Follow Me

Unpopular opinion: I think requiring adults to attend church membership classes before they are allowed to join is antithetical to the Gospel. Fortunately, I have always worked in churches that supported my position and I have been able to invite and receive people into the life of the church without requiring the typical four-to-six week indoctrination class.

My position is this: Jesus recruited his “membership” with two words: Follow Me. He didn’t require a six-week class, so why should we? Mind you, we have always had an “orientation” meeting, so that new members could be introduced to the aspects of the church. But that is more about me getting to know them than them getting to know the church. We provide new members with literature about the denomination and encourage them to take Bible studies. But in regard to “joining” the church, I believe that if the Holy Spirit has called you to join, the church shouldn’t put a process in the way of the promise.

Today’s lectionary is one of many examples of Jesus inviting someone to simply follow him.

John 1 (Common English Bible)

43 The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.

Watch what happens next. Philip was invited to follow Jesus. He immediately turned around and brought someone else in. See how that works?

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Remember that Jesus was rejected in his own hometown. There was a pervasive attitude that Nazareth, a little podunk place, was an unlikely location for God’s son, the King of Israel, to grow up. Kind of like being from New Jersey. (I can say that…I’m from Jersey.)

Philip said, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these! 51 I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”

You see, when the church encourages people to simply follow Jesus, the people see heaven open up in their lives. They encounter the Son of God for themselves. They invite him to be the king of their hearts, with no membership class required of him before they welcome him in.

Where is Jesus calling you to follow him today? Is he calling you to a new path? Is he asking you to put your feet on a road of righteousness that you are not currently walking? Is he inviting you to follow him into a sincere way of repentance and cleansing, leaving the old things behind so that you can follow him in a new direction?

Jesus invites us to follow him. No pre-registration required.

Just say yes.

Follow Me by Michelle Robertson

In Your Midst

I was stuck at a tire repair shop this week, waiting for a leaky tire to be diagnosed. Alas, the leak was too great and a new tire had to be purchased. While I waited, I stumbled upon The Great British Baking Show’s holiday episode. What joy! Four former contestants returned to compete in three Christmas-themed baking challenges.

One contest was to make holiday cake pops. This peaked my non-baker’s interest, as I have always wondered how they are made. Do they use a special ball-shaped form? A muffin pan made of perfect spheres? Do they bake cake into thick squares and then sculpt them into neat balls and stick a lollipop stick in the bottom?

Well I was stunned. None of these methods are how you make a cake pop. Lo and behold, you bake a regular pan or sheet cake and then MASH IT UP when the cake is cool. Then you take the mashed-up cake and mix it with…wait for it…buttercream frosting. Then you scoop it into your buttered hands, shape it into lollipop-sized balls, shove a stick in the bottom, and frost.

Who knew??

The things you learn at the tire shop.

Today’s passage from John 1 is a little like me watching how cake pops are made.

What exactly are we looking at? What weird mashup of things has created what we are seeing? The people were confused. They saw a man named John who was baptizing people, so they assumed him to be the messiah. Little did they know what was really going on.

John 1 (The Message)

19-20 When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They pressed him, “Who, then? Elijah?”

“I am not.”

“The Prophet?”

“No.”

22 Exasperated, they said, “Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something—anything!—about yourself.”

23 “I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.”

24-25 Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: “If you’re neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?”

26-27 John answered, “I only baptize using water. A person you don’t recognize has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I’m not even worthy to hold his coat for him.”

A person you don’t recognize has come to save you. He is in your midst.

Did you ever stop to think that you encountered Jesus in someone, but didn’t recognize him? Did a loving pastor, grandparent, teacher, youth worker, friend, parent, stranger, etc. show you a moment of unexpected grace, startling unconditional love, or unwarranted mercy in such a way that later you recognized that they were being Jesus to you in that moment?

A cake pop isn’t really a round ball of cake. John isn’t really the messiah. That person wasn’t really Jesus. But when you had that moment with them, you were ushered into the Light.

Go and be someone’s unexpected light today.

Nobody Really Knows What’s Inside by Gail Driver

Darkness into LIGHT

Advent begins in darkness. This is a deliberate thing, meant to bring us back to a time when the prophets declared that the “people were walking in darkness.” That scripture is a word-figure for the reality of the absence of the Light of the World from our lives. Before Jesus arrived, God’s people had descended from the Garden of Eden into deep and hopeless darkness, until it was so ink-black you could not see your soul in front of your face.

We recognize the descent into darkness and Advent’s ascent into light in the things around us. The Advent wreath has four unlit candles on the first day of Advent. Each Sunday we light one, then two, then three, then four, and FINALLY we arrive at Christmas Eve, when the white Christ candle standing at the center is lit. What a joyful moment that is to behold…all the flames dancing at once in the air of anticipation met and expectation unfolded.

