our hearts be reshaped, growing ever closer to the image of Christ – brimming with grace, love, and a steadfast dedication to truth and righteousness.

Let Your Light Shine: Living the Parable of the Lamp

Light is essential for life; it illuminates, guides, and reveals. In a spiritual sense, light symbolizes truth, goodness, and the very presence of God. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5, NIV). Jesus Himself said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”” (John 8:12, NIV).

Jesus’ life and teachings illuminate the path to God…and so should ours.

As followers of Christ, we are called to reflect His light in our lives. This means that our actions, words, and attitudes should reveal the truth of the Gospel and the character of God. We are to be beacons of God’s love and grace in a world that is often darkened by sin and despair. But, so often, we seem to be beacons of God’s condemnation.

Embracing our identity as the light of the world comes with a responsibility. We are to live in such a way that others can see Christ in us. This does not mean we are to be perfect, but it does mean we strive to live according to the teachings of Jesus. Our lives should be marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Daily Prayers

New Beginnings: Lessons from Jesus’ Baptism

“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”” (Mark 1:4–11, NIV)     

Jesus’s baptism was a transition. It marked the beginning of his ministry. It is not just a story, it’s a turning point. In John 2:4, Jesus told Mary that his time had not come yet. But now in Mark 1:4 through 11 his time has come. I think about the scene by the Jordan River. There were crowds there waiting to get baptized by John the Baptist. And then Jesus shows up. Some of the people there might have known him as a person, but they did not realize that this Jesus, this person that they knew as the son of the carpenter from Nazareth was the Savior for all humanity.

What can we, as Christians today, learn from this moment in Jesus’s life? How does Jesus’s baptism by John in the Jordan River speak into our lives today, especially as we begin the new year? This text that we’re looking at today is not just an account to admire, it is a layered event, full of meaning for our lives here and now. As the brand-new year stretches out before us, full of unknown things, we can find comfort and direction right here on the bank of the Jordan River with Jesus.

Prayer for Sunday, January 7, 2024

Dear Heavenly Father,
In this quiet moment of reflection, I’m filled with deep gratitude for Your incredible gift of sacrifice for our sins. The story of Your provision, the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus, is a powerful reminder of Your boundless love and grace. Thank You for this extraordinary act of love that has opened the way for us to have a personal relationship with You. It’s amazing to think that You would go to such lengths to ensure our redemption and freedom. Your willingness to bear the cost of our sins is both humbling and awe-inspiring. Please help me to live in a way that honors this incredible gift. May my actions, words, and thoughts reflect the gratitude and joy that come from knowing the depth of Your love and sacrifice. And let this gratitude spill over into how I treat others, sharing the story of Your love and sacrifice wherever I go. In Jesus’ holy name, I pray ,Amen.

Jan. 8 Prayer
Jan. 9 Prayer
Jan. 10 Prayer
Jan. 11 Prayer
Jan. 12 Prayer
Jan. 13 Prayer
Jan. 14 Prayer

Rejoice Always: Embracing Joy in Expectation

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–24, NIV)  

The journey of faith is not about instant perfection. It’s about daily progress. As we wait in this season in Advent, we are also waiting in life – we’re waiting for growth, for change, for the fullness of God’s work in us to be realized. This work is not a burden, it is a gift. Our Redeemer who came as a baby in Bethlehem will come again in glory.

Paul reassures us with the promise that God will do it. Not us. We cannot do it. Nothing in our efforts can accomplish the transformation. Not our church attendance or a flawless life, nothing but God. This is the heart of the gospel, God is at work in us, accomplishing what we could never accomplish on our own. It is the promise that allows us to let go of our striving and rest in the assurance of God’s unfailing grace and power.

When we look at it this way, the call to hold on to what is good takes on new meaning. We hold on, not because we fear losing our salvation or God’s favor, but because in doing so, we participate in the divine. We become co-laborers with Christ, spreading goodness in a world that is full of brokenness and despair. This is the work of Advent, holding on to hope, peace, joy and love and sharing these gifts with others.

As we move through the Advent season we are reminded of the prophetic voices that called Israel to expect the coming Messiah. They held on to hope against hope, believing that God would fulfill his promises. We are inheritors of that same promise and our anticipation during Advent.

While we wait, we are active participants in the kingdom of God. We’re not idle, but we are called to live out the kingdom values here and now the way we love our neighbor, the way we care for the least of these, the way we steward the creation, all of these things are reflections of our anticipation of Christ return. The joy of Advent is not just in the waiting, it is in the doing. It is in living out the teachings of Jesus. Today. It is in being his hands and feet in a world that yearns for a touch of love.

