March 2014


“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” Roman 1:16-17 (NRSV)

Some days I check the main newspaper from my home country, Colombia, to see how the nation is doing. Although mass media does not give you a faithful picture of the situation, mass media helps to paint an idea. It is up to you to investigate farther and have the whole story. Well, just a few days ago, a video from YouTube made the headlines in every media: TV, radio, etc.  A well known Christian church leader commented in a recorded gathering that -I am paraphrasing- people with physical disabilities or handicapped individuals should not be allowed to serve God from the pulpit. This comment broke apart the body of Christ & created a public debate.

The leader’s interpretation of Leviticus book was the foundation of her comment.

18For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, 20or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God” (21:18-21 NRSV).

Based on these verses, the Christian leader said that if one is missing a finger, lacking an arm, a hand, or sight that person could not stand up in the pulpit to preach the word of God. Her theology was based on the fear that other members may be scared by seeing someone preaching in the pulpit without a body part, so they will not go back to that church.

This real episode of today’s church is not brought up to blame one particular leader. In fact, this is what has been taught for centuries in our churches, as well as teachings about the limited participation of women in leadership, and other themes. I brought this up so we can invite each other to reflect and keep accountable. So we can see if we have been that leader in our church, home, school, work, or street that casts out those who don’t have a voice in our society.

We need to ask ourselves have we justified our actions, thoughts, and even moral values through misinterpretations of the God’s will? Have we taken God’s name to justify doctrines in our church that harm the most precious treasure of God; God’s people?

Paul brings a fresher reminder of the infinite Grace. Since this Grace is given, this is a great time to start thinking we may not be the ones deciding who are Grace recipients. Grace does not distinguish between Jews or Greeks, physical appearance, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, nationality, or socio-economic status.

After cases of segregation, I am ashamed. I am ashamed when we play to be God while doing no good for the Kingdom. I am ashamed for the spiritual and physical lives we, as church, have taken away from God’s will. Instead, we spend our energies defending doctrines that do no good to the Body of Christ. I am ashamed of a church taking comfortable positions, and looking for its own convenience, going against the Church’s principles that God intends to form. I am ashamed when separation takes place in church history. Yes, people, let’s be ashamed of injustice, so we may be driven to redirect our self toward God’s will. Paul invites us to not be ashamed of the Gospel, del Evangelio, the Good News, las Buenas Nuevas, because they are the core and source of our strength, love, and faith.

Prayer: Holy and merciful God. We pray for your forgiveness. Forgive us for claiming the authorship of your creation and accommodating your word to our convenience. Help us to reflect and self-evaluate on our manners and understanding of the Gospel, so our will becomes yours. Cover us with passion to receive everyone in the Church that you intend for us; a Church of love, grace, compassion, and favor. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Carlos Reye
Infinite Grace Fellowship
Washington D.C.

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Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6

I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and we used to have some vicious winters. On one rare occasion when there were several inches of snow school was canceled and my daddy made a suggestion, “Son, why don’t you go take the shovel and make some money.” My dad was a man of few words and I decided to take my daddy’s suggestion and I set out going door to door asking people could I shovel their driveway for a few dollars.

I went door to door/street to street/block to block and at the end of the day I was several miles away from home. When I finished  my last driveway with my legs tired, muscles cramping, an old lady asked me if I would shovel her drive way and much to my chagrin she had one of those long driveways with a steep slope.  She saw the look on my face and gave me her own pitiful look that I’m convinced that only old ladies can give you and she said, “-please baby help me out.”

Can I be honest?  I was tired, I was worn out, but something told me still to help her out, and I started shoveling up the hill.  My muscles were contracting, my legs were cramping and then I saw a car come up to the corner. You see my daddy had been searching the neighborhood since I went out based on his suggestion. He decided to throw the snow blower in the car and partnered with me to finish the task of clearing snow from this long hilly driveway.

Listen, when you go out on your Heavenly Father’s suggestion, you may not think you can do it by yourself, but the God that I serve, will search for you and find you. There is nowhere that you can go to get away from the presence of God.

Fasting is not easy – Be Strong and Courageous!

Acknowledging your sin leaves you vulnerable – Be Strong and Courageous!

Forgiving yourself and forgiving others can be humbling- Be Strong and Courageous!

And he may not come when you want him to come, but God is an on time GOD.  YES HE IS!

Reflection:  In this season of reflection, repentance, forgiveness and self-denial know that God is your partner in this journey.

Rev. Dr Charles Montgomery

Vineyard Church
Columbus, OH

They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”    John 8: 6-7, 10-11 (NIV)

As children of God we have all sinned and fallen short of living in obedience to God’s Word. We have two basic responses.  Many people choose the first response and run away from the church, accountability, and God. Because of the Holy Spirit living inside of us we are in constant turmoil, and never at a place of rest and peace. Our second choice, and the most powerful response, is to run to the church so we can meet Jesus again. It is in the church that we can find reconciliation, renewal, and repent.