Ponder this Christ Candle lighting liturgy from the United Methodist Church:

O Finality.
O final Light.
O luminous One,
outshining lamp, stars and sun.

O End of Night.
O Day’s Light without ending.

O Light, all light,
outshining lamp, stars and sun.

Break forth, O heavenly Light, and reign to the ages of ages.
Shine forever and let no more greed or hatred near.
Illumine and save all creation,
outshining lamp, stars and sun.

O Light, we shall see face to face.
O Radiancy, we shall ever bear upon our foreheads.
O Splendor of Love, the world of greed and hatred ending,
outshining lamp, stars and sun.

That is a rich and beautiful series of images, emotions, and ideas. You may want to read it again. But the repetition of “outshining lamp, stars and sun” truly stands out. Jesus is the true light that illumines everything; a light that no one can extinguish.

Maybe this Christmas Eve is still dark for you. Grief, loneliness, illness, separation, missing your family, financial hardship…many things can dull the light. But all these things are worldly. Jesus is the Light of the World, and he longs to shine warmth, joy, and peace into your dark places.

Today is a day to do nothing else but embrace the Light. His light brings healing. His light brings solace. His light shines the way to eternal light, where literally none of those things matter. As much as it matters here and as deeply as you are feeling it, NONE of it will matter in eternity.

John 1 (NIV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

No darkness can overcome Jesus. He outshines the lamp. He outshines the stars. He outshines the SUN.

Bask in that light today. If you are headed to a Christmas Eve service, listen for the light, look at the light, and be the light. If you aren’t, ponder these words again just like Mary pondered the angel’s proclamation of Jesus’ birth…in your heart.

Jesus is the Light of the World! A light no one can extinguish.

Becca’s Moon by Becca Ziegler

The Miraculous, Glorious Absurdity

Isaiah 9

2 The people walking in darkness

    have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

    a light has dawned.

3 You have enlarged the nation

    and increased their joy;

they rejoice before you

    as people rejoice at the harvest.

Of all the Old Testament prophets who pointed to the coming of the Messiah, I love the words of Isaiah the best. Did you know that Jesus quoted from Isaiah more that any other prophet? Jesus was the fulfillment of all of the prophecies, and Isaiah apparently says it best.

One of the Advent traditions that many churches observe is called the Festival of Lessons and Carols. It tells the entire story from start to finish of how the Messiah came, and why he was necessary. While it relies on several Isaiah passages, it doesn’t start there. Surprised?

It starts with Genesis. From the beginning of time, we needed a Savior. With the first sin in the garden, humanity necessitated a saving from ifself, as it were. We see throughout the entire Old Testament that the sacrificial system offered by God in order to redeem us failed again and again.

Then came Jesus, the fulfillment of every promise and the hope of every heart. Jesus is the end-all-be-all of sacrificial lambs. He took the sins of the world upon himself and we are forever reconciled with God through Jesus’ saving death that brings eternal life.

And thus the need for the incarnation. The incarnation is understood as “God becoming flesh.” God, in his omniscience, realized that we would need a Savior that we could relate to. He chose to come to earth in the form of an infant, so that he would walk, talk, suffer, feel anger, experience temptation, know hunger and fatigue, and be relatable.

John 1

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I think the whole notion is a glorious and miraculous absurdity, and one that demonstrates God’s love beyond a doubt. That the God who created the universe would lower himself to such a humble place blows my mind. Born in dirt, cradled in straw, homeless and cold, God came, and dwelt among us. Isn’t that absurd? 

This morning I recalled a wonderful young female pastor named Alice who preached at my Annual Conference many years ago. I sat in my seat, spellbound. I had not done much preaching up to that point, and I had modeled my style after my colleagues, who were all male. When I heard Alice preach, I was stunned. She preached like a girl. She was relatable, humorous, genuine, and authentic. I never preached like a man after that. Her example helped me preach from my own voice, and it changed me forever.

The reason God came as a baby was so that he could experience the world he created, and thus be an authentic guide, a relatable savior, and a credible witness. Jesus is the real deal. The stories of his life on earth are stories we can put ourselves directly into. We can feel what he felt, see what he saw, and walk where he walked. As absurd as it was, it was the only way to save us.

God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the greatest gift you will receive on any Christmas. How will you respond? Where will you be a credible witness, and tell this story to someone who needs to hear it? How will you relate to Jesus today?

Go, and preach this in your own voice. Tell someone about the Messiah. Better yet, act it out in everything you say, think, and do. Be the light in the darkness of somebody’s Christmas, and rejoice.

Lights in the Darkness by Suzanne Wrenn