Monday Meditation – Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

Blasphemy

It seems one can blaspheme the Holy Spirit and commit an eternal sin, one that will never be forgiven.

What is this unforgivable sin?

Juan Luis Segundo writes, “What is not pardonable is using theology to turn real human liberation into something odious.” (1979, Frontiers of Theology in Latin America, p 240ff.)

In other words, calling the work of the Holy Spirit evil.

The context of this sin is within the story of the Pharisees addressing Jesus as possessed by Beelzebub.  They were saying that in fact, Jesus was driving out demons by the power of Satan.

Yet Jesus is liberating people from not only their demonic oppression but also their spiritual and cultural oppression.  He freed the people from ritual restraints on them in order for them to lead a life outside of the rules and regulations of the Temple priests and pharisaical laws.  Laws which had become vile themselves despite having begun with the best of intentions when handed down to Moses from God.  Laws used to trap people in poverty and outsider status.

What Jesus was doing by calling out the evil done in the name of God was not blasphemy.  But calling what Jesus did as evil was blasphemy.  Jesus’ liberation of people, His freeing of people in the name of God was a true act of the Holy Spirit.  The priests’ and Pharisees’ need to control people through the law was blasphemy.  Not because of order but because it masqueraded as the word of God and restricted people into “pure” and “impure” states according to their ability to pay for the cleansing rituals and sacrifices.  This was not what God intended.

Instead of freeing people, the religious authorities straightjacketed them with the law in order to gain from them financially.

Dear Holy Spirit come and illuminate the world for us.  Help us to see Your movement in the world.  Help us to know Your liberating power in our world.  Expose for us the hypocrisy we live with day in and day out in our lives.  Help us to see what is evil and what is not, and to know the works of our Lord and the works of the Enemy.  Amen.

Power of the Connection – Working with Africa University

AU & GCFA

Last October, a team from GCFA’s Shared Services and IT departments traveled to Africa University (AU) for a week to perform an IT assessment and look for ways to strengthen the Church’s global ministries.  This was all in response to contacts and conversations during the 2016 General Conference.  The power of connection!  AU wanted us to work together on their technology and see how we might be able to collaborate to improve the work done at AU.

Working with AU is an opportunity to bring cost savings and efficiencies to others throughout the connection, regardless of their location.  We are continually looking for  solutions that will serve our church wherever we are or are planning to be. For example, this year, GCFA will employ a Shared Services Manager to focus on the Central Conferences.  The position will be based on the African continent. We are listening to the desires of our church and delegates from the central conferences and are implementing an out-of-the-box approach to seek global solutions.

Competing on a Global Stage

AU is looking to modernize its technology in ways that will help students succeed and show that AU can compete with other schools on the global stage. For GCFA, this is an opportunity to focus on the work within our connection in the central conferences.  We are focusing our efforts in the 2016 quadrennium on ensuring that our work and actions are serving the global church.

During the visit, we met with many wonderful people at the university.  We interacted with the faculty, the students, the Vice Chancellor, and all of his staff.  We spent the most time with Richard Fotsin, the Director of Information Communications Technology and his team.  We learned a lot about how things work in Africa and much about the culture and plans for the future.

AU-GCFA Staff

In addition to the Africa University staff, the GCFA staff included Michael Dunn, Network Engineer, and Stephen Pace, Data Center Engineer, Dale Owens, Application Development Manager, Derek Preston, Director of IT Infrastructure, and Shannon Lavrin, Senior Shared Services Manager.

The thing we love most about Africa, and Zimbabwe and AU specifically, are the people. John Calipari, University of Kentucky’s basketball coach, was recently stated that all of his success comes down to one thing – relationships.  For him, he said, nothing is more important.  We believe that the relationships we have and will continue to build through this partnership, speak to the power of the UMC’s connection.