Jesus was to pronounce judgment on a woman caught in adultery. According to Jewish law, there was no need for a jury and no need for trial. Death by the hands of her accusers was the prescribed sentence. Her accusers, all men who had unrevealed sin in their lives, brought her before Jesus to gain confirmation about their intentions to stone her to death. They came to Jesus looking for validation of the judicial code; Jesus ignored the code, exposed the sins of the men, and gave the woman a directed verdict. Not only did he stop the crowd from their murderous intentions, he also pronounced a life-giving and life-changing sentence.

All of the blessings that Jesus bestowed upon the woman are yours if you are willing to surrender, confess and turn from your sin.  Jesus wants to make you whole. Regardless of your past, your transgressions or your short comings the grace of God is available to welcome you into a new relationship.  The lady in our scripture was looking for love in the wrong places and found the love of her life that would never leave her.

 Prayer: God, even when I blow it and I am disobedient to you, allow me to experience your love and grace. Amen.

William T Chaney Jr
Infinite Grace Fellowship
West Baltimore UMC
Baltimore, MD

Great is our LORD, and mighty in power; HIS understanding is infinite.   Psalm 147:5 (NIV)

Watching the news we understand the difficulties of life we experience are insignificant to the challenges some other people have. A mother lost her child in a drive by shooting in DC. In Baltimore, a 12 year old girl was held up at gun point on her way to school. Sub Zero temperatures, abnormally high snow fall, and avalanches have blanketed most of the country, and the list goes on and on. We see the people that have been affected and the devastation that has occurred in their lives.

We find hope in knowing that the Lord, our God, is great and mighty in power.  We can face our situations with God because we know there is no barrier that we will face that God cannot handle.  The temporary discomforts we endure are bearable knowing that the Creator of the Universe will be there with us through the challenges.  Knowing God goes before me in the battles of life comforts me in a way no human council can comfort me.  We do not have to rejoice in the sorrow, challenges or suffering of others to experience how wonderful God is.  God not only knows what we are going through, but God also understands every circumstance, every condition, and every challenge.

I often have to explain my different emotions and expressions to my daughter as she is navigating the inquisitive stage of life.  It is often a challenge to explain emotions like exhilarated, exasperated and exuberant. My 12 year old is navigating her own set of emotions, like comprehending the sadness of losing a relative, understanding the adventure of mountain climbing, and sharing the anticipation of going to her first school dance-it can be a daunting task.  My encouragement for her is also encouragement for me. God understands and is with us on the journey. Whatever the range of emotions you may be experiencing, God understands and is with you.

 Prayer:  Creator God, Your strength and power are all we need to endure this life.  Teach us to trust in you alone.

 

“Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:22-25 (NRSV)

Why is it important for Christians to gather? Some people would say we need to gather to collect offerings, so the church can survive. Others may think that it is necessary to gather because church is the place where God can be worshiped by God’s people. I have heard also that when people miss church, they feel empty. We need to remember that Paul is writing for the first century church, which is not probably the same image we think about church today.

Churches back in that time were basically houses hosting a few people who gathered clandestinely to know more about this Jesus, the son of God. They were simultaneously surrounded by multiple gods lifted up by people who praised living kings and rulers from the empires.

Paul, once convicted about Jesus’ love, talks about the power of gathering, because by getting together, it gives identity to the people of God. Identity in love, compassion, grace, and favor. Identity that is marked by the faith. Faith in the one who came to give his life against all political systems imposed. Through Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, Paul was able to teach that a king is not the one who rules through oppression, but who loves with such power that it brings hope to those lacking of it.

Gathering on a regular basis helps us to build self-discipline, and while the discipline takes place, our souls are transformed gradually to become what God intents for us. How? Through gatherings we may see the reflection of our sinful nature in each other, and at the same time we may reflect the grace that God provides. As part of congregational formation, the transformation may occur to help us grow as individuals, as well as Body of Christ.

Now, the challenge that Paul brings us in this letter is to not only taking the image of gatherings in a place like our church, but also taking this personal and communal formation to other spheres of lives: home, work, friends, and enemies with the purpose to see “one another to love and good deeds.”  It liberates us, frees us, and reshapes us.

 Prayer: God almighty. Guide us to intentionally be open to your voice, so we can take the church -your church- with us wherever we go. Break the barriers of our minds, hearts, and souls, and change us in such a way that the transformation never ends. Please, forgive us for limiting your gatherings to one place. Merciful God, in your powerful son’s name, we pray. Amen.

