Spiritual Formation


I was listening to the lectionary scripture {Matthew 2:1-12} being read yesterday and began to reflect on the many times that I had listened to the story of the three kings and never asked a critical question. What are the lessons that we learn from the Magi that visited Jesus which will help me be a better disciple of Jesus?

They were full of faith – They had followed other stars that led them to other kings and they were confident in this new star also leading them to a new king.  This was not a spiritual journey for them but it was about honoring the office and person.  This required great faith. To grow as a disciple means that you are growing in your faith.  To become mature would indicate that you walk daily by faith. This is a place of surrender.  Faithree-kings-day-january-6thth is not about you and what you can acquire but faith is about God working in you so that you can trust God completely.

The journey was a part of the process – Many times as people are maturing in Christ there are complaints about meeting the class schedules, driving across town for to pray with a group, meeting a new believer at times that are not convenient to you and questions about “Why isn’t Sunday morning enough?” The reality is that if we are going to grow as disciples of Christ we will have to learn that the process is not linear and the process will not be the same for everybody.

The magi were clear that the goal was to see the new born king even if it was 2 years after his actual birth. If our goal is to become mature committed disciples, we have to expect some challenges during the journey but never give up on the goal

They were generous – They brought their valuables to a future king. They had no previous relationship or allegiance to the future king and they gave freely.  This is especially interesting since they had to barter for their needs during the journey.

As we grow in our discipleship may we all be full of faith, be comfortable with the journey and be generous.

 

“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

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

2014 Lenten Devotional

You can request our Lenten devotional to be sent to you daily. Email to info@infinitegracefellowship.org

A little known history fact is that I believed that The Flash was real.  I was always skeptical of Santa

Image but I was convinced that The Flash was the secret to kids all over the world receiving gifts in just one night. I really believed that Santa was just the front man to this multinational conspiracy to keep the identity of The Flash a secret. When my parents told me that Santa wasn’t real I was ok because I still believed in The Flash. I had been to church every year and heard the Christmas story.  I even was in a couple of Christmas plays.  As I turned 10 the reality of Jesus, Santa and the Flash became crystal clear and my world didn’t fall apart.

Another little known history fact is that until last year I had no credible proof that the legends, legacy or institution of Santa had any basis in reality.  I was privileged to visit the Cathedral of St. Nicholas and hear for the first time the story of Bishop Nicholas (http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/)  Although not the image of fables, and commercial Christmas portrayals there was a bishop who cared for the poor and the children with compassion as an expression of God’s love.

I say this because these realities have informed my life and none of them have shaken my faith in Jesus. Parents who are disciples of Jesus Christ have been debating if they should introduce Santa, when they should tell their children that the only story is the story at the manger.  There is some truth to the legends of real person who loved the poor and children because of his love of God.  He cared for the poor and defenseless because of his beliefs.  He sold all that he had and took gifts to the impoverished of his time. This is the man that the legend of St. Nick aka Santa Claus is based on.  Some man getting in a sleigh with Reindeer pulling around the world in 24 hours is false.  Parents spend too much and work real hard to make and spend money to bring their children and loved ones happiness.  I believe that the greatest gifts of the Christmas season are not purchased in stores but nurtured in the relationships of family, friends and loved ones. There are days when I still believe The Flash conspiracy is real. (Yes I will ask Olivia Pope to investigate)

This doesn’t replace, diminish or alter the impact of greatest event in human history,  the miracle of Jesus being born of a virgin as a part of God’s grand plan to save humanity.

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:15-20

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

How can a young person live a clean life? By carefully reading the map of God’s Word. I’m single-minded in pursuit of you; don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted. I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself bankrupt. Be blessed, God ; train me in your ways of wise living.  Psalm 119:9-11 MSG

It is not unusual to see someone chatting in a coffee shop and texting at the same time. It is also not unusual to see a mother walking her child in a stroller and listening to a book at the same time. My favorite is watching college students study, listen to music and eat pizza with our missing a beat. Multi tasking has become second nature and we are constantly acquiring tools to become more efficient at juggling the many demands and desires of our lives.

Multi tasking is not what we are called to do to have a healthy relationship with God. To be in single minded pursuit of God we have to reprioritize our purpose. Our total being and only agenda should be about being in relationship with God. Our parenting should honor God. In the workplace we should be ambassadors of God’s grace. In our neighborhood we should be carrying the light of God.

Eliminate distractions – Everything is not important and some activities do not add value to your life

Study God’s Word- A daily time of reading and studying the scriptures develops our relationship with God

Experience your God given propose – Explore your spiritual gifts and identify the ministries and activities that God has wired you to excel at.

Prayer:  God ,illuminate the distractions in my life so that I can remove them and focus my life totally on you

“An 11-Step Religious Guide To Sabotaging Your Life:
By Jim Palmer

http://jimpalmerblog.com/

1. Begin with the premise that there is something hopelessly and incurably wrong with you.
2. Believe that your humanity is an affront to God, and an obstacle to overcome and an evil to repress or eradicate.
3. Pin your hopes on the afterlife, and don’t get  too attached to the here life.
4. Mistrust what you most deeply think and feel.
5. Give others the power and authority to determine what your beliefs, values, opinions, goals, desires and views are.
6. Fear, reject, condemn and close yourself off from anything that doesn’t fit with what you got in #5.
7. Focus on behavior modification, checklists, do’s and don’ts, appearances, obedience, and keeping the rules when it comes to living your life.
8. Make everything black and white.
9. Make sure everything and everyone in life is assigned a label or put into a box.
10. Label science and psychology as “secular,” “carnal,” or “worldly,” and stay away from it.
11. Consider talk of love, unity, harmony, peace, beauty and oneness as foolish or dangerous.”

– Jim Palmer

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