Monday Meditation – Monkeys In the Wild

Monkeys

We have all had road to Emmaus moments.  Those times when what God was doing is right in front of us but we don’t recognize God’s presence in our living.

It’s easy to not see the Holy Spirit moving among us.  It is by its very nature difficult to detect.

Like monkeys in the wild.

How do you catch sight of a wild monkey?  By their movements in the trees.

First you see branches and leaves moving and then as you stare at a certain point, monkeys come into your view, generally as a flash of fur and faces.  Sometimes you are blessed to have one or two stand still for you.  But like the Spirit, they are always on the move.

Even knowing it is there does not make the Spirit’s movement easier to see. Whether flitting to and fro or vibrating as it hovers over the deep, the Holy Spirit is elusive but not unknowable.

It is generally after the fact that we see how God moved in a situation in order to save us, to bring us to enlightenment.  It may entail tough and hard circumstances but even in these moments, God is with us.

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20b (NIV)

Dear God, help us to see Your Holy Spirit moving in this world.  Let us know its movements so that we might follow with it to do Your good on the planet.  Thank You, Lord, for sending us this Spirit to comfort and join us in this unending work with freedom and joy.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – After Easter Fear or Joy?

After Easter

The ending of the gospel of Mark is filled with fear.  So much so that it can baffle us with its lack of a happy ending.  Hence why some have tried to add a happy ending to the gospel which was not there in its earliest renditions.

Mark ends abruptly with Jesus’ death and the two women coming to an empty tomb.  We, like the women, can be afraid to accept the testimony of the young man who gives instructions for what it is to follow Jesus now that the tomb is empty.

Our fear can rob us of the greatest joy – seeing Jesus again.  Not in heaven or Jerusalem, but back in Galilee, where it all began, at the beginning of His ministry.

It is there that we can begin our own ministry based on Jesus’ ministry with His presence in our midst.

That alone should fill us with joy not fear!

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

We Are A Global Church

Global Church

Paragraph 125 of our Book of Discipline tells us that: “United Methodists throughout the world are bound together in a connectional covenant in which we support and hold each other accountable for faithful discipleship and mission.”  We are a global church.

At GCFA we take the global nature of our church seriously.  GCFA has made it a priority to support ministries throughout the connection – both here in the United States and abroad through the many and varied ministries within our Central Conferences.

GCFA’s Board of Directors was in Cambodia recently for a board meeting.  As we reviewed a number of Advance Special projects in that country, we were struck by the tremendous dedication and professionalism of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) missionaries and staff in Cambodia – as we were with the passion of the congregations we visited while in Cambodia.  The Cambodian church is a first generation church, much like the church was in the book of Acts.  The fervor and love of Christ, and the deep desire for information gleaned from Scripture, was evident and soul inspiring.

Soon after the sojourn to Cambodia, I found myself at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe – one of the biggest success stories in our denomination – as it was celebrating its 25 years of higher education ministry.  At GCFA we are proud of our various endeavors with this special part of God’s World – and look forward to sending staff to Mutare in the near future to help the university revamp its IT infrastructure.  One cannot visit Africa University and talk with the students and staff without coming away with a real appreciation of the global nature of our connection – and the good that, by the grace of God, is occurring throughout the world by those within the United Methodist connection.

These two powerful experiences, plus a continuing array of others, bring home the point that we are brothers and sisters in Christ no matter where we live – one church of believers.  We have much to learn from one another.  GCFA hopes that through its ministry of administration it can find ways to serve all who call themselves United Methodist – from the newest churches in Cambodia to institutions of higher learning in Africa …. And everywhere and everyone in between.

Together we can realize the gains of being one body while at the same time embracing our diversity, remembering that “We are the body of Christ.  Each one of us is a part of it.” I Corinthians 12:27 (NIRV).  Thanks be to God for the global nature of our church.

Steve Lambert, General Counsel, GCFA

Praying For Our Coptic Brothers and Sisters In Christ

Egypt

In human history, conquering generals would process into a city high atop a large stead or chariot.

