With Lent only days away (March 1st to be exact), let's introduce the writers for our upcoming devotionals. We should thank each and every writer for taking the time to share their talent.
Rev Paul Appleby: Raised in the Church, the teachings of Jesus came alive to Paul in a new and exciting way after studying the Sermon on the Mount, and rediscovering the brilliant, simple, and profound way Jesus encourages his followers to live and love. Along with his amazing wife Sage, he serves a loving Christ-centered congregation in Killeen, Texas.
Rev Jamie Brame is the Program Director at Christmount Conference and Retreat Center, located in Black Mountain, NC. He has served there for over 27 years, working with both youth and adults. His interests include the study of spirituality and prayer, with an emphasis on eastern spirituality and its application in a Christian context. In addition to his ministerial vocation, he is also a musician who performs with his wife, Renae. He holds an M. Div. from Duke Divinity School and B.A. from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College.)
Kristy Burmeister writes about stalkers, church-related trauma, feminism, and pie (pretty much in that order) at kristyburmeister.com. She's currently working on a memoir about a church that almost got her murdered when she was a teenager. (Spoiler: She's still alive.)
Rev Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He currently serves as the Associate Minister for Family Life at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Longview, Texas. He is the author of "Seeking Imperfection: Body Image, Marketing and God," a theological examination of marketing and body images propagated in the world today and the Christian response. He also writes for various online publications and at evandolive.com
He is currently working on his Doctorate at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. He is married to his high school sweetheart and has three children ages 6,4 and 2.
Rev Melissa Fain is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) She currently serves as the Senior Minister at Fig Tree Christian. Her passion is new church planting and revitalization. Fig Tree is the second big church plant she has been part of. Melissa enjoys all forms of the arts, having a degree in vocal music from Kennesaw State University. She also graduated from Candler School of Theology in the Fall of 2010, and has worked in Christian settings since 1999. Melissa is a mother of two wonderful children, and the wife to a very talented illustrator.
Joanne Walker Flowers is ordained clergy in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with a ministry of health and healing.
Mike Miles is the student and family minister at the Livonia Church of Christ in the western suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Abilene Christian University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry in 2009. Mike is currently working on his Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership at Rochester College in Rochester, Michigan.
Mike has a love for community and for bringing people together, especially across society's dividing lines. Born in the Philippines, he has since lived in over twenty different places but happily calls Michigan "home." He is unashamedly nerdy. He has tried to maintain a blog for years, but has decided that he is just too lazy. He is married to Blythe and has a son, with a baby girl on her way in early 2017!
Rev Barbara Minton, ordained April 1, 2001, now semi-retired, gladly serves a small rural congregation in Henry County KY, Berea Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She also volunteers in local interdenominational outreach ministries. Barbara describes herself as wife of one, mother of three, and Mamaw to eight. She enjoys journaling, which she began while living in Switzerland and Germany for 16 years. Now she will occasionally write on her blog, which she fondly entitled Muesli. http://bjm-muesli.blogspot.com/ Her hobbies include bird-watching and word-botching. She claims to get her exercise by jumping to conclusions, running at the mouth, and climbing the walls. Her partner in these adventures is Thomas, her husband of 53 years, and presently pastor of Eminence Christian Church in Eminence, KY. (When she grows up she wants to become a retreat speaker!)
Brandon William Peach is, first and foremost, the husband of Kathleen O'Neill and the father of William Sean O'Neill. He is a writer with a degree in literature from Penn State University, and a frequent contributor to various blogs, magazines, and podcasts.
While his career is in marketing, Brandon's primary interests include historical Christianity, literature, art, and pacifism in practice. He lives in the heart of Amish Country in Central Pennsylvania, where "getting stuck in traffic" often means being stuck behind a horse and buggy on a windy backroad. His hobbies include reading, writing, watching good movies, cooking, and most importantly, spending time with his wife and son.
He is owned by his cat Tiger and his dog Millie.
Rev Sarah Renfro is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fishers, Indiana. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Sarah formerly modeled internationally, was ordained into ministry in 2010, is married to Rev. Kyle Brown, mother to Miriam, March Madness fanatic (Go Big Blue!), and writer at m-bodied.com. Her ministry includes leading body image workshops and preaching on embodiment and faith.