MSAC Bible Challenge

Sunday: Titus 1-3, Philemon 1, Monday: Hebrews 1-6, Tuesday: Hebrews 7-10,
Wednesday: Hebrews 11-13, Thursday: James 1-5,
Friday: 1 Peter 1-5, Saturday: 2 Peter 1-3, Sunday: 1 John 1-5

Preparing the Way: Hearts Ready for the Coming King

“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”” (Mark 1:1–8, NIV)     

John the Baptist’s call to “Prepare the way” rings through the centuries to reach us today. But how do we do this? How do we “prepare the way?” We can start by looking at our values, priorities, and relationships. Are there crooked places in our lives that need straightening? Are there rough patches that need smoothing? Are there hurts and anger that we need to let go of? Are there sins that we need to turn away from and leave behind us? This season of Advent is a time to take stock is a time to realign our priorities. It is a time to confess and receive forgiveness. It is a time to embrace John’s humility and Jesus’ power and allow God’s spirit to work within us, transforming us more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we are invited to enter into this process of repentance. And it is a process! We talked before about the fact that sin is fun. It is enjoyable. Turning away from it is hard; quite often, it is a one-step forward, two-step back situation. But the first step is to examine our lives, to identify areas where we have wandered from the path that God has set for us, and to take tangible steps toward returning to that path and returning to God. It is not enough to merely smooth out the rough edges; we must make our paths straight, creating direct, unobstructed ways for the Lord to enter our hearts and lives. We have talked before about during Isaiah’s day when he wrote the words to make straight the paths; they would send people to clear the roads of any rocks and detours in the road because the king was coming, and they did not want him hindered by obstacles. Our obstacles are our sins. They get in the way of us and Jesus. We must look at our lives and begin working on turning away from the sins that are coming in between us and Jesus.

This Advent, put thoughts of the secular side of of the holiday out of your mind and think about the Jesus we are waiting for. The Jesus who will come again. The Jesus who, when he returns, will not be a helpless little baby in a manger. The baby has grown up into our Savior; he has grown up into God who will absolutely judge all of our deeds.

MSAC Bible Challenge

Sunday: Ephesians 4-6, Monday: Philippians 1-4, Tuesday: Colossians 1-4,
Wednesday: 1 Thessalonians 1-5, Thursday: 2 Thessalonians 1-3, Friday: 1 Timothy 1-6,
Saturday: 2 Timothy 1-4, Sunday: Titus 1-3, Philemon 1

Unchained Spirit: Proclaiming Faith Beyond Our Circumstances

““Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:28–31, NIV)

In a world brimming with uncertainties and challenges, proclaiming one’s faith can often be daunting. Amidst personal struggles, societal pressures, and the complexities of modern life, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and let these circumstances silence our spiritual voices. However, it is crucial to remember that our faith, much like a lighthouse in a stormy sea, shines brightest in the face of adversity.

The essence of faith lies in its resilience. It’s not merely a fair-weather friend, present only in times of comfort and convenience. True faith is a steadfast companion, unwavering even when the path ahead seems insurmountable. History and religious texts are replete with examples of individuals like Moses, Esther, and Paul, who, despite facing seemingly insurmountable odds, never ceased to proclaim their faith. Their stories aren’t just relics of the past but are potent reminders that the human spirit, bolstered by faith, can transcend any obstacle.

Our circumstances, no matter how dire, don’t define our ability to express and live out our faith. In fact, they often serve as a canvas against which our faith can manifest its true colors. It’s in the moments of hardship that our faith is tested and its depth truly revealed. By embracing our faith during trials, we not only strengthen our own spiritual resolve but also become beacons of hope and resilience for others.

Moreover, proclaiming our faith amidst difficulties is a powerful testament to its authenticity. It shows that our belief is not contingent on external conditions but is an integral part of who we are. This authenticity resonates with others and can inspire them to explore their own faith journeys.

Our circumstances should never be a barrier to expressing our faith. Instead, they should be viewed as opportunities to demonstrate the unwavering strength and transformative power of faith. By holding firm to our beliefs in the face of adversity, we not only enrich our own spiritual lives but also light the way for others in their quest for spiritual fulfillment.

MSAC Bible Challenge

Sunday: Acts 16-17, Monday: Acts 18-20, Tuesday: Acts 21-23, Wednesday: Acts 24-26, Thursday: Acts 27-28, Friday: Romans 1-3, Saturday: Romans 4-7, Sunday: Romans 8-10

Outlines and Summaries