Our God chose a lowly donkey to enter triumphantly into the city.

Why?

For sure it was to fulfill prophecy but could there be additional reasons?

The Romans chose tall stallions to exalt themselves above the crowds.  Jesus chose a young donkey to put Him in the midst of the crowds.  It made Him vulnerable and accessible.

Like our Savior, we as Christians, make ourselves vulnerable and accessible in a world that can be, at times, terrifying.

Two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt learned first hand the terror of being open to the world.  A bomb planted under a pew is a violation of the sacred and brings death and destruction into a place where only love and grace should exist.   People came this past Palm Sunday to meet their Jesus on a humble donkey.  Instead, forty-seven were killed and met their maker too soon.

Much like the church bombings during the 60’s in the South, these barbaric acts unsettle our faith.  People were being killed at the end of a bible study in church simply because they were part of a racial group.  It is at these times that we wonder where was God.

Then we remember the simple donkey and we realize that God was there in the midst of that chaos and bloodshed as well.  We choose to worship a God with us and not over us.  We worship not a conquering general atop a noble steed, but instead we worship a God that is vulnerable and accessible to us especially during horrific times.

We pray God’s continued presence for our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt.  Indeed, we pray for all our fellow Christians under persecution in our world today.  These killings are not the last chapter in our lives as believers in Christ.

For every death there is a Resurrection!

Monday Meditation – Fear in the Garden of Gethsemane

Fear in the garden

Vincent Taylor, author of the Gospel of Mark (1963), surveys several interpreters for the verses in Mark 14 that states in the NIV, “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ ”

Here are the various interpretations Taylor found.

“The Greek words depict the utmost degree of unbounded horror and suffering” in this biblical passage

“Suggestive of shuddering awe”

“His [Jesus] first feeling was one of terrified surprise … the distress that follows a great shock”

Jesus is “appalled … agitated”

“It [the biblical passage] describes the confused, restless, half-distracted state which is produced by physical derangement, or by mental distress, a grief, shame, disappointment, etc.”

Jesus faces his destiny with abject terror, like any human being in His place would do.

Much like we do, when in fear, we go to those closest to us to comfort us, to help us get through the fear.  Seeing that “Abba” (Father) was not going to take away this cup from Him, Jesus goes to his inner circle of disciples leaders and finds them asleep!  Even they couldn’t stay awake long enough to pray for and with Jesus.  Three times Jesus finds them asleep.

Peter who boasted of never denying Jesus, John and James who wanted to be on the right and left of Jesus on the throne, none of them could last one night without sleep.

Yet Jesus, even in fear for his life, returns again and again to God.  He handles His terror with prayer, in the very presence of God.

Let us remember to do as much when we feel scared or lack courage.  Prayer helps us not be unafraid but to have courage in the face of fear.  Much like it did for Jesus.

Dear God, even in our fear, help us to see Your protection and love around us at all times.  Despite what we may be feeling, help us know that You have called us to a purpose to be fulfilled and You are with us every step of the way.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Righteously Livid

House of Prayer

When dealing with the emotional life of Jesus, one must turn to the cleansing of the Temple as a direct action campaign by our God in the political economy of the Temple state.

After examining the Temple the evening before, (Mark 11:11) Jesus returns to the outer court where businessmen have set up shop to exchange money and sell live sacrifices. Others were transporting goods to and from the Temple.

He takes three actions:

  1. Drives out those buying and selling
  2. Overturns the tables of the moneychangers and those selling doves
  3. Prevented people from carrying anything through the temple.

The Temple was not solely a religious institution but also an economic hub of activity.  The mixing of the sacred and the profane did not surprise Jesus.  So what was He righteously livid about?