Carlos Reyes
Infinite Grace Fellowship
Washington DC

14If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14  (KJV)                                                                                                                                  

Upon the completion of the temple, the ark of the covenant of the Lord was placed in the inner sanctuary and King Solomon dedicated the temple. King Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord, got down on his knees before all of Israel, and prayed to God. He prayed with the desire that the temple would be a place of sacrifice and prayer, a place where the people of God could find the presence of God, and a place where the people of God would hear from God. God heard Solomon and responded to him. He told Solomon what was required of the people for Him to get involved in their affairs. The Lord said if the people would become humbled and pray, get into His presence and repentant, then He would attend to them, forgive them, and restore them.

Not only does this apply to the children of Israel, it also applies to the followers of Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:10 tells us “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” Jesus Christ is Lord and according to 1 Corinthians 6:19 our physical body is the temple of the Spirit of God,  “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God…” If you have been saved by grace through faith and have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, you are able to get God involved in your situation, but you must meet the condition.

God has requirements. He states condition. God requires us to be humble, to be in subjection, to place ourselves under His authority and control. Humility is the position of prayer. When we are humble, we realize that God is in control and our strength lies in Him; therefore, we can earnestly pray to the Lord. God wants us to get into his presence and adjust our attitude towards sin and righteousness. God desires that we live according to His will and purpose.

Then, at that time, God will hear us, He will respond and attend to us. We serve a loving and caring God. He will forgive us. He will spare you and see that no harm comes to you; He will set you free and release you from guilt. He will pardon you and excuse you without penalty. Jesus heals. When we meet the condition, we will be made sound, restored and brought to a place where we can be prosperous. God is there and He is available. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.

 Prayer: Lord God, we come before you with a bowed head and a humble heart, seeking your face. We realize that we have no power outside of you. We thank you for your goodness, your grace, and your mercy. We thank you for loving us and we humbly repent. Lord you are our source and our strength. Hear our cry. We need you. Bless us Lord and heal us spiritually and physically. We know you are able. Our trust is in you and we believe you. In the precious name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

 

Rev. Anthony L. Forman, 

Infinite Grace Fellowship

Baltimore, MD     

 

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “what if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph saying, “your father left these instructions before he died: ‘this is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves, they said.” But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-21 (NIV)

Too often believers live defeated lives shackled by the events of their past. Guilt, shame and denial are all tricks of the enemy that stifle spiritual growth and effectiveness in the kingdom of God. Unresolved issues that are associated with our past are nothing more than hindrances. Failing to understand that the enemy’s presence in our lives is a sign of spiritual warfare, all too often we find ourselves in bondage, simply because we have not proclaimed our own emancipation.

Yes, we are guilty of the offenses that we committed against our fellow man and our most benevolent God. But, because we have served time in the enemy’s camp, not only have we enlisted our bodies, we have also surrendered our minds. So we forget about God’s amazing grace and remain handcuffed to actions for which we have long been forgiven. Our lack of faith prevents us from proclaiming our own emancipation.

We have faced our victims, fallen on our knees and confessed our sins, and seemingly moved on with our lives, but truthfully, we have merely gone through the motions. For if we truly come with a contrite heart, asking forgiveness of one with a similar spirit, we would experience the lessening of the weight of the chains that once had us bound. But when the offender mimics sincerity in his confession and harbors mistrust for the offended, our emancipation cannot be proclaimed.

We masquerade what appears to be liberty, failing to realize the therapeutic value of confession. How tragic that we do not understand the true meaning of forgiveness–“to send something away”–so we hold onto the spirit of the thing from which we have been released. But praise be to God, the Liberator, who resides in his servant that withholds judgment. The servant who recognizes that the Alpha and the Omega is the sole possessor of the authority to forgive and because He is sovereign, no act of congress is necessary.

Be loosed for He is the proclaimer of emancipation!

 Prayer:  Lord, help us to understand that relational forgiveness is our way of giving to another the very best opportunity to repent, so that the negative consequences can be changed and loving relationships established. Then help us to bless you for your divine forgiveness which absolves us from the penalty of sin, because Jesus Christ has already suffered and paid the price in full—debt cancelled and emancipation proclaimed! Amen.

Minister Ardenia M. Holland

Infinite Grace Fellowship

Baltimore, MD

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might  become the righteousness of God.   2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

This past Christmas season I heard about people attending “Ugly Christmas Sweater” parties. The invitation asks guests to wear a sweater they had perhaps received as a gift, but considered too ugly to wear under normal circumstances. The party’s host even awards prizes for the ugliest attire. In this day and age, most gifts we don’t like go back to the store shortly after Christmas, to be exchanged for something we will likely use. So, there’s no good reason to have a drawer full of ugly sweaters to begin with.

This Lenten season we are reminded our lives are full of spiritual “ugly sweaters” – those deeds and thoughts we know are too sinful and embarrassing to show in public. We do our best to hide them, or pretend they are not in our closet. It’s not enough to just bury them in the back of the drawer. We need a way to exchange them for something we are glad to wear.

