Unmasked

Am I the only one to get confused when wearing a mask? Recently I had my face mask on when I went for a cup of coffee. I tried to pay by using my phone, but it would not process. What was the problem? My phone’s security works by facial recognition and the mask obscured my face! I felt flustered and peered intently at the phone, thinking it would click in. People in the socially distanced line behind me were snickering as they watched, and I too began to laugh.

Masks have a fascinating history and were worn for all sorts of reasons, and they still are. I remember watching a movie that featured a masquerade, a party where people wore elaborate masks to conceal who they were. The idea goes back to the theatres of ancient Greece and elsewhere, where actors would don a mask to get into character. Typically, they’d use a mask that featured a recognizable attribute of the role they were playing.

A friend of mine, who knew I was a Christian, asked me once about God. What is he like? Would he please come out from behind his mask and identify himself? My friend was being sarcastic, but I had an answer, based on Colossians 1:15, where we read that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (ESV). Jesus came, I said to him, to show us who God is, to reveal how God is love.

It’s something worth noting. If we want to know what God is like, how he thinks and how he cares for us, we look to the life of Jesus.

Jesus is God unmasked.

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for revealing yourself through your Son, Jesus Christ, and help me please to grow more and more into his image. In his name, Amen.

 

 

 

By James Henderson

What Does Your Hope Avenue Look Like Right Now?

We want to hear from you!

What does your Hope avenue look like right now?

Please comment below.


If you need a refresher on the three avenues, please click on the image below to view and download the full Team-Based – Pastor-Led infographic, or scroll down to the bulleted summary.

team based pastor led infographic showing the interconnectedness of the three avenues: hope, faith, and love, with the pastor in the center, leading the team, and the Holy Spirit Guiding the church

  • Hope avenue (worship)—the Sunday worship service—intentional preparation, inclusive gathering, inspirational worship.
  • Faith avenue (discipleship)—discipling people in the faith—small groups, discipleship classes, Bible studies, missionary activities and events.
  • Love avenue (witness)—mission and outreach—identifying a target community, building relationships, missional events.

 

On the Importance (and Blessing) of Public Worship

Acts 2:42 (ESV) “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Though this verse speaks to a specific moment in the history of the church (the days immediately following the birth of the church in Jerusalem), it describes the basic content of the church’s public assemblies—a content that endures to this day: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread (the Lord’s Supper) and prayers.

Being unable to assemble during the pandemic has reminded me of the great importance (and blessing) of our times together in public assembly as the body of Christ. Something we can still take part in, albeit virtually, through our church services online. (I am grateful to those who worked so hard to make this resource available, it has been a lifeline!)

Robin Parry, in Worshipping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship, states (referencing the writing of Susan Wood, emphasis added):

Taking part in Christian worship is essential for Christian spiritual formation. We may not pay conscious attention to all the individual elements of the faith that we sing or act out in worship, but we are immersed in the practice of communal devotion to God. We internalize the shape of the faith through the sights, sounds, smells, tastes of the whole experience. Liturgy… creates an environment that, when we indwell it, shapes our vision, relations, and knowledge of God in Christian ways. The knowledge of God we gain in worship is not the knowledge that one can learn from a book but the participatory knowledge that comes from being involved in a relationship.

Because we worship a relational God—the Holy Trinity—our worship is communal. By God’s design, it involves assembling together—Sunday-by-Sunday, season-by-season through the course of the Christian year. In our assemblies, through the liturgy of worship, we reenact the story of the gospel—the story of Jesus, our story. So important. Such a blessing!

Prayer: Lord God, we are grateful for your church; grateful we are part of it—members of Christ’s body. Lord, you created us and created the church so that we might share in your life and your love. We do that sharing together, and through that life together we are transformed. Lord, we pray for those who due to circumstances beyond their control, are unable to assemble with us. May we reach out to them so that they know they are part of us, and we a part of them. Help us to assemble faithfully, safely, with joy, reverence, and awe, for our sakes, and for the sake of the world that you love. Amen

Ted Johnston

 

Ted Johnston
Instructor, Grace Communion Seminary
Retired GCI Regional Pastor and Publications Editor

 

 

 

Romans 11

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Sometimes I get discouraged when thinking about many I used to know at church, who, for a number of reasons, have left our fellowship, and as far as I know, just aren’t “going” anywhere. I don’t know their hearts, and what their relationship is with Jesus, but humanly, I grieve for them, wishing that they were again in community with me, that we could journey together in the love of our Triune God.

