Advent 2016

Redo

Mulligans and redemption

In golf, we have the concept of a mulligan. A mulligan allows a player to replay a stroke, even though this is against the formal rules of golf. In some tournaments, you can even buy mulligans ahead of time. The concept is the same in some other games and sports.

Wouldn’t it be great if we got mulligans in life! If we made a wrong decision, we could call a mulligan and take another shot. But it doesn’t work like that. Often the bad decisions we make in life have consequences that cannot be undone by simply making a different decision later. When we make those bad decisions and learn from them, we call that experience. We suffer the consequences, learn and move on. Even though we make a better decision the second time around, the situation is different because of the prior decision.

In biblical terms, we don’t get mulligans; what we do get is redemption and opportunities for renewal and recommitment. That is what we will experience this coming Sunday.

This Sunday

This Sunday we will participate in two special acts of worship: A Reaffirmation of Baptism and Covenant Renewal. When we reaffirm our baptismal vows, we go back to the beginning of our journey as followers of Christ and remember and reaffirm the commitments we made or that were made on our behalf. We once again renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness in this world and renew our pledge of allegiance to Jesus above all other commitments.

In Covenant Renewal, we go back to a Puritan tradition that began in 1663. John Wesley adopted the practice and celebrated its many benefits. The Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church says the following about the service:

Wesley found the service rich and meaningful, as expressed in his Journal: “Many mourned before God, and many were comforted” (April 1756); “It was, as usual, a time of remarkable blessing” (October 1765). “It was an occasion for a variety of spiritual experiences ... I do not know that ever we had a greater blessing. Afterwards many desired to return thanks, either for a sense of pardon, for full salvation, or for a fresh manifestation of His graces, healing all their backslidings” (January 1, 1775). In London, these services were usually held on New Year’s Day. Around the country the Covenant Service was conducted whenever John Wesley visited the Methodist Societies.

After the time of Wesley several versions of the Covenant Service were developed, gradually giving Wesley’s material less place in the total service. [Our current] service follows our Basic Pattern of Worship, enables the congregation to participate more fully, and updates language. Most significant, the liturgy beginning with the Invitation is taken directly from Wesley’s service of 1780.
— Covenant Renewal Service, United Methodist Resources, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/covenant-renewal-service

The service will be a little more formal than people may be familiar with, but such is the nature of covenants. As we go through the service, pay attention to the commitments made, these form the basisof a true Christian profession of faith and promise of allegiance to God and the Lord Jesus Christ; anything less is not a genuine commitment to Christ at all.

At the beginning of 2017, it is fitting that we remind ourselves of what God requires of our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ. Long ago I learned a definition of a covenant from Disciple Bible Study; “a covenant is choosing to be bound in a time of strength so that in a time of weakness I cannot be unbound.”

So, this Sunday, let us come and deliberately choose to be bound to Christ at the beginning of this year.

Blessings!

-Alan


Alan Cassady serves as Senior Pastor at Navarre UMC, and has been at the church since 2011. When he's not preaching and teaching, he enjoys sci-fi movies and FSU Football. Read more about Alan here.

Good News!

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns!
The watchmen shout and sing with joy,
    for before their very eyes
    they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem.
Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song,
    for the Lord has comforted his people.
    He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has demonstrated his holy power
    before the eyes of all the nations.
All the ends of the earth will see
    the victory of our God.

Isaiah 52:7-10, NLT


Because Jesus is good news and Jesus is in me, I am Good news.
— The Sower's Creed, Seedbed

It's easy to forget what the purpose of Christmas is. We think about the presents and the parties, and of course, Mary having to give birth in a stable. But how many times have you really sat down and thought about Christ being born? God came down to earth in human form.

Take a moment and watch this video about one woman's thoughts about Jesus's becoming the Incarnate God, or God becoming human.

The reason Christmas is the second most important day in the Christian year is because of God, the most powerful and most holy, made himself like us and came down to earth to be with us. He celebrated birthdays like us, ate like us, and slept like us.

We go through all of the craziness of Christmas and sometimes miss the whole point of it. God gave himself to us as a gift. It started when he was born as the baby Jesus, and it ended when he died and resurrected Easter morning.

This Christmas morning, I hope you'll enjoy your time with your family. If you come and worship with us, we will spend some time look further into this idea of the Good News of Christmas and what that has to do with the God who was born on Christmas morn.

Merry Christmas,
Faith


CLICK HERE FOR THIS WEEK'S FAITH NOTES.


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Faith Parry serves as our Associate Pastor, and has been at the church since 2015. When she's not preaching and teaching, she enjoys documentaries and TV. Read more about Faith here.

Present!

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Isaiah 7:10-16, NRSV


Spelling Matters

Any talk of presence this time of year, makes you think of the kinds that come wrapped in paper and bows unless you pay close attention to the spelling or listen carefully for the “t” on the end of the pronunciation. This post will be about the kind you don’t wrap!

We all know what it is like to be with someone who is not present, even though they’re in the same room: the stereotypical husband watching football on TV or someone engrossed in their smartphone.

But what does it mean to be present with someone? It means the focus of your time is the other person and vice versa. It means that distractions are pushed away, and you are there to enjoy each other, laugh, cry, understand, or whatever. In some ways, it is easy to be present with another person because you can see, touch, and interact with them. It’s a little different when we talk about God being present with us.

God’s desire to be present with us is seen supremely in the incarnation – the birth of Jesus. It is not merely a metaphor when Matthew quotes Isaiah saying, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us,” (Matthew 1:23).