Today’s verse captures the wonderful message of the Good News of Jesus Christ made available to each of us. In this description, we find God’s Great Exchange. In Christ, all my sin and ugliness was laid on him, and I can exchange it all for God’s own righteousness. Righteousness is a word that speaks of us having the right relationship with God. Not hiding from him or running from him, but knowing we are loved, protected and provided for. If my sinful history (and future, too) is replaced with a right relationship toward God because of what Christ did, I can live a life of peace and joy in Christ. I don’t have to bury stuff, I just exchange it by faith that God means what He says. God really intends to have me live with new clothing – a robe of righteousness that is dazzlingly beautiful in God’s sight.

So, this season realize that repentance is the act of agreeing with God that we have ugly sweaters in our closets, but God has assigned Christ the task of wearing all our ugliness and bearing God’s just wrath that must be expended against that sin. In the Great Exchange we are freely clothed in beautiful garments no one would ever dream of hiding in a closet. Display the righteousness of God in all you do, because it’s freely yours.

Prayer: Father, I thank you that Jesus was willing and able to bear my ugliness and take my place under your wrath. I thank you that because of your great love, I am now treated as one who is fully right with you. Help me to be joyful in living as your child. By the Holy Spirit, continue to show me the ugly sweaters I hide, and exchange them for Your beautiful righteousness. Let me see myself wearing your beauty, and shining with heavenly light in a dark world. Use me to help others take advantage of your Great Exchange. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Steve Burke

Jackson Chapel UMC

Frederick, MD

 

 

 

I burn the palms from last year

A year gone with its dreams.

Burnt offerings to a God who tells me

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

 

The brazier is warm from the fire called down

Which consumes and I wonder what fire is really

What is it that can change hope and joy to ash?

Charity and comfort to soot and smoke?

 

Broken promises, harsh words, betrayed trust

All part of this broken bit of creation

Fractured and pieced together,

The bits and pieces creating a mosaic of beauty, but not completeness.

The body of Christ has been rent and torn

Dismembered by its own limbs

Joints wrenched from their sockets

Bruised and Dislocated

 

Are my dreams but chimera?

Illusion, pipe dreams that smoke

An expectation of prospects that cannot be?

Or are they the substance that makes my life worth living?

Still, I will be obedient.

Hoping that in obedience there is comfort

Lessons to be learned,

Reconciliations to forge.

 

I look forward to that day of reconciliation

Where fire cleanses and the fire forges

Where the touch of a coal will purify

And the dross of self will be burned away.

 

But today, I wait.

The smoke, flame and heat pace me

The silence that never is really silent will be my voice

The void will be my friend

 

Today in obedience, I will wait

And the ash will mark me, branding me with the imprint of my own sin.

The blemish of the cross will stain me

And the weight of that cross will sustain me.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” Luke 4:18 (MSG)

ImageLent is a 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter where we recommit to our spiritual disciplines, repentance and fasting, and we remember the life, death and burial of Jesus, and prepare for the celebration of his resurrection. At the end of our 40-day journey, one of the great hopes is that we have realigned our lives with the life that Jesus lived.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jesus’ ministry was not his interest in the secure, affluent, popular, well educated or politically well connected in society. Jesus had a passion to dwell among and to serve people who lived beyond the boundaries, people who were without power and people who lived on the margins of society.

Jesus ministered to those who were poor, homeless, prisoners, and carrying heavy burdens. These same people in our society are often easy to see, but many times difficult to engage. This is true especially when we are consumed with our own personal agendas rather than a Kingdom agenda. When our consumer acquisitions leave no room for us to share or give anything away. When our to-do lists are so packed that we do not have any time to share with those who Jesus ministered to. When this happens, the people who are hurting and living on the margins just become a part of the landscape that we tend to ignore-unless they get in our way.

If we are realigning ourselves with the mission of Jesus during this 40-day journey toward the resurrection, we have an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the mission of serving those who Jesus served. We can commit to serving the poor who are trapped by systems and have no visible escape route. We can go to the jails and the prisons to proclaim the Good News. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world so that they may have their spiritual sight restored.

Selfishness, self centeredness and self-indulgence are the core values we experience when we have lost sense of our mission to serve those who Jesus served. Sharing unconditional love is an oxymoron in a society that teaches it is all about me. My challenge to us as we begin this journey together is to find a place to serve beyond our comfort zones, that is, if you are really willing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Prayer:  Lord, open my eyes to all who need to hear the Good News. Give me the words to say and the courage to speak. Give me the discipline to live out your mission with the people that others avoid, ignore and shun.

William T Chaney Jr
Infinite Grace Fellowship
West Baltimore UMC

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