Before Jesus ascends to heaven he says, “When the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world” (The Message). With these final words, Jesus hands off his ministry. It’s now up to a ragtag bunch of fisherman to spread the good news of God’s amazing love for all creation and to continue teaching, healing, and loving like Jesus. In part because of how much Brady and I love the Olympics, I can’t help but think of this handoff as Jesus passing the disciples the baton of faith.
Do you remember who passed the baton of faith to you? Who were the formative people in your life who modeled God’s love, who encouraged you to cultivate a relationship with Jesus, who showed you what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
For me, there were many. Most importantly, my parents taught and modeled God’s love. They made sure I understood the most important thing in life is a relationship with God. Because of their commitment to God and the church as top priority in life, I had Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, pastors, and many others in my home church who helped me develop my relationship with God. Together they passed the baton of faith to me.
Who were the people in your life? Are they still part of your life? I invite you to reach out to them with a simple word of gratitude. A text, a facebook message, an email or even a handwritten note via snail mail. There’s a chance they have no idea how influential they were in your faith. Plus, God might want to use you today to offer them encouragement in their own journey of faith.
The truth is, we need one another no matter how long we’ve been carrying the baton of faith. As a follower of Jesus, and even as a pastor, I need people in my life who keep me accountable, who encourage me when I’m down, who help me understand more of God’s word and what God is saying to me now. I can’t do the Christian life without them. I need the community of faith -- the church -- the ekklesia -- to speak truth into my life and to challenge me to see outside of my own perspective. And I need a safe place to share my struggles and to be united with others in prayer.
Many of you have shared with me that your Sunday school class or Bible Study have been this kind of community for you. If you don’t have a small group, a place to be known deeply, or a small unit of people who encourage you to keep growing in your faith, I invite to you to consider being part of a small group soon. We have several groups starting in the coming weeks, and we will offer more as people show interest. I’m already praying about what kind of small group God would like me to begin at FHUMC, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, hopes and needs.
Peace and love,
In Sunday morning worship, Chris Cummings challenged our church to be the “best you” we can be. He reminded us that we are a unique part of the body of Christ, and that God needs us to be us, not any other church in the world or in our community. As a response to Chris’ sermon, he asked us to write down what we love about our church. Are you curious what others wrote on their card?
I took some time to read through the cards, and here’s the picture of our church that emerged.
FHUMC is a warm, welcoming place to feel at home with God and others.
FHUMC is a place where I am known and I am able to know others.
FHUMC is family. We care about and value everyone -- young and old and in between.
FHUMC is a loving, caring family who shows God’s love at every opportunity.
Is this your experience of our church? Have you found here community, belonging, and acceptance? Has God spoken to you through the ministries of FHUMC helping you cultivate a deep connection to God and live a life of love, service and witness to God in the world?
Maybe you already reflect on what a blessing it is to be part of FHUMC. Do you ever wonder how these gifts are to be shared with others?
Our church, FHUMC, exists to be a blessing to the world. To be sure, there are people in our community, in our homes, in our workplaces, neighborhoods and schools who aren’t truly known by anyone. They aren’t accepted just as they are. They aren’t valued or cared for by another person. There are people in our lives who haven’t yet found their home in God’s love.
What can we do to actively share the gifts of FHUMC with people outside of our church family? These are the kinds of things that I am asking God right now in my prayers. I know God wants to use us, like Abraham, to be a blessing to all the world.
If you think the world needs the gifts that we enjoy each and every time we are together, I invite you to share your love for Forest Hills UMC with someone this week. Pray for God to open the door for you to share with someone the love, acceptance, belonging and community you’ve found at FHUMC. Get on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and #FHUMCShareLove.
And let’s keep doing what we do --and being who we are-- with great energy, excitement, passion, confidence and commitment. God wants to use us in mighty ways, so whaddaya say we share the love?
How are you today? Have you taken a moment to check in with yourself today? This week? This month? As school begins back, as the summer days come to a close, are you excited or dreadful? As we, as a church, face another transition in staff leadership, do you feel drained and depleted from so much change? As you look at your life and relationships and the world around you, would you consider yourself empty or full?
In my last two reflections, I shared a couple of practices that help keep me full -- gratitude and sabbath. When I look at life with the eyes of gratitude, and when I am rested and renewed, I am a better able to love myself and others. I am a more faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
But I have to confess, sometimes I fall short of being the person I want to --and am called to-- be.
Why, after 30+ years of following Christ, do I still struggle with some of the same things? Shouldn’t I be better at slowing down, stopping all the busyness, and simply “being” a child of God? Will I ever learn that judgement keeps me from experiencing God in someone who isn’t like me?
In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul says Jesus emptied himself and became human. Though he was equal to God, Jesus became one of us: human, like you and like me. The Message reads, “It was an incredibly humbling process.” Humbling and transformational.
Because Jesus became human he understands our plight. Jesus faced temptation. He experienced pain. He knew our struggle. And so he doesn’t look upon us with harsh eyes. He gazes at us with compassion. With love. With grace.
When I begin to look at myself with the eyes of Christ, a different picture emerges. I see a child of God who desires faithfulness, who is willing to confess her sins, and seek the strength of Christ living in her. With confidence in Christ’s compassion, I can extend it to myself. And as it shapes me, it begins to transform the way I see others.
If you ever struggle with looking at yourself or others with the eyes of compassion and grace, I invite you to let this be your prayer.
Prayer: Give me courage, Gracious God, to see myself as you see me, and to extend that grace to all I meet. Amen.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.