Rev Myra Torrance is the pastor of Chelan Christian Church, where she has led the congregation for four years. She has been a pastor in the Disciples of Christ Christian Church for over 35 years. Prior to being called to the pulpit, she was the Executive Director for Hospice in Vincennes, Indiana. Myra is originally from Vincennes, Indiana, where she raised her four children with her husband, Bud, before his passing in 2011. Myra loves to write and enjoys time with her two Chihuahuas.
Rev Rebecca Ann Yowler is an ordained Disciples minister and an academic librarian. She is currently adjunct faculty at Valparaiso University. She is passionate about pugs, knitting, and figure skating. You can read her occasional sermons and devotions at www.beccassermons.livejournal.com
The Purpose of Lent
Lent is a season within the Christian Calendar. There are special days Christians observe, like Easter or Christmas. Those days usually fall within seasons. Easter is actually it's own season. (More on that later.) Lent too is it's own season. It begins Ash Wednesday, and lasts 40 days, excluding Sundays, leading up to Easter. Lent is wilderness time. It is 40 days to help us recall the Israelites 40 years and Jesus' 40 days in the Wilderness. It is a time where we get back to basics and let go of the things that are not needed. For many Christian traditions it's a time of fasting. For others, it's a time to take up a Christian practice, or let go of a bad habit.
Lent concludes with Holy Week, Holy week begins after Palm Sunday and includes: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. It is the darkest time of the Christian Year because we remember the Crucifixion of Christ. Some Christian Traditions strip the liturgical colors from the church for these few days, or put up black liturgical colors.
On March 1st Lent will begin. Here at Fig Tree, we will have our own devotional, Fruit of the Spirit. If you are still looking for a devotional, you can click the link and choose the format that bests suits you.-OR- visit our meditation tab every day starting March 1st, and we will post the devotional along with the biography for the daily writer.
Either way, I hope your preparations for Easter are fruitful. May God walk with you on your journey this Lenten season.
The Spirit of a Leader
1 Brothers and sisters, I couldn’t talk to you like spiritual people but like unspiritual people, like babies in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink instead of solid food, because you weren’t up to it yet. 3 Now you are still not up to it because you are still unspiritual. When jealousy and fighting exist between you, aren’t you unspiritual and living by human standards? 4 When someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and someone else says, “I belong to Apollos,” aren’t you acting like people without the Spirit? 5 After all, what is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants who helped you to believe. Each one had a role given to them by the Lord: 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. 7 Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together, but each one will receive their own reward for their own labor. 9 We are God’s coworkers, and you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Cor 3:1-9 CEB
-Rev Melissa Fain-
In this brief scripture, we have a great example of knowledge as it pertains to leadership and taking in knowledge.
That's a mouthful of words. Let me simplify it. The scripture for today shows us what we should expect from our leaders, and how our leaders should educate us.
I'm going to do this by focusing on three points The person helping Paul in Corinth: Apollos, the analogy of milk, and God the Grower:
Apollos: If you clicked on the tab "about the pastor" you would see I linked a meditation I wrote over a year ago about female ministry. When I first wrote it, I was trying to understand Paul's thoughts in 1 Cor 14. My work was met with mixed reaction. Basically anyone who already agreed women should be ministers praised it. To everyone else it was a mixed bag. "Isn't this explaining away?" "You are putting what you want into the text." "But TIMOTHY!!!" What I didn't know then that I do know is Apollos.
Apollos was zealous in just the right ways. He was called, and really understood the limited information he had regarding Christ. Only he didn't have much of it. That's when Priscilla and Aquila stepped in and expanded his education. The first less important point is that Apollos was taught, in part, by a female. The more important point is this: The call was not enough. Being correctly educated was an important component to the call.
What does that mean? I'm glad you asked! It means the call needs tools! Called to build a house? You need lumber, nails, saws and other basic building equipment. If you are called to be a minister you need a good education. Some like to believe that the call gives some secret wisdom, like tapping into a well. There may be truth in that, but without education there is no way to refine that Spirit.
This is where I reiterate the point I made in the female ministry meditation. We are called to be educated leaders, not exactly a gender-specific leadership. I suggest you read it if you haven't already.
Milk: The first year of seminary shapes the future two years for a seminarian. For some they completely lose it and drop out. Some decide they are going to remain unmoved and learn nothing. I was livid. I mean it. I was seeing red. Why? I'm glad you asked. The ministers who raised me up in the church hid the truth. I was asking some pretty tough questions leading up to seminary and those questions were not being answered. I assumed it was because those questions didn't have answers. Nope. In seminary I learned my questions had answers, and new questions had answers, and completely different questions had no real answer, or no answer yet. I was ready to eat the Word up! Yet, it was so difficult to be excited when I knew I could have had my answers years before if the various ministers just trusted me with the truth.