He drives out the buyers and sellers, but more specifically He “overturns” – another translation could read it as “destroys” – the moneychangers and the sellers of doves or pigeons.  Why these two?  They represent the buyers and sellers who come in and rob those who are trying to regain introduction back into the community.  The poor and the unclean were considered second-class citizens and had to pay for their return to acceptable status within society often only able to afford the smallest sacrifice available to them, doves.

Jesus had done away with the purity laws and practices of the time throughout His ministry.  He does not want the people to be taken advantage of as they sought to regain some sense of humanity after being declared unclean by the very people who can then capitalize from their need to become clean.  He realized that these cultic practices of the day were no longer about God’s will but humanity’s greed.

House of Prayer, Den of Robbers

Isaiah 56:1-8 (ESV) reminds the readers that all are included in God’s “house of prayer.”  However, the Temple has instead become a den of robbers as in Jeremiah 7 (ESV).  It oppresses the foreigners, the fatherless, and the widowed.  Its follower and leaders “steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to other gods” and as such actions imply “rob” God of all due to God.

Just like the place in Shiloh, Jeremiah 7:12 (ESV), if the Temple does not reform its ways, it will be destroyed.

Dear God, help us to see how we may be hindering people from coming into the church.  Help us to see the ways we make people jump through hoops to be a part of our community.  Help us to love everyone who comes to our doors as sisters and brothers.  And let us be righteously livid when they are not.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Love

Love

Who do you love?  What do you love?

In Mark 10:17-22 we have the only reference in the gospel to Jesus “loving” someone.

What makes this man so special that we learn Jesus “loved” him?  The assumption is not that Jesus loved no one else but we aren’t told in the other stories so explicitly as we are told in this story that Jesus loved someone.  Why are we told that Jesus “loved” this man?

It is in his commands to the rich man that shows us the reader, that Jesus’ love extends to all he has encountered in his ministry – the healed, the called and the oppressed.

One translation for Mark 10:21 is as follow, “Get up, sell that which you have, give it to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven.  Come, follow me.”

“Get up” is used in “healing” stories.  This is a “healing” story as well.  It is a healing of the soul from the accumulation of stuff and wealth.

The second “sell that which you have” and last commands “Come, follow me” recalls the disciples and others who were asked to give up all they had and follow Jesus.

These two groups, the healed and the disciples, Jesus alludes to also have his love for they already have done what he asked of the rich man.  Even though ultimately the rich man does not do as commanded, Jesus knowing this, still loves him.

The poor are brought front and center with Jesus commanding the rich man to give all he had to the poor.  Jesus loves them enough to tell this rich man to provide for them.

Unfortunately, the man cannot obey and leaves.  While he has kept the commandments he has not acted in the spirit of the commandments.

Dear Lord, let us not just adhere to the letter of the law but the spirit in which you intended it.  Otherwise we run the risk of turning the law into an idol.  The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Compassion

sheep without a shepherd

In Mark 6:30-44 we have Jesus filled with compassion for his people who are like “sheep without a shepherd.”  In the original Greek, literally the word we translate as compassion means “to have one’s guts torn apart.”  What causes this primal compassion Jesus feels for the crowds?  Their ignorance, their lack of knowledge?

He teaches them well into the late hours of the day. Later in the story he had further compassion on them for their physical hunger.  He tells the disciples to feed the people.  He doesn’t ask them to, he tells them to.

The disciples’ lack of compassion for the people makes Jesus’ all the starker.  The disciples balk at having to spend so much to feed so many when they had suggested that the crowds be told to go and buy their own food.  Having just come from the mission fields, the lesson of hospitality has been wasted on them.  While they were to rely on the compassion of others in the mission fields, we find them without compassion for the people following Jesus in desperate need for His teachings.

Jesus cares not solely for His people’s spiritual lives but also their physical well-being.  And He tells us to do the same.

“But he answered and said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’”  Mark 6:37 NKJV

Dear God, help us to do what you commanded your disciples to do all those years ago – Give your people something to eat, both physically and spiritually.  Amen.