The apostle Paul reminds us of God’s desire when he says of Jesus,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5–8

Means of Grace

The real challenge, however, is not God being present to us, but us being present to God. Thankfully, God has provided some ways that we can be present to God in a very real way. God is not limited in the ways he is present to us, but he has promised to be with us in very particular ways. John Wesley and others called these the “means of grace” – the ways in which God has particularly ordained to meet us.

Wesley defined the means of grace as prayer, studying Scripture, fasting, worship, Holy Communion, Christian fellowship, (not coffee and cookies) and others acts as visiting the sick, those in prison and caring for the needs of the poor.

However, the practices themselves are of little value without being aware of God, having an expectation of God’s presence and attending to that presence. In a very real way, to sense God’s presence we must open and receptive to God’s interaction with us. When we are deliberate with our attention to God, as we would be with a friend, we will be aware of God’s presence in the joyful times and the troubling times.

God has gone to great lengths to present with us. Can we not show a similar kind of diligence to be present with him?

Blessings,

-Alan


CLICK HERE FOR THIS WEEK'S FAITH NOTES.


Alan Cassady serves as Senior Pastor at Navarre UMC, and has been at the church since 2011. When he's not preaching and teaching, he enjoys sci-fi movies and FSU Football. Read more about Alan here.

Restored!

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
    but it shall be for God’s people;
    no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

- Isaiah 35:1-10 (NRSV)


Back to the start

Restoration means many different things. To some in means spending time with an old piece of furniture until its original beauty shines through. For others, it means months of sanding, painting and cleaning an old classic car until it looks like it just rolled off the showroom floor in 1946. For others, it may mean hours of physical therapy until the new knee works at least as good as the old one–without all the pain.

Webster’s Dictionary says to restore something is “to put or bring back into existence or use; to bring back to or put back into a former or original state.” Some would add to make it better than it was.

Restoring humanity back to an authentically positive relationship with God was one of God’s reasons for Christmas. Restoration was God’s way of bringing humanity back to their original purpose which was, as the Westminster Catechism says, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Ever since the Garden of Eden, God has been at work restoring all of us to our original nature and purpose. That restoration took on many forms, Noah’s flood, the call of Abraham, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, sending the prophets to a rebellious people, and finally sending Jesus and the One who would lead us back to God.

Joy!

This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Advent, typically a day marked by joy. We celebrate Mary’s joy of becoming the vessel through which Jesus would come, the joy of the shepherds who first heard the news of Jesus’ birth, and the joy of our deliverance from sin and death. One this Third Sunday of Advent we light the one pink candle as a symbol of all that joy.

Isaiah 35 gives us a picture of the joy of weary travelers, who learn that they are almost home. They encourage one another, strengthen hands and knees and begin singing for joy as they view their home on the horizon. Restored!

We all need restoration in our lives. For some of us we need restoration because we made some poor decisions that took us down the wrong road. For some, other people blocked our way deliberately, and we had to look for other paths. For others, we have been wandering in the wilderness so long, we have forgotten what normal looks like. However, for every one of us, there is a homecoming, a restoration that God provides.

Let’s take the time to encourage each other, to strengthen our hands and feeble knees, to lift our heads in this Christmas season and our Deliverer, our Savior, Jesus.

Blessings,

-Alan


CLICK HERE FOR THIS WEEK'S FAITH NOTES.


Alan Cassady serves as Senior Pastor at Navarre UMC, and has been at the church since 2011. When he's not preaching and teaching, he enjoys sci-fi movies and FSU Football. Read more about Alan here.

Peace!

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with
righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his
lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Isaiah 11:1-10, NRSV


One mother was completely amazed by her child’s awareness of Christmas carols, as she puts it:

I did not realize just how closely my 18-month-old toddler had been listening to Christmas carols until she picked the peas off her plate, threw then on the floor, and said with an excited smile, “Peas on Earth.”

We all know that is not exactly how the song goes! Sometimes we even see a complete disconnect between the peace Jesus came to bring and what we experience between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas day.

Prince of Peace

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, indeed, did come to bring peace. The Isaiah passage quoted above tells how Jesus, the Messiah, would do it. The Messiah would be the opposite of the evil king Ahaz. He would be filled with the Spirit of God, wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Thus, he would rule with righteousness and equity. Those are the qualities that create an environment of peace.

Peace is not necessarily something we do, but a condition that comes about because of the things we do. The peace the Messiah will bring, will come because of his wise, effective rule and his successful dealing with evil and wickedness.

When Jesus returns to bring the new heaven and new earth, we can look forward to peace on earth, as the Book of Revelation puts it:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:22–27, NRSV)

Peace will reign because God will finally be enthroned as the King in this world. As King, his rule will be carried out without hesitation. But what about now?

Filled with the Spirit

Now we are followers of Jesus filled with the Spirit of God and so have access, at least in some measure to the qualities above. As we live out those qualities, we can bring a measure of peace through our attitudes and actions. Of course, this will only happen as people respond to God in their lives, that is what Paul meant when he said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all," (Romans 12:18, NRSV).

Ultimately peace a gift from God for those who acknowledge and submit to God’s rule in the earth. The degree to which we and those around us yield to God’s reign is the extent to which we will experience God’s peace, at least between now and Jesus second advent.

Blessings!

-Alan


CLICK HERE FOR THIS WEEK'S FAITH NOTES.


Alan Cassady serves as Senior Pastor at Navarre UMC, and has been at the church since 2011. When he's not preaching and teaching, he enjoys sci-fi movies and FSU Football. Read more about Alan here.