That's what makes the milk so difficult. One doesn't give a baby milk it's entire life. At some point you begin to introduce new food. I've had two babies, a know a thing or two about this subject. As Paul wrote, the Corinthians were not ready for anything but milk, but that didn't mean they wouldn't some day be ready for a thicker food, something they could begin to chew on. Also, easy to digest doesn't mean watered down.
We also need to realize everyone should start out on milk. I've seen the look on the face of someone who wasn't ready for meat and potatoes theology. Their eyes grew wide, they fought back, and then dropped out. Wanna kill a baby Christian? Give them meat and potatoes theology instead of milk. A good leader realizes what the congregants need and gives them that need. A good leader also knows when to begin adding new food options.
The Grower: I pulled a valuable lesson from The Hope Partnership's leadership training. We should see faith and the Spirit from a mindset of abundance over and beyond scarcity. When we think of scarcity we see limited resources. It brings the idea that there are limited positions and tools at our disposal, Scarcity pits us against one another when we should be the Body of Christ. (Dying institutions live through scarcity economics.) Coming at faith and the Spirit from a mindset of abundance means there is more than enough for everyone. We are not frightened when someone succeeds. We are more willing to give credit where it is due.
In the case of our scripture, Paul and Apollos were beginning to gain separate fan bases. Some were Paul fans, and some were Apollos fans. Now if Paul shut it down and told everyone his opinion trumped all others, it might have crushed Apollos and it would have been a lie.
Paul knew the abundance of the Spirit and was not afraid to give credit where credit was due. Paul was the planter, Apollos watered the seed, and most importantly God grew the seed. All the power and glory went to God, as it should.
What does this mean? Well, I'm glad you asked! We are at the age of the "Self-Help Minister." This makes perfect sense because the church is always 20 years behind society. Twenty years ago we were seeking books and DVD sets from Self-Help Gurus. People wanted to know how to live a happier life in 5 easy steps! The guru had the answer. Society mocked the self-help guru as being fake and moved on, but kept the desire for quick answers with no work involved. Now twenty years later Christians are working through their own Self-Help fad.
A guru could claim the answer to a specific problem he/she overcame. He or she did it all by themselves. What sounds amazing from a Self-Help Guru sounds fishy from a minister. The minister became the answer and God became the product being sold. Paul tells the truth: A planter delivers the truth, that truth is watered, and God is the one who decides whether it grows. God is the answer. There is no product.
What do you think? What are you drawn to in the scripture? We want to know!
The View From a Faultless Mirror
1Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
2 Who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
He will purify the Levites
and refine them like gold and silver.
They will belong to the Lord,
presenting a righteous offering.
4 The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
as in ancient days and in former years
-Malachi 3:1-4 CEB
It's a well known trope within movies, TV, and books. The mirror knows all. Frank L. Baum incorporated it twice. Once with the Gnome King's mirror, that can see where ever he asks for it to see. The second time with Zixi the Queen of Ixi. This queen, who was over 600 years old, used magic to make herself look 16. Her mirror, conversely showed her real age.
The one that immediately came to my mind was The Mirror Gate from The Neverending Story. It was one of the tests in order to get to the Southern Oracle. When the traveler came to the gate, they had to look in the mirror to pass. The reflection would show the honest view of the person:
Engywook: Next is the Magic Mirror Gate. Atreyu has to face his true self.
Falcor: So what? That won't be too hard for him.
Engywook: Oh, that's what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!
Atreyu discovered Bastian because Atreyu was only an avatar for Bastian's adventure. (Atreyu doesn't realize that when he sees it, and simply passes through.)
When I read Malachi 3:2-3 I imagine God much like one of those magic mirrors. The reason we wouldn't be able to endure the day of his coming, is because we would be left with only the truth of who and what we were. It's that "refiners fire and cleaner's soap" referred to in scripture. That would be enough to make "kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards!" Basically, enough to help us all see we are fallen creatures, all of us. None of us are perfect. All of us fall short of the glory of God.
Just something to think about. On a side note, there are times I feel like I've been put before God, and I have felt that boiled down truth. It helps me find humility towards others, even if sometimes I'm not humble. It helps me find kindness, even if sometimes I'm not kind. God's truth always makes us better, even if seeing the truth isn't something we are drawn to do.