When I read this passage in his letter to the church in Rome (part of a discussion in chapters 9-11), I see Paul had similar concerns. Here he struggles with the fact that the descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people, the covenant people and his own people, have rejected Jesus as their Messiah.

In addressing Gentile Christians, Paul explains that although they were once disobedient, God has shown them mercy, and he still offers mercy to those who are the original covenant people.

What does that mean for us when we reject God through our actions, or for those we may know who seemingly have walked away from God?

I take great encouragement from two statements in this passage:

God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

God has not abandoned the original covenant people. And he continues calling to me, even when I find myself in a state of disobedience to him. He also continues to reach out to all who have “walked” away from their calling.

Why? So he can show that he is merciful to all.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for showing mercy to all through your Son Jesus. Thank you for not judging us as we would tend to judge ourselves and others. May you show us how to be merciful the way you are merciful to us.

 

 

 

By Bill Hall
National Director, GCI Canada

Jesus is Knocking

Revelation 3:19-22 The Passion Translation: 19 All those I dearly love I unmask and train. So repent and be eager to pursue what is right. 20 Behold, I’m standing at the door, knocking. If your heart is open to hear my voice and you open the door within, I will come in to you and feast with you, and you will feast with me. 21 And to the one who conquers. I will give the privilege of sitting with me on my throne, just as I conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 The one whose heart is open let him listen carefully to what the Spirit is saying now to the churches.

My imagination is captured by an artistic rendition of this scripture showing Jesus calling in the dark. He stands holding a light waiting to be let inside. Maybe because it’s our choice, since the doorknob is on our side. To feast with Jesus was an invitation to an international family meal. To become family meant there were cultural and social barriers to overcome.

This worldwide pandemic has forced us behind closed doors. It has exposed the dark underbelly of our institutions marred by injustice. Can we ignore the knock on our collective hearts? How do we hear Jesus’ invitation to his table today? If we could hear his prayer we might hear “Father, may they be one as we are one, so the world may believe.”

Since the heart that is open listens carefully, I invite you to listen like this:

  • Find a quiet place without distractions.
  • Pray: “Lord give me ears to hear.”
  • Take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes. Imagine yourself feasting at Jesus’ table. What are you thinking? and feeling? Discuss it with him.
  • Stay still and listen. If distracting thoughts come, let them go and repeat, “Lord, give me ears to hear.” Listen for any scriptures or images that might bring comfort or for an invitation to become the change the world needs.
  • As you go about your day, listen for Jesus’ knock on your heart and the grace to respond.

 

By Carmen Fleming

Wounding Friends

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are death.
Proverbs 27:6

I was 21 years old when my father died suddenly and no one in my family knew how to cope with that…especially at first. We were all hurting and finding our way through the initial stages of grief. For me, it was rage, pure rage. My world felt so foggy that every line seemed blurred.

The day after we buried my father I got in an argument with my sister and shouted, “If you don’t get out of my way, I’m gonna punch you in the face!” I love my sister and would never hurt her, but rage just came out of my heart through my mouth. My best friend Mike was standing there with us and he stepped between us and said to me, “If you punch her, I’m gonna punch you!” He would have done it, too, and Mike was a big dude. I was so emotionally immature and so damaged in my grief that I took offense that he seemed to turn on me.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that he was loving me like Jesus. Proverbs 27:6 tells us “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are death.” Faithful loving friends will hurt our feelings, if necessary, to help us see and correct destructive behavior. A true friend is willing to say the hard things, in love, to help us be our best selves in Christ. Today let’s stop and thank the Father, Son, and Spirit for the true friends in our lives who correct us in love.

 

By Bill Winn
Pastor, Grace Communion Hanover, Virginia